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.

November 14, 2014

Miami Dolphins coaches' best game?

The best job by a Dolphins coaching staff since Joe Philbin took over?

It could be Thursday night's 22-9 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

As I write in my column for Firday's Miami Herald the coaching staff deserves a game ball for this one.

Obviously the first half was shaky as the Dolphins trailed, 6-3.

"The coaches did a great job with some adjustments and off we went," Philbin said.

Indeed, it was more than just assignments. It was preparation in a short week. It was having the franchise leave a good mark on national television. It was making chicken salad out of chicken bleep with the offensive line. (The staff is still going to have to look at right tackle because Dallas Thomas gave up two sacks).

I'm not saying these guys have it all figured out. This is a one game deal.

And for this one game, this coaching staff deserves a game ball.

 

November 13, 2014

Dolphins beat the Bills, 22-9, save ... everything

The Miami Dolphins season lives!

At least for a few more weeks.

The home team saved itself from irrelevance and much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth tonight, with a convincing 22-9 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

The heroes?

Ryan Tannehill. He had a tough first half that included a fumble in the red zone, but he recovered, threw two touchdown passes, avoided interceptions and completed 26 of 34 passes for 240 yards against a vaunted Bills defense. Tannehill's rating was 114.8.

His performance was excellent when viewed in its entirety.

Brent Grimes. He erased Sammy Watkins after the rookie burned the Dolphins in the first meeting in September. Grimes followed Watkins around practically the entire game.

Running back Lamar Miller? "I thought Lamar's play speed was kind of like Lamar," Joe Philbin said. Miller rushed for 86 yards on 15 carries -- a 5.7 yard per rush average.

The defense obviously kept the Bills out of the end zone. They limited the Bills to 2.8 yards per rush.

The Dolphins did give up five sacks and will have to work on that issue. But remember this is a makeshift line against arguably one of the best defensive lines in the business. I thought the performance, particularly when you take the running game into account, was good.

Certainly good enough.

"I thought it was a good team win, I thought that our defense played well," coach Joe Philbin said. "We didn't allow any touchdown. I thought we played very well in the red zone. I thought we moved the ball well on offense, but in the first half obviously, we had a giveaway and we didn't execute great down in the red zone. But it was a good team win."

Leodis McKelvin, by the way, was wrong.

Live blog: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins offensive line held out one slim hope for not being completely makeshift tonight against the Buffalo Bills. The team hoped left guard Daryn Colledge could somehow, someway recover from the back ailment that has bothered him for a couple of weeks and could gut out a start against the Bills.

Nope.

Daryn Colledge is inactive tonight. The Dolphins will have three players starting at new positions this game.

Left tackle Ja'Wuan James is new starting at his position. Shelley Smith is new starting at left guard, having started at right guard earlier. And Dallas Thomas is a new starter at right tackle.

Only center Samson Satele and right guard Mike Pouncey are starting at their usual positions.

I'm not optimistic about how this is going to work, folks.

The full list of Miami inactives: Cortland Finnegan, LaMichael James, Chris McCain, Colledge, Anthony Johnson, BillyTurner and Terence Fede.

There isa live blog tonight. Join the community below:

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills: Nov. 13, 2014
 

Bills vs. Miami Dolphins a battle of attrition

This Thursday night matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins is looking more and more like a battle of attrition.

That's because Buffalo running back Fred Jackson, who has been battling a groin injury, is almost certainly not playing, according to multiple reports and first reported by the Buffalo News.

This comes on the heels of the Bills also not having fellow running back C.J. Spiller. So what does that mean?

Well, Boobie Dixon is expected to be Buffalo's lead back with Bryce Brown working in at some point as well. The Bills, by the way, have not been a good running team with their top guys in the lineup. They are 22nd in the NFL rushing.

Now this.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have injury issues of their own.

Everyone knows left tackle Branden Albert is gone for the season and this is the first game the Dolphins will play without him. Miami's answer is to move right tackle Ja'Wuan James to left tackle. James got some left tackle snaps in garbage time against San Diego a few weeks back.

The team is then sliding Dallas Thomas into the right tackle spot and he'll face Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams.

Basically, the one Albert injury has made the Dolphins weaker in two spots.

