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66 posts from September 2013

September 22, 2013

Live blog of Dolphins versus Falcons here

The Dolphins begin their season home-opener at 4:05 instead of the traditional 1 p.m. kick of the glory years. (Fans are softer these days). And it is raining before the game during warmups.

The Dolphins will wear all white as they have been so far this season.

All the players that were questionable for this game for Miami are active today -- excpet for No. 3 QB Pat Devlin -- and available to play. That means wide receiver Mike Wallace, safety Chris Clemons and center Mike Pouncey are active and starting, as expected.

The Miami inactives are Pat Devlin, Jamar Taylor, Dimitri Patterson, Josh Kaddu, Danny Watkins, Dallas Thomas and Paul Soliai. 

Nolan Carroll gets his second consecutive start at cornerback. Both Jared Odrick and Randy Starks will start at DT.

Today's Falcons inactives: S Kemel Ishmael, RB Steven Jackson, S Zeke Motta, LB Jamar Chaney, G/C Harland Gunn, LT Sam Baker, DT Travian Robertson.

Join the live blog below:

Browns sell off does not include a Dolphins connection

The NFL pregame shows have been abuzz today with news the Cleveland Browns are having something of a talent sale. Well, I am reporting the Dolphins aren't part of that.

In the wake of the Browns' trade of Trent Richardson to Indianapolis, ESPN reported the team has fielded calls for receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon and left tackle Joe Thomas.

The Dolphins don't need any more wide receivers right now (plus Gordon is one positve drug test from being suspended for the season) but they could use some help at left tackle, especially since Thomas is among the best in the NFL.

But a Dolphins source tells me the club is not among the teams that have called the Browns about Thomas and multiple networks are reporting the Browns has so far rebuffed the teams that have called about Thomas, saying he's not available at this time anyway.

Obviously, Thomas is a valuable commodity. He's only 28. He is consistent. He is durable. He is a great blindside protector.

The Dolphins could use all of those. Yes, they have Jonathan Martin at left tackle and so far that has been acceptable. But if they had Thomas, they could move Martin over to right tackle and sit Tyson Clabo, who has yielded three sacks in two games.

The Dolphins are not thinking this is a move right now, however. They believe Martin is improving. They're standing pat with Clabo for now. They will more likely address the offensive tackle spot in the offseason.

One more thing to consider about this Cleveland situation:

The Browns are shopping their receivers and it must be noted there is one AFC East team with a history of adding players such as Gordon despite their troubling history.

The New England Patriots.

I would not be surprised if the Patriots, needing receiver help for Tom Brady, have been looking into adding Gordon or perhaps even Little.

Something to monitor.

Sunday brunch: Everything on Brent Grimes

I've said on multiple occasions on various platforms -- radio, this blog, my column, my twitter -- that I believe Brent Grimes is the player the Dolphins could least afford to lose.

I simply think he's very good at what he does and the dropoff after him would be steep and significant. The fact Grimes is playing well so far this season suggests he was not only a wise signing, but is making a case for him being re-signed by the team because he's on a one-year contract.

I tackle that very topic in my Sunday column about Grimes. As part of the column I tell you that Miami has not offered Grimes a contract extension and isn't planning to do so (for now) until after the season when admittedly the player's price will be higher.

I talked to Grimes for 20 minutes or so last week. Here are parts of the interview that didn't make the column:

I asked him how it was adjusting to being in South Florida.

“It’s not tough for me to adjust to being anywhere," he said. "I just go and do whatever. I’m a pretty simple dude. My wife found most of the stuff as far as finding a place to live. And the other stuff, I just ask questions for the other stuff like haircuts.

"When I was staying at the little hotel when I first got here it was weird because you’re living out of a hotel but once I got a place, it was cool.”

I asked why the Falcons didn't re-sign him and how he feels about that.

“It was just a numbers thing," Grimes said. "They have to pay their quarterback a lot. You know how that goes. They had to pay Tony Gonzalez. It’s just the way it is. That’s what they want to be so they had to sign those guys. I’m not mad at it. I understand. They wanted to pay way cheap, but I said, ‘It’s good. I’ll just leave.’ But I got no hard feelings about it.”

I asked Grimes why he picked the Dolphins. 

“They wanted the one year deal. And that was cool. I wanted the one year deal. That was cool. And then when I looked at everything, I liked the coaches, I liked the scheme, the players they have when I watched the film when I came in. There’s a lot of talent on this team. I said we can do some good things. That’s why I picked here."

His thoughts on the Dolphins system: 

“It’s an aggressive system," Grimes said. "It’s very demanding on corners. You can’t hide your corners in this system at all. If you’re playing well, if you make plays, it’s great because it gives you a chance to make plays. We get after the quarterback so the quarterback isn’t really sitting back there comfortable. It’s a proven effective system. You just have to make plays when they come.”

Grimes told me his next stop -- either in Miami or elsewhere -- will be about what team comes with the best contract. He does, however, like South Florida. That's a plus in the Dolphins' corner, although it won't be a deciding factor.

“I love it here," Grimes said. "I never thought I would because I thought it was so hot and humid. But my wife always loved it here. And once I got down here and now I love it. It’s definitely hot and you have to get used to the rain but maybe it’s the palm trees. I love palm trees. I like the palm trees in California but they have palm trees here. I love palm trees.”

September 21, 2013

Keys to the game: Dolphins versus Falcons

As I said on my NFL Network segment Friday evening, the Falcons promised to be a bangin' team this season. Now, they're mostly a banged up team.

