November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from Dolphins In Depth

Today, as is tradition here, we share Dolphins related reasons for being thankful even as we never lose sight of the fact we cover a game and there is always next week or next year and the results aren't in the same universe with those thing truly important  -- such as family, health, provision, soundness of mind and soul, and relationships with those who matter most.

Anyway, let's get to it ...

We are thankful the Dolphins should now know how to deal with Buster Skrine blitzes because, after all, they saw 22 of them the first time they played the Jets.

We are thankful new addition Quinton Coples, known for having a good appetite, should be hungry in a different way against his former team on Sunday.

We are thankful for that easy early season schedule. Yeah, that worked out great.

We are thankful for wide receivers coming out of nowhere -- even after not showing up during the offseason -- and leading the team in receiving touchdowns and yards.

We are thankful for hair color in a bottle because without it, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry wouldn't quite be themselves.

We are thankful for Joe Philbin rapping in a top hat because it didn't do squat for the win-loss record but it confirmed things we thought about the man.

We are thankful for an interim head coach coming out of nowhere and showing up with a big personality and straight talk.

We are thankful for an owner who recognizes when it's time to make a coaching change -- even if that recognition comes a couple of years after everyone else recognized it.

We are thankful for big, bruising running backs born in London.

We are thankful for trips to London -- if only they would not come at the expense of a home game against a division rival.

We are thankful for a reconstructed stadium.

And the looming reconstruction of the team that calls that stadium home.

We are thankful that Ryan Tannehill, sacked 169 times during his NFL career, can still walk.

We are thankful center Mike Pouncey is one nasty dude when he needs to be.

We are thankful Pouncey knows he needs to get stronger to be nastier.

We are thankful for a healthy Branden Albert even though he still walks as if he's 70.

We are thankful that linebackers will be available in the next draft.

We are thankful that cornerbacks will be available in the next draft.

We are thankful for a personnel department that recognizes it needs linebackers and corners in the next draft.

We are thankful that Achilles' injuries heal because ... Cameron Wake.

We are thankful we saw evidence of this because ... Dan Marino.

(OK, so maybe Marino's surgery didn't go quite as well as it could have.)

That made us thankful the Achilles tendon is in the leg, not the right arm.

We're thankful for home games. Remember what those are?

We are thankful there are only six division games because Miami fans can take only so much failure.

We are thankful for the next dozen years because the last dozen have been punctuated by 11 New England division title.

We are thankful for offseason championships because the Dolphins have won tons of them.

We are thankful for the immediate future because the immediate past offered no postseason appearance.

We are thankful NFL players are not solely defined by their rookie seasons.

We are thankful worrisome foot injuries can and do heal.

We are thankful Reshad Jones troubles coaches with the manner he carries interceptions into the end zone and takes them out as well.

We are thankful for Greg Jennings remaining a class act even if his ability has slipped.

We are thankful the number of times Ndamukong Suh's says "At the end of the day" compared to how many sacks he collects is down to about 10 to 1 instead of 50 to 1 as it was the first month of the season.

We are thankful for Lamar Miller's running.

And pass catching.

We are thankful Bill Lazor knows running the football is important in the NFL.

We are thankful that Dan Campbell reminds him every so often.

We are thankful to the Merchant Marine Academy for giving Lou Anarumo a foundation as a defensive coordinator.

We are thankful for fast starts even if they visit too infrequently.

We are thankful for a strong finish because it has been a stranger the past few years and is desperately needed now.

We are thankful for the greatest media relations department in the NFL.

We are thankful someday that department will show what it can do come the postseason.

We are thankful Brent Grimes isn't going to get sick eating Turkey today.

Because we know things don't go well when Brent Grimes eats something that makes him sick.

We are thankful that day after day, year after year, since 2007 you have come to this site and made it the most popular spot at The Miami Herald.

We know you don't always agree. We know we don't always get it exactly right. But you should know we'll always try to correct the record and accept blame when warranted.

So we are thankful for you sticking right here.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero


We are thankful for that easy early season schedule. Yeah, that worked out great.

We are thankful for Joe Philbin rapping in a top hat because it didn't do squat for the win-loss record but it confirmed some things we thought about the man.




November 24, 2015

Jimmy Johnson an HOF semifinalist

Former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson and former University of Miami standout running back Edgerrin James are among the 25 modern-era semifinalists that will go on to the whittling process of selecting the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Johnson coached the Dolphins from 1996-99 and, no, he was not HOF quality in Miami. But he did take the team to the playoffs three out of four seasons and built what turned out to be a playoff-caliber defense.

The following is the complete list of Modern-Era semifinalists for the Class of 2016 with positions, years and teams listed. Also included are the number of times and years that each individual has been named a semifinalist since this reduction vote was added to the selection bylaws in 2004.

1.      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 | (Times as a Semifinalist: 4 – 2013-16)

2.      Steve Atwater, S – 1989-1998 Denver Broncos, 1999 New York Jets | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2012-16)

3.      Tony Boselli, T – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars, 2002 Houston Texans (injured reserve) | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

4.      Isaac Bruce, WR – 1994-2007 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 2008-09 San Francisco 49ers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

5.      Don Coryell, Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 8 – 2005, 2010-16)

6.      Roger Craig, RB – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings | (Times as a Semifinalist: 8 – 2009-16)

7.      Terrell Davis, RB – 1995-2001 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 10 – 2007-2016)

8.      Tony Dungy, Coach – 1996-2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002-08 Indianapolis Colts | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2014-16)

9.      Alan Faneca, G -1998-2007 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2008-09 New York Jets, 2010 Arizona Cardinals | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

10.  Brett Favre,QB – 1991 Atlanta Falcons, 1992-2007 Green Bay Packers, 2008 New York Jets, 2009-2010 Minnesota Vikings | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

11.  Kevin Greene, LB/DE – 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 10 – 2007-2016)

12.  Marvin Harrison, WR – 1996-2008 Indianapolis Colts | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2014-16)

13.  Torry Holt, WR – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

14.  Joe Jacoby, T –1981-1993 Washington Redskins | (Times as a Semifinalist: 6 – 2005, 2008, 2013-16)

15.  Edgerrin James,RB – 1999-2005 Indianapolis Colts, 2006-08 Arizona Cardinals, 2009 Seattle Seahawks | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

16.  Jimmy Johnson, Coach – 1989-1993 Dallas Cowboys, 1996-99 Miami Dolphins | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2014-16)

17.  Mike Kenn, T – 1978-1994 Atlanta Falcons | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

18.  Ty Law, CB – 1995-2004 New England Patriots, 2005, 2008 New York Jets, 2006-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2009 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

19.  John Lynch, FS – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 4 – 2013-16)

20.  Kevin Mawae, C/G – 1994-97 Seattle Seahawks, 1998-2005 New York Jets, 2006-09 Tennessee Titans | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

21.  Karl Mecklenburg, LB – 1983-1994 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2012-16)

22.  Sam Mills, LB –1986-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

23.  Terrell Owens, WR – 1996-2003 San Francisco 49ers, 2004-05 Philadelphia Eagles, 2006-08 Dallas Cowboys, 2009 Buffalo Bills, 2010 Cincinnati Bengals | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

24.  Orlando Pace, T – 1997-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Chicago Bears | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

25.  Kurt Warner, QB – 1998-2003 St. Louis Rams, 2004 New York Giants, 2005-09 Arizona Cardinals | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

The list of 25 semifinalists will be reduced by mail ballot to 15 Modern-Era Finalists in January. That list increases to 18 finalists with the inclusion of the recommended nominees of the Hall of Fame’s Contributors and Seniors Committees. The 2016 Senior Finalists are Ken Stabler (QB – 1970-79 Oakland Raiders, 1980-81 Houston Oilers, 1982-84 New Orleans Saints) and Dick Stanfel (G – 1952-55 Detroit Lions, 1956-58 Washington Redskins). The 2016 Contributor Finalist is former San Francisco 49ers owner (1977-2000) Edward DeBartolo, Jr.

