December 02, 2014

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. 

November 26, 2014

Injuries lead to intrigue at cornerback

The Miami Dolphins are churning the roster at the cornerback spot because, in part, they are managing several injuries at the position.

R.J. Stanford was added on Tuesday because he just might be more game-ready than Jalil Brown, who was cut. He also might be a special teams improvement.

Regardless, the Dolphins are working around the season-ending knee injury of Will Davis, the shoulder injury of Jamar Taylor, and the ankle injury of Cortland Finnegan.

The most important of those is the Finnegan injury.

A source close to Finnegan tells me he is making definite improvement despite missing the past two games. But he is not ready quite yet and is being careful to be "smart" in managing the injury.

What does that mean? Finnegan doesn't want to come back too soon and have it backfire. He doesn't want to come back and hurt the team instead of help. He doesn't want to come back before the time is right and possibly re-aggravate the injury, forcing to miss more time and possibly the postseason.

For that reason Finnegan may err on the side of caution.

That is why him playing against the New York Jets on Monday is not a certainty. Yes, Finnegan will get one extra day to get right. But 100 percent? Not likely.

It would take an unexpectedly good week of rehabilitation for Finnegan to get back for the Jets game.

As to Taylor. He does not have structural damage to his shoulder. So what we're looking at here is regaining strength in the area and pain tolerance.

Taylor has told those close to him he wants to play against the Jets. That is hard to fathom. This is serious enough that he might miss a week or two.

It is interesting the Dolphins on Tuesday picked Stanford over, say, Dimitri Patterson, who hasn't played this year after being waived by the Jets coming out of training camp. Yes, Patterson had his issue in New York, going AWOL for a couple of days. Yes, Patterson had a reputation for getting hurt with the Dolphins.

But he also played well for Miami when healthy last year.

It is interesting the Dolphins haven't tried to rent him for a couple of weeks.

November 25, 2014

Salguero and PFF review of Miami Dolphins at Denver

This week's ProFootballFocus.com study of the Miami Dolphins film following the loss to Denver will leave you with questions.

The questions:

Why didn't defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle blitz more?

Why Daniel Thomas in the red zone?

Is there a competition at left guard?

Why did Peyton Manning seemingly do something dumb and go after Brent Grimes after Lowell Rose came into the game?

And, of course, will Ryan Tannehill ever complete a deep ball to Mike Wallace?

The grading:

Offensive Summary

Left tackle Ja’Wuan James did well against DeMarcus Ware and company on his side (0 pressures) on his 22 snaps, while Jason Fox predictably struggled some on his 40 snaps, allowing one hit and one hurry.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor continues to mix up snaps with his WRs: Mike Wallace got 47, Jarvis Landry got 45, Brian Hartline got 43, Brandon Gibson got 35, and Rishard Matthews got 20. Interestingly, Gibson has been seeing more snaps lately than he was in early October. That speaks to his continual improvement from knee surgery a year ago and refusal to give up on himself and go into a practice funk.

Running back Lamar Miller handled 40 out of 62 snaps despite a knee and shoulder injury, but was curiously taken out in the red zone in favor of Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins are looking for a bigger, stronger back in the red zone to avoid negative runs.

LaMichael James saw his first action as a Dolphin. Thomas got 15 snaps, James got four snaps, Damien Williams got 3.

Shelley Smith and Daryn Colledge would rotate every two series or so, with Colledge finishing with a few more snaps, 35-27. It will be interesting to see if this was a function of easing Colledge back in after he missed three games or if Smith has earned sharing the position while Colledge has been out. It could be both reasons, actually.

Passing

Still no deep ball for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the intermediate game was on point. He was 7-for-8 for 109 yards and a TD when throwing between 10-19 yards.

Receiving

Jarvis Landry caught five of his seven passes against Chris Harris, but his touchdowns came in coverage against Bradley Roby and Rahim Moore.

Tannehill did look to attack SS T.J. Ward in coverage, targeting him a team high eight times. Four of those targets went to Dion Sims.

Defensive Summary

Still have the All-22 checks to be made, but the Dolphins missed 14 tackles as a team versus the Broncos.

