November 27, 2014

Salguero: Lots to be thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

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

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

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

Consider:

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

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

Be thankful Tannehill has thick skin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be thankful Jonathan Martin is a distant memory.

Be thankful Dan Marino is no longer just a memory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 26, 2014

Injuries lead to intrigue at cornerback

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

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

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

The most important of those is the Finnegan injury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 25, 2014

Salguero and PFF review of Miami Dolphins at Denver

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

The questions:

Why didn't defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle blitz more?

Why Daniel Thomas in the red zone?

Is there a competition at left guard?

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

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

The grading:

Offensive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Passing

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

Receiving

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

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

Defensive Summary

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

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

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

Coverage

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

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

Opponents’ Passing

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

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

Opponents’ Rushing

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

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

November 24, 2014

Coyle addresses Denver defensive disaster

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

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

Coaching?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphins defense flops, offense flies, moral victory?

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

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

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

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

But I'm talking about playoffs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the losing locker room?

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

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

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

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

So what is my small complaint on offense?

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

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

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

The Dolphins are 6-5.

November 23, 2014

Broncos blow up Dolphins defense

DENVER -- Close.

But still not good enough.

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

And then the roof caved in.

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

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

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

And I think this:

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

Not.

Great.

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

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

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

None of Miami's defensive stars made big plays.

Cameron Wake didn't do anything noteworthy.

Olivier Vernon didn't do anything noteworthy.

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

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

Brent Grimes gave up a TD.

It was just a tough day for the Miami D.

Jimmy Wilson was penalized three times.

Not good all around. 

Live blog: Miami Dolphins at Broncos

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

Dion Sims will start at TE.

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

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

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

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

Suprises at TE for Dolphins and Broncos today

DENVER -- Bad day for tight ends.

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

What does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 22, 2014

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the other keys to the game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2014

Injury report has bad news for the Miami Dolphins

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

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

The Clay injury status is jarring.

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

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

The rest of the bad news?

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

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

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

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

Dallas Thomas wants to 'improve on everything'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not great.

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

No. It shows the Dolphins are in desperate need.

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

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

November 20, 2014

Two beat up teams facing off on Sunday

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

Well, he missed another practice day on Thursday.

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

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

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

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

The Broncos?

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

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

Deeper look at Broncos reveals they have issues

If you missed the past couple of weeks of intense film study on the Denver Broncos, you probably believe the Miami Dolphins next opponent to be what they've been since Peyton Manning arrived in 2012: A Super Bowl contender headed to the playoffs.

That isn't necessarily what these Broncos are right now.

The team the Dolphins will play Sunday is actually in some trouble. 

Yes, the Broncos are 7-3 and lead the AFC West. But they've lost two of their past three games, including last week's upset at the hands of the St. Louis Rams. They've lost their toughness on offense. They're struggling with significant injuries. And, oh yes, the local newspaper ran a letter to the editor calling for the firing of coach John Fox.

"Comes with the territory," Fox lamented on Wednesday.

The issues start right at the top for Denver. Manning, a future Hall of Famer, is in something of a drought. He has thrown two interceptions in each of the past three games after starting the year with 22 TDs and only three interceptions the first seven games.

Manning had never thrown multiple interceptions in three consecutive games as a Bronco before now. And it is the first time he does so since 2010.

So, of course, that has led Manning to become somewhat introspective because he's looked at the mirror lately and believes the reflection needs improvement.

"I just made a couple of poor decisions and that resulted in some negative plays and put our team in some tough spots," Manning said of the latest loss. "[It] kept us from scoring opportunities, so I just have to be able to be more consistent in the decision making and then I think as an offense we just have to get back to finishing those drives.

"We moved the ball fairly well all season and for whatever reason recently we’ve gotten down to the 30-yard line or not even in the red zone last week and just stalled. We’re certainly starting off the drives well; we just have to finish them well and that’s kind of the offense goal for me. Just being more consistent, finishing the game with better decisions."

If Manning's decision making was the length and breadth of Denver's problems, that team would be dealing with a temporary issue. But the problem seems deeper than that.

The offensive line in front of Manning, for example, is a mess. Yes, the word "mess" is neither technical nor complimentary. But how else to put it when the Broncos brought in former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito -- who hasn't played in a year -- for a workout to see if he might be an upgrade.

