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53 posts from October 2013

October 22, 2013

McKinnie: The timing, 'Big Mac,' Philbin reaction

As I shared with you in the last post, the Dolphins' plan for Bryant McKinnie is to play him at left tackle. Only left tackle. Period.

And today, McKinnie confirmed he worked only at left tackle during practice. Jonathan Martin said he worked at both left and right tackle during practice.

"I'm a left tackle," McKinnie said. "All I've ever played. I've never taken a snap at right tackle."

So, again, when McKinnie is up to speed and ready to play, he is the left tackle and Martin will move to right tackle.

I believe this is a deal general manager Jeff Ireland had to make. It was a must-do move because to sit by and watch Ryan Tannehill get hit week after week was a recipe for ruining the young quarterback, if not getting him hurt.

So I approve. Bryant McKinnie is not a great player at this late stage in his career. But this is a rental to survive the season. It had to be done.

But the timing of this move boggles.

Why didn't the Dolphins do this trade two weeks ago during the bye? McKinnie was available then. The Ravens were shopping him then. The idea of trading for McKinnie was no secret to anyone -- least of all readers of this blog.

Everyone knew Tyson Clabo was struggling for weeks. It should not have come as an epiphany to the Dolphins on Monday -- the day after Clabo once again gave up game-defining sacks against Buffalo -- that their offensive line needs help. Clabo gave up game-defining sacks against Baltimore the last time the Dolphins played.

So why the timing of this move now instead of the last several weeks when it made more sense?

"We considered a lot of factors and made the decision and we thought this was the right time," coach Joe Philbin said today.

I hope he's fibbing. I hope he doesn't really believe the timing here was right. If he does, the Dolphins are in bigger trouble than anyone might think.

As you know the McKinnie addition fits like Chad Johnson fit. In other words, he doesn't fit the culture. Everyone knows it. And everyone accepts that desperate times call for desperate measures, thus this trade.

But Philbin said he's expecting McKinnie, a well-known party animal with a history for visiting all sorts of clubs on late night jaunts, to fit in with the Dolphins.

"We expect anyone who works for the Dolphins, coaches for the Dolphins, plays for the Dolphins to represent the organization in the right way on and off the field ... All of us have a responsibility to act accordingly," Philbin said.

McKinnie said his party reputation won't be a problem because when he's working, he's working. He said his party persona only applies to when he's off. McKinnie said "Big Mac" is his offseason persona. Bryant is his in-season persona.

(First of all, it's never good when a player claims to have an alter ego. Secondly, the infamous Love Boat incident in Minnesota in 2005 and Party Bus incident in Baltimore this year happened during the football season).

"I'm concerned about what he does in this building," Philbin said. "I don't mandate what people do outside the building. I enjoy my free time when I have free time. I expect him to be a professional just like the other guys."

Dolphins should keep their fingers crossed.

 

The plan for LT Bryant McKinnie

My guess is the Dolphins will be coy about their plans for Bryant McKinnie this week against New England.

You know ... will he start or not ... will he play or not ... left tackle or right tackle.

Forget that noise.

Here's the deal:

Bryant McKinnie is the Dolphins new starting left tackle. Jonathan Martin, who started the previous six games at left tackle, is moving to right tackle.

The only question that remains is whether McKinnie can get up to speed fast enough to be in the lineup this week. The Dolphins hope he can. He is, after all, a 12-year veteran. He has not been sitting on his couch so he is up to as good a football shape as he can be in for his history with weight issues.Mckinnie

(McKinnie is clearly overweight. The Dolphins list him at 352 pounds. He looks to be more in the 370 range. His sizeable belly bulges out of his practice jersey).

So if McKinnie can learn the playbook -- or enough of it -- to meet the coaching staff's expectations, he'll be playing on Sunday. If not, well then the following week for sure.

The intriguing dynamic the McKinnie addition brings to practice is what to do with Martin. He obviously needs to get re-acclimated with right tackle.

So do the Dolphins split his snaps between left and right to hedge their bets? Or do they commit to giving him right tackle snaps exclusively?

My guess on that is Martin gets the right tackle snaps. Although he stayed at left tackle during the short walk-thru team portion that was open to the media today (nice misdirection, Dolphins), he is expected to take most of the work at right tackle with the starters. 

So there it is. Miami's new starting OL is LT McKinnie, LG Richie Incognito, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry, RT Martin.

When the starting running back is not the starter

For five weeks, Lamar Miller was the Dolphins starting running back.

He started the first five games of the season and had more carries in each of those games. He was, in name and in fact, the starting running back.

But on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills the Dolphins got the ball first, behold, Daniel Thomas was the running back with the starters.

Daniel Thomas supplanted Miller as the starter.

But coach Joe Philbin says what everyone saw is actually not what is the truth of the matter.

"It was a more of a function of the type of plays that we were running more than Lamar hasn’t done this or Daniel has done that," Philbin said. "As I’ve said many times, we like both of those guys. Lamar actually played more snaps in the game I believe in a game. He didn’t have more carries. I believe Daniel had 12 and Lamar nine, is that accurate?

"In a coaching mind, that’s still pretty balanced in my mind. We like the way both of the guys ran the ball yesterday. I thought they both ran the ball well.”

So is Miller still the starter?

 "Yes," Philbin said.

Interesting because the switch clearly seemed to work for Thomas, who answered with his best game of the season in gaining 60 yards on 12 carries. His 5-yard per rush average was nearly twice his season average. That now has improved to 3.4 yards per carry.

Miller carried the football nine times and gained 48 yards, which was his fourth best production of the six games.

It also will be interesting if the Dolphins go back to Miller as the starter out of the gate or if the performance Sunday will convince the team to try more of the same against New England.

