December 26, 2014

Ryan Tannehill is the Miami Dolphins MVP

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has won the 2014 Dan Marino Most Valuable Player Award, defensive end Cameron Wake won the Don Shula Leadership Award (again) and offensive tackle Jason Fox has captured the Nat Moore Community Service Award.

Tannehill, in his third NFL season and third with the Dolphins, won the MVP award, which is voted on by the South Florida media and the organization, for the first time.

This season, he has started all 15 games and has completed 369-of-551 passing attempts for 3,786 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His 67.0 completion percentage, on pace to be the second-highest in a season in franchise history, and 26 passing touchdowns are both career highs. Additionally, his 311 rushing yards are also a career high and second most for a quarterback in a season in franchise history.

For the second-straight season, Wake takes the Don Shula Leadership Award, which is voted on by Dolphins players. This is interesting because Wake is by no means a vocal leader yet people in the locker room consider him the man at the head of the team.

Wake becames the sixth player in franchise history to win the award in back-to-back years, joining Zach Thomas (1998-99), Derrick Rodgers (2000-01), Junior Seau (2003-04), Jason Taylor (2006-07) and Karlos Dansby (2010-11).

In 2014, Wake has started all 15 games and has notched 33 tackles (29 solo), 11.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, tied his career high with three forced fumbles (2010) and one fumble recovery. With his 11.5 sacks this season, he became the fourth Dolphins player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to record double digit sacks in at least three seasons with the team – Jason Taylor (six seasons), Trace Armstrong (three seasons) and Jeff Cross (three seasons).  For the second time in his career (2012), he tallied sacks five consecutive games in Weeks 6-10 (1.5 vs. Green Bay on Oct. 12, 1.0 at Chicago on Oct. 19, 1.0 at Jacksonville on Oct. 26, 1.0 vs. San Diego and 2.0 vs. Detroit).

In his first season with the team, Fox is the Nat Moore Community Service Award winner, which is given to the Dolphins player recognized for his involvement in the South Florida community.  The winner of this award is chosen by the Miami Dolphins Foundation. This season, Fox, who played collegiately at Miami, renewed his South Florida community interest by volunteering for more events than any other player on the team.

December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas: Gifts all around!

This Christmas Day the Miami Dolphins will be working in the afternoon. They're still about the business of preparing for the season-finale against the Jets.

This blog is about the business of eating turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and ... well, you get the drift.

I'm also about the business of handing out Christmas gifts for the Dolphins as is the holiday tradition here.

The gifts:

 A return to his more familiar and productive center position for Mike Pouncey.

A return to his more familiar and productive right tackle position for Ja'Wuan James.

A return for Branden Albert.

An extra gear for Jarvis Landry to make him elite.

One thousand yards for Lamar Miller. (He needs 79 yards to hit the mark).

Four thousand yards and 30 TDs for Ryan Tannehill. (He needs 214 yards and four TDs).

An interception for Cortland Finnegan. It would be nice for him to have at least one if this is indeed going to be his last NFL season, as he previously hinted.

An ephiphany for coaches who think Dion Jordan is a 4-3 DE.

A switch to strongside linebacker -- his more natural position -- for Dion Jordan.

A full and speedy recovery for 13 players on injured reserve.

The freedom to speak his mind for Don Jones.

A clear head and full recovery for Nate Garner.

Exponential improvement and another step toward the big time for the seven men on the practice squad.

A couple of great offensive linemen dropped in Dennis Hickey's lap next draft. Also, a cornerback and a running back and maybe a complete blocking and seam threat tight end.

Continued agreement and peace between Hickey and Joe Philbin and Dawn Aponte.

A united and correct decision on a Tannehill extension (one-year or multi-year deal) for the Dolphins braintrust. We've seen wrong decisions lead to buyer's remorse in more than one NFL city.

Deep ball accuracy for Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace.

A drink from the fountain of youth for Cameron Wake.

The gift of inspiration for Philbin -- which he can use to inspire his team and improve his messaging.

Personality butter for Bill Lazor -- to smooth out some of the gruff edges.

The realization by this organization that choir boys usually belong in church not on a football team.

The acceptance by this organization that sometimes great talent comes in terribly imperfect packages and a couple such additions can be managed. Because, let's face it, most great teams have had some bad boys on them.

A sudden and inexplicable desire by Ndamukong Suh and Darrelle Revis to play for the Dolphins next year. Cheap.

For the man who has everything, an ephiphany for owner Stephen Ross: Joe Robbie's teams went to three Super Bowls his first eight years as owner without any "consultants" or shadowy confidants. You have a legion of consultants and confidants and your teams have not visited the playoffs at all your first six years as owner. Listen to the people on the payroll, most of all Tom Garfinkel and Dan Marino.

More talent, more talent, more talent for an organization whose best hope for winning is to have more talent than anybody else.

More talent, more talent, more talent for this writer whose best hope for putting two sentences together is a supernatural touch from his Savior.

More peace, more love, more joy for all of you. Always.

Merry Christmas.

December 24, 2014

Wilson will play slot again, opening at safety

Jimmy Wilson walked into the locker room this afternoon with his right hand heavily bandaged, which looked ominous. It is not ominous. He simply jammed his thumb in practice.

But before practice even began the Dolphins had decisions to make with Wilson.

Wilson has been a Dolphins starting safety since Louis Delmas went down for the season with an ACL knee injury. That was fine the past couple of weeks when Jamar Taylor or another cornerback handled the slot corner duties in the nickel and dime package.

The issue is that Taylor is now on IR. So the Dolphins are likely to use Wilson at his familiar slot corner role in nickel and dime. And that creates a need at safety.

Look for Jordan Kovacs and Walt Aikens to vie for playing time when Wilson is at slot with the early favorite being Kovacs manning the spot.

No doubting Thomases at practice today

Miami Dolphins right tackle Dallas Thomas and running back Daniel Thomas returned to practice today after missing Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Both were at least limited, according to their activity during the open portion of practice.

