One of the biggest challenges facing Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler since joining the team three weeks ago is developing chemistry with his receivers. Cutler had never played with his skill-position teammates, and it's vital they get on the same page before next month's regular-season opener.
Thursday night's 38-31 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was a step in the right direction. Cutler connected with receivers DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry, and threw a touchdown to tight end Julius Thomas in less than a half of work. Cutler finished 5-of-8 passing for 105 yards and a touchdown in five series.
Cutler's best throw was a 72-yard pass to Parker, who won the jump ball. Cutler also threw deep to Stills in the end zone, drawing a pass-interference penalty. It is clear Cutler will challenge the deep part of the field much more than injured quarterback Ryan Tannehill has with Miami.
It wasn't a perfect night for Cutler. He lost a fumble after being hit by Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry when Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil missed a block. Cutler was pulled early in the second quarter in what could be his final preseason action. If that is the case, Cutler finished the exhibition season 7-of-12 for 129 yards and a touchdown.
QB depth chart: While Cutler had a strong outing, it wasn't a good game for backup Matt Moore. He threw two interceptions in his first three pass attempts, and the second turnover was returned for a touchdown. Moore did lead a two-minute drive at the end of the first half that led to a 56-yard field goal. David Fales and Brandon Doughty continue their battle for the No. 3 quarterback job. Doughty made a touchdown throw to receiver Jakeem Grant, who broke two tackles on the way to the end zone. But Doughty also threw an interception in the fourth quarter.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Dolphins looked ...: Competitive. There were plenty of positive plays for Miami's starters, particularly on offense. But overall the team looked competitive. It was an explosive night from a scoring perspective, with neither defense able to make stops. But the Dolphins, on the road, matched the Eagles drive for drive when starters were in the game. Miami led 21-14 early in the second quarter, which is when both teams began pulling starters.
One reason to be concerned: Eagles second-year quarterback Carson Wentz had his way with Miami's pass defense. He finished 6-of-10 passing for 129 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Miami had a miscommunication on the first drive between cornerback Byron Maxwell and Reshad Jones that led to a 50-yard touchdown throw from Wentz to receiver Torrey Smith. Wentz also connected with receiver Alshon Jeffery for a second touchdown and thrived when the Dolphins didn't blitz. Miami's secondary needs to cover better in man and zone.
That guy could start: It has been a rough summer for 2015 second-round pick Jordan Phillips. The defensive tackle was inconsistent early and demoted in favor of rookie Davon Godchaux, a fifth-rounder. But Phillips responded Thursday with perhaps the best defensive play of the preseason. He caught a tipped pass for an interception and nearly rumbled his way for a touchdown during an 18-yard return before stepping out of bounds at the 2-yard line. Phillips' turnover set up Miami's second touchdown of the first quarter and puts him back in the competition with Godchaux for a starting job.
Rookie watch: Godchaux made his second start of the preseason and recorded two tackles. He still has the inside track to become Miami's only Week 1 starter from this year’s draft class.
Ajayi strong: Jay Ajayi looks ready for the regular season. Miami's Pro Bowl running back had two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter as part of a nine-carry, 53-yard outing. Similar to last year, Ajayi broke numerous tackles and made tough runs. He suffered a concussion during the first week of training camp and appears to be fully recovered.
Pouncey debuts: Dolphins starting center Mike Pouncey played for the first time since injuring his hip last season. Pouncey played four offensive series and was pulled at the 1:14 mark of the first quarter. It probably will be the former Pro Bowler's last action of the preseason.