Now, this is not a second-guess because I wrote it here in the preseason and said it multiple times on twitter: I wish the Dolphins had signed Bryant McKinnie in the preseason to be the backup left tackle.

Had they done so, McKinnie, older and flawed as he is, would be able to fill in for Albert now while James could continue to lock down the right tackle spot. Miami would thus be weaker in only one spot following the Albert injury.

McKinnie is probably not a solution now because he doesn't know the offense and he has a history for getting, ahem, big when he's not playing. The only way this could have worked would have been to him sign during training camp from the start.

The Dolphins chose not to do this. They went with Jason Fox, who coaches apparently don't believe ready to help at either left or right tackle as a backup. And they went with Nate Garner, who the team now considers more a guard-center option.

The Dolphins also will be without CB Cortland Finnegan today. That means Jamar Taylor will get his first career start.

The Dolphins will likely cover up for the loss of Finnegan by having Brent Grimes lock up on Buffalo rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

That will put Taylor on Robert Woods or whatever other receiver Buffalo uses in addition to Watkins. It is time for Taylor to grow up.

Offense good on surface but has issues deep down

The Miami Dolphins have scored 227 points this season and that suggests everything is working smoothly because that's 11th-best in the NFL and the 25.2 per game average exceeds the 25-point per game goal coach Joe Philbin set for his team before the season.

But this statistic is indicative of what the Miami offense really has been so far in 2014. It has been an iceberg that allows one view for everyone to see above the surface and a hidden and more ominous picture that is harder to find below the water line.  

Below the surface everyone knows that average is a mirage. It includes the three defensive touchdowns so far compared to only one all of last season. It doesn't speak to the habitual slow starts and frustrating inability to seal victories by simply moving the football and killing the clock. And it says little about the games against Buffalo, Kansas City, Jacksonville and Detroit in which Miami scored exactly one offensive touchdown.

Nine games played. One offensive touchdown in four of them.

Against the Lions last week, the lone touchdown came when the offense got the football at the Detroit 3 yard line, following a blocked punt returned 55 yards by Dion Jordan. That was Miami's touchdown drive last week: Three yards.

So while this unit. led by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, is seemingly well ahead of last year's 19.8 points per game, no one on the Dolphins -- not coaches nor players -- are celebrating because this unit has potential that's not being met and issues below the surface.

That's what multiple players are saying. That's what several sources within the organization are seeing.

The passing game, for example, suggests marked improvement compared to last season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved his completion percentage, his touchdown-to-interception ratio and his quarterback rating this season.

Tannehill has added running the ball as a dimension to his game and is making better decisions throwing the football.

You know what that makes him so far? The No. 17 rated quarterback in the NFL. Yes, that's better than No. 24 last year but everyone I've spoken to and even Tannehill admits that in Year Three he is still a work in progress because there are still worries about accuracy and pocket awareness and quickness making decisions.

Tannehill's yards per attempt average is 6.63 this season, which is 29th out of 32 quarterbacks and lower than last year's 6.66 average. This may not seem important to you, but Lazor is on record stating yards per attempt is the most accurate measure for the health of a passing game. So in a year where NFL passing numbers are better and higher across the board, the Dolphins have taken a small step back in this area.

Tannehill also has still not solved his deep ball accuracy issues. He missed three deep touchdown throws earlier in the season and one on Sunday against Detroit. Yes, that's fewer than a year ago. But that's the view above the surface.

Below the surface the fewer missed deep passes is, in part, a function of the Dolphins trying fewer shot plays.

One player recently told me in frustration, "they were there earlier this season but something always went wrong, just like last year. Either the receiver drops a pass or the quarterback has no time or he can't get it to his guy. It was nobody's fault. It was everybody's fault and now he (Lazor) doesn't seem to trust us dialing them up."

The evidence of such mistrust? It is not on the surface where Mike Wallace is on his way to an 80-catch season or rookie Jarvis Landry has become a threat all over the field. That's good. Very good.

The evidence is that Wallace's yards per catch is at 13.0 this year. And that is disappointing considering Wallace came to the Dolphins as a dynamic deep threat who averaged 17.2 yards per catch in Pittsburgh. He leads Dolphins wide receivers in yards per catch now but is merely tied for 50th among NFL receivers in the category.