Kroy Biermann is out, Sean Weatherspoon is out, Steven Jackson is out and news came Friday that left tackle Sam Baker is out. Meanwhile, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are questionable and although they are expected to play, they clearly are not 100 percent.

So who has the edge?

Read:

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Dolphins have shown in the first two games they can put
a diverse passing game on the field. They can beat you with Brian Hartline leading the way. They can beat you with Mike Wallace leading the way. And, increasingly, Charles Clay is becoming a weapon for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The only issue in the passing game so far has been the ability to keep
Tannehill healthy. He’s been sacked nine times in two games and that is no way to have your starting quarterback live. At that rate, Tannehill would be sacked 72 times in 2013. The most sacks the Dolphins have ever allowed in a season is 53 in 1969. Osi Umenyiora is the most accomplished pass rusher for the Falcons but he doesn’t have a sack this season. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Dolphins averaged 3.7 yards per rush last week against
Indianapolis and that was considered an epiphany. That speaks to how far the Dolphins have yet to go before they feel comfortable with their running game. Simply, it is not very good right now and has a long way to go to be merely mediocre. Blocking has to get better. Running has to get better. The Falcons are rated ninth in the NFL in rush defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan stresses the importance of stopping the run, but without linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive end Kroy Biermann in the lineup this week due to injuries the challenge grows. ADVANTAGE: Falcons.

When the Falcons run the football: The Falcons didn’t scare anyone running the football the first two games and then they lost starting running back Steven Jackson to injury. Now a team that has gained only 62 yards rushing per game is without the player who was averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Atlanta must rely on Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers, who have 15 rushes between them. The Dolphins will be without defensive tackle Paul Soliai and that hurts because he’s their best interior run stopper. But because Randy Starks and Jared Odrick are on the roster, Miami loses very little in the starting lineup. The issue will show up in the drop in talent when the Dolphins substitute. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Falcons pass the football: Julio Jones is one of the NFL’s best and most explosive receivers. He is a matchup nightmare for the Dolphins. It also is troubling for Miami that Roddy White, although slowed by injury, is also talented while Harry Douglas has elite speed and is leading the team with a 17.0 yard per catch average. The problem for the Falcons is they’re having trouble protecting Matt Ryan. Ryan has been sacked five times, but he gets hit a lot more than that. And it gets worse: Starting left tackles Sam Baker is out this game. That means Lamar Holmes, a first-year starter, moves from right tackle to left tackle. Holmes, by the way, was starting at right tackle only because Mike Johnson was injured during training camp. And now he's the left tackle? Anyway, Jeremy Trueblood takes over the right tackle position, which is interesting because he wasn't even on the team three weeks ago and when he was signed it was for depth purposes. Now Trueblood matches up versus Cameron Wake. The Dolphins, meanwhile, rush the passer in waves led by Wake and Derrick Shelby. That’s right, Shelby. He has so far been the second-most productive Dolphins pass rusher. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

Special teams: Matt Bryant can make the clutch kick as evidenced by his 49-yard game-winning field goal with 13 seconds to play in last year’s playoffs. But he is 38 years old and his range outdoors in the elements is a question. Matt Bosher, formerly of the University of Miami, leads the NFL in net punt average. The Dolphins have no issue in the kicking and punting department so far but need to get more production out of their returns. The Dolphins are 28th in the NFL in punt returns.
ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Joe Philbin has his team playing at a high level as Miami is 2-0 for the first time since 2010 and this home opener will be a great opportunity to win the home crowd’s trust. The Miami staff must solve their team’s issues containing tight ends and fix the running game but has done a great job improving the passing game and defense against the pass so far this year. Mike Smith became Atlanta’s head coach in 2008 and has become among the most successful coaches since, compiling a 57-25 regular season record. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, no stranger to Dolphins fans, is excellent at resolving problems and hiding deficiencies. ADVANTAGE: Falcons.

Intangibles: Not having Soliai would be a big deal for the Dolphins but not nearly the issue the Falcons seem likely to have with the loss of Baker, Jackson, Weatherspoon, and Biermann. OVERALL ADVANTAGE: Dolphins. 

September 20, 2013

Soliai, Patterson out vs. Falcons PLUS more info

Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who injured his knee in the victory over Indianapolis last week, will miss this week's game against the Falcons and his status is uncertain for next week as well, according to the Dolphins injury report and sources.

Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who missed last week's game at Indy, will also miss the home opener Sunday, the Dolphins said in their injury report.

This final injury report of the week was a salt and pepper dose of good and troubling news.

WR Mike Wallace, who missed two weeks with a groin injury during the preseason and training camp, is questionable for Sunday with a groin injury. He was limited in practice on Friday.

Center Mike Pouncey was also limited in practice with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable but he is expected to play barring a setback the next couple of days.

Safety Chris Clemons, who missed all of the week's practices before Friday because of a hamstring injury, was able to do limited practice work today. So he's improving despite being listed as questionable. He has said he will play against the Falcons.

LB Koa Misi (right knee) and QB Pat Devlin (ankle) were also limited in practice Friday and are listed as questionable. I expect Misi to be available and Devlin's status is the inactive third quarterback anyway so he wouldn't be needed unless the Apocalypse is underway Sunday afternoon at Sun Life.

