September 28, 2015

Joe Philbin: No time to panic

The Miami Dolphins are circling the wagons following the Buffalo Bills loss.

Today, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin opened his day-after presser by saying, "We didn't execute well in any phase. We didn't coach well in any phase and we didn't deserve to win."

But having said that, Philbin doesn't think a bigtime change in approach is warranted.

"We're not getting 53 new players. We're not getting 24 new coaches," he said. "We're either going to find the solutions or we're not. We're either going to stick together or we're not. And so this is not a time to me to panic."

Philbin also said, "We're not going to reinvent things right now."

The coach did leave open the possibility of lineup changes, saying, "We're going to look at everything."

But when the players who are not producing include Cameron Wake, Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller, Ndamukong Suh and other apparent untouchables, what kind of significant lineup change can he make?

One thing: The Dolphins had a Bills defender run through the A-gap untouched yesterday. Jamil Douglas is thus on a short leash. There was miscommunication on a 38-yard TD over the top of the defense. I don't expect Walt Aikens's playing time to increase. The opposite, actually.

Philbin lamented the fact the Dolphins haven't started games well. He took responsibility for the state of the Dolphins. But he defended his staff.

"I believe in the coaching staff we have in place right now," Philbin said. "We have the who can come up with the solutions to the problems."

Two take-aways, four give-aways, minus-5 in sack differential.

"We have to play better complementary football overall," he said. "We have to protect the quarterback better, we have to stop the run better, we have to get off the field on third down better. There's a number of things we have to do better."

Philbin has spoken to owner Stephen Ross and while he declined to share how that conversation went, he said Ross "is like everybody else who was there. I don't think any of us feel good about what happened at the stadium yesterday. No one person in the organization."

Philbin said he is aware of the situation relating to Miko Grimes's arrest. He said Brent Grimes's status with the team will not be be impacted by his wife.

Miami Dolphins have issues on multiple levels

A beleaguered Joe Philbin stepped to the post-game podium late Sunday night and refused to point fingers. He said the last thing his team could should do was point fingers and blame other people.

We’ve got two ways to go," Philbin said. "We can start saying,"‘You’re the problem, I’m the problem, he’s the problem, we’re the problem’, or, ‘We’ll work together and come up with some solutions and play better football.'"

And that sounds good in theory.

But in practice the problems the Dolphins face now don't seem to have either easy solutions or plausible patches. The Dolphins right now are the Titanic. And moving around deck chairs isn't going to keep this thing from going under.

And why do I say this?

Because the Dolphins seem fundamentally flawed on multiple levels.

Level No. 1 -- Ownership. I wondered, as the Buffalo Bills were lighting up his team, what owner Stephen Ross was thinking. I wondered because while it might be fair to believe he was disappointed or frustrated or even angry that this is how this team performed in its first regular season game in the renovated Sun Life, maybe Ross was going totally opposite to the thinking of a normal person. After all, Ross did exactly that last December when right in the middle of a late-season collapse in which the Dolphins lost three of their final four games, Ross gave Philbin a one-year contract extension. Everyone was expecting the Miami owner to put his coach on blast at the end of the season and either fire him or seriously consider firing him. And yet, Ross gave Philbin somewhere between $2-$4 million more for his 1-3 efforts at season's end.

The very idea stretches logic. And so does this one:

If, barring a miraculous recovery by these Dolphins, Ross finds it necessary to go coach hunting after this season, I tell you here and now that exercise is already doomed. Why?

Because Ross, for all his real estate acumen and his degrees from his beloved Michigan, has committed the same mistake over and over again and is about to do it again. And that mistake guarantees that Ross cannot hire the right people for jobs he is offering.

That mistake is forcing shotgun weddings upon potential new candidates for any significant Miami job.

Consider that when Ross fired coach Tony Sparano he made the mistake of keeping Jeff Ireland as the general manager. So instead of starting fresh, Ross had to tell potential coaching candidates they had to work with a GM that was already in place.

Within a couple of years Ireland and new coach Joe Philbin were feuding while not winning. So Ross fired Ireland. And then he committed the same mistake by keeping Philbin. So now he had to force Philbin upon an incoming GM. And, of course, several GM candidates declined the job or bowed out of the process.

And after hiring GM Dennis Hickey, Ross determined that Hickey couldn't run the organization's personnel department by himself. So this offseason he heaped both Philbin and Hickey upon new football czar Mike Tannenbaum.

And if this trio fails this year, Philbin will be gone. Maybe Hickey will be gone, although that is not certain. But it is a practical certainty Tannenbaum will remain. And so Ross will force the next incoming coach and perhaps general manager to accept Tannenbaum.

That means Sean Payton -- on the long shot chance he's even available -- will not be interested in coming to the Ross circus in Miami. It means no coach of high reputation will really be interested in Miami. Why? Because Ross continues to do the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome. He refuses to clean house and start anew.

Level 2. Coaching. The owner refuses to get it right, is there any wonder his first hire -- Philbin -- does the same? Look, Kevin Coyle should have been fired at the end of last year. He'd had three years. He'd failed to make the Miami defense better even one of those years. Yet Philbin could not bring himself to fire the defensive coordinator, much the same way he didn't really want to fire former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

It just seems that Philbin comes from the viewpoint that players either make plays or they don't and that coaches aren't going to make that big a difference as long as they didn't really bungle the week of preparation or the management of the game.

But much of the NFL comes at it from a different viewpoint and that is a coach should put his players in a position to succeed. And if that coach discovers the player failed when he's in the position to succeed, he has to take an active role in making that player much better or finding a replacement.

Give me the list of players who have become better under Kevin Coyle? It's late. I can't think of any right now. I'm sure the list is not long.

So the owner refused to fire the head coach and the head coach refused to fire the defensive coordinator and the problems that manifested at the end of last season on defense are rearing their heads again now.

