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49 posts from October 2012

October 05, 2012

A quickie look at the week past, present and future

Joe Philbin is a structured man with rules he likes followed. It is the reason everyone on the Dolphins traveling party -- players, coaches, even staffers -- have a curfew on road trips. It is the reason he changed the timing of the weekly press conferences for coordinators Kevin Coyle and Mike Sherman.

While practically every other team in the NFL makes their coordinators available on Thursdays, the Dolphins typically do it on Mondays because Philbin has a 24-hour rule and doesn't want his assistants answering questions about last week's game four days after it ended.

The point is Philbin likes his team focused on one game -- the one coming up next.

As we are not burdened here by those rules, I want to look at the broader landscape of three weeks -- last week, this one, and the one ahead.

The impetus for this view was Thursday night's game between the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals -- the opponent the Dolphins just played (Arizona) and the one they will play after Sunday's game at Cincinnati.

I watched that game and, frankly, became a little annoyed.

I was annoyed that Arizona could be defeated seemingly so easily by the Rams, 17-3.

I was annoyed that St. Louis did pretty much what the Dolphins did to the Cardinals offensive line, with nine sacks to Miami's eight, and that pretty much was the ballgame. The Cardinals did not, could not attack the Rams secondary like they did Miami's.

I was annoyed that the Rams won despite making very few big plays on offense. Yes, Sam Bradford connected on a  51-yard touchdown pass. But he completed only seven passes all game. Seven! The Rams threw for a total of 141 yards. And they still won.

Meanwhile the Dolphins completed 26 passes for 431 yards and still lost.

I was annoyed that Miami basically played better on offense than St. Louis, produced as much in the front seven defensively, and still lost. I can't escape the feeling that such a major effort was wasted.

Looking ahead, meanwhile, the Rams concern me now. Jeff Fisher, who turned down the Dolphins coaching job last winter, is getting a lot out of a team that doesn't seem all that talented. The Rams are 3-2.

And it is troubling that having defeated the Cardinals, the Rams now have 10 days to rest and prepare for the Dolphins on Oct. 14.

I will say that the Rams do not have a very good wide receiver corps and it is about to get worse. Danny Amendola sustained what the Rams called a shoulder injury during the game and did not return. I saw on the sideline when he was talking to trainers and it looked like they were looking at his collarbone.

Judging that and how Amendola reacted after the injury -- throwing his helmet as if something terribly serious had happened -- I would not be surprised if he has some sort of fracture that will keep him from playing against Miami. It may also keep him out much, much longer than that.

Never want a player injured, but that injury is a plus for Miami.

And what about this week?

One thing that has slipped under the radar the past couple of weeks is the injury to cornerback Richard Marshall. The starter has not practiced so far this week and I would not be surprised if he misses practice Friday.

Frankly, I would not be surprised if he misses the game against Cincinnati Sunday.

Marshall is severely limited and even painkillers haven't helped him from playing at a subpar level the past couple of weeks.

The Dolphins may decide they need to shut him down for a week or that he is too much of a liability to put on the field against Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Even if Marshall is active, it is clear he is diminished. It's been that way for a couple of weeks.

That means Nolan Carroll will have to perform at a higher level. That means RJ Stanford may actually have to get significant playing time. And heaven forbid if the Achilles' injury that has hampered Carroll the past two weeks -- limiting him in practice -- rears up during the game.

None of this gives me a good feel about Sunday.

And that too annoys me.

October 04, 2012

Every throw Ryan Tannehill made against Arizona

Ryan Tannehill's performance against the Cardinals didn't finish the way a Dolphins fans would want.

It included a fumble late in regulation that allowed Arizona to tie it. It included an interception in overtime that allowed Arizona to win it.

So why did I just watch his 41 throws in the video below courtesy Joe Alvarez and feel good about things?

Well, because Tannehill showed great, great, great accuracy this game and I had been concerned the past couple of weeks about his accuracy.

Because the Cardinals brought the house in blitzes against Tannehill and he showed ability to move in the pocket and find lanes to throw.

Because the Cardinals brought the house in blitzes and Tannehill did a fine job connecting anyway.

Because the Dolphins had very little in the way of a running game and Tannehill simply put the offense on his back -- and after a 431-yard passing day, the offense didn't seem to heavy for him.

And, because the guy is still just a rookie and time promises he will continue to get better. And hopefully the Dolphins will be able to give him more weapons -- like a tight end to threaten a defense down the seam -- to make Tannehill even more lethal.

