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69 posts from November 2009

November 12, 2009

Thursday: Introducing the Miami Grumpies

The Dolphins need a win very badly because they seem quite grumpy now.

On Thursday, most players avoided being in the locker room during the media session. The group of media covering the team actually outnumbered the number of players in the locker room.

Some players coming into the locker room as usual but refused to speak to some of the media -- Joey Porter chief among them.

Porter ignored a group of 15 reporters that gathered around his locker stall as he dressed. Once he was dressed, he walked away, saying he had only 30 minutes to go eat and wasn't going to talk. He came back about 15 minutes later and was approached by a reporter again. That reporter, the Herald's Jeff Darlington, requested time with Porter twice in 30 minutes before finally getting Porter to answer one question.

Darlington asked Porter if something within his game needs to change after he's failed to get a full sack since September.

"Nothing needs to be changed," Porter said. "I’ve got a job to do. I’m not thinking about anything but trying to figure out what we need to do to win. We’re 3-5 at the halfway point. We’re not where we thought we’d be. We’re just trying to figure out how to win a game no matter how I’m playing."

Coach Tony Sparano also was in a foul mood during the eight minutes he spoke to the press.

A sampling:

Reporter: Can you update us on the injury situation?

Sparano: "Nothing really different from yesterday. Same guys practiced. Same guys didn't."

Actually Lydon Murtha, limited Wednesday, returned to practice Thursday.

Reporter: Why wasn't Justin Smiley at practice?

Sparano: "I sent him to the doctor," Sparano said.

 Reporter: Was it for an examination of the shoulder?

Sparano: "I sent him to the doctor."

The Smiley situation is a concern, but I doubt it's the reason everyone was so irritated today. Smiley was lost for the season last year and it didn't feel like this.

Today was the most uncomfortable Sparano press conference in the two seasons he's been the head coach -- and that includes immediately after losses, including tough ones in Arizona and Houston and against Baltimore.

Some of the players that agreed to speak with the media today also shadowed the coach's mood. Jason Taylor, who always talks on Thursday and is perhaps the most media savvy player on the team, also seemed curt at times during his four minutes in front of the microphones.

He was asked about what strategy the Patriots used to keep Miami pass-rushers at bay.

"We're done with New England," Taylor said.

Taylor was clearly eager to to be done with the interview.

This whole deal smells of something to me. It is unheard of when an entire team, from the top all the way to the players, seems upset about something. Either they had a terrible practice and Sparano tore into them, or they got some sort of bad news that has yet to be unearthed.

Or maybe the team that finds itself 3-5 and in third place in an AFC East they won last season just needs to win. Badly.

Turner not likely vs. Bucs; other stuff

Thursday is coordinators day around Dolphins camp so here are the things that stood out for me from press conferences with both men.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni admits outside linebacker Cameron Wake is Miami's most efficient pass-rusher. When he rushes, he typically applies pressure.

But the problem that continues to keep him off the field is the fact he's not a complete outside linebacker. He's not good in coverage. He's not good against the run. So the Dolphins are limited to using him in just some obvious passing situations where he's going to be attacking the QB.

"The number of snaps he will end up with at the end of the game is going to be predicated on the number of times they're in personnel or down and distance that dictates he's going to be in the game," Pasqualoni said. "He's still working hard and doing a good job with the transition of being a true outside linebacker. His special quality is clearly rushing the passer so as those opportunities present themselves, then he'll get snaps.

"But he's still in the transition of becoming that all-around guy that sometimes keeps him out of a snap or two. that's the only reason."

Another player in transition is rookie receiver Patrick Turner. In listening to offensive coordinator Dan Henning, I believe we got another layer peeled back on the mystery of why Turner doesn't or hasn't played: He struggles to get off the line of scrimmage.

"One of the things that happen coming out of college is there's a lot of free access in the secondary in college because of the way they play defense," Henning said. "They don't have many pure cornerbacks. In this league they're going to get after you, they're going to press you and those rookie receivers have to get used to working against that type of coverage as opposed to what they saw in college."

One can deduce from this that Turner probably will not be active against Tampa Bay. Their defense is run by former Dolphins defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Bates has his cornerbacks playing press coverage almost 100 percent of the time.

Henning, meanwhile, was asked if he's comfortable including Turner in his top four rotation. 

"First of all he's not in the top 4 rotation," Henning said. "If we were comfortable with him, he'd be there."

Vontae Davis has the attitude to be excellent

An NFL employee whose opinion I respect was talking to me about Vontae Davis recently when he put the Dolphins' rookie in perspective by saying the kid is bright, but he's not a deep thinker.

And that is absolutely true.

The Miami cornerback figures things out. But he's not Aristotle, sitting around trying to figure out the existential meaning of junk.

That is the perfect approach for an NFL cornerback.

And that was evident in Davis on Wednesday, the first day he needed to start thinking ahead to this weekend's assignment against the Tampa Bay Bucs, and the last day he should have been thinking about Randy Moss and the New England Patriots.

Don't misunderstand, Davis looked at his game against the Patriots.

He had his ups -- with a jaw-dropping interception in the first quarter and a great second-quarter tackle of Wes Welker for a one-yard loss on a receiver screen. He had his downs -- giving up a 71-yard TD on a crossing route and being flagged for pass interference.