Mike Sherman addresses the 'play call,' other things

The Bryant McKinnie trade sidetracked this blog from the pursuit of answers from Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman about his work and his unit's work in a loss to Buffalo on Sunday. Indeed, when Sherman entered the interview room Monday, I was on the phone with a source about McKinnie.

But, unlike Ryan Tannehill, I have time to gather myself and get back on plan.

So here now is Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman answering questions:

(On if he knows anything about a trade for Bryant McKinnie) -- “No, I don’t talk about personnel stuff. I leave that up to Jeff (Ireland) and Joe (Philbin)."

(On if Bryant McKinnie would bring if he did come to the team) -- “I’m not even going to comment on it right now because I don’t know the where ifs or what nots. Ask Joe (Philbin) and Jeff (Ireland)."

(On if he feels there needs to be changes on the offensive line) -- “If we had…believe it or not, we got out there every single game and evaluate our personnel. Every week we put the best guys in the best position. If we thought we had better at certain positions, then we would go in that direction, right or wrong. That’s how we look at it. Take that for what you can."

(On Tyson Clabo’s season so far) -- "Tyson came in as a veteran player. (He has a) tremendous attitude, tremendous personna and work ethic. I thought he brought a lot to the table in relationship to team chemistry and being a part of that group. Certainly we’ve faced some pretty good pass rushers, (Elvis) Dumervil, (Terrell) Suggs, Jordan and no less Mario Williams. We’ve struggled. Mario Williams is going to be a Hall of Fame player at some point of his career or life, I would imagine. They are tough challenges. The first three ball games we didn’t quite face those types of challenges, those types of pass rushers, in the last couple of ball games we had. Obviously, we’ve struggled. We just have to figure out whoever is playing those positions the best way to help them. I can do a better
job of that. At times we do, at times we can’t. You just can’t based on certain parts of it. At times we are good and at times we aren’t so good. Tyson has had his struggles at different times, but he’s brought something to the table as well."

(On decision to pass in the fourth quarter with 3:37 to play) -- "The first play was a run. It was against Bear defense, and they were 100 percent trying to stop the run. We have a lot of confidence in the two receivers, Mike (Wallace) and (Brian) Hartline on the outside. We felt comfortable with that. It was a five-step pass. Obviously the result isn’t what we were looking for."

(On passing the ball during the fourth quarter before the fumble play) -- "I don’t think you can protect a 21-20 lead in this league. I think you have to be fairly aggressive. I’ve been in situations myself trying to protect a 21-20 lead, and I’ve lost those games 27-21. We are going to be aggressive with a one-point lead in the fourth quarter. We aren’t going to sit on it. The difference between winning and losing in this is so much right there. It’s one play that can make the difference in a ball game for you or against you. With a one point lead, my philosophy and Joe (Philbin’s) as well has been to be aggressive. If we got the first down, the game would have been won and we wouldn’t be having this discussion at this point. Certainly it’s a valid question, without a doubt. At the same time the what-if factor is, ‘If you get it, do you have this conversation?’ No you don’t, and it would have been a great call. Those things happen."

(On what portion of four-minute offense is pass plays versus run) -- “That’s not four-minute offense. That’s trying to win the football game. Four-minute offense for us would be under four minutes on the clock. We have a nine-plus lead, probably 10 point lead in the game. You put your two tight ends out there. You try to burn your time outs or time off the clock. The part of it is most of those plays they are different type of plays. They aren’t drop-back plays. That was not a four-minute offensive play. That was a play to win the game. With the ball at midfield and Joe (Philbin) is the best at doing research on opponents, and in our research they had a two-minute drive last week to tie
the ballgame. We wanted to win the game. We wanted to get that first down. We knew the front they were going to play. They played the exact front and coverage we thought they were going to play. It just didn’t pan out."

(On if the amount of sacks to Ryan Tannehill is affected him) -- “Let me just say this about Ryan Tannehill. He’s normally very resilient and physical. If you ever notice how he takes a hit, he’s giving to it. Do I think he’s banged up a little bit? Yes, probably. He wouldn’t be human if he wasn’t. At the same time knowing him, he’s very resilient physically and mentally. I think that is what is going to make him a very good quarterback in this league."

(On if a player would come in via trade, could they conceivably start for the team) -- “Do you want the filibuster? As far as personnel goes my comments are directed to the general manager and the head coach, who are more in-tune with that. The what-if part of it, I’m just dealing with what-ifs today. I have to get through today and get ready for a great football team up in New England. That part of it I’m not going to address, thank you. I appreciate the question though."

(On if he remembers ever having a player brought in before and starting the same weekend) -- “I don’t recall not. I don’t recall doing either."

(On how long it would take someone to learn offensive linemen technique in this system) -- “Are you guys just passing the ball around here? Let’s get this game over with so we can move on."

(On the possibility of giving Tyson Clabo block help on the play that resulted in the fumble) – “I think there’s always ways. It’s a different style of play. (Mario Williams) is going to line-up somewhere, usually on the edge to the open side. He’s going to be a problem somewhere. In hindsight, yes, I think you can always do that. It’s a different call, it’s a different structure. It was a run-pass option, and they showed the pass look. That’s what we went to. We very easily could, if they didn’t play that front, could have went to the run. There are different variables. It would have made it a little bit complicated. In an ideal world, that is a possibility."

(On if there could be a variable where Mario Williams is double-teamed wherever he lines up) -- "We did some of that in the ball-game at different times. We banged him. We thumped him. We did different things to him. To do that consistently throughout the ball game and negate the fact that sometimes he’s not where you think he’s going to be. That happened once or twice. Then we moved to him. That’s another thing. You negate the structure of your pass offense in some ways because your route distribution is out a little bit. Now can you do it? Yes, you are limited a bit from what you can do but you have a chance to bang him in those situations."