And this unit is indeed needing improvement. That's the reason two weeks ago center Manny Ramirez was moved to right guard. Right guard Louis Vasquez was moved to right tackle. And reserve Will Montgomery was installed as the starting center.

This on a line that had already started the season with former starting right tackle Orlando Franklin at left guard.

The line the Dolphins will face is in transition. And the transition hasn't been kind. They gave up two sacks, four quarterback hits and six hurries of Manning against the Rams, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Denver's offensive line, by the way, has accounted for 29 of the team's league-high 87 penalties. The 29 penalties break down to 15 false start penalties and 14 holding penalties.

"It's worse than bad — it's horrendous," Mark Schlereth, the ESPN analyst and ex-Broncos Pro Bowl offensive lineman told the Denver Post. "I watch every game of every team every week. It's bad technique-wise, athleticism-wise, toughness-wise. If I was grading, giving an F would be kind.

"I went back and looked at the last three games — they don't block anybody," Schlereth continued. "I mean, if it's not penetration, they're horrible from an athletic standpoint at getting to the second level. So they lose the line of scrimmage, getting shoved in the backfield, and then at the second level, half the time three guys are shoved back a yard or two and two guys have to completely spin around because they've missed their guys and they're watching the action, lantern-holding, like: 'Be careful in there, it's really nasty!"

There are other worries. The Broncos may not be at full strength on Sunday.

Receiver Emmanuel Sanders suffered a concussion against the Rams and had not been cleared to practice. He told reporters he considered himself "questionable" for Sunday. Tight end Julius Thomas, who has 12 TD receptions, also did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of an ankle injury. He said earlier he's "day to day."

So the Denver passing game might have fewer options. And, oh, did I mention their running game is not very good?

The Broncos are 27th in the NFL in rushing. Three times this season and twice in the past three weeks the Broncos have not been able to run for even 50 yards in a game. Last week, offensive coordinator Adam Gase seemed to have so little confidence in the run game he simply stopped calling those plays. The Broncos ran only 10 times against St. Louis.

"In my opinion, we lost that game because I didn’t play well enough in the passing game," Manning said. "Did we throw it a lot? Yes we did. There were plays to be made and I didn’t make them. No matter how many times you run it or throw it you have to produce when you do it and so that is what I’m disappointed about that I didn’t execute the plays that were called the way they were supposed to. So if you’re looking for productivity, you are looking to have the threat on any given down to do different things but certainly looking to produce."

November 19, 2014

Ryan Tannehill: No problems with Bill Lazor

Maybe Bill Lazor's approach is getting on some nerves around the Miami Dolphins training facility just as it got on Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles at times last year. But Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill says his relationship with the coach is good. 

“It’s good," Tannehill said Wednesday. "I think he does a good job of creating a game plan for us, putting us in positions to make plays during the game with his play calling. I think our relationship has definitely grown as the season has gone on.

"I’ve gotten to know him more and his personality more and we’ve gotten more on the same page on not only football stuff, but just joking around with each other as well.”

Lazor is apparently a hard-charger behind the scenes and we've known that for a while because last year while he was the quarterback coach for the Philadelphia Eagles he and Foles "occasionally butted heads over the coach's intensity," according to this Philadelphia Inquirer report.

Last week, more questions about Lazor's approach came to light in an NFL.com report that characterized the Miami offensive coordinator's relationship with players as "rocky." The report refered to Lazor's "abrasive tenor."

Lazor has since danced around the issue of his relationship with players. So has coach Joe Philbin, who said he's asked coaches to be "demanding but not demeaning."

This, by the way, should be kind of a big deal for the Dolphins organizationally because last year's harassment scandal painted some coaches in a very poor light relative to their relationship with some players. It cost some people their jobs.

On the other hand, players (adult men) should be mature enough to overcome somebody being a meanie pie to them.

But whatever Lazor's relationship with other players, he has apparently found an ally in Tannehill -- at least for now -- because Miami's quarterback has very thick skin.

I asked Tannehill today if he has gotten his feelings hurt by any of Lazor's criticisms or critiques.

“No, that’s his job to push us and to make us better players," Tannehill said. "If he’s letting things slide under the table, then he’s not doing his job to make us the best that we can be. So I think he does a good job of constantly pushing us."