DeBartolo, Stabler and Stanfel 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 Saturday, February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, the day before Super Bowl 50.

Although there is no set number of enshrinees for any Hall of Fame Class, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s current bylaws stipulate that between four and eight new members will be selected each year. No more than five Modern-Era Finalists can be elected in a given year. Therefore, a class of six, seven, or eight can only be achieved if one or more of the Contributor and Seniors Finalists are elected.


Dolphins claim DE Quinton Coples

Former first round draft pick Quinton Coples is a defensive end. But he's not a 3-4 DE, he's a 4-3 DE. So he didn't fit in with the New York Jets, a 3-4 team.

And so the Jets waived Coples Monday.

And on Tuesday the Dolphins claimed Coples.

He is scheduled to report to the Dolphins by Wednesday and be on the field for practice. His first game for the Dolphins might come as early as Sunday when the Dolphins play, that's right, the New York Jets.

Coples was the 16th overall selection of the 2012 draft. But he has fallen out of favor in New York since new coach Todd Bowles changed the defensive scheme. He played a season-low five snaps in last week's 24-17 Jets loss to Houston. (Yeah, the Jets lost to Houston).

In 10 games this season Coples had no sacks and only 12 tackles, giving him a modest 16.5 sacks during his run with the Jets.

But for the Dolphins, a 4-3 defense, Coples immediately becomes a player who can help fill the void left by the season-ending Achilles' injury to defensive end Cameron Wake. This isn't a marriage, folks. This is some dates until the end of the season and then we'll see.

But this is certain: The Dolphins are clearly not giving up on this season with 5-5 currently being the gate to the playoffs and them sitting at 4-6 with six games to play.

Coples, at 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, is a prototype 4-3 defensive end. The Dolphins must make a roster move to officially add Coples to the roster.

At this writing they were in the process of doing exactly that.

Miami offensive line not built with division rivals in mind

The Miami Dolphins play in the AFC East and have been there for years and years. This is not news to the organization or anyone else. And so it stands to reason they should know that the teams they have to match up against, first and foremost, are their AFC East rivals.

They play those rivals six times every single season.

And if they cannot beat those rivals, they cannot matter in the postseason scheme of things.

This season the Dolphins have not won even one game against Buffalo, New England or the New York Jets. They are 0-4 against those teams with Sunday's rematch at New York up next.

I'm making these points because it stands to reason that someone within the Dolphins organization knows all this, and recognizes they probably should configure their team, in part, to cause their chief rivals a problem. It stands to reason but in one regard it has not happened.

Coach Dan Campbell, during his day-after-game press conference on Monday, matter of factly spoke about how the Miami offensive line isn't very big in a relative sense. The Miami offensive line isn't overpowering in a relative sense. And against defensive fronts that are bigger and more about holding ground rather than charging upfield with quickness, the Dolphins line struggles.

“I think that all of these teams in our division have a pretty good defensive line," Campbell said. "And I think a lot of these teams they’ve got a big front, big long guys, really two-gap guys, other than Buffalo which is a little bit more penetration. They’re trying to do some of that two-gap stuff that they have enough penetration between (Marcell) Dareus is a big guy in the middle.

"So I just think that they make life a little bit harder to try to run inside for us. We’re not the biggest line up front but we can certainly, there’s things in the run game we can do to get these guys moving. When you play these bigger lines that are shock, lock out, two-gap, shed, look for the ball, then you got to get them moving. You have to get them running. If they don’t ever have to turn their hips and run then you’re going to struggle in the run game."


So you play in a division in which two teams (New York and New England) play two-gap, 3-4 fronts while the remaining team (Buffalo) plays a multiple front that includes 3-4 looks and that's what you sometimes struggle against because your line is built to be more athletic and mobile as opposed to being a steamroller?

And do not be fooled, the Miami line is not a steamroller. It is indeed more about technique and movement and making the bigger defensive linemen "run," as Campbell said.

Mike Pouncey is that kind of player. Branden Albert is that kind of player. Ja'Wuan James is that kind of player. Dallas Thomas is that kind of player.

Billy Turner is not that kind of player. He's a steamroller. He's more physical.

But four of Miami's five starting linemen rely on being athletic and technique-sound and quick rather than being overpowering. And that kind of lineman can struggle against bigger defensive fronts -- like the Jets, and New England have.


This will be food for thought during Sunday's game and in the season finale with New England. But it really is something someone should have thought about the past couple of years as this line was being built around Mike Pouncey, who is the anchor and his been on the Dolphins since 2011.

Anyway, speaking of Billy Turner, he turned in a very good game on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, per my friends at

Turner was the highest graded Miami offensive player and had the third-best grade of any guard in the NFL for the week.

Other players who performed well, per the metrics site, included defensive end Olivier Vernon and safety Reshad Jones.

Vernon has turned it on the past two weeks and against Dallas turned in the second-best grade of any 4-3 defensive end graded by PFF.

Jones had the best grade of any safety in the NFL.

And rookie defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who only played 17 snaps, had the fourth-best pass rush grade of any nose tackle/defensive tackle in Week 11.

So with all these great things happening, why didn't the Dolphins win?

Well, Jason Fox struggled. He had the worst grade of any Miami offensive player and was 56th of 64 tackles in the league in Week 11.

Rishard Matthews caught one pass for 15 yards but had a drop.

Jarvis Landry had a drop.

Rookie linebacker Neville Hewitt struggled badly in his run defense to the point he finished 31st out of 31 outside backers graded for the week.

And, yes, Ryan Tannehill ranked 23rd among quarterbacks graded. He was particularly bad when the  Cowboys did not pressure him. His grade against pressure was actually higher than it was when there was no pressure.



November 23, 2015

Dolphins must look to next head coach to break free of mediocrity

"Time to start searching for the next coach."

That's a text I got from a source, a former NFL club executive, who witnessed the Miami Dolphins loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon.

And it wasn't so much that the Dolphins are a bad team or that interim coach Dan Campbell is doing a poor job. It's just that, as I wrote in my column in today's Miami Herald, the Miami Dolphins got on a treadmill of mediocrity about a decade ago and have seemingly convinced themselves they are actually getting somewhere as they burn all this energy and money and time and draft picks.

And the truth is the Dolphins have gone nowhere in all that time. Instead they have delivered season after season that look pretty much the same -- leading them to a 7-9 or 8-8 record but seemingly never into the postseason.

