October 27, 2016

Dolphins minds meeting to figure out where this team goes next

This time away from game action is a time for the Dolphins to get better.

No, not on the field. On the roster more than anything.

Coach Adam Gase, general manager Chris Grier and executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum will have multiple meetings of the minds before the team gathers again next week. And in those meetings the men will set roster plans for coming out of the bye.

"We’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of days reevaluating everything, and we got the rest of this week (to) try to make a decision by Tuesday as far as what our roster is going to look like going forward," Gase said Wednesday. "We have decisions to make, especially with the PUP (physically unable to perform) guys.

"That’s going to come quick, and we’re going to have to make a decision in that area as well (about) roster spots. Who moves in? Who moves out? Do we get through next week completely healthy? I mean there are a lot of things that can happen here over the next 13, 12 days. We’re going to have to make some moves to try to make sure that we feel like our roster is good going forward."

One such decision was already made Wednesday afternoon. Defensive tackle Julius Warmsley was cut.


(Because Salguero hopes the team is going to sign running back Karlos Williams off the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad).

Fine, so not likely given that it is a bold move. It is a risky move, given Miami's lack of familiarity with a player who was suspended earlier this year. And since I suggested it, it will dismissed out of hand because I don't know anything.

(Except I was right about Daniel Thomas not being good enough).

(I was right about Dallas Thomas last year, let alone this year).

(I was right about Billy Turner as a tackle).

(I was right when I told you Laremy Tunsil would be a starter and at guard when others were wondering where on Earth he fit in).

(I was right about the Dolphins needing to be concerned  about their cornerbacks).

(I was right back in August about my offensive line).

(I was right about the offense taking until November to figure things out -- ok, maybe I was off by a week or 10 days).

(I was right about the team still being able to salvage the season when it was 1-3 and folks were jumping ship).

(I was right about Cameron Wake making no sense playing 15 plays a game).

Hey, it's the bye week folks. I'm taking stock.

Anyway, let's just say Karlos Williams is talented and I think football teams should add talent whenever they can.

In two weeks, Earl Mitchell will be ready to come back off injured reserve so the Dolphins will be fine with a player who hasn't been active lately until then. But I don't know if the Dolphins are going to leave the spot Warmsley just vacated for Mitchell. My guess is the team will do something in the interim.

Maybe the team needs another tight end because Jordan Cameron still has not been cleared to practice since suffering his concussion and is still not close to playing because the team isn't going to let him on the field until he is 100 percent.

Maybe there's another move to be made at running back with someone not named Karlos Williams to fill the vacancy left by Arian Foster's retirement.

Maybe Karlos Williams gets signed.

MIAMI DOLPHINS? Are you reading this? Karlos Williams. Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad.

On the PUP front that Gase mentioned, the player the team is most looking forward to add is cornerback Chris Culliver. Apparently he got through his first week of practice well enough. The next step when the team returns next week is to put him into team drills.

And then play him. He knows the system because he's been here since August. So it isn't about that. It's about being comfortable enough that he is physically able to contribute on game days before putting him on the roster.

Once you see him on the roster, it won't be long before he's starting.

Back to running back. The Dolphins have to figure out where Karlos Williams fits in. OK, kidding. The Dolphins have to figure out the roles for Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake going forward.

My sense is because Gase has a very high regard for Williams, he might be the first guy off the bench. But remember, Williams is a big contributor on special teams, so he probably can't be carrying the ball a dozen times. But half-a-dozen? I guess that's doable.

Drake seems more suited for two or three carries designed to pop him outside in space. He might also be a pass catching threat as long as the team doesn't ask him to do too much in pass protection. Yes, there are ways to mitigate the responsibility.

Of course, there's always Karlos Williams.

Have I mentioned him?

October 26, 2016

More running and less passing = more success for Dolphins

Sometimes success is about desire. That is the case with the Miami Dolphins running game right now.

Kindly consider that in 2015, the Miami Dolphins could have had a great running game. And decided they didn't really want to have a great running game despite averaging a good 4.3 yards per rush.

How do I know this? It's because the Dolphins had the No. 5 and No. 7 leading rushers in the NFL in the NFL this year on their team last year. That's right, last year's Dolphins had both Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi on the team.

And yet those Dolphins, with running backs that are among the NFL's leading rushers this year, were last in the league in rushing attempts. Dead. Last.

(The argument, I'm sure, from a coaching staff that determined it wouldn't be smart to run more is that the run wouldn't have been as successful then as it is now. That doesn't fly. The 2015 Dolphins were ninth best in rushing average in the NFL.)

So the reason the Dolphins failed to run the football last year is because they didn't want to do it.

This season is a different story. But it took a while.

The truth of the matter is Adam Gase, the team's head coach and offensive playcaller, prefers to pass rather than run.

“Yes," Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen joked earlier this week. "He gets that rash from calling too many run plays, so we’ve got that under control."

The truth is Gase is like many play-callers in that he believes he has more control in the outcome of a play when he calls a pass versus a run. He can anticipate coverages and know how he's going to attack, them beforehand. Talk to any NFL coach and he'll tell you there's more predictability in the hands of the playcaller when he's calling passes.

The thinking that three things can happen on a pass play and two are bad is no longer valid for them.

Running, on the other hand requires more talent, requires more unison within the offensive, requires more work.

The Dolphins are obviously doing that work the past few weeks. It has been coming for a while.

But the fact the coaching staff last year didn't do that work other than to give it lip service is astounding. You'll recall last year coaches saying over and over, they didn't want to ask Ryan Tannehill to throw 40 times. They wanted to limit the hits on him by limiting the dropbacks.

And then Sunday would come and the team would throw over and over and over --- which is why Miami was 17th in the NFL with 588 pass attempts.

This year the Dolphins are 27th in the NFL in passing attempts.

More running. Less passing.

More winning. 

October 25, 2016

PFF Week Seven grades: Tannehill good (and bad); OL really good overall, Maxwell struggles, Phillips has handful of bad plays

The Miami Dolphins gathered this morning at their Davie, Florida training facility to go over the ins and outs of Sunday's victory over the Buffalo Bills. And while to naked eyes this team is playing very well because, you know, two wins in a row, the tape does not lie. And so coaches were actually quite critical of the team, I'm told.


We know Jordan Phillips heard from coaches. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was critical of him Monday afternoon in front of reporters.

"The bottom line is Jordan has got to play better overall," Joseph said. "Out of 35 plays, Jordan is playing a solid 25 plays very solidly. He’s having four or five plays where it’s not very good. I think [Ndamukong] Suh is playing well. I think Suh gets doubled a lot, but I think Jordan could play better. Obviously, getting Earl (Mitchell) back in a couple weeks, that’s going to help us there. Losing Earl was a big deal for us inside, because now you’ve got probably three inside starters. Getting Earl back in two weeks, that’s going to help us a lot."

We know the receiver corps had some penalties Sunday but that isn't the biggest correction today. Wrong routes? DeVante Parker cutting in when the play calls for him to go deep just prior to halftime? That's an issue that has to be corrected.

