November 13, 2014

Live blog: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins offensive line held out one slim hope for not being completely makeshift tonight against the Buffalo Bills. The team hoped left guard Daryn Colledge could somehow, someway recover from the back ailment that has bothered him for a couple of weeks and could gut out a start against the Bills.

Nope.

Daryn Colledge is inactive tonight. The Dolphins will have three players starting at new positions this game.

Left tackle Ja'Wuan James is new starting at his position. Shelley Smith is new starting at left guard, having started at right guard earlier. And Dallas Thomas is a new starter at right tackle.

Only center Samson Satele and right guard Mike Pouncey are starting at their usual positions.

I'm not optimistic about how this is going to work, folks.

The full list of Miami inactives: Cortland Finnegan, LaMichael James, Chris McCain, Colledge, Anthony Johnson, BillyTurner and Terence Fede.

There isa live blog tonight. Join the community below:

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills: Nov. 13, 2014
 

Bills vs. Miami Dolphins a battle of attrition

This Thursday night matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins is looking more and more like a battle of attrition.

That's because Buffalo running back Fred Jackson, who has been battling a groin injury, is almost certainly not playing, according to multiple reports and first reported by the Buffalo News.

This comes on the heels of the Bills also not having fellow running back C.J. Spiller. So what does that mean?

Well, Boobie Dixon is expected to be Buffalo's lead back with Bryce Brown working in at some point as well. The Bills, by the way, have not been a good running team with their top guys in the lineup. They are 22nd in the NFL rushing.

Now this.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have injury issues of their own.

Everyone knows left tackle Branden Albert is gone for the season and this is the first game the Dolphins will play without him. Miami's answer is to move right tackle Ja'Wuan James to left tackle. James got some left tackle snaps in garbage time against San Diego a few weeks back.

The team is then sliding Dallas Thomas into the right tackle spot and he'll face Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams.

Basically, the one Albert injury has made the Dolphins weaker in two spots.

Now, this is not a second-guess because I wrote it here in the preseason and said it multiple times on twitter: I wish the Dolphins had signed Bryant McKinnie in the preseason to be the backup left tackle.

Had they done so, McKinnie, older and flawed as he is, would be able to fill in for Albert now while James could continue to lock down the right tackle spot. Miami would thus be weaker in only one spot following the Albert injury.

McKinnie is probably not a solution now because he doesn't know the offense and he has a history for getting, ahem, big when he's not playing. The only way this could have worked would have been to him sign during training camp from the start.

The Dolphins chose not to do this. They went with Jason Fox, who coaches apparently don't believe ready to help at either left or right tackle as a backup. And they went with Nate Garner, who the team now considers more a guard-center option.

The Dolphins also will be without CB Cortland Finnegan today. That means Jamar Taylor will get his first career start.

The Dolphins will likely cover up for the loss of Finnegan by having Brent Grimes lock up on Buffalo rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

That will put Taylor on Robert Woods or whatever other receiver Buffalo uses in addition to Watkins. It is time for Taylor to grow up.

Offense good on surface but has issues deep down

The Miami Dolphins have scored 227 points this season and that suggests everything is working smoothly because that's 11th-best in the NFL and the 25.2 per game average exceeds the 25-point per game goal coach Joe Philbin set for his team before the season.

But this statistic is indicative of what the Miami offense really has been so far in 2014. It has been an iceberg that allows one view for everyone to see above the surface and a hidden and more ominous picture that is harder to find below the water line.  

Below the surface everyone knows that average is a mirage. It includes the three defensive touchdowns so far compared to only one all of last season. It doesn't speak to the habitual slow starts and frustrating inability to seal victories by simply moving the football and killing the clock. And it says little about the games against Buffalo, Kansas City, Jacksonville and Detroit in which Miami scored exactly one offensive touchdown.

Nine games played. One offensive touchdown in four of them.

Against the Lions last week, the lone touchdown came when the offense got the football at the Detroit 3 yard line, following a blocked punt returned 55 yards by Dion Jordan. That was Miami's touchdown drive last week: Three yards.

So while this unit. led by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, is seemingly well ahead of last year's 19.8 points per game, no one on the Dolphins -- not coaches nor players -- are celebrating because this unit has potential that's not being met and issues below the surface.

That's what multiple players are saying. That's what several sources within the organization are seeing.

The passing game, for example, suggests marked improvement compared to last season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved his completion percentage, his touchdown-to-interception ratio and his quarterback rating this season.

Tannehill has added running the ball as a dimension to his game and is making better decisions throwing the football.

You know what that makes him so far? The No. 17 rated quarterback in the NFL. Yes, that's better than No. 24 last year but everyone I've spoken to and even Tannehill admits that in Year Three he is still a work in progress because there are still worries about accuracy and pocket awareness and quickness making decisions.

Tannehill's yards per attempt average is 6.63 this season, which is 29th out of 32 quarterbacks and lower than last year's 6.66 average. This may not seem important to you, but Lazor is on record stating yards per attempt is the most accurate measure for the health of a passing game. So in a year where NFL passing numbers are better and higher across the board, the Dolphins have taken a small step back in this area.

Tannehill also has still not solved his deep ball accuracy issues. He missed three deep touchdown throws earlier in the season and one on Sunday against Detroit. Yes, that's fewer than a year ago. But that's the view above the surface.

Below the surface the fewer missed deep passes is, in part, a function of the Dolphins trying fewer shot plays.

One player recently told me in frustration, "they were there earlier this season but something always went wrong, just like last year. Either the receiver drops a pass or the quarterback has no time or he can't get it to his guy. It was nobody's fault. It was everybody's fault and now he (Lazor) doesn't seem to trust us dialing them up."