So was this a victory?

No.

Did Tannehill get lucky on a couple of throws that might have been intercepted?

Yes.

Did he make other mistakes?

Yes.

But should you be encouraged?

Absolutely.

October 03, 2012

Welcome to South Florida Jabar Gaffney

Jabar Gaffney stayed in New England the past few weeks even after the Patriots cut him and he was without a team. Fact is, Gaffney hoped he'd be back with the Pats and as you'll see below, he saw other teams like the Dolphins as the "enemy."

But he's with Miami now.

And that means learning on the fly.

Gaffney and quarterback Ryan Tannehill worked on hand signals today, something that is important just prior to a road game (Miami plays at Cincinnati Sunday).

The portions of practice I saw didn't suggest to me the Dolphins are leaning heavily on Gaffney in the game plan. That obviously can change in the next couple of days.

Anyway, I present to you No. 10 of the Miami Dolphins -- Jabar Gaffney:

 

Miami Dolphins needing cornerback help

The Dolphins early today promoted D'Andre Presley from their practice squad to the active roster and the move is a harbinger of how desperate the club is at the cornerback spot now.

The desperation comes in that Richard Marshall continues to battle a back issue and was again nowhere in sight during practice today. To make matters worse, Nolan Carroll, who missed time last week with an Achilles' injury, sat out again today.

The issue forced RJ Stanford into duty as a starting cornerback in practice today while Marshall and Carroll sat out.

Kevin Burnett also limped off the practice field early in practice today. It didn't seem serious. But he had not returned by the time the portion of practice open to the media had ended. I'll update you later as I learn more.

Reggie Bush, by the way, spent some time on the bike today to keep his left knee loose. It is unclear if he'll be limited in practice.

Sherman rejects idea he blew play-call late vs. Arizona

Mike Sherman, like most football coaches, has certain convictions. As Don Shula used to say to me, 'you must have the courage of your convictions."

I get that.

But sometimes there's a disconnect between courage and wisdom.

And so while it was courageous for Sherman, Miami's offensive coordinator, to continue pressing the issue against the Arizona Cardinals late in regulation Sunday, it absolutely hurt the team. It was not wise.

This is what happened:

The Dolphins led 21-14 with 5:14 to play. They had the football at their own 35 yard line.

On first down Reggie Bush rushed for 7 yards to the Miami 42 yard line. On second down, Bush gained 15 yards on an outside run to the Arizona 43 yard line with only 3:45 to play. First down.

Sherman called on Bush again and he gained two yards to the Arizona 41 yard line. There were now three minutes left in the game and the Dolphins faced a second-and-nine from the Arizona 41 yard line.

If Sherman gives the ball to Bush two more times, he could have taken the clock down to the two minute warning before, at worst, punting on fourth down. The way Brandon Fields is punting this year, the best Arizona could have done is probably get the ball at their 20 yard line with 1:50 or so to play.

Then it would have been up to the Miami defense to keep the Cardinals from marching 80 yards in less than two minutes to tie.

That's worst case scenario that assumes the Cardinals, playing with an eight-man front, would have stuffed the Miami running game -- something they didn't do on the previous set of downs.

Sherman didn't see this as the way to go.

He called a pass on second-and-nine. And the Cardinals blitzed and quarterback Ryan Tannehill not only was sacked and lost seven yards, he also fumbled the football.

The Cardinals took over at their own 49 yard line when Vonnie Holliday recovered the fumble.

It was a disastrous decision by Sherman and no, that is not hindsight, because I'm looking at it in the pressbox and expecting Miami to run the ball and play the odds and was as surprised as anyone with the pass.

 Of course, Sherman doesn't see it that way. He was asked Tuesday if he has to change his approach and he said he doesn't think so.

"We were never in a situation where the game was won, so it wasn’t like we could just sit back," he said on Tuesday. "When you have a 10-point lead, that’s a little different than seven points or three points obviously. How many possessions is it going to take? We have to play, I don’t think you can play conservatively at that point. Did we take some risks? I didn’t consider them risks necessarily, but we were going to try our best to the move the football against their defense and their defense was playing a lot of eight-man fronts, so we had to do some things there.

"No, I don’t think so. I think we just have to do things a little bit cleaner, a little bit better and I think we’ll be ok. I think that’ll come. I really do."

