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64 posts from November 2012

November 30, 2012

Dolphins can't let Pats cramp their style

This is a true story: In the hours before game time on Novemer 15, Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith was feeling a little weary. He didn't feel quite alert enough, quite energized enough to play an NFL football game -- particularly one at night against the Buffalo Bills.

Smith needed a pick-me-up.

The Dolphins cornerback related this to Dolphins teammate Paul Soliai (they both are represented by local agent David Canter) and the mamoth defensive tackle offered a simple solution to the situation. Soliai told Smith to take a 5-hour energy drink.

And Smith did before warmups.

And then he took another after warmups.

And sometime around the third quarter Smith started feeling his body tighten up. And by the fourth quarter he felt paralyzed.

"In that third quarter I felt a little pinch and I said, 'I'm ok, never mind.' But in the fourth quarter it was all over," Smith said. "I talked to the doctor after the game and he asked if I took any energy drinks and I said, 'yeah I took two 5-hours' and he said that was the problem. All the caffiene dried me up and it was cold so I wasn't probably drinking enough water."

Smith left the game with cramps. And his backup Nolan Carroll, who had been benched for struggling with multiple defensive holding and interference calls, had to go back in. And then Carroll was flagged again, costing the Dolphins a first down.

"I actually tried to get back out there for a play and as soon as I got in my stance I locked up," Smith said. "I came right back out.

"I was extremely mad at Paul but there was nothing I could do about. Imagine flexing your led straight for an hour. Flex as hard as you can and then release. My muscles were sore after the game. It was ridiculous."

And I share with you this story because this Sunday when the New England Patriots come to town, the Dolphins can afford no cramping on the field (as they had against Buffalo this year and last year in the season-opener vs. New England). The Dolphins can afford nothing but showing that they are in tip-top shape and ready to play 70-80 plays and play them with little rest between snaps.

The reason?

The Patriots run a no-huddle offense that goes fast, fast, fast. The Patriots also churn first downs like they're butter. While the average team typically snaps 58 offensive plays, the Patriots are averaging nearly 78 plays per game. And they're doing this with little rest time between snaps.

That puts a strain on the defense and its players.

The Dolphins know this and they have been preparing for such a challenge in practice.

"I think the practice environment is where we’re doing the best job to simulate the things they are going to see in the game," coach Joe Philbin said. "That’s really what we’ve been doing. We’re reloading the next skill set of guys that are presenting the look as fast as we can.

"What typically happens in the week is there is somebody holding a card up and everybody is looking and then everybody is breaking. We’re kind of working the next play ahead and getting guys going and using some of our own language on very similar plays so we can get guys up and running and just simulate that pace. I think it’s gone well. We’ve had a couple snafus, but that happens."

So will it work? No idea. But obviously the Dolphins cannot let the Patriots cramp their style.

 

November 29, 2012

THE key to the game on Sunday 'no question'

In this matchup between the Patriots and Dolphins there are two numbers that stand out that speak to the relative position -- the strengths and weaknesses, if you will -- each team is enjoying and suffering.

Turnover margin.

The Patriots are an astonishing plus-24 so far this season. That's the best in the NFL.

The Dolphins are at minus-10, which means they have turned the ball over 10 more times than they've collected turnovers. That ranks Miami tied for 27th in the NFL.

"I wish we were better, no question about it," coach Joe Philbin said.

Philbin definitely wishes the statistic is better on Sunday when the teams meets. If the Patriots play as they have and don't make mistakes while the Dolphins play to their turnover stat and give up one or two, that's a bad day for Miami. It makes the likelihood of winning much less probable.

"We’re playing a team that’s plus 24 and we’re minus 10," Philbin said. "That pattern is not good; that can’t continue on Sunday and be a good thing for us. So we have to do a great job of ball security and find a way to take the ball away from them. That’s going to be a key to the ball game, no question about it."

The Dolphins number is not good but it is much more attention-grabbing when compared to New England's plus-24. The next closest teams to the Pats are Chicago and the Giants and they are at plus-13.

Tom Brady, for example, has thrown 421 passes and has only three interceptions.

"It’s something we talk about a lot," Brady said. "There’s nothing more important than possession of the football. Our defense has done an incredible job taking it away. The offense has done a great job of keeping the ball away from the defense. It’s a point of emphasis every day in practice. It’s a point of emphasis going into every game, like most teams.

"It’s probably the one stat that correlates to winning and losing more than any other. It’s good that we’re in the plus-20s, but what we’re trying to do is get the edge in this game. Nothing that we’ve done this year means anything going into this game. We have to go out and try to put together a good performance this game. Hopefully we’re ahead in the turnover margin in this game as well."

Brady's care for the ball on Sunday must be matched by Tannehill who so far has have four times as many interceptions (12) in nearly 100 fewer throws.

“That’s impressive," Tannehill said of Brady's interception number. "When you’re able to take care of the ball like that, throw accurately and throw for that kind of yards and the amount of touchdowns he has, to go along with that, it’s impressive. I think he’s continued to get better and progress throughout his career and hopefully I can learn from that."

Why do the Patriots have such a good turnover margin? More importantly, why don't the Dolphins?

I blame part of it on the Miami defense. They don't catch interceptions. I can think of five interceptions they've dropped this year. That would cut their number in half. And Miami's running backs have lost five fumbles compared to only one by the Patriots.

"I believe they are the best in the football at protecting the ball offensively, so that’s a real credit to the players and staff," Philbin said. "Number two is they’re second in football, one behind Chicago I believe, at taking the football away. They catch the interceptions; they knock the ball loose on fumbles and come up with the ball. They do a great job. It’s impressive."