Brian Hartline who averaged 13.4 yards per catch last year is still getting open, still running good routes, still practicing well, according to coaches. But his yards per catch stat has suffered by 3.2 yards since last year and is at a career low 10.2 yards per catch.  

Nobody's fault. Everybody's fault.

That leads us to the team's crunch time statistics -- third down passing, fouth-quarter passing, and red zone scoring.

On third down, Tannehill is completing 55 percent of his passes. His yards per attempt is at 5.86 yards. His rating is 74.4. And that translates to him ranking 26th among NFL third down passing leaders.

The fourth quarter has not been a friend to Tannehill and the passing game, either. Miami's QB is 34th in the NFL. The only QB below him that has gotten at least 80 fourth-quarter pass attempts is Austin Davis of the St. Louis Rams. Davis is usually a third-stringer and has this week been benched.

Statistics, you say? They can be skewed in number of ways, you say?

Consider: For whatever reason, be it a product of the system Lazor is running or the coaching staff's trust level, Tannehill does not often have the luxury of changing plays at the line if he sees something in the defense he does not like. He sometimes has the choice of two different plays -- a check-with-me option -- but hardly ever the option of going in a different direction.

This has raised eyebrows among players who say they had most success in systems the quarterback has greater freedom to be a playmaker.

That's not the only reason a couple of players have questions about Lazor. Before the season, Lazor told players the days of passing the ball on third-and-one were over. There was a buzz among Miami players about becoming a physical offense.

But after showing that phyiscal intent in the season opener against New England, with runs outnumbering passes 38-32, the Dolphins have settled into more of a passing mode. They've passed more than run in six of the past eight games. In two of those games the Dolphins threw twice as many passes as they tried runs.

The two players are wondering what happened to the idea of being a phyiscal offense.  

Making plays in the red zone has been an issue for the Dolphins this year. They are tied for eighth in the NFL with 20 red zone touchdowns. They lead the league with 43 red zone visits. Both numbers are good taken separately. Combined it's a bad thing.

As a result of inconsistent tight end play, because they don't have a running game they trust enough, and because they don't possess a player who is a matchup nightmare for the opposing defense in a short field, the Dolphins are converting 46.5 of their red zone visits into touchdowns.

That's 30th in the NFL.

“Well, we’ve had some negative runs down there," Philbin said. "We’ve had some sacks down there. We’ve had some dropped passes down there. We’ve had some penalties. I think the execution, when we study it, you look at the film, there’s some reason. Some of it has been good defense by our opposition. We certainly have to do better, but there are a lot of things that we can do better to help our scoring average go up.”

Yes, back to the scoring average.

The Miami offense has had some truly bright moments this year to get that average where it is. They've scored 38, 37, 33, and 27 points a couple of times.

The 37-point game against San Diego is the pretty, pristine tip of the iceberg because the Dolphins started well and didn't slow down until the game was out of reach. They struck a balance between pass and run, they spread the football around in the passing game, and they did it against the NFL's No. 8 defense.

The other high-scoring performances? The 38-point outburst came against Oakland, the NFL's 28th-ranked defense. And the two 27-point games came against Chicago, which has the NFL's worst scoring defense, and Jacksonville, which has the NFL's third-worst scoring defense.

But that probably goes unnoticed below the surface.

November 12, 2014

Cortland Finnegan out, Jamar Taylor in, Colledge doubtful

The Dolphins were hoping for better news on the injury front this week.

The team was holding out slim hope cornerback Cortland Finnegan might be able to play at least limited snaps against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. They had hoped the treatment Finnegan has been getting at all hours would help the player rally.

Didn't happen.

The team today declared Finnegan out for Thursday's game. Second-year corner Jamar Taylor will start instead. Taylor has played 114 passing snaps this year. Opposing QBs have completed 61.5 percent of their throws against him.

Left guard Daryn Colledge, who has missed two games with a back issue, is listed as doubtful for this game with those same back issues. He did not practice this week. If Colledge cannnot play (as expected) and misses his third consecutive game, he will be replaced by Shelley Smith.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, nursing a sore shoulder and ankle, was limited in practice again Wednesday but he is starting for Miami. He is listed as probable.

TE Charles Clay (knee), TE Dion Sims (toe), LB Kelvin Sheppard (hip/groin) and long snapper John Denney (knee) are listed as questionable. All were limited in practice this week. Sims is the least likely of the four to play.