The evidence of such mistrust? It is not on the surface where Mike Wallace is on his way to an 80-catch season or rookie Jarvis Landry has become a threat all over the field. That's good. Very good.

The evidence is that Wallace's yards per catch is at 13.0 this year. And that is disappointing considering Wallace came to the Dolphins as a dynamic deep threat who averaged 17.2 yards per catch in Pittsburgh. He leads Dolphins wide receivers in yards per catch now but is merely tied for 50th among NFL receivers in the category.

Brian Hartline who averaged 13.4 yards per catch last year is still getting open, still running good routes, still practicing well, according to coaches. But his yards per catch stat has suffered by 3.2 yards since last year and is at a career low 10.2 yards per catch.  

Nobody's fault. Everybody's fault.

That leads us to the team's crunch time statistics -- third down passing, fouth-quarter passing, and red zone scoring.

On third down, Tannehill is completing 55 percent of his passes. His yards per attempt is at 5.86 yards. His rating is 74.4. And that translates to him ranking 26th among NFL third down passing leaders.

The fourth quarter has not been a friend to Tannehill and the passing game, either. Miami's QB is 34th in the NFL. The only QB below him that has gotten at least 80 fourth-quarter pass attempts is Austin Davis of the St. Louis Rams. Davis is usually a third-stringer and has this week been benched.

Statistics, you say? They can be skewed in number of ways, you say?

Consider: For whatever reason, be it a product of the system Lazor is running or the coaching staff's trust level, Tannehill does not often have the luxury of changing plays at the line if he sees something in the defense he does not like. He sometimes has the choice of two different plays -- a check-with-me option -- but hardly ever the option of going in a different direction.

This has raised eyebrows among players who say they had most success in systems the quarterback has greater freedom to be a playmaker.

That's not the only reason a couple of players have questions about Lazor. Before the season, Lazor told players the days of passing the ball on third-and-one were over. There was a buzz among Miami players about becoming a physical offense.

But after showing that phyiscal intent in the season opener against New England, with runs outnumbering passes 38-32, the Dolphins have settled into more of a passing mode. They've passed more than run in six of the past eight games. In two of those games the Dolphins threw twice as many passes as they tried runs.

The two players are wondering what happened to the idea of being a phyiscal offense.  

Making plays in the red zone has been an issue for the Dolphins this year. They are tied for eighth in the NFL with 20 red zone touchdowns. They lead the league with 43 red zone visits. Both numbers are good taken separately. Combined it's a bad thing.

As a result of inconsistent tight end play, because they don't have a running game they trust enough, and because they don't possess a player who is a matchup nightmare for the opposing defense in a short field, the Dolphins are converting 46.5 of their red zone visits into touchdowns.

That's 30th in the NFL.

“Well, we’ve had some negative runs down there," Philbin said. "We’ve had some sacks down there. We’ve had some dropped passes down there. We’ve had some penalties. I think the execution, when we study it, you look at the film, there’s some reason. Some of it has been good defense by our opposition. We certainly have to do better, but there are a lot of things that we can do better to help our scoring average go up.”

Yes, back to the scoring average.

The Miami offense has had some truly bright moments this year to get that average where it is. They've scored 38, 37, 33, and 27 points a couple of times.

The 37-point game against San Diego is the pretty, pristine tip of the iceberg because the Dolphins started well and didn't slow down until the game was out of reach. They struck a balance between pass and run, they spread the football around in the passing game, and they did it against the NFL's No. 8 defense.

The other high-scoring performances? The 38-point outburst came against Oakland, the NFL's 28th-ranked defense. And the two 27-point games came against Chicago, which has the NFL's worst scoring defense, and Jacksonville, which has the NFL's third-worst scoring defense.

But that probably goes unnoticed below the surface.

November 12, 2014

Cortland Finnegan out, Jamar Taylor in, Colledge doubtful

The Dolphins were hoping for better news on the injury front this week.

The team was holding out slim hope cornerback Cortland Finnegan might be able to play at least limited snaps against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. They had hoped the treatment Finnegan has been getting at all hours would help the player rally.

Didn't happen.

The team today declared Finnegan out for Thursday's game. Second-year corner Jamar Taylor will start instead. Taylor has played 114 passing snaps this year. Opposing QBs have completed 61.5 percent of their throws against him.

Left guard Daryn Colledge, who has missed two games with a back issue, is listed as doubtful for this game with those same back issues. He did not practice this week. If Colledge cannnot play (as expected) and misses his third consecutive game, he will be replaced by Shelley Smith.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, nursing a sore shoulder and ankle, was limited in practice again Wednesday but he is starting for Miami. He is listed as probable.

TE Charles Clay (knee), TE Dion Sims (toe), LB Kelvin Sheppard (hip/groin) and long snapper John Denney (knee) are listed as questionable. All were limited in practice this week. Sims is the least likely of the four to play.

For the Bills, reserve DE Jairus Wynn is out with a knee injury.

November 11, 2014

Dolphins to unveil alternate unis vs. Buffalo

Fashionista alert:

The Miami Dolphins are going full aqua jersey over aqua pants against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium.

It will mark the first time since the team changed uniforms last season that the Dolphins wear an alternate type uniform in a game. The team usually wears either all white, or a white top and aqua pants, or an aqua top and white pants. Aqua

This will look, well, different.

Better?

Worse?

That's a matter of personal taste. You decide how you feel Thursday night, but meanwhile you have a little clue to whet your appetite courtesy a picture tweeted by Dolphins CEO and President Tom Garfinkel.

