BY SEAN DONOVAN
With all the uncertainty surrounding the Miami Dolphins' offense in regard to the quarterback, receivers and offensive line, Miami came into this season knowing it at least was strong on defense.
But that confidence is quickly withering away, after the Dolphins first team defense was repeatedly gashed by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in their 23-17 preseason game loss on Friday night.
Miami's first team defense also played poorly in the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, allowing 14 first-half points. Carolina was able to score 17 points in the first quarter alone.
Coach Joe Philbin is clearly frustrated with the group.
"Our biggest concern is getting off the field," Philbin told the media, according to an AP report. "We haven't stopped anybody yet. We haven't gotten off the field on third down, we haven't tackled real well. We haven't had a lot of pass rush. I guess I'd better stop there."
For the second consecutive week, an opponent dominated Miami's starters. Having Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett on the sidelines (due to minor injuries) didn't help, but Newton, Steve Smith and the Carolina's trio of running backs were able to do nearly anything they wanted offensively.
The defense gave up yards in chunks. On multiple occasions, Miami's front-four was unable to muster any pressure on the quarterback, and Newton had ample time to find an open target down the field for a first down.
Throughout the night, Carolina was able to operate in the flats and set the edge on the Dolphins' defense. Miami's linebackers struggled to handle both tight ends and backs who came out of the backfield. This was evident on two long gains on seam routes by tight ends Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock, and on D'Angelo Williams' nine yard touchdown reception late in the first quarter.
It became clear Miami doesn't have great depth at linebacker. Jason Trusnik and Gary Guyton started in place of Dansby and Burnett, and they were exploited on multiple occasions.
There were a couple positive things to take away.
The Dolphins' first-team run defense was solid, only allowing one rush over five yards. They also were able to make a stand and force a field goal when Carolina had a first-and-two situation. At the goal line later in the first quarter, however, they offered little resistance and Jonathan Stewart was able to jump in for a score nearly untouched behind a Mike Tolbert-lead block.
Embattled cornerback Sean Smith also had an interception on a deep pass in which he had the receiver completely blanketed. The pick was erased by a questionable pass interference call by the replacement referees.
The Dolphins didn't impress on either side of the ball in Friday's game. The normal offseason optimism is dimming for fans, and if these preseason performances are any indication, it may be a year completely lost to rebuilding.
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