Better not be on Sunday if the Dolphins hope to win.

 

November 28, 2012

Some Dolphins think Pats just another team

There seems to be an interesting debate among some Dolphins players as to what kind of team exactly they wil play Sunday when the New England Patriots come to town.

The Patriots, you may know, have won three Super Bowls this millineum while playing in the game another two times. They're .670 winning percentage (including the postseason) is the best in the league since 1994. They've won every AFC East division title since 2001 except for 2002 and 2008.

And this year, New England is leading the division, leading the NFL in points per game, and they have a future Hall of Fame quarterback named Tom Brady.

So how do some Dolphins react to this resume?

"They're just another team," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said today. "They're a really good team. They've won a lot of games this year. But it's not something that affects us."

That is not a singular opinion. Middle linebacker Karlos Dansby agrees the Patriots are a good team. But does he think their reputation allows them a certain degree of prestige?

"No," he said.

Why not?

"Why?" he answered.

"A lot of teams have been among the elite," Dansby said. "Everybody has prestige behind their organization. What makes them different than anybody else?

"Every team in the AFC East has prestige behind them -- even the Buffalo Bills. [Sheesh], they went to the Super Bowl four times in a row and didn't win it. So playing them is just like playing the New England Patriots."

If confidence is something you admire, then you're in heaven right now. By the same token, if giving the opponent something to fume about is a problem for you, then this also fits the bill. My take is that true or not, whether they are just another team or not, the Patriots will turn this into an internal topic of discussion.

But leave it to ripe and wise veteran running back Reggie Bush to want no part of the conversation. He clearly disagrees with Tannehill and Dansby.

"No, I don't think they're just another team," Bush said. "They've kind of been at the top for a while now. The body of work they've put out, the foundation they've laid out kind of speaks to their organization, to their program, to the character of players they got over there. So I have nothing but respect for those guys over there."

Babin doesn't make sense in Miami but don't discount the notion

[UPDATE: The Dolphins were reportedly one of eight teams to put in a waiver claim for Jason Babin. This obviously speaks to the idea discussed below that the team wants pass-rush help opposite Cameron Wake. Babin goes to Jacksonville and will face the Dolphins Dec. 16]

[UPDATE 2: Now we learn that reports saying the Dolphins put in a claim are not accurate. Apparently only three teams put in claims -- Washington, Jacksonville and Bills. Babin goes to the Jaguars. Still.]

Jason Babin?

He's available and he had 18 sacks in 2011. He is a 4-3 defensive end and the Dolphins play the 4.3. He fits an immediate need for a team needing pass rush help on the other side of Cameron Wake.

But ...

Babin wants to go to a winner and according to some reports he became something of a problem in the Philadelphia locker room because the team wasn't winning. Well, the Dolphins are 5-6 and not considered a team that's winning.

Is acquiring Babin Joe Philbin's style. No, in fact, it would go against his stated approach of having a certain kind of player that advances and fits into the program. Babin reportedly complained and second-guessed and, wait for it, had opinions during his time in Philadelphia.

Philbin doesn't want that in his locker room.

Babin's 32 years old. So what? The Dolphins are going to do exactly the opposite of what they've been doing -- that is, letting younger players such as Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon show themselves and develop? Hard to fathom an about-face on this.

Babin is also something of an engima. He has only 5.5 sacks this year. He's had more games without a sack than games in which he got a sack. If you notice the Eagles' record the past two years, obviously Babin is not a difference maker. They stunk with him playing well, they stink with him playing poorly.Believe it or not, the Eagles have lost each of the last four games in which Babin has recorded a sack.

I'm not saying it is his fault they lost the game. I'm just saying his limited contribution hasn't made a difference.

Babin is also subject to waivers. There is one report that the Ravens will definitely claim him. The Ravens, by the way, are behind the Dolphins in the priority waivers claim order. So if the report is correct the Dolphins would have to claim Babin to get him. They would not be able to sign him as a free agent after waivers expire.

Claiming Babin means taking on his contract which has $1.75 million left on it in salary this year and extends through 2015 with salaries of $4.25 million next year and $6 million in '14 and '15.

You'll hear the term "Wide 9" scheme as it relates to what Babin is best suited for. Forget that. If a guy can rush the QB, he can rush the QB. Plus the Dolphins employ a bit of that anyway. Not a factor here.

Did I mention Babin is limited against the run? He's not that good against the run. There, I said it.

Yes, the Dolphins need a counter to Cameron Wake. Yes, Babin is probably a better pass rusher than anyone else currently on the roster.

But from waiver claim issues to locker room issues to age, there are serious reasons to doubt Babin fits. It doesn't make sense. (So, of course, don't be surprised if the Dolphins are interested).

November 27, 2012

Patriots can sometimes erase homefield advantage

The stands will be filled at Sun Life Stadium Sunday for the first time in long time. The game is sold out. And barring a late wave of no-shows, the Dolphins are expecting up to 71,000 people in the seats.

Yep, New England at Miami is a big deal down here.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, about 20,000 of those seats will be filled by Patriots fans. The Dolphins expect their fans will fill approximately 50,000 of the seats while the rest will go to New England fans.

Let's face it, the weather is beautiful in South Florida this time of year so some Pats fans have obviously made a long weekend out of this game. And, of course, their team is really, really good, not to mention very entertaining.

But before you out-of-town guys that only rarely attend a Dolphins home game start calling out local South Florida Dolphins fans for their inability to fully fill their own stadium, please stop.

Think about this:

The video below shows it could be much worse.