People with a historic or institutional knowledge of the franchise will remember this is the third time the Dolphins wear an all aqua uniform. They did it against the Chicago Bears in 2002, against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003 and against the Cleveland Browns in 2004. The first two games were on a Monday Night and the third on a Sunday night.

The Dolphins are 2-1 in their alternate aqua unis.

And then there's this: I do not believe the Dolphins need extra motivation for this game. It is in prime time. It is a nationally telecast event. It is against a divisional rival. So there are reasons players should be into this game.

But if the Dolphins can use this as even one iota of extra juice for this game ... then it's a great idea and great timing. Pull out the all orange next.

 

Philbin outlines reasons Bills have beaten the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have lost three consecutive games to the Buffalo Bills and four of the past five.

Why?

Was it great quarterback play by the Bills?

No.

Was it great coaching by the Bills?

With all due respect to Doug Marrone, not really.

Was it Buffalo's obvious quality, in that they beat practically everyone else so them beating the Dolphins makes sense?

Absolutely not. The Bills last year finished last in the AFC East last season.

So why the heck do the Bills have this, this advantage of late over the good guys?

I have a theory. But I don't count. Joe Philbin has a theory. He counts because if he can identify the issue, it is logical he can then have his team work to correct the issue.

So what does Philbin see as the common themes the Bills have been able to take advantage of during their current string?

"I think they've run the ball better," Philbin said today. "I thnk third down has been an issue and then takeaways. Those are the three things I would say."

Well in Oct 2013, the Bills ran the ball 30 times against the Dolphins for 90 yards -- a 3.0 average. The Dolphins ran it 25 times for 125 yards -- a 4.8 average. The second meeting last year, the Bills ran it 51 times for 203 yards -- a 4.0 average. The Dolphins ran it only 12 times for 14 yards -- a paltry 1.2 yard average. Earlier this year the Bills ran it 33 times for 113 yards -- a 3.4 yard per rush average. The Dolphins averaged 3.8 yards per rush, running it 21 times for 80 yards.

So in two of the three games, the Dolphins averaged more yards per rush than the Bills although the Bills outgained Miami in two of the three games.

The Dolphins were indeed terrible on third down last October. They converted only 3 of 13 while the Bills won that battle by converting 9 of 19. In the rematch the Dolphins converted only two of 14 opportunities while the Bills converted 7 of 19 third downs. So last year the Dolphins converted a total of five out of 27 third down chances.

Earlier this year, The Dolphins converted five of 16 third downs but the Bills didn't do much better, converting 5 of 15.

Takeaways?

The Bills won the turnover battle last October, won the turnover battle in the rematch last December, and won the turnover battle earlier this season.

So the formula for beating the Bills would be to run the ball, win on third down and not give up turnovers.

How does that happen?

There's the problem. Practically every one of those issues are derived from this bigger issue: The Bills have won the matchup along the line of scrimmage.

They run better than Miami. They stop the run better than Miami. They generally create more pressure on third down and that obviously comes from winning along the line of scrimmage while containing the Dolphins' pressure up front, allowing more third down conversions.

And the turnovers? The Bills, again, pressure Ryan Tannehill into mistakes as he's thrown three interceptions against them while Matt Moore has thrown two of his own. The Miami line also pressures the Buffalo quarterbacks into mistakes but only twice and none in the game earlier this year.

Bottom line?

The Dolphins must find a way to win up front against the Bills. With a new left tackle (Ju'Wuan James), a new right tackle (Dallas Thomas) and perhaps a new left guard (Shelley Smith) if Daryn Colledge cannot play again, that is going to be a tough assignment.  

Dolphins practice update: Colledge, Finnegan not working

The Dolphins are practicing (sort of) today -- no pads or shells, just shorts -- but there is some bad news:

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan is not working today. He is nursing and rehabilitating an ankle injury that forced him to miss several series of Sunday's loss to Detroit.

Jamar Taylor took over for Finnegan on Sunday and would likely be the cornerback called up if Finnegan cannot play on Thursday against the Buffalo Bills.

Left guard Daryn Colledge, who has been battling back issues for a couple of weeks and has missed two games as a result, was not practicing today during the open portion of practice.

Colledge did not practice on Monday, either.

If Colledge cannot play against the Bills, the Dolphins would likely have to work in much the same manner as they did during the game. The Dolphins used Shelley Smith against the Lions in a rotation with Dallas Thomas.

Dallas Thomas, however, is not going to be available to play guard because he will be taking over at right tackle as coach Joe Philbin said Monday -- in other words, the same way the offensive line moves was handled against the Lions.

RB Lamar Miller was practicing today during the open portion of practice so he is at worst limited in practice.

The PFF and Salguero rewind of the Lions loss

There is little doubt what the Detroit Lions did against the Miami Dolphins offense on Sunday will be seen by the Buffalo Bills. And they will try to replicate some of that.

On the bright side, the Bills don't have a Calvin Johnson or Matthew Stafford on their offense, so that will be tough for them to copy on the offensive side of the ball.

But the ankle injury which kept cornerback Cortland Finnegan out of the game for two dozen snaps on Sunday and forced him to miss practice on Monday is a concern for Miami. It is not, you see, that Finnegan is great.

It's just that Jamar Taylor, the 2013 second round pick and backup corner, has been picked on when he's been in games this year. 

All that and more is reflected in the ProfootballFocus.com review of the tape following Sunday's 20-16 Dolphins loss to the Lions. Here is the review with insight from me: 

Offensive Summary

The offensive line obviously took a big hit with the loss of Branden Albert, as Ja'Wuan James slid over to LT, Dallas Thomas moved to RT, and Shelley Smith stuck at LG. Smith and Thomas had been rotating series at LG early on. Albert allowed 1 hurry before his injury, and the rest of the line combined to give up 2 sacks, 3 hits, and 17 hurries.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said he didn't feel any more pressure after Albert left as before. But I will say this: Ziggy Ansah dominated. (More on Ansah below).