And the 2015 Dolphins, even under the hard work Campbell has put forth, are headed toward that same sad mediocre place.

So it is time to start thinking about breaking that frustrating cycle. And the only way to do that is to find a head coach who can make like Moses and lead this people out of the land of the ordinary and unspectacular.

Why now?

Well, for one, the Dolphins were the first team to fire their head coach this season when they booted Joe Philbin in October. And at the time, Campbell was given 12 weeks to not only keep the Titanic afloat but salvage her altogether.

He hasn't done that. His 3-3 record is solid work and obviously enough to earn him a legitimate interview and opportunity to win the job at season's end. But .500 is not to be confused with revelatory work. It's average. It's middling. Ordinary.

And this organization has had way too much of that the past decade to buy into more of it for the future. Remember, mediocre is supposed to be a layover. It's not supposed to be the destination.

Moreover, you'll recall I reported that a source told me it would actually be 4-6 weeks into Campbell's tenure before serious work needed to begin on planning for the looming interview process. That time has now passed. The time to begin due diligence has thus begun.

And this is wholly appropriate even as Campbell and his staff continue to work. They know the score. The win, they stay. They lose, they go. They lose as much as they win, they still go.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, probably need to get a jump on other teams that will be looking for a head coach because -- although they might argue the point -- the Miami head job might not be as attractive as some other jobs that will be open or might come open.

Don't believe that?

Consider whether a top tier coach might be more attracted to coaching the Dolphins with their superstar, high-priced but not difference-making Ndamukong Suh? Or whether that coach might be more attracted to a job such as, say, Indianapolis with its superstar, difference-maker named Andrew Luck, the guy who has taken that team to the playoffs three years including the AFC title game last year?

Yeah, every great coach will pick Indy.

Tennessee will have a vacancy. Marcus Mariota? Or Ryan Tannehill? That roster or Miami's roster? That cap situation or Miami's?

That's the reason the Dolphins need to get a jump on this work. They need to have a plan. They need to do the early work now. (Yeah, they've already done some of that work but more is necessary).

The Dolphins boast they are reaching for best in class year after year. It's an empty boast. They are a mediocre organization with mediocre talent and mediocre ownership playing in a tough division with a  superteam. And that can be a tough sell to the kind of coach they should want to attract.

So what kind of coach might the Dolphins want to attract?

Let's start with eliminating the coach-in-training, shall we?

While some within the Dolphins organization might value youth and energy and the possibilities of uncovering an up-and-comer, the formula has failed the Dolphins miserably.

Cam Cameron was a first-time NFL head coach hired by the Dolphins. Failed.

Tony Sparano was a first-time NFL head coach hired by the Dolphins. Failed.

Joe Philbin was a first-time NFL head coach hired by the Dolphins. Failed.

Even Nick Saban, a first-time NFL head coach, found the position distasteful once he got in it, deciding instead that the college game suited him better.

So do the Dolphins want to extend their lost decade of first-time NFL head coaches by hiring another first-time NFL head coach? That would be insanity.

The kind of head coach the Dolphins should hope for, should aspire to, is a head coach with NFL head coaching experience. And preferably that coach not only has experience but a record of relative success.

Asking too much?

John Fox fit that mold last year.

Rex Ryan fit that mold last year.

Gary Kubiak fit that mold last year.

Andy Reid fit that mold in the past.

Tom Coughlin fit that mold in the past.

The winningest coach of all time fit that mold, too. Don Shula took the Baltimore Colts to the Super Bowl before falling out of favor with owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Dolphins owner Joe Robbie recognized the rift, parted with a draft pick and hired a successful NFL head coach who went on to have greater success in Miami.

Am I the only one who sees this?

The perfect fit this year would be Sean Payton, should he choose to leave New Orleans. The guy has won a Super Bowl. He knows offense. He'll cost the Dolphins dearly in draft pick compensation.

And I have zero problem with that.

Chuck Pagano, a lesser name who has nonetheless gotten good results in Indianapolis, might also become available. He might not be another Shula, but he's already better than anyone the Dolphins have had since 1995.

I'm not saying it has to be either of these two. But the only way the Dolphins are going to break their cycle of mediocrity is to find a coach who is proven, who knows how to win, who can bring a great staff and who is not coming to Miami to learn on the job.

Time to start that work.

Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

November 22, 2015

Dallas Cowboys defeat the Miami Dolphins, 24-14

The Miami Dolphins came home to this?

They spent the past three weeks on the road, fighting and struggling to stay relevant and on their return to Sun Life Stadium on Sunday lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 24-14.

They lost to a team that had lost seven consecutive games and, granted had star quarterback Tony Romo back in the lineup. But Romo (2 TDs, and 2 INTs) was rusty much of the afternoon and it didn't matter.

The game was tied 14-14 going to the fourth quarter, and then the Miami defense surrendered a touchdown and a field goal on consecutive possessions. The offense, meanwhile, could not move the ball to keep Miami's hopes alive.

Coach Dan Campbell, down 10 with seven minutes to play, punted from Miami's own 47 yard line on fourth-and-six. There were seven minutes to play. The crowd booed. The Dolphins fate was sealed when Dallas marched from their own 13 yard line, picking up three first downs to squeeze the clock and a victory out of this one.

That final Dallas game-sealing drive had a third-and-14 at their own 15 yard line and converted when Darren McFadden rushed for 14 yards. Terrible.

McFadden started slow but had 129 for the game.

Several Dolphins players had tough days. Cornerback Jamar Taylor who was beaten for a touchdown and gave up a key drive extending penalty. Punter Matt Darr was inexplicably called for an unnecessary roughness penalty that helped lead to Dallas kicking a field goal that extended the lead to 10.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon had a good day with a sack, multiple hurries and causing outstanding left tackle Tyron Smith to be called for two holding penalties.



Jelani Jenkins is inactive; Koa Misi playing

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who missed the entire week of practice with an ankle injury and was doubtful for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, is inactive.

Neville Hewitt will start in place of Jenkins.

Koa Misi, meanwhile, is going to give it a go today despite missing most of the week with an abdominal issue. He is expected to start.

The other inactives today are WR Matt Hazel, RT Ja'Wuan James, TE Jake Stoneburner, CB Tony Lippett, OL Ulrich John, and LB Spencer Paysinger.

Cornerback Brent Grimes, out last week because he was sick, is back in the starting lineup today. Brice McCain will be the other starting cornerback.


November 21, 2015

Keys to the game: Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins

Saturday afternoon the Dallas Cowboys activated quarterback Tony Romo and that, more than anything that has happened the past seven weeks, gives that team hope of salvaging its current 2-7 season.

Yeah, um, the Dolphins don't want anything to do with the Cowboys salvaging anything. They have their own worries.

So how do these teams match up?

Well, before we get to that some perspective from my friends at

According to the metrics site, Ndamukong Suh is now Miami's highest graded defensive player. He ranks fourth among all the NFL's interior defensive linemen.

Jarvis Landry is graded Miami's top offensive player and he ranks 15th among all wide receivers.

