December 22, 2014

Will Philbin, who is staying, keep Kevin Coyle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there's the feel stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

So what will the Dolphins do about it?

 

December 21, 2014

Joe Philbin to remain Miami Dolphins coach

Joe Philbin will remain the Miami Dolphins coach in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Miami Dolphins pull out 37-35 victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, really. Truly great.

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

Dolphins lay egg in first half versus Vikings

Are you kidding me?

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

They're at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

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

And they get the ball first in the second half.

Not the way to come out today, folks.

Live blog: Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20, 2014

Keys to the game: Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

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

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

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

Good news for Dolphins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert: FOX broadcast will side with keeping Philbin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so Albert is boldly predicting a whipping.

No. Kidding.

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

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

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

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

December 19, 2014

Jason Fox will finally get his chance Sunday

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

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

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

Coaches picked Thomas as the starter.

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

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

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

He will get that opportunity on Sunday.

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

Dolphins' Ross cannot have it both ways

Folks, we cannot have things both ways.

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

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

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

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

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

I pick option one.

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

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

Really?

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

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

Talking to no one.

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

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

Please, somebody tell me that is the truth.

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

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

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

December 18, 2014

Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon in a sack drought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 17, 2014

Michigan offer to Harbaugh changes things ... for better

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

Awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it good for the Dolphins?

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

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

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

I believe similar thinking will apply to Harbaugh.

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

Can you imagine?

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

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

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

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

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

Harbaugh: I'll be in my office.

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

Harbaugh: Great. Bye.

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

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

Joe Philbin.

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

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

Linebackers back to work Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honestly, must the Dolphins be a training ground?

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

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

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

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

Gamble?

Heck, yeah. But bold.

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

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

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

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

Ross believes Harbaugh could.

But failing that, who else?

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

December 16, 2014

Tape review from PFF of Miami Dolphins loss

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin changed his team's Tuesday schedule this week. Rather than practice as they've done the previous 14 weeks, Philbin is having his players simply lift weights today. There will be no media availability and instead that will be extended to Friday.

This blog will be lifting weights on Tuesday as well.

What the heck.

But as Tuesday remains the day my friends at ProFootballFocus.com send in their initial tape reviews and I add when and where necessary, we will do that today as well.

Offensive Summary

Left guards Shelley Smith and Daryn Colledge continued to rotate every two series, with Colledge edging Smith in snaps against the New England Patriots, 46-35.

Running back Lamar Miller handled 43 of 81 snaps, while Damien Williams played 20 and Daniel Thomas chipped in with 18. The majority of Williams’ snaps came on the lengthy final drive. Williams, by the way, dropped a touchdown pass.

The Dolphins dropped two touchdown passes on Sunday with Rishard Matthews having the other one.

Brandon Gibson, inactive and little used in late September, has apparently gotten back in the coaching staff's good graces. Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry handled 61 and 60 snaps, respectively, while Brian Hartline and Gibson had 44 and 43. That's a lot for Gibson.

Ja’Wuan James took over the left tackle spot when Branden Albert was injured at Detroit. James seemed to initially adapt quite well to the move from right tackle. But after playing relatively weel against Denver and the Jets, James has struggled the past two weeks, according to PFF. Against the Patriots he allowed 11 hurries, a new career high.

Passing

Ryan Tannehill finally hit on that deep-ball everyone had been waiting for. Overall, Tannehill was 3-of-8 on throws of 20+ yards for 104 yards. The fact the Patriots were playing man coverage in the first half had a lot to do with Miami's desire to attack with the deep ball.

Tannehill was pressured on 23 of his 51 drop-backs but both of his interceptions came when he was under no duress.

Rushing

All of Lamar Miller’s success was limited to the first half and almost exclusively on outside runs; on 8 runs between the guards on Sunday, Miller produced only 15 yards.

Receiving

Darrelle Revis started the game shadowing Jarvis Landry, but the rookie later saw coverage against LBs, safeties, and other cornerbacks. After Mike Wallace beat the Pats on the opening play and for a one-handed TD to close the half, New England coaches adjusted and put Revis on Wallace.

It worked because Wallace was targetted only one time in the second half when covered by Revis and didn't have a catch against Mr. Island. Wallace did finish with five catches for 104 yards against everyone else.

Even with Kyle Arrington injured, Malcolm Butler didn’t see any snaps in the second half after being burned by Wallace for two big plays in the first half. Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson saw snaps as the nickel and/or dime defenders for New England. More adjustments from the Pats. 

Defensive Summary

With the Patriots going pretty heavy in two TE personnel, the Dolphins’ base defense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the defensive snaps.

Kelvin Sheppard made his first start since 2013, and he finished with four stops -- a high for Miami. The official statistics had Sheppard for 10 tackles to lead the team.

