The Dolphins played with backup linebackers against New England last Sunday but are hopeful that, barring any setbacks, both Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi can return to the lineup this week.
Jenkins missed the Patriots game with a foot injury. Misi missed the Patriots game with a hamstring and knee issue. Both practiced at least on a limited basis today, as seen during the open portion of practice.
Right tackle Dallas Thomas, who injured an ankle against New England, missed practice today. The next man up is Jason Fox.
Linebacker Chris McCain, out last week with an ankle injury, practiced Wednesday as well.
Running back Daniel Thomas, with an unknown injury, also missed practice.
Offensive lineman Nate Garner, who has been ill for three weeks, missed practice again today.
Last week I reported that if Dolphins coach Joe Philbin did not make the playoffs, owner Stephen Ross would consider making a change at coach.
I reported that the No. 1 target for Ross, who believes the Dolphins should be better than 7-7 at this stage, would be current San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh if he becomes available. Harbaugh's availability, by the way, seems likely.
But, as I also reported, there is no slam dunk on Harbaugh because, among other things, he may not wish to come east because of family concerns.
And then I reported this: It is quite possible that if he fails to land Harbaugh, Ross could survey the landscape of available candidates and basically decide none would be an upgrade over Joe Philbin. Keep that in mind. This could be a Harbaugh or bust exercise for Ross.
Again: It is possible Ross keeps Philbin if he cannot land Harbaugh. Keep this in mind amid reports that Philbin is definitely out or likely out. No decision on that matter has been made at this point.
This all assumes the Dolphins do not collapse the final two weeks of the season. They collapse and there is no saving Philbin.
But if they go 9-7 the waters get murky. Look, in my opinion Philbin has failed multiple times in getting his team to win games that mattered in the playoff chase. He failed with the playoffs on the line last year against Buffalo, and then against the New York Jets. He failed with playoff position on the line again this year against Baltimore and then got blown out by New England.
So on the big stage with a door to the playoffs wide open, Philbin's teams walked into a stone wall instead. That is a deal-breaker for me.
But Philbin's team can still salvage a 9-7 season. There is still failure in that -- winning meaningless games after losing meaningful games. But, hey, 9-7 is improvement and the coach can argue that to the owner when all is said and done.
That argument would ring hollow for Ross if Harbaugh signals (yes, it would be done through back channels) that he would come to Miami.
But the same argument may win over Ross if he cannot get Harbaugh and he cannot identify a clear and obvious upgrade to Philbin. That is the giant elephant caveat in the room.
And you know what else? If Ross cannot convince Harbaugh to come and doesn't think anyone else is better and keeps Philbin ... that would not be unprecedented.
After the 2003 season, then-owner Wayne Huizenga wanted to get rid of Dave Wannstedt. But he looked around and decided there were no obvious better choices on the market. So instead he kept Wannstedt while demoting him in that he took away his authority to make the final call on talent. Ironically, Huizenga gave final say power to Rick Spielman, who is now a pretty good GM for the same Minnesota Vikings the Dolphins play on Sunday.
Also interesting: Huizenga hired Dan Marino at the same time.
(Yes, I have seen this movie before, folks).
But I digress. So who is available assuming Harbaugh shuns Miami?
Well, Jon Gruden is out. He is a Ross favorite but he just signed a contract extension with Monday Night Football. It also doesn't seem as if Bill Cowher will be answering phone calls from the Dolphins.
Alex Marvez at FoxSports1 on Tuesday did a primer of available assistants that will be "hot" starting on Black Monday -- one day after the regular-season ends and coach firings begin.
Marvez mentioned Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Yeah, only if he can bring Peyton Manning. He mentioned Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, on whose defense the Dolphins scored 36 points. He mentioned Tony Sparano. Don't think that would work since he and Ross HATE each other.
He mentioned Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Well, if the Dolphins have a vacancy and it is not filled by Harbaugh, keep on eye on Jackson getting an interview because he is a client of Dolphins "consultant" Mike Tannenbaum and as a minority he would help the Dolphins meet the requirement of the NFL Rooney Rule.
[Update: Jackson was represented, in part, by Tannenbaum last year but this year is exclusively represented by Octagon's John Thornton -- famously a rookie of the year with the Titans Super Bowl team and a former Bengals captain.]
Quinn is a Tannenbaum client. The problem for Quinn is he has no head coaching experience. Why would Ross want another on-the-job-training situation?
Fans have been tweeting at me (@ArmandoSalguero) about Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. I remind you Bowles was the Dolphins' interim coach in 2011 and got a head coach interview with Ross. He did not get the job.
And while it is not unprecedented for Ross to double back from a previous search -- he hired Tom Garfinkel in 2013 after interviewing him during his 2009 CEO search, when circumstances led Garfinkel to the San Diego Padres -- Bowles would be another on-the-job-training candidate.
Honestly, must the Dolphins be a training ground?
Anyway, some guys with previous coaching experience include Gary Kubiak, the offensive coordinator in Baltimore and former Houston Texans coach. Solid. Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is out there. He strikes me as a fine coordinator, if you get my drift. And Patriots offensive coordinator and former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is out there.
(I wonder what Ross's feelings are about possibly getting used by a Patriots employee again after the Nick Casserio experience last year during the GM search).
Current New York Jets coach Rex Ryan will likely be out there but I've been told and reported last week that's not in the cards for the Dolphins. Atlanta coach Mike Smith might be out there. I have no opinion on him other than the past two years have not been very good.
Me? I think out of the box. I like Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. He has head coaching experience. He has won everywhere he's coached. He admittedly has no NFL experience but he wrote a book titled Hurry Up No Huddle -- An Offensive Philosophy, the principles of which multiple NFL offensive coaches have incorporated.
Heck, yeah. But bold.