And he did it all while he was healthy and after he was injured. Davis injured his quad early in the game but took a shot to deaden the pain and get back in the game and continue competing against Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

"I look at it like it's the little stuff that needs correction," Davis said. "That's what makes the good players great, when you go back and criticize yourself real hard."

But this is what also can help make a cornerback great: That he doesn't freak about what went wrong. That he doesn't lose confidence or go into a funk after a tough game. That he believes he can man-up with any and all comers, whether it be true or not, play after play after play.

And, yes, Davis has that. 

"I know people are going to catch ball [on me] but my mentality is, 'Can you do it again?' Davis said while I privately jumped with glee at hearing the words. "I don't think they can do it again. And when they do do it, it was because of something I did wrong. That's the mentality you have at this cornerback position."

But it doesn't end there. The mentality, as Davis puts it, also has to include a fierce competitive spirit. Not everyone has it, and you can look at the Dolphins roster to a former first-round pick that has failed to become a fine cornerback because, in part, he isn't driven by that competitive fire.

So you tell me if Davis has the fire after reading this exchange:

Salguero: Are you looking forward to the next time you face Moss?

Davis: "Yes, yes, yes, oh yes."

[BLOG NOTE: Be certain to check back here later today. I'll be updating with the latest from the coordinators, the locker room and coach Tony Sparano. Enjoy the video.]

November 11, 2009

The reason Patrick Turner hasn't played

Many of you have asked me over and over why Patrick Turner isn't active on Sundays because you continue to be frustrated by other Miami receivers that don't necessarily light up scoreboards or stat sheets with explosive plays.

Well, today I asked coach Tony Sparano his reasoning for not having Turner active and that resulted in some interesting stuff.

First, Sparano promises Turner's day is coming. He doesn't want this season to end without having a grasp of whether Turner is a possible contributor long term or not.

But, secondly, Sparano really likes what his current crop of receivers bring to the table -- yes, it's hard to believe, but stay with me on this.

"Pat is getting better, but it also has a lot to do with the other players and the jobs they do and how they're doing in the game," Sparano said Wednesday. "I mean Davone Bess is second in the NFL to the guy in New York [Steve Smith] in third-down receptions. OK? Well, [Greg] Camarillo is 10 of 10 [on third down] right now. He's had 10 balls thrown at him right now and he's converted 10 of them. So he's eighth on that list.

"We think they don't make plays but those guys are making plays. It's one of the reasons we're second in the league on third down conversion. Teddy [Ginn] is a return guy for us that's been getting better and better at it. Ginn, I thought had a good game the other day returning the football and is also a receiver that can make a big play for us.

"And [Brian] Hartline has been productive out there in a lot of phases. What you don't see is Hartline is in there about 8 to 10 plays on special teams and has been productive there, too."

So it becomes hard, in Sparano's mind, to bench one of the four guys already playing ahead of Turner. And playing five is pretty much out of the question at the moment.

"We're not going to take five to the game at this second," the coach said. "I don't feel like that's a good deal right at this time. You never know. That can change. But somebody's got to stay back. At this point it's been Pat. But I do want to get Patrick Turner involved."

Let's hope so because regardless of how much the other guys are bringing to the game, it simply has not been good enough. The Dolphins are 29th in the NFL passing the football. That is, well, terrible.

Miami wide receivers have combined for two touchdowns this year. I count 26 individual receivers among the NFL's top 60 scorers that have at least four TDs. There are 37 individual receivers with at least three touchdowns. Like, by themselves. 

My opinion?

The Dolphins love special teams contribution but the contribution they're talking about with Hartline is not game-changing. He's not going to take a punt to the house. He hasn't made a TD-saving tackle. He has not blocked a kick. So would the Miami special teams collapse if Hartline isn't playing Sunday? I don't think so.

Turner, on the other hand, might be a solid red zone threat and a tough matchup against almost any cornerback. I have no clue how well he's improved his blocking (which needed improvement) but the idea of a 6-5, 220-pound perimeter blocker doing work downfield is enticing to me.

Anyway, at some point, Sparano promises Turner will get a looksee. 

"I want to get him involved," he said. "He's got to keep working in practice like he is and at some point his number is going to get called."

By the way, Sparano disagrees with anyone who believes Miami's passing game problems are mostly found in the WR corps. Aside from being 29th in passing, the club is also 29th in passing net yards per play, suggesting no one is picking up YAC (yards after catch).

The fact is the Dolphins are the only team in the NFL whose passing game could be described as "Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust."

But the coach says the receivers aren't exceedingly responsible for the passing game problems.

"I wouldn't say too much," Sparano said. "I would say part of it is we're fourth in the league or third in the league in rushing so we've run it a bunch. We've had a lot rushing opportunities. I think there's a lot of people responsible for why you don't throw it. Right now we have 23 sacks -- that's responsible for why you don't do well throwing it.

"There's a lot of elements involved. The quarterback's involved. The receivers are involved, no doubt about it. We've had some dropped balls, some unexecuted route depths, those type of things are things from the receiver position that can be different."

Gotta be different, actually.

----------

Injury update: Paul Soliai (ankle), Joey Porter (knee), Justin Smiely (shoulder) and Erik Walden (hamstring) did not practice Tuesday. Anthony Fasano (hip) was limited. Channing Crowder and Jason Ferguson are back to full practice.