For the Bills, reserve DE Jairus Wynn is out with a knee injury.

November 11, 2014

Dolphins to unveil alternate unis vs. Buffalo

Fashionista alert:

The Miami Dolphins are going full aqua jersey over aqua pants against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium.

It will mark the first time since the team changed uniforms last season that the Dolphins wear an alternate type uniform in a game. The team usually wears either all white, or a white top and aqua pants, or an aqua top and white pants. Aqua

This will look, well, different.

Better?

Worse?

That's a matter of personal taste. You decide how you feel Thursday night, but meanwhile you have a little clue to whet your appetite courtesy a picture tweeted by Dolphins CEO and President Tom Garfinkel.

People with a historic or institutional knowledge of the franchise will remember this is the third time the Dolphins wear an all aqua uniform. They did it against the Chicago Bears in 2002, against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003 and against the Cleveland Browns in 2004. The first two games were on a Monday Night and the third on a Sunday night.

The Dolphins are 2-1 in their alternate aqua unis.

And then there's this: I do not believe the Dolphins need extra motivation for this game. It is in prime time. It is a nationally telecast event. It is against a divisional rival. So there are reasons players should be into this game.

But if the Dolphins can use this as even one iota of extra juice for this game ... then it's a great idea and great timing. Pull out the all orange next.

 

Philbin outlines reasons Bills have beaten the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have lost three consecutive games to the Buffalo Bills and four of the past five.

Why?

Was it great quarterback play by the Bills?

No.

Was it great coaching by the Bills?

With all due respect to Doug Marrone, not really.

Was it Buffalo's obvious quality, in that they beat practically everyone else so them beating the Dolphins makes sense?

Absolutely not. The Bills last year finished last in the AFC East last season.

So why the heck do the Bills have this, this advantage of late over the good guys?

I have a theory. But I don't count. Joe Philbin has a theory. He counts because if he can identify the issue, it is logical he can then have his team work to correct the issue.

So what does Philbin see as the common themes the Bills have been able to take advantage of during their current string?

"I think they've run the ball better," Philbin said today. "I thnk third down has been an issue and then takeaways. Those are the three things I would say."

Well in Oct 2013, the Bills ran the ball 30 times against the Dolphins for 90 yards -- a 3.0 average. The Dolphins ran it 25 times for 125 yards -- a 4.8 average. The second meeting last year, the Bills ran it 51 times for 203 yards -- a 4.0 average. The Dolphins ran it only 12 times for 14 yards -- a paltry 1.2 yard average. Earlier this year the Bills ran it 33 times for 113 yards -- a 3.4 yard per rush average. The Dolphins averaged 3.8 yards per rush, running it 21 times for 80 yards.

So in two of the three games, the Dolphins averaged more yards per rush than the Bills although the Bills outgained Miami in two of the three games.

The Dolphins were indeed terrible on third down last October. They converted only 3 of 13 while the Bills won that battle by converting 9 of 19. In the rematch the Dolphins converted only two of 14 opportunities while the Bills converted 7 of 19 third downs. So last year the Dolphins converted a total of five out of 27 third down chances.

Earlier this year, The Dolphins converted five of 16 third downs but the Bills didn't do much better, converting 5 of 15.

Takeaways?

The Bills won the turnover battle last October, won the turnover battle in the rematch last December, and won the turnover battle earlier this season.

So the formula for beating the Bills would be to run the ball, win on third down and not give up turnovers.

How does that happen?

There's the problem. Practically every one of those issues are derived from this bigger issue: The Bills have won the matchup along the line of scrimmage.

They run better than Miami. They stop the run better than Miami. They generally create more pressure on third down and that obviously comes from winning along the line of scrimmage while containing the Dolphins' pressure up front, allowing more third down conversions.

And the turnovers? The Bills, again, pressure Ryan Tannehill into mistakes as he's thrown three interceptions against them while Matt Moore has thrown two of his own. The Miami line also pressures the Buffalo quarterbacks into mistakes but only twice and none in the game earlier this year.

Bottom line?

The Dolphins must find a way to win up front against the Bills. With a new left tackle (Ju'Wuan James), a new right tackle (Dallas Thomas) and perhaps a new left guard (Shelley Smith) if Daryn Colledge cannot play again, that is going to be a tough assignment.