So it's up to the players to get better and perform at a higher level. And until then, apparently, the offensive coordinator will continue putting the pedal to the metal. And expecting everything to be "ok."

October 02, 2012

Dolphins sign Jabar Gaffney, cut Naanee and Fluellen

Many of you are getting your wish.

The Miami Dolphins signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney and terminated the contracts of defensive lineman Andre Fluellen and wide receiver Legedu Naanee and waived/injured linebacker Mike Rivera, it was announced today.

This signals the end of Naanee's short and uninspiring time with the Dolphins. He was told of the move this morning. Rivera and Fluellen only had a cup of coffee with the Dolphins.

The addition of Gaffney seemed at times inevitable for the Dolphins once the Patriots cut him and didn't offer him a chance to return. Gaffney was cut by New England in the preseason while he was nursing a leg injury.

He is apparently healthy now.

Once Gaffney learns the offense, he can give the Dolphins three solid wide receivers to put on the field at the same time. The Dolphins have been looking for that with no luck -- as Naanee failed and Anthony Armstrong got his opportunity and lately has been demoted mostly to special teams work.

The 6-2, 200 pound wide receiver is in his 11th season. Gaffney was originally a second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans where he spent his first four seasons with the team. Gaffney has also played with the New England Patriots (2006-08) and Denver Broncos (2009-10).  He joins Miami after spending last season with the Washington Redskins where he established career highs in both receptions (68) and receiving yards (947). Gaffney also tied a career high with five touchdowns. He has played in 155 career games with 103 starts and has caught 443 passes for 5,622 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Gaffney played two seasons at the University of Florida, where he totaled 138 career receptions for 2,375 yards (17.2 avg.) with 27 touchdowns. He received consensus first-team All-America honors and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award (nation’s best receiver) as a redshirt sophomore in 2001 after ranking second in the nation in receiving yards per game (108.3 / 67-1,191, 13 TDs). Gaffney also set an NCAA Division I-A freshman record for receiving yards (1,184 on 71 receptions) and receiving touchdowns (14) as a redshirt freshman in 2000 while earning consensus National Freshman of the Year accolades and first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors. Born December 1, 1980, Gaffney was a two-year starter at Raines County High School in Jacksonville, Florida.

Dolphins owner Ross leads a politically active NFL

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson made some news Monday when he said it's more important to him to have Republican candidate Mitt Romney win the upcoming presidential election than having the Jets enjoy a winning season.

"Well I think you always have to put country first," Johnson said on Bloomberg TV. "So I think it's very, very important that not only for us but particularly for our kids and grandkids that this election come off with Mitt Romney and Ryan as president and vice-president."

Two things:

I admire the man for having the right priorities. Any presidential election is indeed more important and has more far-reaching consequences than a football season, regardless which party wins.

And, Johnson might be on the road to getting his wish because while Romney still has a chance to pull the upset, his Jets look cooked despite their 2-2 record. New York's best player (cornerback Darrelle Revis) is out for the year, their best offensive player (Santonio Holmes is seeing a foot specialist because there are fears he has the dreaded lis franc injury) and there are calls to replace the quarterback.

But Johnson is not the only NFL owner who has involved himself in the coming election. In fact, Johnson is not even Romney's most ardent supporter despite his words.

The NFL owner who has put the most money behind his Romney support, according to The Washington Examiner is Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

Truth is the NFL is leaning well in the Romney camp with three times as much money donated to Romney than President Barack Obama. And Ross has led that charge, donating $100,000 to the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, $20,800 to the Republican National Committee, $5,000 to Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC and $2,500 to Mitt Romney.

Johnson, by comparison, has donated a total of $65,700 to the Romney cause.

The owners of the Cowboys, Browns, Chiefs, Jaguars, Jets, Dolphins, Texans, Chargers, Redskins, Bengals and Cardinals have all contributed to Romney.

Obama has gotten donations from the ownership of the Steelers and Patriots. Other democrat-leaning owners such as those in Atlanta, Baltimore, and Philadelphia have yet to donate as of the last reporting period.

One interesting tidbit about the Rooney family that owns the Steelers: While Dan Rooney was all in for Obama and was rewarded with an ambassardorship to Ireland, Tom Rooney, the nephew of Steelers' executive Tim Rooney, is running for re-election to congress in Florida and he is a Republican.

NFL players have also been politically active in donating. Their donations are more evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Former University of Miami and current New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle has contributed $10,000 to the Obama campaign.

