September 28, 2014

Miami Dolphins rout the Raiders, 38-14

LONDON -- The Dolphins needed this. Ryan Tannehill needed this. Joe Philbin needed this. You needed this.

The Dolphins dismantled the Raiders here on Sunday evening (London is five hours ahead of the East Coast), with the 38-14 score not a proper reflection of how much of a blowout this was..  And that manner in which it happened will give Miami's embattled quarterback and the coach who bumbled the quarterback issue last week a reprieve.

Tannehill completed  23 of 31 passes for 278 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Tannehill had a season-best 109.3 quarterback rating. Of course, many of you don't accept QB rating as a quarterback status, but I do.

The outing by Tannehill was a tremendous response to a week in which his head coach refused to name him the starter for the game. It also ended a three-game stretch during which he struggled.

Ironically, a game that I speculated Tannehill might not finish for performance reasons, Tannehill was so good he did not need to finish the game. Matt Moore closed things out for the Dolphins.

The defense also had a major response on Sunday. Last week, The Herald reported several players complained about coordinator Kevin Coyle's game planning. Coyle apparently got angry at such public airing of laundry and told the players as much.

There will be none of that this week with Brent Grimes, Walt Aikens and Jimmy Wilson coming up with interceptions and Cortland Finnegan returning a fumble for a touchdown.

The Dolphins had entered the game without an interception.

As for coach Joe Philbin ... he's off the hotseat for the time being.

There is no doubt that if his team had lost to a winless team for a second consecutive week, the natives would have been very restless this week during the bye. Philbin's (mis)handling of the Tannehill question last week obviously wouldn't have helped matters.

But that has faded now.

A win cures many issues and ills, folks.

Always has. Always will.

The only issue coming out of this game?

Branden Albert left with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. Samson Satele left with a leg injury. Jimmy Wilson left with a hip injury.

Live blog: Dolphins at Oakland (in London)

LONDON -- It is sold out today at Wembley and there are a lot of black Raiders jerseys in the crowd.

And having said that, the Dolphins should be glad this game is at a "neutral" site because this team seems too fragile now to play in the Black Hole. So there's that.

The good news for the Dolphins is Jelani Jenkins and Charles Clay who were listed as questionable are active today and starting.

The inactives are RB Knowshon Moreno, RB Mike Pouncey, LB Koa Misi, LB Chris McCain, )G Shelley Smith, OG Billy Turner and DT Randy Starks.

There is a live blog today. Join the community:

 

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders: Sept. 28, 2014
 

Winning can cure anything including coach-QB rift

LONDON -- So what is at stake today?

For the Dolphins it is obvious this game against the winless Raiders is important because they simply need a win after two disappointing losses in a row. The team needs good news and winning is the only good news that changes things.

But more fundamentally, the Dolphins need a win today so that, to an important degree, the crack we saw last week in the relationship between quarterback Ryan Tannehill and coach Joe Philbin can heal a bit. It is, by the way, not healed, as I report in my column today.

Both men are intent on putting on a good face going forward but I'm told there are hurt feelings and disappointment on both sides. Read the column for a more expansive explanation of the issue.

The point?

The quarterback and the coach are tied at the hip. They have to be united to be successful.

And Philbin and Tannehill have generally been that the past 35 games Tannehill has started. But there's a crack there now. It is not a catastrophic one but it's there. No amount of public relations smoothing or private mea culpas is going to change that.

The only thing that makes it less important?

Winning.

The Dolphins badly need a win today. Ryan Tannehill badly needs to play well in a win today. Joe Philbin needs a win today.

A loss?

Tannehill delivers a stinker?

This could get ugly, folks, if that happens.

September 27, 2014

Keys to the game: Dolphins vs. Raiders (from London)

LONDON -- I'm picking the Dolphins to beat the Raiders on Sunday. As it should be. The Dolphins can run the football and the Raiders cannot stop the run. The Dolphins' defensive front can dominate and the Raiders have a rookie quarterback.

This should be a Miami victory.

But I have some concerns.

The Raiders have some veteran pass-rushers. The Miami secondary has not been as aggressive as I would expect, which may be one reason for zero interceptions so far. The Dolphins are without multiple starters again, including Mike Pouncey and Randy Starks, and Koa Misi, and Shelley Smith. And, yes, I picked the Dolphins. And I'm 0-3 so far this year.

Anyway, here are the keys to the game:

When the Raiders pass the football: Matt Schaub was supposed to be the guy. But a funny thing happened to Schaub on his way to becoming the Raiders starting quarterback. He was terrible in the preseason and rookie Derek Carr beat him out. Schaub is out for this game. Carr has been unspectacular but considering he’s a rookie on a bad team, that’s not terrible. He is aiming to complete 60 percent or more of his passes in his fourth straight game. The Raiders haven’t had an explosive pass offense with speedster James Jones averaging only 12.6 yards per catch. He averaged 13.8 yards per catch with Green Bay last year. The Raiders throw a lot to their running backs. So watch Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, assuming he plays. The Dolphins have avoided most pass defense issues the first three games. But last week Alex Smith lit them up with three touchdown passes. Meanwhile the Miami defense is without an interception this year. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Raiders run the football: The Raiders have been atrocious running the football, which makes for an interesting matchup because the Dolphins have been terrible stopping the run. The Raiders are 31st in the NFL running the ball but there’s optimism in their camp that can improve with the return of Jones-Drew after he missed the past two games. Darren McFadden, once a first-round draft pick, once a speedy home run threat, has had multiple injuries catch up with him. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per rush. The Dolphins dropped from 13th in the NFL against the run last week to 20th this week after Knile Davis basically ran over them. The team is hoping for better linebacker play this week because it has been sub par on multiple levels for a couple of weeks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill starts as he has the previous 35 games since 2012 but there’s no guarantee he’ll finish because his poor play the past three weeks has put him in the crosshairs of coaches who want better QB play. The coaches also need better work from a wide receiver corps that is the highest paid group in the NFL. That group, along with Miami running backs and tight ends, leads the NFL in dropped passes. The Raiders are the NFL’s fourth-stingiest pass defense so far, allowing an average of 183.3 yards per game. Part of the reason is Oakland has invested heavily in veteran defensive linemen and pass rushers such as Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. They also added Khalil Mack in the draft and he is playing as advertised. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Lamar Miller had the best day of his career last week when he rushed for 108 yards on 15 carries. The 108 yards was good. The number of carries is the issue. The Dolphins seemed to abandon the run even in a game they trailed by only six points in the fourth quarter. They beat the Patriots in the opener by rushing more than they passed but have lost the past two weeks throwing more than they run. And they’ve done this despite the fact the offensive line is better suited to running the ball. The Raiders have been solid defending the pass but they are 31st in the NFL against the run. They often over-pursue and their tackling has been at times suspect. So will the Dolphins get a clue and run? ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: If the game comes down to a battle of field goal kickers, the Raiders win. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the all-time greats at his position and last week connected on all three attempts, from 49, 47 and 37. Caleb Sturgis made two of three last week. The Dolphins need to correct their punt returner in that Jarvis Landry has to stop catching punts inside his own 5 yard line. Kickoff returns have been good for both Landry and the Dolphins so far. The Dolphins found themselves in a field position game last week and won that part of battle even as they lost the game. They should have the advantage again there with Brandon Fields. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Dennis Allen has to figure out a way to get his team to play better when traveling east of the Central Time zone. The Raiders are 0-10 in that regard and tried to address the issue by leaving directly for the United Kingdom after playing at New England. Allen is on the hotseat. If he wins, his record will improve to 9-27. Last week was not great for Miami coaches. Bill Lazor called a poor game against Kansas City, anonymous players complained about Kevin Coyle’s game plan, and national pundits ripped Joe Philbin for his public handling of Ryan Tannehill. And having said that…8-27 glows in neon. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

September 26, 2014

Key injuries slowing Dolphins for Raiders game

LONDON -- Miami Dolphins players are not getting healthy as quickly as they had hoped.

