December 07, 2014

Baltimore defeats the Miami Dolphins, 28-13

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.

And 2012.

And 2011.

And 2010.

And 2009.

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.

Doesn't feel that way.

Live blog: Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

No surprises this morning.

This huge game demands players that have been failing to step up, as I write in my column. That's the only way the Dolphins can take the next logical step in their development.

Tight end Charles Clay will get the opportunity to shine. He plays today.

R.J. Stanford and Jimmy Wilson get a chance to shine today. They will play at cornerback in place of the injured Cortland Finnegan, who is missing his fourth consecutive game.

 As for the inactives: Jamar Taylor, Finnegan, LaMichael James, Jonathan Freeny, Chris McCain, Nate Garner, and Billy Turner.

There is a live blog. Join the folks below:

 

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens: Dec. 7, 2014
 

December 06, 2014

Keys to the game: Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

Sunday's game between the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens promises to be a struggle of two teams with angry defenses. The Ravens are peeved about the last-minute comeback they allowed against San Diego last week. The Dolphins are peeved about giving up 478 yards rushing the past two games.

And yet ...

This game offers many matchups that favor the possibility of big plays.

Consider that Raven quarterback Joe Flacco has one of the best deep-ball arms in the NFL. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Flacco tries to go deep 10 percent of the time. And on those passes of 20-plus-yards, he connects 53.7 percent of the time.

That is tied for third highest in the NFL.

Combine that with the fact the Dolphins again will be down an experienced cornerback in Cortland Finnegan and instead will be covering up with the combo of R.J. Stanford, Jimmy Wilson and perhaps even Walt Aikens and you have the recipe for some fireworks.

On the other side, we all know the Dolphins have struggled to get their deep passing game on track. No matter because their short and intermediate passing is solid. How else would quarterback Ryan Tannehill complete at least 70 percent of his passes in five of the last six games?

Then this: Baltimore's CB situation is more dire than Miami's. At least the Dolphins have Brent Grimes. But the Ravens are without Jimmy Smith, who is out for the year, and every other CB on that roster has allowed a QB rating of at least 109.7 when being targetted this season, according to PFF.

What does that all suggest? Fireworks.

Here are the rest of the matchups:

When the Ravens pass the football: Joe Flacco is not Geno Smith. Unlike the embattled Jets quarterback who could not threaten the Miami defense with the pass last week, Flacco is accomplished and more than able to get hot – as his five-touchdown performance against Tampa Bay earlier this year proved. The Ravens are averaging 27.5 points per game on the road this season and this offense’s balance is a big reason. But Flacco is without security blanket Dennis Pitta, who was lost for the season with a hip injury, and although WR Torrey Smith will play after missing the entire week of practice with a knee injury, he cannot be at full speed. That leaves 35-year-old Steve Smith Sr. as Baltimore’s most accomplished wide receiver. He’s an alpha and that could be an issue because the Dolphins will be without Cortland Finnegan for a fourth consecutive week. ADVANTAGE: Baltimore.

When the Ravens run the football: When Ray Rice was suspended the Ravens expected Bernard Pierce to be the primary back with Justin Forsett as a change of pace. But Forsett took off on a career year and hasn’t looked back. Forsett has 1,009 yards in 12 games and is averaging a hefty 5.46 yards per rush. The problem? Forsett did not practice all week because of a knee injury. So Pierce may get more work than usual. The Miami run defense has been bad the past two weeks, allowing over 200 yards against Denver and the New York Jets. That has included poor play on the inside and missed tackles all around. The question is what level of pride Miami defenders will have to change the tide of 200-yard games? ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Miami offensive line, particularly the right side, and specifically right tackle Dallas Thomas, has struggled in pass protection. The Dolphins often help him with a tight end or a back but Thomas simply loses as often as he wins (perhaps more). No wonder the Dolphins are trying to remedy the situation by throwing quickly, attacking with short passes and short pass patterns. So continue to expect the bubble screens to receivers, the quick slants to Jarvis Landry and the fast in-cuts to Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. The Ravens secondary has been decimated by injuries this year, although Asa Jackson (on injured reserve with designation to return) is hoping to get back this week. The best defense against the pass for Baltimore is pressuring the QB and OLBs Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs are an outstanding combination doing that. ADVANTAGE: Baltimore.

When the Dolphins run the football: The same Miami line that struggles in pass protection is generally proficient in run-blocking. As has been the case much of the season, the success of the run game lies in quantity as much as quality. The Dolphins simply haven’t run the ball enough to get into a rhythm as an offense or allow running back Lamar Miller to get a feel for the game as an individual. Miller doesn’t complain but the issue is obvious. The Ravens’ run defense suffered a major loss when the NFL suspended defensive tackle Haloti Ngata for four games after he violated the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Despite that loss, the Baltimore run defense is more than good. The Ravens are No. 4 in the NFL against the run, in part because of its depth, in part because its linebackers are very active. ADVANTAGE: Baltimore.

Special teams: The Ravens have arguably the best kicker in football. Justin Tucker has connected on 59 of his past 60 FG attempts from under 55 yards and ranks as the NFL’s all-time most accurate kicker with a 91.2 percentage. He is, however, not as accurate from 50-plus this year compared to past years. He is 4 of 7 from that range. The Ravens Jacoby Jones is one of the NFL’s dynamic returners, as his kickoff return TD in the Super Bowl years three years ago proved.  Caleb Sturgis has continued to be inconsistent as he had a miss in four kicks last week. Punter Brandon Fields has improved his gross punt average to middle of the pack status but the Dolphins are 23rd in net punting. ADVANTAGE: Baltimore.

