« October 2013 | Main | December 2013 »

68 posts from November 2013

November 30, 2013

Keys to the game: Dolphins at Jets

I picked the Dolphins to beat the Jets on Sunday.

I simply believe Ryan Tannehill is better than Geno Smith. And, you'll read on Sunday, I believe Tannehill can carry his team at the end of this season. I'll link to that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, how do the rest of these teams match up?


When the Dolphins pass the football: Well, seems Ryan Tannehill discovered Mike Wallace last week. He threw the ball deep and threw it often to the dynamic deep threat receiver. And while that resulted in only a couple of big plays and a touchdown, it didn’t mean all is well. Tannehill and Wallace are still a work in progress. Tannehill still underthrows his speedy receiver way too often. That needs work. The Dolphins also have to find a way to get more consistency out of Charles Clay as his performances have been uneven as defenses change coverages and have been successful containing him in all but a handful of games. The New York pass defense is susceptible to the big play, as Baltimore showed last week. The addition of Ed Reed at safety hasn’t helped that yet. Antonio Cromartie, the team’s best defensive back, may play against the Dolphins but his is not 100 percent healthy. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: This might get ugly. The team that managed two yards rushing against Tampa Bay and has failed to post the league average 4.2 yards per rush in five games this season, including last week against the Panthers, is facing the NFL’s top rush defense. That suggests something of a mismatch. And while the Dolphins hope the return of center Mike Pouncey can reinvigorate the run game, it should be pointed out Pouncey played in that fateful game against Tampa Bay three weeks ago. The Jets are getting great play from Muhammad Wilkerson who leads a front seven that is among the best in the NFL. With running back Daniel Thomas out with an ankle injury, rookie Mike Gillislee may get a few carries. ADVANTAGE: New York.

When the Jets run the football: The only way the Jets will move the ball consistently against the Dolphins is by running. The Jets have a solid offensive line that is relatively healthy and they have two solid, albeit not great, runners in Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Quarterback Geno Smith also is a run threat when he needs to get out of the pocket, but he’s definitely not a Cam Newton or Steve Young. The Dolphins have been surprisingly poor against the run this year. They are 26th in the NFL against the run. And it’s getting worse as the season progresses. The Dolphins have given up 136 rushing yards or more in each of the past five games. What was a stout run defense in 2011 (No. 3 in the NFL) has found a way to let a big leak out the middle of the line in several games this year. ADVANTAGE: New York..

When the Jets pass the football: They’re a mess passing the football. The conversation about Geno Smith the past few weeks has been whether he’d be benched rather than whether he’s improving or not. Smith is a turnover machine with 18 interceptions and five lost fumbles. He doesn’t read defenses well pre-snap and doesn’t read the field well during the play. His receiver corps is led by, of course, Jeremy Kerley. Moe and Larry were left unsigned in the offseason. Stephen Hill hasn’t caught a TD pass in four games and Santonio Holmes hasn’t been fully healthy for over a year. The Dolphins are coming off an uneven game in the secondary because Nolan Carroll was surprisingly great against Carolina and Brent Grimes had perhaps his worst game of the season. Dimitri Patterson is out Sunday. No surprise. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: MetLife Stadium, like the Meadowlands before it, is a difficult place to kick in the winter because strong winds not only blow through the stadium but do so in different directions. Dolphins rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis will soon find this out. Josh Cribbs has taken over from Clyde Gates as the Jets’ kickoff returne man and while he is not the dynamic player he was four years ago, he was an upgrade nonetheless. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: New York’s Rex Ryan started the season on the hot seat. But he took ownership of the New York defense and has made the decision to stay with a rookie quarterback. His job is not completely safe but he has kept a team with a flawed roster in the postseason conversation. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has a more talented roster than the Jets and is getting uneven results from that roster but he has kept the team together in the face of an uncomfortable NFL investigation. ADVANTAGE: New York.

November 29, 2013

Dolfans planning a MetLife Takeover

You have no nidea how many Dolphins home games I've covered where the other team's visiting crowd has become an embarrassment to the Dolphins' organization and actually a problem for the team on the field. (StubHub, quite frankly, is not a friend of the Miami Dolphins ticket office). Pittsburgh games come to mind. Even in the early 1990s, Buffalo fans seemed to turn late-season games between the Dolphins and Bills into something of a vacation.

Well, this weekend a hearty group of Dolphins fans -- approximately 760 strong -- will be taking over practically every seat in section 322 and 323 at MetLife Stadium while the Dolphins visit the Jets.

They're calling it a MetLife Takeover. You know the thing's a big deal when it has its own hashtag and Facebook page ... #MetLifeTakeover.

This is the second year that a group of NYC Dolfans get together to attend this game. Last year, there were 200 fans who participated. So the growth in the group is palatable.

The group will tailgate in Lot L before the game starting at around 9:15 a.m. The group is arriving in four buses as well as other assorted vehicles. Last year, team owner Stephen Ross visited the tailgate. No word whether he might make another appearance this year.

The Dolphins in many respects remain a national team. Fans who grew up in Dan Marino's heyday or got close to the team during the Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor era are buying tickets now around the country as well as in South Florida.

If you wish to join the event go to the Facebook page or find @DolfanNYC on twitter.