The video below also shows that sometimes local fans that actually do pay to go to the games feel they have a right to get their money's worth. And when they don't get their money's worth, they can get very angry and even turn on their team.

The video below was shot at Met Life Stadium, home of the New York Jets. The video was shot at halftime of the Thanksgiving Day game between the Jets and Patriots.

The Patriots basically dismantled the Jets. And Jets fans, expecting a good performance from their team, turned on the players they had spent money to see. The Jets were down 35-3 at halftime and as they headed to their locker room to regroup, the locals ripped into the players. The Patriots eventually took home a 49-19 victory.

It was ugly. (It was also beautiful, in my opinion, if you get my drift).

Anyway, the point is the Patriots are a dangerous team. They travel well, especially this weekend. They can play so well that the locals turn on their team.

So the Dolphins have to be wary of this Sunday. Playing well would obviously be a cure for such behavior in the stands so maybe the Dolphins can deliver that and make the point moot.

Here's another thing: The idea of opposing fans making up a big chunk of the crowd at Sun Life is not new. I remember during the early 1990s, Bills fans would travel in droves to Sun Life for late-season meetings between the Bills and Dolphins.

It got so obvious and the Bills would play so well at Sun Life that Buffalo players started calling it Rich Stadium South.

And that was during much better days when the Dolphins were in the playoffs practically every year and even went to the AFC Championship game. So this is not a new phenomenom.

As to the anger and vitriol spewed by Jets fans against their team, that has happened here also. Think back to 2007. The Dolphins were 1-15. Folks were very, very angry.

What we have now is not anything like that. Many fans have moved on from that kind of reaction. Many are simply staying home and waiting for the team to start winning again before returning to the stands.

At least that's more pleasant for the players than what you see below:

 

Patriots worry both Dolphins defense and offense

The Dolphins this year have enjoyed a favorable schedule just as they did in 2008. In fact, they are playing the NFC West again this year as they did that year. So be thankful for that.

But, alas, even in a season when the opposition is not the toughest week in and week out, there are teams on the schedule that give pause. This season the Dolphins play four games against super teams -- at Houston, at New England, at San Francisco and New England at home.

The opponent this week is New England at home.

The Patriots are the best team the Dolphins have faced since the season opener against Houston. And that means this game will be a measuring stick. This game will tell where precisely the Dolphins are in the NFL food chain.

As coach Joe Philbin said Monday, "We're going to have to play extremely well, no doubt about it," to beat the Patriots.

The Patriots are obviously a great offensive team. They are No. 1 on offense in the NFL. They average a league-best 37 points per game, which is almost twice as many points per game as the Dolphins.

And that should worry defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who has to stop the Patriots. But it should also worry offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who has to keep up with the Patriots.

Both assistants talked on Monday. I thought I would share everything they said:

Sherman:

(On his reaction to seeing his 300 plus pound center leading Reggie Bush on a sweep down the sideline) –“Well it’s actually something that I’ve seen him do a number of times, obviously more in practice. We’d been practicing that play all last week and actually ran it against our defense in a competitive drill in probably the same spot on the field, with almost the same result. We didn’t quite score, but I’ve seen him do that a few times.”

(On the improvement in the running game helping with the offense’s confidence) –“Well everything that we do is predicated on the success of being able to run the football. You really want to be able to avoid, as best you can, the third and twelve, the third and tens, the second and twelve’s. And so we were able to do that a number of times yesterday. Even two or three yard runs are better than some of the ones we’ve had in weeks past. So it definitely got things going for us and allowed us to do some things throwing the football.”

(On integrating Charles Clay into more of the offense) –“Well he’s kind of a hybrid type of player. He lines up in the backfield as a fullback, he lines up in the slot, we’ve lined him up as an outside receiver and as an inside receiver, and also as a tight end. I think defenses have to make a decision when he's in the game whether to play base defense or nickel defense, so it puts them in a precarious position. I think it’s definitely a benefit to us with his abilities that we’re able to move him around. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t load him up with too much stuff, but he certainly rose to the occasion yesterday, and hopefully will continue to do so.”

(On why Davone Bess was able to have so much success yesterday) –“Well, because he’s a heck of a player in his own right and a tremendous competitor. We were able to get him working in the middle of the field some and that freed him up on a couple of play action passes where he was able to get free. Also, in that last drive he made two huge catches for us coming across the middle. One was on a shallow cross type route, and another one was (when) they were in two safety defense and he beat the middle safety and the underneath coverage. But I think it’s a compliment more to him than that scheme. He just competed and made plays and he's a good player in his own right just like those corners were.”

(On the Patriot’s run defense and what enables them to create so many turnovers) –“Well they’re a tenacious defense. Their run defense is very strong. Their structure, obviously as you guys know, is out of the 3-4, which is Coach Belichick’s staple. They work from there with their nickel and dime packages, but obviously they’re a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it. I think we’re in a lot better position now, from a confidence standpoint, to play them than we would have been if we hadn’t won this football game.”

(On the next step in the progression for Ryan Tannehill) –“Probably not to make that throw back across the grain. That would probably be the next step in that we have to make sure he doesn’t do that, which I doubt very much he will. You know one thing that I’ve said before and I will continue to say it, he's the first one to know when he screws up and makes a mistake. He's hard on himself and I doubt very much that would (happen again). I’m very glad we survived that, but I doubt very much you’ll see that pass again. But the next step for him is to continue to believe in himself and have the confidence that he had and demonstrated to the rest of the team, particularly the offense. When we had the ball there at the end of the game, they all believed in him and trusted him. Just build off of that confidence is the biggest thing.”