Oh, by the way, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's group has regressed so far this year. They scored two touchdowns in a game Sunday matching the output last week. It wasn't good enough last week and it wasn't good enough again this week, particularly when one understands the offense also gave up a TD on a pick six. 

Finally, how great is this coaching staff, really? I mean, who is the rising star on this staff? Who is the next head coach in waiting?

The fact I'm asking you this rhetorically rather than giving you a list of possible interim head coaches should tell you something.

Level 3: The personnel decisions of the past offseason don't look too awesome right now.

Ndamukong Suh signed a $114 million contract. Has he been dynamic? Has he affected the outcome of any game? Has he made a difference? No. No. No.

So far the investment is returning very little dividends.

Maybe instead of a defensive tackle that gets paid like a quarterback, the Dolphins might have been better served by finding a cornerback and a safety that got paid like good corners and safeties do. Suddenly, Brice McCain isn't starting but playing the slot in sub packages. Suddenly, nobody is thinking about Walt Aikens.

Just saying.

Ryan Tannehill got a $96 million contract extension this offseason. The Dolphins didn't need to do that. They could have waited to see what Tannehill was going to do in the final year of his rookie contract. They already had a fifth-year option guaranteed for injury on him. And they had the trump card of a franchise tag after that. In other words, Tannehill wasn't going anywhere if the Dolphins didn't want it.

And yet they paid him anyway. The Colts haven't paid Andrew Luck but the Dolphins stepped out on Tannehill before he proved he's a fully formed franchise QB. And, I get it, I think the kid does indeed check a lot of boxes and he's going to be fine. But I remind you that on the small chance it doesn't work out, it wasn't a deal the Dolphins had to do. 

The Kenny Stills trade for a third-round pick? Not looking tpo good at this point. Stills has three catches for 20 yards. He didn't catch a pass Sunday. So what was the vision for Stills when that trade was made? Because whatever the vision was, it needs corrective lenses right now.

Greg Jennings? Folks, he is a great person. So I suppose he'll understand that he needs to fade into the background and the Dolphins need to give DeVante Parker more snaps. Parker needs to start for this team. Period. No excuses.

Jennings does not.

And, by the way, I did not say Parker needs to continue to be worked in slowly. He's the first-round pick. He is the future. The future needs to begin immediately because the present is not feeling very good for this team.

As I wrote in my column in today's Miami Herald everyone is on the hot seat now. This is going to be an ugly week.

September 27, 2015

Brent Grimes wife arrested before Dolphins game

It was a bad day for the Miami Dolphins on and off the field.

Before Sunday's 41-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the wife of cornerback Brent Grimes was arrested by Miami-Dade police near or on Sun Life Stadium property.

Miko Grimes has been charged with disorderly conduct, battery on a police officer. and resisting arrest with violence, per a police spokesman who spoke to The Herald's Adam Beasley. There is a video of the arrest on Twitter. It is tough to watch.

Cornerback Brent Grimes was made aware of the situation after the game and left the locker room without commenting.

Miami Dolphins need to fire Kevin Coyle

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle needs to go.

I don't say that in a reactionary or angry way following Sunday's 41-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills. I have been critical of Coyle the past couple of years and wrote he needed to go after last season's December collapse by the defense.

Simply, the Dolphins defense has regressed steadily under Coyle for four years and last year's fall off the table was the worst of it...

...Until Sunday.

Forget that the Dolphins gave up touchdown drives the first two times Buffalo had the football. Forget that after the Dolphins made this a 34-14 game, the Bills, with their backup quarterback in the game, sliced through the Miami defense to make it 41-14 -- the final 41 yards on a Karlos Williams touchdown run.

The point is this is not going to get any better.

Kevin Coyle has turned Ndamukong Suh into an ordinary player.

The team has one sack all season and none in the last 11 1/2 quarters.

The Miami deep secondary is a mess, with Walt Aikens, semi-benched today, still getting enough playing time to provide no over-the-top help on a bomb to Chris Hogan for a touchdown.

There is no return from this, folks. yes, this defense might be better than this game at some point this season. But it will never be great.

Not under Kevin Coyle.

Oh, yes, who should take over?

DB coach Lou Anarumo has been a DC at the Merchant Marine Academy.

LB coach Mark Duffner has been a DC with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Jim Schwartz is unemployed. Bring in him tonight, if necessary.

Coyle must go.

Worst half in Joe Philbin era in the books at Sun Life

I have just witnessed the worst half of football by a Joe Philbin coached team ever.

I'm going to fall short of saying the current 27-0 halftime deficit the Dolphins face against the Bills is the worst half of Dolphins football ever because, well, I remember a half of football against the New England Patriots in 2007 in which the Pats scored 35 points.

So this is not as terrible as that.

But it is awful.

The Dolphins came onto the field to a raucous ovation from the sold out crowd pregame. When they went in for halftime, they were being booed lustily.

And they deserved it.

The defense didn't show up -- giving up touchdown drives the first two times Buffalo got the football.

The offense didn't show up -- giving up a touchdown on an interception return and then being somewhat responsible for another field goal just before halftime when Ryan Tannehill threw an interception on fourth down and five.

Tannehill has three interceptions today.

This morning I made the point the Dolphins haven't started fast this season. They didn't today, going three-and-out on their first offensive series and then getting lit up on the first two drives. By the way, on the first drive the Bills put on a clinic on how to use Charles Clay.

The former Dolphins tight end caught three passes, including a 25-yard touchdown in which he faked out three Miami tacklers.

You thought a loss to Jacksonville was bad last week?

This is historically bad so far today, folks. 

Inactives for Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have one sack this season. Jordan Phillips collected that in the first game of the season. And he's not playing today.

Phillips is among the Dolphins inactive for today's game against the Buffalo Bills.

The other inactives are Raheem Mostert, Dion Sims, Matt Hazel, Billy Turner, Branden Albert and Tony Lippett.

So what does this mean?

Jason Fox is starting at left tackle. No secret there.