Jason Taylor wants to return to Dolphins in 2010

Talking to friend Tom Brady and then sharing a quick, polite conversation with Bill Belicheck after the Patriots beat his Dolphins on Sunday, Jason Taylor looked like a man who might have second thoughts about his decision to play for Miami over New England.

If that's the case, looks are deceiving.

Taylor picked the Miami Dolphins this offseason perhaps more than they picked him. He never intended to play for the Patriots even when they were courting him through public statements from owner Robert Kraft and phone calls from Belichick. And the Miami strongside linebacker remains happy about the decision to go to Miami rather than New England, according to sources close to him.

Fact is, Taylor is so happy with the Dolphins, he would like to play for them next year and perhaps after that, too, one source told me Tuesday evening. Taylor, 35, has even mentioned playing three more years.

Taylor was unavailable for comment Tuesday as Miami players were off. But he told Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf he'd like to return to Miami next year during a production meeting with them prior to the New England game which they broadcast for CBS.

So even as the Patriots seem to be pulling away from Miami in the standings, Taylor's is sticking with his call to play for the 3-5 home team.

And yes, it is his home team. One reason Taylor is so thrilled being in Miami is he's home and that makes everyone at home happy. It certainly is better than 2008 when Taylor was in Washington playing for the Redskins and his wife and kids remained in South Florida most of the time.

Taylor is playing 2009 under a one-year contract. There have been no conversations about extending that deal for next year or beyond. But those talks will happen after the season. No doubt about it, from Taylor's perspective.

November 10, 2009

Porter talking to the talk but bumbling the walk

Trash-talking has its place in the NFL because, to a certain degree, it is entertainment. It turns up the volume on games and individual matchups. It piques the interest of the otherwise disinterested.

But trash-talking should be like a baton leading an orchestra. The words should be biting and true and sharp and, ultimately, should be backed up with action. Used that way, it sounds great.

Joey Porter uses it like a hammer banging on drums. It often has no rhyme, reason or rhythm. Lately, it is rarely backed up with on-field production. Coming from him now, trash talk sounds like noise.

And that's not all of it. Porter has throughout his Miami career made statements that give pause, and when he fails to back up those statements during games, he often disappears afterward. That's what he did last week when he ripped the NFL and Tom Brady, had a bad game, and then didn't speak with a crush of waiting reporters afterward.

Porter hung a bull's-eye on himself before the game, but dodged the bullets afterward.

So Porter's trash-talking ways, entertaining and even interesting when he first arrived in 2007, have grown old and tired. And the fact that Porter this year is not backing up his words with production on the field makes his trash talk a smelly, rotting pile of garbage.

That pile began to collect when Porter boldly predicted a victory over the Oakland Raiders in 2007. The Dolphins lost as the Raiders rushed for 299 yards.

He infamously called out the NFL and then-Jaguars receiver Matt Jones last year because the player was still performing after having been caught with cocaine in his car during the offseason. How could the NFL allow such a thing, Porter growled on a national conference call.

Except he didn't know the NFL had already issued a suspension for Jones and the reason Jones was still playing is he had appealed the ruling. Oops.

Last year he called out Matt Cassel.

Last week he called out Brady and the NFL.

He called out the Jets before the first meeting between the teams this year. The Jets lost, but that was because the offense had a great night even as the New York offense lit up Porter and the Miami defense.

Before the second meeting this year, Porter said he was focused on putting Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on the sideline "wearing an icebag." 

Porter didn't get close to Sanchez and didn't have even one tackle.

Fact is, even as Porter has continued to be one of the loudest voices in the Miami locker room, his production has dropped to a whisper. He is 15th on the team with 12 tackles. He is fourth on the team with 2.5 sacks. And he has not had a full sack since September, meaning October was a pretty bad month.

Last week Porter questioned the NFL and Brady. He suggested Brady is afraid of being hit and when he is, can basically call for an official to throw a roughing the passer penalty. And I guess one can say those things, questioning Brady's toughness and impugning the NFL's fair-mindedness, if you prove your point on game day.

But on Sunday, in a game the Dolphins needed to win to stay in the AFC East race, Porter didn't contribute a sack. Or even a tackle.

Someone working at Gillette Stadium decided to mock Porter for his big mouth and puny stats by showing the defeated player on the losing sideline as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Porter's statistics, or lack of them, accompanied the shot.

It was a bad move, as I wrote in my Monday column, because it showed very poor sportsmanship -- mocking an already defeated opponent.

But the reams of e-mails I got from Patriots fans basically made the point that Porter deserved it. And while I don't agree anyone deserves such treatment, Porter certainly set himself up for it with his big talk before the game and bumbling walk during the game.

So where do we go from here?

Well, it would be nice if Porter tipped the scales more toward tackles than talk, more toward hurries than harangue, more toward sacks than smack.

Talk the talk if you must, Joey Porter. But please walk the walk.

November 09, 2009

Wake Miami's most efficient pass rusher

One of the toughest parts about coaching has nothing to do with preparing a player to play. It's recognizing the right time to put a player on the field.

Sometimes coaches hit home runs with that decision. Sometimes they strike out.

"I think that our coaching staff has tried to utilize our personnel to the best of their ability right now." coach Tony Sparano said Monday. "We’ve tried to put the right guys in the right spots so to speak. Every once-in-a-while you miss. That’s not good, if you miss, you have to re-evaluate it and you have to try to make it right. So that’s what we’re doing.”