I know some of you will believe Tannehill has to defend Lazor, even cover for him, because that is his coach. Well, I remind you that's not how Tannehill has shown himself to be. When the quarterback was peeved Joe Philbin "caused a distraction" by not telling everyone who the starting quarterback against Oakland would be, Tannehill had no trouble saying so.

And Philbin is higher up the organizational totem pole than Lazor.

So if Tannehill didn't mind putting Philbin on blast (Look, I'm hip), I have to believe he would do the same if Lazor was getting under his skin.

Injury report good news for the Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins left guard Daryn Colledge is on course to return to the lineup Sunday against the Denver Broncos after missing three games with a back issue, a source has told The Miami Herald.

Colledge has practiced each of the past two days at least on a limited basis. Colledge had not practiced since Nov. 6 when he took the field and worked on a limited basis.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said today no final decision on Colledge has been made but he is usually coy about such matters, anyway. It is hard to fathom the Dolphins sticking with Shelley Smith ahead of Colledge if the starter is ready.

Colledge returning to his usual spot at left guard may provide some experience on that side of the offensive line -- something needed because rookie Ja'Wuan James has taken over at left tackle for the injured Branden Albert.

This would mark the first game Colledge and James play together on the left side.

Linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) missed practice for the second consecutive day and he is not expected to play on Sunday, per a source.

[Update: The Dolphins released their injury report Wednesday afternoon and listed Freeny as being out. So, confirmed.]

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle) also did not practice on Wednesday. His chances of playing Sunday do not seem good but no final determination about that is known here.

For the Broncos, Julius Thomas, nursing an ankle injury, stretched with the team today, according to Jeff Legwold of ESPN, but did not practice Wednesday. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has not been cleared under the concussion protocol, did not practice and running back Montee Ball (groin) also did practice.

HOF continues to expose Dolphins history flaw

 

The Miami Dolphins once were a Hall of Famer's franchise.

Shula.

Langer.

Little.

Csonka.

Stephenson.

Later on Marino.

That sampling of greatness did great things in Miami for the Dolphins.

But starting in the mid 1990s the Dolphins became sort of a franchise that instead of giving birth to Hall of Fame types, added those types in the late stages of their careers. And those HOF types, great credential though they had elsewhere, did not necessarily perform up to Hall of Fame standards in Miami.

Thurman Thomas comes to mind.

Bill Parcells, too.

Well, the Hall of Fame, for which I am among the approximately 50 voters nationwide, on Tuesday night whittled its list of candidates for the 2015 class down to 26 men. And while Zach Thomas, homegrown as a Dolphin, was among those up for consideration and got my vote, he did not make the cut.

Two men who had stints in Miami and, again, did not perform up to Hall of Fame standards here after doing outstanding work elsewhere, did make it to the next round.

Coach Jimmy Johnson made the cut.

Linebacker Junior Seau made the cut.

Johnson, you may recall, was great when he went to the Dallas Cowboys. He rebuilt that organization into a dynasty that won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993 under him and again in 1995 under Barry Switzer. Johnson wasn't there for the third Super Bowl win because he separated from owner Jerry Jones after a fallout, took some time away, and returned to the NFL with the Dolphins in 1996. He had a 36-28 (.562) record in Miami until he quit after the 1999 season.

Johnson added some great talent to the Dolphins: Jason Taylor, Thomas, Sam Madison, Pat Surtain. But he also had some notable misses in his drafts. He never wanted Randy Moss. He selected Yatil Green and John Avery as notable busts. Johnson never won the AFC East but went to the playoffs in 1997, '98 and '99.

Seau was doubtless one of the all-time great linebackers in NFL history. He was often the standard by which other LBs were judged when he was with the San Diego Chargers from 1990-2002. He arrived in Miami in 2003 via trade and, well, never really reached any significant heights. He finished two of his three seasons with the Dolphins on injured reserve.

Yet, Johnson and Seau will go forward in the Hall of Fame process primarily because of accomplishments in places other than Miami.

Zach Thomas, homegrown and outstanding during his time with the Dolphins, may get another chance next year.

