First Impressions – Panthers @ Dolphins

| August 20, 2011

After the first half was over, I started to compile my little scraps of notes to begin jotting down some first impressions and scratched my head when I couldn’t find a single thing I had written about the Dolphins defense – had they even played defense? They had, of course, but for a mere 22 snaps compared to Carolina’s 47. Even more telling was the time of possession which had the Dolphins with the ball for 22:09 compared to 7:42 for the Panthers.

By the end of the first half the Dolphins led 17-0, Reggie Bush had convinced Dolphin fans this would be the year he finally breaks out, and Cam Newton learned that he probably won’t walk all over the NFL like he did in his final year at Auburn.

Not that anybody truly cares about the final score in preseason, but the Dolphins hung on to win 20-10 and have now matched last season’s home win total.

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Dolphins – Three things of note:

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●   I feel obligated to open with the debut of Bush and I will say it, this might finally be the year. After watching his numbers and role decline after a really solid rookie campaign, I think that the argument could be made that the New Orleans offense got to a point where they really didn’t need Bush to be successful–despite his undeniable physical talent. If the Dolphins want to be successful in a division with the Jets and Patriots, and are trying to do so with Chad Henne running the show, it’s a necessity that Reggie Bush to be the really good Reggie Bush. Tonight he looked that way. He caught two passes for 33 yards, both of which he made most of the yards on his own. He also ran the ball well, gaining 48 yards on eight carries which doesn’t include another 20 yard run that I think was his best play of the night (negated by penalty). If he stays healthy, I expect Bush to breakout if only because Henne will target him so many times that he can’t help but break a few long ones.

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● The real story of this game was the offensive line. They gave Henne so much time to throw that he was really able to get in to a rhythm and drive the offense down the field, which deserves an ovation. Then they went and made Bush look like a devastating runner in between the tackles, which deserves a standing ovation. And they did it without Jake Long, which deserves, I don’t know, an extended standing ovation? One of the players I focused on the whole time was Mike Pouncey who made all of the right pick-ups and proved stout in both the running and passing game. If he had missed any assignments last week, he certainly didn’t this week. Overall, I counted only two bad plays by the offensive line – a questionable holding call on backup Lydon Murtha against the Panthers best defensive lineman, Charles Johnson, and one play where Marc Columbo completely missed a pick-up and let a defensive lineman run free. Overall a job really well done.

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● If a preseason game is normally a small sample size, then calling out a player from the Miami Dolphins defense that was rarely ever on the field is a microscopic sample size but I won’t let that stop me. One of the players highlighted on the broadcast of this game was Kevin Burnett, who the Dolphins signed in free agency. With the recent “retirement” of Channing Crowder, it looks like Burnett will be the guy who takes the majority of his inside linebacker snaps from last year. Burnett had probably his best year as a pro last season, finishing with a +13.4 rating on 986 snaps and a league-leading 6 sacks. Judging by what I saw (very limited), I think the Dolphins should be able to count on Burnett to fill the void left by Crowder’s absence. Over the past few years Burnett has been less consistent than Crowder, but to the Dolphins relief he’s also been a less consistent headache off-the-field.

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Panthers – Three Things of Note:

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● After reading some summaries about Cam Newton’s play in this game, I was somewhat surprised most people were negative on his performance in this game. Yes, he did miss on a few throws–one of which would have been an easy first down–but a few of the passes that he connected on were NFL-starting-quarterback-caliber throws. One of those throws was when he hit Jeremey Shockey on the sideline to start the second offensive series for 16 yards; accurate and it got there in a hurry. Admittedly, I wasn’t that high on Newton throughout the draft process, but what I really liked about him in this game was how evident his competitiveness is. That said, I’m sure the Panthers will tell him that unless he starts sliding his big smile might have a few teeth missing from it. He obviously still has a lot to learn, down to the basic play-calling, but if it were my decision to make based on what I have seen so far, I would designate Newton the starter.

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● The tight end position has been drastically upgraded from last year’s combination of Dante Rosario (-4.5 pass grade) and Jeff King (-4.5 pass grade) to this year’s combination of Greg Olsen (+2.0 pass grade) and Shockey (+2.0 pass grade). Given Steve Smith didn’t play in this game, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that all virtually every one of Newton’s completions were to either Olsen or Shockey. Though Shockey may be nearer the end of his career, Panthers fans might be smart to go out and buy an Olsen jersey while they’re still in stores because he looks like he may become the favorite target if either Newton or Clausen starts.

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●I know my colleague, John, called him out in the last preseason game and I don’t want to pick on the guy, but rookie Sione Fua makes the bad list again. I mentioned how successful the Dolphins offensive line was, and the victims was often Fua. Despite making the start once again for the Panthers, I honestly am not sure that he ever really penetrated past the line of scrimmage on either a pass or run play. It could be that I am holding too high a standard for the guy because of his name’s similarity with Jets’ Sione Pouha who played outstanding last year, but right now he doesn’t look the part of a starting defensive tackle. I will reserve all final judgments on him since he is a rookie third rounder, he did go to Stanford after all so he might be smart enough to figure it out.

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My only closing thought after this game is that we are now less than three weeks away from the kickoff of the NFL regular season. It seems like just a few short weeks ago that NFL teams started practicing–oh wait, they did.

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Follow Rodney on Twitter: @rodneyhartjrPFF … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • shula13

    Nice review of the game. I think Chad Henne did a nice job tonight, particularly with his feet. He seemed fast out there, and scrambled nicely when needed.
    What do you think of Daniel Thomas?

  • Rodney Hart

    After seeing the size of the holes being opened up for Reggie Bush, I thought that Daniel Thomas might have a field day. Unfortunately for Thomas, the line didn’t open the gaping holes that they did for Bush. That said, I think Thomas showed some good signs. He was too tentative at times, but showed the ability to make a decisive cut and gain positive yards.

    The most disappointing point part of the game for Thomas had to be when he was stopped three straight times on the goal line (and almost fumbled), and then the Dolphins had to bring in Lex Hilliard to score. They didn’t draft him in the second round to have Lex Hilliard be the back to rely on for short goal line touchdowns.

    It’s still early in a shortened off season for rookies, so I wouldn’t worry to much about Thomas yet, but I think he has yet to flash anything “special”.