I'm sure Jets fans love this.

Consider the event in 2012

November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is Thanksgiving Day. On behalf of Dolphins In Depth and The Miami Herald, I want to wish you a very Happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day.

The past few weeks I've been inundated with reams of emails from unhappy and dissatisfied Dolphins fans. I understand your sentiments. I feel you.

But all is not lost. Not even with the 2013 Dolphins.

The team is still in the playoff conversation the first week of December.

There's still a chance the disappointment of the season can be forgotten amid a late-season rally. (I don't expect it, but there's a chance).

Even if there's no Cinderalla carriage ride to the postseason, I think these Dolphins still have things to be thankful for:

They should be thankful for Dion Jordan's future ... (Used correctly and if he stays healthy, this kid is going to be very good).

They should be thankful Olivier Vernon already has more sacks in less than two seasons with the Dolphins (11) than he had in three seasons at the University of Miami (9).

They should be thankful Tyson Clabo, benched one week after the team made the trade for Bryant McKinnie, is a consummate professional. Seemingly cast to the side, Clabo did not sulk nor leave the team. He kept his head down, worked, and two weeks later was back in the starting lineup.

They should be thankful Nate Garner is a super sub. And a versatile one, too. The starter at center the past two weeks, he'll start at left guard on Sunday.

They should be thankful for Brent Grimes's rebuilt Achilles' tendon.

They should be thankful for Mike Wallace's speed.

They should be thankful for the quick chemistry the slot receivers -- Brandon Gibson first and then Rishard Matthews -- forged with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

They should be thankful for Brandon Fields flipping the field -- over and over and over and over.

They should be thankful for John Denney never missing on a long snap. Never.

They should be thankful Tannehill is only 25 and really wants to be better.

They should be thankful Cameron Wake is almost 32 and really wants to be better.

They should be thankful the media missed it on significant stories about the NFL scandal because, I perceive, things won't look nearly as bad when the Ted Wells report is released as we thought it might. Yes, there were some problems and those will come out and must not be diminished. But Code Reds? Orders from the GM to an agent that one player punch another? Nope.

They should be thankful for committees. Weeeee! Committees! Might as well be thankful for them because they're coming down the tracks.

They should be thankful Mike Pouncey has a gallbladder made of steel.

They should be thankful Randy Starks chooses to express himself through his obvious ornithophilia.

They should be thankful they don't play a winless team every week.

They should be thankful for overtime.

They should be thankful for Brian Hartline's consistency.

They should be thankful for redshirt seasons because Jamar Taylor, Will Davis, and Dallas Thomas certainly are getting one. 

They should be thankful for Go.

They should be thankful for Go-Go.

They should be thankful some people out there actually believe it doesn't matter.

Joe Philbin's tie should be thankful for Dawn Aponte.

Joe Philbin's wallet should be thankful for Stephen Ross.

Joe Philbin's post-game victory speech should be thankful for index cards.

Mike Sherman should be thankful for Joe Philbin.

Zac Taylor should be thankful for Mike Sherman.

All the Dolphins players should be thankful for their health. Will Yeatman, Brandon Gibson, and Dustin Keller should be thankful for complete and speedy recoveries and the Dolphins doctors, trainers and rehabilitation staff that will make that possible.

Dolphins fans should be thankful for Kevin Coyle's honesty and forthrightness.

Fans at Sun Life Stadium should be thankful to Richie Incognito for his explanation on how to be civil.

Richie Incognito should be thankful for out-of-court settlements and lawyers.

Richie Incognito should be thankful an assault on a female golf course volunteer doesn't merit a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team even if alleged verbal assaults on a 315-pound teammate does.

The Dolphins should be thankful Matt Moore has been a luxury and not a necessity -- not because he wouldn't be good, but because it means the guy in front of him has so far survived 44 sacks.

The Dolphins should be thankful Matt Moore is on the roster -- just in case something happens the final month.

The Dolphins should be thankful for four division games the final month. (It's a chance to show their mettle).

The Dolphins should be thankful for the New York Jets ... because everybody should have a turkey to carve on Thanksgiving week.


November 27, 2013

Wallace vs. Cromartie: Shut the other guy up

It was obvious last week the Carolina Panthers had no idea how to stop Dolphins reciever Mike Wallace. He was open short, deep, intermediate. He scored one touchdown on a 57-yard catch but he might have had three other TDs if passes had caught him in stride or he'd made some tough catches.

It was a classic mismatch.

This weekend when the Dolphins face the New York Jets, there should be less of a mismatch available to Wallace because it should be Antonio Cromartie shadowing him all over the MetLife Stadium field. 

If Cromartie, who is nursing a hip injury, plays, then New York's finest cornerback will be locked up on Wallace.

(Yes, it's possible the Jets might decide to play Cromartie in man against No. 2 WR Brian Hartline and then double and roll coverages to Wallace).

But that would be unexpected.

And if this matchup plays out as expected -- as Wallace surely expects it will -- the key might be gaining the upper hand early and making the Jets loud cornerback something of a mute.

"He's a smart guy. He talks a lot," Wallace said. "He's going to try to get in your head so you just got to make plays and shut him up. Shut him up early, I think it'll be a long day for him."