The Hall picked 26 seminfinalists and announced them Tuesday night. That list will be pared to 15 in January and from that the next HOF class will be chosen. The list of semifinalists announced Tuesday night:

Morten Andersen, K – 1982-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-2000, 2006-07 Atlanta Falcons, 2001 New York Giants, 2002-03 Kansas City Chiefs, 2004 Minnesota Vikings.

Steve Atwater, S – 1989-1998 Denver Broncos, 1999 New York Jets.

Jerome Bettis, RB – 1993-95 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1996-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tim Brown, WR/KR – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Isaac Bruce, WR – 1994-2007 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 2008-09 San Francisco 49ers.

Don Coryell, Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers.

Roger Craig, RB – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings.

Terrell Davis, RB – 1995-2001 Denver Broncos.

Tony Dungy, Coach – 1996-2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002-08 Indianapolis Colts.

Kevin Greene, LB/DE – 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers.

Charles Haley, DE/LB – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys.

Marvin Harrison, WR – 1996-2008 Indianapolis Colts.

Torry Holt, WR – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars.

Joe Jacoby, T – 1981-1993 Washington Redskins.

Edgerrin James, RB – 1999-2005 Indianapolis Colts, 2006-08 Arizona Cardinals, 2009 Seattle Seahawks.

Jimmy Johnson, Coach – 1989-1993 Dallas Cowboys, 1996-99 Miami Dolphins.

Mike Kenn, T – 1978-1994 Atlanta Falcons.

Ty Law, CB – 1995-2004 New England Patriots, 2005, 2008 New York Jets, 2006-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2009 Denver Broncos.

John Lynch, FS – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos.

Kevin Mawae, C/G – 1994-97 Seattle Seahawks, 1998-2005 New York Jets, 2006-09 Tennessee Titans.

Karl Mecklenburg, LB – 1983-1994 Denver Broncos.

Orlando Pace, T – 1997-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Chicago Bears.

Junior Seau, LB – 1990-2002 San Diego Chargers, 2003-05 Miami Dolphins, 2006-09 New England Patriots.

Will Shields, G – 1993-2006 Kansas City Chiefs.

Kurt Warner, QB – 1998-2003 St. Louis Rams, 2004 New York Giants, 2005-09 Arizona Cardinals.

Darren Woodson, S – 1992-2003 Dallas Cowboys

The Contributor Finalists are former longtime general managers and team executives Bill Polian and Ron Wolf. Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff (1962-1978) is the 2015 Seniors Finalist.  Polian, Wolf, and Tingelhoff will be voted on separately and, like all other finalists, must receive 80% positive vote from the full selection committee during the annual selection meeting on January 31, 2015.

November 18, 2014

Some Dolphins not keen about adding either Tate or Blount

Dolphins fans greeted by headlines of running backs Ben Tate and LaGarrette Blount being released from their respective teams today asked the next logical question: Would they be a possibility in Miami?

Well, the Dolphins personnel department isn't in the habit of sharing such information while the process is underway. The question, however, is logical because obviously the Dolphins always want to upgrade and has looked to do that in the past month. General manager Dennis Hickey signed LaMichael James to the practice squad and has since been promoted the running back to the active roster. Hickey also reached out to Tampa Bay before the trade deadline to inquire about Doug Martin as an option in trade.

So Tate, cut by Cleveland because he was unhappy being part of running back rotation, and Blount, cut by Pittsburgh after he left the sideline before the Steelers' Monday Night game at Tennesee was over because he only carried once, may be on the radar.

But if you ask some players in the Miami locker room -- which I did today -- they'd like both players off the radar. Miami players, you see, seem quite happy with the chemistry they've got going now. And the idea of adding a Tate or especially Blount isn't something they're embracing.

"We have a good running game going so why would we be looking to break up what we have?" one player said.

The Dolphins do indeed have the NFL's sixth-best running game, which averages 127.3 yards per game. And the team averages 4.7 yards per rush, which is No. 4 in the NFL.

But anyone who's been watching understands part of that is a function of quarterback Ryan Tannehill this season adding running the football to his repetiore and also the fact Knowshon Moreno had the team's best rushing day of the season in the opener against New England. Moreno has been out for the season for a month.

There are, however, other considerations than simply adding talent.

"Blount is not a good guy to bring into this locker room," one player said. "He just showed how selfish he is and you're going to bring in a guy like that here? We don't need guys like that here. We've got a good locker room, a tight locker room. We don't need that."