On the other hand Branden Albert ranks 36th among all offensive tackles and has, according to the site, had only one game (Tennessee) in which he graded out on the plus side. Me? I think he's been way better than that although he still has improving to do.

The No. 1 tackle in the NFL will be in this game and that will be Tyron Smith of the Cowboys, who has allowed only two sacks this year.

Greg Hardy is the highest-graded Dallas defender but the fact he's the No. 28 graded edge player shows you how much the Dallas defense has struggled.

Speaking of struggled, the Dolphins may have linebacker issues this game. Jelani Jenkins is doubtful and Koa Misi is questionable. And Kelvin Sheppard, the healthy starting linebacker, has also struggled this year, ranking 91 among all LBs PFF rates.

Onto the matchups:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has avoided throwing an interception in each of the past two games and he's been able to connect on a couple of deep balls as well -- a 46-yarder to Rishard Matthews against Philadelphia and a 42-yarder to Kenny Stills against Buffalo the week before. But Tannehill's primary job is to get the offense in the end zone. And the Dolphins haven't been doing that with any great regularity the last three weeks.  Miami has averaged 1.6 touchdowns per game the past three games. One way to perhaps quench the touchdown drought is a greater use of tight ends in the red zone. Jordan Cameron has been limited to just one catch in each of the past two weeks for a total of 11 yards. And while he was slowed by an ankle injury, he remains a threat that goes unused in the red zone's short spaces. The Cowboys pass defense is nothing if not unspectacular. Dallas is ranked 14th against the pass but the problem is the Cowboys are not collecting turnovers. They are 22nd in the NFL in interception percentage and their five interceptions is tied for 29th in the league. Oh, and outside of Greg Hardy, the Cowboys have not shown a fierce pass rush.  ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Rookie Jay Ajayi continues to impress with his downhill running approach which is a welcome change of pace from Lamar Miller's great speed and slashing style. The Dolphins are averaging 102 rushing yards per game since Ajayi came off the short-term injured reserve list. They averaged those same 102 yards the previous seven games before Ajayi showed up, but that was buoyed by an outlier game against Houston in which the Dolphins rushed for 248 yards. The run game is better. Trust me. Like their pass defense, the Dallas run D is merely acceptable. Sean Lee is playing weak side linebacker now and although he has played well, he hasn't had the resounding impact he had two years ago at middle linebacker. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who has played only five games, has not recaptured the run-stopping prowess he showed last season. If the Dolphins keep the game close and are stubborn about running the football, they should have some success. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Cowboys pass the football: Everything changed for the Cowboys when doctors cleared starting quarterback Tony Romo to play after he missed seven games, all losses, with a broken clavicle. Romo generally throws the football on time. He is aware and despite his increasingly limited mobility still moves well within the pocket. He has had chemistry in the past with top receiver Dez Bryant. He knows where tight end Jason Witten, the security blanket, is at all times. Most importantly, Romo is good in the fourth quarter which is why he's the second highest-rated fourth-quarter passer in NFL history. That should help the Cowboys, who have generally been in every game they've played but simply haven't been able to make one game-winning play. The question is can Romo come off an injury and immediately be, well, Tony Romo? ADVANTAGE: Dallas.

When the Cowboys run the football: The breakup of DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys diminished both, though it fattened Murray's wallet and helped the Dallas salary cap. The Cowboys calculated that any good runner could step in and pick up where Murray (1,845 yards to lead the NFL) left off last season. But in replacing Murray with Darren McFadden, the team filled the position but not the need for an excellent running back. McFadden has been solid lately but is still averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. The field might open up to McFadden now with Tony Romo at quarterback and defenses more wary of a Dallas quarterback not named Weeden or Cassel. Interestingly, the Cowboys were counting on Joseph Randle to help and he was averaging 4.1 yards per carry. But that shoplifting arrest late last year (there's a video) and his leaving the team this year led to his being waived and suspended by the NFL. The Dallas offensive line is still a good run-blocking unit but someone has to tote the ball to make that effective. The Dolphins are still 31st in the NFL against the run but have lately gotten better play up front from Ndamukong Suh. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Unable to mock Caleb Sturgis this week, we turn inward with expectations the Dolphins address decisions by kick returner Damien Williams, who last week seemed unsure on a kickoff return -- coming out of the end zone, stopping at the 1-yard line, injuring himself when he hit the brakes, getting tackled at the 1-yard line, and thus setting the Dolphins up for a safety on the ensuing offensive series. Jarvis Landry has proven a better returner but he's handling punts and playing receiver so the Dolphins have felt a need to use someone else on kickoffs. The Cowboys are very good returning kicks, not so good returning punts. They have blocked both a punt and a kick this season. Kicker Dan Bailey is the NFL's all-time most accurate kicker with a 90.4 career percentage. ADVANTAGE: Dallas.

Coaching: Dan Campbell grew up rooting for the Cowboys. And Jason Garrett coached the Dolphins quarterbacks in 2005-06. What does that mean? Zero. The issue here is the Cowboys have a deep, experienced staff that includes two former NFL head coaches -- Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli -- and a former college head coach in Derek Dooley. Tight ends coach Michael Pope coached Campbell and the Dolphins' interim coach freely admits most of the techniques he used to coach tight ends were learned from Pope. ADVANTAGE: Dallas.

A pup that has bite: Bobby McCain

Bill Parcells when discussing the evaluation of young players once famously said, "If they don't bite when they're puppies, they usually won't bite."

And while that cannot apply to every NFL rookie, it definitely seems to apply to Miami Dolphins defensive back Bobby McCain.

McCain, you see, is the pup who chewed up 95 snaps in a 96-snap game against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. This year he's played outside at cornerback. He's played in the slot. He played safety two snaps against the Eagles.

He has come out of the draft's third day, in the fifth round, and progressively improved and proved himself valuable enough that the Dolphins earlier this season traded away cornerback talent knowing McCain was on the roster.

“Bobby is a confident guy which, let's list corner qualifications right? Confident may not be No. 1, but it’s going to be in the top three and he’s a confident guy who’s not afraid of the big moment," interim defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. "All those reps he got, and it started kind of at New England, I think he’s gotten better every week. Our confidence level has grown with him so, however it shakes out, the kid got about 90-something snaps the other day which is almost two games for a nickel corner, but the more the merrier for a guy like that.

"Again he’s a young kid who wants to do well and the confidence level is growing on both sides. His confidence and our confidence in him.”

 McCain isn't ready to take over a starting job maybe just yet. Maybe he's vying for the slot cornerback job before season's end. But don't tell him he cannot do it, like, now.

Indeed, don't bring up any of the obvious reasons he shouldn't be a big deal right now.

Only a rookie?

"That to me doesn't matter," McCain said. "Young, old, tall, short, big, if I have to take that down block by a guard, I'll compete to win. If I have to compete for that fade ball, I want the ball."

But you're only 5-10 ...

"I don't really see that," McCain said. "I don't believe that I have to play like I'm 6-2. No, I have to play like I'm 5-10 and be an animal, be all over the place."

But you're only a fifth round draft pick ...

"True, that," McCain said. "I am a fifth-round draft pick but I feel I can play with the best of them, first-round, seventh-, free agent, I don't see names, I just line up in front of the guy and I cover him."