Assuming the Dolphins value both players in the role they've had much of the past two months, that would call into question how much (if any) playing time Jason Fox and Damien Williams would get against the New York Jets.

December 23, 2014

Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes in the Pro Bowl

Cornerback Brent Grimes and defensive end Cameron Wake were named to the Pro Bowl Tuesday night, in a year when injuries (Branden Albert) and a league suspension (Reshad Jones) might have cut into the number of Miami players in the annual all-star game.

Grimes, in his eighth season and second with the Dolphins, will make his second consecutive and third overall trip to the Pro Bowl, having also been selected to the 2011 NFC Pro Bowl squad as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

In 2014, Grimes has started all 15 games at cornerback and has recorded 56 tackles (46 solo) and leads the Dolphins with 13 passes defensed and five interceptions returned for 80 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown. His five interceptions are tied for the second-most in the AFC and tied for third overall in the NFL.

Wake, in his sixth season, will be making his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl and third as a defensive end (he made the Pro Bowl in 2011 after a 14-sack season as a linebacker). In 2014, Wake has started all 15 games and has notched 33 tackles (29 solo), 11.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, tied his career high with three forced fumbles (2010) and one fumble recovery.

Had he not injured his knee against Detroit, Albert might have joined his teammates on the Pro Bowl roster. Had he not been suspended and missed the first four games of the season, Jones would have been eligible for consideration to play in the game.

The Patriots led the AFC East teams with five Pro Bowl players, although one of those was kicker Stephen Gostowski and another was special teamer Matthew Slater. The others were Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Darrelle Revis.

The Buffalo Bills had three selections -- Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Kyle Williams -- all of them defensive linemen. 

Center Nick Mangold was the lone New York Jets representative chose to the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will be “unconferenced” for the second consecutive year. Last season, the AFC vs. NFC match-up that had existed since 1971 was eliminated. The Pro Bowl players are determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the All-Star players.

Salguero and PFF review of Vikings at Miami Dolphins

For weeks I have been advocating the use of Jason Fox at right tackle over Dallas Thomas. But as I do not get a vote when Miami Dolphins coaches sit down to author their game plans and lineups, Fox sat on the bench until last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Thomas was injured so coaches had no real option other than Fox.

And Fox got through the game quite well. According to ProFootballFocus.com numbers, Fox allowed three hurries of quarterback Ryan Tannehill but finished with a plus-grade overall and a good pass blocking grade.

Granted, Fox wasn't facing Mario Williams or DeMarcus Ware. But he was still solid.

Interestingly, Joe Philbin didn't seem too enthusiastic about Fox's work.

“He did okay, he did alright," Philbin said when asked his thoughts on Fox. "I thought he played hard and contributed nicely to the win.”

It will be interesting to see who starts against the New York Jets in the finale. Either way, it seems obvious Fox, signed to a one-year deal to be a backup swing tackle, isn't likely to get a return gig with the Dolphins next year based on how coaches used him (or rather, didn't use him) this year.

Meanwhile, PFF turned in their grades and review for the week. Here they are:

Offensive Summary

Lamar Miller owned RB snaps with 61 of 86, but Damien Williams played well as a passing down back, playing 20 snaps, 16 of them coming on pass plays, and most of those in the fourth quarter.

Wide receiver snaps were dominated as usual by Mike Wallace (78), with Brian Hartline (60), Jarvis Landry (49), and Brandon Gibson (39) mostly rotating with Rishard Matthews a healthy scratch.

The Dolphins schemed a two-tight end attack against the Vikings. That meant Charles Clay got 70 percent of the offensive snaps and Dion Sims got 57 percent. But if somebody plays, somebody must sit and this game it was Landry, who played his lowest snap percentage since Week 8 at Jacksonville.

Passing

Ryan Tannehill connected on both his 20-plus-yard throws of the day (one wide open to Clay, the other in tight coverage to Clay), but also was efficient in the 10-19-yard range, going 8-of-12 for 153 yards and two scores.

The Vikings did have some success when blitzing, forcing Tannehill into a line of 10-of-17 for 60 yards with the pick thrown into the blitzer's arms.

Rushing

There was certainly a concerted effort to get Lamar Miller going behind the right side of the offensive line. When he ran to the right, he picked up 61 yards on 13 carries.

Cough ... Jason Fox ... cough.

Receiving 

Minnesota cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes were both attacked with great success on Sunday. Munnerlyn allowed 8 catches on 10 targets for 117 yards to five different Dolphins, while Xavier Rhodes, who shadowed Wallace part of the game, allowed all six targets to be completed against him for 58 yards and a score.

Charles Clay looks the healthiest he has all season, beating DBs and LBs en route to his best day of the season. Maybe part of this had something to do also with terrible coverage by the Vikings. There were plays a defender was not within five yards of Clay.

Defensive Summary

They didn’t play in the base defense too much, but Philip Wheeler saw nine snaps as the third LB in the base, before Jason Trusnik finished the game as the third LB in the base, playing 11 snaps.

Jamar Taylor played 38 snaps as the nickel corner, manning the slot while Cortland Finnegan stayed outside. Often times this season, those roles have been swapped. Taylor did not impress and after two seasons, neither Taylor nor fellow 2013 draft pick Will Davis have been able to gain the coaching staff's confidence.

“I still would like to see more out of both of them," defensive coordinato Kevin Coyle said Monday. "I wish by this point we’d have a better feel. They both have exhibited NFL traits at times, but there is a consistency that hasn’t been up to our standards and they need to improve here in the offseason and get ready to go out and compete at an extremely high level.”

Oy.

Dion Jordan played 19 snaps, spending time at linebacker, defensive end, and even defensive tackle as Coyle looks for ways to use him creatively. (Hello, he's a strongside linebacker in the 4-3). He'd also be a great 3-4 OLB. But whatever, I'm talking to wall.

Or ... maybe not.

"We’re going to evaluate everything here as we go into the offseason," Coyle said, obviously suggesting he's going to be part of the coaching staff that will be doing the evaluation. This is all something coach Joe Philbin declined to say Monday, by the way.

But I digress.