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller echoed the ideas that Dolphins' running game is up to the challenge of playing well and has good chemistry when he was asked if the running game could help the Dolphins keep up with the Denver Broncos highly productive offense on Sunday.

“We are up for the challenge," Miller said. "I think we have a great group of guys in this locker room. We know what we have to do to keep this season alive and we just have to take it one game at a time."

(I did not ask Miller about either Blount or Tate).

One player said it might initially seem unfair to lump Tate in the same conversation with Blount but then pointed out that while Blount's problems in Pittsburgh seemed to suggest selfishness, a closer examination of Tate's situation in Cleveland might lead to the same conclusion.

"From what I've heard and read, [Tate] was unhappy because he wanted more carries and didn't like the way they're operating up there," the player said. "Here we got Lamar and he don't say a word whether he gets 12 carries or 22 carries. That's the kind of guy he is.

"That's the kind of guys we want on this team. I don't know if you throw in a guy who's out there because he was complaining about how many carries he was getting somewhere else. That don't make no sense to me." 

The Dolphins are not a republic. Neither Hickey nor anyone else is likely to take a vote before adding a player and least of all take votes from players in the locker room. But the feeling in the locker room matters. It's core of team chemistry -- as we saw last year.

So in this case, if team chemistry is considered, maybe adding Tate or Blount might not be such a great idea right now.

Dolphins working...well, most of them

The Dolphins are working today. Well, most of them.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who missed last week with an ankle injury, is not practicing today. Linebacker Koa Misi, who has been dealing with an ankle injury throughout the season, is not practicing today. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, also is not practicing today.

On the bright side for the Dolphins?

Right guard Daryn Colledge is practicing today at least on a limited basis. The Dolphins are optimistic that Colledge will be available for the Denver game on Sunday, assuming he suffers no setback in the next two days of practice.

Colledge has missed three games. If he can go, Shelley Smith will move to a reserve role at guard.

The Cleveland Browns today waived running back Ben Tate.

It doesn't make sense for the Dolphins to claim him. But consider him if/when he clears waivers?

That makes sense, in my opinion. Tate is familiar running behind the kind zone blocking scheme the Dolphins are using. It doesn't have to be a marriage but rather five dates (games).

And if the Dolphins fancy themselves playoff contenders, upgrading a position where Daniel Thomas is one of the team's top backups seems logical.

November 17, 2014

Bill Lazor speaks to the media

There have been issues with the Miami Dolphins offense this year and last week we discovered, mostly in an NFL.com story, that there are some issues between some players and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

Now, aside from the fact the Miami offense is scoring more this year than last, there apparently are issues about Lazor's approach with some players, QB Ryan Tannehill's ability to audible, which was addressed in this space last week, and ultimately, whether the Dolphins can continue to succeed and get better.

Lazor was asked about some of those issues on Monday. He answered some questions, dodged others and, well, you be the judge on what he said.

Here is all he said:

(On NFL.com’s story that came out last week saying some players said he was too harsh on them during film) “I saw the headlines, but fought the temptation to read the stories. Actually, the week before, I was approached by someone in the organization after San Diego about some great articles about our offense, did I want them? I said absolutely not, do not. One was sent to me, I scanned it looking for what I was supposed to be seeing and then I said please tell them don’t send me any. Because the same ones that sound good at one point, they just kind of take your focus off what you’re supposed to be doing, to do the job the right way. Then, wouldn’t you know, it would be one week later where people were asking me about the negative articles. Same story, same answer. It’s not always easy, but that’s the best way. In this job, you have to stay focused on what you’re doing. I saw headlines, but read no articles.”

(On if he is a believer that QB Ryan Tannehill should study other quarterbacks like Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning) “The answer is yes he absolutely can learn from other quarterbacks. He’ll spend time in our meetings, Zac (Taylor) will show him examples, sometimes it’s easier to show a quarterback a bad example of someone else. Sometimes, as a player, it seems like all day long, you’re getting corrected, you see some good things, but you get corrected, you’re making mistakes, what do I have to fix? Sometimes it’s a little bit easier to take a coaching point when you see someone else screwing it up. So sometimes we give them bad examples. Sometimes we give them good examples, we might cut out explosive plays or touchdown passes or different situations that other quarterbacks do and try to find a little time to show them that. I’ve learned personally, sometimes I’ve learned just standing on the sideline. Usually once the game gets going, I have a hard time, but maybe if they get the ball first, that first drive I can watch it and just watch how guys carry themselves, how they operate, their mannerisms, the inflection of their voice at the line of scrimmage. I think quarterbacks can pick up on all of those things. I think over time the NFL quarterbacks who are around and are open to learning from each other and from seeing other guys, they can pick up things that end up getting incorporated in their game.”