Miami’s normally dominant front four was rendered useless by Peyton and the running game. they registered just the one sack, hit, and pressure.

Lowell Rose came on for the injured Jamar Taylor, playing 14 snaps, but then Walt Aikens, who has been working mostly at safety in practice, relieved Rose for the final 9 defensive snaps.

Coverage

When the Dolphins went to a zone, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas ate the Dolphins alive on crossers. Jelani Jenkins allowed 6-for-6 targets to be completed to the top two Denver WRs for 84 yards.

Against Dolphins DBs not named Brent Grimes, Peyton was 26-of-30 for 250 yards and four four TDs. Grimes was targeted five times, allowing two grabs for 7 yards.

Opponents’ Passing

The Dolphins did limit the big plays in the air against the Broncos. Manning Peyton was just 1-of-6 on throws of 20+ yards. Manning missed Sanders open deep for a touchdown against Grimes twice in the final quarter but overthrew both passes. The Dolphins had rolled coverage to the other side of the field so even though the Denver quarterback did not appear to be picking on newly installed Lowell Rose, an obvious weak link, he was in fact throwing to the right receiver locked in man coverage. The lone strike to Sanders that did go for a catch was a poorly thrown ball.

Maybe the Dolphins should’ve blitzed more. On eight blitzes during passing downs, Manning was 3-of-7 for 13 yards, which did include a TD but also the team's lone sack -- that in the red zone.

Opponents’ Rushing

The Broncos really aimed to get the running game going. They used a sixth offensive lineman 18 times, and blocking TE Virgil Green saw 56 snaps, while Jacob Tamme played 23 snaps. The Dolphins got bullied. They had no answer and, troubling, worse as the game wore on.

The Broncos were most effective running on the edges with the extra lineman; on six C.J. Anderson runs behind left or right end, he had 63 yards; Juwan Thompson’s 21-yard run also came behind right end.

November 24, 2014

Coyle addresses Denver defensive disaster

Kevin Coyle had some 'splainin' to do today after his defense collapsed in the fourth quarter at Denver, allowing an 11-point lead turn into a 39-36 loss to the Broncos.

So what it the fundamentals? The tackling? The injuries in the secondary? Not getting off blocks?

Coaching?

(I mean, really, a two-man pass rush at one point?)

The Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator addressed those issues with the media today. This is what he said:

(On how concerning the missed tackles were yesterday) “It’s disappointing. We pride ourselves on being a good, fundamental football team, and we work on it. But yesterday we did not tackle well. It certainly showed up in our overall defensive performance. It’s not acceptable and we’ve got to get it corrected in a hurry."

(On if he thought he’d ever see Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning hand the ball off so much) “I think they were trying to make a statement. I think that they had challenged their guys, to their credit going into the game, they were disappointed in what happened a week ago in St. Louis and then New England prior to that. I think they came in there with that idea. We thought they were going to try to do that. But yet, I’m disappointed in that we didn’t do a better job against it. We didn’t play great fundamental football, which has been our trademark since we’ve been here. I’m not really sure totally why. It was a game that I thought we had opportunities, as you go through every game, there’s always, as everybody says, those five or six plays that make a difference. Well, we didn’t make any one of those five or six. We had chances on third downs, there were a lot of third and shorts because we weren’t getting them off schedule and they were running the ball and they were throwing quick passes out on the perimeter. But our inability to make a play in crunch time really hurt us. It’s disappointing because our offense did a tremendous job. Guys on offense did a great job, put us in a position to win and we weren’t able to close it out."

(On how the defense has been in the fourth quarter of games this season) “There have been games where we’ve played well and then there are games that obviously stand out where we didn’t play well down the stretch. I think at times you can isolate one area and it’s important to that because in this league a lot of the games do come down to the very end of the game as we know. There are a lot of things that we’ve done well, but we’ve got to do more things well at critical times. Hopefully, we’ve got five opportunities to do that down the stretch here. I know we’re going to do everything we can as coaches and players to play our best football here over the last five weeks and then, at the end of the season, look at our whole season in totality and see where we end up.”