I hope they are doing it with Cameron Wake.

Because, with all due respect to the Dolphins staff, all I know is when Wake gets the opportunity to rush the passer, he gets to the passer. A lot.

Wake has three sacks this year. That's third on the team. But he's up there with the leaders despite getting about 60-70 percent fewer snaps than those other sack leaders.

In other words, when Wake is in the game to rush the QB, he is more efficient in getting results than the other guys. On Sunday against the Patriots, Wake played in 11 plays, according to Sparano. He had one sack and one pressure.

Compare that to other rushers that got at least twice as many and perhaps almost three times as many pass-rush opportunities and netted zero sacks, and you wonder why not give Wake more chances?

The Dolphins have been trying to improve Wake's run defense. He has other issues Sparano says need to be "cleaned up." But are those issues so troubling that they would keep one of the more efficient pass rushers on the team off the field when the team needs to pressure the QB?

I know Joey Porter and Jason Taylor are still better all-around players than Wake. They are more complete at this stage. But Wake is becoming more efficient as a pass rusher than Porter, certainly.

Give him more chances to make plays doing the thing he does best -- rushing the quarterback.

More chances might just equal more sacks. And wouldn't that be good?

November 08, 2009

Patriots loss exposes Dolphins problems

FOXBORO, MASS. -- This is the sad truth about the Dolphins on Sunday:

Their best quarterback today was a running back, as Ronnie Brown was the only Miami player with a TD pass. Their best run was delivered by a quarterback as Pat White delivered a game-high 33-yard gain. And Miami's best catch of a pass was delivered by a defensive back -- Vontae Davis had a leaping, falling, grab for an interception off a tip he himself made.

If you want strange stuff, this is it.

If you want winning football, this isn't the formula.

The Dolphins got the terrible combination of little offense, weak-kneed defense, and questionable coaching all in one game. The result was a 27-17 loss to the New England Patriots. Miami is now 3-5 through the first half of the season.

So was coach Tony Sparano happy his team stayed close in this game until the Patriots put the game's final 11 points on the board?

"So close in this game just don’t get it," Sparano said. "That’s why [the Patriots] got a lot of banners out there.  They figure out how to win these close games. From our end, you know, we understand where we are right now, so I told the team in there, we’re a good football team and we’re really close to being a really good football team. Keep fighting these heavyweight battles like this, but we got to get it to turn."

Well, perhaps Sparano thinks the Dolphins are close to being a good team. But I see a team that cannot throw the ball well enough to compete against teams that do exactly that. As a result the contrast between the Dolphins and Colts or Saints or Chargers or, yes, Patriots is stark.

The Dolphins had dropped passes from Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Ted Ginn.

The Patriots, meanwhile, can throw to Wes Welker, who leads the NFL in catches over three years, and did so nine times for 84 yards. Or they can throw to Randy Moss, who has 140 career TD catches, second only to Jerry Rice. Or they can throw to tight end Ben Watson, who at 250 pounds runs faster than any Miami wide receiver except Ted Ginn Jr.

The Patriots are explosive. And the Dolphins decided to cover Randy Moss man-to-man with Vontae Davis. "I was on him man-to-man a majority of the time," Davis said.

The strategy has failed before and failed again as Moss caught six passes for 147 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown.

"It is asking a lot," Sparano said, "but you can’t double them all. In this situation, you really can’t. You know we didn’t get enough pass rush in some of the situations out there, it has a lot to do with that. You got to get pressure on Tom [Brady], and we weren’t able to do that today and you are asking guys to hold up for a long period of time. Now that being said, we certainly in some situations didn’t play our man-to-man coverage very well. We tried to mix it up really well against them, with man, with zone, with combination coverage, and ‘Tom being Tom,’ did a great job of finding guys."

The Dolphins need to find their elite pass-rushers. Joey Porter was missing in action Sunday. He had neither a sack nor a tackle. Jason Taylor didn't have a sack, either, although he was much more active than Porter.

My big frustration with this defense is it gives up touchdowns after the Miami offense gives the team a chance to win. As I wrote in my column in The Miami Herald the Dolphins scored after a 10-minute drive to put the Dolphins ahead 17-16 and then the defense gave the lead right back. 

The bottom line?

The Dolphins can win when they aren't facing elite passing teams. Then they are able to limit the damage of the opposing offense to only running the ball against a defense that defends the run fairly well.

But defend a great passing team? They have proven time and again this season they cannot do it.

The Dolphins can also survive offensively on their rushing game alone when they're leading or when the opposing defense is worried about them passing. But defenses lately have pretty much dismissed Miami's passing game. Everyone loads up at the line of scrimmage to stop Miami's run. And the offense cannot complete passes downfield to force people to back off.

Tough way to make a living. 

  

The bummer: Patriots beat the Dolphins 27-17

FOXBORO, MASS. -- Well, the AFC East suddenly doesn't go through Miami any more.

The Patriots did enough to get out of this game with a 27-17 victory. The Dolphins, meanwhile, did just enough to go home with another L on their record.

Very disappointed in the defense. It never seems to be good enough.

Very disappointed in defensive coaching. You're going to cover Randy Moss man-to-man all day long? Really?