Coaching: John Harbaugh has to get his team to recover from a stunning last-minute loss to San Diego at home and a stunning midweek loss of Haloti Ngata to NFL suspension. Those two setbacks will test the coaching staff’s ability to quickly right a bad situation before a season-defining game. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin successfully got his team to survive a potential trap game last week against the last-place New York Jets. Now the question becomes can he raise his team’s level of play against a high-caliber opponent. The Dolphins coaching staff also has to figure out why the defense suddenly cannot stop the run. ADVANTAGE: Baltimore.

December 05, 2014

Finnegan, Garner, McCain doubtful for Ravens

Cortland Finnegan is likely to miss his fourth consecutive game on Sunday, this one against the Baltimore Ravens, as are offensive lineman Nate Garner and linebacker Chris McCain.

All three Miami Dolphins players were listed as doubtful for the big game with playoff implications and the chances of them actually making up the 75 percent chance they could play by Sunday is practically nil.

Finnegan had been looking on course to play earlier in the week, but as I wrote here, the post-practice word on the cornerback after Thursday's practice was not great.

Finnegan will miss his fourth consecutive game. The Dolphins remain hopeful he can be ready by the New England game on Dec. 14.

The Dolphins do have good news in that tight end Charles Clay is questionable for Sunday's game but has suffered no setbacks this week with his hamstring, which has kept him out of the lineup for two weeks.

For the Ravens, they have spent the week managing knee injuries to running back Justin Forsett and receiver Torrey Smith. Neither practiced Wednesday or Thursday.

But Smith went through an entire practice Friday and is listed as probable for Sunday's game. Forsett was limited in practice Friday and is listed as questionable. Center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) also missed practice Wednesday and Thursday but practiced Friday and is probable.

Ryan figured out Lazor's counter move that may require yet another counter move from Dolphins OC

I have to hand it to Bill Lazor. And I have to hand it to Rex Ryan.

Lazor, the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, has been asked to keep the offense rolling even after the team suffered what was a potentially disastrous injury to left tackle Branden Albert.

That injury didn't mean that Ryan Tannehill's blind side was now exposed because rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James moved over to the prime spot and has done excellent work in pass protection. Indeed, James has been a revelation as a pass protecting left tackle.

The problem came in that the Dolphins had to then fill the void at right tackle and Dallas Thomas was asked to take over. And Dallas Thomas, bless his heart, is not a good pass protecting right tackle by any definition.

So how has Lazor taken on the assignment of keeping Ryan Tannehill alive lest Thomas allow Mario Williams or Von Miller or Terrell Suggs or perhaps Elvis Dumervil to knock out the Dolphins quarterback with a well-placed hit?

Simple.

The Dolphins are throwing short. The Dolphins are helping Thomas with tight end Dion Sims chipping or even double-teaming the defender. The Dolphins are sliding protections to the right side. The Dolphins are even using maximum protections at times, keeping seven men in to form and protect the pass pocket.

And that's where Rex Ryan came into the picture this week. Whatever you think of the New York Jets head coach, this much is certain: He can coach defense.

And he did a very good job against the Dolphins on Monday night. The Jets mixed looks up front. They brought zone blitzes that only rushed four men but confused the heck out of Miami's blocking scheme.  They brought regular blitzes that tilted the balance of power on a play toward the New York front. Sometiimes they overloaded to one side. At times he played it straight, relying on their guys simply being better than Miami's guys. And at times Ryan rushed only three (big mistake).

And behind that pressure, Ryan dared the Dolphins to protect Tannehill well enough, long enough to beat him deep because his secondary is atrocious. And the Dolphins could not answer the challenge.

Ryan gambled that he could give up short passes to the Dolphins and his linebackers and defensive backs could tackle well enough to limit the damage while he attacked the pocket up front.

Obviously, if the Dolphins had been able to protect well enough, long enough to go over the top of the coverage, Ryan's plan would have fallen apart. But the Dolphins weren't able to do that.

They stuck with their short passing game. And they came away with 16 points.

I watched the film of the game again Thursday night. 

One picture I saw? The Jets zone blitzing and not rushing the man over left tackle Ja'Wuan James. Tight end Dion Sims was left in to block on this particular fourth down. But as James' man bailed into coverage, Sims simply stood there without anyone to block. James went down the line looking for someone to block and did just that. But there was an overload of three rushers coming from the right side and guess what? When Tannehill felt pressure from the right, he rolled right into the pressure instead of going to the left where there were no defenders. Incomplete pass.

Another picture I saw? New York nose tackle Kendrick Ellis bull rushing and carrying center Samson Satele backward into Tannehill, whom Ellis then simply grabs for a sack.

Another picture? On a third-and-13, Satele simply whiffs on Quinton Coples, who does a Dwight Freeneyish spin move past the Miami center and then plants Tannehill as soon as the QB gets off a hurried throw that falls incomplete.

Obviously, the Dolphins did complete a couple of intermediate passes. Take the 20-yard completion to Dion Sims in the second quarter. The Dolphins didn't keep Sims or running back Lamar Miller in to block that play and yet Tannehill had plenty of time to stand in the pocket and let the play develop downfield.

