The Miami Dolphins played their first game of the season at Hard Rock Stadium last night against the Las Vegas Raiders. They lost 15-13, but Tua Tagovailoa made his debut, some players stood out, and others stood out but maybe not in the way they’d like.
Here are three positive and two negative takeaways from Saturday night’s contest.
As usual, Tagovailoa has generated some heated discourse after making his debut. He finished six-of-eight passing for 58 yards and led one scoring drive—a field goal—in two tries.
One of those drives ended on a questionable decision/drop, and the other ended early thanks to a false start. So, how did the budding, young quarterback perform? He was “fine.” You can insert any synonym for that you want. “Solid,” “Okay,” and “Average” all work too.
Tagovailoa made some nice plays, including scrambling to find Chase Edmonds to convert a third down. He also went through his progressions and found Trent Sherfield for a 16-yard gain on a classic Shanahan/McDaniel PA concept.
The Gesicki throw garnered a lot of attention because it was a tight window throw, and Edmonds was “open” in the flat. For my money, I actually liked the decision to fit that tight window. One of the steps in Tagovailoa’s evolution needs to be testing coverage like that, especially on third downs, and he did it there.
Seen a lot of debate over this throw from last night. I actually like this from Tua. One of my biggest complaints is that he’s too safe with the ball sometimes.
Yes, Edmonds is open in the flat, but I don’t think he gets the first down. pic.twitter.com/CK5VtlMwtb
— Dante Collinelli (@DanteCollinelli) August 21, 2022
Was it the best decision? No, he set up Gesicki for a big hit during a preseason game, but he had the right idea. The preseason is the time to make those mistakes.
All-in-all, this was roughly the performance I expected from Tagovailoa in his limited reps. Getting too high or too low on his performance isn’t warranted.
Erik Ezukanma Should Earn Regular Season Reps
When the Dolphins selected Ezukanma in the fourth round, it created some confusion. The team was already so deep at wide receiver, but the Texas Tech product brings something different to the table than the rest of Miami’s options.
He’s great at the catch point and in contested situations. Fans love to hate on Devante Parker, but Miami finding a way to replace the one thing he did well is important, and Ezukanma fits the bill.
He finished Saturday night’s game with six catches for 114 yards, which works out to 19 yards per catch. Obviously, the highlight was the acrobatic back shoulder catch he made down the right sideline.
Ezukanma is elusive in the open field, meaning he’s got a more varied range of outcomes with the ball in his hands than someone like Devante Parker, but his primary role for 2022 should be to win jump balls.
There’s nothing wrong with that, especially for a rookie fourth-round pick.
Miami’s Defensive Starters Looked Ready
The Dolphins gave up a touchdown to the Raiders, led by Jarrett Stidham, on the first drive. That’s not great, but when looking at the drive, it’s pretty clear the team’s backups are to blame.
We’ll touch on some of those players in a minute, but first, let’s talk about the guys who should be playing on Sunday.
Zach Sieler recorded a sack and was stout in the running game. Andrew Van Ginkel had a TFL and a QB hit. Nik Needham had an impressive PBU down the field on a perfectly thrown pass from Stidham. Raekwon Davis had a deflection and a run stop. Jaelen Phillips had at least one pressure.
Zach Sieler is awesome. One of my favorite players on the team to watch. Just always doing his job and something productive. pic.twitter.com/w723fbqk6B
— Dante Collinelli (@DanteCollinelli) August 21, 2022
Those are the guys who are going to play a lot of snaps for the Dolphins defense this season, and they largely showed up in their limited snaps. This is not to say they were perfect or had no negative plays, but they were hardly the reason Las Vegas drove straight down the field for an opening drive touchdown.
The most important of those names is Davis because he wasn’t good last season. He’s never going to be a flashy player, and it’s not worth a ton, but he was solid last night. If he can carry into the regular season, it would be a huge boon to a defense that relies on stout nose tackle play.
The Same Old Depth Issues Pop Up Again
It’s time to touch on those depth players mentioned earlier. The reason Las Vegas went straight down the field had a lot to do with players who are supposed to be backups getting beat.
Noah Igbinoghene continued to struggle as he allowed two more first-down completions, and Elijah Campbell just couldn’t handle the size of Raiders’ tight end Jesper Horsted, who outmuscled him for a fourth-down conversion.
Mackenzie Alexander made his Dolphins debut last night and looked a tad rusty. He gave up a 22-yard completion on a slant and was shaken up with an injury at one point. To his credit, he did record a PBU in the game, but still, it wasn’t an overly encouraging debut.
On the other side of the ball, Larnell Coleman continued to struggle as the team’s primary left tackle. His false start on the team’s second drive prevented them from attempting a fourth and short.
To add insult to injury, the only reason it was fourth and short is that Sony Michel tried to run behind Coleman on third and short, but there was no running lane to be found.
It’s beating a dead horse to say this, but Miami’s depth at cornerback and offensive tackle are incredibly concerning.
The Dolphins OT depth is nonexistent. Here are some Free Agent Offensive Tackles on the market today: Daryl Williams, Eric Fisher, Brandon Shell, Bryan Bulaga, Nate Solder, and Marcus Cannon
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) August 21, 2022
It’s important to note that Byron Jones is still on PUP, Trill Williams is out for the season, and Terron Armstead has never played 16 games in his career.
That doesn’t even take into account the potential injury to players who are currently healthy. Needham returned to the field last night, but he was shaken up with a wrist/hand injury at one point, and Xavien Howard does have an injury history in his own right.
Coleman, Campbell, Alexander, and Igbhinoghene might have to play this season. Right now, it looks like if they do, Miami might be in trouble.
The Mike Gesicki “Problem”
As many people noted last night, Gesicki’s usage and overall play didn’t exactly lend themselves to a bright future under the team’s current staff. Gesicki hasn’t really made a ton of noise during training camp, either.
The tight end was playing deep into the game with backups he’s much better than, and his poor pass blocking was at least half the reason Miami gave up a safety in the second quarter.
He finished the game with three catches on six targets for 27 yards. It’s clear from the first two games McDaniel is trying to get Gesicki involved in the passing game, but it’s also clear his blocking isn’t up to snuff.
If you follow my work, then you know I’ve been adamant Miami’s entire tight end room might look different next season based on their play and comments from McDaniel.
Gesicki is a talented player, who can help this team, but it just doesn’t seem like he fits right now. It’s a long shot, but Miami might be wise to explore trade options for Gesicki. It might be worth considering if they can get a premium asset for him.