Obviously there was some work done Sunday as well. For both the good and bad, I turn to the folks at ProFootballFocus.com for the weekly film review session:

RB Jay Ajayi went over 200 yards for the second straight week, something that has only been accomplished by three other running backs in history (Ear Campbell, OJ Simpson, Ricky Williams). His 95.5 grade was the highest for any running back this season or last season. He followed up his 148 yards after contact versus Pittsburgh with 129 yards after contact more against Buffalo.

That is the most yards after contact for any back in the league both weeks.

Ajayi ranks as the No. 1 back in the league in terms of rushing, despite playing only 193 snaps this season.

As has been the case throughout his career, QB Ryan Tannehill was effective when facing no pressure against the Bills. He completed 11-of-15 passes for 142 yards, one touchdown and 0 interceptions. Tannehill struggled facing pressure (4-of-10 for 62 yards). He currently ranks 10th in the league on deep ball accuracy percentage -- balls that travel 20-plus yards -- which has been a big improvement in his game this season compared to years past.

For the second straight week, the Dolphins' offensive line had a strong game. They did not allow a QB sack or hit on the afternoon and had a pass blocking efficiency (PBE) of 82.5, good for 12th best in the league for Week Seven. The Dolphins did allow a sack on the day but that was not the fault of the offensive line, per PFF.

According to PFF, RG Jermon Bushrod was the weak link on an offensive line unit that had a great game as a group. He ranked last (54 of 54 guards) in Week Seven, struggling in pass blocking, run blocking and penalty grade. He was responsible for three QB hurries allowed.  

The OL performances are suggesting that when the Dolphins have their line fully healthy they are capable of dominating games in the trenches.

For the first time all season, WR Kenny Stills led the team in targets, bringing in five of the eight targets for 100 yards and a touchdown that sealed the win late in the 4th quarter. Most of his damage came against Bills' CB Ronald Darby, who he beat on a 66-yard TD late and caught all three targets for 75 yards total. Despite the eight targets and five catches against the Bills on Sunday, Stills still has seen 32 targets and has 16 catches through seven weeks this season.

Cameron Wake continues to show he can rush the passer at an elite level in Miami's wide nine scheme. In just 32 total snaps (23 passing plays), Wake recorded four QB hurries and 1 1/2 sacks. He now ranks second among 4-3 defensive ends in pass rushing grade this season. His 19 QB hurries on the season ranks fourth at his position despite playing only 195 snaps.

CB Bryon Maxwell had another rough afternoon against the Bills, allowing four of the seven targets his way to be caught for 76 yards. The yardage does not include the 30 extra yards and the TD Marquise Goodwin got when he beat Maxwell for a long catch along the sideline and then got over the top of safety Michael Thomas, who at the very least should have prevented the TD. So the reception is on Maxwell, the fact it extended another 30 yards for a TD is on Thomas, who has taken public responsibility for the play.

Maxwell ranks last (87 of 87) of all cornerbacks in Week Seven and 101st of 116 overall for the season. He ranks in the top 15 in both times thrown at (43) and receptions allowed (25).

Thomas, who started for the injured Reshad Jones, was targeted only two times (a completion for 25 yards and the long Goodwin score) and recorded 3 tackles on the afternoon. He played every snap after not playing even 50 percent of the snaps in any other game this season.  

After a couple good-not-great showings Ndamukong Suh, he bounced back in a big way against the Bills, recording three QB hits and a sack. His Week Seven effort had him ranked as the fourth best NT/DT in Week Seven and on the season he sits at No. 2 overall, behind only the Rams' Aaron Donald. Suh ranks in the top 5 in QB hurries (15), QB sacks (3) and stops (21) for interior players.

DE Mario Williams had something of a revenge game against the Bills. Williams had He had two TFLs (tackles for loss), two quarterback hits, and four QB pressures, according to Vance Joseph. The Dolphins have started Andre Branch in place of Williams the last two weeks.

While Williams is not picking up sacks, PFF ranks him as the 14th best 4-3 DE and has he has a solid run defense grade despite some missed tackles. Williams ranks 6th in run stopping.

What now for the Dolphins without Arian Foster

The retirement of running back Arian Foster should not come as a surprise to the Miami Dolphins because he's been toying with the idea for weeks. But now that it is a fact it presents the team with an important decision that must be made.

The obvious idea is for the Dolphins to consider simply finding another running back to take his place. And the names that will come up might not necessarily excite anyone.

Daniel Thomas? Well, he was in camp with the team. So he is a possibility.

Isaiah Pead? Nope. Not going to be him. His days with the Dolphins are done.

Knowshon Moreno? Yes, he played for coach Adam Gase in Denver and would love to get back in the NFL. But he had a workout with the Dolphins earlier this season and it was determined he's simply not the same guy anymore. So not likely.

The truth of the matter is the Dolphins aren't going to necessarily sign a running back because when they come back from the bye week they might want to activate cornerback Chris Culliver off the physically unable to perform list if he doesn't suffer a setback to the knee injury he's been diligently rehabilitating, as I wrote here.

Beyond that, the Dolphins expect to bring back Earl Mitchell from the injured reserve list in the next two weeks -- possibly even for the New York Jets game on Nov. 6.

So either one of those additions would require a roster spot.

The Dolphins also have a thought that moving on from Foster opens up the use of rookie Kenyan Drake more. Yes, Jay Ajayi remains the starter. And Damien Williams, a coach favorite, is obviously the backup. But getting Drake snaps in pass situations and even on the occasional run, hoping for a big play, is a thought.

In that regard, Foster was a progress stopper. He was a veteran on the way out keeping snaps away from a younger player who is going to be around a while. Now Drake can get his chance to make progress with more snaps.

So there's that thinking, too.

I have another suggestion that should be considered as well. Look, the Dolphins need another running back capable of taking over for Jay Ajayi at a moment's notice. And that is neither Williams nor Drake. Both those guys are not carry-the-load guys.

The Dolphins need a potential carry-the-load guy in case Ajayi can no longer, you know, carry the load. And the time to go searching for that guy is now because as we get further through the year, it becomes harder to find a suitable player to do what I'm saying which is ...

Take over as the starting running back if Ajayi, averaging 27 carries a game the past two weeks, cannot continue to carry that burden.

So ... who?

Well, one name I would suggest doing a lot of due diligence about is Karlos Williams.

(And the choir is saying amen).

Williams is currently on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad. He's been there two weeks. He signed with Pittsburgh the very week the Dolphins planned to bring him down to South Florida for a get-to-know-you session and a workout. That obviously never happened. And now that cannot happen because the only way the Dolphins can actually talk to Williams is after poaching him from the Steelers practice squad onto their active roster.

There are, by the way, plenty of reasons not to do this. Williams has been a troubled guy. He came out of Florida State that way and just finished serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy for substances of abuse. That means recreational or street drugs. He also apparently had trouble staying in shape with the Buffalo Bills and that's one reason they cut him. So there are significant red flags.

But between those cautionary flags was a rookie season in which Williams rushed for 517 yards on 93 carries with seven TDs for the Bills in 2015. So this has been a troubled but very talented guy. Troubled. But talented.