Jarvis Landry rotated series with Brandon Gibson. At times, when Hartline or Wallace gets a rest, they'll play together. The snap breakdown at slot receiver: Landry 38, Gibson 30, Rishard Matthews 9.

Lamar Miller took a shot to his shoulder on an early reception but continued playing. He took only 11 snaps, however, suggesting the Dolphins were not comfortable exposing him further. A source told The Herald yesterday Miller "is fine." After Daniel Thomas fumbled, he was limited to mostly third downs, ultimately getting out-snapped by Damien Williams 27-22.

Passing

When Tannehill did have time to throw, he usually found his target. On 19 unpressured drops, he was 18-for-19 with 135 yards and his TD pass. However, he was 9-for-19 with 87 yards when he did see pressure.

The Lions didn't often send blitzers to mount the pressure. In all, they blitzed five times during the game, and Tannehill was 3-of-4 for 30 yards against the blitz. Detroit's four-man pass rush was the key to their success.

(Yes, the Buffalo Bills will see that).

Receiving

The Lions didn't have an answer for Charles Clay or Landry in the middle of the field. Each player caught a pass against five different defenders. Clay, however, had a key TD drop. Yes, watching it again and again, it was a drop.

Despite the ugly interception to James Ihedigbo, Tannehill and the Dolphins liked the matchup, going after Ihedigbo a team-high eight times. They completed six of eight for 52 yards against the Detroit safety, including the INT and a drop by Clay.

Defensive Summary

With Michael Thomas done for the year, Jimmy Wilson fully reclaimed the slot corner role, logging 44 snaps. Jamar Taylor replaced Cortland Finnegan on the outside for the final 24 snaps when Finnegan limped off with an ankle injury.

Dion Jordan's 31 snaps featured seven run plays, 15 times rushing the passer, and then nine drops into coverage. Jordan was on Calvin Johnson in trail coverage during much of Detroit's game-winning drive. He actually defended a pass in the end zone.

(Why is he not a strongside linebacker? Why? Why?) 

Coverage

Jamar Taylor was picked on when he came in to replace Finnegan, allowing 6-of-7 passes to be completed for 62 yards. Golden Tate especially embarrassed the second-year CB, catching all five targets for 57 yards against him, with some first down conversions later in the game.

The TD he gave up to Megatron and acrobatic interception in the end zone stand out, but besides those two plays, CB Brent Grimes allowed just 3-of-7 passes to be completed to Calvin Johnson for 41 yards. Considering the opponent, a good overall day for Grimes.

Detroit's Defense

Grades aren't final yet, but Ndamukong Suh's +7.0 grade stands out as an utterly dominant performance. Ziggy Ansah (+4.9) also was a major factor in the pass rush (two sacks, three hurries), but also had 4 stops in the run game.

Another Detroit defensive lineman, pass rush specialist George Johnson, also teed off on the Miami offensive line. Of his 29 snaps, 22 came rushing the passer. He produced five hurries and a hit on those 22 pass rush snaps.

(Yes, the Bills will see this on tape).

November 10, 2014

New information on Lamar Miller status

It is apparently not as it bad as it looks for Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller.

If you are into connecting dots to build a picture, then the picture of the current situation would look terible for Miller.

He is coming off a game where he clearly wasn't himself against Detroit after suffering a separated shoulder against San Diego the previous week. He carried only four times, which was the fewest time this year and less than either Daniel Thomas or Damien Williams.

And today the Dolphins informed practice squad running back LaMichael James that he was being promoted to the 53-man roster, suggesting the Dolphins are concerned about Miller.

But a source tells me Miller "is fine." He did not reinjure his shoulder against the Lions. He can practice this week (perhaps on a limited basis, if that's what trainers decide) and he can play against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday, barring another setback to the shoulder.

[Update: Miller did indeed practice Monday but on a limited basis.]

So after getting some bad injury news the past 24 hours, this is good news for the Dolphins.

LaMichael James to fill vacant Albert roster spot

We knew yesterday afternoon Branden Albert was done for the season which meant there would be a vacant roster spot once the Dolphins put the left tackle on the injured reserve list.

A source is confirming Albert tore his ACL and MCL as was speculated on this blog Sunday. Philbin said the team was sure Albert would return but this injury can take 9-12 months to recover from.

Well, the Dolphins put Albert on IR, according to coach Joe Philbin but the vacant roster spot will be filled by .. running back LaMichael James.

James agent, Jeff Sperbeck, confirmed on twitter that James is moving up from the practice squad. James was signed to the Dolphins practice squad on Sept. 30. He had been cut by the San Francisco 49ers after he requested that release.

[Update: The Dolphins announced they had signed James to the active roster.]

James was San Francisco's 61st overall (second round) pick in the 2012 draft. James has 41 career carries for 184 yards (4.5 average).

The reason the Dolphins are moving up James is not just about having a vacant roster spot. Starting running back Lamar Miller has been slowed with a separated shoulder he suffered last week against San Diego.

Miller started and played against the Detroit Lions but carried only four times for 10 yards and could not finish the game.

When the Dolphins needed to move the ball with 3:37 to play to preserve the victory, Miller was on the bench unable to play. The Dolphins used Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams instead. Both Thomas (5 carries) and Williams (7) carried the ball more than Miller.

Miller's status for Thursday night's game against Buffalo is uncertain.

During his press conference today, Philbin also confirmed the Dolphins plan at tackle is "what you saw is what you're going to get," meaning the way the Dolphins deployed the offensive line against Detroit after the Albert injury is the way it will look against Buffalo.