"That’s certainly going to be one of the main topics," Coyle said of Jordan. "We have got to find ways to utilize him more. There were some extenuating circumstances both last year, him coming in having a shoulder issue, and then again this year with the suspension and so forth. We have got to get him in the right spot and we’re going to evaluate that real closely and we’ll see what we determine to be the best fit for him."

Cough ... strongside linebacker ... cough.

"He has the athleticism to do a lot of things," Coyle continued. "I think you saw that yesterday when he dropped in coverage and made a nice open field tackle. He rushed the passer yesterday, impacted some things. I think we certainly need to get him on the field more."

You think?

Anyway, it was a dominant day for Cameron Wake rushing the passer (+5.4 grade), as he toyed with RT Mike Harris.

Coverage

Brent Grimes had one of his worst days in coverage in a long time. He was responsible for six completions on seven targets for 88 yards a pair of scores.

Opponents’ Passing

Miami native Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have much time to look downfield, but bought time and was accurate when he did look that way. He had just one attempt at a pass of 20-plus yards, but he completed it, and was 7-of-8 for 138 yards on throws of 10-plus yards.

The Miami defense either made Bridgewater look like the next Joe Montana or the kid is truly going to be special. Or maybe it was a combination of the two.

Bridgewater did take two sacks when blitzed, but was decisive and accurate when the Dolphins brought heat, going 7-of-8 for 123 yards. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have to figure out how to tune up their blitzes so that they get there more often. Two sacks on the blitz is a good start.

December 22, 2014

Philbin: No endorsement for Coyle at this time

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross felt Sunday was the right time to publicly (and privately) assure head coach Joe Philbin he is coming back in 2015. He also told me that general manager Dennis Hickey is returning.

But Philbin, whose contract gives him authority over the hiring and firing of assistants, did not feel today was the right time to give assurances (publicly anyway) about his coaches.

"There's a time and place to talk about the staff," Philbin said in decling to say if his coaches, specifically his coordinators, would return. Philbin added that he's committed to preparing for the Jets and not discussing the future of assistants.

“We still have a game to play," Philbin said. "Right now all my focus and attention is on the New York Jets. There will be a time and place for all that stuff.”

Interesting.

The owner thinks now is a perfectly fine time to discuss the head coach and general manager's future. The head coach does not share that sentiment about his assistants.

Can I ask ... If Joe Philbin intends to bring back his staff intact, barring job opportunities, why not just take 30 seconds and say so and move on? Is it going to be a big distraction if he does that?

I would say it would be a big distraction if he does not.

In that regard, we are revisiting an issue similar to when Philbin refused to answer directly about whether Ryan Tannehill would start against Oakland. By not answering, it created a big distraction. That's not me saying that, Tannehill himself complained about that.

And Philbin apologized to the team for making that mistake. So did he not learn from that mistake?

The issue doesn't really involve offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. He's getting, in all likelihood, another year to continue to tutor and mentor Ryan Tannehill. But it does affect defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who has been with Philbin three seasons during which the defense has regressed.

If Philbin is bringing him back, why not just say so and the topic is closed?

Philbin, by the way, had no problem saying he agrees with Coyle's approach in running the 4-3 defense over the 3-4 despite the fact the defense has dropped from sixth before Philbin and Coyle arrived, to seventh, to eighth to 18th in scoring defense this year.

"Absolutely. Definitely," Philbin said. "Again, I think, if you look at it, I can't dispute some of the facts you have but the other part of the facts the first two years we were in the Top 10 in scoring defense, if I'm not mistaken. But if you look at the last couple games in particular, I want to say New England had 28 points off of 87 yards of offense two weeks ago. So 41 looks terrible. And yesterday, if you had asked me before the game, my strategy would have been make these guys (Minnesota) go the long way. If you look at their success when they started a drive on or inside their 20, they scored about 10 percent of the time.

"Sometimes you can weave those statistics any way you want."

The only statistic I care about is points. It is what determines wins and losses. And, again, the Dolphins were sixth before the current regime and have not only failed to improve on that, but have gone inexorably in the other direction.

One more thing: The only way Philbin not giving Coyle a public endorsement now makes any sense is if Philbin is considering a change.

I don't know if he is. I don't know if he isn't.

But if he isn't, the coach today proved he didn't learn his lesson after the starting quarterback embarrassment.   

Will Philbin, who is staying, keep Kevin Coyle?

The immediate future is sealed for Joe Philbin, who got the big endorsement for 2015 from owner Stephen Ross. The immediate future is sealed for general manager Dennis Hickey, who obviously has done nothing to deserve even scrutiny about whether he should return. And, as I write in my column in today's Miami Herald, Ryan Tannehill has earned his ongoing spot as the Dolphins quarterback.

I could make the argument Tannehill is better at what he does and has improved with on-the-job training than either the owner or the head coach.

And that brings us to the ripple effects of the Ross decision he announced Sunday.

With Philbin assured of coming back, it raises the question about what assistants the head coach will be bringing back. Philbin is not big on change and fought hard last season to try to keep offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and even offensive line coach Jim Turner when it was clear to anyone with eyes both had to go.

It is pretty clear now Philbin needs to continue upgrading his coaching staff with a better defensive coordinator. But my guess is the coach is going to stand behind defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.

This even if as the facts say Coyle's defense has regressed every season he's been the DC in Miami.

Consider that Sunday's 37-35 victory was the fourth time this season the Dolphins have allowed 30 points or more. The Patriots scored 41 last week. The Broncos scored 39. The Chiefs scored 34 points.

And now the Dolphins have allowed 336 points with one game left to play. So with one game to play the defense has already allowed more points than it did last year. The problem is last year the defense allowed more points than the year before. And the year before it allowed more points than the year before.

So the defense has allowed more points than the previous year each year Coyle has been in charge. That is, by any standard, is heading in the wrong direction with the most important statistic of all -- points.

Fact is the Dolphins this year allowed their most points since 2009 -- the year then defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni was fired when his unit gave up 390 points.

The Dolphins have given up the third most points of any AFC East team, which doesn't sound terrible until you realize there's only four teams in the division. They've yielded the most rushing TDs (12) in the division as well.