The team today put out its final injury report for the week and declared defensive tackle Randy Starks, who has a back issue, running back Knowshon Moreno (elbow) and linebacker Chris McCain (non-football) as out for the game.

Losing Starks hurts the run defense. He had not practiced all week. McCain missing this game is curious beause it's not for football reasons. This deserves scrutiny. McCain had a great opener but has been silent ever since, missing practice due to illness reasons one week, then hardly playing as a result, getting more repetitions in practice last week and playing a limited role, and now this. Interestingly, McCain did not miss any practices this week until Friday, according to the Dolphins' injury report.

Neither Starks nor McCain traveled with the Dolphins to London.

[Update: McCain posted an Instagram message regarding the passing of his grandfather. Apparently that is the personal reason he is not in London with the team.]

Everyone, meanwhile, expected Moreno to be out.

The disappointment comes in that linebacker Koa Misi and center Mike Pouncey are listed as doubtful. Misi, who has missed two games with an ankle injury, is likely going to miss his third game on Sunday. There had been initial hopes he could play last week against Kansas City. Then there were hopes he could play against Oakland . He even practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday.

But instead of increasing his workload, Misi was forced to miss practice on Thursday and Friday, seriously suggesting the ankle did not respond well to Wednesday's activity and he simply is not ready to return.

Pouncey, meanwhile, targetted this Oakland game as his time to return from hip surgery, which he had in June. He'll miss the target. Samson Satele will start at center even if Pouncey is active at all, which now does not seem likely.

Pouncey's more likely return  to the lineup now seems to be after the bye week Oct. 12. against Green Bay.

Pouncey practiced on a limited basis this week as last week. He has yet to participate in a full practice.

For the Raiders, meanwhile, running back Maurice Jones-Drew practiced with no limitations on Friday is is listed as probable. He had missed the last two games with a hand injury.

September 25, 2014

Update on injuries; Philbin still doesn't get it; the stakes Sunday

The Miami Dolphins game against the Oakland Raiders is a milestone moment this weekend.

If the Dolphins win, all that seems wrong with this team will suddenly fade. They'll be 2-2 at the bye with the prospect of getting Koa Misi, Reshand Jones, Mike Pouncey and Knowshon Moreno back in the lineup for the next game after the bye.

Those four players likely will not start on Sunday, by the way, although it is uncertain if Misi and Pouncey will be active. The other two obviously will not be.

Misi had to do less today than yesterday, meaning he was limited in practice on Wednesday but was not able to practice Thursday. Bad sign.

Randy Starks has not practiced all week with a back issue.

CB Cortland Finnegan was added to the injury report today with a neck issue. He did not practice. The lone nuggett of good news is that TE Charles Clay went from not practicing Wednesday to taking limited reps in practice today. He is dealing with a knee issue.

Despite all this ...

If the Dolphins lose to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

All.

Heck.

Breaks.

Loose.

They'll be 1-3 coming out of what can arguably called the easy part of their schedule. They have a simmering QB question. They have a coach bumbling through the handle of his quarterback. And they will have lost to a winless team for the second consecutive week.

Not good, folks.

Yeah, this is a big game if not a must-win game for the Dolphins.

Speaking of the coach's handling of the QB situation, check out Barry Jackson's blog for details of how he dealt with the issue internally. As for how he's dealing externally, Joe Philbin still does not get it.

Jimmy Johnson knew that when he talked to the media he was talking to the press, the fans, and most importantly, his players.

I think Philbin still believes he's only talking to a handful of reporters.

Joe Philbin

(Opening statement) “Basically our game plan is in and I thought we had a very good practice today. I thought it was the best Thursday practice that we’ve had so far of the four that we’ve had prior to our games. We talked to the team about our professional approach. We are going over to London to play a football game. It’s a very important game and we are going to need everybody’s best effort. We are going to get on the plane here in a relatively short time. We are going to do our post-practice meetings like we always do on a Thursday, really have a normal day and then get on the plane. Our operations staff here has done a great job organizing this trip. Then we are going to get on a plane, go, land in London and then get back to work there, too."

(On if he wishes that he would have handled the situation with QB Ryan Tannehill differently) “Let me just say this, one of the functions of the head coach is to create an atmosphere free from distractions and, to the degree that I contributed to any of those distractions, intended or not, it doesn’t really matter. That falls on me. It’s my responsibility. Certainly, I accept that responsibility as the head coach. Really that’s all I have to say on that."

(On what he thinks of the job the defensive line has done overall) “It’s a good group. We’ve obviously had some guys in the group that have been here as long as I’ve been here. A lot of those guys, Randy (Starks), Cam Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared (Odrick), Derrick Shelby, and then Earl Mitchell has also added to the group. Anthony Johnson has contributed. It’s a good group. Certainly, there is room for improvement, things they have to do better, but I like the way they’ve contributed so far."

(On if he’s come to any conclusions this week about the first half scoring problems) “It’s really just execution. The more we’ve looked at it, the more it’s fundamentals, execution. Last week, we talked about we had some drops, we had some protection issues. We had some scoring opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of when we were down there where we could have scored more points. I don’t think it was anything miraculous, any great revelations. We have to execute better. We have to block better, catch better, get some run after-the-catch, get a couple more explosive (plays). There’s nothing that came as an epiphany in the middle of the night. We have to execute better, without a doubt.”

(On if QB Ryan Tannehill learning a new offense has contributed to his struggles) “We’ve been working hard at this thing since April 21st. As I always say, the reps and the things you do in practice have to count for something. I want to say we had over 1,100 competitive snaps in the OTAs. We’ve had over 1,600 in training camp. We had preseason games. We had three regular season games. I don’t want to minimize it. The schemes, there are some differences, but, at the end of the day, football is football really.”

(On one or two things that swayed him into this week’s schedule leading into the London game) “I think the real major thing was the way we decided how we were going to practice throughout the year. We really decided Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday were going to kind of be the heavy lifting days, for lack of a better phrase. So we wanted to get the game plan in, do it here, have our meetings here, have our lifting here, have our practice here where our guys are familiar, have the game plan in, so literally as we step on the plane, the game plan is in. We’ll tweak this, we’ll tweak that and maybe make a minor adjustment here or there, but they know what the game plan is so they can go to sleep on the plane, wake up, go to work tomorrow and it’s a normal Friday. We are timing it up as best we can that it’s a, quote, normal Friday for them as if they were still here.”

(On if the team will do walkthroughs the next two days) “We’ll do just what we always do. Nothing is really changing.”