(On if it feels like the Broncos game got away) “Yeah. I honestly can tell you that I never really felt like we were in control of it on defense because we didn’t stop them. We stopped them on the second drive, which I felt good about. The initial drive, there were a couple of plays that they got on us. But I wasn’t feeling, even at halftime, I’ve got to be honest with you, they had 65 yards rushing at halftime and 25 came on a second-and-long play that I didn’t put us in the greatest defense to stop. We shouldn’t have given up 25 yards, but I was anticipating them throwing the ball. They had thrown the ball almost 90 percent in that scenario throughout all of their season. We anticipated pass and they ran it and we missed a tackle on the play. But yet, I didn’t feel like they were just running it down our throats, I thought they were being very physical though. I didn’t think we were as physical as we normally are at the point of attack. And all of the passes, when you look at it, he didn’t throw the ball vertically down the field, other than the fade that they missed on the second drive, until the two minute drill. There is not a pass, if you go back and look at the tape, where it’s more than a five yard throw down the field in the entire first half. Now, he caught the shallow crosser for the big first down on third down, but that was about a 3-yard route across the middle, everything else was perimeter, slants, bubble screens, hitches, and so forth. They weren’t throwing it vertically and I didn’t feel like they were just controlling in the run game at that point. In the second half, they busted a couple of runs and we were never able to get off the field.”

(On if he the physical play from the Broncos offense caught the defense by surprise) “I’m not sure. We’ve got to talk about that here as we go into the week. I think as the game wore on, there were no surprises anymore. They were determined to run the football and they did. When going back and looking at it, there were 35 pass attempts, I think there were only nine of them that were down the field throws. He gets the ball out quick. We knew that going into it (that) he’s averaging one sack per game and there’s a reason for that. He gets the ball out quick and he doesn’t take sacks. But we thought we’d do a better job of handling both the perimeter passing game and the run game."

(On if there was a certain pass rush attack that he felt worked during the game) “We weren’t very successful rushing the quarterback. I think what happened a couple of times during the game was we had some maximum coverages that we felt might be the answer to some of the passing game that they were utilizing. We weren’t on point with some of our coverages as we needed to be. Consequently, they got a couple of first downs against some of the looks that we thought were going to be good and should have been good against some of the things they were doing."

(On the play late in the first half where Manning hurried the offense to the line and completed a pass against CB Jamar Taylor, the defense only rushed two, if that was planned) “What happened was we were trying to substitute there at that point. It was kind of unusual there. In the two minute drill there, it wasn’t a completed pass I don’t believe. He was hurrying them right back to the line. I think what he saw was that we were going to try and substitute and consequently was trying to get us either in the substitution to try to get a first down, because it was third-and-20. So we communicated quickly from the sideline to get us into what we thought was going to be a safe coverage and there was a little bit of communication on the field. But it didn’t affect the coverage down the field. It did affect the rush a little bit, but I don’t think, with the rush that we had intended, that it was going to be factor in the play anyway."

(On how much of a challenge all of the injuries in the secondary are) “It’s a challenge, but yet, I think every team in the league deals with injuries at various spots. In the secondary, it’s a little bit more difficult because those guys that have been getting the majority of the work have seen a lot of the things in game action. When you’re putting people in for the first time, it’s a tough spot to be in. I’ve got to be honest with you, playing corner in the NFL is about as difficult a spot as you can be out there in competitive sports. I thought our guys hung in there and battled. I don’t think that was in any way the reason we didn’t perform well late in the game yesterday. But it is a challenge for us as we move forward. Hopefully, we’ll get some guys back and plug some people in. That’s what you have to do at this point of the season."

(On if he’s had a chance to review the New York Jets) “I’ve watched a little bit. I don’t have a great feel today. We will as we work through today and tomorrow and start to formulate our plan, I know that with the addition of (Percy) Harvin, they’re trying to utilize him in a lot of different ways as a runner and as a receiver. They have some quality players on offense. When you look at their offensive team, they have some talented skill players and some good offensive linemen. We’re anxious to really dig in to how we’re going to defend them and put together the best plan possible.”

