Though we didn’t get to see a lot of last year’s defensive player of the year, the Dolphins and Texans was an entertaining, close battle to the end, after both teams gave their starters and extended look in the first half. At least on the offensive side of the ball, neither unit failed to make an impact. Who stood out? Let’s take a look.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
After underwhelming in limited action in his first two preseason appearances, Ryan Tannehill (+2.4) put together an impressive performance in 30 snaps against the Texans, playing most of the first half. The second year QB’s entire skillset was on display during Miami’s scoring drive late in the first quarter, as he escaped what looked like a sure sack to scramble for a first down (Q1, 2:56), before hitting Mike Wallace with a perfectly thrown deep ball along the right sideline on the next play. Later in the drive, the two hooked up again for a 9-yard TD on a bullet from Tannehill between a pair of Texan DBs.
And speaking of Wallace, this was exactly the type of performance the team envisioned when they gave him $30M in guaranteed money this offseason.
Robertson and Francis Impress
For a Miami defense that didn’t get a ton from their defensive tackles a season ago, it’s nice to see a couple of reserves making an impact for the second straight game. Tracy Robertson ended the game as the highest graded player on the Dolphin defense, with a +2.2 overall grade in 29 snaps. The bulk of his grade rewarded his efforts in run defense, where he was consistently stout, standing up opposing linemen and squeezing the point of attack in addition to making two stops– nothing spectacular, but with no negatively graded plays, the Dolphins will take it and run.
While Robertson did most of his damage in run defense, A.J. Francis was more of a pass rush threat, grading at +1.4 when going after the QB. The rookie UDFA showed a strong bull rush against Houston’s right guard, picking up a hit late in the third quarter. On the very next play, he showed good awareness, getting his hands up to bat down a TJ Yates pass. Francis also matched his teammate with two stops against the run, though he was sealed out of plays on a few occasions by Houston center Ben Jones.
A cause for concern this preseason for Miami has been the play of the offensive line, particularly in pass protection. Much of that concern has centered on the play of Jonathan Martin (+2.5) at left tackle, but through three preseason games, Martin has only given up a single sack, one that came after nearly 4.5 seconds blocking, while Tyson Clabo has been equally solid on the right side. Hopefully these two will continue to play this well in the regular season, because the greater concern may be with the players behind them. Backup tackles Dallas Thomas and Will Yeatman each graded -1.7 in 28 snaps, Thomas surrendering a hit and a hurry and Yeatman giving up two hurries and a sack. That sack at 7:01 in the fourth quarter was especially bad, as Trevardo Williams put Yeatman on the ground before easily taking down Matt Moore.
The situation at guard is just as shaky with Josh Samuda (-1.7) continuing to struggle, along with Chris Barker (-2.0) and Chandler Burden (-1.2), though most of their problems came opening up holes in the running game.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Getting After the Passer
While Miami has questions to answer about stopping pressure, Houston has to find a way to create it beyond the remarkable J.J Watt. Brooks Reed (-0.8) was drafted in the second round to be that guy, but has yet to produce. Saturday’s game was more of the same for Reed, as he failed to get to the QB in nine snaps rushing the passer after also going pressure-less in Houston’s first preseason game. Rookie free agent Willie Jefferson (+1.8) could be an interesting option if he can replicate his performance going forward; Jefferson pressured the QB three times for hurries on outside rushes and a fourth time for an unblocked sack. Unfortunately for Houston, fellow rookie OLBs Justin Tuggle and Sam Montgomery did not have similar success, as neither affected the QB on 20 combined pass rushes.
A lot will be made of the second quarter hit that ended Dustin Keller’s season, but more thought probably should go to the rest of D.J. Swearinger’s play, as it’s becoming more and more likely that he’ll be starting in Houston’s defensive backfield. Legality aside, that hit showed off the rookie’s aggressiveness and closing speed, traits that were also on display later in the game when Swearinger came up to stop a Jonas Gray run for a one-yard gain and then on his hit on Dion Sims on a third down throw at the sticks. The key will be keeping that aggressiveness in check, as his 46 snaps also included an over-pursuit of a run that turned into a 13 yard gain.
Options at Quarterback
It’s unlikely the Texans go with anyone but Matt Schaub at QB this year, but if this preseason is any indication, the team looks to have a pair of viable alternatives in second-year Case Keenum (+2.1) and third-year T.J. Yates (+1.6). Much like Schaub, the two were seldom spectacular, with Keenum’s TD strike at 8:53 in the second quarter the outlier, but avoided costly mistakes. Neither made a negatively-graded play in 30 combined dropbacks as they feasted on a heavy dose of ins and crossing routes, many coming off of play action fakes. The two finished the day a combined 18-of-27 for 234 yards and two TDs.
– The Texans used play action fakes on almost 28.5% of passing plays against Miami after Schaub used play action 24.5% of the time last season, sixth most often of any starting QB.
– Rookie TE Dion Sims dropped both passes that came his way (with the help of Swearinger on the first), and received a grade of -1.9 for his run blocking.
– Unable to match the Houston backup QBs, the Miami duo of Matt Moore and Aaron Corp combined for 5-of-16 passing and a grade of -4.8.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to Keenum and his team leading +2.1 grade. With all due respect to Tannehill and Wallace, his 38 yard touchdown pass to Lester Jean, as he was hit no less, was the highlight of the game.
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