(On his general philosophy about replacing a quarterback during a game if he is struggling) “I don’t think it’s any different. Every position, you have to get a sense for the game, you have to get a feel for the game and look at it clearly from that perspective and decide. Everything should be based on what gives your team the best chance to win at any position. It really shouldn’t matter what position you’re playing.”

(On how he feels about his other tight ends with TE Charles Clay on the injury report and if he has a receiving tight end in that group) – “Well, I think Dion (Sims) has contributed nicely in the first three games. He’s a little bit different body type than Charles (Clay) as you can tell. So he doesn’t do exactly the same things all the time you know. I think that’s part of game planning. You have to utilize the strengths and the skills of your particular players that you have. I think Gator Hoskins is a young player that’s developing. He hasn’t gotten a lot of battlefield action yet in the regular season games. He is athletic and he is very smart.”

(On Raiders QB Derek Carr being the only rookie to start Week 1 this year and what’s he’s seen from him) “Yeah, a lot of the same things we liked when he was coming out. He seems to have a good presence about him for a young player. You can see the quick release that he had. He does have both velocity and touch. He doesn’t seem to get real flustered out there for a young guy. So he’s off to a good start."

(On what concerns him most about playing the Raiders on Sunday) “They are an improving football team. You watch the film and they seem to be getting better every single week. I think Dennis (Allen) and his staff do an excellent job and so I think that’s the number one thing. I was sitting in a defensive meeting. We watched the play what was it, 16-9 with a minute something to go? And I was just sitting in there. They’re a good football team. They obviously need to improve that and so we have to be ready to play our game.”

(On what LB Khalil Mack has done for the Raiders’ defense) – “You can see the talent there. I think one of the things they’ve done a nice job of is they move him around into some different spots. Is he a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme? Is he a defensive end in a 4-down scheme? Is he playing off the ball? Is he to the left or to the right? You see the burst, he can chase down plays outside the numbers. He moves really well. You can see some of the pass rush skill. He’s good.”

(On what progress he’s seen from CBs Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the first three games and if either is ready for a bigger role) “Yeah, I think they have. There’s still, I think they’re a lot like our entire football team where they’ve got to become more consistent. They’ve got to produce on a consistent level week-in and week-out. I don’t know that that should be a shock to anybody since they didn’t play a ton of football last year and they’re kind of young in their developmental stage. I think that’s one thing we’re looking for. Certainly, (I’ve) seen some very good things out of both of them. Now, we would like to see it on a more consistent basis.”

(On how he will spend the flight to London) “Hopefully sleep some. But our video people do a great job and we got all kind of cut ups and tape that we can watch. Our iPads loaded up, the game plans are on that. So certainly look at some of that and get some rest because when we land, we’ve got to get to work and go right back at it. You’ve got to fuel the fire a little bit."

(On if there is no time for recreation for him on the plane) “I can barely turn on an iPad. I don’t know how to load and download. I go to my house, I can’t even watch TV unless somebody is there. It’s true.”

(On if he knows how to use a DVR) “No idea. There are four remotes in there, which one is this? Forget it, just read."

(On if he’s ever been to London before) “No, I’ve never been. They say it’s a great atmosphere, the guys that have coached in that game. It should be a great atmosphere for football. I think our guys are excited about it. They should be. I remind the players sometimes, everybody used to think it was a big deal in high school when you got on a bus and went to the neighboring town to play the rival. Now you get to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in one of the great cities in the world and play football. It should be special."

(On how many of his players have played in London) “I haven’t really polled a lot of those guys. I’m sure there are some, but, like you said, probably not a lot."

(On if there is anything he is going to visit or do in London) “Not that I have planned, nothing planned."

(On if QB Ryan Tannehill is starting on Sunday) “I think I’ve already addressed that.”

Dan Fouts: Matt Moore 'wouldn't be a bad idea'

Dan Fouts and his beard will serve as the color analysts of the Dolphins vs. Raiders matchup in London for CBS. And as such, both will talk to the coaches and selected players from each team to get insight on the teams for the broadcast.

But Fouts already has a ready formed opinion on the game. For Fouts this game's biggest matchup is primarily about one thing:

"The biggest matchup is who has the hotter seat: {Miami's] Joe Philbin or [Oakland's] Dennis Allen," Fouts said. "It is that time of the year when fans and the media start to look at teams that are not doing well and speculate on the futures of not only coaches, but the quarterbacks as well.

"With Ryan Tannehill in Miami you’ve got a quarterback who has been very inconsistent.  People want to know should they go to Matt Moore at this point. Joe Philbin said yesterday that everything is on the table. So that means we might see Matt Moore. At 1-2 and with your team not playing very well, your quarterback inconsistent in a new offense and you have a veteran quarterback who’s had success in the league, this probably wouldn’t be bad idea. 

"Fortunately for the Dolphins they are playing a team that is struggling as well at 0-3."

Interesting. It is one thing when fans or legitimate media say that a switch at quarterback might be warranted. We have no playing experiencing to speak of. But when a former quarterback and a Hall of Fame one at that suggests it might be a good idea? Well, that adds some legitimacy to the idea.

What does Fouts think of the Raiders?

"They have to start running the ball better," Fouts said. "Hopefully Maurice Jones-Drew is able to play and give them a one-two punch with Darren McFadden.  I’m anxious to watch the young quarterback Derek Carr play. I think that he has all the tools, but he is just getting into his fourth game as an NFL quarterback.  If they can run the ball and the proverbial, “Take the pressure off” the young quarterback, then they have a shot."   

September 24, 2014

Tannehill: Starting, dealing with Philbin created distraction

Joe Philbin today once again refused to publicly say Ryan Tannehill will start at quarterback for the Miami Dolphins on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. It is the third consecutive day the coach has declined to state the obvious.

And less than two minutes after Philbin went that route, Tannehill came into a press conference and said he's starting.

"Taking the first snap of the game and playing the game," Tannehill said when asked if he knows his status.

So let me understand this: The coach has for days declined to say Tannehill is his starter. But he has told Tannehill he is the stater. And then Tannehill told everyone in a press conference he is the starter.

And this accomplishes what, Joe?

Tannehill said Philbin has a reason for his approach. Tannehill said Philbin has explained his reason to the player. But while Tannehill declined to give the reason, he obviously does not agree with it.

"Coach came to me and told me what he said and why he said it," Tannehill said. "He was clear with me on my standing and my position in the game. He has his reasons.

"He told me why and I asked him. You got to get that from him. He has his reasons."

But does Philbin's approach bother Tannehill?

"Honestly, yes," the quarterback said. "Does it feel good to deal with all the distractions that have been created? No. But that's life. You face distractions and you face adversity in life. You have to be able to handle it. You have to be able to fight through it and become a better player because of it. So here we are and we're getting ready to play."

Tannehill referred to a "bunch of distraction in the locker room" mostly "from the outside coming in. Guys having to deal with the distraction coming in. It's not a good feeling but he's been clear with me and I know where I stand." 

Glad Philbin has been clear with Tannehill while he's also been successful at creating those unnecessary "distractions" the quarterback was talking about.