Jarvis Landry will likely be the return man today on punts as well as kicks.

Jordan Cameron, who missed some practice this week with a groin injury, is starting. Sam Brenner is active. A.J. Francis is active for the first time this season.

Early Mitchell, dealing with a back issue, is active but he's clearly not 100 percent. His pregame warmup was viewed by Mike Tannenbaum, Joe Philbin, Dennis Hickey, Kevin Coyle and trainers. Yeah, a lot of eyes on him.

Obviously, he plays. But for how long?

Finally, I suggested last week the Dolphins bench Walt Aikens in favor of Michael Thomas. Yeah, that may happen. Thomas was taking his warmup with the first-team defense and at the least, he will share time with Aikens this game.

Ideas to combat the Miami Dolphins slow starts

If you've been paying attention the first two games of this season -- or most of the games the past couple of seasons before that -- you know the Miami Dolphins don't always start fast. Indeed, they rarely jump on opponents from the outset.

And that is what I address in my column today in The Miami Herald, which I encourage you to read.

Coach Joe Philbin talked to me about the issue and reveals what he and his coaching staff are doing to address it.

I even give a couple of suggestions of how to address it.

But after writing the column I thought up a couple of other ways to address it. Look, a lot of arm-chair coaches are going to suggest taking the football if the Dolphins win the coin toss against Buffalo today. The Dolphins usually defer.

I wouldn't take the ball.

That's the last thing I would do today.

Firstly, I do not want to put the Buffalo defense on the field first against a Miami offense that will be minus left tackle Branden Albert and have them set the tone for the game right off the bat.

So I put the Miami defense on the field first. And I do so, understanding Buffalo's offense is healthy but their quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, is still something of a newbie as an NFL starter and not exactly a great player.

So I ask the Miami defense to set the tone today. They should be sufficiently, um, peeved about how last week ended -- allowing a winning FG drive at Jacksonville -- to make amends today.

Also, the Dolphins offense is pretty good coming out after halftime, as Philbin recognizes.

On the other hand, if the Dolphins lose the toss and must put the offense on the field first, I would lay this surprise on Buffalo: Start Jonas Gray.

Yeah, I know, crazy right?

Here's my logic: The Dolphins want to establish a running game. They want to set a tone.

So do you do that with Lamar Miller, who was not 100 percent this week because of an ankle injury and was limited in practice?

Or do you do that with a more physical Gray, who took a lot of repetitions in practice this week, knows the offense now and should be active for the game?

I do it with Gray. I would use Miller as well. But he'd be my change-of-pace guy unless he's on fire somehow and giving him the ball time and again is the right thing to do.

This is not the first lineup tweak I've suggested this week that the Dolphins will likely ignore. I suggested putting Michael Thomas in at safety over Walt Aikens.

So does any of this have the sound of desperation?

Maybe it does. But better to be desperate before a game than sleepy and lacking urgency and not fully energized, which is how the Dolphins too often start games the past few years.

September 26, 2015

Keys to the game: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills is rife with irony.

Consider: Two years ago the Miami Dolphins rid themselves of left guard Richie Incognito because, well, they had to. Incognito was at the center of the 2013 harassment scandal, he had relapsed into alcohol and drug use, and there was that moment on the golf course in which he assaulted the female course volunteer during a team-organized event.

His departure was without choice.

But today, Incognito is a story of redemption and persistence. He's apparently straightened himself out personally and he's returned to the NFL with the Bills. And, oh yes, he is ballin' so far this season.

Incognito has played 131 snaps for the Bills and has not allowed even a quarterback hurry, according to Pretty good.

On the other hand, the Dolphins left guard this season, Dallas Thomas, is not exactly playing up to the hopes the team's personnel department said he was capable of reaching even as critics said Thomas wasn't the answer.

So far, advantage critics.

Thomas has played 125 snaps and he's allowed two sacks, one quarterback hit, and five hurries. Not. Good.

So it will be interesting to see how the left guard position looks for either team Sunday when both defensive fronts -- supposedly among the best in the NFL -- go at the position.

Here's the rest of how the two teams match up:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill individual statistics are good. His QB rating is 101.7. He hasn't thrown an interception. He's completing 66.7 percent of his passes. But that is merely a façade. Outside of Jarvis Landry and occasionally tight end Jordan Cameron, there has been no consistency for the Dolphins through the air. There have been dropped passes, Tannehill has missed open receivers, rookie DeVante Parker is still trying to figure things out, and the pass protection was so good last week against Jacksonville that Tannehill left the stadium with a noticeable limp. The Dolphins are likely to be in quick-passing mode most of this game because the Miami OL has simply not proven it can protect Tannehill against any sort of solid defensive front and the Bills have perhaps the best in the NFL. The Dolphins can find solace in that last week New England lit up the Buffalo secondary to the tune of 467 passing yards. But, of course, Tom Brady is probably busy with other things today. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

When the Dolphins run the football: So far, not much has happened. Lamar Miller wasn't getting enough rush opportunities last year and he's getting fewer so far this year. The problem? The offensive line, again. No one is breaking enough tackles. And the coaching staff has to resolve to not abandon the run when it doesn't necessarily work every single time. The Bills so far have been solid against the run. Not surprising. They have an excellent defensive front. But it just might be possible that they will be so intent on defending the pass -- with which they got destroyed last week -- that this perhaps will leave an opening for running the ball. There's also the intangible that Miami has been terrible (30th in the NFL) running the ball and maybe someone on the team might want to prove a point. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