Ah yes, but the battle of words is fought with a two-edged sword. If Wallace makes plays early and shuts up Cromartie, apparently taking some of his swag in the process, then the Dolphins receiver has the edge.

But if Wallace can't make plays early in the game, Cromartie's chirping will get louder. The cornerback's confidence will grow -- perhaps in conjunction with Wallace's frustration. And then? 

"If not, it could the other way around. It'll be a long day for you," Wallace admits. "You just got to try to make plays and stay into the game and not get caught up in the extra stuff with him. I know he's going to talk. At the same time, he's a guy who can talk and back it up so I'm not going to take anything away from him."

It is hard to take anything away from Cromartie (except maybe a child support check) because he is a physical freak.

"He's a tall, long, rangey guy who even though he's that big, he likes to shadow and just play full speed," Wallace said.

Wallace played against the Jets last season when he was with the Steelers. He caught five passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

A repeat of that kind of day might be considered something of a win by the Dolphins.

November 26, 2013

Pouncey on Jets game: 'I'll be out there'

Mike Pouncey missed the past two starts with what started as food poisoning, developed into some mysterious gallbladder issue and included a hospital stay. Well, it'll soon be time to get back to normal.

Pouncey practiced today at least on a limited basis and said he'll be in the starting lineup against the New York Jets Sunday.

"I' feel great," Pouncey said. "I'll be out there."

Pouncey, who looked extremely thin since his illness, said he has regained all of his weight. Pouncey had previously said he'd lost only five pounds. It looked like more than that. And he still looks on the thin side.

But sometimes you have to take a man at his word.

Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who missed last week's game against Carolina with the season-long groin injury, worked at least on a limited basis in practice today.

The Dolphins signed defensive tackle A.J. Francis off the New England practice squad last night. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Francis was with the Dolphins during training camp. He was cut and picked up by the Patriots, who eventually put him on practice squad.

"It was tough going up to New England because it was tough learning the system on the fly," Francis said. "They're not teaching the system, they're preparing for a game. So you have to learn while they're going. It took me to be honest, a couple of weeks and closer to a month to be completely familiar with the system and get where I was down here."

Catching back up with the Dolphins should be hard for Francis. He said a couple of calls have changed but otherwise catching up was easy.

"I got the call yesterday morning, packed up my bags and studied my old notes on the flight for thre-and-a-half hours and I'm pretty much back to where I was when I left," he said.


Tuesday PFF and Salguero study of Carlina game

It's metrics day at Dolphins In Depth and as every Tuesday our partners at ProFootballFocus.com drop knowledge from the last game on the blog, let's get right to it.

As always the folks at PFF tell you what they saw from their tape study. I add insight an opinion where I can.


Each member of the offensive line received a negative grade for the game, with left tackle Bryant McKinnie (-4.2) receiving the lowest and Sam Brenner and Nate Garner (-1.3) getting the highest grades.

Salguero: Sam Brenner and Nate Garner received the highest grades? So the two guys who were either backups or on the practice squad played the best among all the Dolphins offensive linemen? This line is going to be an offseason reconstruction project.

G David Arkin took the first four professional snaps of his career when Sam Brenner left briefly with an injury.

Salguero: Arkin, signed the first week of November, was active ahead of former Eagles first-round pick Danny Watkins. Watkins joined the club in October. He was inactive Sunday. Enough said.

Due to running back Daniel Thomas’ ankle injury, Lamar Miller played a season high 54 snaps.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was 3-for-7 on throws of 20-plus yards down the field for 136 yards. When blitzed, Tannehill went 5-for-8 with 59 yards. He took one sack.

Overall, Tannehill was 7-for-7 throwing against Carolina CB Captain Munnerlyn.

On the three carries Lamar Miller ran to the middle right (behind Garner and John Jerry) he produced minus-7 yards.

Mike Wallace caught both of his 50-yard passes against Captain Munnerlyn, but struggled with two drops against Drayton Florence.

Brian Hartline caught 3 passes for 68 yards against rookie Melvin White.


Dion Jordan played a season high 33 snaps, including 10 snaps dropping into coverage, also a season high.

Salguero: Well, it's not what fans want because it still shows the No. 3 overall pick is a part-time player. But defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle promised more work for Jordan and the player got it. Look for continued advancement in this area as the season winds down. This stat, by the way, suggests coaches are seeing progress and trusting Jordan more. Fans, I suspect, did that a while back.

OLB Philip Wheeler had six stops, tying his season high, and had his highest graded game in pass coverage this season (+2.9).

Salguero: Coyle said he was very pleased with Wheeler's performance and now you have the metrics to prove it.

Cameron Wake didn’t have a sack, but did record 7 hurries, his highest number of the season.

Salguero: He also hit Cam Newton in the mouth during the first quarter and the Carolina quarterback was caught on camera spitting out blood. 

Cornerback Nolan Carroll gave up just four catches on 12 targets, including holding former Dolphin Ted Ginn to one catch on seven targets when in coverage against him.

Salguero: Good news for Carroll because he's going to be the target of much attention come the division games against New York, Buffalo and, of course, New England. Those teams have shown a desire to pick on Carroll in the past. It's good news for him he had a confidence building game.