Bill Lazor wasn't good on Sunday, either

The way it works is whenever the Miami Dolphins hire a new coach or player, fans rally to love the guy without truly knowing what they're getting. If the player or coach has a good history, he's taking us to the Super Bowl! If the player or coach is a rookie with little or no experience at his job -- the Dolphins do this a lot, by the way -- he's going to earn his stripes in Miami and...take us to the Super Bowl! If the player or coach has flaws that have been shown in past NFL or college stops, he'll get it all straightened out in Miami and...we're going to the Super Bowl, goshdarn it!

Yes, I'm using poetic license here. You don't actually say we're going to the Super Bowl as a result of every new hire. But you do get excited. You expect the best. You see a new day dawning and don't consider the possibility it might rain.

But people are human. They make mistakes. They're not perfect.

And that leads me to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

When he was hired, he became an instant icon with Dolphins fans. He'd worked for Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren and Chip Kelly so, by God, he's going to institute the return of the Fun Bunch offense with Hogs offensive linemen and a quarterback who'll play like Matt Hasselbeck while using an uptempo offense that will make the Oregon Ducks seem slow as a glacier.

Nobody mentioned this is Lazor's first NFL coordinator job. Nobody mentioned (except me) it's not about the scheme, it is usually about the players.

You loved him without knowing him because his name was not Mike Sherman.

Well, we're getting to know Lazor a little more now. I told you last week he shows excellent leadership skills when he's in front of the media -- accepting responsibility for problems with his offense. That's great.

But last Sunday, he was a problem for the offense. 

His playing-calling was head scratching bad at times. I mean, terrible.

Consider:

On Miami's first possession against Kansas City, the Dolphins took the opening kickoff and advanced from their own 39 to the KC 45 where they faced third-and-10. It is the first quarter. At home. In Kansas City territory. It is third down and long.

And Lazor called a run between the tackles.

Lamar Miller gained four yards and the Dolphins punted.

It felt like the Dolphins were afraid of something. It felt like surrender on the first possession.

Fast forward to the fourth quarter. The Dolphins trailed 21-15 when they got the football at their 33 yard line with 12:44 left in the game.

Understand that already the Dolphins had established two things in this game: That they could run the football on the Chiefs and that they were struggling to protect Ryan Tannehill on pass plays. Tannehill wasn't on target this day, either, by the way.

So Lazor opens the drive with a pass. Tannehill is sacked. (Didn't I just say they're running well but losing up front on pass protection)?

Next play, Miller runs for 7 yards. Good.

Then a four-yard quickie pass to Jarvis Landry. First down. Fine.

Then on first down from the Miami 44, a nine-yard run by Lamar Miller. Very good.

And then Lazor's brain explodes.

On second-and-1, with the Chiefs on their heels, in the fourth quarter, on the road, in the heat, Lazor decides it is time to take a shot. I got zero problem with that, sort of. Hey, a play-caller is hopefully working a couple of plays ahead. If he's thinking about taking a shot on second-and-1, he better also be thinking of jamming the ball down their throats on third-and-1 if the pass fails, or know his coach is going for it on fourth down, so he's got two more downs to play with.

Well, Tannehill is rushed -- shocking nobody who'd been watching the past three quarters -- and rolling right, he fires a beatiful spiral down field to Mike Wallace. Except it was about 10 yards out of bounds.

So third-and-one. Miller, right?

Nope, Lazor calls another pass. And the protection is shoddy and Tannehill doesn't get rid of the ball to Daniel Thomas who is standing two yards away wide open nor downfield incomplete to avoid the sack. He takes the sack for minus-3.

And the Dolphins thus punt on fourth down.

That basically sealed the game. And Lazor knows it.

"Absolutely," he said. "I thought that was a critical part of the game where we failed offensively because I thought with a 21-15 (lead), with about 10 minutes and 20 something seconds when we snapped the third-and-one, it was under 11 minutes. I felt very confident at that point that we were winning the game.

"I feel like, to be an NFL offense, you have to be able to pick your spots of when you want to take a shot and manage it. I felt like those were two plays where really we had a chance to move the ball forward. If I could go back and do it over, I’d probably did what I thought at the time was the right thing. Certainly, I expected things would happen differently. That was a failure offensively."

I don't even know what that means. If he had a chance to go back again, he'd do what he felt at the time was the right thing to do?

Does that mean he felt it was right to run and called a pass anyway? Does that mean he thought the pass was the right call and he'd do it again?

What?

Here's the thing: The Dolphins rushed for 141 yards against Kansas City. They averaged 7.1 yards per attempt. And this happened in the same game they averaged 4.7 yards per pass attempt, which is almost hard to be so terrible.

It's the fourth quarter. The trend of the game is already set.

And you pass on two consecutive downs needing only one yard?

It's also curious Miller had a breakout game (for him) in that he gained 108 yards and averaged 7.2 yards per carry. But he only got 15 carries.

Is there a rule the Dolphins use that you cannot give the ball to Lamar Miller more than 15 times in a game? This apparent rule, established last year by Sherman seems to have been passed down to Lazor.

In the fourth quarter Miller carried only three times -- and two of those gained, as you just read, seven yards and nine yards. The other carry came at 2:05 left and Miller hit a brick wall for no gain.

The point is what happened to riding the hot hand? The hot hand was not the passing game and Ryan Tannehill and an offensive line that was struggling with pass protection. The hot hand was Miller and an offensive line that was actually getting some push up front on runs.

Finally, I refer you to the regular-season opener. The Dolphins passed the ball 32 times against the New England Patriots. They ran the ball 38 times.

Thirty-eight.

Treinta y ocho.

Trente-huit.

Τριάντα οκτώ.

שלושים ושמונה.

Get it?

The passing game didn't do anything spectacular. But the running game carried the day.

Trailing 21-15 with 12 minutes to play, the running game might have again been enough against the Chiefs defense that was without two starting inside linebackers. But the offensive coordinator picked the passing game.

Indeed the Dolphins passed 43 times while running only 20 times.

That is the formula for winning only if you believe going with what you're not doing so well more often is the right approach.

It's not.

"Not all of those decisions," Lazor said, "are the right ones."

Yes. I see that. 

September 23, 2014

Dan Marino: Not evaluating Philbin or Tannehill

Special advisor Dan Marino on Tuesday gave the most comprehensive explanation of his role with the Miami Dolphins since being hired in August and it most definitely does not include reporting to owner Stephen Ross on head coach Joe Philbin or quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

In talking about his new role Marino shot down a report by Bleacher Report that stated the Hall of Fame player is this season evaluating Tannehill and Philbin and was "not impressed" with Philbin -- particularly the coach's handling of Tannehill.  

"This whole thing with the thing [Bleacher Reportt] said, there's not once in this whole situation where Mr. Ross has asked me, 'Hey you have to sit down and evaluate Joe Philbin or Ryan Tannehill,'" Marino said by phone. "My whole thing from the beginning has been to support on the football side, be excited about being back in the organization and as far as the community stuff, working on the sponsorship side -- things like going over to meet with some of the sponsors in London. And that's really it.

"I don't know where [Bleacher Report] got this information."

Marino has met Tannehill and had dinner with him once. But he has not been with Tannehill a lot. The two have never been on the field together, Marino has never thrown with Tannehill nor tried to coach Tannehill.