Another question is whether Williams is comfortable running in a zone blocking scheme where he has to plant a foot in the ground, cut and head full bore down hill. That kind of running is not for every back. So the Dolphins have to figure out whether he's a system fit.

But I say this: The Dolphins are starting to matter. They are bordering on relevant. The reason that is the case is because they have suddenly found a crazy-good running game that has changed the entire personality of the team. This team is hot because neither Pittsburgh nor Buffalo could stop the run. And that helped Ryan Tannehill play quarterback. And that helped the defense. And that affected the scoreboard.

So Miami's running game has changed practically everything.

And the only way to keep that going is to have assets in place in case they have to replace the assets currently making this thing go. The team cannot simply just hand the role over to Williams or Drake if Ajayi is out for any amount of time. And not too many other guys on the street are likely to just pick up where Ajayi leaves off -- if that happens -- later this year.

The time to address this possibility is now.

(Before any superstitious souls creep in here, this isn't cursing Ajayi. This is about having vision and planning beyond one's nose).

So sign Karlos Williams? I don't know.

Study Karlos Williams? No doubt.

NOTE: Come back later today for the ProFootballFocus.com grades of the Dolphins victory over Buffalo. And follow me on twitter @ArmandoSalguero.

October 24, 2016

Arian Foster announces his retirement

Arian Foster has been feeling something wasn't right for some time. His body wasn't right for some time. And as a prideful man who wanted to contribute to his team but didn't feel he could do that anymore, Foster tonight announced his retirement.

Making the announcement on Uninterrupted, Foster thanked the Dolphins and said he appreciated his time in the NFL but that his body and his desire to accomplish were no longer on the same page.

The move which Foster has been considering for some time was precipitated by another injury setback. He suffered a calf injury in Sunday's game against Buffalo. Foster, who has been dealing with multiple groin and hamstring issues -- soft tissue issues -- since joining the Dolphins. And he simply didn't have the desire to fight through another rehabilitation, per sources.

This has been brewing for some time, even before the most recent injury setback. That's one reason I asked offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen today whether Foster needs monitoring now that he has a secondary role on the team -- a role he hasn't had in the NFL since perhaps his second year in the league.

“He’s like everyone – he’s got a role," Christensen said. "I don’t know if he’s been secondary as much as he’s been recovering from an injury. He hasn’t been healthy. He’s been nursing that thing. He’s been fighting to get back on the field.

" I’d probably stop short of saying a secondary role, his role is still really, really important for us. Maybe it’s not in carries, which would be the out-front thing you measure, but as far as presence and some of the things we ask him to do, yes. He’s no different from anybody; he’s got to keep fulfilling his role.

"We won a couple of games. There’s a long way to go in this thing. We’ve got to keep improving and everyone’s got to keep doing what they’re supposed to be doing and he would fall in that category too. It is bigger than carries, if you will, in a lot of cases.”

The Dolphins have no official comment on Foster's retirement at this time. The club is obviously aware of Foster's departure and prepared to go forward without him, I'm told.

Foster leaves the NFL a much bigger star within the league than with Dolphins fans. Yes, he had 6,527 rushing yards during his impressive career. But the injuries this season made him only a footnote. He played only four games for Miami and gained a total of 55 yards on 22 carries for a 2.5 yard-per-carry average.


Foster retires

Willingness of Dolphins coaches to call out players is paying dividends

Things were different three weeks ago when the Dolphins were struggling and coaches were calling out players both privately and publicly.

The team had a 1-4 record and Vance Joseph was saying Mario Williams needed "to play harder."

The team was 1-4 and Joseph was not thrilled about Byron Maxwell's production.

The team was 1-4 and Adam Gase dumped three offensive linemen in one day, after the loss to Tennessee -- because he didn't like their effort, didn't like their attitude in the locker room, didn't want them in the team's future.

And that came weeks after Gase put running back Jay Ajayi on blast. The coach left Ajayi off the travel squad for the regular-season opener and let everyone understand he wasn't happy with the second-year player.

And you know what all that calling out and criticism and drama got the Dolphins?


Truth may have hurt initially. But it has also helped.

Williams has been playing better since he was called out. Maxwell has been more productive. Ajayi has rocketed up the NFL rushing leader list with back-to-back 200-yard-plus games.

Players have responded to very public, potentially embarrassing challenges in a very positive manner. 

"We don't hide much on defense," Joseph said. Monday. "If they're not playing well, everyone's going to know it. Coaches going to know it. Players going to know it. If you ask me the question, I'll tell you. If you don't ask me, I won't tell you.

"Our players trust us enough to know that if we say it publicly, it's already been said in private. They trust us. It's just the honest way of doing business here."

So is it gratifying to this coaching staff when they do that when other coaching staff refuse to criticize players in public?

"Absolutely. Absolutely," Joseph said. "With Mario, he's definitely come back the last two weeks and played harder. If he played harder, he was going to play better. We all knew that. Maxwell's played better also.

"I guess it's gratifying to know they're hearing you. If you ask them to play better, they know they have to play better. That's happened in those two cases."

Obviously not every player reacts the same to criticism. On the Dolphins, some guys are more sensitive than others. It would be interesting to know if Miami offensive coaches pick and chose which players they criticize publicly and which they do not. We know Joseph does not.

My sense is Joseph doesn't pull punches for anyone. 

And so far this season, Ajayi, Williams and Maxwell are shining examples of players coming back from very public criticism with a vengeance. That says good things about these players.

Says good things about this coaching staff.

Playtime percentages for Dolphins victory over Buffalo

Here are the play-time percentages from Sunday's Miami Dolphins victory against the Buffalo Bulldozed.

Notice that Cameron Wake, who started, and Mario Williams, who didn't but got duty at both end and tackle, played the same percentage of plays.

About that Williams at DT stretch. Williams made it seem as if it was Ndamukong Suh's idea when he lined up next to the burly tackle with Wake and Andre Branch at defensive end.

I get the feeling coaches approved the move because, otherwise that look would not have lasted very long.


October 23, 2016

Miami Dolphins outlast Buffalo Bills, 28-25

Sometimes, when the game is ugly and the opponent is known for being pretty tough -- indeed something of a bully according to the head coach -- a victory isn't going to be about finesse and how slick the pass offense looks.

Sometimes a win can only be earned through just gutting things out.

Being tougher than the other guy ...

...Knocking out the other guy.

The Dolphins were the tougher team on Sunday. They took blows from the Buffalo Bills and trailed 17-14 with less than six minutes to play.

But amid the difficulties of allowing a long TD pass to Marquise Goodwin, and getting bad special teams play, and having almost a dozen penalties, the Dolphins found a way to endure.

And succeed.

Dolphins 28.

Bills 25.

By the time Ryan Tannehill threw a 66-yard touchdown to Kenny Stills with 2:24 to play the dire situation of being down 17-6 was only a memory.

The Dolphins dominated the Bills with their running game. Jay Ajayi rushed for 214 yards on 29 carries. He became only the fourth player in NFL history -- including OJ Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams -- to deliver consecutive 200-yard games.

The Miami offensive line dominated up front, allowing only one sack of Tannehill on pass plays and obviously moving the way for Ajayi. 