Speaking of quarterback injuries, starter Ryan Tannehill, who was limited in practice earlier in the week with a right (throwing) shoulder issue, took all his repetitions in practice today. He is listed as probable. He's good to go although the issue demands scrutiny as he takes hits on game day.

Dannell Ellerbe (toe), Nate Garner (pectoral, ribs), John Jerry (knee), Dion Jordan (shouler), Jamar Taylor (groin, hernia), Olivier Vernon (thumb) and Jimmy Wilson (groin) all practiced full on Friday and are listed as probable for the game.

Dolphins D by any other name still excellent

They call themselves "The Brotherhood."

The Dolphins defense has given itself a nickname, handle, sobriquet, whatever you want to call it. Cameron Wake says it's the brainchild of Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, himself and others, and the players have had shirts made to celebrate the new identity.

Not everyone gets a shirt by the way.

"This is one shirt you have to earn," Wake says. "We don't give it out to everybody."

I canvassed the Dolphins locker room and found many of the defenders had a shirt such as the one Wake is modeling in the photo.Cam1

"It means you're recognized for doing something good," linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. "It's good when you get the respect from your teammates and coaches."

That's what the shirt may mean. The "Brotherhood' means more, Wake says.

"The brotherhood is strong. It's like a fraternity. It's a family," Wake says. "You have a job to do and 10 other guys are expecting you to do your job so they can do their job. If you don't do your job, you're letting everybody down. You're letting your family down. And if you have too many letdowns, somebody else will be doing your job. You have to respect the brotherhood.

so far this season, the Dolphins defense, the brotherhood, is doing a good job where it counts most -- the scoreboard. The Dolphins are tied with the Jets and Oakland for fewest points allowed per game. They are fourth inn third down efficiency. They are sixth in interceptions percentage. They are ninth in sacks per pass.

But it is the points per game that suggests good things ahead.  

"That's the No. 1 stat on a defense," Wake says. "You want to make sure you take care of that. You want to keep it going and it's the culmination of all the other ones -- don't let them run the ball, get off the field on third down, turnovers. It all trickles down to defensive points allowed."

If the Dolphins continue to play defense at their current level (yes, everyone knows two games is a small sample size) then Ellerbe says his new teammates might start to gain a reputation similar to the one his old mates on the Baltimore defense earned.

"It's something that comes with time," he said. "We're putting in the work right now. So a couple of years down the road, it'll be something that's talked about: The Miami defense. We want to start our own thing down here."

Well, they've already nicknamed themselves.

September 19, 2013

The practice report from the practice that never was

Although the Dolphins have not been practicing on Thursdays, using it as their off day, the NFL mandates teams release an injury report that day for Sunday's game. (It doesn't mandate a Tuesday injury report although the Dolphins actually do practice that day).

So today the Dolphins put out their practice report from the practice that never was.

And in that fictional injury report, cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who coaches decided not to play last week because of a groin injury, didn't practice after being limited in an actual real practice on Wednesday.

That means Patterson isn't necessarily getting better -- fictionally speaking.

S Chris Clemons (hamstring) and DT Paul Soliai (knee) would not have practiced had the Dolphins actually worked Thursday, so they were listed as not practicing on the fictional injury report. Soliai is not playing on Sunday.

And quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right throwing shoulder) continued to lead a group of six players who would have been limited in practice had the Dolphins, you know, practiced -- which they didn't. The others who would have been limited are Will Davis (toe), Pat Devlin (ankle) Koa Misi (right knee), Jamar Taylor (groin), Jimmy Wilson (groin).

Mike Wallace, who missed time in the preseason with a groin injury, apparently tweaked the thing at some point Wednesday because he appeared on the fictional injury report today. It apparently is not serious as Wallace is listed as full practice had ... the ... Dolphins ... actually ... practiced.

Which they did not.

Interesting perhaps only to me: Four Dolphins players are suffering pains in the groin.

(At least one sportwriter, also).

In the world of real practices and reports based on actual events, Falcons left tackle Sam Baker (knee/foot) and cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) missed practice for the second time this week. WR Roddy White (ankle) is managing the injury a bit better as he was limited in practice after missing drills altogether Wednesday.

The Dolphins are back to work tomorrow and will release an injury and practice report that will reflect what happened in a real practice.

Ah, the NFL.

Who is responsible for getting Tannehill hit?

Nine sacks in two games. That's a lot.

That's the second-worst mark in the NFL right now. The Dolphins are getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit way too often so far this year. And it's one reason the quarterback is nursing a shoulder issue that had him missing part of practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday -- although the club was only required to report Tannehill's limitation on Wednesday.

Nine sacks is what the Dolphins have given up. The team has also given up 18 hurries.

So it's the offensive line, right?

Well, right. But not totally right.

Each member of the Dolphins offensive line has thus far given up at least half a sack this year.

LT Jonathan Martin has yielded one.

LG Richie Incognito has yielded half a sack.

C Mike Pouncey has yielded half a sack.

RG John Jerry has yielded a sack.

And RT Tyson Clabo has given up three sacks.

Clabo and Martin lead the Dolphins with six hurries allowed each. John Jerry has yielded five hurries by my count.

But it doesn't end there.

As tight ends and running backs also have pass protection duties for the Dolphins, they also are responsible for giving up hits on Tannehill.

Running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas each has allowed a sack on Tannehill. Oh yeah, and Tannehill is also responsible on getting hit occasionally when he holds the ball too long.

One sack the Dolphins gave up is probably being charged to a blocker but I put it on Tannehill. He held the ball too long. He basically got himself sacked in my book. So one sack allowed for him.