Dion Jordan dropped into coverage on eight of his 17 snaps. He was often running after New England tight end Gronkowski in coverage. But ...

Jordan was not on Gronk on either of the TE's two touchdown catches.

The Dolphins solved their run defense issues of the past three weeks. They allowed 108 yards on 29 attempts, but most of those came in the second half. In the first half, the Dolphins gave up only 20 rushing yards on 13 carries.

Coverage

Despite intercepting a pass in the first half, Jason Trusnik was targetted by Tom Brady. The Patriots completed four of five attempts against him for 55 yards.

Likewise, Philip Wheeler was also exploited. Brady was able to match Gronk and Julian Edelman on Wheeler a few times, completing 3-of-3 for 62 yards.

Cortland Finnegan played well in his first game back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss a month of games. He limited Brady to a 50% completion percentage (5-of-10) when he looked his way. It was, however, interesting to see Gronkowski get behind Finnegan in one-on-one coverage. Brady underthrew, giving Finnegan the chance to make up ground and defend the pass.

Opponents’ passing

Juxtapose Brady’s deep-ball figures to Tannehill’s: Brady went 4-for-8 on 20-plus-yard throws, for 127 yards.

No wonder the Dolphins didn’t blitz that much: On eight drop-backs facing the blitz, Brady was 7-of-8 for 86 yards and a score.

December 15, 2014

Men in Stephen Ross's ear: Marino, Tannenbaum

Joe Philbin fate seems sealed following Sunday's 41-13 blowout loss at the hands of the New England Patriots. It wasn't so much this lone failure that is the coach's undoing but rather the last two weeks in which Philbin has been unable to coax his team to play well in the biggest games of the year -- games that decided Miami's postseason status.

And in that regard, the failures against Baltimore and New England resembled the team's inability to close in the final two games of the 2013 season when the playoffs beckoned and the Dolphins could not win even once to reach the postseason.

So now Philbin's days are numbered.

But that's not what this is about. The what-ifs and what-might-be scenarios are covered in the column.

This is more about who will have say in those myriad scenarios. That's where Dan Marino and Mike Tannenbaum come into play.

After Miami's disappointment on Sunday, Ross was seen talking intently with both Marino and Tannenbaum. And although the entirety of the conversation could not be properly picked up, it is clear the men were discussing, at least in part, the Dolphins situation and future.

The scene was not typical of what happens after a game.

Afterward, Tannenbaum was seen at Ross's helicopter -- again, not a usual occurrence. Tannenbaum got on the copter and flew back to the New York area with Ross. The Dolphins say Marino did not get on the helicopter but instead went back with the team on the team charter.

Marino is a Dolphins special advisor to the owner. But he went to great lengths in his interview with me a couple of months ago to say he has never been asked to evaluate Philbin. That's not what he was hired to do, Marino said.

Yet it's obvious if boss Ross asks the former star quarterback his opinion about Philbin, Marino will use the knowledge he's gained in attending practices, sitting in on offensive and defensive meetings, attending games and talking to players to share his thoughts with the owner.

Tannenbaum is the former general manager of the New York Jets. He was originally interested in being considered for the Miami GM post when Jeff Ireland and Ross split. That obviously didn't happen, but Tannenbaum was then hired as a "consultant" to help the Dolphins on a variety of projects involving innovation, analytics and sports science.

But who are these people trying to kid? Nothing about what Tannenbaum talked with Ross about on Sunday in that confab that included Marino included analytics and sports science. No way. No how.

Indeed Tannenbaum is yet another member of the shadow government that Ross has surrounded himself with -- men such as Carl Peterson. These folks aren't employed by the team in an orthodox fashion yet give the owner advice about the team although they are rarely actually around the team.

Yeah, weird.

Tannenbaum has been to most if not all the games. But he's never at training camp or practices. Anyway, Tannenbaum's day job is as a sports agent. He was hired by Relativity Sports to help found that company's branch of representation for coaches and broadcast talent.

Among the clients Tannenbaum represents are Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was also the Raiders head coach for a short time.

What are the chances one or all these guys interview for the next Dolphins job? And how do you think Joe Philbin would feel about seeing his boss in deep discussion with the in-house coach agent minutes after a tenure defining loss? How do you think Dennis Hickey would feel about seeing his boss in deep discussion with a guy who want to be GM instead of the guy who, you know, actually got the job?

Look, I get it. The NFL is about winning and losing. Winners get praised and losers get pushed to the margins. But I remind you Ross has been owner since 2009 and his hiring of coaches and general managers has been messy.

It now seems there will be another coaching search after this season. Marino and Tannenbaum will obviously have say in what happens.