The Miami defense, meanwhile, stymied the Bills highly ranked rushing attack. Buffalo averaged only 2.9 yards per rush.

And, overall, the Dolphins knocked out two Bills players during this game -- safety Aaron WIlliams and Goodwin.

The Dolphins were simply the bigger bullies this day.

Did I mention that in being the tougher team the Dolphins displayed more resiliency?

The Dolphins trailed most of the game including in the final six minutes of the game. They were buried inside their five yard line but dug out of that hole with Ajayi, went 53 yards in one carry to get the Dolphins beyond midfield.

Ajayi had to leave the game and Damien Williams gave the Dolphins the lead with a 12-yard touchdown run.

On the next offensive series Tannehill to Stills extended the lead. The Bills did get a late TD run from Reggie Bush.

The Dolphins are 3-4 and have now won two consecutive games. 

This team is finding an identity.

Starters and inactives of Dolphins versus Bills

Today is about the lineup, not so much the inactives. And to that end consider:

Michael Thomas is starting at safety today for the injured Reshad Jones.

Running back Jay Ajayi is starting today, ahead of Arian Foster. Yes, Ajayi has earned that job back.

Andre Branch is starting today ahead of Mario Williams. Yes, Williams has apparently lost his job after not starting last week.

Dominque Jones is starting at tight end for the injured pair of Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims. Jones is very familiar with Adam Gase's offense and the coach trusts him.

Tony Lippett is starting today for injured Xavien Howard. Lippett was managing a hamstring injury this week.

The inactives for Miami are:

Howard, Bene' Benwikere, Julius Warmsley, Nick Williams, Terrence Fede, Sims and Jordan.

All of Miami's running backs are active. All of Miami's linebackers are active.

For the Bills ... running back LeSean McCoy is active.


October 21, 2016

Trio of Dolphins fined, but Ndamukong Suh not among them

So the Pittsburgh Steelers are peeved and the NFL is reportedly looking into a pass-rush situation in which Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh seemed to kick Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last Sunday.

The investigation into the play continues.

Suh, however, was not fined for the action this week, per a league source.

He is so far the luck one because three Dolphins were fined for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in Week Six -- or the Pittsburgh game.

Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and Ju'Wuan James were all fined $12,154.

As to the Suh incident, Miami coach Adam Gase Friday supported Suh's work on the play in question. Gase said he didn't notice the play the first time he went through the tape but went back and looked when the mini-controversy arose from the Steelers' complaints.

And after watching the play again, Gase said he saw a guy playing hard and trying to get to the quarterback.

"He’s trying to figure out a way to get to the quarterback," Gase said. "I don’t know if I can comment on it past that. I just know how I’ve watched him play. He just goes as hard as he can and he does everything he can to try to sack the quarterback."

We'll see what the NFL says on the matter in the coming days.

Miami Dolphins' only way to relevance is to win games in the AFC East

If you're thinking this season is already over for the Miami Dolphins because they are 2-4 and in third place in the AFC East then stop reading now.

This post is not for you.

Nothing to see here.

Move along.

Well, you've made it to the fifth paragraph so obviously you think there is still at least faint hope the Dolphins can make some noise the remainder of 2016 following last week's upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cool. I'm with you.

And that hope has a chance to blossom into full blown optimism if the Dolphins can beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Consider that the Dolphins have found a new energy and enthusiasm since their Pittsburgh victory. It was a meaningful victory because not only were players rewarded for their hard work but because coaches believe they saw the team turn a corner on this season.

What I mean by that is coaches have gotten more comfortable with their players. Players are getting more comfortable with their assignments. The Dolphins see significant progress happening and last week's game, they believe, was the first strand of evidence of that fact. So no one within the organization believes this is the same team that headed into the game against Tennessee. This is a different team, they believe.

Do I believe that? I'd like more proof because, well, this isn't the first time people in the organization share this feeling with me. And I've seen it mean nothing in the past. So let's see.

But also, let's be open to the possibility a victory over Buffalo is not impossible. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo's most explosive offensive weapon, is reportedly not playing, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson. The team's second-most explosive offensive weapon Sammy Watkins, who last season was something of a Dolphin killer, also is not playing. So there's that.

The game is in South Florida. And it's still hot down here. And the Bills are not a hot weather team. So there's that.

The Miami offensive line is healthy and about to play its second game together. Last week's showing was an epiphany of sorts for that unit. That's how eye-opening it was. The Dolphins believe that unit is the foundation for future success. So there's that.

The Bills are on a roll, no doubt. They've won four consecutive games. But, with respect, the Bills aren't to be confused with a proven ball club. The Bills are on a longer playoff drought than the Dolphins. They fired their offensive coordinator after the second game of the season and that seemed to work for them the past month, but is that going to last?

And last I checked, Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor is a good game-manager type. But he's not Tom Brady.

So all those things must be considered. And, yes, the fact the Dolphins will be without their most impactful defensive player in Reshad Jones is a problem for Miami. No doubt. Michael Thomas is a fine backup and a smart player. But Jones was starting and earned a Pro Bowl berth last season for a reason. So that hurts the Dolphins.

Now, having said all that, the Dolphins have a chance to become relevant on Sunday. If they win, it will be their first victory against an AFC East rival this season. Last season the Dolphins didn't win a game in the AFC East until the regular-season finale against New England.

Miami was 1-5 in the division last year.

If the Dolphins, who already lost to the Patriots this year, can even their division record to 1-1 and we're not done with October yet, that suggests progress and other things. Among the other things it suggests is the Dolphins will have just beaten what was considered an AFC Super Bowl contender (Pittsburgh) and the AFC East's second-best team (Buffalo) in consecutive games.

The Dolphins would then head to the bye on a positive note with a 3-4 record and come back with a home game against the reeling New York Jets before heading off to California for two games.

It is possible, if the Dolphins are right about having turned that fateful corner, this team heads to California with a 4-4 record and two wins within the division.

No, that's not quite playoff contention. But it is relevance. It is pointing toward contention. The Dolphins will be making noise at that point.

So that's the rosy, optimistic view of the world.

But what happens if the Dolphins lose to the Bills? At home? To fall to 2-5? And 0-2 within the division?

At that point this season truly is no longer about this season. At that point, it's about next year. And draft order. And maybe dumping talent before the trade deadline.


Because if the Dolphins, 1-5 in the division last year, continue to show they cannot win games against their divisional rivals, then there really is nothing to talk about because there's no road to postseason play that doesn't travel through winning division games. There just isn't. And if Miami loses to Buffalo it will be 0-2 in the division.

So this game is pivotal. This game will show whether the Dolphins simply caught the Steelers on a bad day last week or they actually found a formula for succeeding with some consistency. This game will show if the Dolphins have made progress both from earlier this season, as coaches think, and from last year when they were the AFC East doormats.

Hey, you made it to the last paragraph. I guess you're interested in what will happen Sunday. 

October 20, 2016

TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) out again this week

Miami Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron, in the NFL's concussion protocol, is making progress.

No, he's still not ready to practice. No, he's not playing on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

But he's making progress.