When the Bills pass the football: The Bills are going with first-year fulltime starter Tyrod Taylor, who acquitted himself well in the opener and then fell back to reality last week against Bill Belichick's defense. Taylor is quick to check down, sometimes to the detriment of waiting for receivers downfield to uncover. And he is very quick to run the football if pressured. Interesting that Sammy Watkins, who is perhaps the most gifted of Buffalo's receivers, has been somewhat overshadowed. He is only averaging 10-yards per catch and is Buffalo's fourth-leading pass catcher. The Dolphins last week struggled with the deep ball against Jacksonville. They need to address the issue before it becomes acute. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Bills run the football: The Bills want to be a tough run-first offense. And so far, so good, as they're No. 3 in the NFL in rushing and No. 2 in rush yards per attempt. LeSean McCoy has been dynamic in past years but is still waiting for a signature moment with the Bills as his longest run from scrimmage so far is 18 yards. The Dolphins run defense hasn't been terrible. They're middle of the pack in rush yards allowed per game and per attempt. The problem is the Miami front is supposed to be great. The Dolphins paid Ndamukong Suh $114 million to, in part, bring the same kind of results to Miami he brought to Detroit when the Lions were the No. 1 run defense last season. Yes, small sample size so far this year. But this is a division game. Time to show up. Taylor leaving the pocket is a wildcard the Dolphins must account for. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: The Bills special teams should be familiar to Miami fans because former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter and former Dolphins return man Marcus Thigpen are playing for the Bills now. Carpenter struggled in the preseason but is 2-for-2 this year. Thigpen has been good, not great on punt returns while sharing the kickoff return duties with Percy Harvin, who can by dynamic. The Dolphins got the big special teams play in their opener but last week rookie kicker Andrew Franks missed a key 46-yarder that might have changed the tenor of the game. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: The Dolphins have failed to start fast in either game this year. That is on the coaching staff. The Bills coaching staff, specifically head coach Rex Ryan, made the strategic mistake of talking too much before playing New England last week. The talk got Western New York excited and perhaps got the team so overly excited they seemed to play nervous and without discipline early in the game. This week both staffs have to address penalties that plagued both teams last week. ADVANTAGE: Even.

September 25, 2015

Miami Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert doubtful for Bills

Miami Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert did not practice this week because of a hamstring injury suffered in last week's loss to Jacksonville.

He is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Buffalo. That's official.

Unofficially? He's not playing, folks.

Jason Fox is expected to start for the Dolphins at left tackle.

That was sort of expected. This is less expected:

After practicing on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday, tight end Dion Sims missed practice altogether on Friday and is also listed as doubtful.

He has apparently not cleared the NFL concussion protocol to play on Sunday.

The Dolphins are expecting TE Jordan Cameron (groin), running back Lamar Miller (ankle), and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (back) to give it a go on Sunday even though they are listed as questionable. That assumes no setback in the next day and for Mitchell it also assumes he doesn't tighten up at any point.

Of no surprise is that Cameron Wake (hamstring), Ryan Tannehill (ankle) and Reshad Jones (hamstring) are probable and starting.


Miami Dolphins WR room more peace, not more production

The Miami Dolphins made a much-chronicled decision to remake the wide receiver room last offseason.

Out went Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson.

In came Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker and Greg Jennings.

And with the requisite warning that we still have a very small sample size, the looks of things right now is that the Dolphins made a big switch for reasons having nothing to do with production.

Yes, maybe it was chemistry. Maybe it was personalities. Maybe it was salary cap. Maybe all of those were the primary reasons for the moves.

But if production is included in there, it simply hasn't shown itself tangibly yet.

That's because the three receivers Miami lost and the three Miami added are more or less producing at the same rate -- which is to say, so far not too much.

Consider the WRs Miami jettisoned:

Wallace has nine catches on 10 targets in Minnesota for 101 yards without a TD.

Hartline in Cleveland has two catches on seven targets for 20 yards and is without a TD.

Brandon Gibson, much as he was during his time in Miami, injured himself during the preseason in New England and is on injured reserve. He is done for the year.

So the three receivers Miami let go so far have 11 catches on 17 targets for 121 yards.

No, that is not great. And yes, there are mitigating factors there. Hartline has been dealing with a new offense and one quarterback in Week One and another quarterback in Week Two. Wallace is dealing with a new offense that following a Week One loss was bent on getting the football in Adrian Peterson's hands.

So there's that.

But the facts are the guys that came to the Dolphins aren't showing up much better at the moment.

Stills has three receptions on seven targets for 20 yards.

Jennings has three catches on eight targets for 29 yards.

Parker, the first round draft pick, has one catch for three yards.

That is a combined seven catches for 52 yards. Less than the guys who left currently have produced.

The mitigating factors here?

All are new to the Miami system. Stills lost his starting job in the preseason when he was injured and hasn't been a significant part of the offense since. The truth is even in practice during training camp he wasn't often making big plays -- the job the Dolphins traded for him to fill.

Jennings, a major pleasant surprise to coaches in the preseason, has gotten off to a slow start in the regular season. He dropped a pass last week. He and quarterback Ryan Tannehill seemed to have some chemistry in the preseason but that hasn't manifested the first two games.

And Parker is still trying to get to being 100 percent and knowing the offense 100 percent and knowing his position's tricks of the trade 100 percent. He's simply not all there yet.

He has the greatest ceiling of anyone on this list here or gone. But he's got a lot of work to do to catch up after missing much of training camp and he then has to master the different situational packages the Dolphins have set before him -- so far, primarily in the red zone -- before coaches will trust him with more work.

The irony of all this?

The shuffling of receivers in and out of the organization has done most benefit to Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews -- the two holdovers from last year's roster that weren't always the focus of things.

Oh, yes, Landry led the team in receptions and is doing so again. But the spotlight was always on Wallace. Except now the spotlight is on Landry and his 16 catches for 163 yards.

Eventually, teams are going to recognize he is quarterback Ryan Tannehill's go-to guy. And you know what defensive coordinators try to do to go-to receivers? Yeah, they try to lock them down.

Matthews, who wanted to be traded in the offseason, stepped in when Stills got hurt. And he has taken off since. He is second on the team with 10 catches on 22 targets for 149 yards. He has the only receiving TD by a wide receiver and his 48-yard catch is the longest completion of the season so far.