And overall the Dolphins have the No. 18 scoring defense in the NFL.

The bar graph of Miami's ranking in this category? Headed in the wrong direction.

The Dolphins were sixth in scoring defense in 2011 under Mike Nolan as the DC. They were seventh in scoring defense in Coyle's first year in 2012. They were eighth in scoring defense last season. And, again, 18th this year.

The statistics suggest what was once a playoff-caliber defense needs mending now. The anecdotal information might go further. It says the Miami defense is broken.

Consider:

Even in games they didn't yield over 30 points, the Miami defense has given up fourth-quarter scores that led to losses against Detroit, Denver, and Baltimore. This unit also often gives up scores on opponent drives following scores by the Miami offense -- as happened multiple times on Sunday.

And there should be other worries that suggest things might get worse unless significant work is done to address the unit.

To begin, the Dolphins have uncertainty on defense because some of the highest-paid players are not performing up to their salaries. Phillip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, Randy Starks and Cortland Finnegan may all be cap casualties because all are highly paid but the return on that investment may not be considered worthy of the cap space.

Then the Dolphins have some younger defensive players who are pretty good and want a raise. Jared Odrick is a pending free agent and Olivier Vernon, while signed through 2015, is going to want a contract extension next year. So they're likely to eat more cap space than they did this year or, in Odrick's case, move on altogether.

Age? It hasn't caught up to either Brent Grimes or Cameron Wake yet. They are probably the defense's biggest stars. But Grimes will be 32 next season and Wake will be 33.

The coaching staff, meanwhile, has failed to fully develop younger players such as Jamar Fletcher Taylor and Dion Jordan who should be already pushing Grimes and Wake were the team's draft day plans of 2013 becoming fruitful. (Personally, I don't see Taylor as being a starter caliber guys so I don't blame coaches for him, but I see stardom in Jordan if he'd only be used correctly so that's on the coaching staff).

And then there's the feel stuff:

The Koa Misi experiment at middle linebacker was a shoulder shrug at best.

The continued dependence on Jimmy Wilson as the slot corner felt better a year ago than at the end of this year.

This unit feels like it should be lining up in a 3-4 instead of a 4-3 to make maximize Jordan as an OLB instead of asking him to play out of position at DE and turn Odrick into the 3-4 end he was drafted in the first round to be. Mitchell would play at NT. Starks went to the Pro Bowl as a 3-4 DE. Misi and Ellerbe (if he's brought back) can play inside backers.

Coyle won't do it. He's a 4-3 guy through and through. And Philbin will likely stay comfortable with that.

But everything about this defense screams that something is wrong. It has been trending poorly for a couple of years and now it is full blown wrong direction mode. The Miami defense is regressing.

So what will the Dolphins do about it?

 

December 21, 2014

Joe Philbin to remain Miami Dolphins coach

Joe Philbin will remain the Miami Dolphins coach in 2015.

Owner Stephen Ross made the announcement in the locker room today after the Dolphins beat the Minnesota Vikings, 37-35.

"You can enjoy your Christmas and stop speculating who's going to be the coach next year," Ross said after today's game. "He's built something. I mean, I'd made that decision before this game. Certainly it's nice to see the victory. I think he's building something and I like what's going on."

Over the past few weeks there has been some speculation and reporting that suggested Ross might look to upgrade with Jim Harbaugh. The Dolphins owner said he did not contact the current San Francisco 49ers coach.

"I did't put out any feelers," Ross said. "I did not talk to Harbaugh."

Philbin found out about the owner's intentions in the locker room after Ross told the media.

"This is where I want to be the head coach. Three years ago when I interviewed I came to work to Steve Ross. He's the owner. He's shown a lot of support to me over the years, through let's face it, some difficult times. It's a privilege to be the head coach and I want to do the things I said when I came here -- consistently compete for championships.

"We're not going to do that this year and that's disappointing but the faith that Steve has in me, I feel fortunate every day that I work with great people in the organization. I'm very happy that he's supported me as often and as consistently as he has -- and he really has."

 

Miami Dolphins pull out 37-35 victory

The bad news first: There will be no improbable playoff appearance. The Dolphins needed half a dozen scenarios to play out the final two weeks of the season for them to make the playoffs.

And then the Pittsburgh Steelers won today, that ended Miami's chances of all those scenarios happening. So the Dolphins are not going to the playoffs in 2014.

But, hey, the team came back and won today.

Down 35-28 with 4:35, the Dolphins rallied to tie the game with a Ryan Tannehill TD pass to rookie Damien Williams.

And moments later, Terrence Fede blocked a punt out of the back of the end zone, giving the Dolphins a 37-35 lead.

And that's how it ended. The Dolphins improve to 8-7. The offense played a solid game overall. The defense was far from good but it was big in the biggest moments -- with Cameron Wake collecting a sack in the final seconds to force that Minnesota punt that was eventually blocked.

Ryan Tannehill completed 35 of 47 passes for 396 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He had a 118.8 rating. Great day for him.

No, really. Truly great.

This year, if nothing else, has shown Tannehill can be the quarterback of this franchise going forward.

Dolphins lay egg in first half versus Vikings

Are you kidding me?

The Miami Dolphins are still supposed to be playing for admittedly slim playoff hopes, but hopes nonetheless. They are playing a 6-8 team.

They're at home.

And they're losing 17-7 at halftime against the Minnesota Vikings.

And the reason it isn't 14-7 is galling because the Dolphins punted with 2:19 to play. The Vikings showed their intention to simply run out the clock by running on first and second down.

And the Dolphins wanted to get the ball back so they called timeouts.

And then on third down, Joe Banyard ran for 16 yards and a first down. And then Teddy Bridgewater, whose QB rating in the first half is 130.1, completed a 25 yard pass to Charles Johnson...

...And an 18-yarder to Corderelle Patterson.

...And a 22 yarder to tight end Chase Ford.

Really?

Well, the Vikings turned a give-up situation into a field goal.

And they get the ball first in the second half.