We know this because Cameron was on the field working with trainers today in what was obviously a test of his physical progress post concussion. It stands to reason that if he passes such a test, his next step would be to actually start a rehabilitation period.

If that goes well, practice on a limited basis would be the next step and the full practice before he actually gets back to game action.

No, this isn't a right now recovery. But post-bye -- at some point -- the Dolphins hope their starting tight end who is about to miss his fourth game can get back on the practice field.

One thing: Cameron has suffered four concussions since the end of 2012. So coach Adam Gase has said he isn't playing Cameron until he's 100 percent recovered. This all assumes Cameron makes steady progress. A setback would obviously change everything.

Dion Sims, meanwhile, is also in the concussion protocol. This is his second concussion in two years. It remains unclear what his status for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills is but I wouldn't be banking on him playing.

Sims did not practice Thursday.

October 19, 2016

Richie Incognito: Still searching for lesson of Bullygate

Three years later, Richie Incognito has came out the other side of the harassment scandal that helped blow up the 2013 Miami Dolphins better than anybody.

I'm glad to see it.

Incognito has apparently found an NFL home with the Buffalo Bills. They love him.

"Well, I just let him know that everybody makes mistakes in life. I’m certainly one that’s made several in my life," Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan said of Incognito. "But you know what? Everybody deserves another opportunity as well and, with Richie, I saw a guy that – you know, there are no do-overs. But he owned it, he did everything, and he has been unbelievable here. In fact, he’s a leader here. Every teammate respects him and he’s earned that right.

"The people in our community look up to Richie and everybody loves him. I can’t speak to what happened in the past. I can tell you what he’s doing right now and he’s been outstanding on the football field, in the classroom and in our community."

And Incognito loves them back.

The Miami Dolphins? Incognito keeps in contact with several of the team's players. He even keeps in contact with former coach Joe Philbin. But owner Stephen Ross, who threw Incognito under the bus and took Jonathan Martin's side? Not so much.

Last year, Incognito's first with the Buffalo Bills, the South Florida media requested to talk to the offensive lineman on a conference call. Either because Incognito declined or the Bills didn't want to go there, that conference call never happened.

On Wednesday, that awaited conference call happened. And this is everything Richie said about, well, everything ... including friend turned former friend Jonathan Martin:

Q: What has your life been like in the last two years?

A: "Last two years have been good. I think Terry and Kim Pegula, Doug Whaley, Rex (Ryan), they all stuck their neck out on the line for me. They brought me in and gave me an opportunity to come up here and reestablish myself in the league and get back to playing football and it’s been great. You know, they welcomed me with open arms and you know, I think about repaying them every single day with just hard work and being better. Getting the most out of my teammates."

Q: Were you given any guidelines of what you couldn’t do to stay a member of the Buffalo Bills?

A: "No, no guidelines. One thing I believe helped was Tony Sparano coached with Rex in New York and Dave DeGuglielmo, the offensive line coach, coached with Rex. So they had good insight into who I was and what I was about. So when I sat down with Rex, he said “we know who you are, we know what you’re about. We just want you to come be yourself, be comfortable and, you know, help this team win."

Q: Now what was your life like three years ago?

A: "It was nuts, man. It was nuts. It got turned upside down, you know? You guys had a front row seat to the circus. You know, middle of the season we’re grinding, we’re trying to get wins. We started that season 3-0 and you know we’re really feeling good about ourselves, and hit a rough patch and then the whole incident went down. I’m a pariah in the national media and basically turned radioactive there for a few months. And you know, that was it. It was crazy. It was a crazy and surreal experience to go from within the locker room, a member of the Miami Dolphins, to just kind of an outcast, to kind of just out there."

Q: And what was the hardest part about that?

A: "You know, the hardest part about it was not being able to play, and not being able be with my teammates. You go from being in the locker room with the guys, you’re part of the team, to you’re being suspended. And your off in your own little world. It was incredibly difficult at that time because all I wanted to do was be with my teammates, be with my guys that supported me. Be with my guys in the locker room."

Q: In the aftermath of what happened, you talk to the other guys on the team, and all of these guys came out in support of you. I don’t think I talked to anyone in support of Jonathan Martin. What did that mean to you?

A: "You know, it meant a lot to me. It meant a lot. You know, you don’t really know how people really feel about you until something like that goes down and I have a tremendous amount of respect for guys in that locker room like Mike Pouncey, Ryan Tannehill, Reshad Jones, Cameron Wake. Each of those guys to a man—not only, one, tell the truth but two, speak so highly of me. They made me very proud and you know I was proud to have been associated with him and have been out on the field and played with him. And that was a cool and special moment to me because, during that whole time it was so crazy and there was so much stuff being said, and to hear my guys say that and stick up for me, it was really special for me."

Q: Have you had any conversation at all with Jonathan Martin in the last three years?

A: "He’s reached out and tried to speak a few times but I have nothing to say."

Q: How often do you keep up with trying to keep in touch with guys on the Dolphins?

A: I speak with guys routinely. It’s tough during the season because we’re kind of doing our thing but spoke with (Kraig) Urbik last week, saw Tannehill last time I was down so we’re still close. I still read the Sun and the Herald, read all the stuff that’s going on down there. I keep up with the guys and, you know, I’m still pretty close with a lot of guys down there."

Q: You ran for 312 yards last week. What has really been the difference these last four games?

A: "You know, we changed coordinators, we started 0-2 and it served as a huge wake up call when we fired Greg Roman. You know, a lot of guys—you know, we approached it the right way. Instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, guys started pointing fingers at themselves and started saying “we need to play better, we need to play up to our potential. I think Anthony Lynn has done a great job coming in and simplifying it for us. We’re just going out and we’re playing. We’re confident in the game plan, we’re taking ownership in the gameplan, and we’re executing on Sunday’s."

Q: When was the last time, if at all, you spoke to Steve Ross in the aftermath of what happened? Did you ever talk to him?

A: "No. Mr. Ross never reached out to me and I haven’t had a word with Stephen Ross since before my suspension."

Q: What about Joe Philbin?

A: "Yeah. Coach Philbin and I, we stayed in contact through the whole thing. You know, we spoke kind of routinely through the suspension and then after the season. And then you know, Joe came up to me and congratulated me last year when we came to play you guys early in the season. And then I saw Joe in the preseason with the Colts."

Q: How’s the Ferrari?

A: "Hah! The Ferrari’s great man. I got rid of the black Ferrari and got a Rolls Royce, the race two-door."

Q: What are we supposed to learn and take from Bullygate?

A: "You know, I don’t know. I think I’m still searching for the lesson in all of it. Everything went down the way it did and I think there was what happened in the media and then actually what happened. And only me, Jonathan Martin and the guys in that locker room know exactly what happened. And that sticks. So as far as lesson, I think it’s tough.

Q: You say only you, Jonathan Martin and the guys in that locker room know exactly what happened. Is there anything that you want people to know that they don’t know now?