And so what does this all mean?

Well, perhaps the Dolphins receiver room has more peace than it did last year. But the new guys certainly have added no more production than the guys who left.

Of course, it is early.

On both fronts.

September 24, 2015

Branden Albert status for Bills is ... not good

While the Miami Dolphins got multiple injured players back to practice today, including tight end Jordan Cameron, the status of left tackle Braden Albert has become a concern.

Albert, nursing a hamstring injury, missed practice for the second consecutive day. He pronounced himself day-to-day in the locker room, but it seems clear his status for Sunday's game against Buffalo is highly questionable.

And that's bad because the Bills have an excellent defensive front and the Dolphins really need all hands on deck.

The Dolphins would use either Jason Fox or Jeff Linkenbach at left tackle if Albert does not play on Sunday.

DT Earl Mitchell, who was not on the injury report on Wednesday, also missed the portion of practice that was open to the media on Thursday.

The Dolphins did get good news in that Jordan returned to practice and running back Lamar Miller, also not practicing Wednesday with a hamstring injury, dressed for practice today and seemed likely to work at least on a limited basis. 

Miami Dolphins face dilemma with their anemic running attack

Lamar Miller, the Miami Dolphins starting and most effective running back, last season averaged 13.5 carries per game. And that was not enough. Miller privately told friends and others he'd like more opportunities in 2015 because he wanted to have a better season and he was convinced more carries would result in, well, more.

More yards.

More touchdowns.

More winning.

And, not coincidently, more money after the season because he is in the final year of his contract.

So more.

Except the first two games of 2015 have so far offered less.

Miller has 23 carries the first two games. That's 11.5 carries a game. And with fewer opportunities, Miller has understandably delivered less. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry last season. He's averaging 2.9 yards a carry so far this year.

And, yes, it is a very small sample size. Two games is nothing. But for the past few days since their upset loss at Jacksonville, the Dolphins coaching staff has been concerned about the running game and trying to figure out how to get it right.

“We’ve got to get more attempts," coach Joe Philbin said. "One of the big thing we’ve talked about as a staff is that we haven’t had great rhythm offensively. We’ve been behind in games. We haven’t run enough plays really. I think that’s all a part of it. You’ve got to eliminate penetration, got to break some tackles; all the things that contribute to a good run game. We haven’t had enough of that and we need to get more."

More is good. Miller likes more.

"As a running back you got to get a feel for the game," Miller said. "You got to get the feel for the defense and once you get that going you should be good."

The only way to get that feel is getting the football, yes, more.

"We have to be more consistent," Miller said. "Once we call run plays, we have to get positive yards. We have to get tough yards."

The problem here? The Dolphins have a multi-faceted problem. They haven't had the football enough to call more run plays. The run plays they have called haven't been consistently successful. And when offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has to decide between running it (which has been failing) and passing (which has been mostly succeeding) he has decided to pick what has been working because winning the game is more important than balancing run and pass.

Except this is a chicken and egg situation.

A significant way to make the passing game better is to, you guessed it, run the ball more and better and be balanced.

"I think the run game is something that we’re working on right now," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We haven’t been up to our standards in the first two games and it’s something that we’re putting a lot of time and effort into and want to get going.

"I don’t know exactly what our average was per rush, but it needs to be better. We need to be able to get four or five yards whenever we run the football, balance it out. We have good running backs. I think we have the ability to get that kind of yardage per run, but we aren’t doing it right now so we have to clean that up and be able to run the football effectively.”

"When [defenses] honor the run game, then it opens up a lot more play-action stuff for us and passes down the field. It’s definitely key."

This is kind of like a puzzle, isn't it? And here's a couple of more pieces:

The Dolphins offensive line hasn't been great at run blocking and it is physically beat up with left tackle Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey nursing injuries.

And this week's opponent, the Buffalo Bills, are a more than solid run defense. The Bills were No. 11 against the run in 2014. And in this season's small sample size they have improved on that front. The Bills are No. 2 against the run right now.

(Of course, that has something to do with the fact the New England Patriots last week decided to pass almost exclusively and lit up the Bills that way).

So the question becomes do the Dolphins, really wanting to establish their running game, get stubborn with the Bills and force the run? Or do they decide the best way to move the football against Buffalo is do what New England did and throw and thereby go another week with a poor run attack?

I don't know what they will do. It is an interesting dilemma.

Here's my suggestion:

Balance schmalance.

Do what gives you the best chance to win.

September 23, 2015

Miami Dolphins managing multiple injuries

Miami Dolphins trainers Troy Maurer, Ryan Grove, Jonathan Gress and Naohisa Inoue are going to be busy this week.

The Dolphins have a handful of walking wounded that need attention if they are to play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and it so happens several of them are key to the success of the team.

Offensive tackle Branden Albert, who left Sunday's game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury, did not practice today. Jason Fox is listed as the backup left tackle but I imagine Dallas Thomas may get some repetitions there.

Tight end Jordan Cameron, who left the game in the second half with a groin injury, did not practice today.

Running back Lamar Miller, who left the game with an ankle injury, was on the bike during the open portion of practice but it is possible he did limited work during the closed portion of practice.

[Update: He did not practice, according to the injury report.]

Miller, by the way, said he'd be fine. A team source said he and Cameron are day to day.

The Dolphins signed running back Jonas Gray off their practice squad to the active roster undoubtedly to guard against the possibility Miller isn't ready for Sunday.

Cameron also said he feels much better today and was moving around fairly well even as he was not practicing.

On the bright side for Miami, defensive end Cameron Wake, who missed all but 15 snaps of Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, practiced at least on a limited basis today. [Update: The injury report confirmed he was limited.]

And tight end Dion Sims, who missed last week's game while under the concussion protocol, has been cleared to practice and returned today at least on a limited basis. [Update: Sims was limited, per the injury report.]

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who tweaked his ankle on Sunday, practiced full.