And that's not likely to change in the near future.

"That's not my role," Marino said. "I'm going to be around and be supportive. I'm just happy to be back and be part of the organization. But none of that other stuff." 

 

Salguero does not bench Ryan Tannehill, but ...

I am pleased Joe Philbin and his coaching staff spent part of Monday deciding whether or not to bench Ryan Tannehill. It is wise that they are not assuming the Miami Dolphins quarterback job should belongs to Tannehill this week simply because it's belonged to Tannehill for 35 previous games.

NFL starting QB jobs have to be earned when a player is not an established elite quarterback. And NFL starting QB jobs can be lost when a player is not an established elite quarterback.

And Tannehill is not established. Not elite. And not earning the luxury of going unscrutinized by his coaches about whether he should start or not.

So this is good. Well done, Joe Philbin.

I'm also fine with whatever Philbin and his coaching staff decide. Bench Tannehill. Start Tannehill. I'm good with whatever decision they make.

Look, they have the expertise. They know the good, bad, and the ugly of Tannehill. They know the grand promise Tannehill has as well. And they're the ones with jobs hanging in the balance.

So they are the folks best equipped to make this call and I will back it -- whatever it is -- as close to 100 percent as I can.

But ...

I have an opinion on what I would do if I were in their shoes. I would do this:

Having sent the message to Ryan Tannehill that he must earn his start this week and every week he does not perform well until further notice, I do not bench Tannehill. At least not...quite...yet.

I let him know he needs to prepare like he always has (indeed better) and that he is my starter. But if he doesn't climb out of this hole he's digging with his sub par play, I'm going to yank him before the hole becomes a career grave.

I tell Tannehill, "Play well against the Raiders and we have no issues."

I tell Tannehill, "You don't play well, I am going to yank you, maybe even during the game. It is all in your hands. Play like you got nothing to lose because you are on a pitch count and the next pitch is not promised to you."

Then I tell Matt Moore, you are not starting. But you may be called upon to play if Tannehill continues his current funk. Be prepared. Be engaged. Be excited. Be what you are: A professional.

By the way, as coach I'm a professional, too. So I don't play mind games. I tell everyone Tannehill is the starter. Period. No distractions.

So why do I stick with Tannehill?

Because I still have hope he can salvage himself. Because I still understand he might find that spark he's been lacking and ride that. Because I recognize that once I bench him, I've crossed the proverbial Rubicon and there might not be any going back. And I'm not ready to make that commitment yet.

I guess I want to give Tannehill a full one-quarter of the season to show me he deserves to stay the Miami Dolphins starter. And if he cannot do it by then, I still have three-quarters of the season to roll with Moore and try to salvage the season.

It also makes sense because following the game against Oakland, the Dolphins will enjoy a bye week. It is much easier to make a change as significant as installing a new quarterback during the added time of the bye than it is this week.

I think it's a good idea that Tannehill understands his job is on the line. It should be on the line. If you doubt that please roll you DVRs back to Sunday.

Let's go over two plays with about 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the Dolphins trailing 21-15.

On second-and-1, Bill Lazor decides he's going to pass even though the running game is shredding the Chiefs. It is a bad play call but not catastrophic. Tannehill rolls away from pressure. If he wishes, the former wide receiver can probably pick up the first down by running. He also has a receiver crossing underneath uncovered. 

Tannehill does neither. He is locked on to Mike Wallace downfield and throws it (poorly). Out of bounds. Incomplete.

On third-and-one, Lazor again goes against everything he has said he believes and calls a pass. Well, Tannehill is rushed again because the Dolphins offensive line has pass-blocking issues on the interior. And again, Tannehill is focused on a receiver well down field but cannot complete the pass to him.

Meanwhile, running back Daniel Thomas is by himself three yards away and all Tannehill had to do was show awareness and instincts and simply flip the ball to Thomas who would have gotten the first down. Tannehill didn't unlock his eyes from his target. The Dolphins' drive stalled. Momentum gone.

This kind of play is not about stats or quarterback ratings. It is not dependent on great catches or drops. It is what instinctive NFL quarterbacks often do. They improvise, they adapt. But Tannehill has not done it consistently.

So tell him as much. Make him aware. And tell him it must get corrected or his on the bench.

There are some out there who will say such talk might cause Tannehill to go into a shell or play scared. Then so be it. If he plays scared faced with adversity, he's not the right guy anyway.

I believe he won't play scared.

He's a man. Be honest with him. See what happens. 

I give him one more start but not necessarily the right to finish. He has to earn that right. If he responds, super. Down the highway we roll. If he wilts, then we move on to Moore, who started 12 games for the Dolphins in 2011 and was 6-6 in those starts while delivering 16 TDs and 8 INTs.

Now we sit back and see what Joe Philbin and his coaching staff will do. 

September 22, 2014

PFF grades: Chiefs at Miami Dolphins

Why do we relive games like Sunday's Kansas City loss? The Miami Dolphins review the game tape to make corrections. You come here and check out the ProFootballFocus.com grades and review to get more depth on what happened.

The PFF grades are not gospel (as we've discussed in the past) but their film study is a good independent view of what's happening with your team.

Here's this week's review: 

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Miami Dolphins consider QB change

The Miami Dolphins are considering a quarterback change this week.

A change is not certain but coaches are meeting this afternoon to weigh whether benching starter Ryan Tannehill in favor of reserve Matt Moore is the right decision to make in the run up to Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders, multiple sources are saying.

Coach Joe Philbin dodged multiple questions today on the topic. When asked  if Tannehill will start against the Raiders next Sunday, he declined on every single occasion to say Tannehill would continue to be Miami's quarterback.

Instead, Philbin said he and his coaches will decide on the "46 best players" to help the Dolphins win a game.

"We're going to choose the best 46 guys we think will help us win a football game and we're going to go from there," Philbin said.

I asked the coach if his refusal to answer the question directly thus leaves Tannehill twisting in the wind publicly and he stuck to his guns.

“I’m going to stick with the answer that I’ve given," Philbin said. "That’s what I’ve done since I’ve gotten here and that’s the answer I’m sticking to.”

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was asked if he had any doubt Tannehill would be his starter on Sunday and was more conclusive than Philbin. "No," he said before continuing, "Is there any doubt I'll be the offensive coordinator?"

But then he said, "We rent these seats ..."

So what is the truth? The Dolphins are considering a quarterback change today. If coaches deem a quarterback competition this week the right course, I suppose that will happen. Philbin was asked about such a practice competiton.

His answer?

“We are going to choose the 46 guys that we think can help us win the football game," he repeated a third time during a 10-minute press conference. "And we are going to go from there. That’s the starting point and we are going to utilize the players the best way we feel fit.”

It is also possible in considering a change, the coaches will decide sticking with Tannehill is the right course of action.

But neither decision has been made as of this moment. Tannehill may or may not start Sunday. It is no longer a given.

 

My column here: Scrutinize EVERYTHING

The Miami Herald's new website has had "organ failure" on some platforms this morning and so some stories and columns are not loading. Mine was not loading, so I am performing an organ transplant and moving my column from the game below. My column:

Everything should be on the table now.