(On if the pick-6 against Buffalo was a bad throw, bad read or a good defensive play) -- “All of the above probably."

(On Ryan Tannehill having more turnovers than touchdowns as part of the learning curve) -- “I think we always want to get better than where we are, and I think he’ll be the first one to tell you that. Sometimes on some interceptions he made a bad decision on one. He got hit on the fumble he had no chance of getting out of. It happened rather quickly, and the interception for the touchdown by Buffalo he was hit as he was delivery the back. He probably would have pulled it back if he had time to. I’m hoping that’s what he would have done. There’s a lot of variables to those things. To put them all on the quarterback I think is unfair. I think we all share that responsibility."

October 21, 2013

What did the Dolphins get in Bryant McKinnie?

We've known the for nearly a week the Dolphins have been looking for an offensive lineman in trade and now that they got Bryant McKinnie the question that resonates is, what exactly did they get?

"He is a proven and experienced player who will be a great addition to the offensive line," general manager Jeff Ireland said in a statement.

"Bryant McKinnie was a good player at one time but he stinks now," a former NFL coach told me today.

Bryant McKinnie is 34 years old and was once a dominating NFL left tackle. He never allowed a sack at the University of Miami. He had one holding call his entire two seasons at UM -- against Dwight Freeney.

And he was outstanding playing for the Minnesota Vikings from 2003 to 2009, including his Pro Bowl selection in '09. But there are other things that mitigate McKinnie being a great player back in the day, so to speak, and even a good player now.

Well, there's the partying for one.

In October 2005, McKinnie was charged with a misdemeanor for his involvement in the infamous  Minnesota Vikings boat cruise scandal that involved hookers and drugs and violence.

On May 26, 2006, McKinnie pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and being a public nuisance on a watercraft in connection with the Love Boat scandal. He agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and perform 48 hours of community service. The NFL fined McKinnie one game check for the incident.

In 2008 McKinnie was arrested and charged with aggravated battery, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after an incident at Miami's Club Space. Police said McKinnie spit in the face of a bouncer when he was removed from the club, then, after heading across the street to another establishment, returned to the club and argued with the bouncer. McKinnie then allegedly shoved his phone in Otero's face before picking up a heavy pole and hitting him. A judge ordered McKinnie to complete 25 hours of community service and anger management classes.

McKinnie's hard partying is legendary in NFL circles. He's been known for spending $100,000 on a bar tab in one night.

McKinnie's love of strip clubs is also well known. McKinnie was kicked off the 2010 Pro Bowl roster after partying too much in South Beach and missing practices.

Is he a Joe Philbin-type player? Absolutely not.

But the Dolphins are desperate. McKinnie can move in as the left tackle -- the position he's played all his professional life -- and they can move Jonathan Martin to right tackle, which is the position he played last year.

McKinnie, not exactly a try-hard guy so far this year, has nonetheless given up only one sack in 2013. So that is indeed an upgrade.

But does he come with warts? Yes. 

Dolphins acquire LT Bryant McKinnie

The Dolphins have acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie from the Baltimore Ravens, The Herald has confirmed.

McKinnie, who played collegiately at the University of Miami, was available because the Ravens traded for Eugene Munroe three weeks ago. That trade sent McKinnie, who had been underperforming and was overweight in Baltimore, to the bench.

It also made him available.

The Dolphins will almost certainly move left tackle Jonathan Martin from left tackle to right tackle. But that will happen only after McKinnie gets comfortable with the Miami system. Once that happens, McKinnie would be Miami's left tackle.

Tyson Clabo, who has given up eight sacks in six games, would likely go to the bench or be traded. Or eventually cut.

McKinnie was eager to leave Baltimore (because he was benched) and go to Miami (because he'll be starting). He also is familiar with the city -- which, with his history for partying, might not be such a great thing.

FoxSports was the first to report the story. Barry Jackson of The Herald confirmed it.

The compensation for the trade is unknown but I would not bet that it's very high. Perhaps a seventh or conditional sixth rounder.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin spoke to the media before the trade was public so he was not asked about it. Dolphins offensive coordinator, who just spoke with the media, declined to discuss the topic.

 

The fallout from a third consecutive loss

The honeymoon is over for Joe Philbin and his coaching staff, as I wrote in today's Miami Herald.

After weeks of watching sweeps on third-and-inches, or having Mike Wallace always line up on the right side of the formation, or not committting to the running game, or watching Jimmy Graham shred Miami one week getting free releases but getting shut down by New England when they tied him up at the scrimmage line, the tipping point came on Sunday.

Off a bye, against a fourth-string QB and offering no solutions to old problems, the Dolphins coaching staff deserves some critical scrutiny.

They are not alone.

The offensive line, was mostly good enough on Sunday. And then Tyson Clabo, a good man having a bad season, gave up two sacks the final two Miami possessions.

"Those sacks are my sacks," Clabo said. "There's no way around it."

It didn't help that coaches asked Clabo to block Mario Williams one-on-one on the play which Williams beat Clabo and forced a Ryan Tannehill fumble. What was offensive coordinator Mike Sherman thinking?

Look, it's one thing to have the other team beat you.

But when you beat yourself with poor decisions in the coaching booth, the frustration is palpable.

Obviously, the coaching staff was not totally responsible for this upset loss.

Tannehill had a horrible first half -- throwing two interceptions -- despite inconsistent pressure on him from the Bills, who managed no sacks until the fourth quarter. One was returned 19 yards for a touchdown. He floated another near the goal line and what seemed like a scoring opportunity turned into another turnover.

The defense didn't do great work.

They gave up two fourth-quarter field goal drives that gave Buffalo the game.