Center Mike Pouncey (elbow) practiced on a limited basis and Reshad Jones (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis. Both are expected to play, barring an unforeseen circumstance.

Patriots quick passing attack vs. Bills already used by Dolphins vs. Bills

Thanks, New England Patriots. For nothing.

The Patriots last Sunday demolished the Buffalo Bills on defense. They stampeded the Bills to the tune of 40 points and 507 total yards, 451 of those passing.

And the most intriguing thing about the game was that the Bills defensive front -- among the best in the NFL last season and expected to be right there again this year -- was a relative non-factor. The Patriots allowed only two sacks. Brady had time to throw most of the day.

It gets worse for Buffalo. The two sacks they got? Not on the New England offensive line. It was other protection and even Brady's timing that led to those.

And how did this happen?

Quick throws.

Three-step drops.

Decisiveness on Brady's part.

Even with an undrafted rookie free agent David Andrews starting at center, fourth-round rookie pick Shaq Mason (all 6-1 of him) starting at left guard, and Josh Kline holding things down at right guard, the Patriots were unperturbed in the pass pocket.

The quick passing game seemed to surprise and frustrate the Bills.

"This loss is squarely on one man's shoulders, it's on my shoulders," Buffalo coach Rex Ryan said afterward. "And, yeah, we got to get better as a team. There's no question. But I have to get better. Belichick out-coached me. No question about it. "

"The plan has to be better on defense. you can't give up 500 yards and beat anybody ... We did a [expletive] job. Our team has to get better, but I have to get better. It starts with me and I'm looking forward to next week."

Yeah, well, next week is this week and the Dolphins are the opponent. And I'd say the Dolphins would be smart to copy the Patriots' approach ... Except it feels like it was the Patriots copying the Dolphins approach against Buffalo.

Last season, in the first game between the teams, the Dolphins ran their offense. And Ryan Tannehill was punished. The Bills had four sacks. The Bills had multiple hurries. The Dolphins lost, 29-10.

And so in the rematch at Sun Life the Dolphins tried to get Tannehill to get the ball out fast. There were a lot of three-step throws. There were not any seven-step that I can remember.

Yes, the Bills still got pressure. They got five sacks. But the Dolphins moved the ball much more effectively and won the game.

That should be the approach again this weekend. Don't let Mario Williams go nuts. Don't let Marcel Dareus and Jerry Hughes and Kevin Williams dominate -- something they were not able to do last week.

The problem is the Bills have now seen this approach this season. It is fresh on their list of things to address -- not that they can really jump the snap count or anything to get to Tannehill any quicker.

The point is the Dolphins have a plan, if they elect to use it, to try to counter the Buffalo onslaught defensively. It's the plan they really used last November. 

September 22, 2015

Richie Incognito wants 'to give it to' the Miami Dolphins

The South Florida media by virtual consensus asked the Buffalo Bills for a chance to speak to Richie Incognito this week. Not gonna happen.

Regardless of whom you believe -- the Bills are saying Incognito didn't want to discuss his story or history in Miami at this time, while Incognito himself has texted some folks saying he's been muzzled by the Bills -- the conference call with Incognito is not happening.

Amazingly, however, we have Internet access and satellite feed access here in South Florida. It's a thing we have. So we've been able to see what Incognito said to the Buffalo media this week about his coming meeting with his old team.

"I think I’m personally motivated for every single game I play in. I’m juiced up; I’m amped up for every single game," Incognito said via Time Warner Cable News in Buffalo.  "This one just has a little more meaning. There’s obviously bigger things at play here. But for me, it’s just focusing, going down there, playing physical and playing tough football."

Obviously bigger things at play?

I would say so, considering the Dolphins jettisoned Incognito from the team's active roster midway through the 2013 season after fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, fed up with what he said was harassing behavior by Incognito and others, threw a plate of spaghetti against a wall and left the team.

At first the Dolphins defended Incognito. Then they suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team. Then the Ted Wells investigation rolled into town and found what it intended to find. And Incognito was then not re-signed by Miami or anyone else all of 2014.

Incognito signed with Buffalo February 7, 2015 and has so far been a good citizen and good addition to the team. He's the starting left guard.

But, ironically, after initially playing the villain nationally, Incognito is more beloved by Miami fans than Martin, the alleged victim, ever was. And the recent Ted Wells report of the New England Patriots has in some weird way helped Incognito's reputation because the public is now aware the NFL's assigned independent investigator is perhaps not quite as independent and open to all sides of an investigation as previously believed.

So maybe, just maybe, Incognito wants to return to the Dolphins, play well, and show them they should have stuck with him amid his crisis of personality in 2013.

"I think it’s one of those things where in professional sports you kind of cross paths with one of your old teams, and you want to give it to them," he said.  "You want to play well and you want to come away with a win. Especially since I’m so close to some of those guys and have been competing with them for so long. It’s like a brotherly love. You want to kick your brother’s butt in anything you do so it’s going to be fun to go down there and compete with them."

A suggested lineup change and PFF grades from Jacksonville

This week's film grades from include a couple of surprises and don't suggest the Miami Dolphins defense is the big heaping mess everyone (including perhaps me) have suggested the past couple of weeks.

But there is little doubt this team -- especially the defense -- need adjustment.

So before I get to the grades and insight, let me offer this suggestion:

Safety Walt Aikens needs to be benched. The Dolphins picked Aikens over Michael Thomas after Louis Delmas blew out his knee for obvious reasons. Aikens is bigger, stronger, faster. He has a higher upside. But the fact of the matter is Thomas is less mistake prone. And misreads and hesitation and, yes, mistakes on the back end of the defense are potentially catastrophic.

Aikens made one such mistake on a double move and gave up a 46-yard touchdown against Jacksonville. The Dolphins lost 23-20.

I'm not saying the Dolphins should give up on Aikens completely. He has value in sub packages, maybe. But he simply needs to be brought along more slowly, which was the plan anyway because he was the backup before Delmas got injured.