Words to that effect came out of Joe Philbin’s mouth late Sunday evening after his team played its worst game of the season, at home no less, in losing 34-15 to a previously winless Kansas City that is a middling team in the supposedly easy part of the Miami Dolphins schedule.

“We have to look at everything we’re doing,” Philbin said Sunday after the bitterly disappointing performance by him, his coaching staff, his offense, his defense and his special teams.

And I agree with the Dolphins head coach.

Everything should indeed be on the table and under scrutiny now because otherwise this season, which is starting to look like most other unfruitful, unfulfilling seasons the Dolphins have played the past decade or so, is going absolutely nowhere.

So in searching for an elusive answer, everything must be questioned.

The Dolphins should seriously study benching Ryan Tannehill. I’m not saying they should do it, but after three weeks of hot and cold play from the quarterback, the coaching staff should not simply start Tannehill as if by rote, because that’s what they’ve been doing.

Coaches had better be certain Tannehill is better suited to run this offense than Matt Moore. And they had better be ready to explain why because Tannehill’s performances are offering a heavy counter balance to the idea his status cannot be questioned.

Gathering a kindling and setting on fire the hot seat under Philbin should also beon the table because this was the kind of uneven performance against a winless team that sets people on the road to being fired.

Joe Philbin is a good man. He’s very organized. He knows football. But that’s all resume stuff for someone before he’s hired.

Once he’s hired, his team’s play and his winning percentage is the coach’s resume. And right now Philbin’s team is playing inconsistently and unimpressively after starting the season in such promising fashion. In that regard, this team is showing us in microcosm what it showed in macro the last couple of years.

Win three, lose four, win one, lose two, win one, lose one, win three, and lose one.

Inconsistent.

Barely mediocre.

The Dolphins coaching staff should be thinking of finally digging into the playbook and pulling out that up-tempo offense that was promised in training camp but so far hasn’t made it to the regular-season field. Going to that needs to be on the table.

The only time the Dolphins showed any alacrity and Tannehill seemed truly in charge of the game Sunday was when offensive coordinator Bill Lazor unleashed the two-minute drill before the end of the half. The offense seemed to have the Chiefs on their heels.

So did they keep the Chiefs on their heels to open the second half by using the same attack style? Nope.

Getting this defense, which seems talented enough to succeed but succeeds only enough to break your heart, changed has to be on the table. This is on defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.

Coyle is under the microscope because this is his third season with basically the same group of players. And that group that coaches thought are good enough to win with has not gotten collectively better. Indeed, this defense is in worse shape than when Coyle found it.

This defense was a Top 5 scoring defense defense in 2011 B.C. (Before Coyle). Three years later, the Dolphins are the No. 29 scoring defense so far this season.

Cutting people. Adding people. Coaching them differently. Coaching them better. Trades. Examining the unorthodox...

It should all be on the table.

Why?

Because this team needs to change direction immediately. And Philbin knows it.

“We’re not playing well enough the last two weeks to win a game in the National Football League,” the coach said.

The Dolphins are actually not playing well enough to stay within two touchdowns of their last two opponents. And more disturbing, they’re not approaching games correctly at the start.

The Dolphins have trailed at halftime of every game this year. They were down by 10 at halftime to New England before recovering. They were down by nine at halftimevto Buffalo before wilting. They were down by 11 to Kansas City before losing.

So players are not well prepared enough or they’re not coming to work with a proverbial hair-on-fire attitude. Either way, it is not good.

“It’s no need to panic,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “I would tell the fans not to panic. We are going to get it right, we are going to fix it.”

Wrong.

Panic because this team is playing like past Dolphins teams we’ve seen before and those guys told us not to panic and be patient and never fixed the problem before the season was over. So this is no time for patience and believe that things will get better by merely maintaining course.

This is a time for action.

This is a time to look at everything.

Bench Ryan Tannehill? Study the possibility

On the bright side, Ryan Tannehill didn't miss any deep throws today. The Dolphins didn't really try but one but at least there wasn't that troubling moment where he overthrows an open receiver. That's the good news.

The bad news is Tannehill is on pace for career lows in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating. That according to the math skills of The Herald's Adam Beasley.

Me? I'm right up to the line but not ready to pull the trigger on a quarterback change. Consider it at least, I say in my column in Monday's newspaper.

I also discuss ways to deal with the head coach, the offense, the defense, the lack of consistency, in short many of the problems that have the Dolphins at 1-2 now.

Please read the column.

Anyway, this is what Tannehill had to say Sunday afterward:

(What was the most frustrating part of the performance today?) – “I thought we struggled all game. The most frustrating part was [that it was a] five point game in the fourth quarter and we didn’t come out on top. Do I feel confident at that point that we were going to win the game? And even when they scored again, I still felt like we had a shot. We just didn’t get it done.”

(What do you suspect is behind the slow starts in all three games you’ve had this year?) – “I don’t know, I don’t think it’s one thing. If you look back at New England, the turnovers slowed us down but we were moving the ball. Last week [against Buffalo] we didn’t get anything going and we had a slow start again this week so we’ve got to figure it out .”

(What happened on that drive where I think you were down six with second and one and then third and one? What was the thinking on that third and one? ) – “It was a play-action pass. We played it exactly like we thought we were going to play it. I had two crossers and no one was able to win so I was trying to buy some time and get a run through and I got sacked.”

(Did you see your check down, Daniel (Thomas) may have slipped a little, did you see him at all?) – “He’s supposed to be over the ball so I didn’t see him.”

(Are you worried now that its been three games in a row that you have not been at your top offensively? Are you worried that it’s not just one thing and it’s tough to overcome all of the mistakes you’ve made as a team?) – “Yes, I mean when you’re not getting things done, obviously it’s frustrating and it needs to be corrected. It’s still early in the season so I have confidence that we can get this thing turned around. But it has to happen now. I said that last week and we didn’t get it done. We’ve got another shot at it. We are going across the ocean play a big game in London for us and heading into the bye week. So we’ve have to be 2-2 at that point.”

(Is it the offensive system that’s still just not working? That’s it’s ultimately new (offensive system) for you guys, is that a factor at all?) – “I don’t think so. I think we had our opportunities to make plays. I think we rushed the ball decently well the entire game. [We] had opportunities in the passing game. Just couldn’t put the whole thing together.”

(If there were one or two things that you feel needs to be fixed or be improved; seems like a lot of things but what are some things specifically?) – “I think we need to keep the run game going and make the plays outside when we have the chance. Whether it’s a throw or it’s a drop or it’s protection. All those things are culminating right now and we’ve got to get them corrected.”

(Do you feel that in part of the game that you’re getting a real rhythm and it’s just not consistent enough?) – “It was a couple of drives where I felt like we were getting into a rhythm and then there was a penalty or something that would slow us down and take us out of our rhythm. We’ve got to be able to sustain that and sustain a long drive and we didn’t do that all night.”

(You were 4-of-15 on third down and that’s kind of an area where you’ve done well in past years. What do you think are some of the issues that are going on right now?) – “I don’t know, I’ve got to go take a look at the tape and get a clearer picture of it. I can’t tell you at this point.”