Vontae Davis had his moments doing that assignment, no disrespect. But he needs help like any other mortal.

But Moss had six catches for a 147-yard day, including a 71-yard TD catch. Wes Welker has nine more receptions.

Tom Brady completed 25 of 37 attempts for 332 yards with one TD and one interception.

Chad Henne wasn't up to the challenge today. He completed about as many passes as he didn't. He didn't throw a touchdown. That's not good enough when you're counterpart is Brady.

Henne completed 19 of 34 for 219 yards and a 75.5 quarterback rating.

The Dolphins are 3-5, equaling the number of losses from a season ago.

The Patriots lead the AFC East with a 6-2 record.

Pats lead Dolphins 24-17 in final quarter

FOXBORO, MASS. -- The Dolphins dominated the early part of the third quarter with a 10-minute-plus drive to take a 17-16 lead.

And the Patriots answered with a 71-yard completion from Tom Brady to Randy Moss for a TD. They two also combined for a 2-point conversion.

And so we start the final stanza at 24-17.

Join me in the comments section to see how it ends.

Dolphins trail Pats 16-10 to start 3rd quarter

FOXBORO, MASS. --  The Dolphins clearly are not afraid of the Patriots. They've battled and fought so far in the first half.

The Patriots, meanwhile, seem to be playing in spurts. They took a 10-3 lead and Miami evened it by using the spread offense with Pat White, who has passed, run and pitched off the look.

New England answered with field goal on consecutive possessions to end the half up, 16-10. It could be worse. BenJarvus Green-Ellis dropped a pass that might have put the Dolphins down 20-10 at halftime.

The Dolphins will get the ball first in the second half.

The live blog continues below.

Dolphins trail Patriots 7-3 to start 2nd quarter

The Dolphins started out with a 3-0 lead on a Dan Carpenter field goal following a Vontae Davis interception.

The Patriots erased that deficit with a 36 yard pass that gave New England the ball at the 1 yard line. Laurence Maroney then scored from 1 yard out.

That's where we're at.

We're also in a situation where Vontae Davis went out with what appeared to be a left quad injury. It looks like he might be out a while. Jason Allen has taken over for Miami and will be sometimes assigned to cover Randy Moss.

Join me in the comments section as we continue the live blog.

Live blog of Dolphins versus Patriots on today

BOSTON -- It is a beautiful day here today. Sunny. Temps in the high 50s. Great football weather.

The Dolphins are clear 10 1/2-point underdogs to the Patriots and that status was multiplied exponentially Saturday when the Dolphins announced neither Jason Ferguson (elbow) nor Channing Crowder (shoulder) will play against New England.

Crowder is missing his second consecutive game. Ferguson is out for the first time this season. Left tackle Matt Light, who last year infamously fought with Crowder, also is out today.

The fact of the matter is the Dolphins haven't been as fortunate with injuries as they were last year. Last year, you may recall, the team lost Donald Thomas early and later lost Justin Smiley. But Miami was otherwise able to manage inconsequential bumps and bruises.

This year?

Starting quarterback Chad Pennington, starting tight end David Martin, starting cornerback Will Allen, and Patrick Cobbs are already on injured reserve. And they still have nine games to play. Guess the law of averages are starting to catch up to Miami.

While you're waiting for kickoff today, I suggest you check out my column in today's Miami Herald. It discusses Ted Ginn and what we have seen from him in the past after games when he's played really well. Last week, by the way, Ginn lit up the Jets.

Some consistency in following that performance up with a nice one today would be welcome.

I'll have the inactives and any pregame news as we get closer to game time.

And, of course, you know the LIVE BLOG, discussing plays as they happen, starts here 1-4 p.m. during the game today.

[UPDATE: The inactives are Kory Sheets, Channing Crowder, Andrew Gardner, Lydon Murtha, Patrick Turner, Jason Ferguson, Tyler Thigpen (3rd QB) and Quentin Moses.]

November 07, 2009

Crowder, Ferguson out versus Patriots

The Dolphins are going to match up with Tom Brady and Co. while missing two defensive starters Sunday.

The team this evening downgraded inside linebacker Channing Crowder and nose tackle Jason Ferguson from doubtful to out. Neither will play Sunday.

Reggie Torbor is expected to start in Crowder's place for the second consecutive game. Paul Soliai is expected start in place of Ferguson.

Soliai obviously will play a majority of the snaps at nose tackle, but it is possible Randy Starks will also take nose tackle snaps in relief of Soliai. When Starks moves from his starting end spot to nose tackle, the Dolphins can use Phillip Merling or Tony McDaniel at the end spot.

The Dolphins have yielded an average of 168 rushing yards in games Crowder was out going back to 2007 . Last week the Jets rushed for 127 yards in a game Crowder missed.

The Dolphins also waived William Kershaw this evening. Kershaw was signed two weeks ago to play on special teams. Apparently he didn't play well enough as the club today promoted rookie J.D. Folsom from their practice squad. Folsom will play on special teams Sunday.

Dolphins schedule gets easier after Sunday

Sunday's game against New England marks the halfway point of the 2009 season for the Dolphins.

Miami will either be 4-4 or 3-5 after eight games. Last year. the Dolphins made the turn at 4-4.

But on their way to an 11-5 record and the AFC East crown, the Dolphins lost only once more in the final eight weeks.