That means Ja'Wuan James at left tackle and Dallas Thomas at right tackle. The Dolphins may also activate Billy Turner, who has played guard for the team but also played tackle in college, for the first time this season.

Branden Albert: 'I WILL come back stronger'

Miami Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert didn't speak after Sunday's loss to Detroit -- his last game of the season because he suffered a knee injury that ended his season and will require surgery.

But as this is 2014 and anyone can speak through social media, that is exactly what Albert did moments ago.

Posting on his Instagram account Albert wrote:

"Firstly, I want to thank my family, friends and fans fom all over and teammates past and present for reaching out to me with all their concerns, lrayers and best wishes. It is truly a blessing to have such a tremendous support system and I am thankful for it every signle day.

"This is football and these type of setback are part of the game. I will tell you this, though, I WILL come back Stronger and Better. I have the upmost (sic) confidence in my teammates to finish what we set out to do at the start of the seasons (sic). Thanks again and God Bless.

--BA"

Not loving the Miami OL matchups coming up

Readers of this blog might remember the admonition last week after a 37-0 victory over San Diego: Enjoy it but be careful not to crown the Miami Dolphins because they haven't really accomplished anything yet. Indeed, at the time the Dolphins were in third place in the AFC East and not among the six AFC teams leading the chase to qualify for a playoff spot.

Well, Sunday's 20-16 loss kind of proves the point.

As I write in my column today the Dolphins have to prove they can win games like the one against Detroit before they join the conversation about playoffs. They have to close a game like that before we know they can, well, close a game like that against a good team on the road.

The Dolphins have been simply too inconsistent to trust.

And, yes, I know the team was on a three-game win streak before Sunday. But on Sunday the offense scored one touchdown in the game. And that was the second time in the past three games that unit has been limited to one touchdown -- Jacksonville being the other.

You have to understand how overmatched the offense seemed on Sunday. That lone TD drive was made possible because the Dolphins got the football at the Detroit 3 yard line after Dion Jordan recovered a blocked a field goal attempt, ran 55 yards with the ball, but was caught from behind just shy of the end zone.

That wasn't a TD drive. The Dolphins had zero touchdown drives on Sunday. 

The defense? The Miami defense gave up another game-winning drive in crunch time just like it did against Green Bay. It gave up an touchdown with the game close and hanging in the balance just like it did versus Kansas City.

Dolphins fans want to believe the Miami defense is elite. No, the Detroit defense is. The Miami defense is merely good, particularly against teams that are often overmatched like Oakland, Chicago and Jacksonville (4-24 combined records) or against a San Diego team that was without two starting offensive linemen and lost another during the game.

So where does that leave the Dolphins?

Well, their record suggests they're still in the hunt.  But the road ahead offers tough times, as well.

Buffalo comes to town on Thursday. The Bills on defense wrote the script for beating the Dolphins on offense. They dominate the line of scrimmage and that's all she wrote. Can the Dolphins flip that script? I don't love their chances after losing Branden Albert for the rest of the season to a serious knee injury that will require reconstructive surgery.

It's not so much that the Dolphins will be weaker at left tackle, and they will be even with rookie Ja'Wuan James moving over from right tackle.  James has been solid at right tackle and good enough filling in for Albert so the drop there is not from 39,000 feet.

The thing that becomes the major problem glowing in neon is then the right tackle spot.

Who's going to fill that?

Dallas Thomas was mentioned as a possibility.

Nate Garner?

Jason Fox?

Someone who was on the street as of Sunday morning.

My guess is the Dolphins sign someone but start and play a current player against the Bills on Thursday night. I saw Dennis Hickey and his personnel guys busily working their cell phones in the press box after Branden Albert was felled. They surely were calling possible tackles.

But against the Bills that new guy isn't going to play. And you remember the Bills, right?

They put Mario Williams over the right tackle on every play. They have three players that have over 5 sacks this year. They're more or less on par with Detroit up front.

And looking beyond Thursday, I'm not thrilled with Miami's natchup up front against Denver and DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller or Baltimore with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. And I'm not even liking the Miami offensive line matchup against the New York Jets now.

It is going to be an interesting, difficult road for the Dolphins -- particularly on offense and specifically on the offensive line the rest of this season. Until they prove they can handle the challenge, the Dolphins are out of the playoff conversation.

November 09, 2014

Miami Dolphins players aware Albert out for season

DETROIT -- Miami Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert this afternoon told several teammates that he suffered a knee injury that will require surgery and put him out the remainder of the season.

Albert suffered the injury during the second quarter of Sunday's 20-16 loss to the Detroit Lions.

The Dolphins officially are not stating Albert is done. He is going to have an MRI when the team returns to South Florida.

But that seems a formality if you believe what Albert told teammates.

"Branden is a real good friend of mine, a really great football player. You hate to see that happen to anybody," Dolphins guard Mike Pouncey said. "Just trying to talk him through, my brother went through the same thing last year and he came back stronger and better than ever. So this is just a tough time right now before the surgery. But as soon as he starts rehab, he'll be alright.

"You hate to see that happen with these kind of players in this league. He has a long road ahead of him but he'll get back heatlhy because he's a figher."

Last year, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike's brother, tore his ACL and MCL and missed most of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is a concern Albert also suffered a fractured leg aslde from ligament damage.

"It's tough losing Branden," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I love the guy to death. He's out there battling every day. He's such a conistent guy, a solid guy in the offensive front. So losing him is tough."

Right tackle Ja'Wuan James took Albert's place against the Lions and likely will be the short-term answer at the position at least for the Buffalo game on Thursday.