Dolphins defense flops, offense flies, moral victory?

DENVER -- It doesn't seem the Dolphins are going to win the AFC East because they're three games back with five to play. It would require a Patriots collapse and the way they're playing lately, that's unlikely.

But the Dolphins considered themselves playoff worthy before Sunday game against the Broncos. They were not in, per se, but they led the list of teams in the hunt.

Well, a 39-36 loss later and the Dolphins are dropping like a rock -- having fallen behind San Diego, Cleveland and Baltimore among the team that are not even in the top six. (Six teams qualify for the playoffs so technically the Dolphins are No. 10 now).

The Dolphins may have to go 5-0 to get in the playoffs because even at 4-1, which would give them a 10-6 record, that is no guarantee of a postseason berth.

But I'm talking about playoffs.

And, as I wrote in my column today, the defense that is supposed carry the Dolphins to the playoffs is instead showing signs they cannot overcome elite competition.

No, elite defenses don't always overcome elite offenses. But Miami's defense has had precious few moments of winning against elite offenses this year.

The Dolphins gave up 201 rushing yards. That is not a misprint. It happened against one of the NFL's worst rushing offenses.

"You just have to give it to the big boys up front," running back C.J. Anderson said after he gained 167 yards. "They just took so much from the outside and the media all week (after a terrible game against St. Louis) saying they're terrible and this and that. 'Are they going to get it together? Are we going to get the run game established?' They went out there first play of the game and said, 'Hey, this is our game today.'

"They made a statement and I just took the right holes and ran." 

C.J. Anderson, by the way, is Denver's third-string running back.

In the losing locker room?

"We had a lot of big plays on us," linebacker Koa Misi said before going through the litany of Miami problems.

"Broken coverages, missed tackles. Our defense just didn't play the way we needed to."

The offense did. Any time you score 36 points and lose, something is wrong with the defense but you cannot rip the offense.

Indeed, Jarvis Landry was good with two touchdown catches. Ryan Tannehill had a very good game, completing 26 of 36 passes for 228 yards with three TDs and 1 INT. He had a quarterback rating of 104.9.

So what is my small complaint on offense?

The run game. Not that the Dolphins don't do it well enough, but rather don't do it often enough. Look, 21 runs in a game is no way to keep the football away from Peyton Manning. Lamar Miller averaged 4.9 yards per carry. But he only carried 12 times.

So is it a moral victory the Dolphins lost by only a field goal?

"[Expletive], we lost, I don't  know," Mike Wallace said. "I don't take nothing positive from no loss except that we [expletive] lost. We get back to work Monday and try to get ready for the Jets. It's a tough loss. We played a good football game. We lost to a good football team. We can't win them all."

The Dolphins are 6-5.

November 23, 2014

Broncos blow up Dolphins defense

DENVER -- Close.

But still not good enough.

The Miami Dolphins not only matched the Denver Broncos for three quarters on Sunday, but led by 11 points, 28-17, to start the final quarter.

And then the roof caved in.

Peyton Manning led not one but two long touchdown drives against the Miami defense. And then, trailing 32-28, Ryan Tannehill threw an interception and the return set up another two-yard TD pass by Manning.

The last time Dolphins led by 11 or more entering the fourh quarter and didn't win? That was October 23, 2000 against the Jets.

The late TD by the Dolphins made it close. But the 39-36 final says the Dolphins have work to do.

And I think this:

The Dolphins defense continues to show it is good. But ...

Not.

Great.

Not by any means. It's not that they couldn't stop Peyton Manning this game. They couldn't stop the Denver running game.

The Broncos rushed only 10 times last week against St. Louis. They came out intent on running the football against Miami and did just that. Denver had 201 rushing yards against the Miami defense.

And no, the Dolphins couldn't stop the passing game, either. Manning threw four TD passes. Four.

None of Miami's defensive stars made big plays.

Cameron Wake didn't do anything noteworthy.

Olivier Vernon didn't do anything noteworthy.

"We didn't show up today," Vernon said afterward.

