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3 posts from December 27, 2013

December 27, 2013

Four Dolphins in the Pro Bowl

The NFL announced its Pro Bowl players for the 2013 season and four Dolphins are on the teams that will play next month.

Defensive end Cameron Wake, cornerback Brent Grimes, center Mike Pouncey and punter Brandon Fields were named to play in the game on January 26. The game, held in Honolulu, Hawaii, will be played at 7 p.m. eastern and aired on NBC.

“I want to congratulate Brandon, Brent, Mike, and Cam on being named to the NFL Pro Bowl team,”  Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “It is a well-deserved honor. I know they will be outstanding representatives of their teammates and the rest of the Dolphins organization in Hawaii.”

Fields, in his seventh NFL season, will be making his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2014. Fields is ranked second in the NFL in punt average (48.8 per punt), second in net average (42.8), third with 33 punts inside the 20-yard line and has also recorded the third longest punt (74 yards at Buffalo on December 22, 2013) in the league during the 2013 season. Fields is one of only two Dolphins punters to be selected to the Pro Bowl, joining Reggie Roby (1984, 1989).

“It’s a great honor to be selected to the Pro Bowl,” Fields said. “I am very excited on my first selection and to be able to celebrate it with three of my teammates. I want to thank coach Philbin and also (special teams coordinator) coach (Darren) Rizzi and (assistant special teams) coach (Marwan) Maalouf for all the work that they have put in and guidance the last few years to help me get to where I am at today.”

Grimes, in his seventh NFL season and first with the Dolphins, will be making his second trip to the Pro Bowl. He previously was selected to the 2011 NFC Pro Bowl squad as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. In 2013, Grimes has started all 15 games at cornerback and has recorded 55 tackles, leads the Dolphins with 15 passes defensed, and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four, including one which he returned 94 yards for a touchdown. Grimes is the just the third Dolphins cornerback selected to the Pro Bowl, joining Sam Madison (1999-2002) and Patrick Surtain (2002-04).

“This selection means a lot especially coming off last year, to come back and make the Pro Bowl is a big deal,” Grimes said. “I would like to thank all the fans, the whole Dolphins organization for believing in me and giving me a chance. Of course I would also like to thank all of the defensive coaches, especially (defensive coordinator) coach (Kevin) Coyle, (defensive backs) coach Lou (Anarumo), (assistant defensive backs) coach Blue (Adams) and (defensive assistant) coach (Jeff) Burris for not only believing in me to get me here but believing in me throughout the year and helping me to become a better player.”

Pouncey, in his third NFL season, will be making his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2014. Pouncey has started at center in 13 games for the Dolphins in 2013. He is the first Dolphins center selected to the Pro Bowl since Tim Ruddy in 2000 and is only the fourth Dolphins center selected to the Pro Bowl, joining Hall of Famers Jim Langer (1973-78) and Dwight Stephenson (1983-87) and Ruddy (2000).           

“It’s truly a great honor to be named to the Pro Bowl, this recognition obviously would not have been possible without the all the other guys on the offensive line around me,” said Pouncey. “I would also like to thank the fans, the Miami Dolphins organization, Coach Philbin, the offensive coaching staff and especially Coach (Jim) Turner who have helped me reach this honor.”

Wake, in his fifth NFL season, will be making his third trip to the Pro Bowl and second as a defensive end (he made the Pro Bowl in 2011 after a 14-sack season as a linebacker). In 2013, Wake has registered 35 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, eight tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one safety through 15 games. On October 31, 2013, Wake recorded the first safety of his NFL career when he sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone with 6:42 remaining in overtime giving the Dolphins a 22-20 victory over the Bengals. It marked just the third time in NFL history that an overtime game had been decided on a safety.

Wake is one of only two Dolphins players to earn Pro Bowl recognition at different positions (linebacker in 2011 and defensive end in 2013 and '14), joining teammate Randy Starks who was selected as a defensive end in 2011 and as a defensive tackle in 2013.