The offensive line did an excellent job blocking on this one. But that comes with a caveat. The Jets only rushed three. So Miami's five linemen beat New York's three rushers.

The very next play, however, from the New York 25, the Jets come with a zone blitz. And while only four men are attacking the pocket, the Miami protection that includes running back Daniel Thomas (six guys) is in total disarray. Three guys -- Satele, right guard Mike Pouncey and right tackle Thomas -- are blocking one guy. Actually, Satele isn't blocking anyone but he's over there ready to help if needed, I suppose. 

James is single blocking and Shelley Smith is single blocking. Both are winning. The fourth Jets rusher runs right up the middle past Thomas for the sack on Tannehill.

But while Thomas is obviously partially responsible for the sack, it might have played differently if he had help from Satele who is part of a curious triple-team away from the play and doesn't even lay a glove on anyone during the play.

There is also a picture where the Miami front does an excellent job against a four-man rush. But that is when both Sims and Miller stay in for maximum protection. The play still resulted in an incompletion because intended target Jarvis Landry wasn't open on the left sideline and Tannehill also didn't deliver a very well timed or well placed pass, anyway. The ball sailed out of bounds.

What's the point?

The reason the Miami Dolphins don't throw deep is because the offensive line is generally not able to protect long enough to do it. Even on some short pass completions, Tannehill often gets knocked on his back.

So the Dolphins are working short passes, trying to cover for the problem.

But they ran into a coach who figured that out and limited the damage of the short passing game while daring Miami to hit a few deep or intermediate shots downfield. The Dolphins could not do it with any consistency (couldn't go deep at all, actually) for multiple reasons: They had poor protection, Tannehill not throwing on time or accurately, Mike Wallace dropping an apparent TD because he lost the ball in the lights.

The point is one defensive coach has figured out a counter to the counter Bill Lazor instituted for the Buffalo game when it became obvious the loss of Branden Albert would have multiple negative ripple effects. 

Don't be surprised if defensive coaches, particularly the good ones who saw what Ryan did, simply defend the short passes, attack the pocket violently, and dare the Dolphins to throw deep -- something they obviously believe the Dolphins cannot do.

Your move, Bill Lazor.

December 04, 2014

LB Chris McCain on crutches [updated]

Chris McCain was not on the injury report Wednesday but it seems pretty clear he'll on the injury report when it comes out in a couple of hours today because he is clearly hurting.

Although McCain began practice today without any issues, he apparently suffered some sort of foot/ankle injury during the work.

I saw McCain limping badly in the locker room to the point he could not get from his locker stall to the door. A trainer brought him a pair of crutches to help him complete his exit.

McCain has had foot issues this season and has been inactive three times this year, and has not played a couple of those times because of the foot issue.

[Update: The Dolphins injury report is out and McCain is listed as having participated on a limited basis due to an ankle injury. Of course he was limited if the injury happened during practice. He probably stopped working at the point he got hurt.]

McCain this year burst onto the scene by blocking a punt and sacking Tom Brady in the regular season opener. He's had only two tackles in limited playing time since the opener.

[Update 2: The rest of the injury report shows Nate Garner missing with an "illness" for the second time this week. He missed last week's game due to an illness. Charles Clay, Cortland Finnegan, Brian Hartline, Samson Satele and Mike Wallace also were all limited with various injuries.]

I expect all those players with the exception of Garner to be available versus Baltimore.

Interestingly, neither WR Torrey Smith (knee) nor running back Justin Forsett (knee) has practiced this week for the Ravens.

Cortland Finnegan looking good for Ravens [Updated]

Miami Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan seems likely to play against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, barring a setback in practice today and tomorrow.

Finnegan, who has missed three games, practiced Thursday for the second consecutive day. He took repetitions at his usual spot with the starters on defense. It is unkown if Finnegan was limited at any way, as practices are closed.

[Friday morning update: Finnegan went through practice Thursday but wasn't satisfied with his quickness or cutting ability, per a source. Coaches also were not convinced he's ready to compete on Sunday versus Baltimore. So much for the good news.]

Finnegan was certain to play the Dec. 14 game at New England but he has been on a stringent treatment program for his injured ankle and that has apparently paid off to the point he is looking at a return against Baltimore.

[Update: Read the Friday morning update. Baltimore now seems uncertain if not unlikely.]

In other practice news, tight end Charles Clay and receiver Brian Hartline practiced today at least on a limited basis. Clay has missed two weeks with hamstring and knee injury. Hartline missed the second half on Monday night against New York due to a knee bruise.

Hartline is expected to play.

December 03, 2014

Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco about the same QB

I've said this to my friends privately for two years and I'm going to share it with you now: I do not believe Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill will ever be a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers or the second coming of Dan Marino. I also don't believe he'll be on the same level with Andrew Luck.

Those guys were, are, or will be elite.

But Joe Flacco?

Yes, Ryan Tannehill can be someday and perhaps already is Joe Flacco.

Now, before the Tannehill man-crush gang loses its collective mind, you should understand what this means. This means good things for Tannehill. It means Tannehill will occasionally reach levels of outstanding play. It means Tannehill may become a candidate for the Hall of Good but probably never the Hall of Fame. It means Ryan Tannehill can be good enough to win a Super Bowl.