They allowed the Bills to convert 9 of 19 third down plays (47.3 percent success rate).

About that defense: I have not questioned the defensive coaching staff but perhaps they merit a look as well. They inherited a defense that was sixth in the NFL in scoring in 2011. It wasn't perfect but it was good. Well, they were seventh in scoring under this staff in 2012 and are 20th in scoring this season.

That's going in the wrong direction.

Dion Jordan, the third overall selection in the draft, is only a part-time player. Players that were here and deemed too slow or too old -- Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett -- are playing better elsewhere than they did here.

It all raises eyebrows.

The Dolphins opened this season on a hopeful note with three consecutive wins. Now they are on a three-game losing skid and must travel to New England next Sunday trying to dig out of being in third place in the AFC East and already owning a home loss to the last-place Bills.

 

 

October 20, 2013

Bill defeat the Dolphins, 23-21

They came here with their third string quarterback. They came on the road. They played a team coming off a bye.

And the Buffalo Bills still beat the Dolphins, 23-21 today.

Awful.

This is the third consecutive loss for Miami. And the worst of the season.

I hate to place blame, but the play-calling by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman when the Dolphins led 21-20 late in the fourth quarter was very questionable.

He passed. And passed. And passed. Three and out.

Next series he passed again and Ryan Tannehill got hit and fumbled, setting the Bills up for the game-winning field goal.

That was delivered by Dan Carpenter. Remember him?

Bad all the way around.

Dolphins overcome disasterous first quarter

It was a terrible first quarter. It was 14-0 Bills after one period on Sunday.

Ryan Tannehill had two interceptions. The Bills were moving.

And then the second quarter began and the Dolphins kinda sorta recovered. The Dolphins trail the Bills 17-14 at halftime despite looking terrible coming out of their bye week.

Miami got touchdowns out of tight end Charles Clay and receiver Brandon Gibson, who went airborne for an impressive TD just prior to halftime.

The Dolphins have outgained the Bills. And they have not given up a sack.

But neither have they converted any of their seven third down chances.

Second half should be interesting.

Dolphins big tweaks this week: Thomas and the rollout

Well, you cannot accuse Joe Philbin of not shaking things up.

Even as the Dolphins are looking terrible in trailing 14-0 after one quarter, at least the team is trying new stuff.

Today, Daniel Thomas started at running back ahead of Lamar Miller. So that replaced the guy who is averaging 4.2 yards a carry with someone averaging 2.6 yards per carry.

The Dolphins also are trying rollout passes to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It was tried going right twice in the first quarter -- with one completion and one incompletion.

Dolphins at Bills: Live blog plus inactives

Creeping closer to game time today and here's what's up:

Cornerback Dimitri Patterson is active for the first time since Week 2 against Indianapolis. He still is not starting. Nolan Carroll will continue to be the starter.

Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder) is out today as expected. Jason Trusnik will start in his place.

The other inactives are Pat Devlin, Michael Gillislee, Josh Kaddu, Will Davis, Danny Watkins and Dallas Thomas.

If you haven't done so already, kindly catch up with my column today that should offer perspective on where the Dolphins are today despite the fact they haven't had a lot of success lately. It's good.

I don't see a lot of obvious changes or tweaks from the Dolphins other than, as I reported earlier this week, there should be quite a few screen passes today. At least that's the plan.

And as always on game day, there's a live blog. Join me inside the live blog.

Perspective on the sky is falling

The sky is most assuredly not falling.

How's that?

It hasn't sounded like that if you've been paying attention. The Dolphins haven't won in a month and it seems all we've been hearing is about ...

Sacks.

A lack of a running game.

And other assorted issues that need to be cleared up.

But guess what? My column says the Dolphins are still a good team that should beat the Buffalo Bills today and be in position to lead the division next week if they beat New England.

Please read the column. And come back later for pregame updates and the live blog.

October 19, 2013

Miami vs. Buffalo: Keys to the game

The Dolphins return to the football field on Sunday against the Buffalo Bill, The Miami Herald has learned.

These are the keys to the game:

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Dolphins have two goals when they throw the ball: Complete the pass. Keep quarterback Ryan Tannehill from getting hit. It’s debatable which of the two is more important. The Dolphins are allowing more sacks per game than any other NFL team and as the offensive line is unchanged from the previous five games, even coming off a bye week, there is little reason to believe Tannehill won’t get hit this game as he has others. Led by Mario Williams, who is third in the NFL with eight sacks, the Bills are ninth overall in sacks per pass play. The Dolphins will be looking to get some easy completions by running more wide receiver screens than usual and this should offer one way to keep Tannehill from getting hit while still completing passes. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: Lamar Miller was successful against the Bills the last time he played against them, as he averaged 7.3 yards per carry on 10 carries. But the Miami running game has been a major disappointment so far this season to the point fans are calling for trades for a running back or along the offensive line. The Dolphins might be wise to take a page out of the Buffalo game plan and simply not give up on the running game so easily. The Bills, you see, are
not very good at stopping the run. They rank 28th in the NFL in that department. It must be noted, however, that much of that damage came the first three weeks of the season when New England and New York bulldozed the Bills up front. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Bills run the football:  The Bills are third in the NFL in rushing yards per game and that because they run the ball well and often. C.J. Spiller hasn’t been the weapon he was last year but he still is averaging a healthy 4.2 yards per rush while Fred Jackson is at 4.6 yards per pop. The Bills had six runs of 10 yards or more against Baltimore’s solid defense three weeks ago and had another five runs over 10 yards last week against Cincinnati. The Dolphins are hopeful middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe will be available to them for this game but the fact his status is uncertain and he’s nursing a shoulder injury is troubling because he is the team’s best run-defending linebacker. The Dolphins don’t like sinking the safety into the tackle box to stop the run but this might be a game that calls for exactly that move. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo

When the Bills pass the football: QB Thad Lewis, a South Florida native and Hialeah-Miami Lakes High alumnus, returns to his hometown as a little known and mostly untried professional quarterback. Lewis is playing because rookie E.J. Manuel is out for Buffalo but he also is nursing a foot injury. The Bills weren’t a passing team even with their starting quarterback and now are less so but they still pose a threat deep with rookie Marquise Goodwin, have a proven if also enigmatic veteran in Stevie Johnson and make good use of both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson out of the backfield. The Bills do struggle to protect the QB, however. They are 27th in the NFL in sacks per pass play. The Dolphins are getting healthier up front with Paul Soliai and Cameron Wake both nearing 100 percent. Pass pressure has fallen the last couple of weeks so the Dolphins are hoping for a rebound. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: Brandon Fields is the NFL’s leading punter and a weapon in flipping the field in Miami’s favor. The Bills punter is Brian Moorman and he’s averaging a solid 42 net yards per punt but the Bills are lucky to have him because their plan coming out of camp was having Shawn Powell do the job – until Cleveland had 179 yards and a touchdown in return yards. That one went bad. This one went right: The Bills signed former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter and he’s been excellent in that he’s made 12 of 13 kicks, including all three of his attempts of 50 yards or more. Leodis McKelvin, who returned a punt for a touchdown against Miami last season, is back in the punt return role after missing time with an injury.  He has only four returns and is averaging only 9.5 yards per, but he is dangerous. Miami’s Marcus Thigpen also had a TD return against the Bills last season. ADVANTAGE: Even. Coaching: Former Dolphins reserve offensive lineman Doug Marrone is instilling a solid culture in Buffalo. The team seems more disciplined than in the past and has been especially improved on defense where the secondary has played well despite injuries, veteran Mario Williams is having a solid season and linebacker Kiko Alonso is a rookie of the year candidate. The Dolphins have issues to address – no running game, no ability to protect the quarterback -- and coaches have had a week to get it right. The tweaks and adjustments the staff has made to address the issues will be interesting to see. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Intangibles: The Dolphins are coming off a bye. They’ve had two weeks to prepare for this game and are reasonably healthy. Quarterback Thad Lewis, meanwhile, is returning to his home town as an
unexpected starter for Buffalo – a big moment for him. OVERALL ADVANTAGE: Miami.

October 18, 2013

Dolphins work toward limiting Tannehill fumbles

The Dolphins, a team focused on limiting turnovers, spend part of a practice period every day running a gauntlet drill during which offensive players grasp foam footballs and try to hold on to them as defensive players attempt to snatch them away.

The players then run over pads as coaches smack them with other pads to get them used to carrying the football in practice. For obvious reasons, chief being that you don't want players tugging at your quarterback's arms, Ryan Tannehill does not participate in these drills.

The problem for the Dolphins is Tannehill leads the team in fumbles. He has six. He's lost three.

So I asked coach Joe Philbin today what the team does to get Tannehill to stop fumbling.

"We work the quarterbacks all the time," Philbin said. "here's drill work we do, maybe not necessarily in a gauntlet with guys pulling at his arm and things like but we have individual drills where we work on things like that."

Like what?

"There's a couple of different ones," Philbin added. "Sometimes we'll have a guy knock the ball loose from him. We'll have a guy come back and he'll try to recover it. We want to teach him how to step up on the pocket and protect the football type of things."

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Cornerback Dimtri Patterson seems to be improving every day as he tries to return to the lineup after missing four games but he has been limited in drills much of this week and said today he's a game-time decision on Sunday.

Linebacker Dannelll Ellerbe seems unlikely to play as he missed practice for the third consecutive day this week.

The Dolphins have just emerged from a group of games against Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco. One would think they'd be able to keep Patterson out this week against Thad Lewis so that he could be fully healthy and actually practicing in full before facing Tom Brady and New England next week.

The Dolphins injury report is due in a few minutes so check back for the update.

[Update: Ellerbe is doubtful while Patterson is questionable. WR Brandon Gibson (hip) is questionable but I expect him to play, barring a setback.]

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The Dolphins still have only 52 players on the active roster instead of 53. Philbin declined to say if the team is going to fill that spot prior to Sunday's game -- obviously with a practice squad player -- or keep the spot open.

 

October 17, 2013

Ryan Tannehill talks bye, Bills, getting better

Ryan Tannehill took a couple of minutes while not being sacked to discuss the coming game with the Buffalo Bills.

This is what he said:

(On if a quarterback or the defense has an advantage when the defense doesn’t have much tape on a player) – “I don’t know, you look at the offense as a whole.  Not so much one particular person, one quarterback.  You look at the offense as a whole and I’m sure they’ll do some similar things that they’ve done all year.  To say just because they don’t have tape on a certain player in this offense, I wouldn’t say it’s a huge advantage.?

(On one part of the passing game that he wants to get better over the next 11 weeks) – “There’s a lot of areas that we’d like to see get better.  Third down I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far, we’d like to see that continue at the pace it’s at right now and hopefully increase it a little bit.  Down in the red zone we’ve had some success, we took a step back against Baltimore, and we need to get that back on track.  We’d like to hit a few more down the field shots, we’ve been really close at it a few times and we feel like if we hit a couple of those we’re right where we want to be."

(On if Mario Williams is playing another level this year) – “I think he’s doing a really good job, he’s being a threat, he’s moving around, they have him moving around on all different positions on the defensive front.  You can’t just key in on one side of the line or one spot at defensive end for him.  They’ll put him right over the center, bring him in an ‘A’ gap, do a lot of different things with him.  He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with and we’re going to have to handle that."