It would be nice if this time, the Dolphins can stay classy in how they conduct business. 

December 14, 2014

Miami Dolphins utterly demolished by Pats, 41-13

FOXBORO -- The Dolphins scored at the end of the second quarter and trailed the New England Patriots by only one point, 14-13, here on Sunday.

Then the third quarter came.

And any hope for the playoffs the Dolphins held were erased by the Patriots, who scored 24 points to take a 38-13 lead.

Embarrassing.

The Dolphins at one point had run four plays in the quarter while the Patriots had scored three times. Bye-bye, 2014 season. The next stop is a reach for a 9-7 record that would mean, well, nothing.

Joe Philbin is on the firing line now, folks. No way his team can respond to such a big game and a big moment like this and anyone think the coach isn't under the microscope.

The Dolphins didn't get a lot of great play on the field from players who frankly seemed to quit by the fourth quarter.

Damien Williams dropped a touchdown pass.

Rishard Matthews dropped a touchdown pass.

Ryan Tannehill threw an interception.

And Rob Gronkowski, held without a catch in the first half, caught touchdown passes of 35 and 27 yards while running through the heart of the Miami defense.  

The thing that troubles most?

The Patriots are clearly not the team the Dolphins beat in the season opener. But are they this much better?

And even if they are this much better the issue is that the Patriots are 9-1 in their last 10 games. They are playing very well in December.

The Dolphins?

They've lost three of the past four games. They're 2-4 the second half of the season. They're regressing.

Live blog: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

FOXBORO -- It is a beautiful afternoon for football here as the Miami Dolphins visit the New England Patriots.

It isn't so beautiful for Koa Misi (hamstring) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) who will miss today's game.  They are among Miami's inactives today.

Kelvin Sheppard take over for Misi at MLB. And Jason Trusnik takes over for Jenkins at OLB.

The other inactives are LaMichael James, Jonathan Freeny, Chris McCain, Nate Garner and Billy Turner.

By the way, do no be surprised if Jason Fox splits some snaps with Dallas Thomas today.

As always, we do a live blog. Join the community:

 

Live Blog Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots: Dec. 14, 2014
 

Answering the Jim Harbaugh questions with Miami Dolphins

My column in today's Miami Herald covers the scenarios Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will think of keeping or firing Joe Philbin if the team fails to make the playoffs.

And today is an important day in that regard because it is clear the Dolphins must beat the New England Patriots if they are to make that grasp at the postseason.

So what happens if the team loses today?

I believe ownership will begin to look at the landscape. I believe at some point Ross will find out through various channels -- not a direct flight to the Bay Area -- whether Jim Harbaugh would be interested in coming to Miami or whether the idea is not one he'd consider.

That is step No. 1.

Step No. 2 will rely on what Harbaugh's answer and is covered in the column.

About Harbaugh: I know that he is a mercenary. He would not come to the Dolphins or the Jets or even the Oakland Raiders as the guy who's going to coach the team 20 years.

That's not what he has done in his career. He was the head coach three years at the University of San Diego. He was the head coach at Stanford four years. He's been the San Francisco 49ers coach four years.

And while his moves from those college programs were about career progress, his looming move from San Francisco is, in part, because his relationships have soured with upper management and perhaps his act his worn thin with some players.

And you know how I view the idea of getting a guy who is likely to be gone in a handful of years because he wears everybody out?

I think it's a better idea to hire a guy who wins while grating on players and the organization than hiring a guy who is beloved but loses. That beloved guy? He's getting fired in four years, anyway.

So winning -- the idea of raising a mediocre team to a higher level -- trumps the problems associated with ego and personality in my book.

December 13, 2014

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

The Dolphins placed defensive lineman Anthony Johnson on injured reserve Friday evening.

While that will not necessarily hurt Miami's chances to win, it obviously will affect Miami's defensive line rotation. Earl Mitchell, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks will have to play longer. That may be better for Miami.

If you are frequent reader of this weekly Saturday feature, you know that although I've stopped picking the game, my thinking is obvious in how much of the advantages I give one team or the other.

Last week, you may recall, I don't thinkI gave the Dolphins the advantage in any major category. Tha'ts because I didn't believe the Dolphins matched up well against the Baltimore Ravens.

I believe the Dolphins actually match up better against the New England Patriots on Sunday. I'm wouldn't pick the Dolphins to win the game. But, in my mind, they have a better chance to win this game, than they did prior to last week's game versus Baltimore.