A: "You know, I think the story’s kind of played itself out. Jonathan and I were close friends. I cared about him. If anyone was there for Jonathan, it was me. And Jonathan had his troubles. He had his demons, like we all do. And he left for whatever reason, and he handled it the way he did. And then the story kind of takes on a life of its own and there’s the narrative that Jonathan and his camp wants you to believe, and then there’s, like I said, what me, Mike Pouncey, what John Jerry, what Jim Turner, what we know what happened. And I can sleep good at night knowing what happened and what my actions were. I’m not saying I was a saint but I sleep well at night knowing what I did.

Q: Do you feel like you were used as a payday?

A: "I don’t know. I really don’t know."

Mario Williams not good but not a drama problem, either

Mario Williams came to the Dolphins a year after his time in Buffalo ended in failure and drama.

The failure happened because Williams didn't seem to fit into Rex Ryan's defense and his statistics suffered -- either because he wasn't a fit or simply lost something. The drama came when Williams began discussing his situation and making no secret of the fact he was unhappy and wasn't. There was also some drama when teammates recognized Williams wasn't exactly trying very hard.

Well, Williams is with the Dolphins now and his experiencing failure again. But Wednesday it became clear we're not at the drama stage at all -- at least not publicly.

Williams, who has only one sack among his six solo tackles in six games, was benched last game. But he's not ripping anyone over the situation.

“By all means I’ve got to get better with all regardless, not even talking about whether I'm starting or not," Williams said Wednesday. "You’ve just got to better and I think each and every one of us have to do the same. Each and every one of us  we still have a lot of work to do, still have a lot of rhythm to catch up with, with situations in the pass game, run game, whatnot. I think everybody would say the same thing."

It was something of a surprise when Williams didn't start last week but Williams wasn't shocked.

“No, because that had been … it’s an open locker room for us," he said. "We’ve already talked about different ways to get guys spark or get guys going, try to manage snaps, things like that. The first five games it was pretty heavy on the defense as far as the amount of snaps and things like that … no, it wasn’t a surprise."

So does Williams want to get back in the starting lineup? Sure. Does he expect to keep coming off the bench?

“I have no idea," he said. "It’s just whatever the coaches say as far as schematically or the amount of plays or whatever. It’s not my call."

Question after question on Wednesday gave Williams the forum and the opportunity to become an issue. Williams was even served up a chance to rip the Bills and he declined.

“Nah, no, because I’m here, I’m in Miami<" Williams said. "That’s not something that I speak about. Stop playing, man.”

This is good. There is nothing worse than a player who is not performing also becoming a malcontent or locker room problem.

Williams isn't playing well. But the situation isn't full fledged Buffalo bad at this point because ... no drama.

Good news, bad news: Jones out, help coming

This is bad: Reshad Jones is out for the remainder of the year, a league source is telling The Miami Herald.

That means the Dolphins' most impactful and productive player is done.

Jones tore a rotator cuff against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and got two different physicians to confirm the injury.

The Dolphins have a choice of playing Michael Thomas or Walt Aikens at Jones's safety position the remainder of the season. Jordan Lucas also backs up at safety but is unlikely to be the answer

On the bright side the Dolphins today expect both cornerback Chris Culliver and linebacker Zack Vigil to practice for the first time this season.

Both are expected to ease into drills. That means they probably will only take individual drills initially.

Culliver, a cornerback, had been on the physically unable to perform list because he blew out his knee last November while playing for the Washington Redskins. he was signed by the Dolphins with the vision of him helping the team during what was expected to be a playoff run. That run is not certain but if he can regain the form he had previously, he will upgrade the secondary.

Vigil suffered a back injury sometime in the offseason and is also on the physically unable to perform list.

The Dolphins need Culliver. The team's cornerback situation is almost dire because starter Xavien Howard recently had a second surgery on a knee and is two weeks into a recovery period that was expected to take between 3 to 6 weeks.



October 18, 2016

PFF Week Six grades: Redemption for a lot of players (except Mario Williams)

This week's grading session, courtesy our colleagues at ProFootballFocus.com, is about redemption.

All the grades you are about to read, collected from the Dolphins' 30-15 thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers, focus on players who have been previously been criticized one way or another. (I've added the grade for Reshad Jones because he played hurt this game and, as I reported Monday, the team is waiting later today or tomorrow for what could be bad news.)

So here are the grades and I'll explain the redemption part afterward:

RB Jay Ajayi had the best game of his young career, where he turned 25 carries into 204 yards  and two touchdowns. In terms of a rushing only grade, Ajayi was the second-highest rated RB of the week, trailing only Dallas' Ezekiel Elliot. He had 148 yards after contact, which was significantly more than the second most (Elliot had 98) and forced three missed tackles.

The missed tackles stat is interesting because Ajayi is almost exclusively a downhill, contact runner. Adding a little shake to his game makes him even more dangerous.

And the redemption part for him? Well, you know he was in the doghouse to start the regular season. He dogged it the final preseason game because he apparently didn't think he should be playing -- as most first-line players were not. Then he screwed up in the days following and got left behind as punishment when the team traveled to Seattle for the season-opener.

So is it surprising he has come back to reclaim his starting job and just delivered such a great game?

“I don’t know if anything surprises me, because he did [Sunday] what he had showed us all through the spring," coach Adam Gase said. "He had done it in training camp practices. I think I’ve said it; he had a rough seven days between the last preseason game and the first game, or 10 days, whatever it was. But every other part of it, he has been the same guy. I felt like yesterday was a good example of letting him get into a rhythm, and he’s a big man running down a hill at a good rate, and he can break tackles, and he knows where to go as far as what we’re doing in our run-scheme. If we get him going, we just keep trying to get him the ball.”

QB Ryan Tannehill's up-and-down season continued against the Steelers. He followed a terrible outing against the Tennessee Titans by ranking as the seventh-highest QB overall for Week Six. The formula for getting a good game out of Tannehill was explained in detail by me in this prescient column the morning of the game.

And sure enough, Tannehill was pressured only five of his 32 dropbacks against the Steelers and was effective both under pressure (4-of-5 for 73 yards) and under no pressure (20-of-27 for 179 yards). Tannehill ranks as the 13th highest-graded QB through six weeks of the season thus far.

Oh, yes, please don't make me explain why this performance qualifies as redemption, although fleeting until next game, for a quarterback who left the field at home the week before to chants of "We want Moore," as in backup Matt Moore.

After ranking dead last in the NFL in terms of pressures allowed per passing play and overall PBE in weeks 1-5 (pass blocking efficiency is a formula that combines sacks/hits/hurries relative to the number of passing plays), the Dolphins' offensive line was graded as the fifth best unit in Week Six. They did not allow a sack, only one QB hit and five total pressures on 32 passing plays against the Steelers for a PBE of 90.6.

Remember, however, that despite the ranking from the previous five games, Sunday marked the first time this particular line -- with all its starting players -- played for the Dolphins this season.

One week after being targeted a career-low three times, running some wrong routes and blocking poorly, WR Jarvis Landry grabbed 7 of 8 targets for 91 yards with 44 yards after catch (YAC). He was the fourth-highest-rated WR in terms of receiving grade in Week Six, and ranks ninth of all WR in targets (52) and second in receptions (41) through six games. Landry has also forced 10 missed tackles on the season, most of any WR.