In other words, in my opinion, Tannehill can do just about anything Flacco can do or has done. Because, as you must know, Flacco has indeed been good enough to win a Super Bowl, can indeed be great in spurts, and, after those spurts of greatness, often reverts to a lesser level.

Ryan Tannehill more or less equals Joe Flacco.

So why am I telling you this now? Because the Dolphins and the Ravens will gather at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday and basically go at each other for a chance to remain in the AFC playoff picture. As it looks now, the loser of that game will likely not make the playoffs. Players are aware of this likelihood:

“It’s tough not to look at it that way," Flacco said Wednesday.

And in that game that for all practical purposes is a playoff elimination bowl, the Dolphins will match Ryan Tannehill against Baltimore's Joe Flacco.

Two like quarterbacks.

Tannehill comes to this game with 20 touchdown passes, and nine interceptions.

Flacco comes to this game with 20 touchdown passes, and eight interceptions.

Tannehill has thrown for 2,817 yards.

Flacco has thrown for 2,989 yards.

Tannehill has completed 282 of 404 passes for a 66.5 completion rate.

Flacco has completed 256 of 406 passes for a 63.1 completion rate.

Tannehill's quarterback rating is 92.1.

Flacco's quarterback rating is 93.5

Flacco is the better deep passer. He is way more accurate in that regard. Tannehill is the better athlete. He can make plays with his feet that Flacco simply does not do.

The statistics are astoundingly similar. Both have gifts. Both have holes in their game. Both men have very strong arms, as the football simply explodes off their hands.

And this surprises me in no way whatsoever because, as you've just read, I believe Tannehill and Flacco will ultimately be considered in the same group of quarterbacks a tier or two below elite level.

Tier 1: Brady, Rodgers, Brees, Peyton.

Tier 2: Luck (he'll eventually move up), Roethlisberger, Rivers, Romo.

Tier 3: Flacco, Ryan, Stafford, Wilson, Palmer, and eventually Tannehill.

I will say to you the fact Tannehill and Flacco currently have about the same statistics suggests Tannehill actually has a higher ceiling than Flacco because we are comparing a quarterback in his third year to one in his seventh.

But an apples to apple comparison suggests Tannehill is similar to Flacco now and similar to what Flacco was early on in his career:

Joe Flacco through his first 44 games: 820 of 1325 (61.8 completion percent), for 9,572 yards, with 54 touchdowns, 32 interceptions. His QB rating at that point was 87.2.

Ryan Tannehill through his first 44 games: 919 of 1496 (61.4 completion percent), for 10,024 yards, with 56 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. His QB rating at this point is 82.8.

These numbers tell me Tannehill is on a similar arc early in his career to what Flacco was in his. Hmmm ... If Tannehill continues this trend, he'll more or less be Joe Flacco.

 

Injury update: Dolphins back on the practice field today

The Dolphins are working today in preparation for Sunday's playoff elimination bowl against the Baltimore Ravens. (Yeah, when the loser of the game basically stabs the heart of its playoff chances with a sharp knife, I can call the game a playoff elimination bowl).

Anyway, the big news first: Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who tried practicing early last week but shut it down later in the week, is trying to practice today but as this is only a walk-thru one should recognize he would be limited in a regular practice. He has missed three games with an ankle injury.

Finnegan's status for the Baltimore game Sunday remains uncertain. A source told me today it is most likely Finnegan will be 100 percent by the Dec. 14 game versus New England. That doesn't mean he won't be trying to be ready by this Sunday, it just means there is more certainty about the New England game. 

Cornerback Jamar Taylor is not practicing today as he continues to treat the shoulder injury he sustained against Denver. Nate Garner, who missed last week's game with an illness, also is not practicing today.

Linebacker Jonathan Freeny, who has missed two games with a hamstring injury, also is not practicing today.

[Update: The Dolphins have ruled both Taylor and Freeny out for the Baltimore game.]

Receiver Brian Hartline is working despite the bruised knee he suffered against the New York Jets on Monday night. Hartline may be limited some in practice this week but is expected to be available.

Tight end Charles Clay, who has missed two games mostly because of a hamstring injury, is working today as well.

PFF and Salguero review of Miami Dolphins victory over NYJ

Let's start with the news: Receiver Brian Hartline, who left Monday night's game with a knee injury is going to be fine. He has a bruise, per a source, and should be fine to play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

As for the weekly ProFootballFocus.com and Salguero film review of the Dolphins game, let's just say it is kind to some and not too kind to others, particularly some folks on defense.

To wit:

Offense

Left tackle Ja'Wuan James returned from his Week 12 stinger to play all 60 snaps against New York. He did not allow a pressure of any kind against the Jets. Let's face it folks, this kid is a major find.

He was more than meeting expectations as the starting right tackle but after Branden Albert's injury, he has been very good at left tackle, which is not the position he played in college. Now, there are things he can improve.

And the offseason will help him change his body around some if he gets in the weight room. But he is a legitimate NFL starting tackle.

Hartline left the game after 9 snaps, leaving Brandon Gibson to pick up the slack. The final WR snaps: Wallace 56, Gibson 52, Landry 48, and Matthews seven.

Shelley Smith (32 snaps) and Daryn Colledge (35 snaps) again rotated at left guard, until Samson Satele was injured. Then both played guard and Mike Pouncey moved back to center. Satele did return to the game, however.