The question becomes what the Dolphins do at right tackle. Although Nate Garner played the spot Sunday it is possible Dallas Thomas might move to right tackle.

"Someone will have to step up and fill the place of a great football player," Pouncey said. "We'll figure that out as we go into this game who that left tackle is going to be but I think Ja'Wuan is going to do a great job over there. He's been filling in all year. It's just tough to lose a friend and a footbal player like that."

James said he is ready to move to left tackle on a permanent basis if that's what the team asks him to do. It is clear, however, that the Dolphins will search for an available player who can either play left tackle or be a good option as a starting right tackle.

Miami Dolphins lose to Detroit, 20-16.

DETROIT -- If you're wondering what happened and want a general sense, simply remember the Green Bay loss a few weeks ago.

Similar to that heartbreaker, the Dolphins today played a talented Lions team and had a 13-10 lead late.

And then the Lions drove 74 yards in 11 plays and scored with 29 seconds to play when Matthew Stafford connected with Theo Riddick on a TD pass to give the Lions a 20-16 win.

Like in that Green Bay game, coach Joe Philbin called time outs at key moments as the Lions marched down the field. That eventually left his offense with no timeouts to answer with what little time was left to play.

I think this: You'll question the coaching.

I have to question the defense. It is talented. it is good.

But championship defenses sometimes make those late-game stops with the game on the line. The Dolphins have failed to do that in two big situations against top-tier talent.

That tells me they are not an elite defense. Good. But not elite.

The frustrating thing is today the Buffalo Bills lost. The Dolphins had an opportunity to climb past them in the standings.

What this actually did was give the New England an even bigger advantage in the standings and sink Miami playoffs chances even more.

The Dolphins are 5-4. They failed to extend their winning streak to four games and have not had a streak that long since 2008.

 

 

Branden Albert leaves Dolphins game with knee injury

DETROIT -- Branden Albert had been playing as well if not better than any Dolphins player this year, solving Miami's longtime problem at left tackle.

But those problems may be back because Albert went down with what looked like a serious knee injury in the second quarter of today's game at Detroit.

Another Dolphins blocker rolled into Albert's right knee bending it in ways it is not built to bend. Albert was down for several minutes and could not put any weight on the knee as he was loaded on a cart and taken off the field.

The Dolphins replaced Albert with rookie Ja'Wuan James, who moved from his starting right tackle spot to left tackle. Nate Garner entered the game at right tackle.

The Dolphins announced Albert's return today is doubtful.

The Dolphins trail the Detroit Lions, 10-3 at halftime. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked twice.

At halftime, I saw several members of the Dolphins personnel department, including GM Dennis Hickey, scurrying about. All look worried, upset. Hickey was on the cell phone.

Pretty obvious the team is making plans beyond Albert.

Live blog: Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions

DETROIT -- The first matchup I'm looking at today?

Well, we all expected Mike Pouncey versus Ndamukong Suh. But with Daryn Colledge not playing and Dallas Thomas starting at left guard instead, I wonder whether the Lions move Suh over to match up against the obviously inferior opponent?

Or will the Lions simply let Suh be?

Watch for that.

Koa Misi will be starting in the middle again today. Lamar Miller start at running back but I must tell you watch for limitations there.

The inactives: 67 Daryn Colledge, 74 Jason Fox, 76 Anthony Johnson, 77 Billy Turner, 78 Terrence Fede, 80 Dion Sims and 97 Kelvin Sheppard.e is a live blog today as every game day.

Check it out below:

Live Blog Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions: Nov. 9, 2014
 

Miami Dolphins midseason grades

We are exactly at the midpoint of the Miami Dolphins season. You know what that means?

I give out mdiseason grades!

Because midseason grades are really, really important to the Dolphins. (Not really). But they're interesting in that they measure progress and mark where this team is ... and may be going.

I tell you about that in my column in Sunday's Miami Herald.

The Dolphins are doing something right now they have not done since 2003. I tell you about that in the column and give you insight from Joe Philbin, Ryan Tannehill and Brent Grimes about what is making this team succeed.

The column, however, doesn't have grades for individual players. I got them here. Tell me where you agree. Tell me where you disagree. And check back Sunday afternoon for the live blog of the Dolphins at Lions.

OFFENSE

Pos. Player                Grade                        Comment

LT Branden Albert     A+               Solved team’s ‘13 LT issue.

LG Daryn Colledge    C-                4 good games, 3 terrible games.

C Samson Satele         B-               Good enough to allow Pouncey shift

RG Mike Pouncey      C                  Still working rust off

RT Ja’Wuan James     B-               Never hear his name, which is good.

WR Brian Hartline     C                  Has ability to do way more.

WR Jarvis Landry      C+               Dependable, good hands, the future. 

WR Mike Wallace     B-                 Deep threat turned possession WR.

RB Lamar Miller       B                  Excellent early, slowed lately

TE Charles Clay        C                  Knee injury, inconsistent hands have hurt him.

QB Ryan Tannehill   B-                  Inaccurate deep but doing other things

K Caleb Sturgis         C-                 Excellent on KO, inconsistent on FG.

DEFENSE

Pos., Player                 Grade                       Comment

LE Cameron Wake       A+                 Oustanding pass rush, good run stop.

DT Randy Starks           B-                  Struggled vs. Jax & GB, otherwise good

DT Jared Odrick            B                   Playing best ball of career

DT Earl Mitchell           B-                   Paul Soliai who?

RE Olivier Vernon        A                     Rarely doubled but always vs. LT

MLB Koa Misi              C+                   Durability is an ability

SLB Phillip Wheeler     C+                   Playing time diminished lately

WLB Jelani Jenkins       B                   Why wasn’t he starting?