Thomas should be the guy right now.

As to the PFF grades:


WR Jarvis Landry had an overall grade of 3.5 this week and through the first two weeks he ranks third overall (4.9 overall grade) among wide receivers.

Center Mike Pouncey bounced back this week with an overall 2.8 grade (compared to 0.1 last week).

Running back Lamar Miller had a bad time on Sunday. He got no blocking to speak of and didn't do much with what little blocking he got. Oh, yes, and he injured his ankle. Miller had a -1.9 rushing grade (-2.7 overall) which ranked 80th out of 85 running backs.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished the game with a .4 overall grade which ranks 16th out of 33 quarterbacks.


Weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (4.0 overall grade) and strongside linebacker Koa Misi (2.6 overall grade) were the second and fourth ranked 4-3 OLBs in Week Two. Amazing, given the ability of Jacksonville to move the ball on the ground and with short passing gains.

Defensive end Cameron Wake, who came to the game with a hamstring injury, had an overall grade  of -1.2 on 15 snaps.

Cornerback Brent Grimes had a 1.5 Coverage grade which ranks 12th out 108 cornerbacks in Week Two. Grimes gave up a couple of passes including a 36-yarder, where he lost a jump ball, but he remains the team's best CB.

The fact is both Grimes and McCain had relatively good coverage all day. But both got beat on jump balls during the game. It is the price of having a 5-9 and 5-10 cornerback tandem.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished with an overall grade of 1.1 and had one QB hurry, one tackle, one assist and one missed tackle ranking him 20th out of 82 tackles.

Strong safety Reshad Jones is having a very productive season so far. He has yet to miss a tackle in the 131 snaps he has played. The Dolphins as a team, meanwhile, have struggled with missed tackles so far.

New York Jets rolls, their D is best, Coyle says move on, Lazor gives interview clinic (updated)

The common theme on twitter as everyone watched the New York Jets beat and beat up the Indianapolis Colts was something akin to, "How could the Dolphins not have hired Todd Bowles in 2012?"

Look, I'm not a Dolphins apologist. But this is truly playing the result.

Bowles in 2012 was a future head coach but was he ready to be a star? Probably not. Three years later, perhaps it is another story. The truth is Bowles wasn't even the second choice behind Joe Philbin for the head coaching job. This is how it played out:

Bowles was beloved by the players and then GM Jeff Ireland liked him a lot. But owner Stephen Ross really wanted to hire Jeff Fisher. Bowles was interviewed in the first tier along with Fisher. As Ross was sensitive about being accused of mishandling his first unofficial coach search with Tony Sparano and Jim Harbaugh, the owner picked Fisher over Bowles and told Bowles he was eliminated.

But Fisher, offered the job, left the Dolphins at the alter. And so the team had to pivot because Bowles had already moved on.

That is when the Dolphins came down to Mike McCoy and Joe Philbin.

According to a source familiar with the search, McCoy was Jeff Ireland's choice. He was voted down by Carl Petersen and Dawn Aponte -- who were an important part of the search and had a vote.

So Joe Philbin.

Not that any of it matters now.

What matters is how the AFC East is stacking up.

Today the New England Patriots and Jets are atop the division at 2-0. The Patriots probably have the best offense in the division. The Jets, according to Monday Night Football color man Jon Gruden, may finish the season as the NFL's best defense.

Clearly the Jets have the AFC East's best defense right now. They play as a unit. They don't blow a lot of assignments. They get turnovers. They rush the passer. They're good against the run.

What else is there?

Back in Dolphins land, where the team has already begun preparing for Sunday's home opener against the Buffalo Bills, Monday was about turning the page. It was about putting lipstick on a pig perspective to Miami's loss at Jacksonville.

I present defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle:

“Obviously we have high expectations about not just the pass rush but just the overall play of our group. I think we would have certainly expected more through two games, but yet, I think we are seeing things that we anticipated from our opponents, they’re throwing the ball quickly, they’re using a lot of extra personnel in terms of protection, chipping. If you study the tape you’ll see the tight ends are hanging, the backs are staying in. That’s not anything that hasn’t happened in the past. We’ll get our share of sacks. We’ve had a couple of penalties down the field that were taken (sacks) away from us. Yesterday we had three or four occasions where the quarterback was flushed out and we had opportunities but we didn’t make them. Yeah, we’ve got to improve and I believe we will."

Salguero: I don't want to hear that penalties have taken sacks away. Penalties are a function of poor technique, or poor discipline, or poor coaching, or simply doing something outside the rules because physically one cannot win within the rules. So fix the penalties. The lack of a consistent pass rush is not from penalties.


"I think Brent Grimes had another good game for us. I think some of the guys that came in and played on the defensive line played well. The linebacking corps had a very solid game overall as a group across the board. I’m not into singling out individual players whether it be for how well they played or if they made a mistake here or there. There were a lot of guys who had winning performances for us. We just talked about that in our unit meeting."

Salguero: My bad, I thought the defense gave up 23 points in a loss. I didn't realize it had played so well.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor also spoke on Monday. What a difference from Coyle.

He was asked about the two guards, Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas who haven't been good enough for Miami thus far.

“Improving, but inconsistent," Lazor said, "not as consistent as we would like.”

Salguero: Perfect answer.

Lazor said he would have liked more shots down the field on Sunday. And why didn't the Dolphins get them?

“Sometimes you call a play with the purpose of getting the ball launched down the field and things go wrong. There are a couple of ways you can do it as a coach: you can say ‘OK, when you call this play, you are throwing it deep, period.’ Then you get into a situation where they do something where there is a five percent chance they change the look or they bail off and really that’s not the way we liked to play football. We like to build the shots in and we had some things that we thought would get it down the field, some we threw it down the field not complete and some we didn’t because of the reasons of football, whether it be decision, route running, protection or something that we didn’t get down, we addressed it very clearly with them today and football isn’t a perfect game. We as coaches have got to arm them with “Hey, here’s what we’re trying to get done on these plays, a certain number or times we would like to hit it this way or that way,’ but the reality is, there is no law that says you have to throw it deep to win. Some of our best drives and maybe they get criticized the most, are the twelve, eight, 13 and 10 play drives and sometimes that’s how you do it. Our job is to the ball in the end zone for points and it’s easier to call one play and get 60 yards, but sometimes we’ve got to do it over a number of plays.”