It should be noted the Dolphins have something of a competition at the left guard spot. At least that's how I see it. Perhaps coaches are simply saving Colledge (doubtful). Perhaps they are working him back in slowly but deliberately after he missed multiple games with a back issue.

But the point is the team's confidence in Smith has grown to the point he's getting significant playing time. That suggests Smith has continually improved since training camp when, frankly, he left a lot to be desired.

Running back Lamar Miller played his highest percentage of snaps since Week 8 in that he took 47 snaps. Daniel Thomas picked up all but one of the other 13 RB snaps and Damien Williams had the remaining snap.

Passing

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was nearly perfect throwing behind the line of scrimmage and within 10 yards, going 18-for-20 on those throws. That's how he's forged multiple 70 percent-plus completion percentage games this year. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is giving Tannehill some confidence-building and high percentage passes.

The downside of that is short passes don't deliver chunk yardage. Of those 18 completions, Tannehill's passes gained just 97 yards. That's a modest 5.3 yards per completion.

On throws over 10 yards, Tannehill was 7-for-15 for 138 yards.

The Jets blitzed Tannehill on five of his drop-backs, but had success: he was 1-for-5 against the blitz.

Receiving

Three of Tannehill's seven completions of 10-plus yards were to tight end Dion Sims.

This is interesting because Sims has the body to be a seam threat. He is a more traditional tight end threat. So the question becomes what do the Dolphins do when Charles Clay gets over his hamstring and knee injury that has kept him out the past two weeks.

Of course, Clay will play. But coaches have to figure out how to let Sims continue his development.

Defensive Summary

Despite just 15 pass rush opportunities, Cameron Wake produced three hurries, a hit, and a sack.

Cornerback R.J. Stanford played 46 snaps at right cornerback, with Walt Aikens chipping in with 9 (Stanford logged 26 total snaps in 2013). Interestingly, the Dolphins opened the game with Jimmy Wilson as the cornerback opposite Brent Grimes.

And then they switched, putting Wilson back at his familiar slot position.

Of Geno Smith's 12 targeted passes, four went at Stanford, so he did “attack” him in a manner of speaking as 33 percent of his targets went at the recently re-signed CB. But let's face it, folks, Smith wasn't attacking anyone in the passing game on Monday night. The Jets game plan was to run and pass only if necessary.

Opponents' Rushing

The Jets had 25 runs in between the tackles and 19 of those went to the right.

The Jets had 13 runs outside of the tackles for just 31 yards.

What does that tell us? The Jets had the most success running between the tackles into the heart of the Miami defense.

Special Teams

Don Jones made an instant impact on special teams, recording two tackles in the kicking game only a couple of days after being claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots.

December 02, 2014

Coyle: Giving up 277 rush yards was 'like a bad dream'

You know the Miami Dolphins run defense was flattened for a second consecutive week by a team bent on running the football.

The Dolphins gave up 201 rushing yards against Denver and then 277 rushing yards against the New York Jets Monday night and that was "like a bad dream," Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said today.

Coyle said stats could be twisted any number of ways. He said the rush yards allowed is an issue, primarily because he said there were too many missed tackles. But Coyle also pointed out, "at the end of the day, we gave up only 13 points."

That's good. But it won't be good enough against Baltimore, the Dolphins' opponent on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

The Ravens obviously have an ability to run because they are the NFL's No. 5 ranked rushing team. (The Jets are the NFL's No. 2 ranked rushing team).

And, yes, the Dolphins were better against the run in the second half Monday night. Coyle said he made adjustments at halftime and the Dolphins gave up 67 rushing yards after allowing 210 in the first half.

But here's the problem: Once the Dolphins set eight guys in the box, and even seven guys against three wide receiver sets, the Jets could not throw the football. The Jets simply stink at passing.

The Ravens do not.

The Ravens are able to run and pass. They have a more complete offense with a quarterback who is a veteran and can beat you passing as well as handing off. So stacking the box against him will not work the way it worked against Geno Smith.

If the Dolphins have to resort to stacking the box against Baltimore, that team will respond the way Denver responded: Letting the quarterback throw.

The point is the Dolphins have to find a way to fix what the Broncos and Jets exposed as a weakness in the run defense when they are in base. They have six days to do it.

The good, the bad, the ugly, and the playoffs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So there was good and there was bad in this 16-13 Miami Dolphins victory over the New York Jets.

As I wrote in my column the Dolphins will more than happily accept this victory. It vaults them into the playoff picture as the No. 6 seed currently in the AFC. But it will take a better effort than this to get in and stay in the postseason. And it starts next week, folks.

The problematic signs are right here.

The things you can be encouraged about?

Ryan Tannehill is now the only quarterback in the NFL this season to record five consecutive games with a 70-or-better completion percentage. Additionally, his seven games completing 70-or-better percent of his passes are tied for the most in the NFL this season with Saints QB Drew Brees and Chargers QB Philip Rivers.

So that's good. Of course, you saw Tannehill again struggle with a couple of deep passes. And, as I point out in the column, Mike Wallace didn't help his QB, either, on one pass that could have gone for a score.

The defense?

The Dolphins have to get with stopping the run better going forward. The Broncos rushed for 201 against Miami. The Jets rushed for 277 against Miami. You think the Ravens will try to test the Miami run defense?