(On if Ryan Tannehill or Mike Pouncey will be responsible for identifying where Mario Williams is lined up) – “A little bit of both.  Mostly on Mike (Pouncey), but there’s certain situations when we’ll have to identify him."

(On how it has been getting his timing back after the bye week) – “I think once we got a couple periods under our belt on Monday, it was just like we never stopped practicing.  That first 30 minutes on Monday I would say was just getting back into the groove on it.  Once that passed, I feel like we’re right back on track."

(On the importance of the remaining six divisional games) – “They’re huge.  Obviously division games are the ones you look forward to, the ones that you want to win the most.  You play each team twice and in order to win your division, the best way to do it is to win the games in your division.  They’re games we look forward to and we have them all right in front of us, so I feel like that’s and advantage for us."

(On if he’s feeling more confident with Mike Sherman after they’ve been together for a little while) – “Yes, I think so.  We meet every Friday afternoon after we’ve had a full week of practice and go over the game plan, things I like, things I don’t like.  Maybe a little adjustment here, adjustment there.  It really helps us get on the same page, I can understand where he’s going to call things, and what he likes out of the play.  He can understand what I like and what I’m not really feeling."

(On how much a good running game help the entire o-line process) – “It’s huge.  Obviously, not only gaining yards, putting us in 3rd and manageable but opens up play action and those type of things for us as well.  It’s something that we’re really going to focus on heading into the second half of the season and continue grinding.  We understand that there are going to be some games that it’s going to be tough to run the ball but we just have to keep doing it.  Eventually we’re going to break one and gain some good yards."

(On what he did on the bye week to get better, if he watched his first 5 games) – “I didn’t watch them as games, we watch them as cut ups, kind of looked at our tendencies.  We looked at some things that I didn’t do well, some that we did do well, and just tried to evaluate it from a whole, as opposed to each game individually."

(On what he learned about himself specifically what he can improve upon) – “I think one of the things I hit on earlier, is deep balls, we had some opportunities there and   we’re really close, we just need to connect on those.  Like I said, I think we’re doing a decent job on third down, a decent job in the red zone, we can’t let that slack off, we have to continue that.  I think if we hit those deep balls, it would really open up a whole other part of our offense."

(On if the bye week can be used as a flush out, to use the things you’ve done well and eliminate the bad) – “Yes, I think so.  I think we, don’t flush out what you didn’t do well, but learn from it.  Go back, take a look at it, why didn’t it go well, ask questions why.  We have, I don’t remember how many sacks, twenty whatever sacks…why do we have 24 sacks.  We broke it down individually and why each one happened, and now it’s just a matter of fixing those things."

(On if a couple of the sacks were on him) – “Yes, for sure."

(On besides Mario Williams, what additionally catches his attention on the Buffalo defense) –“They show a lot of looks.  They’ll use dime personnel a lot on 3rd down and they show a lot of different looks at you.  It makes it tough to identify, they want to get pressure on the QB and that’s something that we’re going to have to handle."

(On how disruptive is Kiko Alonso for the Bills) – “He’s a good player.  He flies around all over the field, he made some big plays down on the goal line against Cleveland also, I don’t know how many total interceptions he has but you can see he has good ball skills.  When the ball is in the air he’s not afraid to go get it, and feels very comfortable catching the ball.  He’s definitely a guy that we’ll have to account for."

(On after a bye week, losing the last two games before, does it put more of a sense of urgency around it) – “Well it’s definitely a big game.  I don’t think having the bye makes it a bigger game than it is.  I think the bye was great for us, we can kind of learn from the things we didn’t do well and kind of flush that out and just get ready for this game.  We’re looking at it as the first game of the second half of our season."

(On if he’s more of a QB that pats his teammates on the back or yell at them for the results he needs) – “Most of the time pat on the back.  There’s definitely times when I’m unhappy and I may get on a guy."

(On if that is due to his personality or just with this particular team) – “I think it’s a little bit of both.  You have to be able to understand your guys, understand how guys react to being coached, to being talked to.  Each guy is different, each guy has a different personality and it goes for my personality as well.  Leadership is different for everyone, everyone can have a different style of leadership, but you have to use the style that fits you."

October 16, 2013

Philbin promises 'minor' adjustments

The anticipation that the bye week would give the Dolphins coaching staff the opportunity to come to the rest of the season with a new approach and new philosophy was obviously unrealistic. But significant changes based on honest introspective study might also have been too much to expect, if you believe coach Joe Philbin.

"We had three days we were in the office after the Baltimore game," he said Wednesday. "The staff took some time off. The players obviously took some time off. Most of that time, once we got through the Baltimore film and showed it to the players was devoted to ourselves primarily, number one, before we moved on to Buffalo.

"Certainly, I think there will be some adjustments that you will see. You can’t make a lot of wholesale. We will still do the things we do and believe in, but there will be some minor adjustments."

Minor adjustments?

Well, top on that list offensively might be getting the ball out quicker. No, you won't see more three-step drops because offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is wary of teams jumping routes.

But quicker passes might be in order. Receiver screens that proved successful when used sparingly early on might become more of a staple -- they get the ball in the hands of receivers, give them a chance to make a play in space, and keep Ryan Tannehill from getting hit.

You might see a moving pocket now and again.

You might see the team actually move Mike Wallace around a bit -- something done frustratingly little so far.

On defense, you might see more pressure blitzes from the outside -- with Koa Misi.

You might see just a bit more of rookie Dion Jordan.

It's not going to be "wholesale" changes, according to Philbin.

But a little adjustment can't be bad.

October 15, 2013

Dolphins cut one, curious to see who they add

The Dolphins this evening announced they cut DT Marvin Austin, which is not an intriguing move other than it strongly suggests the team is about to fill the vacant roster spot with another player.