Can they do it again?

Well, one thing is certain: After Sunday's meeting with the AFC East leading Patriots, the schedule does become more favorable for Miami.

Remember all that talk about the Dolphins having the toughest schedule in the NFL before the season began? Turns out that seemingly applied only to the first half of the season.

The Dolphins will finish that first half against teams that currently hold a combined 38-21 record. The second half of the season is more palatable in that Miami's final eight opponents have a 25-33 record.

The Dolphins played two teams that are currently undefeated in the first half. In the second half, they play a team -- Tampa Bay -- that is currently winless.

In the first half, the Dolphins played only one game against a team (Buffalo) that currently has a losing record. In the second half they play only five games against teams that currently have losing records while matching up only three times -- Pittsburgh, Houston and the New England rematch -- against teams that currently have winning records.

So what does it all mean?

It means if the Dolphins can beat the Patriots, they have an excellent shot at the playoffs because they would boast a 4-0 division record and an manageable second half schedule to feast on.

If the Dolphins lose to the Patriots, they would find themselves three games behind the division leaders and, worse, with a growing reputation of not being able to defeat superior teams.

So Sunday's game is important in that it sets the table for the second half of the season. And it also could set the tone.

November 06, 2009

Big plays are a big problem for Dolphins D

Tony Sparano is an excellent coach and part of what makes him such is knowing his team's strengths, of which there are many, and weaknesses, of which there are many.

Sparano then has to highlight the strengths and disguise or minimize the weaknesses.

When it comes to facing the New England Patriots Sunday, one weakness that Sparano is hoping to address s stopping the big pass play. He doesn't want to see footballs sail over the top of his defense. He doesn't want to see Randy Moss on the end of long Tom Brady passes.

And he doesn't want to see receivers or tight ends catching short passes and breaking tackles to turn the routine into highlights.

Unfortunately, Sparano has seen a lot of those kind of plays from his defense already this year. So the coach is somewhat concerned.

"Let’s see, we are last in the league when it comes to giving up big plays," Sparano said Friday. "[Randy Moss] is a big play specialist and made about three of four of them in our game last time. So I am pretty concerned."

Although the Dolphins have showns some improvement the last week against the big play, they did give up a 25-yard completion to Braylon Edwards, a 28-yard catch and run to Thomas Jones and a 53-yard catch to Jerricho Cotchery. Miami has surrendered a total of 17 pass plays of 25 yards or more this season. The only game the Dolphins haven't yielded a big pass play was the opener against Atlanta.

"We know that, right now as we are fixing things and getting better, that the big play is something we have to fix," Sparano said. "If you look at us right now on defense, I don’t know if you guys know this, but our defense right now, of course rushing defense is one of the better ones, top five in the league or whatever. Third down defense we are top in the league right now. When you are looking at those kind of things; you don’t get it run on you and you are pretty darn good right now at getting off the field on third down."

But there is that big-play issues.

"The big play is what it comes back to in several situations," the coach said. "These two or three big plays. We talk about it last week, [three] plays for 100 yards -- that's 100 of their 250 yard passing. It is a different day if you are looking at however many yards they rushed for and a 170 yards passing.”

The Dolphins hope that different type of day, against big plays at least, comes Sunday.

A Wildcat wrinkle the Dolphins should consider

On Sept. 21, 2008 the Dolphins unveiled a newfangled offense that helped David defeat Goliath and has affected the thinking of NFL offenses and defenses ever since.

The Dolphins pulled back the curtain on Wildcat and -- six plays and four TDs later -- the surprise package helped Miami win for only the second time in 21 games while snapping New England's 21-game regular-season win streak.

Wildcat was a hit.

A year later, Wildcat is a core offensive look for the Dolphins and no surprise to anyone else. That means with the Dolphins game versus New England looming Sunday, this is the perfect game for the Dolphins to spring a new Wildcat surprise on the Patriots.

How about WildPat or WildPen?

As the Patriots are coming off a bye, they've had two weeks to prepare for the Dolphins and Wildcat. It behooves the Dolphins to use a new wrinkle in the attack to make that extra preparation time of no effect.

As the Patriots have studied that both New Orleans and the New York Jets shut down Miami's Wildcat the past two weeks with risky, but effective cornerback blitzes, and by crowding the line of scrimmage with up to nine defenders, the strategies beg the Dolphins to answer with an unexpected passing game out of Wildcat.

So here is what I propose:

The Dolphins should pass more out of Wildcat than the Patriots could ever expect. And doing it with Tyler Thigpen (my choice, just watch the video) or Pat White would be a great way to do accomplish that.

Understand this is not revealing any Dolphins secrets. Practices are closed and so I have no clue whether the Dolphins will actually put this possibility into action. But as loyal reader Jeff F. of Long Island, N.Y., saw and agreed, any right thinking football observer would say throwing the ball is the best way to make defenses pay for blitzing cornerbacks and trying to stop the run by outnumbering the offensive front.

The defenses the past two weeks begged the Dolphins to throw out of Wildcat. And the Dolphins tried to kinda, sorta respond, by attempting passes in both games.

The fact is the Dolphins seem to be warming to the idea of throwing out of the Wildcat as they've thrown four passes out of the formation the past three games.