(Before the half you had a good drive down the field but there were two plays that took [around] :55 seconds. Did you feel like the time was getting away? I know you only had one timeout) – “We only had one timeout and Coach (Joe Philbin) said hang on to it as long as you can so I was letting him manage that. I know we took a long time on a couple of plays and we just got to get up and get set faster. I felt like we had plenty of time to go down and get a touchdown. We moved it down the field. We just didn’t put it in. If we had five more seconds, we would have took a shot at the end zone and hopefully scored.  But it didn’t happen.”

(How does this football team regroup and get themselves headed in the direction that you need to head in?) – “We just have to take a step back, take a deep breath and look at it for what it is. Fix the things that need to get fixed across all phases of football team. We’re not playing well as a team right now. We’re not complimenting each other on [both] sides of the ball [and] special teams. We need to get that corrected and we need to correct it fast.”

(It seems like in all phases of the game, offense, special teams, defense; a lot of good things that you could look at but on the flip side that were things that were done that didn’t help you win a football game) – “You’ve got to be consistent. That’s the NFL. You’ve got to make the plays. The other team is going to make plays. You just have to be able to make plays consistently and we didn’t do that.”

(The third-and-one situation; Can you take us through that? What you saw or what you didn’t see that you were you trying to get to) – “Play-action, two-man route. They covered us up pretty well. I was trying to buy some time and got sacked.”

(Is the confidence still there with the team? Or has it taken a little bit of a hit?) – “Obviously when you don’t play well you don’t feel good about it. But I’m still confident in the guys in that [locker] room that we can get it turned around. I like the guys that we have. I think we can win a lot of games with the guys in that locker room but we have to do it ASAP. We have to look at what it is and get the problems fixed now.”

(You came out in Buffalo in the second half and the first two drives were scoring drives in the hurry up. At the end of the first half [you were in] the hurry up and went all of the way down the field. Are you more comfortable in something like that? When you’re in the no-huddle or is that just a few drives?) – “I like it. I like playing in the no-huddle. I like getting the defense on their heels a little bit. At the same time we went no-huddle, I think it was in the third quarter and we didn’t move the ball at all. You have to be able to move the ball if you’re going to go no-huddle. Otherwise you put your defense in a bad spot.”

(What would you say to fans who think that this might be another Dolphins disappointing season and why should they have confidence its going to be better) – “It’s a long season. We’re only three games in. We have some problems right now but we have to correct it and correct it fast. We have some time to do that. Big game, like I said, traveling this week and then the bye week. It’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of football in front of us. We’re not giving up yet. No chance we’re giving up yet. We’ve got the players to do it. We just have to do it.”

(You and (Wide Receiver) Mike Wallace had issues getting the deep ball connected today. How do you move forward to fix that?) – “I don’t think we had an issue. I think we only threw one pass deep [and there was] a collision. I had to skip the pocket, he had a double move and the guy [collided with] him. Thought we could get a pass interference if I put it, the safety was coming across the top when I scrambled. I’m not going to throw a pick in that situation but since I was out of the pocket, the defense is allowed to contact the receiver and we didn’t get the call.”

September 21, 2014

Philbin: No excuse for Hartline penalty

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was quite unhappy about Brian Hartline's golf putt celebration after his third quarter touchdown Sunday.

Down 14-3, the Dolphins got the ball at the Kansas City 19 yard line on a fumble recovery by Derrick Shelbyfour plays later quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a 1-yard TD pass to Brian Hartline. But Hartline immediately doused the flame of his own signature moment  by picking up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because he and a group of other teammates celebrated with a golf putt re-enactment.

The act was considered an orchestrated celebration.

That is a no-no. It has been against the rules for years, dating back to the Fun Buch celebrations by the Washington Redskins.

So the Dolphins kick off from their 20 instead of their 35. The Chiefs, riddled with poor field position most of the game, take advantage by starting at their 34 and then marching 66 yards in 10 plays for a 21-10 lead.

So the Dolphins were within a whisker after the Hartline touchdown and then someone does something uncalled for and the defense droops in the face of Kansas City’s constant dinking and dunking.

“I can’t make any excuses,” Philbin said of the Hartline penalty. “ I’m disappointed. I’m extremely disappointed. It’s uncharacteristic of us. I don’t think we’ve had one [before]. It’s a poor reflection on me. It’s not good.”

Miami Dolphins lose to Chiefs: Terrible

There is nothing about this loss that offers hope that this season can be salvaged.

The Chiefs were winless coming into Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins. And the Chiefs left South Florida with their first win, a 34-15 pasting that had Miami fans leaving early. The ones who stayed past the four-minute mark left in the game, sadly a minority, booed their own team.

The offense was inconsistent today. It showed an ability to run the ball. It did good work in the two-minute drill before halftime.

But it scored one TD. One.

And that came after the offense got the ball at the K.C. 19 yard line to start its drive.

The defense was inconsistent. It kept the team in it with a safety and the Chiefs had a handful of three-and-outs. But the Chiefs dinked and dunked (much like Buffalo did last week) their way to 34 points -- the most allowed by Miami all season.

Look, I know you are Dolphins fans. I know you want to believe things will improve. I know you want to defend your coach. I know you want to believe you have an elite quarterback.

Things being on their present course, I don't see how any of that is possible.

And you have to understand the Chiefs did this without Eric Berry on defense or Jamaal Charles on offense -- arguably their best players on each side.

This is the kind of uneven performance, at home, against a winless team, that puts kindling underneath a coach's seat and sets a flame aglow.

The hotseat is officially smoking under Joe Philbin, folks.

Live blog: Chiefs at Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins and Chiefs will be going at it in a few and I am live at Sun Life Stadium. It is an overcast, warm day but I expect the Dolphins locker room after the game to be cheerful as I think the Dolphins will beat the Chiefs.

By the way, I'm 0-2 on the season.

The Dolphins are celebrating an all aqua day here. The first 65,000 fans in the stadium will get an aqua t-shirt. The team, however, will be wearing its traditional all white home uniforms.

The inactives for Miami are:

C Mike Pouncey, LB Jordan Tripp, G Shelley Smith, G Billy Turner, DL Terrence Fede and LB Koa Misi. There was optimism last week that Misi might be able to play this game. He did not progress as much as the team had hoped. Next week, then.

As for the starting lineup, Dallas Thomas is expected to start at right guard. Jason Trusnik starts at middle linebacker, Jelani Jenkins starts at outside linebacker again.

For the Chiefs, Jamaal Charles is inactive.

Enjoy the live blog below:

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Sept. 21, 2014
 

Salguero's OL improvement, predicting KC game, keys

I'm picking the Miami Dolphins over the Kansas City Chiefs today. It means nothing because I'm 0-2 so far this year, having picked Miami to lose against New England and beat Buffalo.

What can I say, I'm better at writing than prognosticating. (Not by a lot, I know, smart alecks).

I'm also pretty good with ideas sometimes and in my column in today's Miami Herald I tell you how the Dolphins can put their five best offensive lineman on the field at the same time once Mike Pouncey is fully recovered from his hip surgery and returns to the lineup.

Interestingly, my idea is one Pouncey told me he is open-minded about although it would require some sacrifice from him.

So check out the column.