Alas, Ross isn't asking my opinion. He does ask and get the counsel of a litany of advisors. Dan Marino, Carl Peterson, Garfinkel, Tannenbaum, Matt Higgins, Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, Paul Tagiliabue, former Michigan AD Dave Brandon. Some are employed by the team. Some are not. Some have more sway lately than in the past, as it varies. The Dolphins insist Ross is making all the calls -- sad they feel the need to insist this since he's the owner and that should be wholly understood -- but Ross absolutely listens to the varying opinions of his people. There is zero doubt about that.
Anyway, someone familiar with Ross's thinking texted me Tuesday, "Somewhere out there is the next Mike Tomlin."
Yeah, but I don't know if Ross can find that guy. I don't know if by making a change, Ross absolutely, positively finds an upgrade, either.
That's the issue. What coach could take the Dolphins to the next level?
Ross believes Harbaugh could.
But failing that, who else?
Perhaps no one -- and that, amazingly, might lead to Joe Philbin 4.0.
Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin changed his team's Tuesday schedule this week. Rather than practice as they've done the previous 14 weeks, Philbin is having his players simply lift weights today. There will be no media availability and instead that will be extended to Friday.
This blog will be lifting weights on Tuesday as well.
What the heck.
But as Tuesday remains the day my friends at ProFootballFocus.com send in their initial tape reviews and I add when and where necessary, we will do that today as well.
Left guards Shelley Smith and Daryn Colledge continued to rotate every two series, with Colledge edging Smith in snaps against the New England Patriots, 46-35.
Running back Lamar Miller handled 43 of 81 snaps, while Damien Williams played 20 and Daniel Thomas chipped in with 18. The majority of Williams’ snaps came on the lengthy final drive. Williams, by the way, dropped a touchdown pass.
The Dolphins dropped two touchdown passes on Sunday with Rishard Matthews having the other one.
Brandon Gibson, inactive and little used in late September, has apparently gotten back in the coaching staff's good graces. Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry handled 61 and 60 snaps, respectively, while Brian Hartline and Gibson had 44 and 43. That's a lot for Gibson.
Ja’Wuan James took over the left tackle spot when Branden Albert was injured at Detroit. James seemed to initially adapt quite well to the move from right tackle. But after playing relatively weel against Denver and the Jets, James has struggled the past two weeks, according to PFF. Against the Patriots he allowed 11 hurries, a new career high.
Ryan Tannehill finally hit on that deep-ball everyone had been waiting for. Overall, Tannehill was 3-of-8 on throws of 20+ yards for 104 yards. The fact the Patriots were playing man coverage in the first half had a lot to do with Miami's desire to attack with the deep ball.
Tannehill was pressured on 23 of his 51 drop-backs but both of his interceptions came when he was under no duress.
All of Lamar Miller’s success was limited to the first half and almost exclusively on outside runs; on 8 runs between the guards on Sunday, Miller produced only 15 yards.
Darrelle Revis started the game shadowing Jarvis Landry, but the rookie later saw coverage against LBs, safeties, and other cornerbacks. After Mike Wallace beat the Pats on the opening play and for a one-handed TD to close the half, New England coaches adjusted and put Revis on Wallace.
It worked because Wallace was targetted only one time in the second half when covered by Revis and didn't have a catch against Mr. Island. Wallace did finish with five catches for 104 yards against everyone else.
Even with Kyle Arrington injured, Malcolm Butler didn’t see any snaps in the second half after being burned by Wallace for two big plays in the first half. Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson saw snaps as the nickel and/or dime defenders for New England. More adjustments from the Pats.
With the Patriots going pretty heavy in two TE personnel, the Dolphins’ base defense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the defensive snaps.
Kelvin Sheppard made his first start since 2013, and he finished with four stops -- a high for Miami. The official statistics had Sheppard for 10 tackles to lead the team.
Dion Jordan dropped into coverage on eight of his 17 snaps. He was often running after New England tight end Gronkowski in coverage. But ...
Jordan was not on Gronk on either of the TE's two touchdown catches.
The Dolphins solved their run defense issues of the past three weeks. They allowed 108 yards on 29 attempts, but most of those came in the second half. In the first half, the Dolphins gave up only 20 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Despite intercepting a pass in the first half, Jason Trusnik was targetted by Tom Brady. The Patriots completed four of five attempts against him for 55 yards.
Likewise, Philip Wheeler was also exploited. Brady was able to match Gronk and Julian Edelman on Wheeler a few times, completing 3-of-3 for 62 yards.
Cortland Finnegan played well in his first game back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss a month of games. He limited Brady to a 50% completion percentage (5-of-10) when he looked his way. It was, however, interesting to see Gronkowski get behind Finnegan in one-on-one coverage. Brady underthrew, giving Finnegan the chance to make up ground and defend the pass.
Juxtapose Brady’s deep-ball figures to Tannehill’s: Brady went 4-for-8 on 20-plus-yard throws, for 127 yards.
No wonder the Dolphins didn’t blitz that much: On eight drop-backs facing the blitz, Brady was 7-of-8 for 86 yards and a score.
Joe Philbin fate seems sealed following Sunday's 41-13 blowout loss at the hands of the New England Patriots. It wasn't so much this lone failure that is the coach's undoing but rather the last two weeks in which Philbin has been unable to coax his team to play well in the biggest games of the year -- games that decided Miami's postseason status.
And in that regard, the failures against Baltimore and New England resembled the team's inability to close in the final two games of the 2013 season when the playoffs beckoned and the Dolphins could not win even once to reach the postseason.
But that's not what this is about. The what-ifs and what-might-be scenarios are covered in the column.
This is more about who will have say in those myriad scenarios. That's where Dan Marino and Mike Tannenbaum come into play.
After Miami's disappointment on Sunday, Ross was seen talking intently with both Marino and Tannenbaum. And although the entirety of the conversation could not be properly picked up, it is clear the men were discussing, at least in part, the Dolphins situation and future.
The scene was not typical of what happens after a game.