Cornerback Brent Grimes had one of his worst days of the season, allowing seven catches for 72 yards on nie targets. Steve Smith caught five of six targets for 69 yards on Grimes.

Salguero: Smith also had the big catch on fourth-and-10 in the fourth quarter against Grimes, who also missed the tackle along with Chris Clemons. Tough day.

November 25, 2013

Dolphins coordinators offer insight

The Dolphins offensive and defensive coordinators spoke with the media this afternoon and here's what they offered:

Offensive coordinator Miker Sherman said running back Daniel Thomas, who left the locker room in a walking boot and on crutches Sunday evening, is obviously not playing anytime soon.

"With Daniel Thomas out of the picture certainly [Mike] Gillislee has to step up, [Marcus] Thigpen has to step up. [Lamar] Miller as well," Sherman said.

Sherman did not go so far as to say Thomas is done for the year, as some are reporting. Thomas is out indefinitely. But it is obvious that with only five games remaining, Thomas's status for the remainder of the year is in serious doubt.

The Dolphins are the only NFL team that has failed to score more than 27 points in a game this season. That is obviously terrible news in a league that basically mandates big offensive output.

"Yeah, it''s frustrating for me and it's frustrating for our players as well, I'm sure, that we're not more successful than we can be," Sherman said. "Every week you go back to work and roll up your sleeves and try to do it better. Carolina came in here as one of the hottest teams in the National Football League. I have a lot of respect for their defense, obviously their offense as well. I knew it was going to be a challenge but we still felt very good about going into this ballgame and playing at home and what we possibly could do. We had moments in the ballgame, not enough of them, but we did have moments in the ballgame and did some really good things. And at times we didn't. But it's going tough, we threw the ball for over 300, but you have to be able to run the football. The 300 passing, I'd give that away any day to get 150 rushing. You have to be able to run the ball to be effective and we have to find a way to get the balance we so desperately need. We don't have that balance right now." Overthrown

I said yesterday on twitter that I was almost relieved to see Ryan Tannehill overthrow Mike Wallace on one of his passes because i was starting to wonder if Tannehill could get over that mental hump. (You see the overthrow in the photo courtesy The Herald's Joe Rimkus).

Sherman agreed for reasons that probably have to do with avoiding interceptions.

"I'd rather have him overthrow than underthrow," Sherman said.

The Dolphins haven't scored a fourth quarter touchdown in seven games -- dating back to December. What's Sherman's diagnosis?

"My diagnosis is we better get that fixed because we have to some touchdowns in the fourth quarter if we expect to win," Sherman said, adding there is no common denominator to the problem.

"There's nothing common about it. We have not been very efficient in my mind overall, not just in the fourth quarter. We have to be more consistent as an offense overall. We can put together a great highlight tape but also we can put together a not-so-great. And we have eliminate the not-so-great and get more great. And that's what our focus is on and that includes the fourth quarter." 

Sherman said the last pass of the ballgame that might have changed the outcome of the game had Mike Wallace caught a Ryan Tannehill pass at the 1 yard line "was a great pass" by Tannehill.

But he didn't blame Wallace for not catching it.

"It would have been a great catch if he had made that catch," Sherman said. "I wasn't an easy catch."

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, meanwhile, did something that we so very rarely see out of head coach Joe Philbin. In honest and straightforward fashion, Coyle addressed a coaching mistake.

He did so in discussing the defense Miami played on the next to last play of the half when the Dolphins played their secondary deep -- with defenders lined up at the goal line -- but leaving a wide gap between those defenders and the line of scrimmage.

The Panthers completed a short pass and gained 28 yards in seven seconds to set themselves up for a field goal. What should have been a 16-3 halftime lead turned into a much more tenuous 16-6 lead.

Coyle said that with a QB such as Cam Newton, capable of throwing a 60-yard pass with ease, he thought the Panthers might take a shot at the end zone.

"And with that mindset, I made a call that in retrospect I wish I could get back," Coyle said. "There was a penalty and I should have changed the call in my opinion after the penalty and he was back a little further. Not that he couldn't have thrown the ball to the end zone, which he could have.

"We were playing for him to throw the ball deep and it was my mistake. It wasn't the players in any way, shape, or form."

Compare that honesty to the answer Philbin gave about the same play and situation after the game:

"Actually, we brought some pressure, to be quite frank with you," Philbin said. "They made a good play, credit them. The ball was on the ground a little bit, they picked it up and made a nice play. The receiver did a smart thing and got out of bounds. It was a good play by them. Absolutely a good play."

By the way, given another chance today, Philbin again stressed what a good play it was by Carolina and defended the Dolphins approach -- thus defending an error.

Coyle, by the way, praised the work done by Nolan Carroll and Phillip Wheeler in Sunday's game.

Terrible Sunday for Dolphins (in more ways than one)

Sunday was a disaster for the Dolphins.

Think of this: The Dolphins were leading Carolina 16-6 at halftime ... and lost. Hours later, the rival New England Patriots were trailing the Denver Broncos 24-0 at halftime ... and won.

Terrible for Dolphins nation.

The Patriots erased a 24-point lead after turning the ball over three times, despite the fact Denver running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 224 yards and despite the fact the Broncos had Peyton Manning at QB.

The Dolphins?