First-round rookie Laremy Tunsil returned to action after missing Week Five with an injury that happened when he slipped in the shower -- yes, embarrassing. The redemption?

Although he continued to struggle in pass protection (as has been the case all season aside from Week Two at New England), he had a great game run blocking. He was the fifth-ranked guard in Week Six for run blocking, and ranks in the top 20 of all guards in run blocking through six weeks.

DE Cameron Wake played 41 of 55 defensive snaps against the Steelers in Week six, his most snaps played on the season for any single game and by far the highest percentage of snaps he's played. The extra work did not negatively affect Wake's performance, as he once again posted a strong grade in pass rushing, registering half-a-sack. In terms of 4-3 DE's, Wake graded out as the fifth best at the position for the week and through six games this season, he trails only Cameron Jordan for the top pass rushing 4-3 DE position.

The redemption issue here isn't about Wake, although he is proving concerns about his surgically repaired Achilles are unfounded. The redemption here goes to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and the other coaches who initially decided Wake needed to be limited in his snaps to save him for future use. And I've been saying more use was necessary. Pretty much everyone has been questioning why such little use of Wake.

Last game, in which Wake started ahead of the benched Mario Williams, showed the questions were legitimate. At least the defensive staff adjusted to what seems a better plan now.

Speaking of Williams ... no redemption for him after he got called out for needing to "play harder" by Joseph.

Williams played 13 of 55 snaps against the Steelers, which was a significant change since he had played at least 45 snaps in every game this season before it. He had a solid although unremarkable game despite the limited snaps and recorded his 12th QB hurry of the season, 16th most at his respective 4-3 defensive end position. Williams did miss two tackles while collecting one tackle. So, yes, he missed more tackles than he made.

But back to redemption ...

After being benched earlier in the season, CB Byron Maxwell responded in a big way against the Steelers. He was targeted eight times but allowed only four receptions for 29 yards  (including only 23 yards on five targets against star WR Antonio Brown) and had four  passes defended, which is exactly how many Maxwell had in the five previous games.

In terms of pass coverage grade amongst cornerbacks in Week Six, Maxwell was the 2nd-highest rated CB, trailing only New England's Malcolm Butler. Excellent.

DE Andre Branch has had significant trouble setting and holding the edge on run plays this year. You'll recall the New England and Tennessee games in particular. But he had 1 1/2 sacks and three stops on the afternoon. Only Ndamukong Suh (48) played more snaps on the defensive line unit than his 44.

Needing no redemption but clearly at risk of being out for the season pending a second opinion on his shoulder, Reshad Jones had another good game for the Dolphins. Generally known for his run defensive abilities over the course of his career, Jones has taken his game to another level this season in pass coverage. He was targeted only two times on the afternoon and did not allow a reception while also grabbing an interception in the process. Through the first 6 weeks of the season, Jones ranks third at his respective position in both overall grade and pass coverage grade.


October 17, 2016

Dolphins holding their breath on Reshad Jones shoulder injury

Reshad Jones has been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff that would cost him the rest of the 2016 season but the Dolphins are at this hour waiting on a second opinion to see if their worst fears are warranted.

The secondary results will take a day or two to obtain because Jones travelled to see a specialist to get this second opinion. Obviously the seriousness of the injury has moved Jones and the team to seek confirmation on the injury to see if there's any possibility of salvaging the season.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport first reported Jones was getting tests on his shoulder and his season was in jeopardy.

Jones, a 2015 Pro Bowl safety, has so far authored what seemed like another impactful season.

He has one of the team's two interception and is the team's second leading tackler. He is also second on the team in passes defensed.

The bottom line is Jones is vital to the success of the Miami defense. And yet he might be gone for the season if the tests from a different doctor agree with initial findings.

Jones has been a durable player for Miami, starting 16 games every season since 2012 except 2014 when he was limited to 12 because of an NFL suspension. This past Sunday he played despite missing all but one day of practice because of a groin injury. He seemed uninjured in the locker room and during a press conference after the game.


Dion Sims joins Jordan Cameron as Dolphins TEs with concussions

The Miami Dolphins have two tight ends in the concussion protocol.

Coach Adam Gase said Monday Dion Sims did indeed suffer a concussion against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. He also said Jordan Cameron, who has missed three games while in the concussion protocol, remains in that status.

Sims, you'll recall, suffered a concussion in the regular-season opener at Washington in 2015 and missed a month as a result.

So what will the Dolphins do about their tight end situation Sunday against the Buffalo Bills?

Gase said he, general manager Chris Grier and executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum will meet Monday night to figure out what direction to go with the situation.

The team is down to Dominique Jones and MarQueis Gray as the team's two healthy tight ends.

It's obviously possible the team can call on practice squad tight end Thomas Duarte or add a free agent off the street. The trade for Gronk or Jimmy Graham is probably off the table.

It is obviously possible either Sims or Cameron can recover in time for Sunday. But that is uncertain.

Gase also reported cornerback Chris Culliver and linebacker Zach Vigil -- on the physically unable to perform list -- will begin practice this week. This is indeed the first week players on PUP can return to practice, thus opening a three week window in which they can prove their health to their teams.

Dion Jordan is also on PUP but Gase said he's not ready to practice.

Gase said Vigil and Culliver will be limited to individual drills at first.

Dolphins overcome on offense, overcome with Maxwell, Ajayi, Vance Joseph, Wake

It was an outstanding win Sunday. Truly impressive. Truly inspiring. I thank the Miami Dolphins for giving me the opportunity to write a winning team column that didn't rip the team at least once this year. Last time the Dolphins won, you'll recall, against Cleveland, I ripped the team.

Not this time. This was fun.

But there were moments that made one feel the Dolphins were just being the Dolphins. And I want to go over some of those here even as we recognize that, unlike previous games, the team overcame those flubs and mistakes.

We start with the dropped TD pass by DeVante Parker. I was told last week by a Dolphins source that one of the team's issues was the inability to overcome bad moments. Typically, the team would have a penalty or assignment bust or dropped pass or dropped interception or something would go wrong.

And there would be no recovery. And that's what that Parker drop was. It erased a Ryan Tannehill TD pass in the first quarter and the Dolphins had to settle for a field goal. That's four points left on the field, thanks to Parker -- who by the way, also seemed to have an inconsistent day running routes. There were a couple of routes where he simply didn't seem to be maxing out on the effort scale.

Then in the second quarter, the Dolphins got a TD pass from Tannehill to tight end Dominique Jones. TEs catch TD passes in the red zone. Never forget that. But this TD was wiped out when Ja'Wuan James was flagged for lining up illegally.

Now, I am told the Dolphins examined the still photos of the formation and James was not lined up illegally. The receivers were lined up correctly. Their point to the officials was good. And this penalty should not have been called.

It was. And the TD was nullified. And the Dolphins had to settle for another FG.

And the whole time I'm thinking, same old Dolphins. Failing to maximize. Failing to overcome adversity within a game.

But guess what?

On this afternoon, those setbacks were merely a setup for success later in the game. The offense overcame.