Afterward, Tannenbaum was seen at Ross's helicopter -- again, not a usual occurrence. Tannenbaum got on the copter and flew back to the New York area with Ross. The Dolphins say Marino did not get on the helicopter but instead went back with the team on the team charter.
Marino is a Dolphins special advisor to the owner. But he went to great lengths in his interview with me a couple of months ago to say he has never been asked to evaluate Philbin. That's not what he was hired to do, Marino said.
Yet it's obvious if boss Ross asks the former star quarterback his opinion about Philbin, Marino will use the knowledge he's gained in attending practices, sitting in on offensive and defensive meetings, attending games and talking to players to share his thoughts with the owner.
Tannenbaum is the former general manager of the New York Jets. He was originally interested in being considered for the Miami GM post when Jeff Ireland and Ross split. That obviously didn't happen, but Tannenbaum was then hired as a "consultant" to help the Dolphins on a variety of projects involving innovation, analytics and sports science.
But who are these people trying to kid? Nothing about what Tannenbaum talked with Ross about on Sunday in that confab that included Marino included analytics and sports science. No way. No how.
Indeed Tannenbaum is yet another member of the shadow government that Ross has surrounded himself with -- men such as Carl Peterson. These folks aren't employed by the team in an orthodox fashion yet give the owner advice about the team although they are rarely actually around the team.
Tannenbaum has been to most if not all the games. But he's never at training camp or practices. Anyway, Tannenbaum's day job is as a sports agent. He was hired by Relativity Sports to help found that company's branch of representation for coaches and broadcast talent.
Among the clients Tannenbaum represents are Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was also the Raiders head coach for a short time.
What are the chances one or all these guys interview for the next Dolphins job? And how do you think Joe Philbin would feel about seeing his boss in deep discussion with the in-house coach agent minutes after a tenure defining loss? How do you think Dennis Hickey would feel about seeing his boss in deep discussion with a guy who want to be GM instead of the guy who, you know, actually got the job?
Look, I get it. The NFL is about winning and losing. Winners get praised and losers get pushed to the margins. But I remind you Ross has been owner since 2009 and his hiring of coaches and general managers has been messy.
It now seems there will be another coaching search after this season. Marino and Tannenbaum will obviously have say in what happens.
It would be nice if this time, the Dolphins can stay classy in how they conduct business.
And today is an important day in that regard because it is clear the Dolphins must beat the New England Patriots if they are to make that grasp at the postseason.
So what happens if the team loses today?
I believe ownership will begin to look at the landscape. I believe at some point Ross will find out through various channels -- not a direct flight to the Bay Area -- whether Jim Harbaugh would be interested in coming to Miami or whether the idea is not one he'd consider.
That is step No. 1.
Step No. 2 will rely on what Harbaugh's answer and is covered in the column.
About Harbaugh: I know that he is a mercenary. He would not come to the Dolphins or the Jets or even the Oakland Raiders as the guy who's going to coach the team 20 years.
That's not what he has done in his career. He was the head coach three years at the University of San Diego. He was the head coach at Stanford four years. He's been the San Francisco 49ers coach four years.
And while his moves from those college programs were about career progress, his looming move from San Francisco is, in part, because his relationships have soured with upper management and perhaps his act his worn thin with some players.
And you know how I view the idea of getting a guy who is likely to be gone in a handful of years because he wears everybody out?
I think it's a better idea to hire a guy who wins while grating on players and the organization than hiring a guy who is beloved but loses. That beloved guy? He's getting fired in four years, anyway.
So winning -- the idea of raising a mediocre team to a higher level -- trumps the problems associated with ego and personality in my book.
The Dolphins placed defensive lineman Anthony Johnson on injured reserve Friday evening.
While that will not necessarily hurt Miami's chances to win, it obviously will affect Miami's defensive line rotation. Earl Mitchell, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks will have to play longer. That may be better for Miami.
If you are frequent reader of this weekly Saturday feature, you know that although I've stopped picking the game, my thinking is obvious in how much of the advantages I give one team or the other.
Last week, you may recall, I don't thinkI gave the Dolphins the advantage in any major category. Tha'ts because I didn't believe the Dolphins matched up well against the Baltimore Ravens.
I believe the Dolphins actually match up better against the New England Patriots on Sunday. I'm wouldn't pick the Dolphins to win the game. But, in my mind, they have a better chance to win this game, than they did prior to last week's game versus Baltimore.
The keys to the game:
When the Patriots pass the football: Things have changed in New England since the season-opener, and obviously for the better. The two guards and center who started the opener are different -- and better. Rob Gronkowski, working himself back from knee surgery and limited in his snap count in the opener, is now starting at tight end. Tim Wright, a tight end acquired from Tampa Bay near the end of the preseason, actually knows the offense now. And receiver Brandon LaFell, acquired in the offseason and coming off the bench in the opener, has found his niche and is starting. In other words the entire offense outside of quarterback Tom Brady and the two offensive tackles have different roles than they did in the opener. The Dolphins have apparently weathered the lack of quality cornerback issues they suffered when Cortland Finnegan missed four games. He will play. They do have to re-acclimate Jimmy Wilson to the safety spot to take over for the loss of Louis Delmas to a season-ending knee injury. The key to this game for Miami is somehow getting pressure on Brady. If they cannot do that, they cannot win. ADVANTAGE: New England.
When the Patriots run the football: New England made LaGarrette Blount the centerpiece of their running game last season as the playoffs got closer and it seems they’re trying to do the same now. Although Blount left in free agency, he was cut by Pittsburgh a month ago and signed as a free agent. In three games, Blount has rushed for 202 yards on 47 carries (4.8 average) and added toughness to the team’s inside running game. The Patriots also can use former Dolphin Jonas Gray, who had one excellent game and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as an inside runner. ShaneVereen is more an outside threat and a fine pass-catcher out of the backfield. The Dolphins have allowed 201, 277 and 183 rushing yards respectively the past three games but view the work against Baltimore as only half bad because many of those yards came in breakout fashion in the fourth quarter once the game was already basically lost. (Strange). The team’s players remain confident they can regain the form that had them among the league leaders against the run earlier this season. Linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins are doubtful for the game so that cannot help a defense that’s currently No. 22 against the run. ADVANTAGE: New England.