(On if there has been any discontent between him and players) “I think it’s about what a normal NFL offensive team would be. So I’ve had players tell me how much they appreciate the standard of expectations we have and I’ve had some players in a very professional way over time come up and maybe say, ‘Hey, I think this other approach might help us at times.’ Really, to me, the reason I enjoy coaching this level is because I like working in partnership with the players. I’ve coached in college a number of different times, a number of different NFL teams and the thing that I really enjoy is when you come into work with a bunch of professionals and you’re in it together. When guys have ideas, when guys have studied the film themselves and because they’re professionals, because they’ve been around, they can come up with thoughts and suggestions. As a coach, you’ve got to use what you have and, if you have knowledgeable players that can come with ideas that you think can help, then certainly as an NFL coach, you learn over time to use those things. It’s about like all of the NFL teams I’ve been on.”

(On if it bothers him when information gets outside the locker room) “I probably just don’t put a lot of credence on anonymous reports. Like I said, I enjoy the professionals, the guys we work with. I enjoy coming to work every day because of the people I work with. You’ve been at practice, nothing is different. You’ve been at training camp where you could be at the whole practices. I would like to think that, if the players were asked, that they would say I’ve been professional. I’d say there would probably be very, very few times that a curse word has come out of my mouth, but that I’m demanding from them. The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one-on-one settings is when they’ve told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense.”

(On QB Ryan Tannehill having an either or option on some plays, but if it is true that he can’t audible to a completely new play) “Clearly, I won’t give away information that I think would be useable by someone else, but I will say this, one of the things that I think is special about Ryan, I think we’ve mentioned it in here before, is how he sees the field and can react to things that happen, because he does that so well, probably as much as any place that I’ve been or at least equal to the places I’ve been. Ryan has more options than a lot of quarterbacks that we’ve coached. Now, we do certain things differently. Some of them are what you would call verbal audibles, some of them are right at the snap, some of them are built in options. It’s how we choose to play football. Ryan has the ability to handle those things and in my opinion does them very well. I think that’s one of his strengths. He uses all of the different options, whether they be audibles or built in options to get the ball distributed around the field. That’s probably when we’ve played our best offensively, is when he’s used all of those things.”

(On how he would asses T Dallas Thomas’ play on Thursday night against Buffalo Bills DE Mario Williams and now having to go against Denver Broncos LB Von Miller) “The first thing I would tell Dallas is to have some confidence because there are a whole bunch of great clips on video. He was not perfect and we know that Mario came out with some production, but I think Dallas should have some confidence. When I watch the tape, I see him, especially in the run game, blocking more confidently all of the time. I know we’ve talked about Dallas a lot in here and I’ve stuck with my story, he’s an improving young player and I take the Buffalo game as an example of that. I’m proud of him and I know he’ll get better. Some of the times I think when maybe he wasn’t at his best, maybe confidence would help him, because I think he has the ability to do it. I think we’re in for, as a unit, a heck of a challenge with these pass rushers. I’ve had the chance to coach against them all before and there is no easy answer.”