“Yeah, I had one in the game where I had all day," Tannehill said Wednesday. "We repped the play in practice several times and obviously it played out well in practice, it didn’t play out so well in the game and I didn’t have the right reaction to get rid of the ball and that is what it comes down to. The offensive line did a great job giving me all day to throw, it just a matter of getting the ball out."

Now that his right shoulder is dinged, Tannehill might be wise to get the ball out quicker. And yes, the Dolphins have to tighten up the protection of their quarterback.

All of them apparently.

September 18, 2013

Tannehill limited with shoulder issue

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was limited during practice on Wednesday due to a shoulder issue, according to the team's injury report.

The Dolphins had seven players limited during practice, but none more important than their starting quarterback.

It is believed Tannehill's shoulder will not keep him from playing in Sunday's home-opener against the Atlanta Falcons.  The shoulder issue, however, will require close scrutiny if Tannehill continues to get hit at the current pace.

Tannehill has been sacked nine times in Miami's first two games.  That means he is on pace to be sacked 72 times this season.

The Dolphins' record for most sacks allowed in one season is 53 set in 1969.    

The other players who were limited in practice were CB Will Davis (toe), QB Pat Devlin (ankle), OLB Koa Misi (knee), CB Dimitri Patterson (groin), CB Jamar Taylor (groin) and S Jimmy Wilson (groin).

Rookie Dion Jordan is managing his nagging shoulder injury again but did not miss practice time on Wednesday. As reported earlier, DT Paul Soliai (knee) and safety Chris Clemons (hamstring) did not practice.

Soliai not practicing, unlikely vs. Atlanta

Once again the Dolphins today are practicng and as the week unfolds it is becoming more clear Miami will be without defensive tackle Paul Soliai on Sunday.

No, Soliai, who is battling a knee injury is not out for the year. But he's not playing against Atlanta and could miss more time than that.

Soliai did not practice Wednesday for the second consecutive day.

The Dolphin also practiced without safety Chris Clemons, who was working off to the side with trainers.

For the second consecutive day, cornerback Jamar Taylor (hernia/groin) practiced at least on a limited basis. Cornerback Will Davis (toe) practiced at least on a limited basis. And cornerback Dimitri Patterson practiced at least on a limited basis.

With Soliai out, the Dolphins still have good personnel with Randy Starks and Jared Odrick as starters. It's possible the team can ask Vaughn Martin to take defensive tackle snaps as well and there's always the possibility the team might make a practice squad move with either Al Lapuaho or Isaako Aaitui.

Dolphins (struggling vs. TEs) must contain Gonzalez

Tony Gonzalez is good. He's Hall of Fame-bound good. Well, so far this season he hasn't been that good, but that's probably a result of him taking much of training camp off after striking a deal with the Falcons that allowed him to do so.

But the guy is generally good.

And that's not the best news for the Dolphins because tight ends have been something of a concern for Miami this year. Now, let me define "something of a concern:"

ooooh crud, here we go again.

“Let’s see, the Cleveland game Cameron (Jordan) had a big game," coach Joe Philbin said Tuesday, recalling the Dolphins efforts against tight ends so far this year. "He was very, very productive. Last week they obviously hit (Coby) Fleener down the seam on a big play, but I think we have the capability of doing a good job against the tight ends."

The Dolphins probably do have the capability of playing better against tight ends. But they have to clean up the issues of the past two weeks to do it.

In the Cleveland game, for example, the Dolphins gave up 10 completions for 117 yards and a touchdown to Browns tight ends. In the Indianapolis game, the Dolphins gave up 5 completions for 82 yards and a touchdown to Colts tight ends.

Opposing teams have targeted their tight ends 24 times vs. Miami so far this season and come away with 15 completions -- that's a 62.5 percent success rate every time the opposing team throws to the tight end.

Compare that to the 50 percent success rate (36 of 72) on targets to all other players, including easy, short throws to running backs and fullbacks and you see that Miami has work to do on limiting tight ends.

This is nothing new, by the way. Long-time Dolphins fans know the team has for some reason struggled covering tight ends for years and years. (No idea why).

But as the Dolphins actively tried to improve their pass coverage this year -- including the signing Phillip Wheeler -- so the hope remains the team can improve on tight end coverage as the season unfolds.

One variable that should buoy the Dolphins is that in Sunday's game, the Falcons won't bring the best tight end in the league to the game. Yes, Gonzalez has been in the past. But he's 37 years old now. He's off to a slow start with only seven receptions for 69 yards. And he's averaging a modest. 9.9 yards per catch, which is over two yards less than his career average per catch.

Despite this apparent decline the Dolphins respect Gonzalez and know he can hurt them.

 "He’s outstanding," Philbin said. "He just knows he has so much route skills. He’s just a tough guy to defend, no doubt about it. He knows how to get open. He’s got extremely good hands. It will be a challenge, but I think we are capable."

September 17, 2013

Why is Vernon getting more snaps than Shelby, Jordan?

Sometimes coaches see things through a different prism than the rest of us. They see things through the prism of the truth. They see things through the prism of motivating a player. They see things with an eye on the future. They see things after watching and studying game tape.

Well, we cannot account for the part about motivation and the future agenda.

But we all watch the games. We can look at the All-22 tape available on the Internet. And thanks to ProFootballFocus.com, we have the ability to see grades from a tape study of games from eyes with no agenda.