The keys to the game: 

When the Patriots pass the football: Things have changed in New England since the season-opener, and obviously for the better. The two guards and center who started the opener are different -- and better. Rob Gronkowski, working himself back from knee surgery and limited in his snap count in the opener, is now starting at tight end. Tim Wright, a tight end acquired from Tampa Bay near the end of the preseason, actually knows the offense now. And receiver Brandon LaFell, acquired in the offseason and coming off the bench in the opener, has found his niche and is starting. In other words the entire offense outside of quarterback Tom Brady and the two offensive tackles have different roles than they did in the opener. The Dolphins have apparently weathered the lack of quality cornerback issues they suffered when Cortland Finnegan missed four games. He will play. They do have to re-acclimate Jimmy Wilson to the safety spot to take over for the loss of Louis Delmas to a season-ending knee injury. The key to this game for Miami is somehow getting pressure on Brady. If they cannot do that, they cannot win. ADVANTAGE: New England.

When the Patriots run the football: New England made LaGarrette Blount the centerpiece of their running game last season as the playoffs got closer and it seems they’re trying to do the same now. Although Blount left in free agency, he was cut by Pittsburgh a month ago and signed as a free agent. In three games, Blount has rushed for 202 yards on 47 carries (4.8 average) and added toughness to the team’s inside running game. The Patriots also can use former Dolphin Jonas Gray, who had one excellent game and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as an inside runner. ShaneVereen is more an outside threat and a fine pass-catcher out of the backfield. The Dolphins have allowed 201, 277 and 183 rushing yards respectively the past three games but view the work against Baltimore as only half bad because many of those yards came in breakout fashion in the fourth quarter once the game was already basically lost. (Strange). The team’s players remain confident they can regain the form that had them among the league leaders against the run earlier this season. Linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins are doubtful for the game so that cannot help a defense that’s currently No. 22 against the run. ADVANTAGE: New England.

When the Dolphins pass the football: It will be interesting to watch Jarvis Landry, now Miami’s leading receiver, match up against New England’s Brandon Browner, a 6-4 player who is one of the NFL’s more accomplished slot cornerbacks. Landry is in many respects the tone-setter for the Miami offense because he is physical as well as crafty. Browner is equally physical. The success of the Dolphins’ intermediate and deep passing game (what there is of that) will continue to depend on how much time the offensive line allows quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Unlike the past few weeks when Miami has faced elite pass-rushers, the Patriots don’t have one star rusher. They rely on a team concept to get to the quarterback and that may bode well for the Dolphins. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Dolphins have been hearing complaints that Lamar Miller doesn’t get enough carries and it is not known if they’ve gotten the message but if they look at their season-opening victory over New England, they understand they ran a season-high 38 times for 191 yards. That is a formula for success against New England: Run it, tire New England’s finesse defense out, and keep Tom Brady off the field longer as a result. Of course, Knowshon Moreno did most of that damage in the opener and he’s been long done for the season, but Miller is itching for more work. The Patriots have vastly improved their run defense with the recent additions of Sealver Siliga (off IR) and Jonathan Casillas (in trade from Tampa Bay). Dont’a Hightower has stepped up his game, but there is no doubt this team still misses Jerod Mayo, who has effectively missed the past two seasons with knee injuries. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: The Dolphins have been better this season returning kicks, the Patriots have been better returning punts. The Patriots have been better than the Dolphins at covering both kicks and punts. What does this all mean? Well, if the game comes down to a pressure kick, the Patriots are No. 6 in the NFL in field goal percentage. The Dolphins are No. 20. ADVANTAGE: New England.

Coaching: The Dolphins enjoyed an advantage over New England in the opener because new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor had not yet fully unveiled his scheme and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle brought a couple of wrinkles to the game. But the Dolphins are an open book now. And there is probably no better coach and staff at picking on the opponent’s weaknesses and trying to take away their strengths than Bill Belichick and his staff. Oh, by the way, Joe Philbin might be coaching for his job so give that due consideration. ADVANTAGE: New England.

December 12, 2014

Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins doubtful for Patriots

Don't count on Miami Dolphins linebackers Jelani Jenkins or Koa Misi to play against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Both players missed their third consecutive day of practice on Friday and are listed as doubtful for the game, meaning there is a 75 percent chance they will not play.

With Misi and Jenkins -- two-thirds of Miami's starting linebacker corps -- unlikely to play, the Dolphins will ask Jason Trusnik and Kelvin Sheppard to play in their place.

Phillip Wheeler is Miami's lone healthy starting linebacker.

Nate Garner (illness) and Anthony Johnson (ankle) are out this week. Johnson suffered his ankle injury in practice on Thursday and was on crutches afterward.

CB Cortland Finnegan, who has missed four games, is questionable but expected to play. CB Jamar Taylor, who has missed three games, is questionable but also expects to play.

For the Patriots, only defensive lineman Dominique Easley is out and there are no players listed as doubtful.