(On if QB Ryan Tannehill is more than a game manager, if he wants Ryan Tannehill to be just a game manager and if game manager is a bad term)  – “I don’t know what that term means, but to me, Ryan is a player. You hear that term a lot and it’s almost always used in a negative context it seems. What we want Ryan to be is a winner and one of the things I love about Ryan is he is willing to do it however he has to do it. Hopefully, if you watch the games, you can tell he enjoys running. I probably want him to run less than he wants to run because I want to keep him healthy, but he’ll do it any way he has to do it. He’s willing to throw it deep, throw it short. I thought one of the things Ryan did great against Buffalo, we talked about it going into the game, was complete a whole bunch of passes at the beginning of the game. We know what kind of defensive front they have. We know they have a chance to sting you a bit early, get off on the count early, disrupt things and get you out of rhythm. So we felt like one of the important things for Ryan would be just throw completions. He threw those first eight completions. To me that took a little bit of an edge off of what was going to happen with their front, who we think is a fantastic front. To me, when you are talking about what kind of quarterback is Ryan, I thought that was one of the absolute keys to us being able to have success on offense in the game was the way he started the game. It was exactly the plan. He took it. He did it. If anything, one of the things we were probably disappointed about was we tried not to put it in a negative context, but let’s not have any negative plays in the first drive. We did have a sack, but we overcame it. What was it, third-and-24? It was third-and-too much, but we got it. He did a great job executing a hot when they had an unblocked blitzer come, so I thought it was great by how we started the game. To me, he was offensive. He wasn’t just handling things. He was carrying out the game plan. He got us started the way we wanted. Even though we didn’t score a lot of points in the first half of the game, I think we had great confidence as an offense that we were going to move the ball.”

(On if T Dallas Thomas did enough in the Buffalo game to show that he should keep his spot starting at right tackle)  – “Coach I’m sure will release a two-deep whenever the appropriate time is. I don’t remember when that is. To me, he took a step forward. I think that’s a fair way to assess it – that he proved he could be there. He proved that he’s got to do it the right way or else he’ll be taking advantage of by excellent players, and we’re about to face more. I think he’s on track, I do.”

(On when Broncos QB Peyton Manning is on the other side and if that plays a factor as he crafts the game plan)  – “When you face these kind of teams that can score a lot of points, I think history would tell you that you’ve got to put great emphasis on each possession. To me, the number one thing we have to do is score points because, when you fall behind, it’s no different than playing a triple-option team I think in college. When you play a good offense that possesses the ball and can score. If you get behind, you let them play the game exactly how they want to play it. So I think the first thing you have to do is score points. I would take a little less time of possession if it meant we were getting more explosive plays. I think we’ve said that before. We’re trying. I think between the explosive plays, getting more of them, both run and pass. And then number two would be obviously finishing off our drives with touchdowns. Why have we had so many red zone drives? Probably because we haven’t had explosive plays that have scored from outside of the red zone. It’s easy math. The thing that’s not easy is getting it fixed. We’re working on it.”

(On the offense having improved and if there’s one thing that he would like the offense to get more out of) – “It’s the two things I mentioned – explosive plays, especially in the pass game, and red zone touchdowns. To me, that’s very clear. I don’t think that’s anything that is a surprise to anybody.”

November 16, 2014

Miami Dolphins find themselves inside playoff picture

The Miami Dolphins are currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture, meaning if the regular-season ended right now the Dolphins would be in the playoffs.

Yes, I know ... the season doesn't end right now.

But we've reached that time of season where results have conference-wide consequences. And right now the Dolphins are taking advantage of the fact the Cleveland Browns lost today, and the Cincinnati Bengals won.

So for the time being the Dolphins win a tiebreaker over Baltimore based on best win percentage in conference games. The Dolphins advanced to that state because a Division tiebreaker to eliminate Cleveland and Pittsburgh goes to Baltimore for head-to-head win percentage.

Again, I know ... This changes week to week. But you are updated now.

The New England Patriots won this evening, improving their record to 8-2 and increasing their lead in the AFC East over Miami.

But you also should know the Denver Broncos lost to the St. Louis Rams, 22-7 on Sunday. It was a shocker in that the Broncos had been second the NFL in points per game with 31.8 and had scored at least 20 points in 29 consecutive games. The Broncos were limited to the fewest points since Peyton Manning arrived in 2012.

The Dolphins travel to Denver next week.

The Broncos will be upset and motivated, of course. They are locked in a race for the AFC West title with Kansas City.

But the Broncos also are beat up, following today's game. Today the Broncos had tight end Julius Thomas go out of the game with an ankle injury. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders went out with a concussion. And running back Montee Ball went out with a groin injury. None of the three returned to the game after their injuries.

All three are big losses. Thomas leads the NFL with 12 TD receptions. Sanders is perhaps the favorite target for Manning. And Ball, out previously with a groin, had been the hope for reviving a dormant running game.