I will say linebacker Jelani Jenkins was great against the Jets, collecting 16 tackles with two of those for losses. It was his third game with at least 14 tackles this season.

And, believe it or not, the defense actually held a fourth-quarter lead on the final drive for the first time this season, having failed previously against Green Bay, Detroit and Denver.

So that's progress. But, honestly, I assume we all know it must be better in the coming weeks, particularly against Baltimore and New England.

December 01, 2014

Live blog: Miami Dolphins at New York Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- R.J. Stanford, signed Tuesday off the street, is starting at cornerback for the Miami Dolphins tonight.

That's because Cortland Finnegan is inactive as expected.

In the nickel, Jimmy Wilson will be in the game for the Dolphins.

The other inactives: Cornerback Jamar Taylor, Finnegan, LaMichael James, Charles Clay, Jonathan Freeny, Nate Garner and Billy Turner.

There will be a live blog here. Join the community:

 

Live Blog Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: Dec. 1, 2014
 

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins can enter playoff picture

NEW YORK -- The Miami Dolphins have an opportunity to take over the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff scenario if they beat the New York Jets tonight.

After losses by Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City, the Dolphins have a chance to vault from the No. 11 spot where they found themselves last week (out of the playoffs), into the picture if they can beat a team that has won only two times in 11 games.

Is that likely? I would expect so.

The Dolphins match up well against the Jets, considering New York simply isn't very good at scoring points with any consistency.

Consider the matchups:

When the Jets pass the football: Geno Smith, who was previously benched as the starting quarterback, is getting his job back because Michael Vick, who replaced him, has been benched. Looking for a quarterback on the roster and finding none is a classic bad team problem. Smith suffers accuracy issues and Vick has seemingly been disinterested in preparing well and unable to play at the height he maintained even the last couple of seasons in Philadelphia. It doesn’t help that the Jets offer few playmakers. GM John Idzik signed wide receiver Eric Decker to a big contract in the offseason and last month traded for wide receiver Percy Harvin. Neither move has provided any sizzle. Both Decker and Harvin are averaging just better than 10 yards per reception. The Dolphins hope to get cornerback Cortland Finnegan back on the field at some point but tonight seems unlikely as he is doubtful. Even if Finnegan wakes up suddenly healthy, there is little margin for error if Finnegan aggravates his ankle injury because reserve Jamar Taylor is out with a shoulder injury. That is not a crisis against the No. 32 passing offense in the NFL. But it is not a great situation, either.  ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Jets run the football: One of the few things the Jets do well is run the football. They field a solid, experienced offensive line with legitimate backs and they are committed to running the ball. (Maybe because they’re such a disaster throwing it). The Jets are the NFL’s No. 5 rushing team and average 4.7 yards per attempt. Chris Ivory is the lead back and he’s dependable, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but he’s not dynamic as he has only one run of over 20 yards. Chris Johnson, who is still very fast, is supposed to add the dynamic runs. He hasn’t consistently done that. Johnson has only two runs of 20 yards or more. The Miami run defense will be challenged this game in a manner it hasn’t seen since Week 3 against Kansas City. Like the Chiefs, the Jets rely on the run game first and foremost and do not abandon the approach But with New York being one-dimensional on offense due to the poor passing game, the Dolphins should be able to respond to by loading the tackle box with an extra defender if necessary. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in four consecutive games and five of the past six games. No, the deep ball accuracy issue is still not resolved. But the Miami quarterback has been on target on practically all his other throws and the quick receiver screens to Jarvis Landry or Mike Wallace have helped him tremendously. The Dolphins like to spread the ball around and this week may get Charles Clay back after he missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury. The Jets’ pass defense is not a huge problem if one considers the fact New York is No. 16 in the NFL against the pass. But the truth is the Jets secondary is sub par. Coaches have struggled to find competent cornerbacks from week to week and safety Calvin Pryor, the first-round pick this season, has been in and out of the starting lineup, making seven starts in 11 games. If the Jets cannot get pressure on Tannehill, they have no shot. And Miami’s protection, inconsistent against Buffalo two weeks ago, improved greatly last week against Denver. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Ryan Tannehill leads AFC quarterbacks with 276 rushing yards and has run for at least 200 yards in each of his first three NFL seasons.  With 24 yards against the Jets, Tannehill would become the second Dolphins quarterback to rush for 300 yards in a season. Jay Fiedler did it in 2001. Buoyed by the unexpected help from the quarterback, the Dolphins run game is on pace to be among the best in franchise history. The Dolphins are averaging 4.68 yards per rush, which is up there as the fifth highest in franchise history. The top four averages came in the Super Bowl years (1971, ’72 and ’73) and again in 2002. Lamar Miller is the leader of the run game although he is not exactly a workhorse, averaging just over 12 carries per game. That still seems too low. The Jets are No. 4 against the run but facing such quality run defense should not be a surprise to the Dolphins because they’ve faced Detroit (No. 1) and Denver (No. 2) in recent weeks. New York defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson (back) and Muhammad Wilkerson (toe) missed practice time this week and their status for the game is uncertain. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Jets punter Ryan Quigley is having a much better season than Miami’s Brandon Fields. Who could have predicted that? The Dolphins have a significant advantage in their kick return game and a slight advantage on punt returns because the Jets simply have been ineffective on punt returns so far. MetLife doesn’t threaten the same swirling winds as the old Meadowlands used to so kicker Nick Folk’s home field familiarity is limited. He nonetheless enjoys an advantage over Miami’s Caleb Sturgis, as Folk has been more consistent so far. ADVANTAGE: New York.