McCain has three passes defensed so far this season while playing time that was limited up until three weeks ago. He's mostly been a special teams stalwart. But he has bigger plans.

"I definitely view myself as a playmaker," he said. "When the ball is in the air, in my heart I feel there's no such thing as a 50-50 ball. It's just as much mine as it is yours and if you make a play, I'm going to come back and get the next one. I view myself as a guy that goes and gets the football, not just is there to get a PBU or something like that. I want the ball in my hands and make big plays."

McCain made plays at Memphis. He had 11 interceptions his last two years there.

And his attention, competitiveness and attitude suggests it might not be long before he begins making bigger plays for the Dolphins.

"I feel at home in the league, going out every week and performing," McCain said. "You have to do the job and I believe I can do that.

"Whether I'm in the game at nickel or corner or special teams, I just want to contribute. The more experience you have in the game, the better you should feel. I feel I can play with the best of them and now I have to keep moving forward."

November 20, 2015

Dallas Cowboys OL not up to '14 standards but still very good

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line last season was generally considered among the best, if not the best unit in the NFL.

The Cowboys, after all, were second in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing yards per game and were third in average yards per rush. The Cowboys also tied for ninth with 30 sacks allowed. So this unit that boasts three former first-round draft picks got a lot of deserved attention.

The Cowboys offensive line weaved a reputation for itself.

Unfortunately, reputation is a fleeting thing in the NFL.

It doesn't carry over year-to-year. It must be earned year after year, game after game, snap after snap. If you don't believe that, consider the current narratives surrounding Peyton Manning or Rob Ryan or the Baltimore Ravens for that matter.

And looking at the production of the Cowboys offense, one might be tempted to think the Dallas offensive line can be included in that little list of much-hyped, previously high-caliber, highly respected units or players or teams that is simply not performing to standards now.

The Cowboys have allowed 20 sacks this season and that's tied with Houston for 16th place in the statistical category. You remember Houston? The Miami Dolphins collected four sacks against Houston last time they played a home game at Sun Life Stadium.

The running game behind that amazing Dallas forward wall has also failed to live up to its reputation. The Cowboys have dropped to ninth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

And the effects on the unit have been felt on individuals. Guard Zack Martin, who didn't allow a sack as a rookie and was selected to the Pro Bowl, has allowed three sacks this season.

La'el Collins -- the subject of that Dolphins players-only flight (no knowledge of this by the organization, of course) to Baton Rouge to recruit an embattled free agent -- has been inconsistent as a rookie. I'm told he'll have a great play that suggests he truly is a future star. And then he'll bonk and play like ... like ... well, you know where I'm going but I'm not going to take a cheap shot here.

So the Cowboys offensive line is good from far. But apparently far from good.

Until you talk to someone who's studied them.

Dolphins defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is a good guy with good sense and a good eye for the opponent. And what he sees on tape when he looks at the Cowboys offensive line is not a unit retreating to the mean after putting together one fabulous season.

He sees a talented group.

“I think they are certainly good," Anarumo said. "if you look, they’ve got a bunch of No. 1s and No. 2s out there if I’m not mistaken and they’re talented guys."

He sees reasons why the production hasn't been the same in 2015 as 2014.

"I think anytime that you go through change, you lose (Philadelphia Eagles RB) DeMarco Murray I think had almost 2,000 yards last year and then you don’t have your starting quarterback so maybe the ball is not coming out on time and I think everything plays into it. I think they are a very good offensive line and again, you always talk about the prideful guys that we have and they’re looking forward to the challenge."

Basically, Anarumo believes the fact Darren McFadden hasn't maximized his opportunities on run plays like Murray did last year (he's averaging 3.8 yards per carry) and Tony Romo has been out of the lineup seven of nine games and backup Brandon Weeden and free agent addition Matt Cassel are not as good, has affected the offensive line.

The statistics confirm that theory.

Romo played the first two games of the season. The Cowboys won them both. He was sacked three times those two games.

The seven games under Weeden and Cassel resulted in 17 sacks.

So with Romo, Dallas allowed 1.5 sacks per game. With the other guys, that increased to 2.4 sacks per game.

Romo, by the way, on Sunday will start for the first time since his clavicle injury Sept. 20. And he will have a healthy offensive line in front of him that will be quite motivated to keep him from getting hit.

That promises a good matchup for the Dolphins defensive front that has turned up the pressure on quarterbacks since Dan Campbell became interim coach. The Dolphins had one sack in four games under Joe Philbin.

They have 19 sacks the past five games. Last week, Miami had four sacks but also added 10 quarterback hits on Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford.

The Miami front, in other words, has lately been playing up to the expectations everyone had before the season began -- and this despite the absence of Cameron Wake.

The Dallas line has not performed to 2014 heights but much of it isn't their doing and that might change with Romo getting the football out on time on Sunday.

It'll should be an interesting match.  


November 19, 2015

Jelani Jenkins (ankle) out of the walking boot

Sometimes the seriousness of NFL injuries are measured in the amount of incremental progress a player can make toward being fully healthy.

And that is the case today with Miami Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins.

Jenkins is still nursing an ankle injury suffered Sunday at Philadelphia. He is not going to be 100 percent healthy Sunday against Dallas.

But he is making progress.

After spending the past couple of days in a walking boot, Jenkins is out of the contraption today. And he did some light conditioning work in the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB) while the rest of the team practiced outside.

Jenkins did not participate in that practice at all. Neither did fellow linebacker Koa Misi, who is dealing with an abdomen issue. Misi merely jogged gingerly along the sideline by himself.

It is unclear if either player will be able to practice Friday but their status for game day remains up in the air.

They are truly going to be pregame decisions, which Dan Campbell said Wednesday.

"It's all hands on deck," defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said about what he might resort to if both players cannot play against the Dallas Cowboys.

The includes Chris McCain, who is taking some repetitions at linebacker in practice.


Dolphins homestretch means exactly that this season

The Miami Dolphins return to Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, which happens to be November 22, and it will be the first time this team beholds that facility since October 25 when it last played a home game.

That's important because the last three games on the road, in which the Dolphins were 1-2, marked the end of the trek around the NFL that stretched beyond this continent. It was a trek Miami agreed to before the season schedule was constructed.

The Dolphins asked for a backloaded home schedule and got exactly that for reasons, they say, include issues related to stadium renovations -- which isn't total logical to me, but whatever.

That meant a front-loaded away schedule. That early portion is complete now.

The Dolphins survived played seven of their first nine games away from home. This included the "home" game against the New York Jets in London.

The Dolphins on Sunday thus embark on a run which will see them play five home games the season's final seven weeks. (I can unpack!)

"It’s great to be able to have an opportunity to be at home, but we need to be able to take advantage of those things and like I said, be consistent and we had an excellent showing the last time we were at home and we should be able to build off of that,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said in a run-on sentence Wednesday.

The Dolphins are 1-1 at home this year. They got blown out by Buffalo. They demolished Houston.

What happens Sunday with the Dallas Cowboys may set the stage for the remainder of this homestand. And how fans react Sunday as their team returns home for the first time in a month may also set precedence.

Regardless, the stadium is going to be full.