When the Dolphins pass the football: It will be interesting to watch Jarvis Landry, now Miami’s leading receiver, match up against New England’s Brandon Browner, a 6-4 player who is one of the NFL’s more accomplished slot cornerbacks. Landry is in many respects the tone-setter for the Miami offense because he is physical as well as crafty. Browner is equally physical. The success of the Dolphins’ intermediate and deep passing game (what there is of that) will continue to depend on how much time the offensive line allows quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Unlike the past few weeks when Miami has faced elite pass-rushers, the Patriots don’t have one star rusher. They rely on a team concept to get to the quarterback and that may bode well for the Dolphins. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Dolphins run the football: The Dolphins have been hearing complaints that Lamar Miller doesn’t get enough carries and it is not known if they’ve gotten the message but if they look at their season-opening victory over New England, they understand they ran a season-high 38 times for 191 yards. That is a formula for success against New England: Run it, tire New England’s finesse defense out, and keep Tom Brady off the field longer as a result. Of course, Knowshon Moreno did most of that damage in the opener and he’s been long done for the season, but Miller is itching for more work. The Patriots have vastly improved their run defense with the recent additions of Sealver Siliga (off IR) and Jonathan Casillas (in trade from Tampa Bay). Dont’a Hightower has stepped up his game, but there is no doubt this team still misses Jerod Mayo, who has effectively missed the past two seasons with knee injuries. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
Special teams: The Dolphins have been better this season returning kicks, the Patriots have been better returning punts. The Patriots have been better than the Dolphins at covering both kicks and punts. What does this all mean? Well, if the game comes down to a pressure kick, the Patriots are No. 6 in the NFL in field goal percentage. The Dolphins are No. 20. ADVANTAGE: New England.
Coaching: The Dolphins enjoyed an advantage over New England in the opener because new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor had not yet fully unveiled his scheme and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle brought a couple of wrinkles to the game. But the Dolphins are an open book now. And there is probably no better coach and staff at picking on the opponent’s weaknesses and trying to take away their strengths than Bill Belichick and his staff. Oh, by the way, Joe Philbin might be coaching for his job so give that due consideration. ADVANTAGE: New England.
Ryan Tannehill's words this week about the teammate that is going to be covered by Darrelle Revis on Sunday show how deep the pool of respect the Miami Dolphins quarterback has for the New England Patriots cornerback.
"Whoever they match him up on is going to have a tough game," Tannehill said, "but they are going to have to find a way to fight and find a way to get open.”
Well, many of us have been thinking the Patriots will match up Revis against deep threat Mike Wallace to stop the possibility of a quick strike over the top of their defense. Then again, maybe he'll be checking Brian Hartline to stop those annoying first down conversions and quick slants.
But the more I think about this, the more I believe it'll be Revis vs. Jarvis Landry.
Obviously Landry is only a rookie and still isn't as established as either Wallace or Hartline. But the strategy makes sense if you understand Patriots coach Bill Belichick tries to take away the opposing team's best weapon to force that team to win doing something else.
Well, Landry is Miami's most efficient pass catcher. He leads the team in catches. He has forged a bond with Tannehill. And despite being a rookie, he sets the tone for that offense in both toughness and persistence with the way he plays, the way he often breaks tackles, the way he makes the difficult catches.
So Revis, New England's best cornerback, on Landry, Miami's most productive receiver, makes sense.
It also makes sense even though Landry is a slot receiver and doesn't normally merit the other team's best corner. Revis, you see, is a very good slot corner when he needs to be. According to ProFootballFocus.com numbers, Revis has 136 snaps in the slot this season. That's less than Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington. But rarely does a team have their slot receiver mean so much to the offense as Landry does to Miami.
Another thing: When Revis goes into the slot he's a great cornerback that gets better. Again per PFF numbers, Revis allows a completion once every 15.4 coverage snaps at cornerback. But in the slot he allows a completion once every 22.7 coverage snaps.
So what if the Patriots do decide to contain, if not erase, Landry with Revis? What then?
Well, Wallace must step up. Hartline must step up.
The problem is the Patriots know that Wallace wants to step up by blowing the top off the defense and taking one 75 yards to the house. Problem is the Dolphins don't typically have the time to throw those passes that take so long to develop and on the rare occasions they do, Tanenhill has struggled to complete them.
I guess that is one reason putting someone not named Revis on Wallace seems like a logical gamble.
The Miami Dolphins linebacker corps hasn't gotten any good news this week as middle linebacker Koa Misi and outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins both missed practice again Thursday, the third time in three practices they sit out.
Their status for Sunday's game at New England is questionable at best.
And ... I shrug.
Look, it is never good when players are injured. But I remind you this situation should not be a built in excuse for the Dolphins failing against New England because, if you recall, the Dolphins beat the New England Patriots in the opener with an entirely unexpected and/or inexperienced linebacker corps.
In that September opener, Phillip Wheeler did not play because he was nursing a fractured thumb. Koa Misi went out after only 17 snaps in the first quarter with an ankle injury that cost him three games afterward. Dannell Ellerbe went out one snap later in the first quarter with a hip injury that ended his season.
And the Dolphins shut out the Patriots in the second half of that game with Jason Trusnik, Jelani Jenkins and Chris McCain as their linebackers.
Everyone thought the injuries would be a problem for the Dolphins. It was not. Jenkins turned out to be more active than Ellerbe had been previously. McCain had a sack that game. Trusnik was not any sort of weak link and comparing him to Misi now does not suggest a huge difference.
So frankly, with Wheeler healthy now, the Dolphins might actually have more projected starters from training camp in the lineup against the Patriots on Sunday than they had when that September game ended in a 33-20 Miami victory.