And that means the Dolphins are trying to add a player to help them the remainder of this year.

But here's the deal, it is not a running back, as a source told me this evening the Dolphins are not looking in that direction right now.

Before going further, allow me to back up a bit ... Today was an interesting day in that I heard there was a lot of activity within the personnel department even as General Manager Jeff Ireland was not around. (He was apparently off scouting).

The activity was so obvious, assistant GM Brian Gaine came to practice after it had begun and had a short meeting with coach Joe Philbin right there on the field -- during practice.

I cannot report anything absolutely concrete, such as phone calls to other teams or agents, but I do know the Dolphins are working toward something.

And then the Austin move happened. And then I was told the corresponding move might be to add an offensive lineman.

The Dolphins, you see, are aware quarterback Ryan Tannehill is very valuable. And their very valuable asset has been treated like a rag doll the first five games of the season, getting sacked a team-record pace 24 times in five games.

So I asked if an offensive lineman might be on the way, And, yes, the possibility exists, was the answer.

The questions remains who?

Bryant McKinnie might be available although he hasn't exactly played great.

I'd love it to be Tampa Bay OT Donald Penn but don't wish to speculate the move would be that big.

The Bills also cut guard Colin Brown on Tuesday, so there's a possibility the Dolphins might be interested in the 28-year-old who has started the past five games for Buffalo.

We'll see.

 

Notes from Tuesday practice and interviews

In 1988, the pass-intensive Dolphins delivered to Don Shula only his second losing season in Miami in part because they could not run the football. That team rushed for a franchise low 1,205 yards en route to a 6-10 record.

The 2013 Dolphins are a solid 3-2 so far. But they are having more trouble running the football than that long-ago terrible running team.

The Dolphins have 348 rushing yards in five games. They are averaging 69.6 rushing yards per game.

At the current pace the team is going to finish with a historically franchise low 1,114 rushing yards for the season. Does that worry latter day Dolphins coach Joe Philbin?

"I'm not concerned about franchise marks and where we stand with other teams," Philbin said Tuesday. "I want us to be a better running football team, no question about it. I think we will be. But I'm not concerned about comparing us to other teams here."

It is encouraging that Philbin believes better rushing performances are coming. He says the Dolphins have "core" running plays and "have some plays we believe in very strongly," that will lift the team from its current No. 29 rush offense NFL ranking.

One answer might be to actually run the ball a bit more because the Dolphins are only 26th in rush yards per play. More runs, more yards.

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Practice update: Every player on the roster participated, at least on a limited basis, in practice today. Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe spent part of practice rehabbing his shoulder during the part of practice open to the media but when practice was over he was drenched in sweat, taped up and carrying his helmet off the field, suggesting he participated to some degree. There is no practice or injury report due today so the Dolphins won't provide any official word on whether Ellerbe practiced or not. But it looks as if he did.

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Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is a strong believer in attacking the opposing offenses. He doesn't like the idea his defense is a "bend-but-don't-break" unit.

"Yeah, I hate that term, to be honest with you," Coyle said.

Well, then he should speak with head coach Joe Philbin, who today said his defense has been living by a "bend-but-not-break philosophy."

"I think we've given up some yards," Philbin said. "But in tight situations we've played relatively well. There's been a lot of room for improvement, whether it be third down or the red zone. I think we have a chance to improve as the second half of the season kicks off. After the bye week I see us playing better."

Coyle, meanwhile, sees his defense as an aggressive bunch with that kind of philosophy. Disagreement on semantics aside, both men agree the Dolphins defense is likely to improve.

"We’ve been an aggressive defense," he said. "We aren’t satisfied with the way we’ve played through five games. I think I mentioned it last week, we’ve been inconsistent. There have been flashes of very good play, individual play, but collectively we haven’t had a game where we came out and just flat played from start to finish the way we are capable of. We are working hard. The players are working hard.

"I really believe it’s going to start to come. We’ve got too good of players, and we trust our scheme and what we are doing. We have an aggressive scheme. We have an attacking scheme. That’s why I’m not joking when I say to you I don’t like that term (bend-don’t-break) because although in games it’s looked like that this way this year because we haven’t had the three-and-out consistency or the big play consistency defensively that I believe we can have and hopefully we have here soon as we go forward. We want to get after people. We want to create turnovers. We want to be dictating the tempo of the game. That’s what we plan to do from here on out."

Dolphins defense focused on limiting big plays

One of the areas of concern the Dolphins identified in the offseason -- allowing explosive plays on defense -- was a topic of much conversation and study for the team during the bye week, as coaches tried to figure out why a defense that had limited those plays the season's first three weeks had imploded the past two games.

Against the Saints, the Dolphins yielded three explosive passes (defined by the team as covering 25 yards or more) and one explosive run (defined by the team as a run of 15 yards or more). Then against Baltimore, the defense allowed pass completions of 40, 41 and 43 yards to Joe Flacco and also was hit on a 28-yard run by Bernard Pierce.

The eight so-called explosive plays Miami allowed in the last two games outnumbered the six it had allowed in three previous games. And even the the six previous big plays was too much, if you ask coach Joe Philbin.

No wonder the coach said stopping explosive plays this week against Buffalo is a priority on defense.

"Number one is, we’ve given up too many explosive plays," Philbin said. "That’s something we need to address. We need to do a better job at. I would like to get people in a little longer-yard situations so we can kind of tee up on them, get our pass rush going, our blitz package or drop eight, a variety of all those things. But we have to do a better job of limiting explosive plays, no doubt. "

That is largely the assignment for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who obviously studied the issue so closely he recalled the individual plays from memory on Monday.