Coaching: New York’s Rex Ryan appears to be on his way out. He has been beloved by players who wanted badly to help him succeed. Last year the team even played hard for him late in the season to help him salvage his job for a year. But players now must know that Ryan is on the outs so there is no motivational charge he can provide the team. Joe Philbin and his staff have the more talented team, the better quarterback, and the better outlook. All they have to do is be themselves, play their game and avoid letting the Jets stay in a game and gain confidence. In that regard, Philbin has to get his team to start fast – something that has been hit-and-miss for the Dolphins. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

November 30, 2014

Miami Dolphins good against bad QBs and Smith is bad

The Dolphins this season have faced Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, and Peyton Manning.

In those games against some of the NFL's best QBs the Dolphins have a 2-3 record.

Against the "other" guys?

Guys like Derek Carr, Jay Cutler, E.J. Manuel, Blake Bortles, Kyle Orton, and Alex Smith? The Dolphins have a 4-2 record.

I see a theme here and if that theme continues applies to the next game, the Dolphins should be feeling good about things because they're facing Geno Smith and the New York Jets on Monday night.

And Smith would not only be included among the "other" guys, but might be the worst of the group.

Smith has been benched once this season. He has a 46 percent accuracy when he's under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and that is the worst in the NFL among 28 qualifying QBs with at least 50 percent of their team's pass drops.

Smith, in his second season, has a 67.4 quarterback rating so far this season. That is the lowest of any QB the Dolphins have faced. Indeed, that is the lowest in the NFL.

What is all this saying?

The Dolphins are about to face a really bad quarterback. They do well against bad quarterbacks. It is what it is.

By the way, Miami being up against bad quarterbacks and down against good ones is probably something that drives head coach Joe Philbin nuts.

Philbin, you see, is about consistency, as I write in my column today. Actually, that's not me writing the column The words belong to Philbin, not me.

See if you agree with his take on the Dolphins the past eight games.

November 29, 2014

Finnegan, Clay, Garner doubtful for Jets

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan is doubtful for the Monday night meeting between the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. He is likely to miss his third consecutive game with an ankle injury.

Tight end Charles Clay is likely to miss his second consecutive game because he, too, is doubtful. He has a hamstring and knee injury but it is the hamstring that is keeping him from practicing the final two days of the prep week.

Nate Garner, dealing with an unknown illness, is also doubtful. Obviously as a backup, he is easier to replace.

Speaking of replacing, as Jamar Taylor is also out with a shoulder surgery, the Dolphins have been preparing to use Jimmy Wilson at right cornerback, as I told you Friday afternoon.

Left tackle Ja'Wuan James is listed as questionable with a neck injury but he will start for the Dolphins.

The Jets will be without tight end Jace Amaro (concussion) and defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who is nursing a toe injury.

 

Miami Dolphins, short on CBs now, should look at spot for 2015

Is it too early to talk 2015 offseason?

Well, as the Miami Dolphins are going to face the New York Jets on Monday night and Gotham's team has only the offseason to look forward to (yeah, that's a dig), let us take a few paragraphs to look forward for the Dolphins.

Why do this now? Well, because the picture at one position today is a clear indication something must be done next offseason.

My opinion?

The Dolphins will be searching for at least one cornerback again next offseason -- either through the draft or free agency.

This may come as some surprise considering the Dolphins signed Brent Grimes to a new contract in 2014 and added Cortland Finnegan as a free agent as well. The team also used a second round pick on Jamar Taylor in 2013 and a third round pick on Will Davis in the same draft.

And out of that group, the only player the Dolphins know has shown them ability and durability is ... Grimes.

Davis is on injured reserve and will be rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery. That is not a career-ending injury by any means. But nothing about this injury suggests Davis will be good next year. Indeed, Davis seemed to be regressing somewhat before he was hurt. He was the nickel cornerback the first four games of the regular season and then rarely saw the field on defense afterward. His snap count his final two games before getting hurt was seven against Jacksonville and nine against San Diego.

Finnegan should play again this season -- perhaps even Monday night. But he's slowed by an ankle injury that has forced him to miss a couple of games already and a source close to him has told me Finnegan is being cautious with his return, signaling he's not inclined to take chances.

There is also the fact Finnegan was playing OK but not great before he was injured. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Finnegan allowed an opposing quarterback rating of over 100 in four of his eight starts before the Detroit game in which he got injured.

And, remember, Finnegan will be in the final year of his two-year deal next season and will be 31 in February so he was never intended to be a longterm solution at cornerback.

Taylor was supposed to be that. But Taylor, for all his promise shown in college at Boise State, is still learning to play. And he has shown that one of his issues is staying healthy. He was not healthy his rookie season and he suffered his current injury in his second of two career starts while replacing Finnegan.

Eyes will be on Taylor to see how quickly he can recover from his shoulder injury. And then eyes will be on him to see what level of play he can regan upon his return.

Before he was injured, Taylor allowed 13 completions in 17 targets in his two starts. That is not good. And while Taylor should improve with experience and Finnegan is working with him to help him learn to be a professional, there is no guarantee the second-year player will live up to his draft status.

He could be good. He could be, well, something else. Nobody can say for certain at this point.