The Dolphins this week have worked Trusnik in the middle and Wheeler and Kelvin Sheppard on the outside.
Would not having Jenkins, the team's leading tackler, hurt? Yes.
But should it be considered a disaster?
Was it a disaster when he didn't start that first game against New England? Was it a disaster when Misi, Wheeler and Ellerbe played a combined 35 snaps that game?
The Dolphins may not field their entire LB corps Sunday. We've seen this before against the Patriots. It is not an excuse.
Miami Dolphins fans have generally tossed in the towel on this season -- at least based on what I see on my twitter timeline and in my email inbox. And I would say there might be a player or two in the Miami lockerroom that has seen a shift in the way business is being done. One even told me Wednesday that "coaches are in self-preservation mode."
But quarterback Ryan Tannehill?
He looks out toward the horizon that offers a Sunday meeting against the New England Patriots and figures it is worth sailing toward, even following last Sunday's loss to Baltimore in what was considered a de facto playoff game.
“We didn’t play well in a big game for us, but the season is not over," Tannehill said Wednesday. "Obviously, it’s not fully in our hands now, but we can still control what we can control. That starts with this game on Sunday."
Tannehill went on to call the coming Patriot game "a big game for us."
"I’m excited about this opportunity," Tannehill added.
And what opportunity do the Dolphins have? Well, the math says the Dolphins have not been eliminated from anything. Yes, they dropped from being among the likely playoff teams to far back in the pack of teams chasing a wildcard berth following the Baltimore loss.
And, yes, they have tiebreaker issues working against them.
But stranger things have happened. (Work with me here, ok?)
"It’s a very, very important game, absolutely," coach Joe Philbin said. "You get an opportunity to play the New England Patriots. Your team is going to have to play extremely well to beat these guys, there’s no doubt about it. That’s what we told the team. They’ve seen the tape already. We practiced yesterday. We are going to practice here again [today]. On paper, they are a good team and, on film, they are a good team. We are going to have to play extremely well."
The opportunity the Dolphins keep talking about includes possibly ruining the Patriots' run a little bit. New England can clinch a division title with the win and a playoff berth, so there can be motivation in not allowing that to happen this week.
Not on our watch!
Something like that.
And, of course, coaches are trying to win to keep their jobs and players are trying to put good performances on tape to make sure they're employed next year as well -- if not in Miami, somewhere.
This game matters in the greater context. And it matters to individuals.
For Dion Jordan it matters because he will likely get a chance to show off his athletic prowess by getting a few opportunities to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"If I have to do it to help my team, then I’ll definitely do it," Jordan said. "This year, they’ve put me in position to cover other guys. I had to get ready mentally and physically to do it. If it happens this week, I’ll be prepared."
For Jarvis Landry, it is an opportunity to gauge his success now that he's no longer a secret. After last week, for example, Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees found Landry after the game to share his feelings about the rookie.
"He just said, 'You’re a great player,' " Landry said. "His job was to contain me a little bit and much credit goes to them. When you think about a Ravens defense, you always know they’ve had great defenses and great defensive coordinators, just took it as a compliment."
Yes, a great compliment. But you don't think a Bill Belichick defense will similarly take note of Landry? Yes, it will.
For Dallas Thomas, this game is an opportunity to get some redemption. Look, I think he deserves to be benched. I've seen enough. I'd play Jason Fox over him. But that apparently isn't happening because Philbin sees a lot of good in the very obvious and public bad Thomas has put on tape since becoming the starting right tackle.
"There’s a lot of pictures in the game where he pass protected well to be honest with you," Philbin said of Thomas. "There are a lot of good pictures in the game. There are a few that aren’t very good. I think in the run game he’s been productive, but you have to remember there are 50-some-odd plays in a game. We all sometimes get focused on the three or four bad ones, but there are a lot of good things."
By the way, Philbin is under the microscope now. He knows it. He talked Wednesday about the challenge he and his staff face. They beat New England in the season-opener. And here we are 13 weeks later and the Patriots (10-3) have a very good record and the Dolphins (7-6) do not.
So what does it say if a team is good enough to sweep the division leaders but not be consistent enough in the other games?
“I said about myself, our staff, how we are able to get these guys ready to play, it’s December 14 when it’s kickoff time in New England," Philbin said. "We are playing an outstanding opponent. We need to play our best football game of the year. You get paid as a coach to get your team to play up to their potential. That’s what we have to do."
The Miami Dolphins linebacker corps is a concern now.
Jelani Jenkins, the team's most productive tackler, did not practice on Wednesday for the second consecutive day. Jenkins missed the most of the second half against Baltimore because of a foot injury.
Middle Koa Misi, who has been in and out of the lineup this year, missed practice for the second consecutive game. He had to leave Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.
Jonathan Freeny, who has missed multiple games with a hamstring injury, missed practice Wednesday for the second time this week.
Well, at least Phillip Wheeler practiced. He's the only starting linebacker who did. Backup Chris McCain, who missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury, also practiced today at least on a limited basis.
Jason Trusnik and Kelvin Sheppard were once again in next-man-up mode for the Dolphins at practice.
Interestingly, Randy Starks, who practiced on Tuesday, sat out drills today with an unknown issue.
[Update: Starks practiced. I am convinced I saw him in basketball shoes and without a helmet, but the Dolphins insist he practiced. So I will take their word.]
Lamar Miller has not uttered one syllable of complaint about the fact the Miami Dolphins don't use him as much as seems logical. But his agent Drew Rosenhaus has.
Rosenhaus, who represents multiple Dolphins players including Miller, was on his usual Sunday night appearance on WSVN-7's Sports Xtra show when the frequency of Miller's use became a topic.
Rosenhaus said it was "disappointing" the Dolphins have not used Miller more. Rosenhaus went on to make a case why more use of his client seems more logical for the Dolphins.