And that's why I was kind of curious on Tuesday when Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was asked about the play of Olivier Vernon. Vernon, Miami's starting right end, didn't really factor in the Cleveland game because Joe Thomas generally erased him from view. And although he didn't play a renown tackle against Indianapolis, he only collected an assisted tackle and half-a-sack against the Colts.

That's not a lot of production so far. And judging that limited production, Philbin said this:

“I think he’s doing a good job," Philbin said. "I don’t see the same things. He’s playing hard. He’s playing sound. I think he’s improving. I see some good things. Obviously we anticipate there will be more production as the season goes on. We think he’s giving us a good effort and has played well."

Quick Dolphins In Depth quiz: Mando has said many times there is activity and accomplishment. Do they equal each other?

Answer: Activity does not equal accomplishment.

Any NFL player can play hard. I'd say a majority do. But that is merely activity. To win, one must accomplish something. On defense, one must tackle, or sack, or intercept, or fumble cause, or fumble recover, or gobble blockers to create opportunities for teammates.

Playing hard is good but playing hard without accomplishing at least one of those is just activity.

And the reason I bring this up is because witnessing the games and using the tape grades from PFF, it's obvious Vernon isn't doing a whole lot while other Dolphins defensive ends are producing more with fewer opportunities.

To wit:

Vernon is the No. 48 rated defensive end in the NFL, per ProFootballFocus. He's had 84 pass rush snaps in two games and managed five total pressures and that .5 sack. He has that assisted tackle in the two games combined.

Miami also has the No. 3 rated defensive end in the NFL, per ProFootballFocus ... Expected right? Well, not so fast. That No. 3 rated player is not Cameron Wake.

It's Derrick Shelby.

(Wake, with 2.5 sacks and six QB hits, is the No. 17 rated defensive end, according to PFF).

But I digress.

Back to Shelby ... He is a backup for Miami. He has only 20 pass rush snaps in two games. And in that short amount of playing time he has three solo tackles, an assist, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. Those are official statistics from the Dolphins. PFF also credits him with four total QB pressures.

So Shelby has some 60 fewer snaps than Vernon but much, much more producton.

“He’s very technically sound, a very good fundamental football player," Philbin said of Shelby. "He keeps his shoulders square. He has his hands where they are supposed to be. He’s smart and instinctive. He’s done a really nice job. I really like what he’s done."

Well, yeah!

The question is if OV is producing at his current rate and Shelby is producing at his rate, how long before Shelby starts getting more opportunities?

Furthermore, rookie Dion Jordan is also doing more with less. Jordan also has 20 total pass rush snaps and has two tackles, a sack, and three total pressures. He is the No. 13 rated defensive end in ProFootballFocus's ratings.

Now, I understand limiting Jordan the last couple of games. He's still coming back from that shoulder issue, he's catching up after missing much of the preseason, and he's a raw, young player that needs grooming.

But how long will he and Shelby be allowed to bang on the door of the starting job before someone answers? And even if you don't want to upset the order of things with Vernon as the starter, how long can the Dolphins continue to give more plays to a less productive player?

These are important questions this week because the Atlanta Falcons have the ability to throw the football about as well as anyone in the NFL. But they also offer the grand opportunity to give up sacks and strip sacks and possibly scores because both their offensive tackles are, in a word, atrocious in pass blocking so far this season.

In other words, the Dolphins will have opportunities to hit quarterback Matt Ryan on Sunday.

A lot. 

So do they give those opportunities to a player who has produced less so far? Or do they give more opportunities to players who are so far earning more snaps but not getting them?   

Latest from Dolphins camp on Tuesday afternoon.

The Dolphins are back at work this rainy South Florida afternoon and here's the latest:

Defensive tackle Paul Soliai (knee) and safety Chris Clemons (injury not reported) are not practicing today. Soliai, as you know, left the Indianapolis game on Sunday and had an MRI Monday. The results of that MRI are unknown but it is not believed Soliai is going to miss significant time.

The cornerback situation for the Dolphins is improving somewhat in that Jamar Taylor (groin/hernia) returned to practice today at least on a limited basis. Will Davis (toe) and Dimitri Patterson (groin), both of whom missed Sunday's game at Indy, also are practicing at least on a limited basis.

The Falcons, meanwhile, are looking more and more beatable as news of their injury status leaks out drop by drop.

NFL Network reported this morning that running back Steven Jackson is out two to four weeks with a thigh injury. This on the heels of the team placing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon on injured resevere with a designation to return later this season. He can return in Week 11 the earliest per NFL rules.

We already knew that Falcons defensive lineman Kroy Biermann is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

With Jackson out, the Falcons may have to search outside for a running back (Michael Turner?) while also giving more work to Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Losing Weatherspoon is a big deal for the Falcons as he's both a fine player in pass coverage and has pass rush ability as well.

The Falcons answer for Weatherspoon's void? Likely Joplo Bartu -- a rookie.

From a bookkeeping standpoint, the Dolphins cut quarterback Austin Davis and cornerback Devin Smith from the practice squad and added defensive tackle Isaako Aauitui and defensive tackle Al Lapuaho to the unit.

The signings of Aauitui and Lapuaho suggest the Dolphins are wary of the Soliai injury.

PFF and Salguero look at Colts victory

It's Tuesday morning so it's time to look back at the tape of Sunday's Dolphins game. Miami beat the Colts and the folks at ProFootballFocus.com have sent over some tidbits based on their study of the game.