Not the way to come out today, folks.

Live blog: Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

The only surprising pregame move the Dolphins made today was making receiver Rishard Matthews inactive. He was apparently a healthy scratch as he wasn't on the injury report this week.

The Dolphins receivers today will be Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry, and Brandon Gibson. The Dolphins are going with three tight ends today, including Gerrell Robinson who was signed to the active roster only days ago.

The other inactives: Nate Garner, Dallas Thomas (Yes, Jason Fox starts as reported here days ago), Daniel Thomas, Don Jones, Chris McCain and Matt Hazell.

Linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins are back today, as expected.

For the Vikings: Vladimir Ducasse will start at left guard for Charlie Johnson. Rhett Ellison will start at tight end for #82 Kyle Rudolph. Gerald Hodges will start at linebacker for Anthony Barr. Andrew Sendejo will start at strong safety for #36 Robert Blanton.

There will be a live blog here as there is every week. Join the community:

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Minnesota Vikings: Dec. 21, 2014
 

December 20, 2014

Keys to the game: Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

Several days ago I told you Miami Dolphins defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are in a sack drought. Well, in digging deeper into the matchup between the homestanding Dolphins and Vikings on Sunday, I've discovered the drought may soon end.

It seems Minnesota left tackle Matt Kalil so far this season has been the prescription for whatever inability to get to the QB might ail a pass rusher. Kalil, according to ProFootballFocus.com statistics, has allowed 12 sacks.

That is the most sacks allowed of any tackle (left or right) in the NFL this year.

Good news for Dolphins.

The rest of the day's matchups? Well, it is Saturday and so here are the keys to the game:

When the Vikings pass the football: Former Northwestern High star Teddy Bridgewater is the rookie starting quarterback but he seems to be maturing quickly and has won five starts. He is unlikely to take a lot of risks so that he can limit the turnovers that hamper so many young QBs. So Bridgewater will throw checkdowns, and shorter, quicker routes, which is one reason he’s aiming for his third consecutive game with a 70 percent completion mark. Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jairus Wright, who has eight catches the past two games, make up a solid nucleus to a receiver corps. The Dolphins need more pass rush production from their front four, particularly Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Vernon has one sack in the last four games while Wake has 1.5 sacks the past five games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Vikings run the football: The Dolphins and every Vikings’ opponent has escaped a potentially tough day because running back Adrian Peterson was suspended earlier this season for hitting his son with a switch. So the Vikings have turned to Matt Asiata, who is not a star but knows how to find the end zone. Asiata has scored 11 touchdowns the past 15 games. Asiata is versatile in that he caught seven passes last week. (Told you Bridgewater checks down to safer passes). The Dolphins last week put a tourniquet on the bleeding of rushing yards allowed. They allowed only 108 yards against New England after allowing 661 yards in the previous three games. Progress! Miami is nonetheless 22nd in the NFL against the run. Miami will see the return of starting linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi this week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: The story goes that the Dolphins could not throw deep because the offensive line didn’t give Ryan Tannehill enough time to wait for those long plays to develop. Then last week, the Dolphins threw deep and the reason stated was that the team can do it, but only when the defense is in man coverage. So what’s wrong with dictating to the defense rather than allowing things to be the other way around? Anyway, the Dolphins will face a defense that plays some man, some zone, some off man. Sometimes it blitzes. Sometimes it does not. Mike Wallace, Miami’s most explosive receiver, says he can get open against any defense and has been open over 80 percent of the time this season. Well, last year Captain Munnerlyn, playing for Carolina at the time, was unable to stay anywhere close to Wallace. Miamian Xavier Rhodes starts at the other cornerback and last week did good work shadowing Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.The Vikings are sixth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game and can get after the passer with DEs Everson Griffen (12.5 sacks) and Brian Robison (four sacks in past seven games). ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Miami run game has averaged under 4.0 yards a carry the last two games and no time this season has it been under the 4.0 mark in three consecutive games. The Dolphins hope that isn’t the case as they face the No. 23 run defense in the NFL. One of the reasons the Dolphins stuck with Dallas Thomas at right tackle even as he was allowing seven sacks in five starts is because he is an underappreciated run blocker. But he is doubtful for this game, meaning Jason Fox will start. The Dolphins running back rotation may be shorter this week with Daniel Thomas likely not playing because of a knee injury. If Thomas doesn’t play that may thrust LaMichael James back onto the active game day roster. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: The Vikings last week had a 26-yard field goal blocked in a game that was decided by two points. The Dolphins last week had a field goal blocked on their first series and the loose football was picked up and returned 62 yards for a touchdown. So it is fair to say everybody is seeking redemption. Do not be surprised if this game comes down to a field goal. The Dolphins have played three games decided by three points and are 1-2 in those. The Vikings have lost all three of their games decided by three points or less. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: First-year coach Mike Zimmer has his team pointing in a good direction late in the season. The Vikings have won two of three games and gave the Detroit Lions a tough time until succumbing, 16-14 last week. The defense Zimmer has installed is taking root and should be familiar to Miami fans because Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle learned under Zimmer and uses many similar concepts. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are having a bad December. They’ve lost two big games in a row and are thisclose to being out of the playoffs. Joe Philbin asked his team to play 60 minutes this week – something the team hasn’t completely done this year except in a couple of games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Albert: FOX broadcast will side with keeping Philbin

Broadcasters walk a delicate line between telling you what is happening within the game they are covering and discussing the news surrounding the teams playing.

For the NFL on FOX crew covering the Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the broadcast will eventually include a conversation between play-by-play man Kenny Albert and analyst Daryl Johnston about coach Joe Philbin's future in Miami.

"That will be a point we make," Albert said by phone Friday afternoon. "Last week we did the Giants-Redskins and with so much in the media having to do with the coaching situation for Tom Coughlin and the Giants it had to be discussed.

"During the game it's a balance because you don't want to dwell on that stuff all game long. Last week we brought it up in the fourth quarter and had a conversation about it. I feel comfortable speaking for Moose on this because we've talked about it so many times: We're both big believers in stability. Last week we were both pro keeping Coughlin for a number of reasons."