(On whether he talked with him about that pass) –“Right after the game in the locker room, it was pretty jovial, but I still was able to pretty much make my point clear about that and that we’d be talking about that pretty soon.”

(On whether he focuses on the playoff talk or if he worries about the players focusing on it) –“I think our focus, as you go around the building Joe (Philbin) has ‘1-0’ just all over the place, is winning the next ball game and everything will take care of itself. I do believe the players… you know I like to listen to their comments or read their comments after the games and I think they typify the same comments that the head coach is making, and that’s ‘hey we’re just worried about winning the next football game against a great opponent.”

(On what Daniel Thomas showed him yesterday and how efficient the offense can be with him and Bush running so effectively) –“In this league, because of the type of game it is and the way we want to run the football, to be able to have two backs, and I really think we have three backs; he wasn’t dressed, but I think (Lamar) Miller can also help us in there when his time comes. But the one two punch, they’re different types of runners and you have to come to balance a little bit differently on both of them. So I do think it presents some issues for the defense, but it was nice to see Daniel come up strong. I thought he had some good strong runs for us.”

(On whether they used the ‘I’ formation more often than usual yesterday) –“That’s fairly accurate. We ran more out of a two back set than a one back set yesterday. Part of that was a function of how we wanted to attack them with some of our play action.”

(On whether all the problems are fixed now) –“If we can run the ball for 180 whatever yards, we should have pretty good success I would think. The week before, we ran it for 60 yards on almost the same amount of carries. I can’t figure that out. (We used) pretty much the same schemes. This defense we played yesterday was a very tough defense, but we seem to rise to the occasion. I think the players are certainly deserving of all the credit for what they put into this ball game and what they were able to do. Hopefully we are able to continue.”

(On whether he likes Tannehill and the offense operating at a faster pace, similar to a two minute drill speed) –“Personally I like the faster pace, but at the same time, in the beginning stages of the offense the whole idea of being in the no huddle from my standpoint is getting Ryan to the line of scrimmage to be able to decipher and dissect what people are doing and give him time. We did have to call a timeout yesterday one time because of a possible delay of game; that was my fault. I was a little bit late getting the call in, but we’ve been pretty clock savvy in relationship to getting the play in and giving him time on the clock; usually we have about ten seconds or more on the clock when he snaps the football. But it gives him time at the line scrimmage to not feel rushed, and he did feel rushed on that play and we didn’t have a successful play. I would prefer to go faster than we are but I think right now, and the Patriots go faster than we do, but right now I think we are where we are and we’ll probably stay here for a bit. As we grow maybe we’ll move a little bit forward.”

(On what Vince Wilfork brings to the Patriot’s defensive line) – “Well when you talk about the structure of their defense you want to be strong through the middle, and they are. He’s at the center point of just about everything that happens. You have to be able to block him to have any success around the football. I mean he is a man amongst boys out there a lot of times and really controls that line of scrimmage for them.”

(On whether it feels daunting to have to keep up with the pace of the Patriot’s offense scoring) – “Well You know I do always look at what an opposing offense is doing and how that plays into how we’re going to play, and so it is a little bit of a challenge there’s no question. You have a Hall of Fame quarterback over there, a Hall of Fame Coach over there, other players that are noteworthy and Pro Bowl players, so you certainly have to stay in touch with what they’re doing, but at the same time not lose sight of what you have to do. You have to focus more on yourself and what you have to do actually.”

And now Coyle:

(On what kind of ideas he has to slow down Tom Brady) –“I’m open for anybody’s suggestions (joking). They just do such a great job of executing their offense. They’re not a team that uses a lot of trickery. They are a team that does a great job of working matchups and they’re built that way. They’ve got speed receivers, quick receivers, big receivers. When you do things to try to negate their passing game, as evidenced this year, they’re very effective running the ball. So they pose a lot of problems for you in terms of the matchups. Honestly, we haven’t had, we didn’t have great success against them in Cincinnati and I hope that we can do a better job here.”

(On what he said to the defense after yesterday’s game in light of the success stopping the run) – “Well, we were real pleased. Going into the game, we felt this was one of the better running teams we were going to face that had a running back that had four consecutive 100-yard games. I think he was third in the league coming into the game in rushing and, quite honestly, with the exception of one play that bounced out there later in the second half, we did a tremendous job against the run the entire day. Guys up front did a super job - (Paul) Soliai and (Randy) Starks. Really, it all started with those two and we were able to set the edges. Geez, I think the quarterback did more damage rushing the ball against us than the running back did. So that’s good. We have to get back to doing that in order to be as good as we want to be on defense. That was a big positive step and a lot of different individuals came up with plays as the game went on. When we needed to make plays at the end, there was two things that stood out during the game. There was the sudden change there early in the game on the 35-yard line. We took the field and then knocked them back a little bit and got them out field goal range. There was no points scored in the sudden change. That was big in retrospect when you look at the whole game. You don’t think, at the time, it felt good them not scoring, but really the way the game unfolded. Then, certainly at the end of the game when they got the ball at the 40-yard line with over two minutes left and it didn’t look good. It looked like they were going to be able to try to grind it in there and set up a field goal and we might not even get a chance to get the ball back, but three consecutive negative plays got them out of field goal range again and gave our offense a chance to go down the field and win. That’s positive. There’s still a lot of things that we have to do better and containing the quarterback was a big issue yesterday.”