CB Brent Grimes          A                    Worth every penny

CB Cortland Finnegan  C                     Yields yards. but only 1 TD

S Louis Delmas             B+                  Very good attitude, play speed

S Reshad Jones              A-                 Great in 4 games but that suspension hurt

NICK Jimmy Wilson     B                      Good at FS, better at SCB.

NICK Jamar Taylor       C-                    Work in progress.

P Brandon Fields           C+                   Struggled early, way better lately.

KEY RESERVES

WR Brandon Gibson    C                     Trying to regain form.

RB Damien Williams  C-                     2.8 yards per carry                       

RB Daniel Thomas       C-                    Size, experience keeps him on roster

TE Dion Sims              C                      Role player filling his role

G Dallas Thomas         C                      Fits role as backup.

LB Jason Trusnik         B-                    Valuable in an emergency    

DE Derrick Shelby       C+                    Solid on field, but that moment off?

DE Dion Jordan             I                     Should be, better be better.

WRITER

Columnist Armando Salguero      C-     Slow starter, always great in Dec.

November 08, 2014

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Lions

DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions are getting healthier. The Miami Dolphins? Not necessarily.

If Daryn Colledge, who is doubtful with a back issue, cannot play and he cannot as of this hour, then the Dolphins suddenly become weaker at a position where the Lions' are more than capable of attacking.

It is going to be interesting.

Meanwhile ... Calvin Johnson.

The Dolphins did a fine job against Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall earlier this year. Neither are as good or gifted as Calvin Johnson.

Here are the matchups:

When the Lions pass the football: This team with Matthew Stafford at quarterback has been unspectacular passing the football so far. Yes, there are a couple of dynamic TD passes of 73 yards to Golden Tate and 67 yards to Calvin Johnson but two plays does not a passing game make. The mistake would be to believe the Lions would continue to be merely functional because now they benefit from the return of Johnson, who has missed three games with an ankle injury. He’s a difference-maker. Detroit is also hoping at least one or two tight ends can return to health this week and that can help open up the seam passes. Even the return of Reggie Bush adds a dimension for the passing game in that screen passes are once again a weapon. The Miami secondary has feasted in recent weeks --- collecting six interceptions in four games. Yes, they give up yardage. Indeed, cornerback Cortland Finnegan allows opposing quarterbacks a rating of over 100 throwing against him. But the big plays from the entire secondary, including Finnegan, often erase the memory and effect of multiple completed 12-yard outs or slants. Stafford, by the way, has been known to be a streaky thrower. ADVANTAGE: Detroit.

When the Lions run the football: Dolphins fans know as well as anyone that Reggie Bush is a hard worker. He doesn’t shy away from a lot of carries and, indeed, wants as many as he can get. He also runs between the tackles when he has to. But does Reggie Bush really scare anyone? He’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season. And backfield mate Joique Bell is a heftier tackling assignment at 229 pounds but he’s not been dynamic either, averaging 3.2 yards per carry with his longest run of the year being 17 yards. The Lions don’t run as their first option. The Lions don’t even run to set up the pass. They are the No. 31 running team in the NFL. They run because no one passes on every down. The Dolphins struggled to stop the run the past two seasons and actually got progressively worse at it. But they’ve stemmed that tide this year and are now more representative against the run than in past years, ranking No. 12 in the NFL in the category. They should dominate this category. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: The early season questions about whether Ryan Tannehill could play well and be a good quarterback have faded in the past month. With Jacksonville as a notable exception, Tannehill has been very good. He’s been on fire and he’s coming off a game where he posted his highest career quarterback rating. So he’s pointed in a very positive direction. The new question is can it continue? (Yeah, until and unless Tannehill reaches elite status there will always be new questions). Tannehill had a similar streak in early December of last season and then cooled off the final two weeks. Can he stay hot for an extended period? The Lions are excellent against the pass, primarily because they pressure the QB. That doesn’t diminish the fact they are No. 3 in pass TDs allowed per game, No. 5 in passing yards allowed per game, and No. 7 in interception percentage. This is the best pass defense Miami has faced so far. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: Ryan Tannehill has added a dimension that is more than gimmickry to the run game because he has at least one explosive run in each of the past four games. Indeed, Tannehill has a run of 20 yards or more in each of the past four games. That means the Lions and all opponents, really, have to respect the quarterback keep on the read option and have to spend time during the practice week preparing for it. On a more conventional level, Lamar Miller has always been considered a finesse runner even though he is breaking tackles at a higher rate this year. His toughness will be tested because his left shoulder suffered a minor separation last week and it happens to be the same shoulder that Miller injured at the University of Miami and required surgery. The Dolphins would be wise to have Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams ready for action. And the longstanding complaint that Miller doesn’t get the football often enough might have to take a break this week because it might be wise for Miller not to carry too often. The Lions have the No. 2 overall run defense in the NFL now. Enough said. ADVANTAGE: Detroit.

Special teams: The Dolphins invested a fifth-round draft pick on kicker Caleb Sturgis last year. The results have been mixed. Sturgis is a great kickoff man. But he has been inconsistent on field goals as his missed 45-yarder last week testifies. The Lions used a fifth-round pick last year on punter Sam Martin. It has been a good pickup so far. He is third in the NFL with a 47.6 gross punting average and eighth in the NFL with a 41.4 net average. Detroit kicker Matt Prater is a recent roster addition. He was 3-for-3, including a game winner against Atlanta but actually missed a shorter field goal to win the game that was nullified by penalty. Prater has been inconsistent, connecting on 5 of 7 kicks. The Lions are very good returning punts and kicks. The Dolphins are very good returning kicks but need to improve on punt returns. ADVANTAGE: Detroit.