Rosenhaus mentioned the idea that getting into rhythm is difficult for any back, including Miller, when he's getting only 10-12 carries a game. He made the point that at a time the Dolphins are struggling with their pass protection due to a troubled offensive line play, running the football more with Miller would be an easy way to keep defenders off the quarterback.
And all those points are valid.
The fact is Miller is No. 12 in the NFL with 782 yards. He's averaging a hefty 4.8 yards per carry.
But he's only carried the football 162 times, an average of 12.4 carries per game. The number of totes ties Miller for No. 16 in the NFL.
So why not maximize Miller? If 162 carries is good, wouldn't 182 be better at 4.8 yards a pop? Might that take some throws away from Tannehill? Maybe. Might that take some runs away from either Daniel Thomas or Damien Williams? Maybe.
I can live with that.
You must understand that at a time much of the NFL is bent on passing, passing, passing, the league's better teams have for several weeks been going in the other direction. The Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Packers can throw the dickens out of the football but for weeks they've emphasized the running game.
That running game makes it easier to get into the playoffs and tougher to bounce those teams from the playoffs.
But the Dolphins aren't on that course. Indeed, the Dolphins are going in the exact opposite direction.
Miami has run the ball fewer than the game before in three consecutive weeks. They've gone from 24 runs against Buffalo, to 21 against Denver, to 18 against New York, to 16 against Baltimore. Not exactly insistent and tough-minded December football, folks.
Fewer carries for everyone obviously means fewer carries for Miller because the Dolphins long ago decided they want to split the number of carries rather than rely on just one back. That's fine. A large majority of NFL teams divide their carries. It's part of keeping everyone fresh, I suppose.
My problem is the Dolphins are taking carries away from someone who needs more carries and giving them (not many, but some) to players who haven't shown they deserve more carries.
That's because what precious few carries Miller doesn't get in Miami's run-quantity-challenged offense go to Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams. And neither is setting the world on fire.
Thomas has 41 carries this year for 162 yards. Got your calculator? Punch the numbers. That's a 3.9 yard per carry average or about a yard less per carry than Miller.
Williams has 33 carries for 104 yards this season. That's 3.1 yards per carry.
Why are these guys getting the football at all when the better back is easily able to carry it more often and do it better?
I recognize the Dolphins have roles for each player. Williams, for example, has been getting a lot of work on third down. (He dropped a pass last week).
But there is nothing more frustrating than watching Miller get a carry for, say, five yards, another for 4 yards, another two or three plays later for 3 yards, and then he gets taken out of the game. How does that help him get his rhythm?
Sometimes Miller will have a really good series and not be seen in the next series. And the way these games sometimes go, the next time he carries the ball is sometimes a quarter later.
I know Miller isn't worn down. He is not tired. Why do the Dolphins do this?
I ask here because I've asked the Dolphins and the answer one gets is something about making decisions that are best for the team. Instead of clearing things up those kind of answers make me think of the IRS hearings when the dude insisted nothing was wrong after he announced all the emails had been lost.
Bill Belichick gave his New England Patriots Monday and Tuesday off this week. The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, are working today.
Well, most of them are working.
Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor -- both of whom have missed extended time because of injuries -- are practicing today. It is unclear if they are involved in the full practice or are limited. But Finnegan (ankle) and Taylor (shoulder) are working.
Taylor seemed to be wearing some type of shoulder harness, according to The Herald's Adam Beasley.
[Update: Finnegan, asked if this was the week he was back, told The Herald, "Absolutely."]
So it seems Finnegan is back versus the Patriots, as I reported here last week.
The linebacker corps is not working. Koa Misi, Chris McCain, Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Freeny were rehabbing rather than practicing during the portion of practice open to the media. Misi suffered a hamstring injury vs. Baltimore, McCain suffered an ankle injury in practice last week and missed the Baltimore game, and Freeny has missed three games with a hamstring injury.
The only healthy starting LB at practice today was Phillip Wheeler. Kelvin Sheppard and Jason Trusnik are in next-man-up mode at practice today.
Offensive lineman Nate Garner, who has missed two weeks of practice and games because of an illness, was not at practice again Tuesday.
Is this year's offensive line as bad at pass protection as last year's?
That, my friends, is a serious question that should be pondered at this point because there is data coming through that suggests the offensive line the Miami Dolphins have been putting on the field at times this season has been just as bad blocking for quarterback Ryan Tannehill as last year's terrible unit.
Obviously, the statistic everyone knows as if by rote is that last year the Dolphins allowed an NFL leading 58 sacks. And advocates of the 2014 line would say sacks this year are down. The Dolphins have allowed 34 sacks this year and that suggests significant improvement, so end of discussion.
Let's look beyond the raw numbers.
This year's 34 sacks projects to 41 sacks allowed for the season. And yes, that is still way fewer sacks allowed. But now you have to understand why.
The fact of the matter is this year the Dolphins are allowing fewer sacks because, unlike last year, they have decided to throw fewer deep passes of 20 yards or more and almost none lately. Last year, even as the line was struggling, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman tried to continue running as much of his offense as possible and that included way more deep throws per game than what Bill Lazor is trying, which is almost none.
The numbers do not lie. Lazor's offense this season has attempted 33 passes of 20-plus yards -- an average of 2.5 per game. Sherman's offense last season attempted 58 passes of 20-plus yards -- an average of 3.6 per game
So the Dolphins are allowing exactly one less sack per game this year at a time they are trying about one less deep pass per game.
I don't think that is coincidental.
ProFootballFocus.com measures a QBs time in the pocket in their signature stats. In 2013 Tannehill had an average of 3.80 seconds from the time he got the ball until he was sacked. This year he has had an average of 3.22 seconds from the time he takes the snap to the time he takes a sack hit.
So last year's awful line was actually giving Tannehill more time to throw.