 “This honor would not have been possible without my teammates, the coaching staff and the fans of the Miami Dolphins," Wake said. "I have to thank, coach Philbin, coach Coyle, (defensive line) coach (Kacy) Rogers, (assistant defensive line) coach (Charlie) Bullen and the rest of the defensive coaches. It’s an honor that I will share with all my teammates who deserve credit for this as well.”

The Dolphins and Patriots lead the AFC East teams with four Pro Bowl players. The Bills had three players on the team. The New York Jets did not have a Pro Bowl player this season.

The primary reasons Miami Dolphins run D struggles

The biggest challenge the Dolphins defense faces against the New York Jets on Sunday? Well, the Dolphins certainly don't think it's rookie quarterback Geno Smith throwing the ball.

"We can’t allow them to run the football against us," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "That is going to be our big challenge."

It's Miami's biggest challenge on Sunday because, frankly, run defense has been the biggest challenge for Coyle's unit all season long. The Dolphins are the NFL's 25th-ranked run defense. They've been hovering in that neighborhood all year but the 203 yards rushing allowed against Buffalo last week was a stunner.

"That’s unacceptable, as far as we’re concerned," Coyle said.

The problem is the Dolphins have had to accept the fact they've struggled in their rush defense all year long.

They gave up 154 yards to San Diego.

They gave up 152 yards in the first meeting against New England.

The Dolphins have given up 133 rushing yards or more in nine games this season. Opponents have averaged 4.5 yards or more per rush in six games and at least 4.0 yards per rush in 10 games. Bottom line, when teams stick with the run, the Dolphins often give up lots of yards.

So why is that? Why has a team that was No. 3 in the NFL against the run in 2011 (in Tony Sparano's final season) gotten so much worse so quickly?

Well, I'd suggest to you the decline wasn't necessarily quick. Last year (in Joe Philbin's first season) the Dolphins were No. 13 in the NFL in rush defense with generally the same personnel as in 2011. Yes, that's a drop from 2011 but the worrisome thing is the trend continued this year and this year the run defense has fallen off the table. 

And this has happened in a season where both interior run stuffers Randy Starks and Paul Soliai are playing for a contract and, guess what, doing a good job against the run.

The fact is the poor run defense doesn't necessarily start in the middle of the defensive line where the problem lies for most teams with such issues. Starks is having a great season stopping the run. He's the No. 4 rated defensive tackle against the run in the NFL according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Soliai is similarly playing well against the run. He's the No. 12 rated defensive tackle against the run. And Jared Odrick is rated No. 28 against the run. All three have plus-grades for the season against the run.

Yes, they've had struggles here and there. And sometimes one or two plays well while the other is not so good. But generally, these guys are not the problem.

So what about the edge guys? Obviously if the Dolphins are solid on the first level up the gut, perhaps they're soft on the edges.

Um, no. Not really.

The edge players were bad against Buffalo. It was a terrible performance. But taking the whole season into account, Olivier Vernon, Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, even Derrick Shelby and Dion Jordan have been solid against the run. Misi and Shelby in particular have been good against the run.

None of this translates to No. 25 against the run.

This does:

Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and outside linebacker Phillip Wheeler have been, well, atrocious against the run a majority of the 2013 season. Both have struggled all around but for Ellerbe, has been particularly bad against the run.

The man who was supposed to take over for Ray Lewis in Baltimore hasn't been able to fill Karlos Dansby's shoes in Miami.

Ellerbe is the 53rd-ranked middle/inside linebacker overall in the NFL according to ProFootballFocus.com which is almost as bad as one can get because there are only 55 players rated. And he's worse against the run. Ellerbe is rated 54th out of 55 against the run.

The ratings are fair.

Anecdotally, I see a lot of Ellerbe's 58 solo tackles four- and five-yards down the field. He has not been what I would call a gap filler. And he rarely makes plays in the opponent's backfield. He has two tackles for loss the entire season.