Coaching: The Dolphins coaching staff has rallied behind head coach Joe Philbin as he stepped away the past two weeks for both the passing and funeral of his father. DC Kevin Coyle stepped up as team spokesman and staff elder statesman although he said he has no interest in ever being a head coach, which is odd considering most coaches are very ambitious. The staff seems to be closer now. Detroit’s Jim Caldwell has brought a calm and discipline to the Lions that they lacked before. If a team reflects the personality of its coach, the Lions will be playing smart, classy football under Caldwell. Are they there yet? Not quite yet.  ADVANTAGE: Miami.

November 07, 2014

Injury report: Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions

Here's the injury picture of Sunday's matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions:

For the Dolphins ...

TE Dion Sims (toe) is out. No surprise. He hasn't practiced all week.

LG Daryn Colledge (back) is doubtful. Don't expect him. It would take a significant improvement by Sunday for him to play. He'll likely miss his second consecutive game. Dallas Thomas would start in his place.

RB Lamar Miller (shoulder) was limited in practice again on Friday and is questionable. The Dolphins are optimistic he will play and those close to Miller believe he will play.

LB Koa Misi (ankle), DT Earl Mitchell (abdomen), LB Kelvin Sheppard (hip/groin), NCB Jimmy Wilson (hamstring) are also questionable.

Everyone else is probable including TE Charles Clay (knee) and RG Mike Pouncey (hip).

For the Lions, DT Nick Fairley (knee) is out. No surprise there. He hasn't practied and was not expected back for this game.

TE Eric Ebron (hamstring) is doubtful. He practiced on a limited basis this week.

TEs Joseph Fauria (ankle) and Brandon Pettigrew (foot) are listed as questionable. Both will likely play, barring a setback.

The Lions are getting several injured players back for the game including Reggie Bush (ankle), and Calvin Johnson (ankle). Ziggy Ansah (toe) was limited Friday but is probable. DE George Johnson (hamstring) missed practiced Friday but is listed as probable.

Lions present Miami Dolphins a major problem up front

There are some inarguable NFL truths.

Elite quarterbacks erase a multitude of roster flaws. Tight ends are red zone matchup nightmares and, as I repeat incessantly to my twitter followers, they catch TDs in the red zone. And, of course, it is hard to win in the NFL unless you win at the line of scrimmage.

For our purpose here, let's deal with the third of those truths. You'll recall that the Buffalo Bills have made a living against the Dolphins lately, simply by winning at the line of scrimmage. You'll recall that last week I told you the Dolphins could use that very script against the San Diego Chargers.

Well, lo and behold, that was exactly how the Dolphins beat the Bolts. They swamped them at the line of scrimmage. San Diego could do nothing up front offensively, leaving Phillip Rivers to fend for himself -- which he could not -- and they mustered zero running game. The Miami offensive line, meanwhile, allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to keep his uniform mostly in pristine condition.

The formula worked for Miami.

But the formula might work against Miami in several respects this week.

The Detroit Lions, you see, at least on defense are not just a mirror image of the Buffalo Bills up front. They are an enhanced, faster, younger, better image of the Buffalo front seven The Lions, in short, can dominate up front in ways few Miami opponents can.

Consider:

Detroit defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones this season have combined to produce 50 quarterback hurries, per ProFootballFocus.com. DT Ndamukong Suh has produced 26 pressures by himself and that ties him with Buffalo's Kyle Williams, only one pressure behind Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy.

Linebacker DeAndre Levy, meanwhile, is very good in run defense. He has a very high run stop percentage of 16.6, meaning he shuts down the run (like by himself) 16.6 percent of the time.

All this says the Miami offensive front will have a tough challenge on Sunday.

“Well, number one, they are very stout upfront," coach Joe Phillbin said of the Lions. "They are a physical football team. They are active on the second level as well. Not only are they strong, but they can move and they are athletic. I think their pursuit is very, very good, and they tackle well. When you have those components, it makes it tough. What are they averaging, 3.2 or three yards they are giving up per rushing play? That’s way up there in the National Football League. They are playing good run defense.

“[Suh] is an excellent football player. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s athletic, he moves well, he gets off blocks. We’re going to have to play, Mike Pouncey, our whole offensive line’s going to have to play well."

On the other side of the ball, the Lions are not a run-first team. Truth is they don't run well at all, although some concession has to be made for the fact RB Reggie Bush has missed time and actually played hurt before that. It is also true the Detroit offensive line is not exactly a Great Wall so that works against the Lions.

The Lions have given up 24 sacks this year. They are 26th in sacks per pass play, which is bad.

But the Lions are not the disaster up front that San Diego was because of injuries. Indeed, they present a picture of getting healthier up front as right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who's been battling a concussion and other injury issues this season, is set to return against Miami. Waddle hasn't gotten a ton of snaps this year but has been very efficient in pass protection when he does play.

(You may not have heard of Waddle but he is a 2013 undrafted free agent -- a fine pickup by Martin Mayhew, Brian Xanders and the rest of the Lions' personnel department).

“I’ve watched the guys at length and, for the most part, those guys, they work well together," Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake said. "They’re a hardnosed, tough minded kind of group and obviously play to the whistle. So I think the front, that’s another challenge for us to do whatever we can to find the weakness, get after the quarterback and do our best to keep him from getting the ball in the hands of playmakers."

Isn't that often the key?

Yes. Yes, it is. And while the Miami defensive front has a marked advantaged over Detroit's offensive front, it is not as pronounced as the Dolphins enjoyed last week. The Miami offensive front, meanwhile, has zero advantage over the Detroit defensive front. Last week the Dolphins easily pushed the Chargers around and protected quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

That script probably won't be available this week.