The resulting strategy is the reason last year the Dolphins were 22nd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt and this year they are 28th in yards per pass attempt. The actual difference between last year (6.74 yards per pass attempt) and this year (6.6) is nominal. But when you factor that most teams have had their YPPA go up due to the focus by officials on rules that prohibit contact beyond five yards, it is sobering that Miami's stat has gone down.
And the inability to block up front to get those passes completed downfield is the reason for the decline as the only difference from a year ago to this year is a change in strategy -- a strategy forged to help the offensive line.
Understand that none of this looks at run blocking. I think it is fair to say this line is run-blocking much better than last year's line.
But unfortunately for the Dolphins, they don't run enough to take significant advantage of that improvement and the NFL happens to be a passing league. So the focus is on this line's struggles protecting Tannehill.
It definitely is so after a game in which the Dolphins allowed six sacks.
Anyway, the folks at ProFootballFocus.com sent me their initial grades and views on the Dolphins loss to the Ravens. I added some of my own, as always.
The entire offensive line struggled (all graded -1.4 or lower), but the right side had the most trouble with Dallas Thomas and Mike Pouncey each allowing 5 pressures. The fact Thomas gave up so much pressure isn't a surprise. The fact Pouncey did is an eye-opener.
Let's face it, Pouncey played better at center the past couple of years than he has at right guard this year.
Brian Hartline wasn’t hampered by the knee he tweaked against the Jets. He played the second-most WR snaps and caught a TD pass: Mike Wallace played 51 of 63 snaps, Hartline played 46 of 63 snaps, Jarvis Landry played 42 of 63 snaps, Brandon Gibson played 25 of 63 snaps, and Rishard Matthews played 13 of 63 snaps.
Lamar Miller obviously had the most running back snaps with 37. He was followed by Daniel Thomas (14 snaps) and Damien Williams, who played a third-down role and had 12 snaps.
Tight end Charles Clay returned after missing two weeks with an ankle injury. He started, but Dion Sims wound up with more snaps, 44-31.
The Dolphins attempted only one pass attempt of 20-plus yards on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill went 4-of-7 for 70 yards in the 10-to-19-yard range.
And so what is the problem? Again, the offensive line does not afford Tannehill any time. And because that is true, the Dolphins have simply lost confidence in calling plays that require them to hold their blocks for any extended period of time.
There were 22 drop-backs in which Tannehill was under pressure. He took the six sacks and was 10-for-16 for 114 yards on the other drop-backs. So Tannehill can still complete passes under duress. But he cannot complete passes while under a mass of defensive linemen bodies.
Lamar Miller had success early running on the edges. Behind left tackle Ja'Wuan James and outward he had four carries for 25 yards. He carried only one behind right end for 11 yards.
Tannehill was able to take advantage of rookie C.J. Mosley in coverage, targeting receivers against him 14 times. They came up with 11 catches for 108 yards.
Despite being picked on this season, the Dolphins were only able to target Lardarius Webb in coverage once. That was a serious flaw in the Miami game plan or an oversight in the in-game play-calling. Webb struggled and the Dolphins failed to take advantage of a cornerback who has struggled all year.
The Dolphins allowed 183 rushing yards only a few days after giving up 277 rushing yards to the New York Jets. The only Dolphins defender who played well on run defense for the second straight week was defensive end Derrick Shelby (+2.2). He had three stops on 18 run snaps.
Philip Wheeler played his second-highest snap percentage of the season, and highest since Week 4 as the Ravens used two-TE and two-back personnel on the majority of the snaps he played.
Linebacker Jelani Jenkins played the first 43 snaps, but he sat out the final 22 snaps with a foot injury.
You remember that earlier paragraph about the Dolphins failing to target Webb? The Ravens did not commit the same mistake in failing to go after Dolphins cornerback R.J. Stanford.
Stanford was picked on mercilessly in coverage. He had an interception in the end zone so that was good. But he also allowed nine completions on 11 passes against him for 91 yards. He also got lost in the wash while chasing Steve Smith across the formation to give up a TD pass.
Wheeler was a liability in coverage also. He gave up two 20-plus-yard plays in coverage and 3-for-3 for 53 yards overall. On one of those long completions, Wheeler actually had decent coverage and could have limited the damage but he missed the tackle and gave up 12 more yards after the receiver shed his tackle attempt.
The Dolphins sent a blitz on 14 Joe Flacco dropbacks. So they recognized they weren't getting to him with a four-man rush and tried something else. Flacco threw his interception (by Stanford) on one of those blitzes. But besides that play, Flacco completed 9-of-13 for 70 yards and a score against the Miami blitz.
I am told Ross believes the Dolphins have playoff caliber talent. And because he believes there is enough talent to get to the playoffs, it is clear that if the Dolphins do not get in the playoffs, the owner may make a move to fire Joe Philbin.
After all, how can an owner sell to fans the idea that not making the playoffs three consecutive years is good enough to earn another season for Philbin? I suppose he could say, "Well, we've made incremental improvements and we think one more year will get us there."
And that will result in the stands being sparsely populated next season because my sense is fans are not in Philbin's corner anymore.
Sources tell me Ross also believes the Dolphins are a very good job for any prospective coach now compared to a few years ago because it is a retooling and tweaking job rather than a rebuilding from scratch job. In other words, Ross believes that the Dolphins are a great coach and some minor moves away from being very good.
Have Philbin and his coaches done a great job at 7-6? Well, I'd say they've been inconsistent. They're really good some weeks. They're poor other weeks. They are, in other words, what their team is and what their team's record says they are.
So make no mistake: In the final three games this season, Joe Philbin and his coaching staff are working for the right to keep their jobs next year.
I am told by sources Ross sometimes talks of how coaches can take a franchise to the next level. He mentions Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay -- a lot. I suppose he could also point to Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, among others. There are myriad examples of coaches taking good to mediocre teams and making them very, very good.
So this again tells me the owner would consider "upgrading" from Philbin if the Dolphins don't get in the playoffs this year.