(On if it’s smarter to blitz Brady or put more people in coverage) – “It’s kind of like pick your poison. I think we’re going to have to do some of both obviously. He’s not the most mobile quarterback that we face for sure. That’s a bit a relief after the guy last week to be honest with you, but he stands in there and he waits and he waits and he waits and guys separate and get open. He’s very patient and he’s so smart. That’s the things about him. I don’t think you can sit there and cover them all day long. Although, I do think you have to do things coverage wise that, because of their personnel spreads you out all over the field, that you have to be able to be somewhat multiple in what you’re going to try to do covering their receivers. But I don’t think you can let him sit there and wait because eventually he finds somebody open. So I think you’re going to have to… We are a pressure team to a pretty high degree and we’re not going to change what we do, but we’re going to have to be really smart in how we do it."

(On the challenges of facing Wes Welker) – “He’s fun to watch if you’re not playing against him. He’s a lot like our Davone Bess in that he gets in the slot and he just works you. They do such a good job of running option routes with him, and him and Brady, Welker and Brady, are on such the same page where if you take leverage to his outside, he’s going to beat you inside. If you take leverage to the inside, he’s going to stick you and he’s going to break you outside. Unless you somehow have him bracketed and when you start to do that, then that’s leaving (Brandon) Lloyd open on the other side or one of the tight ends getting a one-on-one matchup. He’s very, very, it’s not his just flat vertical speed that scary, it’s more he’s one of the quickest players that I’ve ever seen in the league. Because of that, he just finds a way to (get open) and he’s tough. He’ll catch the ball in traffic and he’ll block and he’ll do all the things that you want a receiver to do.”

(On his impressions of Russell Wilson) –“You know he didn’t do anything for me to think anything less of him. I was watching him in pregame and I looked over and I said, ‘Geez, he is small.’ You look at him and he’s not very tall, not impressive physically. But I was watching him move and they were taking him through a progression of throws and he’s really smooth. He’s got good velocity on the ball. In our game, it wasn’t his downfield throwing that hurt us, he found the back, check the ball down a couple of times. He made a couple of good throws in the game, but he’s just one of those guys that finds a way to win. He competes and we were fortunate at the end of the game that we were able to get to him. We stopped them on the first play, that running play. Then, we sniffed out the screen play, which was really big making the play on the screen and then (Jared) Odrick got the sack on the final play. I think he’s going to be a very fine quarterback.”

(On how Jared Odrick has done this season opposite of Cam Wake)– “Well, he certainly had a big, big impact play in the game yesterday. Actually, yesterday I think was probably his best overall game. He made some plays down the line in terms of just good physical run force plays that he made. He has a minus-yardage play on a play that Paul really knocked the line of scrimmage back. He looked like a bull dozer in there taking about three of their linemen with him and then the ball bounced deep and Jared was there to make the play on the edge. But he did a good job. We want him to be a productive guy on the opposite side. Cam, again, you don’t see the numbers in stats yesterday, but yet he was a major factor. He had a couple of quarterback hits, knocked him down a couple of times, set the edge in the run game. People don’t realize how good of a job, going into the season, I think I mentioned to you guys everybody was concerned – is he going to hold up? And he’s done more than hold up. He’s outstanding in the run game. I think we’re getting better there. We’re getting better at that spot. We’re getting better with a guy like Derrick Shelby getting into the game too at that defensive end position. He’s giving us quality snaps. He’s not just coming there to give a guy a blow. If you noticed yesterday, he’s made a couple of good plays on the edge. Overall, between (Olivier) Vernon and Shelby, as young players developing, and then Odrick coming along the way he is, I think we’re pretty solid at that spot.”

(On putting Wake in coverage like he was on the Seahawks’ second touchdown)– “No, it’s not pointless to send him in coverage because sometimes you can free someone else up because they’re so preoccupied with having to block a guy like Cam. Really that particular blitz I’ll put on me that the ends are not necessarily, they’re kind of in between. In the way that play unfolded, they’re going to be late to come out into coverage, so that really wasn’t Cam trying to cover the guy. We needed to do a better job on the edge in terms of the guys blitzing being able to take care of it. But it was something we thought we might catch them in a play action pass and it’s what they did, but yet the one that they ran got the back out fast in flat and we were hoping that we would keep the back in the protection because of the blitz and he avoided the outside blitzer. By the time we recognized it, it was too late.”

November 26, 2012

Comeback accomplished, so what's the next step for Tannehill?

I told you earlier that Ryan Tannehill took a step in his development on Sunday by rallying his team and helping to deliver a come-from-behind victory. Great quarterbacks must be able to do that, among other things.

But I stress that feat is only a step.

And there are other steps. Today, I asked coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman what other steps Tannehill needs to also take as he walks the path of development and growth.

"Consistency," Philbin said. "Continued improvement in decision-making. The decision-making is important. Continued improvement on accuracy and ball location. Probably those three things. Consistency, decision-making and ball location are probably three things I think of."

That's great nuts and bolts. And it is true Tannehill still must improve on his decisions and accuracy and do it over a span of time so that we see consistency. But Sherman believes that will breed something equally important.

Confidence.

Sherman wants his QB to have self-confidence and display it to the point where other players see it and believe, too.

"The next step for him is to continue to believe in himself and have the confidence he has and demonstrate it to the rest of the team, particularly to the offense," Sherman said. "When we had the ball there at the end of the game they all believed in him and trusted him. Just to be able to build off that confidence is the biggest thing."

Sherman isn't too worried about Tannehill's confidence. The coach believes it will grow. But the coach also believes the young QB better correct that terrible decision-making on that interception that was nullified by a Seattle penalty.

After the game, Sherman made sure he addressed that interception that wasn't with Tannehill in the locker room.