And this week, when it comes up, the duo will be in favor of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross keeping the status quo with Philbin.

"With coach Philbin, we're aware of everything written this week," Albert said. "We know it's out there and people are talking about it. But number one, our job is to call the football game. You do have to mention it at some point. We'll certainly give it the attention it's due.

"And again, we seem to be both in favor of stability. We both like coach Philbin. We both liked him in Green Bay and the job he did there. And we think he's doing a good job with the Dolphins."

The last time Albert did a Dolphins game was a dark time in team history as he called a Dallas beating of the home team in 2007 -- yeah, the year Miami won one game.

Things have improved for the Dolphins since then but after nearly 60 hours of studying the team, meeting with the coach and some players, and watching previous games, it is no surprise to Albert the Dolphins are what their record says.

"Looking at it from the outside in, for the Dolphins it's been an up and down year," Albert said. "It obviously came down for them the last few games. They obviously had a rough third quarter last week. But they haven't been eliminated yet. They're going against a Minnesota team that has been eliminated but is playing well. They seem to be on the upswing."

And so Albert is boldly predicting a whipping.

No. Kidding.

"I think it'll be a close game. I do," Albert said. "I think the Vikings are excited about this game. Teddy Bridgewater is returning home, their coach, Mike Zimmer has them playing better lately. 

"Amazingly, this is year 21 for me doing this. We go in and sit down with the home team on Friday and visiting team on Saturday. No matter what we think, we have all this information, spend 50-60 hours a week studying, and it never goes how we expect."

Albert nonetheless is expecting a one or two possession game into the fourth quarter.

"I think they're pretty even," he said of the teams. "I really do."

December 19, 2014

Jason Fox will finally get his chance Sunday

Jason Fox is starting at right tackle for the Miami Dolphins against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, according to a club source.

That is not really a big surprise when one considers starting right tackle Dallas Thomas has missed the entire week of practice with a foot injury.

This is going to be an interesting moment that will test Fox, who was signed to be a backup tackle. He was passed up by coaches when Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle, creating a void at right tackle.

Coaches picked Thomas as the starter.

The issue came when Thomas was largely ineffective as a pass protecter, giving up seven sacks in five starts. But because coaches like Thomas as a run-blocker and coach Joe Philbin defended the second-year player, saying there were "a lot of pictures" of Thomas playing well on tape, the Dolphins stuck with Thomas.

If Fox plays well Sunday it will be interesting to see if the team goes back to Thomas in the season-finale against the New York Jets or keeps Fox in the lineup -- thus admitting he might have been the better choice all along.

Fox and people close to him said nothing during this time he sat behind Thomas but privately were puzzled by the player not getting an opportunity to do that which he was signed to do.

He will get that opportunity on Sunday.

[Update: The Dolphins reported Dallas Thomas as doubtful. Running back Daniel Thomas is also doubtful. Nate Garner is out. Jelani Jenkins, Don Jones and Jamar Taylor are questionable.]

Dolphins' Ross cannot have it both ways

Folks, we cannot have things both ways.

That is the lesson to be learned today because in Friday's Miami Herald, Adam Beasley is reporting Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross "has shown no indication that he has any interest in making a coaching change."

And this report, quoting a source, may calm the waters at the team's headquarters because it gives current coach Joe Philbin cover. And it shows that Ross, who in 2011 tried to hire Harbaugh even while he had a coach still in place, isn't doing the same thing through back channels at this stage -- covering the all important no tampering shoulder shrug.

So nothing is happening at this time, according to this source. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon virgin.

All this non-activity and non-interest and non-discussions of change with anyone could mean Ross is a gangsta mastermind, who owns the greatest poker face on Earth and doesn't tell his underlings anything.

Or it could mean Ross is the most slow-reacting, out-of-touch owner in the NFL.

I pick option one.

Honestly, am I seriously supposed to believe that as the Dolphins hit another benchmark of mediocrity last week at 7-7, with a coach who is 22-24 since 2012 ... in the midst of a December that has seen the offense score three touchdowns in 33 possessions while the once-proud defense is giving up an average of 27.3 points per game, including 69 points the past two weeks ... when the Dolphins lost consecutive big games ... the owner gave not one thought to the idea of making a coaching change?

He's just sitting there, showing, as the story says, "no interest in making ... a change," from Philbin to Jim Harbaugh?

Really?

Please tell me the Dolphins are using some media to make sure Harbaugh buys the point the team doesn't want to overpay for him. Please tell me the story is missing nuance.

Because if it is totally on the mark, then the man who owns the Dolphins is currently committing ownership malpractice sitting around thinking about, well, nothing.

Talking to no one.

Just helplessly observing as his team has regressed in recent weeks.

No. I choose to believe Ross is a brilliant man. I know he thinks outside the box. He values bold ideas. I believe he understands better than most his team is not performing to potential. I believe his eyes are wide open and he sees everything every disappointed fan sees and more, because he has the benefit of insight based on inside knowledge that most do not have.

Please, somebody tell me that is the truth.

Please tell me Ross is indeed considering every possibility for fixing his team including a coaching change, that he is leaving no stone unturned including Harbaugh, that he has made it clear 7-7 is not acceptable (because in Year 3 of a coach tenure it is not), and that he's thinking about this today and around the clock every day.

Because if Ross at this time really isn't considering anything, or anyone, or anything about anyone, this franchise is in trouble. Paralyzed.

So which one is it? Because you can't have it both ways.

December 18, 2014

Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon in a sack drought

One of the reasons the Miami Dolphins beat and beat up the New England Patriots in the regular season opener in September is they got to Tom Brady. They sacked him four times, with Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake wearing out New England offensive tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.

One of the reasons the Dolphins got beat and, indeed, dismantled by the Patriots four days ago is that Brady walked away without being sacked. At all. Nothing. There was intermittent pressure but this match advantage went to the New England offensive tackles over the Miami defensive ends.