We just aren't sure how many of those people occupying the seats will be Cowboys fans.

According to SeatGeek, which tracks this stuff, the average price of a ticket for this game on the resale market is at $258, which is the highest any NFL ticket has been in Florida since 2010. And while SeatGeek doesn't make this leap, I would say the reason prices are high is because demand is high.

And if demand is high for a resale ticket, that's because a lot of Cowboys fans are putting in demands on those tickets.

So there's that.

The final seven games, with those five at home, is going to be something of a social experiment. If the Dolphins use it to rally from the AFC East cellar to a playoff spot, there will be those who say backloading a schedule with home games is a wise idea.

If the Dolphins do not, however, take adavantage of the looming opportunity, it will speak to the benefits of a more balanced schedule. And I would hope owner Stephen Ross gets that message because he was the one who more or less requested that backloaded home schedule.

It was Ross, wanting to get a Super Bowl, who agreed to surrender that Jets game to London. And it was Ross who requested to open the season on the road to make certain construction on Phase I of the Sun Life refurbishments would be complete by opening day.

(This is the part I don't get because the Hurricanes played in the stadium before Miami and the Dolphins played preseason games in the stadium in August.)

Anyway, if the Dolphins take advantage these next few home games, Ross will feel more comfortable asking the NFL to again backload Miami's schedule with home game against next year because, that's right, Phase II of the stadium refurbishments must be given ample time to be completed early in the year.

If the Dolphins don't rally, however, maybe Ross will see that a balanced schedule is better for his team and try to get his construction squad working overtime if necessary so they can get that canopy installed without affecting 2016 regular-season scheduling.

November 18, 2015

Ja'Wuan James out again, issues at LB, Parker update

The bad news for the Miami Dolphins first because, well, it is also the more important news:

Right tackle Ja'Wuan James, three weeks from suffering a toe injury at New England, is not practicing today and not playing Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. It will be the third game in a row James misses. It will be the third game in a row Jason Fox starts at right tackle.

More ...

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (ankle) is in a walking boot today and not practicing. Linebacker Koa Misi (unknown injury) is also not practicing today.

That means the Dolphins linebackers working with the starting unit are Zach Vigil, Kelvin Sheppard and Spencer Paysinger.

Paysinger, out last week, is obviously back at practice.

[Update: Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell said he is "optimistic" both Misi and Jenkins would play Sunday but that both would likely be a game-day decision.]

So what's the good news?

Rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker, who was limited all of last week as he recovered from a scar tissue issue on his surgically repaired foot, told me he was back to full practice Wednesday.


Mike Pouncey: Great year but coming off a bad week

Mike Pouncey is have a pretty great year.

He signed a six-year, $52.438 million deal that included $22 million in guaranteed money last offseason, signaling the fact the Dolphins trust him to be an excellent player on the field and an asset off it.

And so far, he's met the team's expectations.

Interim coach Dan Campbell told me weeks ago the offensive line is "Pouncey's crew," meaning the line follows Pouncey's lead. When the Dolphins took the field in Philadelphia Sunday, the team huddled around Pouncey so he could spit some fire and get them going just before kickoff -- a role previously held by defensive end Cameron Wake.

And Pouncey has graded out very well on the field this year despite some shotgun snap issues between him, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and, in one instance, right guard Billy Turner.

But last week was not a good one.

It was a bad week for Mike Pouncey.

You saw it most obviously when Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox got under Pouncey's pads and basically threw him away on his way to a sack of Tannehill. Everyone saw it and then saw it again on replay.

Indeed, after the game, Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert approached Pouncey -- not in a critical way, mind you, but more in a brotherly way -- and implored Pouncey to understand that the moment was evidence he needs to take his time in the weight room much more seriously in the future.

Pouncey, not known as a great weight room fan, nodded his agreement.

That bad moment against Cox aside, Pouncey didn't exactly distinguish himself. He graded out 27th of the 28 centers graded this week.

Yeah, tough week.

This week has started out better. The team announced Pouncey has been named to its all-time Top 50 best players.

Of course, the success and failure of this week will be decided Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Call that a build-up to a meeting against a New York Jets defensive line that is perhaps the best in the NFL.

It is going to be interesting.

Get in that weight room, like Albert says, Mike.


November 17, 2015

Olivier Vernon, no sacks versus Philly, increasing his worth

Olivier Vernon did not get a sack on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. But he made himself some money anyway.

In one of the most quiet ways, the Miami Dolphins defensive end dominated Philadelphia left tackle Lane Johnson and was a key part of Miami's defensive dominance of the line of scrimmage the final three quarters of a 20-19 win.

Vernon had six quarterback hits. He had a quarterback hurry. He also had four tackles, including two for loss. (He also had two missed tackles, and there's that for the sake of full disclosure). Generally he played very well.

But because he didn't get a sack the only folks that will likely notice are people that watch tape -- the Dolphins organization. And, yes, other organizations.

Vernon, you see, is scheduled to be an unsigned free agent after this year. And as has been their policy for most (if not all) their upcoming unsigned players, the Dolphins are not rushing to the bank to offer a contract extension.

Receiver Rishard Matthews, for example, has been Miami's most productive player who is scheduled to become a free agent in 2016 and his people and the Dolphins have not spoken about a new deal at all.

The thing is the Dolphins have wide receivers now and will have wide receivers in '16 -- with Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker all under contract relatively cheaply.

The thing is also the Dolphins are going to be thin at defensive end. Cameron Wake may or may not be back from his torn Achilles tendon at a cap cost of $9.8 million and at age 34. Dion Jordan, suspended this season for violating the NFL drug policy, may or may not be in the team's plans but regardless, who is counting on him, anyway?

And so, Olivier Vernon.

Only two sacks so far this season.

Yet, valuable for the unseen kind of stuff I shared earlier and the fact he attacks the offensive left tackle, who is often the better lineman for offenses rather than the right tackle.

The Vernon camp has been silent on what is looming as have been the Dolphins. That's because nothing is happening right now.

But in the next few weeks, you'll hear speculation of a possible franchise tag on Vernon or a transition tag on Vernon. You'll hear talk of the Vernon side wanting $30-$35 million in guaranteed money to re-sign.

And as we inch closer to free agency, you'll hear about a handful of teams interested in Vernon after the Indianapolis Combine -- which is an annual tamperingfest in the NFL.

So what's going to happen?

The Dolphins believe Vernon, a Miami native who attended high school and college here, will or should give them a hometown discount for the privilege of staying home. The other side believes Vernon is going to the highest bidder. Surprising, right?

The Dolphins hold the trump card in that if they do not want to lose Vernon, they can franchise him. But the other side looks at that trump card and sees a guaranteed $15 million payday to play for one year.

That is 10 times what Vernon is making this year.

And what if the Dolphins do not franchise Vernon? What if that price is too steep?

They can transition him for about $12 million for one year. And they still might lose him on the open market as they lost Charles Clay because while there is right of first refusal there is no compensation of any kind for signing a transition tag player.

What does this mean?

It means it is puzzling why the Dolphins don't try to get a better deal. Now.

