ReFo: MIA vs DAL, Hall of Fame Game
Football is back (sort of), and Ben Stockwell begins a new chapter in PFF history with the first of our preseason reviews. So who stood out - on the field ...
ReFo: MIA vs DAL, Hall of Fame Game
Football is back! And for the first time PFF is turning its hand to a full analysis of every preseason game to give you a never-before-seen, in-depth look at the performance of every player during the auditions phase of the NFL.
The usual disclaimers apply to what preseason means, but we are excited to bring you this level of detail on preseason performance to go alongside the unparalleled player performance analysis that we have brought you for regular and postseasons over the past five years.
As ever, things got underway with the curtain raiser from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio as the hall welcomed its latest class of enshrinees. After that fanfare the real business of building toward the new season started, and though the scoreboard might have been close, the Cowboys will surely walk away happier than the Dolphins, who got off to a sluggish start on both sides of the ball.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Creaky Performance Up Front
The Dolphins’ offensive line is a unit under the microscope entering the 2013 season. With all the money spent elsewhere on the roster this is one group on the team that has got worse on paper and, though we saw starters for only 10 snaps, the performance of depth players in this game will bring cause for concern. Mike Pouncey (+1.1) got off to a fast start, and Jonathan Martin (+0.5) was largely untested, but the backups were on the back foot from the outset. Second-team left tackle Dallas Thomas (-3.4) was beaten comprehensively for a hit on his first snapand things didn’t get better for him from there on out. Thomas surrendered three pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 1 Hu) and performed poorly as a run blocker (-2.0) in an entirely unimpressive debut. Nate Garner’s performance (-3.1) wasn’t any more encouraging, though Sam Brenner (+1.6) was a relative bright spot, and he got through a high workload to register a team high 60 snaps (split 28 to 32 between center and left guard).
Shelby a Rare Defensive Standout
Things got off to a poor start for the Dolphins’ defense with new linebacker Philip Wheeler (-1.4) losing his way in coverage early on, including a missed tackle, but Derrick Shelby (+1.2, starting at DRE) stood out in a positive manner. His +2.2 pass rush grade was the highest for any player in the game as the second-year defensive end from Utah made the most of his encounter with fellow second-year player Cowboys RT Edawn Coughman. For his first sack, Shelby benefited to an extent from poor pocket presence by Nick Stephens to convert his pressure into a sack but his second needed no such help. As ever in preseason you have to be aware that Shelby is highly unlikely to face off with a player of Coughman’s caliber when the regular season rolls around, but this performance should whet the appetite of Miami fans and coaches alike to see what he can do against better players as the Dolphins search for the right man and the right blend opposite Cameron Wake.
Bumphis Stakes His Claim
The Dolphins have invested heavily in their receiver corps this offseason, but with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline combining for precisely zero snaps the chance was there for players battling for a roster spot to stake their claim — and rookie Chad Bumphis (+0.9) did just that. After the departure of Davone Bess the Dolphins have a void at slot receiver, and Bumphis worked almost exclusively from the slot and got through a heavy workload. Bumphis’ 33 routes run from the slot was comfortably the most of any player in the game from either team (Michael Egnew was next with 14) and his five catches on six slot targets certainly gave the Dolphins a long look at what he could do. The downside was a miscommunication with Matt Moore that led to a pick-six as Bumphis looked to settle on his route with Moore looking for him to continue. Bumphis’ performance has drawn praise from Dolphins’ OC Mike Sherman and, though he says Bumphis has work to do, was this the first sign of a hidden gem emerging from Miami’s preseason?
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Depth Defense Shines on Busy Night
On a night when Kheeston Randall paced the Dolphins with 36 snaps on defense, the Cowboys had 13 defenders put in more snaps than that, with only four of those players earning a negative overall grade for the game. More players than that (B.W. Webb, George Selvie, Monte Taylor, Jeris Pendleton and Xavier Brewer) earned grades above +1.5, predominantly for their work in run defense. Taylor was the team’s highest graded run defender (+3.4) and added five pressures (3 Ht, 2 Hu) to go with his pair of stops in run defense. Rookie B.W. Webb netted a +2.0 coverage grade in his NFL debut courtesy of a pair of stops and some solid coverage. He also added a pressure on one of his three blitzes, getting around third-string LT Will Yeatman inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. Add in George Selvie’s (+2.7) six pressure night (2 Sk, 1 Ht, 3 Hu) which went with some strong work in run defense, and you have the Cowboys’ defensive depth off to a nice start.
Big Night for Frederick and Escobar
It was a theme of the night that the Cowboys gave a significant number of snaps to their rookies. Their top two picks, Travis Frederick and Gavin Escobar, both started on offense and got through a combined 75 snaps in the game — however, both players had some struggles in their NFL debuts. NBC did a nice job of highlighting some of Frederick’s good blocks, but the montage turned a blind eye to some less than stellar work as he split his time between center (28 snaps) and right guard (15 snaps). Frederick was up against Kheeston Randall a lot and didn’t come out on the winning side of that battle as much as the broadcast montage would have had you believe. After giving up a stop to Randall early in the game, he surrendered another disruption to him later in the first quarter. This was far from a disastrous debut by Frederick, doing some good work climbing up on to the linebackers (in particular Austin Spitler), but we’ll be looking for more from him against defensive linemen in coming games.
The Cowboys’ second selection from April’s draft though did get off to that poor start. A player touted as a receiving tight end in the pre-draft process, Escobar spent much of the night blocking, and not doing that very well (-4.4 run block). Whether up against defensive ends, like Derrick Shelby early in the game, linebackers like Jason Trusnik, or even a safety like Jordan Kovacs, Escobar just couldn’t get to grips with or control the player he was blocking. It’s hard to see this being the role that he will operate in-season, but should injury befall Jason Witten then the Cowboys will need better than this type of display from Escobar — but he’s got time in preseason to show that this was just a nervy start.
Positive Running in Depth
One of the concerns many observers have with the Cowboys is the ability of DeMarco Murray to stay healthy. With Murray among a number of Dallas stars who didn’t turn out in the preseason opener his backups got a chance to battle for that backup spot. Lance Dunbar got the start and looked good, but it was Phillip Tanner (+2.1) who stole the show with some hard running and the iconic “lost helmet” play that immediately endears you to a fan base for your toughness. On his 10 carries Tanner exploited some rusty Miami defense to break seven tackles and collect 47 of his 59 yards after first contact. Rookie Joseph Randle came in late to pace the team with 13 carries for 70 yards, and he too collected a lot of yards (51) after first contact to stake his claim for, what could be, the final roster spot at running back. It’s tough to draw too much from the preseason opener but these backs were certainly doing their best to re-assure Cowboys fans, and coaches, that any potential loss of Murray in the regular season doesn’t have to mean shutting the running game down completely.
— As you’d expect for a preseason opener, both defenses were not in fine tackling fettle. The Dolphins missed 10, while the Cowboys missed nine themselves.
— With the two teams combining for seven dropped passes (four for Miami, three for Dallas) it wasn’t just the defenses that weren’t quite hitting their straps in the opener.
— The Cowboys took the opportunity to get a long look at some of their top draft picks. Travis Frederick (43 snaps), Gavin Escobar (32), J.J. Wilcox (42) and B.W. Webb (76) all got through a lot of work on debut.
PFF Game Ball
The Dolphins lack of a second pass rush option opposite Cameron Wake was a weakness last season, but Derrick Shelby threw his hat into the ring with Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan to provide more balance to their pass rush in 2013.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.