As I wrote in my column in today's edition of The Herald, they played to a script we've seen before. They did what we've come to expect, particularly in the fourth quarter when the offense can't seem to score a touchdown and the defense found a way to fold.

The Dolphins remain in playoff contention. But that's more a result of how flawed the struggling conference teams are.

Can the Dolphins catch the Patriots and win the division? Not based on what I saw Sunday.

November 24, 2013

Disappointing, heartbreaking loss for the Dolphins (again)

This one hurts. No, really.

The Dolphins led this game 16-3 at halftime. Even that was somethinng of a disaster because they gave up a late field goal to end the half when they played coverage at the goal line, apparently not realizing Carolina could move for a field goal with two seconds remaining.

Anyway, despite that lead, the Dolphins collapsed in the second half.

They didn't score a point in the half.

They gave up two touchdowns, including a two-yard TD pass from Cam Newton tight end Greg Olsen with 43 second left to play.

Panthers 20.

Dolphins 16.

Dolphins fans have seen this before. Miami led New England 17-3 last month and lost.

Live blog: Dolphins vs. Panthers

It's all there for the Dolphins today.

No, really, by the end of the day the Dolphins could find themselves alone in second place in the AFC East, only one game out of first place if the following scenario happens:

The Dolphins beat Carolina. The Jets and Pats lose games they may very well lose.

But ...

The Dolphins have to do their part. First. Foremost.

They must beat a team that has won six consecutive games.

The Dolphins inactives today are no surprise: C Mike Pouncey, G Danny Watkins, CB Dimitri Patterson, QB Mike Gillislee, QB Pat Devlin, and DT Isaako Aaitui.

So Nolan Carroll starts at CB. The offensive line is the same as last week with Sam Brenner at left guard and Nate Garner at center.

There's a live blog today. Join:

November 23, 2013

Ted Wells: Initial round of interviews are over

NFL investigator Ted Wells, looking into the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga, released this statement on Saturday night:

"We have concluded our initial round of interviews with the Miami Dolphins and spent time with every player and coach, as well as key staff members and management. Our work will continue over the next few weeks. I want to thank Stephen Ross, the Dolphins organization and its players, coaches and staff for their complete cooperation throughout this process."

Every player and coach?


It has been so far known that Wells talked at length with Incognito, center Mike Pouncey and offensive line coach Jim Turner.

It is surprising he says he's spoken to every Dolphins player and coach.

Also, this statement suggests there might be another round of interviews and the investigation might last  a "few weeks" more.

The NFL placed no timetable on the Wells investigation.

I've been told Ted Wells's interiew with offensive line coach Jim Turner took approximately two hours. His interview with with most players lasted approximately 15 minutes but the interviews with Richie Incognito took more than five hours over two days and the interview with center Mike Pouncey took more than an hour, although a source declined to give the exact amount of time.

I reported last week Pouncey and Turner were of particular interest in this investigation.

Jonathan Martin's attorney alleged his cliented endured a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate, and that attack was the topic of repeated questions of Pouncey and others. The Herald's Barry Jackson reported the alleged attack happened at Pouncey's home in 2012.

As I reported Saturday afternoon, Pouncey will not play against Carolina on Sunday.

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/dolphins_in_depth/2013/11/statement-from-jonathan-martin-attorney-here.html#storylink=cpy

Pouncey to miss second consecutive game

Mike Pouncey, who missed last week's game against San Diego, will miss his second consecutive game on Sunday. Pouncey will not play against the Carolina Panthers, per a source.

Pouncey, who was listed as doubtful for the game, will likely be replaced by Nate Garner as he was last week.

It is likely rookie Sam Brenner, who moved into the starting lineup last week when Garner moved from left guard to center, will once again be called upon on Sunday. Danny Watkins is also expected to get snaps.

Pouncey missing this game is not a big surprise. He did not practice during the past week despite rejoining the Dolphins after suffering an illness that started with food poisoning.

Keys to the game: Dolphins vs. Panthers

The Panthers are on a roll, having won six straight. The Dolphins have won two of their last three games.

Who wins?

Well, let's start by who has the edge:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Despite their wide receiver shopping spree in the offseason the Dolphins have been unable to put a dynamic passing game on the field. Instead, the team has five receivers, none of which are averaging over 12.5 yards per catch. The longest pass play last week and the longest pass play of the season has gone to tight end Charles Clay, which is great news for him as it shows he’s emerging as a fine player. But that is not such good news for speedy Mike Wallace or Brian Hartline. The problem is quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s deep ball accuracy. He promises a new approach this week. The Panthers are outstanding against the pass because they attack the quarterback, as they are eighth in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks, may not play due to a knee injury. Dolphins offensive tackles can only hope. ADVANTAGE: Carolina.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Dolphins are actually running the ball better this year on a yard per carry basis than they did last year but the number of runs simply haven’t been enough to make the improvement matter. The Dolphins last week got great efforts from Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller as both had very good days breaking tackles or making tacklers miss. The Panthers are the best run-stopping team the Dolphins have faced so far this season. They’re third in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game. The first-round additions of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly the past two years has turned the middle of the defense into a strength. ADVANTAGE: Carolina.