Last year Dansby had nine tackles for loss. He had 100 solo tackles or 42 more than Ellerbe currently has.

(Dansby is also having a better year than Ellerbe out in Arizona and way better than he ever had in his time with the Dolphins. He's the No. 5 rated inside linebacker overall and No. 14 against the run, according to ProFootballFocus.com).

The issue also bleeds over onto Wheeler, who if possible, is having a worse season than Ellerbe statistically.

Wheeler is rated No. 33 out of 34 outside linebackers against the run by ProFootballFocus.com. Overall, he's dead last. While Ellerbe stays in the game despite his obvious shortcomings, the Dolphins have routinely subbed Wheeler out of games for rookie Jelani Jenkins -- not a good sign for a player making big money and hoping to stay around a few years.

Meanwhile, the NFL's No. 2 rated outside linebacker against the run?

Kevin Burnett, the player Wheeler replaced. Burnett is rated No. 11 overall by ProFootballFocus.com. It should be noted Wheeler is not any worse this year than Burnett was last year. He misses more tackles but Burnett had issues with calls at times and was often out of position. But the fact Wheeler came to Miami as an upgrade rather than to simply continue the trend of not-good-enough is a disappointment.

Now, let me just say, I think part of the problem we have here is coaching.

Consider that Miami's defense against the run started declining with the arrival of the new staff. Also consider that Ellerbe and Wheeler were pretty good in Baltimore and Oakland, respectively, last year. And the guys who were no great shakes here the past couple of years -- Dansby and Burnett -- are turning in great to very good seasons the very year they leave Miami.

So players are better elsewhere. When they come here they get worse. When they leave here they get better again. That is not coincidence. That's on the coaches.

But the fact is Ellerbe and Wheeler are not anywhere else. They're in Miami.

And from the PFF tape study of their games, their statistics and what we've all seen with our eyes, they are major factors in Miami's struggling run defense.

Will Dolphins show out or fail to show up?

Will the Dolphins show up on Sunday against the New York Jets?

That's the question I write about in today's Miami Herald. That's the question that matters most now.

The reason we have to ask the question is last week was a major disappointment against an inferior Buffalo team. With so much at stake the Dolphins didn't show up against the Bills.

I believe they came out flat and stayed that way. Coach Joe Philbin would argue the Dolphins were not flat.

I would suggest the Dolphins coach should have gone above and beyond last week, last night at the team meetings at the hotel, this morning, and before the game to motivate and get his team up. You know Rex Ryan, fighting for his job, will have something up his sleeve.

Last week, after the Dolphins dealt New England a defeat, Bill Belichick had something up his sleeve for the Patriots.

Some players believe coaches motivating is a good thing. Movies, highlight tapes, speeches, anything ...

“It helps motivate you," offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie told me. "Initially, it helps you as far as your mindset going into the game. Once the ball is snapped you’re obviously not still thinking about that. But your mindset going into the game,  it can help."

Several Dolphins players I spoke with, however, don't care much for motivational tactics from their coaches.

"I just don’t buy it," offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. "You’re either good at football or you’re not.”

So why do teams play flat sometimes?

“It’s about momentum," he said.

Momentum? So the Dolphins weren't flat against the Buffalo, but rather they simply had no momentum?

“Not a lot of good stuff happened in that football game," Clabo said. "We made a lot of mistakes all across the board. The defense is out there playing hard and doing a pretty decent job and we can’t piss a drop. And they’re out there the whole game. They had 51 rushing attempts in the football game. We just didn’t make any plays. No one made any plays. We just didn’t play well.

"The whole game everybody is thinking this thing in going to turn. I felt like that until the very end when I knew it wasn’t going to turn. And even then in the fourth I’m think we’re alright, we’re alright but it never happened for us.”

Well, that was last week. This week the Dolphins cannot afford a similar letdown game.

And so I hope Philbin and his staff did something, anything, to make sure the Dolphins don't play this game like they did the last.