It is shocking why the sides aren't already meeting to at least establish a footing for getting a deal done. Here's the thing: The common thinking is that conducting talks during the season is bad policy because it potentially distracts a player from performing on the field.

I call phooey on that.

I say a team approaches a player during the season, it sends the message, "Hey, we value you. We want you going forward." That isn't a distraction. That's a motivator to the player to perform better and show the team it's right to show interest.

And yet ... nothing.

While Vernon quietly goes about increasing his worth to the people who watch tape -- including other teams.




November 15, 2015

Miami Dolphins beat Philadelphia Eagles, 20-19

PHILADELPHIA -- Total team effort. Everybody helped. Only person who didn't play for the Miami Dolphins was backup quarterback Matt Moore.

This 20-19 victory that seemed so destined to be another blowout when the Eagles took a 16-3 first-quarter lead has got to be the most satisfying of the season.

The Dolphins fought back from the deficit.

They won on the road.

They won the game late.

And, again, everyone helped -- both high-priced vets and rookies.

Ndamukong Suh had his best game of the season with seven tackles, including three for loss, a sack and three hurries. He set the tone on defense.

The Dolphins hurried Philadelphia quarterbacks 10 times Sunday, including six for Olivier Vernon.

Reshad Jones had another impactful play with an interception of Mark Sanchez in the end zone to preserve the lead and victory.

Bobby McCain played well.

Jelani Jenkins went out with an ankle injury and Neville Hewitt got major snaps and finished with six tackle.

Ryan Tannehill, under tremendous pressure and absorbing many big hits, threw two touchdown passes and had a 04.3 quarterback rating.

It was a day to savor.

Good work.

And thanks Caleb Sturgis for missing that 32-yard field goal, costing the Eagles thee easy points in a game they lost by one.

Miami Dolphins without cornerback Brent Grimes today

PHILADELPHIA -- Starting cornerback Brent Grimes is inactive thus not playing for the Miami Dolphins today against the Philadelphia Eagles, meaning the defense will be without its two best defenders today.

The Dolphins already knew they would be without defensive end Cameron Wake, who is on injured reserve. But Grimes was a surprise when he became ill late Saturday night. Grimes came to the game today and tried to prepare to work but had a bit of a relapse and ultimately could not go.

As this is the second time this season Grimes suffers a bout of food poisoning prior to a game, it might be smart for the Dolphins to monitor what Grimes eats or bring him specialized food for the day prior to the game. 

The Dolphins will start Brice McCain and rookie Bobby McCain at cornerback today. It says something about the fall of Taylor and the rise of McCain that even without Grimes, it is the rookie who starts.

Interestingly, receiver DaVante Parker, who was limited in practice throughout the week, is active today.

The inactives are Grimes, Spencer Paysinger, Sam Brenner, Ulrick John, Ja'Wuan James, Matt Hazel and Brandon Williams.

November 14, 2015

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles

Some days I leave Miami Dolphins camp, the work day done, thinking these guys must be messing with my head because it is either that or they don't know what they're talking about.

As I was thinking about Sunday's matchup between the Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles this week it occurred to me that perhaps the Miami defense could draw on some of the insight and knowledge it has from facing the Miami offense so much in training camp. I was thinking that can help Miami against the Eagles Sunday.

After all, the Dolphins and the Eagles run a very similar offense. And Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor came from the Eagles where he was the quarterbacks coach.

So I asked defensive tackle Earl Mitchell if this similarity could help Miami?

"It can," Mitchell said. "At the same time, the you have different guys and different playmakers and stuff. But anytime you can get points just from practicing because we see our offense every day ever since training camp, going into the game there should be a lot of concepts we should be familiar with."

Makes sense.

It makes so much sense that Ryan Tannehill was asked if he watched a lot of Eagles tape when Lazor took over as OC in Miami. And then Tannehill kind of dismissed the notion.

"... We do a lot of stuff that’s different," Tannehill said. "Some stuff is similar, but a lot of it is different."

So how much is actually similar because watching these two offenses, they really do look similar -- maybe not in the results but certainly in their approach and the plays they run.

“I don’t know, it’s tough to say," Tannehill said. "I don’t know, 25 percent maybe."

Mitchell said there are a lot of concepts that will be familiar. Tannehill said the offenses are different and maybe only 25 percent is similar.

My head hurts.

The matchups:

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Dolphins have actually tried to take a few more shots down the field in recent weeks with some success. Ryan Tannehill and Kenny Stills had a 46-yard hookup last week even in the face of what was expected and was good quarterback pressure by the Bills. The Dolphins would like to get the football more to tight end Jordan Cameron because he is a matchup problem down the seam and in the red zone, but Cameron has been slowed by an ankle injury and that's one reason he had only one catch last week. The Eagles secondary is a collection mostly of free agents, including Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, who joined the team this year. Former Dolphins draftee Nolan Carroll starts and generally plays well but, as Miami fans remember, he is sometimes prone to giving too much cushion particularly along the sideline. The Dolphins must be aware of Brandon Graham who has four sacks the past five games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: The emergence of rookie Jay Ajayi last week promises something of a different combination for the Dolphins backfield. Lamar Miller, a speedster who likes to slash, still starts and should get most of the carries. But Ajayi, a downhill runner unlike any the Dolphins have had in a while, seems poised to be the short and tough-yardage back. He had a fine NFL debut against Buffalo last week, gaining 41 yards on nine carries, including a 23-yard run. The Eagles run defense, No. 21 in the NFL, has allowed opponents to gain 4.6 yards per carry or better in three of the last four games. This seems like an area the Dolphins should be able to exploit. The Dolphins will likely spend much of the afternoon double-teaming defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, as most teams do. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Eagles pass the football: The Eagles started slow this season, losing three of their first four games, and some of that seemed to fall on new quarterback Sam Bradford, who was still getting familiar with coach Chip Kelly's offense. Bradford has still delivered some clunkers of late, notably against Carolina and the New York Giants, but he's completed nearly 65 percent of his throws the past four games as the team has won three of four. There is a question about this team starting slow in games (sound familiar?) and Bradford is still trying to get in synch with tight end Zach Ertz to overcome that. It should help Philly that receiver Riley Cooper, who has missed time with a toe injury, is expected back in the lineup. The Miami secondary is coming off a disappointing performance in which Brent Grimes got toasted by Sammy Watkins and Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor completed 11 of his 12 passes. The Dolphins must get a more consistent pass rush on Bradford, particularly from the outside, to make the quarterback uncomfortable. I'm told it is unlikely left tackle Jason Peters will play against Miami. That means Lane Johnson will start at left tackle. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Eagles run the football: The Eagles run game has taken flight in recent weeks. Since Week Five, Philadelphia is second in the NFL in rush yards per game and is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. Ryan Matthews and DeMarco Murray are as good a 1-2 combination as there is in the league and then the Eagles throw in draws and screens with Darren Sproles. The Dolphins are 31st in the NFL in run defense and this isn't an old problem that has been resolved of late. Indeed, Miami allowed Buffalo to rush for 266 yards last Sunday. The Bills not only ran well but gashed the Miami defense with runs of 48 and 38 yards.  ADVANTAGE: Philadelphia.

