Andy Cohen In The Morning appears on dolphins.com every Monday through Friday, except for the bye week, until the end of the season. The column will be posted each day at 6 a.m. Be sure to follow Andy Cohen on Twitter at @ACohenFins
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This is the preseason game that matters most. Not as much for the young players trying to carve a spot on this roster, but for the starters who understand the importance of September and know, deep down, that anything less than their best will not cut it against the New England Patriots.
Indeed, Saturday night against Dallas is about fine-tuning, about consistency, about working out all the blemishes and about gaining a measure of confidence that will carry these players into the season.
We got a brief look at the starters in the first preseason game. We saw a little bit more in the second game. But Saturday we will get a large dose. The starters figure to play the entire first half against the Cowboys and, after some halftime adjustments, we may see them into the third quarter.
It isn’t the final score that matters; it’s more about setting a tone, about finishing the night with an upbeat feeling. Will they be smooth or sloppy, cohesive or confused, sharp or struggling? That’s what Joe Philbin wants to see. That’s what Saturday night is really all about.
Some things are clear at this point: The passing offense looks ready. The pass rush appears solid. The secondary has more playmakers than at any time in Philbin’s three seasons. These are the things the Dolphins clearly feel good about.
But I ask you this: Will any of that really matter if the Dolphins don’t have some semblance of a rushing attack?
This was my biggest concern heading into the summer and it remains my biggest concern. Is it the offensive line losing the battle of penetration or are the running backs not breaking tackles? So far, I’ve unfortunately seen a combination of both.
It is no great secret that this has to change. Dallas has had issues on defense and you have to figure that Saturday night affords the Dolphins an excellent opportunity to build some continuity with the ground game. The hope is that veteran Knowshon Moreno will see his first action of the preseason and I’m anxious to see if that will make a difference.
But it has to start upfront and right now the Dolphins have yet to settle on five starting offensive linemen. Hopefully the events of Saturday night will change that and, as a result, produce a more effective rushing attack. Something, I believe, needs to happen to take some of the pressure off Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.
Joe Philbin says he ideally is hoping to average around 4 yards per carry this season. So far this preseason, the Dolphins have averaged about half that. You run the ball and it has a positive affect on every area of the team. This must be the primary emphasis on Saturday night.
With the running game the No. 1 priority, here’s a quick checklist of 10 other questions worth focusing on against the Cowboys:
2. Will we see a clearer picture emerge on the offensive line, specifically at the two guard positions?
4. Will we see better tackling from the defense in general and more plays from the linebackers in particular?
6. Can Matt Moore continue what he started against Tampa Bay?
7. Who’s going to step forward as the nickel back, a crucial area against a team like the Patriots and a quarterback like Tom Brady?
8. Will either one of two rookie linebackers, Jordan Tripp or Chris McCain, continue their push for valuable playing time?
9. What’s going to happen at kicker?
10. And most importantly: Will the Dolphins walk off the field Saturday feeling like they are ready for the Patriots?
(On Monday, AC in the AM evaluates the game against Dallas and looks ahead to the remaining challenges.)
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