When the Panthers run the football: The problem here for the Dolphins is not only that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are healthy, but that quarterback Cam Newton is a legitimate dual threat with the run as well as the pass. In his first 42 games, Newton has passed for 56 touchdowns and rushed for 26 touchdowns. Newton is actually the team’s second-leading rusher with 328 yards but because his runs often come out of the spread option or as a result of his scrambling, they are a headache for a defense trying to contain him. The Dolphins have a player – Dion Jordan – who is bigger, stronger, and faster than Newton so if they want to spy him, they have the ability. The question is will the Dolphins go with such an unorthodox approach? ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Panthers pass the football: Ted Ginn and the family are back in town. Well, Ginn is back to play his former team in South Florida for the first time since being traded in 2009. Ginn was a member of the 49ers last year but he was almost exclusively a returner. He is now Carolina’s deep-threat option as his 17.1 yard per catch average suggests. The top receiving option for the Panthers remains Steve Smith who is headed for a familiar matchup with Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, whom he often faced when both players were in the NFL South. The Dolphins must find a way to pressure Newton because, aside from his pure athletic talent, he is developing as a quarterback able to manage the game and influence defensive backs with his eyes. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Carolina kicker Graham Gano is a perfect five-for-five from 50-pus yards this season and has missed only one of his 15 attempts. Ginn is well known to be dangerous but inconsistent as a returner. The Dolphins, as always, have one of the NFL’s best punters in Brandon Fields. His ability to flip field position is a weapon and could be extremely valuable in a game that is expected to be close. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Carolina’s Ron Rivera was on a win-or-else mandate from the start of the season and things looked bleak after another slow start. But the Panthers, who typically play better later in the year, have won six games in a row and are coming off a stirring victory over New England. Rivera’s job is to keep the momentum. Joe Philbin has the hardest job in the NFL now. He has to win while managing scandal. So far the Dolphins have adapted and won two of three games but the Panthers are the best team the Dolphins have faced in a month and they know how to win close games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

November 22, 2013

Pouncey, Patterson are doubtful for Sunday

Mike Pouncey said Wednesday he felt good enough to play against the Carolina Panthers after missing last week's game with an illlness that started out as food poisoning. Well, that is in serious doubt.

Pouncey has not practiced all week and is now listed as doubtful on the injury report.

Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who has been limited in practice much of this week, also is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game.

If Pouncey cannot play -- and it seems he will not -- the Dolphins will once again go with Nate Garner at center and rookie Sam Brenner at left guard.

If Patterson cannot play, the Dolphins are likely to stick with Nolan Carroll as his replacement. Patterson has started only four games this season and of those has been unable to finish two of them.

Dolphins need late-game playmaking

My prediction for Sunday's game between the Dolphins and Carolina Panthers? It should be close. It will come down to the fourth quarter. It might come down to the last possession for each team.

Sound familiar?

That's how the Dolphins have played a majority of this season.

That's how the Panthers have played a majority of this season.

The difference between Miami's 5-5 record and Carolina's much more appealing 7-3?

“I think the biggest thing is for some of our games we won the close ones," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "Especially the last two weeks, was winning the close ones. My first two years we didn’t win the close ones. Our second game of the year this year against Buffalo we had an opportunity to win and we didn’t win the close ones. We’re in position now that we’ve won the close ones. We’ve done some things in the fourth quarter. We’ve done some things in earlier parts of the game that have given ourselves a chance to win and walk away winners."

That's it.

Consider how much different the Dolphins season would feel if they had made plays rather than given up plays late against Baltimore.

And Buffalo.

And Tampa Bay.

Those were three winnable games. Indeed, I'd offer the Dolphins should beat Buffalo and Tampa Bay most of the time. But they lost those games because they simply didn't make plays late.

Miami did make plays late against Indianapolis and Cincinnati and San Diego. And the resulting victories suggest that if the Dolphins are going to enjoy any success the remainder of the season, they need to get used to the idea of finishing strong.

"We have been stressing, if you look at our schedule and our games, it’s really come down to execution in the fourth quarter and stepping up and making plays when the game is on the line," coach Joe Philbin said. "I was pleased that Sunday against San Diego that’s what we did, we made enough plays in the fourth quarter to win the game."

It should be noted the Dolphins have won two of three games and those victories brought late playmaking by Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes and others.

That needs to continue. And against Carolina, the Miami offense could certainly use some late heroics as well. Ryan Tannehill is due. A back-breaking and unexpected long run would be welcome. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline need to step up.

That's what it's going to take because the Panthers have been getting that kind of performance from Cam Newton, mostly everyone on defense, and even Ted Ginn Jr. last week. The Panthers believe they can make plays late to win games now.

I don't know if the Dolphins believe. I know they have to get to that point to save this season.

You, meanwhile, should believe this:

The team that makes plays late this game will be a winner by Sunday evening. 

November 21, 2013

Rivera: Charles Johnson likely out

New England Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon leg whipped Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson on Monday night in what was clearly an intential and dirty move. And by doing so, he may have helped the rival Miami Dolphins.

Johnson left the game for a time against the Patriots, but more importantly probably will not play against the Dolphins on Sunday.

Today, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Johnson is "more than likely out" against the Dolphins.