As for today's game against the Chiefs, here are the keys to the game:

When the Chiefs pass the football: Alex Smith has never played against the Dolphins despite being in his 10th NFL season. And the quarterback the Dolphins will see for the first time is having a hard time so far this season after posting a good season with the Chiefs last year. Smith has had very little protection from an offensive line that has been rebuilt. That line lost three starters to free agency. Eric Fisher, who was the No. 1 overall pick a year ago but is moving from the right to left tackle for the first time, has not been good. Behind shaky protection (six sacks in two games) Smith’s accuracy has suffered. The Chiefs do have a very good tight end corps, led by former Dolphin Anthony Fasano, that also includes Travis Kelce, who leads the team with an 18.6 yard per catch average. Fasano has caught a TD pass in 4 of the past 6 games. The Dolphins had a great pass rush in week one vs. New England but did not muster a sack against Buffalo last week. They want to get back to their New England level of performance. The Dolphins are also making some changes in the secondary. Will Davis, who has been inconsistent the first two weeks, is headed back to the bench. Jimmy Wilson, who started at safety the first two games, may still do that. But he will be at corner in the nickel replacing Davis. That means Michael Thomas is getting a lot of work, and perhaps even a start today, at safety. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Chiefs run the football: That sound you’re hearing is the Miami defense exhaling because Jamaal Charles, one of the most explosive runners in the NFL, has an ankle injury and is questionable for the game. He is a game-time decision. But regardless of whether Charles can play, Knile Davis will carry more of the running game than usual. Davis isn’t fast like Charles, but he is bigger (227 pounds) and more physical. The Chiefs were the 22nd ranked running team with Charles. And the 4.2 yards per rush is helped by the fact Smith has averaged 7.1 yards per rush, mostly on scrambles. The Dolphins are middle of the road against the rush. They’re ranked 13th in the NFL while allowing an average of 101 yards per game. The key to having any success against the Dolphins, however, is patience. That’s because teams are averaging only three yards per rush against Miami and that means the Dolphins are tied for fourth in the NFL in that category. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Miami passing game is not in synch for one reason or another. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has strung together four sub par games dating back to the final two games last season. Receivers are not consistently running precise routes. The interior offensive line has been inconsistent, particularly in pass protection. It’s just not been very good, which is one reason the Dolphins are 31st (next to last) in the NFL with a 5.17 yards per attempt average. But Mike Wallace is playing well. He consistently gets open deep and has 6 TD catches in the past 8 games. The Chiefs pass defense has been, how to put it delicately, atrocious. Opposing QBs are completing 72.9 percent of their passes. They’ve allowed five TD passes and have zero interceptions. Opposing QBs have a 126.9 rating against K.C. so far. That’s really good. -- for the opposing quarterbacks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Knowshon Moreno is out and that hands the reins to the Dolphins running game to Lamar Miller who is clearly not as good instinctively as Moreno and doesn’t run downhill as much as Moreno. Making the handoff a bit more cringe worthy is that a sore ankle slows Miller some. The interesting question comes in what the Dolphins do behind Miller. Wisdom suggests the carries will go to rookie Damien Williams who has 22 runs so far this year and has averaged 4.8 yards per rush. The question here is whether exposing Williams to more primetime playing time will be too big a stage for the rookie. That’s where the lesser possibility of giving recently re-signed Daniel Thomas work could factor. Thomas is not a better runner than Williams. But he’s more experienced. The Dolphins will go with Williams. We’ll see how that works. The Chiefs have a solid front seven, which belies the fact they are yielding 125 yards per game. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: The Dolphins last week had a punt blocked when Damien Williams declined to block his man. They muffed a punt. They yielded a 102-yard kickoff return touchdown. And to top it off, usually reliable punter Brandon Fields sliced not one but two punts off his foot to give Buffalo good field position. After a solid game against New England, this was a meltdown and one that cannot be forgotten unless the Miami special teams redeem themselves. For the Chiefs, rookie kicker Cairo Santos, an undrafted rookie free agent acquisition, has missed two of his four field goals so far with both of those misses inside 50 yards. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Andy Reid turned Chiefs around last season as they went from a team that had the No. 1 overall pick based on their record in 2012 to a playoff team that won 11 games. Unfortunately, Reid has not stopped turning the team around, as they are now winless. This game tests the coach’s mettle as his team faces an urgent situation, on the road, against an arguably more talented team. Joe Philbin has to find a way to get the Dolphins started more quickly as Miami has trailed at halftime of both games it has played. Dolphins coaches this week have tried to address issues with the passing game, the interior offensive line and with the nickel defense. ADVANTAGE: Even.

September 19, 2014

Eagles were interested in Jordan in offseason, but now?

Not long after Dennis Hickey became general manager of the Miami Dolphins he got a phone call from the Philadelphia Eagles. They were interested in making a trade for Dion Jordan.

The Dolphins were not interested.

It was a short conversation and that was that. Reports that the Dolphins were actively shopping Jordan (and others) were not correct. But one team -- the Eagles -- were indeed interested in the third overall selection of the 2013 draft.

And so they reached out to Miami.

The reasons the Eagles were interested?

Jordan was a great prospect. He's 6-6 and 250 pounds and can run like a gazelle. He can cover tight ends and attack the pass pocket. He can be a 3-4 OLB or a strongside linebacker in the 4-3 or, as the Dolphins are attempting, can also be a 4-3 defensive end -- although the last position is not as natural for him. 

The reasons the Dolphins weren't interested in parting ways with Jordan?

It would involve severe cap implications to trade him. They weren't likely to get an equal return on their draft investment on Jordan as the third overall selection in the 2013 draft -- a first and second rounder pick. And all that was true about Jordan as a prospect for Philadelphia remained true for the Dolphins.

There's also the fact Miami's best pass-rusher, Cameron Wake, is 32 years old and has only two more years remaining on his contract. Jordan is 24 years old. He is supposed to be the future. 

So there was logic in the Dolphins showing no interest in moving Jordan.

But ...

You think the Dolphins wish they could have a do-over on this opportunity?

If they had known then what they know now about Jordan, I'm thinking that phone call with the Eagles might have gone a lot longer. And it might have led to more phone calls. And a trade.

That's because right now Dion Jordan -- who has tested once for banned amphetemines and once for so-called street drugs since March -- is serving what will eventually amount to a six-game suspension. The suspension is costing him $1,653,358.50. But it is also costing him his reputation such as it is.

Jordan is fighting drug demons that have haunted his family in the past.

And he has proven very little on the field.

No. He is not a bust as many fans are shouting at the top of their lungs. One does not categorize a player who had his rookie season detoured by shoulder injuries and his second season seemingly derailed by two drug suspensions as a bust.

He is, I remind you, only 24 years old.

But the benefit of the doubt is now gone for Jordan. The burden of proof is now heavier because he must not only prove that he can play (which he has not) but that he can stay clean (which so far he has not done, either).

So what to do?

Well, it is doubtful whatever wholesale offer the Dolphins were getting for Jordan before is still on the table. That window of opportunity is closed. In the offseason the team may or may not try to deal Jordan but, again, no one will pay what Miami did to get him.

Jordan's value is limited now.

Will the Eagles be interested in the future? No idea.

I suppose it all depends on what Jordan does with the 10 games when he returns from his suspension(s). If he's a great player and a clean player, the Dolphins would likely keep him.

If he's not ... they'll probably wish they had listened to the Eagles last offseason.