Offense

It was a very good overall day for the Miami offensive line. Only John Jerry (-1.2) graded out negatively for the day.

Salguero: This grade is interesting because I saw Tyson Clabo give up two sacks. Clabo is rated the No. 54 of the 67 offensive tackles according to PFF. Jonathan Martin is rated No. 42. I will say that the Dolphins made the best of a bad situation once Jake Long signed with St. Louis. Long is currently rated No. 11 among tackles by PFF. But you'll remember after that signing, the Dolphins flirted with signing Eric Winston and Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie is rated No. 57 and Winston is rated No. 63 so both are worse than Clabo so far. Interestingly, the Dolphins backed away from trading for Kansas City's Branden Albert. He's currently the No. 8 rated tackle by ProFootballFocus.   

The battle for snaps at No. 2 tight end was slanted heavily to Dion Sims this week. He took in 35 snaps, while Michael Egnew saw 9.

Even though Lamar Miller out-produced Daniel Thomas, Thomas got more snaps than his teammate by a margin of 36-30. Both gave up a sack in pass protection.

On throws 10 yards or more, quarterback Ryan Tannehill went 8-for-9 for 206 yards.

Tannehill feasted on Greg Toler, Jerrell Freeman, Darius Butler and Pat Angerer, completing 16 of 20 against them for 265 yards.

After two weeks, Tannehill has the fourth best  PFF QB rating. This takes into account drops, throw aways, and spikes. Tannehill is behind Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Philip Rivers.

Defense

There were highs and lows for the Dolphins on defense. Brent Grimes (+4.9) and Randy Starks (+4.5) had great days, while Olivier Vernon (-6.0) and Cameron Wake (-3.1) did not.

Salguero: The Dolphins had nine players with positive grades from Sunday's game. Linebacker Phillip Wheeler, who had the batted pass on a blitz and then sacked Andrew Luck on a blitz to clinch the game, was the third highest graded Miami defensive player.

Dion Jordan was limited to just seven snaps in Week 2, which is fewer than he had in Week 1. They were all in passing situations, as he dropped into coverage twice and rushed the quarterback 5 times.

Salguero: Things are looking up for the Miami defensive line if the first two weeks of play are an indication because Atlanta left tackle Sam Baker is rated 67th (also known as last) among all the tackles PFF has rated. Right tackle Lamar Holmes is rated 62nd. Folks in Atlanta are going crazy because Matt Ryan has been hit often the first two games.

Brent Grimes gave up four of T.Y. Hilton’s 6 catches for 84 yards, but was stingy against everyone else. He finished the day with the interception and three defended passes.

On tight end Coby Fleener’s 40-yard catch and run, Olivier Vernon was left to defend him in coverage.

Salguero: Whatever the Colts did to get that matchup, the Dolphins should address it because you can bet the Falcons will see it and try to replicate it.

September 15, 2013

Philbin: "We got a helluva team in the making'

INDIANAPOLIS -- Joe Philbin is a planner. He's a professor. He's logical. He's not big on emotion. Basically, he's a vulcan without the pointed ears.

He definitely showed the media no self-satisfaction in beating the Indianapolis Colts, 24-20, on the road on Sunday despite it being perhaps his best victory as a Dolphins coach. Indeed, near the end of an emtionless press conference, I asked him if he was even happy he won.

"Absolutely, yeah" he said looking away, "real proud of the guys. Can't you tell?"

His wife, standing off to the side watching the presser, was among those who laughed.

But just before that presser, in the confines of the locker room right after the game, Philbin actually said something that was interesting. Yes, he read his bullet points off his card to the players as he often does in his postgame speech -- told you he's professorial -- but when he turned away from his notes he announced to his players:

"We got a helluva team in the making!"

Read that again.

"We got a helluva team in the making!"

Now, it's one thing if that's outspoken Pete Carroll saying that because Carroll looks at a Kia and thinks it has a chance to be a helluva Cadillac. That also wasn't emotional Jimmy Johnson. That wasn't Rex Ryan bragging as has been his style.

That was understating, undemonstrative, stoic Joe Philbin going all bright future on us.

And that speaks ... No, that yells ... It yells volumes about what the coach thinks is the celing for his young team.

As I wrote for Monday's Miami Herald, the Dolphins aren't quite yet a certain playoff team. You shouldn't be buying Super Bowl tickets yet. But the Dolphins now are relevant. They are rolling and about to gain more attention because they finally have playmakers as the game-clinching sack by Phillip Wheeler (Courtesy a Joe Rimkus photo) showed.Luck sack

And they're growing and becoming a good team.

I'm an outsider and I can see it.

Philbin, on the inside, obviously thinks it.

This team is headed in a good direction. And by the time the journey is done, the Dolphins might indeed be "a helluva team."

Dolphins beat Colts, 24-20 to stay unbeaten

INDIANAPOLIS -- This is what fine teams do. This is how good teams close.

The Dolphins and Colts engaged in an wildly entertaining and close game. And it came down to the final minute. And the Dolphins emerged victorious, 24-20, to improve their record to 2-0.

Feels good, right?

The Dolphins did it on the road. They did it in keeping Andrew Luck from authoring one of his trademark comebacks.

They did it throwing the ball to Mike Wallace and Charles Clay and showing just enough of a running game to make the offense balanced.

Live blog of statement game Dolphins vs. Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- Statement game. But tough game.