Special teams: Kicker Caleb Sturgis, a doppelganger for The Great Gazoo,  is doing a good job for the Eagles after being cut by the Dolphins. He's connected on two of his three kicks of 50 yards or more but has missed two extra point tries from this year's longer distance. Sproles is a scary punt returner and the Dolphins would be wise to kick away from him because Philadelphia ranks first in the NFL in punt returns and Sproles has three punt return touchdowns the past two seasons. The Miami special teams is coming off a game in which it collected five penalties that hurt Miami's field position and, yes, led to points for the opposition. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Chip Kelly brings a downhill run offense that works extremely fast so as to vex opponents and is improving week to week. He has an experienced offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator in Bill Davis. Dan Campbell had a rough game against the Bills and, the thing is, no one really helped him in deciding to call time out with only seconds to go in the first half and the ball at the Buffalo 1 yard line last week. What should have been three plays turned into only one. Inexperience. ADVANTAGE: Philadelphia.

November 13, 2015

Dan Campbell says Dolphins can turn bad to good, but has no experience of that happening

One of the impressive things about Miami Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell -- and there are quite a few things -- is that he can relate to players better than most because he was an NFL player for a long time and he's seen things they see and done things they're doing or want to do.

That's why it would seem to be uplifting when Campbell, at the helm of a team that has lost two consecutive division games, can and apparently has said to his team to take solace in the idea that they can rally from 3-5 and suddenly, improbably, get hot and race into the playoffs against all expectations.

Campbell can say, and players have taken note, that he was on teams like the current day Dolphins that unexpectedly turned a bad season into a good season.

"I don't see why not. I've been part of teams that all of a sudden make a run," Campbell said after the loss to Buffalo on Sunday. "You win seven straight, I've been part of that. I've been part of teams that won six straight. And you were counted out and all of a sudden you were the hottest team going in."

This is something to grasp on to at a time the season seems to be slipping away. If, after all, coach says he lived through something similar then it can apply to us, players may think.

"I think he’s been in this position before and went on to be in the Super Bowl so, he can speak at that from his perspective, which he went through by himself," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I think he does a good job of translating what he’s been through and experiences he’s been through over to the team so we can learn from them."

So why not us?

Well, maybe because it isn't accurate.

Campbell played in the NFL from 1999-2009 and none of the teams he was on were "counted out" after a terrible string of losses and all of a sudden put together six or seven wins in a row to get in the playoffs.

Now, Campbell has been on very good teams, that is true. And he's been part of a couple of Super Bowl teams to one degree or another -- as a starter on one and on injured reserve another time.

He was a starter on the 2000 New York Giants and they went to Super Bowl XXXV where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. But those Giants were 6-2 at the halfway mark in the season. And after falling back a bit to 7-4 (Miami would throw a parade for the Dolphins if they were 7-4), the Giants won their final five games to close out an NFC East division title.

So a team that was pretty good the first half of the season with a 6-2 mark finished the second half of the season with a 6-2 mark. Where's the surprise in that? A team that lost two in a row the first half of the season and still was 6-2 lost two in a row the second half of the season and finished 6-2 in the final eight games. Where's the improbability in that?

Yes, the over-reactionary New York media may have been counting out the Giants at 7-4, but the very idea that this might apply to the 3-5 Dolphins misses the mark.

Campbell was also on some other solid teams that won some and lost some. He was on the Lions when they lost every game. He was on the New Orleans Saints (on IR) when they went to the Super Bowl.

In 2009, Campbell signed as a free agent with New Orleans but he suffered a knee injury in training camp and was placed on injured reserve in August.

Despite the loss, the Saints started the season 13-0. So, yes, they strung a lot of wins together. But they didn't come back from the brink to do it. They weren't counted out. Yes, they lost their last three games of the regular season, but I'm not sure anyone was worried.

In fact, Drew Brees sat out the season-finale to rest and avoid injury before the playoffs because the Saints had home field advantage throughout. They were arguably the NFL's best team. So while Campbell was on a team that strung 13 wins together, they didn't do it improbably. They didn't come out of the grave to do it.

They were simply a really good team.

Campbell on Wednesday wisely walked back the narrative of being on a team similar to his 3-5 Dolphins that suddenly made the playoffs.

"Not a 3-5 but I’ve been on teams where you win a lot of games," he said. "I’ve been on one where we won seven in a row to get to the Super Bowl. My point with it is when you get hot, you get hot.

"Here’s what I do know as well, when you hit November, no matter what your record is, and I told the team this, this is where the teams really start to separate themselves because it’s that part of the season. Everybody is a little beat up, everybody is a little tired, everybody is a little testy especially when you lose a couple of games. But no matter where you’re at, teams will rise and teams will fall. There will be some teams that will end up being the hottest teams by the end of the year and some who are sitting pretty nice right now and they only win another one or two games.

"It happens every year.”

Maybe it happens in Miami. Maybe the players buy into the narrative despite its holes.

Bobby McCain arrow is pointing up for Miami Dolphins

Amid the bad news and disappointment and frustration of the 2015 Miami Dolphins season so far, there have been a couple of bright spots that give hope all is not lost.

(Quickly trying to think of bright spots now).

(Still thinking).

(Trying not to take a shot at Joe Philbin or Kevin Coyle).

Anyway, I know there are bright spots because one of them is rookie cornerback Bobby McCain.

Quietly, slowly, surely, McCain is developing into something of a contributor. Indeed, when pressed into service during the absence of veteran Brice McCain (no relation) the rookie McCain played quite well against Tennessee and Houston.

How well?

He's played well enough that even as Brice McCain is almost back to 100 percent and even as Jamar Taylor remains the starter on the outside opposite Brent Grimes, Bobby McCain has earned more playing time.

And we're not talking if someone gets hurt. We're talking sharing some plays with Taylor. Just as he shared some first-team snaps with Taylor at practice this week.

“Well, Brice is going to play a little bit," coach Dan Campbell said Thursday before quickly correcting himself. "Brice is going to get an opportunity to play, but Jamar will too, Jamar’s still going to play, but Brice has earned the right to get out there and compete.

"I mean, I’m sorry, Bobby McCain. Bobby McCain will play a little bit, Brice will still be in the nickel Ok, but Bobby excuse me, we got like three McCain’s on this team – Bobby will play a little bit. Yes he will.You’ll see what happens. Just know this: You will see some of Bobby.”

Just know this: In a year when the first round pick has not really contributed, and the second round pick has been inconsistent, and there was no third-rounder because it was traded away, and the fourth-rounder is a backup who won a starting job and then lost said job, the two fifth-rounders are on the rise.

Running back Jay Ajayi had a good outing in his NFL debut last weekend against Buffalo.

And McCain has been playing pretty well for a couple of weeks. And, yes, McCain still makes mistakes. He is by no means a perfect technician. He has a lot to learn, including his opponents. But he is showing flashes of aggressiveness and fight and coverage skills that are encouraging.

McCain has three passes defensed in his limited action. Taylor has one pass defensed this season and he's played much more and even started the past three games.

Now, I'm not saying McCain is moving ahead of Taylor. Campbell didn't say that, either.

But McCain is going to continue to get opportunities as long as he keeps improving. His arrow is pointing up.