“This particular game I don’t think there was a lack of pass rush when you look," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said while obviously discarding the statistics. "Brady got hit legitimately at least six times where he was down. There were a number of other times where he was harassed and moving around in the pocket.

"As you probably know, he’s only been sacked 18 times on the season. He doesn’t get sacked very much. He gets rid of the ball very quickly. When he’s in the shotgun, he catches it and throws it. It’s difficult to sack him. We’ve been the only team to get four sacks in the game against him and that was in the opener. He is hard to get to. I think we hit him, but obviously we didn’t get to him enough. We have to do a better job."

Actually, Brady has been sacked 16 times. So, yes, he is hard to get to. But, you see, the Dolphins did that previously. Wake had two sacks in that opener while Vernon had one. 

And while there was no obvious change in blocking scheme or strategy on the part of the Patriots this time, Miami's two top rushers simply did not get there. They lost the physical match this time as surely as they won it in the opener.

And that wouldn't be important except that both Wake and Vernon have lately not been as explosive a pass-rush duo as they had been earlier in the season.

Wake, for example, started the season with 8.5 sacks the first nine games. That is not just elite level production but almost impossible to maintain career year production. I get that. There was bound to be a slowdown.

But Wake's slowdown has him at a crawl now. He has one sack in the past five games. He had none in the big playoff-determining games against the Ravens and Patriots the past few weeks. Indeed, Wake had only one tackle the past two weeks.

Vernon similarly got off to a good start, although not as fast as Wake. He collected 5.5 sacks his first 10 games. That's solid. It's a half-a-sack-a-game pace. But Vernon has one sack in the past four games. In other words his sack production has declined by 50 percent the past month.

In the all-important de facto playoff games against Baltimore and New England the past two weeks, Vernon was more productive than Wake. He had a sack against the Ravens and had four total tackles in the two games combined.

The point is that at a time the Dolphins have needed their best players to step up, Wake and Vernon have not been able to make that move. They're in something of a winter drought at the same time. 

Yes, there are two games remaining. But those are looking more like statistic building opportunities than important playoff determining games. 

December 17, 2014

Michigan offer to Harbaugh changes things ... for better

Multiple media reports, including one from @Rapsheet at NFL Network, say the University of Michigan has offered San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh a six-year contract worth $48 million.

Awesome!

Why is it good news? Let's do the work ...

Obviously someone leaked the offer to the media. This report had the size ($48 million) and scope (six years) of the Michigan offer and, unfortunately for everyone involved, it smacked of leverage building. Even as Harbaugh finishes out his final two games as the San Francisco coach, this story feels like his agents (or someone) is positioning Harbaugh for other offers from NFL teams.

And as Harbaugh already turned down Michigan once but now has them on the hook again, he can use the offer against any NFL team willing to chase his services.

That's good for Harbaugh. That's good for the Dolphins. That's bad for the 49ers.

Why is good for Harbaugh? The offer sets the floor of what he's about to be paid. Some NFL team is going to have to come up with $8-$10 million per year to get him.

Why is it good for the Dolphins?

Well, assuming Stephen Ross still fancies Harbaugh, it puts him in an almost unique position to land him because ... 

1. Harbaugh is obviously considering moving away from the West Coast, which has been one of the hangups of getting him to a team not on the West Coast. 2. Ross has one of the deepest pockets in the NFL owner community, so paying that kind of money probably would not give him the same long pause it might give, say, Mark Davis in Oakland. 3. The draft pick compensation for Harbaugh just dropped through the floor.

It is clear the Dolphins have no desire or even intention to trade for Harbaugh. Guess what? Neither does any other team. That is a pipe dream by the 49ers that reminds of teams putting players they're going to cut on the trade block days before trimming their roster in September. Most teams do not give up something for players that are about to become available.

I believe similar thinking will apply to Harbaugh.

And Harbaugh is going to come available. Harbaugh, by the way, doesn't want his next team to give up a draft pick to get him because that will be taking a draft pick from himself. Plus, Harbaugh can force the 49ers to relent because he can vow not to go to any team via trade and instead continue reporting for work or threaten to take the Michigan offer, which also would give San Francisco no draft pick compensation.

Can you imagine?

San Fran: Jim, we've traded you to Atlanta.

Harbaugh: I'm not going to Atlanta. I'm the head coach of the 49ers.

San Fran: But, Jim, you don't want to be here and we don't want you here.

Harbaugh: I'll be reporting for work tomorrow and every day after that.

San Fran: But, but, we cannot have that.

Harbaugh: I'll be in my office.

San Fran: Ok, Jim, you're fired.

Harbaugh: Great. Bye.

And then Harbaugh works out a contract with whatever team he wants to go to without costing himself a draft pick. Or, perhaps for the sake of expediency, he gives up a sixth or fifth round pick. Either way, we're not talking about a first-day or even a second-day of the draft selection.

One more thing: The biggest fan of the Harbaugh to Michigan possibility -- slim as it seems at this stage?

Joe Philbin.

As I've told you repeatedly on this blog, the Dolphins are not, not, not dead set against keeping Joe Philbin. They just want to upgrade at coach, assuming the team does not make the playoffs. And the only obvious upgrade is Harbaugh.

So if Harbaugh goes to Michigan or anywhere else and is out of the realm of possibility for Miami ... the chances of Philbin keeping his job increase dramatically, assuming he wins out the final two weeks.

Linebackers back to work Wednesday

The Dolphins played with backup linebackers against New England last Sunday but are hopeful that, barring any setbacks, both Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi can return to the lineup this week.

Jenkins missed the Patriots game with a foot injury. Misi missed the Patriots game with a hamstring and knee issue. Both practiced at least on a limited basis today, as seen during the open portion of practice.

Right tackle Dallas Thomas, who injured an ankle against New England, missed practice today. The next man up is Jason Fox.

Linebacker Chris McCain, out last week with an ankle injury, practiced Wednesday as well.

Running back Daniel Thomas, with an unknown injury, also missed practice.

Offensive lineman Nate Garner, who has been ill for three weeks, missed practice again today.

The big issue on a coach: Who is an upgrade?

