Barely a week removed from their poor overall performance against the Dallas Cowboys, the Miami Dolphins managed to show major improvement on both sides of the ball against the Atlanta Falcons in their 17-6 preseason victory.
Often considered the "dress rehearsal" game for the regular season, the third preseason game is traditionally meant to let the starting unit get more playing time than usual. But for Adam Gase, he essentially gave the units the same amount of time they had against the Cowboys: one half.
In that half, Ryan Tannehill put on an excellent performance, thanks to an even more stellar performance by the offensive line, which despite missing Mike Pouncey at center, was able to keep the oft-sacked quarterback on his feet for all 29 dropbacks he had.
Laremy Tunsil at left guard and Jermon Bushrod at right guard for the majority of the game did excellent in pass protection, although the run blocking was still rather subpar. Anthony Steen, though he wasn't perfect and did botch one snap, was solid overall and demonstrated that he could temporarily fill the void left behind by Pouncey.
Arian Foster flashed some of his old skill when he ran into the end zone on an excellent cut and found the perfect path to the end zone, to spite his final numbers rushing the football (five carries, 10 yards).
Kenny Stills is starting to show signs of being Tannehill's most reliable wide receiver, perhaps even more so than Jarvis Landry, who had another drop on an easy pass that should've had no business being dropped, especially by him. Stills also had slightly better numbers than Landry. While they both caught four passes, Stills had six more yards receiving and was targeted once more than Landry.
Tannehill has recently discussed how impressed he's been with Stills' development, and it's showing with how often Tannehill is willing to go to him. That connection will be key in the regular season, as it will open everything else up and keep defenses on their toes since they can't just focus on Landry every play.
It was the defensive side of the ball that had the most improvement. After getting gashed by the Dallas Cowboys, the Dolphins defense only allowed 31 total rushing yards on a combined 15 carries by the Falcons offense. The secondary on the other hand, still struggled somewhat, particularly Tony Lippett, who hasn't been able to step up as much as Miami hoped.
Thankfully, they still have Reshad Jones to bail them out of trouble. Jones intercepted Matt Ryan in the end zone and saved a would-be touchdown that would have put a lot more pressure on the Dolphins offense to retaliate with a score of their own.
The linebackers were also much improved against Atlanta. Koa Misi in particular was all over the place, making tackles and chasing down running backs and keeping them from getting very far. Kiko Alonso also had a much better game, finding gaps on blitzes and doing a good job in pass coverage.
Young players like Shamiel Gary, Mike Hull and Julius Warmsley were able to stand out on defense. Gary was able to force a fumble and made an excellent tackle in the box similarly to the way Reshad Jones would, and Warmsley has been arguably the best defensive tackle in the preseason besides Ndamukong Suh. Hull continues to quietly do his job, making tackles and keeping things from going bad.
Cameron Wake finally got his first game action since coming back from his achilles tear, and despite admitting that he still isn't 100 percent healthy, Wake was able to consistently get pressure on Matt Ryan on passing downs as a pass rush specialist.
There were a lot of good things to take away from the Falcons game, but caution should be advised. Atlanta is not exactly the strongest team right now, and while the performance was impressive, it should be taken with a grain of salt. The Falcons are not the Seahawks or Patriots, and that's when it will matter.
The Dolphins will have to cut their roster down to 75 by August 30th, which is four days away. Some players will have had their last chance to show their stuff in this game, and some will get one last chance before the regular season when Miami faces off against the Tennessee Titans. Games will start counting very soon, and the Dolphins need to be ready for their first real - and difficult test.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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