Current Broncos QB Peyton Manning has contributed $12,000 to the campaign of two Republican senators.

 

October 01, 2012

Naanee remains on the Dolphins at this hour

Throughout the day many of my twitter followers were asking me when the Dolphins would get rid of Legedu Naanee. They were also asking the same about Dan Carpenter.

Carpenter missed a kick against Arizona Sunday, his third in two weeks, while Naanee had a memorable fumble that was scooped up by Patrick Peterson and returned to the Dolphins one yard line. The mistake was erased when Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb threw an interception in the end zone two plays later.

Nonetheless, this evening the questions about Naanee's future took on a different approach. My followers were claiming a report said Naanee had been cut.

Well, that was a fake twitter report from a bogus account. And as of this evening, Naanee remains on the team.

"The Miami Dolphins front office has not had any discussions with me nor any of my six clients on the team today about any roster moves," agent David Canter texted me.

So move along.

Nothing to see here as of this moment.

What to think about the Dolphins, what to do with Carpenter

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- You saw the good and you saw the bad during Sunday's 24-21 overtime loss here. As I wrote in my column that appears in Monday's Miami Herald, this game had plenty of both and you can choose to view it as a failure today or as a game with promise for tomorrow.

Frankly, I'm so sick of covering a loser, I really want to believe this game is the start of something good for the future.

And so I see Ryan Tannehill's 431 yards as a big deal. This was the second most yards any rookie QB in NFL history has thrown for in a game -- behind only Cam Newton's 432 last year versus Green Bay. It also the most passing yards by a rookie on the road.

The 431 yards tied for sixth most in Miami history. Of the top eight such performances in club history, Dan Marino has the other seven and Tannehill joins that list.

It was also a breakout day for Brian Hartline and Cameron Wake and Sean Smith and others. All good.

But ...

This was a loss, folks, and this season is officially in a tailspin. So tomorrow looks good. Today looks like a heaping pile.

The Dolphins have played well enough to be 3-1 this year. They seem every bit as good as the Jets and Cardinals to whom they have lost in overtime the last two weeks. But the fact is the Dolphins lost against two teams that aren't any better than them. And this game was lost while wasting many great, great performances.

So even when guys play great, these Dolphins find a way to lose.

And if you cannot win when half a dozen players are having great days, when can you win?

Then there is this:

Mike Sherman's play-calling puzzled me in crunch time again this week. Last week the Dolphins offensive coordinator went away from the running game in the fourth quarter and they blew a lead.

This week, the Dolphins had a 21-14 lead with 3:45 to play. The team just converted a first down on two running plays. Sherman runs on first down again. Then on second down and eight from the Arizona 43 yard line he runs again, right?. It only makes sense against a defense that was blitzing right up the middle all day, right? You want to run clock, right?

Nope. Sherman called a pass.

And the Cards blitzed. And Richie Incognito missed the blitzer who had a free run at Tannehill right up the gut. And the Dolphins quarterback got hit and sacked and stripped of the ball. Former Dolphins defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday recovered at his own 43.

The Cardinals then converted the turnover into a game-tying touchdown drive in regulation. And they won in overtime.

Frustrating play-calling.

There was also the mounting problems with kicker Dan Carpenter. Last week, he missed two field goals including a possible game-winner.

This week he missed a 51-yarder that was no gimme by any means, but nonetheless a makeable kick. Carpenter, so solid before the season that Miami didn't even bring a kicker to camp to compete against him, could have turned a 13-0 lead into a 16-0 lead.

The miss meant more than three points. It was a momentum killer. It heartened the Cardinals and gave their crowd hope. It wasn't long before the Cardinals took a 14-13 lead.

So what should the Dolphins do about Carpenter now? I asked Joe Philbin if he's concerned about Carpenter now and whether a move might be necessary.

“We’ll have to take a look and see how he did," Philbin said. "When you send your field goal kicker out there, hopefully you know they’re going to make kicks. I’m not sure that’s a concern right now at this moment.”

Not concerned? Really? If not now, then when?

Does Carpenter have to help blow a couple of more games?

The trouble is the Dolphins are financially committed to Carpenter. They aren't really going to cut him at this point. Do they bring in a kicker to send him a message that he has to get his stuff together?

That might end up being another thing that an already worried kicker has to think about. Of course, it might also light the proverbial fire under Carpenter.

No easy answers. None.