"We have to make sure he doesn't do that, which I doubt he will," Sherman said. "One thing I said before and I'll continue to say it is he's the first to know when he screws up and makes a mistake and is hard on himself. I'm glad we survived that, but I doubt very much you'll see that pass again."

Jonathan Amaya in jail at this hour

Jonathan Amaya is fortunate Dolphins players didn't have to report to the team's training facility today because he was busy -- in jail.

Amaya, a special teams player who also plays safety, was arrested for battery early Monday after he tried to choke a taxi driver, according to Miami Beach police records. Amaya, 24, was arrested after the incident which happened in the early morning hours outside Club Bamboo on South Beach.

According to an incident report, Amaya ordered the taxi and asked the driver to take him to Weston -- which is about an hour north and west of Miami Beach. The driver allegedly told Amaya he didn't provide rides to Weston but changed his mind when Amaya gave him $100 cash up front.

According to the report, Amaya became "aggressive" during the ride and the driver took him back to where he picked the player up. The driver also allegedly returned Amaya's money.

Amaya apparently didn't appreciate this because the driver told police Amaya "leaned forward and wrapped his hands around his neck and started choking him."

Police arrived while Amaya was still in the cab and arguing with the driver. The driver told police, "This man is trying to kill me."

Amaya was taken into custody and records indicate Amaya is still at this hour being held on $1,500 bond. It is unclear why Amaya ordered a cab if he got to the club in his own vehicle.

Amaya is a marginal contributor on the Dolphins. He has all of five special teams tackles. His spot on the roster is definitely in jeapardy unless he has a really, really good explanation for the incident.

The Dolphins are aware of Amaya's arrest but have not yet commented on it.

[UPDATE: The Dolphins have released this statement on the matter: "We are aware of the situation and are in the process of gathering information."]

Tannehill comeback rally a necessary part of QB growth

In the big picture, the Dolphins on Sunday showed they are truly a resilient bunch in answering the challenge of breaking a losing skid rather than letting it break them, of beating a pretty good team,and  of doing it in comeback fashion.

For the team this was a great way to keep the season alive.

By the way, I call these guys the Zombie Dolphins. They refuse to die.

But there's a bigger picture with the Dolphins. And Sunday the picture got some focus and some much needed color.

This Dolphins season, no matter what anyone says, is about Ryan Tannehill and his development.

And what we saw Sunday was a big step of development for the rookie quarterback.

Tannehill authored his first fourth-quarter comeback victory in the NFL. That's important. Great quarterbacks must be able to accomplish this feat to be, well, great.

Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, John Elway, Joe Montana, all the others made their reputations on bringing their teams back from the brink of defeat and delivering a victory. The only reason people believe Eli Manning is elite is because he did this in two Super Bowl wins.

The comback victory, the heroic rally is one of the benchmark traits of a great quarterback.

“We told these guys all along, and I think it’s true, not just in our case – these games in the NFL are usually tight, they’re close, oftentimes it comes down to the last possession, and you need to execute well," Coach Joe Philbin said. "You need to win some games like this. I think it’s important for a quarterback to do that. Any quarterback – Ryan Tannehill, certainly. Any quarterback in this league has to demonstrate the ability to do this.”

And until Sunday, Tannehill had failed multiple times at delivering even one comeback victory. Even against Buffalo the last game, Tannehill had not one, but two opportunities to deliver a comeback drive that would have won the game.

He threw an interception to end each drive.

So this was a huge step in development for Miami's current and future quarterback.

"It’s huge," Tannehill said. "We’ve had a couple situations this year where we had a chance to do it and we weren’t able to do it. To finally go out and execute it and come away with a win, it feels great."

Now, was it a totally pristine moment?

No.

Tannehill did throw perhaps the dumbest pass of his season on one of those touchdown drives that tied the game at 14. He threw a pass across his body, into the end zone, almost blindly, and the ball was picked off.

If that interception had stood, the Dolphins would probably have lost. And this blog today would be discussing how Tannehill fell short of authoring that much-needed comeback.

But Seattle safety Earl Thomas was flagged for roughing Tannehill on the throw and the interception was nullified.

"That was just a bad play and, as soon as I let it go, I knew it was a bad play before he had even intercepted it," Tannehill said. "The Good Lord was looking out for me today and got it called back."

Phew!

It doesn't matter that the call was controversial. What matters is that Tannehill learns not to throw that pass ever again.

And what matters more is that Tannehill now knows he's capable of leading his team to a big comeback win against a good defense. And that his teammates know it also.

Big deal. Really big.

November 25, 2012

Dolphins beat Seahawks 24-21 in final seconds

Call it a comeback.

The Dolphins were down twice in the fourth quarter -- once at 14-7 and then at 21-14 -- but fought back each time and just battled through a victory.

Dolphins 24. Seahawks 21.

The game was a coming of age moment for Ryan Tannehill. He authored a seven-play, 65-yard drive in the final two minutes to give the Dolphins a chance at Dan Carpenter's 43-yard field goal.

The Dolphins are 5-6 and end a three-game losing skid.

Seattle leads Dolphins, 14-7 going to fourth quarter

Well, the sprinklers went off while both teams were on the field during the third quarter. That was the lone home highlight per se for the Dolphins.

The Seahawks got a TD drive with Russell Wilson tossing his second TD pass of the game during that period.

The Dolphins didn't convert on their two possessions.

This one is going to take a comeback. The live blog continues in the comments section.

Dolphins and Seahawks tied at 7-7 going to the third quarter

Well, the Dolphins offense came to life toward the end of the first half and went on an impressive TD march, culminated by Reggie Bush's 21-yard TD.