But, let's face it, Ronnie Brown is a running back. He might be quite versatile and athletically gifted but there's a reason he's not playing QB. So the answer is to put a QB in there and burn the pants out of the disrespectful defense that blitzes Wildcat.

The answer, obvious to anyone with a brain, is to let Thigpen or White take over the Wildcat triggerman spot and heave-ho downfield.

Talk about a surprise. That would be a great wrinkle that New England is unlikely to be ready to defend against. And the beauty of the idea is that Thigpen or White would be throwing to Brown or Ricky Williams or Greg Camarillo, who are typically the most dependable Miami receivers.

On Thursday I asked coach Tony Sparano if all the blitzes against Wildcat didn't beg more passing as way to beat those blitzes.

Sparano paused for a couple of pregnant seconds after my question. And then he said, "maybe." 

At least it's not an outright, "No."

At least there is hope the Dolphins might spring the WildPat or WildPen on the Patriots. 

November 05, 2009

The coordinators speak and we listen

The coordinators have spoken to the media and these are the nuggets that are coming out of the 20 minutes with the men that run the Dolphins' offense and defense.

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning addressed the fact the Wildcat package hasn't exactly lit up opponents the past two weeks -- accounting for 30 yards against New Orleans and 6 yards against the Jets.

Both teams used the cornerback blitz to stifle the running attack and it would not surprise if the Patriots have seen that and employ a similar scheme.

"Yeah, they did some things differently," Henning said of the Jets and Saints. "They did some things differently. We didn't block it as well as we thought we could have. We knew that was possible because [New Orleans defensive coordinator] Greg [Williams] had it in his scheme coming out of New Orleans. We knew the corner blitz was there. Of course, they did a good job with it and the Jets did a good job with it. But we didn't block it as well as we'd like to block it."

Henning stressed that if the Wildcat continues to be ineffective, the team will move to other options in the offense. And if the Wildcat succeeds, well, then the Patriots will see more and more and more of it.

"If we start to use it and it's successful, what do we do men? We feed the stud," he said. "If it's not we move on and have other things in the offense we think can be a little more effective."

Henning is a big fan of Ted Ginn Jr. -- at least publicly. So he was basking in the fact Ginn went from goat to hero in the span of one week. And in doing, he made a statement about human behavior and the puzzling New York Jets.

"We have a tendency to beat people when we're down," Henning said. "Or, if we're with the Jets, we have a tendency to tell people we're great when we're only half great."

Henning has much respect for New England head coach Bill Belichick, who is something of a defensive genius if you believe all the press clippings the past two decades.

'He's good at disguising his problems, masking his deficiencies," Henning said. "And that's what you're supposed to do in this business. You know, on offense, defense and special teams. They've been successful because they know how to do that."

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni talked about the use of Matt Roth, which is an interesting subject considering he gave Jason Taylor some plays off last week at New York.

"You'd like to have depth and fresh players in the fourth quarter," Pasqualoni said. "Having quality people at that position helps keep players fresh so we can not only defend the run, but keep players fresh to rush the passer."

Coach Tony Sparano just talked and he said both Jason Ferguson (elbow) and linebacker Channing Crowder (shoulder) were limited in practice for the second consecutive day.

David J. Neal reports that OLB Charlie Anderson took some snaps at ILB today. That suggests the Dolphins are preparing for another week without Crowder and are trying to find backup options should either of last week's starters -- Akin Ayodele or Reggie Torbor -- go down.

By the way, for those of you looking for more of Chris Clemons and less of Gibril Wilson, forget it. Yesterday, Sparano said he was happy at the level Clemons has reached and added he didn't thinking adding more things on his plate would be good for the rookie.

Today, Sparano said Wilson played 58 snaps against the Jets last week and, "played the best game" of the year for him. You don't further demote a guy after he plays like that.

Dolphins victory against the Patriots? Unlikely

Things are looking up for the Dolphins. They have won three of their last four games. They are undefeated in the AFC East division. Their special teams is playing better. Coaches are milking the offense for everything it has. The defense is playing well enough -- especially in the first three quarters of games.

So why do I have this feeling of dread?

Oh, yeah, I remember now.

The Evil Empire looms.

I know you don't want to hear this because you are here, and that pretty much means you're a Dolphins fan. And that pretty much means you hope, pray, expect good things to happen to your team. And so you want me to give you the good news of the day.

But what I have for you this morning is not a feel-good vibe.

I have done the matchups for this game and I'm having a hard time finding a coalition of reasons that together can convince me the Dolphins will beat New England on Sunday. So this is how we're going to do this.

I am going to share with you the reasons I think the Patriots will win Sunday. And you, loyal fans and smarter people than I, will give me the counterpoint. You will give me the reasons you believe the Dolphins will win. And, by the way, "Armando you're a dummy," is not a reason you can use because while that is sometimes true, it does not actually give Miami any advantage.

So remember, I'm going to give you my argument to believe Miami will not defeat New England this Sunday. You give me the reasons you believe the Dolphins come out of Foxboro, Mass. with a W.

You are also free to agree with me if you have your feet planted on the ground rather than stepping all over Cloud Nine.

The reasons the Dolphins lose:

1. Tom Brady. He's an excellent quarterback who can identify and promptly beat blitzes, particularly when New England goes to its empty set packages. Those packages force defenses to declare themselves and not disguise their looks so much. That's bad for a team, like the Dolphins, that needs to blitz to get to the QB.