Last week I reported that if Dolphins coach Joe Philbin did not make the playoffs, owner Stephen Ross would consider making a change at coach.

I reported that the No. 1 target for Ross, who believes the Dolphins should be better than 7-7 at this stage, would be current San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh if he becomes available. Harbaugh's availability, by the way, seems likely.

But, as I also reported, there is no slam dunk on Harbaugh because, among other things, he may not wish to come east because of family concerns.

And then I reported this: It is quite possible that if he fails to land Harbaugh, Ross could survey the landscape of available candidates and basically decide none would be an upgrade over Joe Philbin. Keep that in mind. This could be a Harbaugh or bust exercise for Ross.

Again: It is possible Ross keeps Philbin if he cannot land Harbaugh. Keep this in mind amid reports that Philbin is definitely out or likely out. No decision on that matter has been made at this point.

This all assumes the Dolphins do not collapse the final two weeks of the season. They collapse and there is no saving Philbin.

But if they go 9-7 the waters get murky. Look, in my opinion Philbin has failed multiple times in getting his team to win games that mattered in the playoff chase. He failed with the playoffs on the line last year against Buffalo, and then against the New York Jets. He failed with playoff position on the line again this year against Baltimore and then got blown out by New England.

So on the big stage with a door to the playoffs wide open, Philbin's teams walked into a stone wall instead. That is a deal-breaker for me.

But Philbin's team can still salvage a 9-7 season. There is still failure in that -- winning meaningless games after losing meaningful games. But, hey, 9-7 is improvement and the coach can argue that to the owner when all is said and done.

That argument would ring hollow for Ross if Harbaugh signals (yes, it would be done through back channels) that he would come to Miami.

But the same argument may win over Ross if he cannot get Harbaugh and he cannot identify a clear and obvious upgrade to Philbin. That is the giant elephant caveat in the room.

And you know what else? If Ross cannot convince Harbaugh to come and doesn't think anyone else is better and keeps Philbin ... that would not be unprecedented.

After the 2003 season, then-owner Wayne Huizenga wanted to get rid of Dave Wannstedt. But he looked around and decided there were no obvious better choices on the market. So instead he kept Wannstedt while demoting him in that he took away his authority to make the final call on talent. Ironically, Huizenga gave final say power to Rick Spielman, who is now a pretty good GM for the same Minnesota Vikings the Dolphins play on Sunday.

Also interesting: Huizenga hired Dan Marino at the same time.

(Yes, I have seen this movie before, folks).

But I digress. So who is available assuming Harbaugh shuns Miami?

Well, Jon Gruden is out. He is a Ross favorite but he just signed a contract extension with Monday Night Football. It also doesn't seem as if Bill Cowher will be answering phone calls from the Dolphins.

Alex Marvez at FoxSports1 on Tuesday did a primer of available assistants that will be "hot" starting on Black Monday -- one day after the regular-season ends and coach firings begin.

Marvez mentioned Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Yeah, only if he can bring Peyton Manning. He mentioned Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, on whose defense the Dolphins scored 36 points. He mentioned Tony Sparano. Don't think that would work since he and Ross HATE each other.

He mentioned Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Well, if the Dolphins have a vacancy and it is not filled by Harbaugh, keep on eye on Jackson getting an interview because he is a client of Dolphins "consultant" Mike Tannenbaum and as a minority he would help the Dolphins meet the requirement of the NFL Rooney Rule.

[Update: Jackson was represented, in part, by Tannenbaum last year but this year is exclusively represented by Octagon's John Thornton -- famously a rookie of the year with the Titans Super Bowl team and a former Bengals captain.]

Quinn is a Tannenbaum client. The problem for Quinn is he has no head coaching experience. Why would Ross want another on-the-job-training situation?

Fans have been tweeting at me (@ArmandoSalguero) about Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. I remind you Bowles was the Dolphins' interim coach in 2011 and got a head coach interview with Ross. He did not get the job.

And while it is not unprecedented for Ross to double back from a previous search -- he hired Tom Garfinkel in 2013 after interviewing him during his 2009 CEO search, when circumstances led Garfinkel to the San Diego Padres -- Bowles would be another on-the-job-training candidate.

Honestly, must the Dolphins be a training ground?

Anyway, some guys with previous coaching experience include Gary Kubiak, the offensive coordinator in Baltimore and former Houston Texans coach. Solid. Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is out there. He strikes me as a fine coordinator, if you get my drift. And Patriots offensive coordinator and former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is out there.

(I wonder what Ross's feelings are about possibly getting used by a Patriots employee again after the Nick Casserio experience last year during the GM search).

Current New York Jets coach Rex Ryan will likely be out there but I've been told and reported last week that's not in the cards for the Dolphins. Atlanta coach Mike Smith might be out there. I have no opinion on him other than the past two years have not been very good.

Me? I think out of the box. I like Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. He has head coaching experience. He has won everywhere he's coached. He admittedly has no NFL experience but he wrote a book titled Hurry Up No Huddle -- An Offensive Philosophy, the principles of which multiple NFL offensive coaches have incorporated.

Gamble?

Heck, yeah. But bold.

Alas, Ross isn't asking my opinion. He does ask and get the counsel of a litany of advisors. Dan Marino, Carl Peterson, Garfinkel, Tannenbaum, Matt Higgins, Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, Paul Tagiliabue, former Michigan AD Dave Brandon. Some are employed by the team. Some are not. Some have more sway lately than in the past, as it varies. The Dolphins insist Ross is making all the calls -- sad they feel the need to insist this since he's the owner and that should be wholly understood -- but Ross absolutely listens to the varying opinions of his people. There is zero doubt about that.

Anyway, someone familiar with Ross's thinking texted me Tuesday, "Somewhere out there is the next Mike Tomlin."

Yeah, but I don't know if Ross can find that guy. I don't know if by making a change, Ross absolutely, positively finds an upgrade, either.

That's the issue. What coach could take the Dolphins to the next level?

Ross believes Harbaugh could.

But failing that, who else?

Perhaps no one -- and that, amazingly, might lead to Joe Philbin 4.0.