Salguero: Look, the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl last year without getting a lot of deep ball completions. They protect the quarterback, they move the chains, and they do not abandon the run so as to not become one-dimensional.

Lazor has to stick with the run a bit more. I think he knows it.

“You could look at every run play and talk about, whether you have five guys blocking or seven guys blocking it’s not perfect, it always starts there whether it be the pad level, whether it be the timing to come off to the linebackers. Certainly give Jacksonville credit, I thought they played really hard and fast and they played well upfront and at the second level. I don’t want to take away from them, but I think that’s where it starts. I think the decisiveness of the ball carriers and I also have to look at myself. I know there are times where there were two or three yard runs and they scare you off running it again, but we take all of those things into account.”

Salguero: Lazor, more than any coach that is allowed to regularly speak to the press, is self-aware of his flaws. He is accountable. Can't succeed without understanding what one does poorly and then corrects it.

The Dolphins tight end situation is dire. I mean, it is "is Michael Egnew available?" dire. Dion Sims missed the game with a concussion and Jordan Cameron suffered a groin injury.

The next couple of days will tell how tough this is going to be.

“Today it’s a question so it could be concerning," Lazor admitted. "I’ll find out soon. To me those are two good players that we’ve talked about all camp, I like both of those players and they can both play in the run game and the pass game. Missing them, it’s hard to replace talented players."


September 21, 2015

A one dimensional offense, a defense that needs to 'go back to the drawing board'

JACKSONVILLE -- The fourth quarter of Sunday's game here was a snapshot of what the Miami Dolphins have been so far this season.

On offense, the unit had become a one-dimensional attack. Lamar Miller injured an ankle and because the Dolphins brought only two running backs to the game, Damien Williams got two carries in the fourth quarter.

The problem with that? The Dolphins rushed only twice in the fourth quarter in a game that was tied at 20 until 43 seconds were left to play.

The other 19 plays the Dolphins ran on offense that quarter? Eighteen pass attempts and one spike play.

That's no way to try to win -- by basically eliminating half your offense in a tie game. The Dolphins had to rely on Ryan Tannehill and the passing game saving the day and although the quarterback threw for 359 yards, he couldn't get his team on the scoreboard the final period.

Not that it was a whole lot better the entire rest of the game.

"They came out and played hard," Tannehill said of the Jaguars. "We knew they were going to play hard. They're a sound defense and they executed well. They did a good job of stopping the run and then heated us up in the second half bringing the pressure.

"We just didn't make enough plays. We left some plays out there. And a close game like that you have to make big plays and we didn't do that."

The Miami offense isn't rolling right now. It scored only one touchdown against Washington. It had two toucdowns Sunday but there was simply no rhythm. No synch.

No one is making plays, either, outside of Jarvis Landry. No one is doing their job. Think of it this way: Both teams yesterday had to turn to backup left tackles for significant portions of the game. Jason Fox played nearly three quarters. Luke Joeckel was out for Jacksonville so they turned to their backup.

The Jaguars made Miami pay for having a backup LT in the game while their backup LT stood up and played well. The Miami side of that equation? Terrible.

So things were ... off.

"We want to be somewhat balanced and get our run game going and we didn't do that today," Tannehill said. "We haven't gotten off to the start we wanted to. I don't know exactly what that is at this point. But we are coming into a game confident. We're just not making enough plays."

Speaking of not making enough plays, the defense is not good right now and, yes, I blame defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle in my column today.

This is simply not acceptable, folks. This defense has faced two middle-of-the-road offenses the first two weeks and struggled.

What's going to happen when they face the Patriots twice?

Or Indianapolis?

Or anyone with an actual pulse?

But it's more than that. There is growing frustration on the part of various players about other players not doing their jobs up front. There is growing frustration with Kevin Coyle's substitution decisions.

It is the second week of the season and people are already whispering complaints.

You'd think it was the end of 2014 all over again.

Except it isn't. This defense was reinforced with the most expensive free agent on the market this offseason. And we're in only the second week of his Dolphins career. 

Ndamukong Suh was brought to Miami to make a difference.

And he has made zero positive impact so far. He played 60 snaps on Sunday. He had one tackle.

I blame Coyle. Simple as that.

Suh, who has been selected three times to the Pro Bowl, looks like just another guy in Miami. Did he suddenly forget how to play or is the problem with the Coyle approach or the scheme? Suh said Sunday the team needs to "go back to the drawing board" to "figure out what's best for us" as a team defense. That doesn't sound like he's totally bought in to the scheme.

Also this:

Suh and C.J. Mosley were two of the four defensive tackles on the Detroit Lions defense last year. That run defense was No. 1 in the NFL. But the Dolphins run defense -- with these two guys in addition to Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips -- have allowed 161 rushing yards at Washington and 123 rushing yards at Jacksonville Sunday.

How come they were good in Detroit but suddenly ineffective in Miami?

Here's my answer.

September 20, 2015

Jags beat Dolphins, 23-20


On defense. On Offense.

Motivated? No.

Urgency? Apparently not.

Willing to punch first? Nope.

And the coaching?

Simply terrible.

Branden Albert leaves Dolphins game permanently

JACKSONVILLE -- The Dolphins are tied with the Jaguars in the third quarter of today's game but if they are going to pull this one out they'll have to do it without Branden Albert.

Albert left this game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. He was worked on at halftime and the team then announced at the start of the third quarter he would not return today.

Jason Fox is playing left tackle in Albert's place.