On defense, there is reason to worry about the Dolphins vers the Colts today. That's the cornerback spot. Yes, Dimitri Patterson is active and playing. But he's nursing a groin injury and was limited in practice all week long and will only play vs the slot receiver.

That means Nolan Carroll will start at cornerback. Ouch! Yes, the Dolphins have confidence in Carroll. I don't. Sorry.

Patterson, meanwhile, has shown himself somewhat fragile in his time with the Dolphins -- getting hurt in his one game with Miami last year and getting hurt in his first game this year.

If Patterson can avoid re-injury, great. All good.

If, however, he tweaks the injury, you will see Jimmy Wilson against T.Y. Hilton in the slot. Not a good matchup for Miami.

As I wrote in my column in The Herald today, this game between the Dolphins and Colts will be a statement about the 2013 Dolphins. They win today and they are squarely and rightly considered playoffs contenders and even AFC East contenders.

How else to describe it after winning on the road, against a good quarterback leading a playoff team from a year ago?

Lose, however, and it'll look a lot like the Dolphins of the past few years.

In other issues, this is a big game for Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Neither had a particularly stellar preseason. Neither was very good last week in the regular season opener. One of them needs to show up today because if they don't, I won't be surprised if the Dolphins' personnel department starts looking elsewhere for help.

Beenie Wells, Willis McGahee, Michael Turner and Cedric Benson are out there and the trade deadline is next month.

The inactives today are: Pat Devlin, Danny Watkins, Dallas Thomas, Jamar Taylor Mike Gillislee, JoshKaddu, Danny Watkins and Will Davis.

Jared Odrick will continue to start at defensive tackle over Randy Starks. As he did last week.

September 14, 2013

Keys to the game for the Dolphins vs. Colts

Indianapolis -- The forecast here tonight is for temperatures in the 40s. Awesome, right?

This Florida boy is loving the escape from the heat. But the weather won't matter because the Lucas Oil Stadium has a retractable roof and it will be 77 on Sunday afternoon. So weather is not a key to this game.

What are the keys to this game?

These:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Mike Wallace must get the ball early and often otherwise the Dolphins risk losing their alpha receiver for the second consecutive week. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman talked to Wallace about getting him the ball more often so that should happen. It remains clear, however, that quarterback Ryan Tannehill feels a tighter kinship with Brian Hartline and so it’s doubtful the QB will simply disconnect from Hartline to feed Wallace. The Colts secondary seems susceptible to the pass because left cornerback Greg Toler is merely mediocre while free safety LaRon Landry is excellent in supporting the run but his lateral movement against the pass is sometimes a step slow. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Dolphins run the football: Nothing happens. Well, at least that was the story last week against the Browns. The Dolphins left that game last in the NFL rushing the football. Miami offensive linemen and running backs have promised improvement this week. Makes sense. How can there not be improvement from terrible? Running back Lamar Miller said the Colts are similar to the Browns except faster. Yes, they might be faster but they’re not nearly as stout up front. This week is a much better match up for the Dolphins than a week ago. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Colts run the football: This team passes to set up the run instead of the other way around. that doesn't mean it wasn't a little shocking when starting running back Vick Ballard, a solid, workmanlike runner who is in his second season and gained 814 yards last season, injured his knee and was lost for the season in practice on Thursday. The Colts now have to overcome that loss by asking Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw to play more and do more. Bradshaw is still coming back from foot surgery but seems the most likely next man up.The Miami front seven was so effective last week, the Browns basically quit running the football in the second half despite being ahead at halftime. The Colts offensive line is a zone-blocking unit that includes Dolphins castoffs Samson Satele at center and Donald Thomas at left guard. Each is on his third team. That doesn’t suggest they are dominant. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Colts pass the football: This is a not a good match up for the Dolphins defense, particularly with starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson slowed by a groin injury. Even with Patterson healthy the Colts receivers corps that includes Reggie Wayne, T.Y Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey is a combination of speed and experience that might be the best the Dolphins face this year. A hobbled Patterson against the speedy Hilton in the slot is not a good match up for Miami. Andrew Luck has directed eight fourth-quarter come from behind victories which is a ton considering he’s only started 17 NFL games. That means he’s dangerous with the football late in a game that has yet to be decided. The Dolphins must avoid this situation at all costs. ADVANTAGE: Colts.

Special teams: Adam Vinatieri continues to be among the best clutch kickers in the league. He has kicked 24 game-winning field goals inside the final minute of a game during his career. T.Y. Hilton is a major weapon on returns. The Dolphins have the second-rated punter in the NFL because Brandon Fields is second in both net and gross average. And rookie Caleb Sturgis has shown no sign of struggle. The Dolphins are looking to improve their kick and punt coverage this week. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Chuck Pagano is healthy now, which is great news, but the emotion and motivation of rallying behind his fight against cancer last year – a palpable advantage for the Colts as it happened – may have faded. Pagano also lost offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who got the head coach job in Arizona. That is a loss. Dolphins’ coaches need to make sure they avoid the drama suffered after last week’s victory. They need to find a way to keep Mike Wallace happy, keep Randy Starks playing well while also overcoming a talented Colts team. ADVANTAGE: Colts.

Intangibles: The Colts know how to win games late. They’ve done it before behind Andrew Luck – including last week. The Dolphins haven’t done it nearly as much behind Ryan Tannehill. The home crowd in Indianapolis is also rabid when their team is in a game. OVERALL ADVANTAGE: Colts.