Manning was sacked once -- when he gave himself up after not finding an open receiver. Jelani Jenkins was was credited with the sack. It was Miami's only sack of the day.

Brent Grimes gave up a TD.

It was just a tough day for the Miami D.

Jimmy Wilson was penalized three times.

Not good all around. 

Live blog: Miami Dolphins at Broncos

DENVER -- Charles Clay is indeed inactive. So check out my report on one of the surprises the Miami Dolphins may have from the tight end spot -- particularly inside the red zone.

Dion Sims will start at TE.

The other inactives are CB Cortland Finnegan, CB Jalil Brown, LB Jonathan Freeny, OL Nate Garner, DL Anthony Johnson and OL Billy Turner.

Jamar Taylor starts at CB. Daryn Colledge is back at his usual starting LG spot today.

The live blog is starting here around game time. Come back and join the community.

Live Blog Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos: Nov. 23, 2014
 

Suprises at TE for Dolphins and Broncos today

DENVER -- Bad day for tight ends.

Miami's Charles Clay is doubtful to play and Denver's Julius Thomas, who is questionable, is not playing today, according to FOX.

What does that mean?

For the Dolphins it means something utterly unexpected might happen. Think Dion Jordan at tight end.

With Clay likely out, the Dolphins may ask their versatile and athletic defensive end to take some offensive snaps. It is not unprecedented. J.J. Watt does it in Houston. And Jordan has been asked to do unexpected things in the past -- such as cover New England tight end Rob Gronkowski last year and Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson earlier this season.

Jordan may be out wide or on the line as a tight end, depending on the situation.

No, not all the time. But in the red zone? As a 6-6 target inside the 15 yard line?

Absolutely a possibility. Sources tell me the Dolphins have been working on this the past week.

The Dolphins have a chance to do something special today. They have a chance to gain the respect of the national media, their fans and others if they can win today. That's my column for the day.

Please check it out. And come back later for the live blog.

November 22, 2014

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos

Sunday's meeting between the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos is by far the most fascinating of the season so far for me.

It's not so much that the game will determine so much.

It's simply that this game features so many matchups that pit very good players against one another. Ryan Clady against Olivier Vernon? Excellent. Will Aqib Talib match up against Mike Wallace? Brent Grimes against Demeryius Thomas?

One matchup that hasn't gotten much attention is Dolphins rookie Jarvin Landry against Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. Harris projects to cover Miami's outstanding slot receiver quite a bit on Sunday. And while Landry is perhaps Miami's most dependable short threat, Harris has been outstanding against slot receivers this year, allowing only 11 catches for 57 yards on 19 targets. That's a 40.1 QB rating against Harris. This according to ProFootballFocus.com

As for the Denver defensive front, expect OLB DeMarcus Ware to rush from the right side although the Broncos at times flip their outside linebackers. Ware has rushed from the left side on only 47 of his 315 snaps, per PFF.

That means you'll see Ware vs. Ja'Wuan James most of the afternoon and Von Miller versus Dallas Thomas most of the afternoon -- assuming Thomas stays in the game all afternoon. As you know, his status is tenuous and he has to play well to keep his spot.

Here are the other keys to the game:

When the Broncos pass the football: Peyton Manning is one of the all-time great NFL quarterbacks but not lately. He has thrown two interceptions in three consecutive games, marking the first time he does that since joining the Broncos is 2012. The last time he’d done it was 2010 while in Indianapolis. One reason Manning looks mortal is his protection hasn’t been up to standard. The Broncos yielded two sacks, four quarterback hits and six hurries against St. Louis. That’s not what Manning is used to because he is the least sacked quarterback in the NFL, having suffered only 11 this season. The Broncos have excellent weapons for Manning to use but two of those – receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Julius Thomas – missed the week of practice. Sanders is probable and Thomas is questionable. Former Dolphin Wes Welker hasn’t haunted Miami since departing New England. He’s baaaack. The Dolphins will be looking to affect Manning by, among other things, getting their interior linemen to try to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage. The cornerback situation is a question mark again for the Dolphins with Jamar Taylor again starting for Cortland Finnegan. ADVANTAGE: Denver.