That's a blow to the Panthers because Johnson is their leading pass rusher and has 8.5 sacks this season. And there's more:

Thursday's injury report from Carolina shows the team's other defensive end, Greg Hardy, did not practice because of a knee injury. While this one is considered precautionary, he is obviously nursing an issue.

Hardy has six sacks on the season.

All told, the Panthers had five players -- including Johnson and Hardy -- miss practice today. Also missing where linebacker Chase Blackburn, guard Chris Scott, and tight end Ben Hartstock. Cornerback Drayton Florence also was limited in practice for the Panthers today with a groin injury.

The Dolphins did not practice on Thursday.

Tannehill changing how he attacks deep throws

Some things are so obvious even the secretive men inside Stalag Dolphin have to admit to them. And the difficulty the entire NFL has witnessed Ryan Tannehill have throwing the deep ball since he joined the Miami Dolphins is one of those things.

Last year we saw Tannehill miss a wide open Brian Hartline a handful of times when the receiver was open deep behind defenders. This year, Tannehill is armed with dynamic deep threat receiver Mike Wallace. But 10 games into the season, Wallace's deepest catch went for 49 yards.

And fans have seen Tannehill miss Wallace, open behind the secondary, on at least five ocassions -- either by underthrowing the football and forcing Wallace to fight for it against defensive backs, or underthrowing it and having a sure touchdown result in a mid-range completion, or throwing out of bounds, or just missing short altogether.

“The one the other day, let’s talk about the one the other day, that’s the most recent," coach Joe Philbin said Wednesday. "The guy is open, you have to get the ball to the receiver. You have to put a little more air under it so he doesn’t slow down and the DB doesn’t have a chance to break up the pass.  It’s not that complicated, throwing the ball down the field.

"It does take the right timing, the receiver has to leave enough space, especially when you’re throwing the ball outside the numbers which we had on that particular play. You have to make that throw, [Tannehill] knows that, I know that, everybody who was at the game knows that. Those are the facts, we have to keep working at it and I’m confident we will start making more of those."

Confident or not, Philbin was concerned enough about the issue to talk to Tannehill about it this week. It's become more than just a rare happenstance now. It's an issue -- one that Tannehill got advise on how to solve.

"We talked to coach Philbin yesterday and that’s one of the things he told me," Tannehill said. "Just go out there and let it rip. When a guy gets that open, sometimes you kind of tense up and you don’t want to overthrow him so you end up underthrowing him. I just have to go out there and let it rip and not overplay it."

I asked Tannehill if he's likely to take Philbin's advice and attack the situation differently this week.

"Yes, I think so," Tannehill said. "We had a couple other shots in the game where he got behind guys and one time I got flushed out got bumped and flushed out and I had to throw it to (Rishard) Matthews over the middle and another time I got sacked on it. We had a couple more opportunities where he got open, just wasn’t able to get him the ball.  You’ve got to hit the ones that are there, if you only get one shot a game to get him the ball I have to just throw it out there and let him run underneath it.

"That’s what he’s here to do.  He’s got the legs to run underneath it and it’s on me to just throw it out there and let him get it.” 

Here's the thing: Tannehill is a young quarterback and he's still learning the job. But I get the feeling he's trying to be too fine and too perfect for his own good. He needs to trust his instincts more. He needs to use his many gifts -- one of which is the ability to throw the football a long way.

He's been aiming the ball. He needs to simply pass it.

"Yes, I think I just get conservative," Tannehill admitted. "You see a guy, like I said with so much space and separation between him and the defender, he had five yards or something on the guy.  You see that space and you're thinking just get him the ball. Instead of, just throw it out there, play football and let it rip."

This can go one of two directions now.

Tannehill, reined in for too long, can feel free and start playing rather than thinking. And we'll start to see his deep completion percentage improve.


Tannehill, despite given the freedom to rip it, simply hasn't the touch or deep ball accuracy that must be inate to a quarterback to be the launching point for a deep passing game.

There is some reason for hope here. Last year Tannehill completed zero percent of his attempts of 41 yards or more. He was 0 for 3. This year he has completed 16.7 percent of his 6 throws of 41 yards or more. That still isn't good enough, but it suggests some improvement.

The question is can Tannehill make a much more significant improvement.

You have to consider that Wallace averaged eight touchdowns per season and 17.5 yards per reception his four seasons in Pittsburgh. In Miami he's basically been turned into a possession receiver who has one touchdown and is averaging 12.1 yard per catch.

But in Pittsburgh, Wallace played with a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who completed at least 33.3 percent of his passes on throws of 41 yards or more the past three years and in 2009 completed a whopping 46.2 percent of such passes.

Big Ben can wing it.

Can Tannehill match those numbers? Impossible to tell.

But he needs to bring his numbers up soon. Otherwise, what everyone sees as an issue that needs work could soon be viewed as a fatal flaw in Tannehill's game.



November 20, 2013

Mike Pouncey and Richie Incognito together again

For one fateful afternoon on Sunday, ill Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and suspended left guard Richie Incognito, teammates on the field and friends off, were together again.

While the Dolphins played against the San Diego Chargers, Pouncey and Incognito got together at Pouncey's house to watch the game, Pouncey said Wednesday.

That was among the handful of interesting facts Pouncey shared during an interview with a group of reporters today. The others:

Pouncey said he wants to play against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday but admits it will be up to coaches.