On that score, center Mike Pouncey led the run with a sweep while tight end Charles Clay also got a great cut block at the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins led, 7-0.

But then something went wrong with a defense that had been outstanding.

The Seahawks went 80 yards on the ensuing kickoff and tied the game at 7-7 on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Anthony McCoy.

The drive included an interesting non-call against Golden Tate on a 32-yard completion. Looked to me like Tate pushed off defender R.J. Stanford.

Oh well.

The second half is coming up. The live blog continues in the comments section.

Goose eggs on the board going to second quarter

Ryan Tannehill has an interception. Reggie Bush has been largely ineffective. Jake Long gave up a sack. Mike Pouncey was called for holding.

At least the defense is playing well.

The Dolphins and the Seahawks are not exactly lighting up the scoreboard so far. Game's tied at 0-0.

The game continues. The live blog continues in the comments section.

Dolphins Sunday: Live blog, Jake Long, inactives

The Seattle Seahawks will come at the Miami Dolphins today with one of the best sack-tandems in the NFL. Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons each have seven sacks. So it stands to reason Miami's offensive tackles will have to play well for the Dolphins to succeed today.

In my column today, I outline for you the slow decline of Jake Long. The column also explains why getting rid of Long is not the answer. And I tell you the best course for keeping Long but not committing to him over a long term.

The inactives are sometimes interesting to monitor. I wonder if Jabar Gaffney will be active? OK, kidding. Honestly, the guy to watch pregame is Anthony Fasano. He's questionable based on a hip injury, but I'm told he will play, barring a major, major issue pregrame. So he should be active.

And that means all you Michael Egnew fans will be unhappy today.

[UPDATE: The Dolphins inactives are Lamar Miller, Pat Devlin, Ryan Durand, Josh Kaddu, Will Yeatman, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller.]

Check back for the inactives update. Check out my column, please. And be here for the live blog, which begins in the comments section and I will join at kickoff.

 

November 24, 2012

Anthony Fasano downgraded to questionable

Tight end Anthony Fasano suddenly appeared on the injury report Friday when he was listed as probable with a hip injury. It wasn't believed to be serious as Fasano even went through the whole Friday practice.

Well, apparently the injury got worse overnight.

This afternoon the Dolphins downgraded Fasano to questionable. His status for Sunday's game against Seattle is now uncertain.

If Fasano cannot play, the Dolphins can go with two tight ends -- Jeron Mastrud and Charles Clay. Or ... gasp ... they can go with three tight ends as usual by activating rookie Michael Egnew for the first time this season.

November 23, 2012

'Everyone in the building' knows Dolphins need a burner

Rishard Matthews is going to have his playing time increase dramatically the rest of the season if things go according to plan. Earlier this week when the Dolphins cut Jabar Gaffney, they did so because they weren't thrilled with the veteran and because they have seen Matthews steadily improving in practice and deserving more playing time.

Gaffney was standing in the way of that playing time. So ...

Bye-bye.

That means the Dolphins have four wide receivers on the roster: Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Rishard Matthews and Marlon Moore.

And that seems good to coach Joe Philbin.

"I like the guys that we have right now,” Philbin said.

Great. But Philbin is either stretching the truth or totally alone on this one because I am told "everyone in the building" at the Dolphins facility is aware the Dolphins need to add a dynamic speed receiver or two this offseason.

And that is what Miami fully intends to do somehow -- via the draft, free agency or kidnapping.

The Dolphins currently have what is commonly being termed as a red zone offense. That, by the way, is not a good thing.

A red zone offense is a unit that basically operates inside a 20- to 30-yard span of field throughout the entire field. In other words, the club doesn't have players that consistently threaten to go 70 yards for a score. The Dolphins offense doesn't have a receiver that scares the defense,

The Dolphins believe they need a receiver that a) forces the defense to game plan for that receiver and b) forces the secondary to back up because that receiver can blow the top off the defense.

Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace comes to mind.

I'm not saying the Dolphins will go after Wallace in free agency. I'm saying the team needs someone that does what Wallace is capable of doing.

Hartline, a good No. 2 wideout, is not that guy. Neither is Bess, although he's a good slot guy. Both are solid. Both have value. But both are complementary to a Wallace-type.

The ironic thing is the Dolphins have been in need of this kind of player for years. And they've been trying to some small degree to land this kind of player -- thus the drafting of Ted Ginn by Randy Mueller and Clyde Gates by Jeff Ireland.

But neither Patrick Turner nor Brandon Marshall nor several of the other wide receiver fixes the Dolphins tried to make aside from adding Ginn and Gates were flyers that made defenses respect the entire field rather than just worry about a 20 to 30 yard swath.

Ironic, isn't it? Fans have been begging for a speed receiver for a long time. But the Dolphins haven't really had a good one since Irving Fryar. That was the mid 1990s. (Hand it to Don Shula! He had Mark Duper and when Duper declined, he traded for Fryar. He also had a guy named Paul Warfield.)

But everyone not named Shula has missed on getting a bigtime deep threat.

Jimmy Johnson once famously said "separation is over-rated" by a wide receiver. The Dolphins went to big, physical but not really fast wide receivers such as Marshall and Oronde Gadsen. And even O.J. McDuffie, a possession receiver, led the team in catches.

Nothing wrong with that.

But today's game is not three-yards and a cloud of dust. It's not even 15-yards and a first down. Today's game is 49-yards over the top and touchdown!

The Dolphins apparently have come to the realization, from what I'm told. They need a productive burner on the outside.