Jarvis Landry, who played poorly last week against Tennessee, played well against the Steelers. He brought the production of seven catches for 91 yards and also brought attitude. Fine day.

So he overcame a bad day last week.

Jay Ajayi, left behind in South Florida for the season-opener in Seattle, had five really bad days in September that led to missing that trip and heading to the doghouse instead. He worked himself back. Earned his way back. And is now he is the team's obvious bellcow back.

He got 25 carries for 204 yards. And I'm really impressed by the 204 yards because it is the fourth-most by a Dolphins back ever behind a couple of Ricky Williams 2002 performances and a Lamar Smith playoff game performance. But the 25 carries is notable because the team recognized a hot back and stayed with him.

Shuttle system? Yeah, Damien Williams played and carried six times. Yeah, Arian Foster played and got three carries. But not so much.

The Miami Dolphins have found their new starting running back and it's not the guy who's been to Pro Bowls before. Coaches have handed the reins to the running game to Jay Ajayi.

And Ajayi delivered Sunday.

"I just use everything that's gone on, just from the talk of us not being a good group that can help this team win, talk of there might not be qualified backs in our room, just that Week One issue, just everything has all been motivation not just for myself but our whole room," Ajayi said.

So Ajayi overcame adversity of sorts.

The Dolphins coaching staff? I'd say they overcame some adversity.

Look, seven days ago the Dolphins were feeling the burn of a loss to Tennessee that made the season feel lost. And everybody was looking at everybody sideways. And this coaching staff did stunning things.

They cut two offensive linemen who started that Titans game. One of those cuts should have been made after last season. Dallas Thomas has no place in the NFL. But Billy Turner? He started out of position. He was a high enough draft pick. He had position flexibility.

And yet this staff saw Turner basically shut down the final series or two against the Titans, giving up a couple of sacks on Ryan Tannehill, And coaches decided that's not the type of player that belongs on the Miami Dolphins longterm.

That's not all. This staff saw lazy play from Mario Williams and Byron Maxwell and called them out on it.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who criticized Mario Williams for needing to "play harder," last week, didn't stop there. Williams was benched on Sunday.

He played only 13 snaps -- or 24 percent of the plays.

Cameron Wake got the start and the bulk of snaps at left end. He played a season-high 45 snaps, which is 75 percent of the plays.

And the move worked. Wake had 1/2 a sack and was active all day. I saw him chasing one pass completion play 11 yards downfield.

Williams? Look, he's a big name. But something is simply not showing up there and I don't know if it's 100 percent lack of effort -- some of it has been lack of effort -- or he's simply lost some of his game due to age or whatever.

Williams finished with one tackle. I saw him miss two tackles -- one at the line of scrimmage, one behind the line of scrimmage.

Afterward, Wake was asked if he was happy to be back to his "regular role."

“Regular is a relative term, I guess," he said. "I’m ready for whatever situation calls for my services. If it’s the way it was before, if it’s the way it was today. I know that the situation of the game or the plan for the week can change. That’s just the nature of this game. When my number is called, I’m going to go in there and do everything I can to help the team. I’ve been comfortable with that since the day I stepped on the field."

Wake is a good soldier. He'll never be a rock-the-boat guy. So if coaches tell him it's a great idea to use him exclusively as a pass-rusher to save him for later in the season or later in his career, he'll nod his head in agreement. If the coaches tell him they need him to play 75 percent of the plays because he's the best they got, he'll nod his head in agreement and go with that.

I'm glad to see the coaching staff realized saving Cam Wake for the future is good in theory but flawed in practice. The NFL is a right now league. Worry about December in December. Worry about 2017 in 2017. There are games to be played now.

In making the change Vance Joseph stepped up. He did what great coaches do when stuff ain't working. He adjusted. He didn't stop looking for a solution. He found the answer for at least this one game.

Joseph also found a way to pull Maxwell out of his doldrums. Think of this: Last week, Maxwell seemed to be disinterested. He hasn't shown himself a willing tackler since the Seattle game.

But on Sunday, something happened, and that was Maxwell jawing with Antonio Brown. Maxwell was all over one of the NFL's best receivers and actually seemed to get in his head. Afterward, Brown, usually jovial and accommodating, was all surly and unhappy.

Brown was asked if he had room to operate (he didn't).

“I don’t know man, you’ve got to ask the guys … ask someone else," he said. "I thought I had some room but I guess not. We lost the game."

But, but, Antonio ... Were you surprised more deep balls weren't called for you?

“I don’t call the plays," he said. "I just run the plays. I didn’t get it done today, no excuses."

Maxwell? Last week he declined to speak with multiple reporters after the game even as he sat at his locker by himself. Saying ... nothing.

Sunday? Happy Maxwell.

“It felt great to get this win," he said. "We needed it, boost the morale of the team but it feels good though."

Joseph got something out of Maxwell this week. He overcome the narrative that his players are underperforming and actually benched one that was. Maxwell responded after being something of a zombie the past few weeks. He overcame the idea that he's not interested in playing.

That was the Miami Dolphins Sunday. They overcame in so many areas.

Here is the complete playtime document from the NFL:



October 16, 2016

Dolphins surprise the Steelers (and you), romp 30-15

This is how it was supposed to be.

The Dolphins unloaded a month's worthy of frustration and not-good-enough on the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday after by beating the favored black and gold guys 29-14 in a game that suggests things for the home team.

This result suggests things because this marked perhaps the first game this year the Dolphins played to their expectations. They did what they thought they'd be doing all this time.

So can this continue?

The offense held the football and basically dominated at the line of scrimmage. Jay Ajay picked up the first 100-yard game of his career. And then he picked up the first 200-yard game of his career. He gained 204 yards on 24 carries, marking the first 200-yard game for the Dolphins since Reggie Bush did it in December 2011.

That running game, combined with timely passing from quarterback Ryan Tannehill made the Dolphins balanced and hard to stop. Tannehill got time to pass and completed 24 of 32 passes for 254 yards without a TD or interception. 

The Dolphins outgained Pittsburgh on the ground and through the air.

It should not surprise anyone this happened on a day the five starters the Dolphins hoped would man their offensive line when the season began started their first game together in 2016. Tannehill, sacked six times last week, was not sacked by the Steelers.

The Dolphins held a time of possession advantage of nearly 2-1 and that helped to protect a defense that had seemed weak in previous games and held up well against a quality passing game. The Steelers couldn't run and but also showed a surprising inability to pass.

Indeed, Before they began their final drive of the game with three minutes to play, the Steelers had all of 63 passing yards. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger was limping part of the game. He left the game for a time in the second quarter with what was reported to be a knee injury. He did return in the second half to no great improvement.

Antonio Brown, perhaps one of the NFL's best receivers, was a non-factor. Byron Maxwell covered him exceedingly well which was, got to say it, an huge surprise.

The Steelers had two turnovers on interceptions by Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus. The Dolphins didn't turn the football over.

Before this game began few of the nearly 45-50 percent of the people in the stands here would have predicted a Dolphins victory. That's probably because a good 45-50 percent of the people at Hard Rock Stadium were Steelers fans.

But the Dolphins re-wrote the script.

They authored this game in the manner they expected to author this entire season.