2. The Dolphins have struggled beating outstanding quarterbacks this season. Fact is, so far in 2009, the Dolphins haven't beaten any quarterbacks that own any sort of outstanding reputation. That is not a coincidence, in my opinion.

3. The Patriots are home. That advantage is obvious.

4. The Patriots are coming off a bye week. That means New England has had the opportunity to work out the kinks of defending against the Wildcat package. And that hurts the Dolphins.

5. Wes Welker. He's a matchup nightmare for Miami.

"I don’t think you are really going to stop Wes from getting the ball," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "Some of these protected hitch screens that they throw, things that are behind the line of scrimmage that he gets his hands on the football before you get a chance to get to him. These two- or three-yard throws that turn into big plays. I think what you can do is you got to be able to limit the yards after contact.

"Now that is easier said than done. Right now the guy in the last couple of games has 20 catches and 286 yards after those catches. It is a staggering number, it really is."

6. The Patriots are excellent at finding an opponent's weakness and exploiting it. Not every team does this. The Bills, for example, had a clear personnel advantage on the outside with their perimeter offensive people vs. Miami's secondary and yet, their game plan was to run the football -- something the Dolphins defend well. Inexplicable.

The Patriots see that Miami will at times have three rookies in the secondary. They know, for example, that Welker could be a matchup problem for big, physical Sean Smith. They will find a way to get that matchup unless the Dolphins move Smith around with Randy Moss on every play.

7. The Patriots give up a whopping 4.5 yards per rush this season. That is terrible. And that is a huge advantage for the Dolphins. Except that New England will likely load up against the run and dare the Miami receivers to beat cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs in one-on-one matchups. Problem is no Miami receiver has proven consistent in winning those type of matchups this season.

8. Ben Watson is a fine tight end. Fine tight ends shred the Miami defense.

9. Chad Henne hasn't really lived until he's looked into the teeth of a Bill Belichick defense. He will do that this weekend. Hope Henne did his homework this week. He's going to need it to make the proper pre-snap reads. Very few first-year starters make those reads consistently enough against Belichick.

10. Looking at the rosters, the Dolphins are better at RB, LB, and P. The Patriots are better at QB, WR, DB, and special teams. The teams are about equal at OL, DL, K, and coaching. Sorry, but I'd rather have the N.E. roster because it simply has more playmakers.

Ok, now that your blood is boiling, get your responses flowing ...

[BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT: Be sure to come back by mid-afternoon because I'll be updating with the latest info from the coordinators, the locker room and Sparano.] 

November 04, 2009

Dolphins concerned about their second-half D

The Dolphins defense has been solid, even borderline dominant, during the first half of games this season. That, obviously has a lot to do with preparation and being motivated to get started quickly. It's good stuff.

But the same defense, the same group of guys playing basically the same style, have been on their heels a lot in the second half of games.

The Colts scored 14 of their 27 points in the second half, all in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers scored  20 of their 23 points in the second half, including 13 in the fourth quarter.

 The Saints scored 36 points in the second half against Miami, with 22 of those coming in the fourth quarter.

The Jets on Sunday scored 22 of their 25 points in the second half.

The Dolphins this season have given up 17 points in the first quarter, 38 points in the second quarter, 43 points in the third quarter and 79 points in the fourth quarter.

Today I asked coach Tony Sparano why?

"I don't have an answer for you, Armando," he responded. "But it has been addressed. Our players are very aware. I wouldn't call it the last half. I would call it the fourth quarterish. But in those fourth quarters, we've obviously given up some scores and some drives in those situations. so we're aware of it.

"I'm not sure that a large of it doesn't have to do with what's going on the other side, too, the people you're playing and those guys starting to figure out what you're doing and start to settle themselves in a little bit, too."

I know many of you contend the Dolphins are nursing leads in the second half of some games and have become more conservative in those games. But Sparano says that isn't true. He contends the Dolphins are blitzing and pressing as much later in games as earlier.

"We're doing the same thing. Really are," Sparano said. "We're applying pressure, we're not changing our mind set. That's something I feel strongly about, that [defensive coordinator] Paul [Pasqualoni] feels strongly about -- that we do have to continue our pressure there. But the results have been what it is. We have to change it. We have to change it. And the only way you can change it is you have to identify there's a problem back there."

So how do the Dolphins solve the problem? Well, realizing that it exists is a good first step.

"You can go and wear these big goggles right now and think because you won a football the other day, there's no problem," Sparano said. "The good news is we won a football game and we did finish the game. But that being said, We identified clearly that one of those situations that have to be taken care of."

So what is the next step?

"Only way you can do that is through practice," the coach said. "We have to finish in practice and carry that over into the game. We made a small positive this week in that in the New Orleans game, as a team, we did not finish the ballgame. But this weekened the defense was out there that final drive and we forced them into fourth and whatever it was and made the play. That's a postive step and an important step on our part."

INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Channing Crowder, who missed last week's game with a shoulder injury, was back at practice today but was limited. Jason Ferguson (elbow) was also limited in practice.

REPORTER-PLAYER EXCHANGE OF THE DAY:

Reporter: "Which runback was better, Ted?"

Ted Ginn Jr.: "Both of them."

Reporter: "Both of them were better?"