They need to upgrade.  

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from Dolphins in Depth

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Today is about big parades. And eating. And certainly about watching football. There are three games on the schedule, including an AFC East meeting between the Patriots and the Jets.

But there's more to this national holiday than the national sport. This is, as you should know, a time to give God thanks for the many blessings he's bestowed on us the past year.

I thank Him for my wife and family.

I thank Him for health and wholeness.

I thank Him for a life full of goodness.

I thank Him for tests -- because they will lead to testimonies.

My family will celebrate with a meal today. I'm frying a turkey. That's right, frying. Locks in the juices. Highly recommend it if you haven't tried it.

But we all must be aware not everyone is enjoying the kind of prosperous personal situation most of us are. Some are less fortunate. Some are not of good health or perhaps aren't working or maybe have been detoured by a string of bad luck.

On Wednesday afternoon the Dolphins did their share to make sure some of those less fortunate would still be able to enjoy this day and be thankful for a good day, at least. The club in conjunction with Publix gave away 750 turkey meals that included all the fixins'.

I shot some videos of the folks picking up those meals.

Here they are:

And here's part deux:

 

November 21, 2012

Philbin message to Carroll: Job's on the line

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin had a little chat with cornerback Nolan Carroll today.

Carroll, you will recall, had a tough night against Buffalo his last game. He had two pass interference penalties, a holding call and an illegal contact called against him. It was four first downs and 76 yards worth of penalties.

So the Dolphins coaches perhaps felt the need to remind the cornerback that a starting job is notgifted or inherited. It is earned. And Carroll has to earn better than he did last week or he's going to find himself replaced.

"I talked to Nolan today a little bit individually," Philbin said. "I know the coaches communicate with him on a consistent basis. I think Nolan is an aware player. These guys that have been in the league, they're professionals. They know their job's on the line. Told him today. We all get evaluated by our performance on Sunday. That's the most important thing for what we do -- what I do as a coach and what they do as players. He's aware of what he needs to do and things he needs to do better."

I was expecting the conversation with Carroll would be more along the lines of raising his spirits or perhaps serving as crutch to waning confidence. Nope. That apparently wasn't the approach.

 "I think the confidence to us, to me, is gained through your preparation and doing things in practice and doing things consistently. Doing them well," Philbin said. "And then the transfer of practice to the game. We're expecting him to play well Sunday."

Philbin said Carroll has practiced well and obviously you see the team expects him to play well. If he doesn't for the second consecutive game ...

Well, job's on the line.

 

Russell Wilson great but not as much on the road

Ryan Tannehill or Russell Wilson. Which of these two rookie quarterbacks is playing better right now?

Definitely Wilson. No doubt.

By every measurable statistical standard Wilson is the better player today. The former third round draft pick has been a pleasant surprise for the Seattle Seahawks and has been, arguably, one of the top two productive rookie quarterbacks in the league this season.

But before you become depressed about the quarterback matchup Sunday, you must understand there are two Russell Wilsons -- the home Russell and the away Russell.

And the home Russell is amazing while the away Russell is still playing like a rookie.

At home Wilson has completed 69 of 111 passes for 935 yards. That means he's completing an impressive 62.2 percent of his passes. But that is not his most impressive statistic at home.

Wilson, 23 years old, has thrown 11 TDs and zero interceptions at home.

His quarterback rating is 122.0 at home.

Impressive.

On the road, Wilson has been merely mortal. He's completed 88 of 142 passes, again for a 62 percent completion mark. He's thrown for 892 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. His quarterback rating is 65.8.

So that should give you hope.

The problem is Tannehill hasn't been significantly better at home than Wilson has been on the road.

Tannehill is completing 58.2 percent of his passes of home and has thrown three touchdowns and four interceptions. His rating is 70.4 at home.

Indeed, away Tannehill has been almost more dynamic, throwing for nearly twice as many yards and averaging 7.60 yards per completion compared to 5.96 yards per completion at home. His QB rating on the road is higher at 71.1.

And so the question for Sunday will be can home Ryan be better than away Russell.

November 20, 2012

Dolphins waive Gaffney; sign TE Miller, make Matthews happy

Jabar Gaffney's career with the Dolphins lasted, oh, six games and he was active for only three of those. Gaffney, inactive last week against Buffalo, was waived a couple of hours ago.

The Dolphins are filling the roster spot with tight end Kyle Miller, who they claimed off waivers from Indianapolis. Miller was on the Colts' active roster one game and was headed back to their practice squad when he got the call this afternoon that he was claimed by Miami.

Miller is scheduled to arrive in South Florida Tuesday evening.

Gaffney?

Another disappointment.

Look, with the performances of Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong -- signed after training camp as stop-gap, desperation moves to help the wide receiver corps -- we should now be understanding that these moves that pick up somebody else's discards after training camp rarely work to any great degree.

The Dolphins, you'll remember, signed Gaffney in early October when he finally got healthy after missing all of training camp and being cut by the Patriots for having a calf injury.

But Gaffney didn't learn the Miami playbook very quickly. He was inactive three weeks before he finally got on the field. Then he played three games in which he caught four passes.

He was not the veteran presence fans hoped. He was not an obvious upgrade to Marlon Moore, actually. And now he's gone.

That depature clears the way for rookie Rishard Matthews to continue being active in games going forward.

Miller, meanwhile, is a 6-5 and 260-pound first year player from Mount Union. He was an undrafted free agent pickup by the Colts and was on the practice squad until the New England game when he was activated.

Miller is a developmental player.

The Dolphins have five tight ends on their active roster.