When the Broncos run the football: The Broncos are not a running team. It simply is not their identity. Last week the Broncos ran only nine times (not counting a kneel down to end the first half). They did not run the ball the final 7:49, spanning their final 28 offensive snaps. Constant shifting along the offensive line – with center Manny Ramirez moved to right guard, right guard Louis Vasquez moved to right tackle and reserve Will Montgomery promoted to starting center – hasn’t helped so far. The Broncos have three games in which they’ve rushed for less than 50 yards and two of those came in the last three weeks. It also has hurt the Broncos that running back Montee Ball missed five weeks with a groin injury, returned last week against St. Louis and re-injured the groin. He will not play against Miami. The Dolphins are stopping the run better this year than any time since Joe Philbin took over. Earl Mitchell, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick are playing well and the return of Koa Misi to the middle linebacker spot has helped. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: Before Ryan Tannehill has a chance to throw the football he has to have time to do so. That means right tackle Dallas Thomas has got to improve because last week he yielded 2.5 sacks, a quarterback hit and four hurries. Coaches have told Thomas he must be better this game, and early on, or he may be benched in favor of Jason Fox. That is no small issues because the Broncos attack the quarterback with accomplished pass rushers DeMarcus Ware from one side and Von Miller from the other. The duel threats prevent teams from sliding protection to one side or another with great success. Now, as for Tannehill, although his deep ball accuracy is still a frustrating problem, the Dolphins are calling and Tannehill is embracing shorter and intermediate routes that are resulting in completion of completion. Tannehill has completed over 70 percent of his passes in four of the past five games, including three in a row. It helps that Miami receivers have not dropped a pass the past two weeks. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: With two big backs – Ben Tate and LaGarrette Blount -- on the market last week after both were cut by their teams, the Dolphins chose to stand pat. That means they intend to ride Lamar Miller as their starter. Miller lately has shown more of an ability to make defenders miss – something coaches have in the past worried he lacked. Reserve rookie Damien Williams has lately shown the game is slowing down for him. He had his best game against the Lions two weeks ago and although he didn’t carry the ball against Buffalo, he had two catches, including one for 32 yards. The Broncos are a very good run defense. They’re No. 2 in the NFL against the run and lead the NFL in fewest runs of 10-plus yards with only 15. QB Ryan Tannehill continues to be a key part of the Miami running game and is actually the team’s most efficient runner, gaining 7.1 yards per carry (best average on team) on 37 carries (second most on team) off the read option. ADVANTAGE: Broncos.

Special teams: Broncos kicker Brandon McManus has missed both his field goal attempts of 50-yards or more this year and that’s the tip of the problems the team has had on special teams. They are 31st in kick return average, 30th in field goal percentage, 25th in kickoff coverage and 24th in punt returns. Oh, and punter Britton Colquitt was sick earlier in the week. The Dolphins continue to struggle with their punting game (30th in net punt average) but Jarvis Landry has been outstanding on kickoffs (second in the NFL in kickoff average) and kicker Caleb Sturgis, inconsistent earlier this season, has connected on six consecutive field goals. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Coaching: Broncos coach John Fox is just the sixth coach in professional football history to lead multiple teams to the Super Bowl, having done it in Carolina in 2003 before doing it last season with the Broncos. His staff includes former NFL head coach Jack Del Rio. This staff must figure out how to lift the Broncos from their current skid, having lost two of three games, and recapture the type of play that made them a Super Bowl team last year and a contender earlier this year. Joe Philbin and his staff have the Dolphins playing well. The Dolphins have won four of the past five games but have to figure out how to carry that momentum on the road where they’re 3-2 this season. ADVANTAGE: Even.

November 21, 2014

Injury report has bad news for the Miami Dolphins

Do you want the bad news or the bad news first?

Let's start with the local bad news: The Dolphins released their final injury report and tight end Charles Clay (knee/hamstring) is listed as doubtful. CB Cortland Finnegan is also listed as doubtful but everyone more or less expected Finnegan to miss his second game in a row.

The Clay injury status is jarring.