"Last week we had four explosive plays," Coyle began. "The first plus 20 yard run we gave up in the entire season was last week. It was in a defense that we didn’t fit the run correctly. It really was a play to our advantage to where they ran the ball and how they did it, yet the ball popped out and they gained 28 yards on it. We need to get that corrected, and I think we have.

"There were three passes, three big passes in that game the other day of 40 yards plus. Two of those came after a completion of about six yards. On the first one we missed a tackle and the guy ran for another 30 some odd yards. There was another one on an over route. We were in great position. It looked like we were going to intercept the ball, and we didn’t make the play on the ball at that point."

I asked Coyle about his level of concern given his boss's worries.

"I’m as concerned or more concerned than coach (Philbin) is about the big plays, but you’ve got to analyze how they are happening," he said. "Sometimes if they are happening, which is balls being thrown vertically down the field, then you have some issues in terms of the matchups. We haven’t really had those major problems thus far this year. I think we are just going to have to make more plays on the ball, create more pressure on the quarterback and hopefully we’ll see those things diminish quite a bit."

The problem with that is Miami hasn't really been at full strength defensively in recent weeks and the big plays have been the fallout result.

With defensive end Cameron Wake mostly out with a knee injury the past two weeks, the Dolphins haven't gotten the kind of pass rush they usually get when he's healthy. Starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson has missed four games and that has had a ripple effect throughout the secondary.

As Patterson is out, that means Nolan Carroll moves up to start and Jimmy Wilson moves up to nickel duty. So the Dolphins are putting their fourth-best rather than third-best cornerback on the field in nickel situations. And with Carroll dinged up at times in recent weeks, rookie Jamar Taylor has been pressed into duty at times. That's the fifth-best cornerback on the field.

(The Dolphins, by the way, are hopeful both Wake and Patterson will be available against Buffalo but it's still too early in the week to know for sure. I'd say Wake is expected to play. Patterson remains a bit of a question mark.)

Safety Chris Clemons has also been limited in practice for several weeks with various injuries. He missed part of the work Monday and Wilson took snaps at safety. That means Taylor must have had to take some snaps at nickel.

It is obviously difficult to get everyone working as a cohesive group when the group's individuals parts are often changing. Despite this, Coyle says the goal set at the beginning of the season when everyone was mostly healthy remains the goal today:

Cut down on big plays.

"We need to do a better job," he said. "We set that as a primary goal going into the season."

October 14, 2013

Highlights from the Mike Sherman weekly media session (yes, sacks were brought up)

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's job the past eight days since the Dolphins last played was partly to correct the Dolphins pass protection. So I asked him today if he thinks that happened during the bye week.

"I don't think you can tell until you get into the game," the Dolphins offensive coordinator said. "You have to understand, when you go against the Saints and their two rushers and I thought their inside guys are two of the better ones and they've caused people some problems, they certainly caused us problems. And this week we have the same thing and we have to be able to hold up. We have been in a situation where we've gone against some pretty dang good rushers and we have to keep our quarterback erect and we didn't do that. And that lies on me as much as anybody else."

So, we'll find out starting Sunday.

I asked Sherman about right tackle Tyson Clabo. Although Sherman likes to focus the pass protection problem on the entire group, I'm interested to see what the Dolphins do to get the right tackle spot right because Clabo has given up five sacks in five games and that is a pace for giving up 16 sacks this year and ...

"I hate it when you guys do that math because it normally doesn't work out," Sherman said, interrupting my question. "I say normally because I don't anticipate that will happen ... It's going to even out."

That's good. But my question was whether the Dolphins have put Clabo on notice that he needs to clean up his performance or lose his job?

Sherman, good guy by the way, joked that he was hoping I would forget my question and it would go away so that's why he interrupted and went a different direction. (Perhaps on most days it might've worked. But as the bye has refreshed me, I was sort of on my question-asking game today, so I remembered my thought.)

And the answer?

"He understands the situation," Sherman said. "It's easy to say, 'Let's put this guy in or that guy in.' There's a reason he's our starting tackle going all the way back to when he got here and the body of work he was doing previous to that, and other have done. We've gone into this thing with him and we're hoping he can iron some things out. And we can iron some things out as an offense as well and help the situation. No one cares more about it than he does. He's working hard. And I know that's not the answer people want to hear but it is the bottom line and because of the way he works, he'll work through this thing. I think he'll work through it and we'll be fine."

Sherman dismissed the idea that perhap the Dolphins should go to a more quick passing game with more three-step drops. He said Miami is primarily a five-step drop team. The Dolphins, Sherman said, run between seven and eight three-step drop pass plays per game and doing more than that would allow opponents to begin jumping those routes.

"People can sit on those pretty quickly," Sherman said.

So what about running a few and them going with a double move?

How about bubble screens? The Dolphins had success with that play against Indianapolis, scoring a touchdown, but didn't run another that I recall until the Baltmore game. Hopefully those become more a staple for Miami.

Sherman offered a statistic bathed in optimism about the amount of punishment quarterback Ryan Tannehill has taken. He said that although the number of sacks Tannehill is taking this year, 24 so far, is up, the number of actual hits on the quarterback are down.

"Hits on quarterbacks are down, it's just that sacks are up," Sherman said. "At the end of the game you ask Ryan how he's doing and he says, 'I feel fine.' The less hits you have on your quarterback that he doesn't see are as damaging in relationship to his health. And it hasn't been an inordinate number, ironically. We don't count sacks as hits because it's a sack and we obviously have to clean it up because sacks change field position and in the last game we were minus-35 yards on offense. We certainly cannot afford to do that."

So, basically the number of hits on Tannehill are down although sacks are up and sacks don't count as hits. I'm sure that makes Tannehill feel better.