That leads me to Jim Harbaugh. Any report that suggests Stephen Ross doesn't want Harbaugh or wouldn't consider Harbaugh or, indeed, would not chase Harbaugh if he's in the market for a coach is dead wrong. That would be the first place Ross begins a coaching search.
The Dolphins, looking for a head coach the day after the NFL season, would join the Jim Harbaugh sweepstakes.
(Ironically, former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano and his Raiders beating Harbaugh's 49ers Sunday might be the final straw that makes Harbaugh available after this season).
Ross identified Harbaugh as a target in 2011 and tried to hire him then but failed. And since that failure, Harbaugh took the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC title game in 2011, took them to the Super Bowl in 2012, and took them to back to the NFL title game in 2013. (Dolphins fans would offer body parts to have their team in the conference title game three years in a row).
And Harbaugh did this with a team that was 6-10 the year before he arrived.
Oh, did I mention Harbaugh went to Michigan? And Ross went to Michigan? Yeah, that's a thing for the Dolphins owner.
Yes, there are obstacles to getting Harbaugh. Harbaugh's wife is reportedly not a fan of the East Coast. The Raiders, just across the bay in northern California, offer the Harbaughs a viable counter to being with the 49ers. And the Raiders are very interested in Harbaugh or will be.
The Oakland Raiders job is a coaching death trap. Everyone in the NFL knows it. Harbaugh must know it. So the Harbaughs might prefer to grit their collective teeth and sacrifice in cold, ugly, uninviting, gray, South Florida for a handful of years and take a stab at winning big with a roster that seems good enough already to win on a smaller scale and certainly is better than the Raiders nucleus.
It is true the Jets will also be interested in Harbaugh. But why would he go to New York if Miami is an option?
This is speculative but do the exersise: Do the Jets have a better quarterback? No. Is there less pressure to win in New York than in Miami? No. Do the Jets have a better roster than Miami? No. Can Woody Johnson pay more than Stephen Ross?
Hell to the no!
I am also told that one thing that has stung Ross about his ownership stint is that he failed to land Harbaugh back in 2011. "He has remorse about that," is what I was told. So the Jim Harbaugh possibility is real for the Dolphins if Philbin does not right his ship the next three weeks.
One final thing: There was a New York Post report over the weekend that strongly suggested outgoing New York Jets coach Rex Ryan would be a candidate in Miami if Philbin is fired. I was told by sources this weekend that Ryan to the Dolphins is not likely.
Ryan is beloved by most of his players. He can coach the dickens out of defense. And yet, the Jets are 2-11. So all that love and great defensive scheming is not all it is cracked up to be. Ryan has also never really been able to hire an offensive coordinator that ran a 21st century NFL offense.
The Dolphins are awaiting MRI test confirmation, but the belief is Delmas tore the ACL in his right knee on Sunday during the 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
[Updated 12:30 on Monday: The MRI this morning confirmed Delmas tore his ACL. He is being placed on injured reserve. He is done for the remainder of the year.]
Delmas, 27 years old and in his sixth season, had started 12 of 13 games for the Dolphins and played in all of them and was not only a cog to the team's pass defense but to the run defense as well.
Delmas the past two weeks against Denver and the New York Jets had collected 18 tackles as both those opponents had tried to run against the Dolphins. Delmas, a tough-minded and physical strong safety, often was used to overload the tackle box to augment the run defense.
Losing Delmas will mean the Dolphins will probably use Jimmy Wilson at strong safety along free safety Reshad Jones.
[Update: The injury to Delmas is not problematic beyond the ACL. No other ligaments were involved so a source tells me he should be ready to go for the start of training camp in 2015. Delmas was on a one-year contract with the Dolphins so it is uncertain what team's training camp he'll be in next year.]
Delmas went down in the second half against the Ravens while trying to make a play on a running play. Although there was no contact on his knee, he seemed to plant awkwardly and went down in a heap.
Delmas left the game on a cart after multiple teammates had come to his side to wish him well.
Delmas was in his first season with the Dolphins. If/when the MRI confirmation comes, Delmas will become the third significant free agent addition from the offseason to go down with a season-ending knee injury, joining Branden Albert and Knowshon Moreno.
There will be complaints about the officiating. There can be excuses about injuries -- as the third-string cornerback R.J. Stanford got picked on all day, backup right tackle Dallas Thomas gave up multiple sacks and Louis Delmas was lost for the remainder of the season.
But none of that changes this fact:
The Miami Dolphins 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens for intents and purposes eliminates the Dolphins from a playoff hunt. And this season, that includes a trip to New England next week, is starting to look at lot like last season.
Mediocre. Not good enough. Not able to answer the call in big moments. Unfulfilling. Disappointing. And, of course, likely out of the playoffs.
I do not get this team. Sometimes they start slow. Sometimes they cannot finish. Often they simply do not have what it takes.
They had it going well in the first quarter. They turned away the Ravens on their first three drives while building a 10-0 lead.
And then they collapsed in the second quarter. The Ravens got physical. They imposed their will. They won at the line of scrimmage.
Oh, about the line of scrimmage. Dallas Thomas needs to be benched. Everyone with eyes knows this. And yet he stayed out there pass play after pass play, letting Elvis Dumervil pad his sack stats.
Dumervil finished with 3.5 sacks.
At one point it is no longer Thomas's fault. The fault lies with coaches, who continue to put an overmatched player out there. Jason Fox should have been in there in the second half today. And yet coaches stuck with Thomas as if sacrificing him into a volcano.
There was no challenge of a potential safety. There was no resolution to a terrible run defense, as Baltimore shredded the Dolphins on the ground -- the third game in a row that happens.
On the Baltimore side, meanwhile, the game seemed to turn on a fourth-and-one situation from their own 35 in third quarter. The Ravens, turned back multiple times on third-and-one, went for it.
They made it.
And never really looked back.
And that leaves us with very little to look ahead to the rest of this season. I'm sure the Dolphins will say they still have a shot.