The rest of the Dolphins injury report has little news to worry about. RB Lamar Miller is listed as questionable with a knee and shoulder injury. The knee injury is new. But a source has confirmed Miller will play on Sunday.

Left guard Daryn Colledge (back) is also listed as questionable but he too is expected to play, barring a setback between now and game time.

The rest of the bad news?

Well, it is certainly bad news for the Dolphins that Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders this morning was re-evaluated for concussion symptoms and showed none. He was cleared to practice, did so, and is now listed at probable for the game.

Running back Montee Ball (groin) is listed as out as expected. Tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) is listed as questionable and will likely be a game-time decision.

Interestingly, Dolphins fans expected to have their starting tight end and also might have expected the Broncos to be without their starting tight end -- who, incidently, has caught a dozen touchdown passes.

Now there's a real possibility the Dolphins will not have their starting TE while the Broncos do.

Dallas Thomas wants to 'improve on everything'

Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Dallas Thomas had not said much since last week's troubling game against the Buffalo Bills during which he allowed 2.5 sacks in his first start at right tackle. Indeed, he had not been around the locker room during the open media portion until Thursday afternoon when he finally faced the folks carrying notepads and tape recorders.

What did Thomas think of his outing last week -- one which led coaches to warn him to clean things up or risk getting benched Sunday?

“I don’t look at it as doing good or bad," he said. "I’m just looking at trying to improve from game to game, get better at my craft."

That's a good idea because Thomas gave up sacks in a game where the Dolphins got rid of the football quickly to avoid getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit. It helped the Dolphins win the game, but Tannehill still took a beating. And aside from struggling in the passing game, Thomas was not exactly lights out in the run game, either. So what specifically does he need to improve on?

"You want to improve on everything," he said. "It’s not just one thing to focus in on, you want to improve your game. Run game, pass game, everything.”

The Dolphins have played musical chairs with Thomas the past two years. He came to the team as a third-round pick and began by working at tackle. When that seemed to fail, he was moved to guard this year.

Indeed, Thomas seemed to be doing good work at guard in the regular season after struggling mightily at it during the preseason. But an injury to left tackle Branden Albert forced the Dolphins to move right tackle Ja'Wuan James to left tackle. And that forced the move of Thomas back to right tackle.

Not great.

“It feels good," Thomas said, obviously putting lipstick on a hog. "It’s part of the game. You’ve got to be ready to improve, from left guard to right guard, to right tackle, anywhere. It just shows how versatile I am.”

No. It shows the Dolphins are in desperate need.

And with Denver rush linebackers Von Miller (10 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (nine sacks) waiting on deck, Thomas must have a solid plan of attack to keep his job.

“They’re good at everything they do, so you have to be good, be on your P’s and Q’s, on everything, runs and passes," Thomas said.

November 20, 2014

Two beat up teams facing off on Sunday

Miami Dolphins tight end Charles Clay has been nursing a knee issue all season. He missed part of training camp and the preseason, he's been limited in practice (a lot) and has missed a few practice days as well.

Well, he missed another practice day on Thursday.

Except now Clay is dealing with that troublesome knee issue and a hamstring injury.

Not great new for the Dolphins. Even if Clay can play Sunday, he will be obviously slowed.

Speaking of slowed, linebacker Koa Misi (ankle) and running back Lamar Miller (shoulder) were dialed back in their practice participation Thursday. They were limited after taking part in full practice on Wednesday.

On another front, it is practically decided cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle) is not playing on Sunday. He missed practice again Thursday and has not practiced since the Detroit game. Yesterday when I watched Finnegan walk to his rehabilitation station on the side of the Dolphins practice field he had an obvious limp. I asked a source today about Finnegan's chances of recovering by Sunday and the text I got back was "LOL."

The Broncos?

They remain beat up in that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (concussion), tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) and running back Montee Ball (groin) did not practice for the second straight day.

Ball is not going to play against Miami. Sanders will undergo a concussion test on Friday to determine if he is fit to play or not. Thomas, who earlier said he is day-to-day, still has a couple of more days before a final determination on his status is made.