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2 posts from December 3, 2012

December 03, 2012

Special teams negatively affecting chance to win

The Dolphins special teams has had some great moments from Marcus Thigpen this year and got excellent all-around games from the entire unit, particularly at New York, this season.

But lately, the special teams have had to fight to merely keep from hurting Miami's chances of winning games. And on Sunday, special teams fully hurt Miami's chances to win the game.

Three weeks ago, special teams set the tone for the game (in exactly the wrong fashion) when Leodis McKelvin returned a first quarter punt 79 yards for a TD and a Bills lead.

Two weeks ago, the Dolphins fought to tie the game against Seattle in the fourth quarter and on the ensuing kickoff Leon Washington returned the kickoff 98 yards to give the Seahawks the lead again.

In fairness, it must be said that Thigpen eventually answered McKelvin's blow with a kickoff return TD of his own. And the Dolphin overcame the lapse against Seattle by rallying late.

But Sunday, there was no bailing out of the special teams by Thigpen or other units.

Yesterday, long snapper John Denney delivered a bad snap to punter Brandon Fields after Miami's first possession. And Fields didn't field the snap and then didn't cleanly grab the ball on the ground, having instead to snatch it twice. The hesitation was a killer so Fields decided to run to get himself daylight and a position to kick.

He was tackled at the Miami 12 yard line.

And the defense, put in a tough spot, could not save the Dolphins. They gave up a touchdown.

Seven points.

In the second quarter, the Dolphins apparently stopped Tom Brady and company on downs at his own 29 yard line. But when the Patriots punted, Jimmy Wilson rushed headlong into Zoltan Mesko's thigh. Roughing the punter. Fifteen yards.

The Partiots drive had new life at their own 44 yard line.

And, again, the defense wasn't able to bail out the special teams. The Patriots drove the rest of the way in 11 plays for another touchdown.

Fourteen points.

Obviously, it was not the special teams that gave up the points. Obviously the defense didn't provide heroics on the first New England opportunity and basically caved in giving up 56 yards more on the second New England opportunity.

But the Miami special teams cannot give up such opportunities.

As center Mike Pouncey said, "We have a low margin of error."

And the special teams lately has been hurting that margin.


Some curious coaching decisions on Sunday

I do not blame the Dolphins defense for Sunday's loss. I do not blame the coaching. I don't blame the special teams even though they cost the Dolphins points. I put the blame for Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots squarely on the collective shoulders of the Dolphins offense and its paltry touchdown production.

Ryan Tannehill cannot blow two easy TD throws as he did when Brian Hartline twice got behind the New England defense. Can't happen. I'll have more on that later.

But having said all that, I do see some curious work being done by the coaching staff.

My first issue is the manner in which the Dolphins use their running backs:

I do not understand the love affair with Daniel Thomas. I do not understand the underuse of Reggie Bush. I do not understand or like the shelving of Lamar Miller.

Firstly, let us establish that Bush is Miami's most productive running back. He averages 4.4 yards per carry and he gets the most carries practically every game. But why only a dozen carries or so?

Through 12 games Bush is averaging 13.75 carries a game. That's one carry less per game than last year on average so that doesn't seem to matter, but the thing that bothers me is there seems to be no room made for feeding the hot back and keeping the cold guy on the bench.

Yesterday, Bush was running well. He was averaging a healthy 4.3 yards per carry. Thomas was averaging 2.0 yards per carry. Yet, on several occasions, Bush came out and Thomas got to tote the football.

By the time the game was over, Thomas had five carries for 10 yards. Oh yeah, he also blocked the wrong guy on a blitz inside the red zone and it nearly got Ryan Tannehill broken in two. Nonetheless, the Dolphins insist Thomas is the next guy up and they continue to feed him when his stats suggest he is not on par with Bush while playing behind the same offensive line, in the same condidtions, in the same games, against the same opponents.

This year Thomas has gained 3.6 yards per carry. That's almost a yard less per carry than Bush.

Look, I'm not saying shelve Thomas. He has a place in the offense. But when things aren't working for him, or when the game situation dictates Bush is doing better, give Bush the carries Thomas would ordinarily get. Trust me, Bush isn't tired. He's in better shape than practically every guy on the team and he's healthy.

Then, of course, we have the continued non-use of Miller. I would understand not giving Bush enough carries if you're spreading them out to a guy who has proven in college that he can be dynamic. That is Miller. He was a 50-yard TD run waiting to happen at the University of Miami.

Yet, he is usually inactive and even when he is active -- like yesterday -- he often does not get any carries.

What makes Thomas better than Miller? Oh yeah, nothing. If he's missing blitzers, if he's averaging 2-yards a carry, what is the point?

And, with the season in its final month, why not trot out Miller more? Give him work. Let's see what he's got.

My point? Either ride Reggie Bush more or split the carries between Bush and Miller. Thomas? To me, he's running third in a three-horse race. To Miami coaches, he's a close second. I don't get it.

I also don't get the coaching decision on Cameron Wake in the final quarter.

With 8:28 to play and the Patriots protecting a tenuous 20-13 lead, New England got the ball at their own 20 yard line. Cameron Wake was on the Miami sideline -- not injured, not tired, standing by coaches with his helmet on waiting to be let in the game.

Then the Patriots ran off eight plays and churned three first downs with Wake on the sideline. Then Miami called a time out. And Wake remained on the sideline. Then New England ran two more plays, putting them at the Miami 18 yard line. And Wake was still on the sideline.

Finally, Miami called another time out and Wake was sent back in the game.

So at a pivotal juncture the Dolphins had their most productive defensive player on the sideline as the Patriots marched 62 yards and took over four minutes off the clock.

“They were running the ball," Philbin said, explaining the reason Wake wasn't playing. "We have a play count that we want to keep guys to [in order] to keep guys fresh."

Three things:

So a hard-and-fast play count determined in an air conditioned room during the week supercedes in-game situational needs that is before your eyes on the field on Sunday? 

Also, keep them fresh for what? The fifth quarter? Next week? Next year? It's the last chance the Dolphins had to stop New England. Try to do it with your best players on the field.

Also, the Patriots passed the ball during the drive. Brady completed passes of 8, 6 and 10 yards before Wake got back in the game. Think maybe Wake, among the league leaders in sacks, might have provided a bit more pressure on those plays?

[UPDATE: Philbin was questioned about having Wake on the sideline again during his noon Monday press conference. He repeated that the team has a plan about keeping players fresh and having a snap count for each player and that was the reason Wake was out. Asked if he sticks by that decision, Philbin said yes.]

Look, I think the Miami coaching staff generally is doing a good job with a flawed roster. They get it absolutely right about 85 percent of the time.

But turning Cameron Wake into a spectator in the fourth quarter when the game's on the line? Not using Reggie Bush or Lamar Miller more? Using Daniel Thomas like he's really good?

That's part of the 15 percent.