 

September 13, 2013

Friday afternoon buffet of factoids and thoughts

The weekend is almost here and there are still interesting things happening at practice while the folks at ProFootballFocus.com continue to feed me more material so that I can, in turn, feed you.

Here goes:

First, Colts starting running back Vick Ballard is out for the rest of the season after he suffered a knee injury in practice on Thursday. Coach Chuck Pagano said the injury was non-contact in nature in that Ballard put his foot in the ground and the knee gave out. Colts owner Jim Irsay said the team has placed Ballard on injured reserve.

That means the Colts are obviously lessened. Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw are now asked to carry the load for Indianapolis. Kerwynn Williams will also be promoted from practice squad.

As to the Dolphins:

Jamar Taylor continues to sit out practice with his hernia/groin issue. Obviously, as he has not practiced in two weeks, he's nowhere near ready to play. At best, I would guess he'll be ready just prior to or after the bye. At best.

Dimitri Patterson (groin) was at practice today and will play, as has been reported here previously.

[Update: Patterson was limited in practice all week and is listed as questions, but again, he'll play. Wille Davis (toe) was limited in practice the whole week but is listed today as out, along with Pat Devlin (ankle) and Taylor].

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said right guard Danny Watkins, signed a week ago, "has been in the building a lot" trying to learn the Miami system. That's a good thing. But there are currently no plans to have Watkins replace John Jerry in the starting lineup.

The folks at ProFootballFocus continue to send me more material to pass along to you.

Today's offerings:

QB Ryan Tannehill had the lowest accuracy percentage of any quarterback when under pressure in Week 1.

RB Lamar Miller had 0.0 "Elusive Rating" and didn’t force a missed tackle on any of his 10 rushes

Left tackle Jonathan Martin was 55th out of 65 tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency in Week 1

Cameron Wake was second in Pass Rush Productivity for 4-3 DEs after leading the league in total pressures.

If you read this blog, you saw Ryan Tannehill answer the Mike Wallace situation of a week ago by promising he would not force the football to the $60 million receiver no matter how much folks want the two becoming a great pitch and catch combination.

Philbin today seemed to give his quarterback some cover on the topic when he said Tannehill's "decision-making was good" in a game he only threw to Wallace five times.

"I thought the ball was going to the right spot throughout the course of the game," Philbin said.

That's interesting because if the quarterback is doing the right thing and making good decisions and that yields only five targets of Mike Wallace, something is amiss in the Dolphins scheme that so easily allows an opposing defense to eliminate the team's deep threat.

This will require more attention going forward.

Finally, the NFL tells me defensive tackle Randy Starks will not be fined by the league for his one-finger salute of the Miami sideline during last Sunday's game at Cleveland. The league says it is a team matter and thus the Dolphins are free to fine or not fine Starks as they deem correct.

 

Patriots play Jets and Dolphins win

If you watched the New England Patriots beat the New York Jets, 13-10, on Thursday night you know the Patriots are atop the AFC East with a 2-0 record.

And you also know that you're not impressed.

Simply, everyone expected the Jets to be a sub-par team struggling through the 2013 season with a rookie quarterback. And Geno Smith's three interceptions, 27.6 quarterback rating and numerous poor throws did nothing to change that expectation.

But did we all really, truly expect the Patriots to look so bad?

Did we expect the New England offense that has been something of a machine the past decade to seem so, so, putrid?

Consider that Tom Brady completed only 19 of 39 passes for 189 yards. It was the first game he was under 50 percent completion rate since 2009. But it wasn't so much his statistics that tell the story, rather the total inability of the Patriots to put a competent receiver on the field.

I mean, when Julian Edelman is your star, your personnel department (Bill Belichick) should be ashamed. And, indeed, Edelman led the Patriots with 13 receptions for 78 yards. Modest, at best. And yet, he was the offensive star for the Patriots.

Rookies Aaron Dobson (four drops) and Kenbrell Tompkins (two receptions on seven targets) have a lot of growing up to do. They've got much work to do to be merely average.

As I tweeted to my Twitter followers, when Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said in the spring that Miami has the best wide receiver corps in the AFC East, he was absolutely right.

And this:

While both the Jets and the Patriots will likely do some growing and improving, neither seems scary. Neither seems impressive. The Dolphins look as good or better than both those teams right now.

The AFC East is wide open.

(Peanut Gallery: But Mando, Rob Gronkowski is coming back in a week or two and Danny Amendola will be back in two to six weeks, according to the NFL Network).

Yes, gallery, you are correct. But both of those players are walking injury reports. I would not be surprised if Amendola tweaked a hamstring while watching the game on his couch Thursday night.

Look, you know I'm a straight shooter. I tell you what I think even when it's not what you want to hear. So hear this: The Patriots are not elite anymore. Brady is still great. But he has no weapons right now.

The Patriots continue to have an oppotunistic defense and the offensive line still protects Brady quite well. But there is no running game to speak of, the defense still doesn't have a premier pass rusher, and again, Brady has no playmaker to throw the football to right now.

They can be had.

The Jets?

I will say the New York front seven seems solid. Their offensive line is solid.

But Smith is over his head right now. Their receiver corps counts on Clyde Gates (yes that Clyde Gates) to make plays and that's the same guy NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin said he'd cut on the spot right after this game. New York's special teams, so long a strength with assistant Mike Westhoff at the helm, also seems disorganized right now.

Yes, the Dolphins fan suddenly has to be encouraged.

Yes, the Dolphins look as good or better than either of these teams right now.