Which leads us to next year ...

Out of the four players just mentioned, which is a sure-bet longterm solution? Yeah, Grimes and, and, and, no one else at this point.

Thus, the Dolphins would be wise to buy some cornerback insurance at the position next offseason. I'm not saying it has to be a high-priced free agent. I'm not saying it has to be a first or even second round pick.

I am saying the position is a premium spot in today's NFL. Good cornerbacks are invaluable. You cannot have too many of them.

Right now, the Dolphins don't have enough of them.

November 28, 2014

Cortland Finnegan not present at practice

There was optimism Cortland Finnegan could return to his starting cornerback job for the Miami Dolphins against the Jets Monday night after he practiced for the first time in a couple of weeks on Thursday.

But Finnegan, nursing an ankle injury, was not present during the open portion of practice Friday, suggesting he isn't working at all today.

And that raises the possibility Finnegan will indeed miss his third consective game because, as I wrote here, Finnegan has certain criteria for returning to the lineup.

The problem with that?

The Dolphins don't exactly have a lot of good answers at the position if Finnegan cannot play.

Will Davis is out for the season.

Jamar Taylor is out for this game with a shoulder injury.

Michael Thomas is out for the season.

Jimmy Wilson just had a terrible game against Denver, picking up three penalties that converted first downs for the Broncos. He seems the most likely answer to start at right cornerback.

Well, at least Wilson, who has started at safety and slot cornerback for Miami this season is relatively healthy.

One way or another it seems certain Lowell Rose, who played the fourth quarter last week, and R.J. Stanford, signed off the street three days ago, are going to see action against the Jets.

Grimes interception just as good as Beckham's TD

Yes, Odell Beckham had a great catch on national television. And he does play in the nation's media market for the New York Giants.

So, of course, that singular play has been the talk of the NFL the past few days. If you haven't seen it, well here you go:

 

Yes, it was memorable.

But greatest of all time, as some are calling it? I don't know about that. And if you ask Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, it is not even the greatest catch of this season.

Gimes, you see, had an eerily similar play earlier this season against Detroit. His was an interception rather than a touchdown. And as he plays for the Dolphins and not the Giants and his play didn't happen on national television, his play has been marginalized a bit.

This is the interception by Grimes that seems to me to be just as good as Beckham's play.

Seriously, I don't see a huge difference between the plays. Grimes does. He believes his play is better.

“I just watched it today," Grimes said earlier this week of the Beckham play. "It was a cool catch. I may be biased, I think mine was better. I jumped and everything. I was on defense. They weren’t throwing me the ball. That was a great catch, though.”

Grimes was smiling and having fun with the issue. But how is Beckham's catch an all-timer and Grimes' interception not?

Methink we have to raise the level on the Grimes play. Or lower the breathless hyperbole on the Beckham play.

November 27, 2014

Salguero: Lots to be thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Today in the United States we celebrate the blessings of the last year and we give thanks for those who came  before us who gave this generation an inheritance of prosperity and liberty. We give thanks for what we have. We give thanks for who we are. We give thanks for family and health and the abilty to make tomorrow greater than yesterday or today.

The Miami Dolphins are working today. They will practice in the morning before coach Joe Philbin gives players the afternoon off to be with their loved ones and friends.

This franchise, at times battered in the past decade, nonetheless has plenty to be thankful for and has given its fans plenty to be thankful for.

Consider:

Be thankful for quarterback Ryan Tannehill showing promise and trending in the right direction.

Be thankful for Bill Lazor molding that quarterback even when some players get rubbed the wrong way.

Be thankful Tannehill has thick skin.

Be thankful Tannehill, sacked 119 times the past three seasons, has thick skin in more ways than one.

Be thankful for rookie Ja'Wuan James coming out of nowhere to play right tackle.

Be more thankful for rookie Ja'Wuan James coming out of nowhere to play left tackle.

Speaking of coming out nowhere, be thankful for general manager Dennis Hickey.  

Be thankful for running back Lamar Miller playing with one shoulder.

Be thankful for cornerback Brent Grimes containing the back shoulder, and the nine route ... and the hitch .. and the slant .. and the in-cut ... and the receiver screen.

Be thankful Jonathan Martin is a distant memory.

Be thankful Dan Marino is no longer just a memory.

Be thankful the Patriots, winners of seven in a row, were on the schedule really early.

Be thankful the Jets, losers in nine of the past 10, are on the schedule two more times.

Be thankful for Mike Wallace's patience .. waiting for an accurate deep pass.

Be thankful for Brian Hartline's persistence .. waiting to rejoin the passing game. 

Be thankful for Jarvis Landry's production ... a rookie not waiting for anybody.

Be thankful for Earl Mitchell -- a smaller but more effective and cheaper replacement to Paul Soliai.

Be thankful Randy Starks came back for $3 million this year, because it feels a lot more efficient than him playing for $8 million last year.

Be thankful Samson Satele was available to anchor this line when it needed stability.

Be thankful Mike Pouncey thought of his team instead of himself and moved from center to guard without so much as a complaint.

Be thankful for Jelani Jenkins who was hiding from the coaching staff's eyes in plain sight.

You should be thankful for the read option, because it has helped the offense this year.

I am thankful for you reading me, because that is the reason so many of you come here every day -- in victory or defeat, in agreement or to debate. Thank you all.