"I want to play," he said. "I feel good. I feel good enough to play but that decision is going to be made by the coaches and the doctors but right now I feel like I can go out there and play a football game."

Pouncey looks noticeably thinner. He said he's only lost five pounds after spending several days in the hospital with an illness he said began with food poisoning.

Pouncey also said he has already met with NFL investigator Ted Wells. The Miami Herald has reported Pouncy and offensive line coach Jim Turner were of particular interest during this investigation into harassment allegation by Jonathan Martin.

Pouncey admitted he's happy his interview is behind him.

Offensive tackle Tyson Clabo also confirmed he's already met with Wells. He declined to provide specifics because the Dolphins and Wells have asked players not to comment.

By the way, the injury report is out. Pouncey didn't practice but only participated in conditioning and rehab. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) also did not practice.

Dannell Ellerbe (knee), Reshad Jones (groin), Mike Wallace (hamstring) and Chris Clemons (knee/shoulder) were limited in practice.

Mike Pouncey back with the Dolphins

Mike Pouncey left the team last Thursday when he became ill with a mysterious condition trainers could not immediately identify. He spent the next five days in the hospital.

Well, he's baaaaack.

Pouncey was on the practice field and stretching with teammates today. No, he's not practicing. Today will be more about conditioning for the Dolphins center. His status for Sunday remain uncertain.

But the fact Pouncey is back is a big plus for the team and certainly is a lift for the offensive line. Pouncey, by the way, is back in time for his interview with NFL investigator Ted Wells, who will talk to him before departing South Florida.

Cornerback Dimitri Patterson was also present at practice and participated at least on a limited basis during the time open to the media.

Philbin endorses OL coach Jim Turner

Amid the ups and downs of this season and the drama and controversy of the past three weeks, one constant that has remained (unfortunately for the Dolphins) has been that the offensive line has always been at the core of the issues.

You know the facts: Forty-one sacks allowed to lead the NFL. Two starting linemen gone from the team because they were frenemies or something, guys benched, etc ...

And to me, that begs the question what responsibility does offensive line coach Jim Turner have in all this.

Well, let's get to the news. Whatever part Turner has played in any or all of Miami's offensive line problems and drama, he apparently has the blessing of his boss. That's because on Tuesday, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin gave Turner a pretty solid endorsement when I asked what kind of job the assistant has done so far this season.

"I thought he did a great job," Philbin began. "It’s evidence in the play of our guys the other day.  We had a lot of  moving parts and we’ve had some moving parts throughout the course of the season.  I think his players believe in him. I think he works hard every single day and he’s done a good job."

Now, I understand Philbin isn't going to throw Turner under the bus if he believes the assistant has stunk. That's simply not done. But there are ways to finesse this if the head coach wants to without losing credibility.

You'll recall Tony Sparano was asked in 2008 what kind of job then offensive line coach Mike Maser was doing. I recall because I asked the question. And Sparano said something akin to "he's busy doing his job and he'll be evaluated at the end of the season just like we'll all be evaluated at the end of the season."

That was no an endorsement, particually in light of the fact he was being effusive about other assistants when asked. And apparently Sparano took that tact for good reason because after a season in which Dolphins quarterbacks were sacked 26 times, Maser was fired. Seems Maser rubbed some players the wrong way and actually, get this, was a bit of a bully at times, according to club sources who spoke to me at the time.

The irony.

Anyway, that's not the approach Philbin took on Tuesday. His was a full-blown attaboy for Turner. And that is fine if that's how Philbin feels.

But I'm not so sure the facts jibe with the kudos. The Dolphins have given up 78 sacks in the two years Turner's been the offensive line coach -- and there are still six games to play this season.

Now, sacks are not the full measure of an offensive line coach. After all, quarterback awareness in the pocket affects that number as does inexperienced or poor pass protection from backs. But then there's this:

One player was very good before Turner arrived and has been very good after leaving didn't play nearly as well under Turner. Jake Long was ProFootballFocus's No. 21-rated tackled in 2011 before Turner joined the Dolphins. Last year under Turner, Long dropped to the No. 46-rated tackle in the NFL, according to PFF. This year with the St. Louis Rams, he is the No. 7 rated offensive tackle.

And it is not just Long.

Last year with Atlanta, right tackle Tyson Clabo was the No. 14-rated offensive tackle in the NFL, according to PFF. He allowed only five sacks, including none in the final 14 games he played including the playoffs.

This year with the Dolphins?

Clabo has allowed 10 sacks, has not been able to string together even two games without allowing a sack and is the No. 66-rated tackle in the NFL, per PFF. Did he suddenly forget how to play the game? Did he suddenly lose not one, but several steps at age 32?

Center Mike Pouncey is pass blocking much better now under Turner than he did as a rookie in 2011 before Turner. But how much of that is the fact Pouncey's simply more experienced? And his run blocking in 2013 actually is not as good as it was in 2011.

Now, I'm not saying everyone takes a step back under Turner. Richie Incognito's work got much better under Turner. And John Jerry became a full-time starter under Turner.

But Jerry has already given up twice as many sacks this year (4) as he did last year (2) and there are still six more games to play. And Incognito ... well, let's not go there.