« November 2013 | Main | January 2014 »

61 posts from December 2013

December 22, 2013

Ryan Tannehill says he feels 'fine'

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Ryan Tannehill went down in the fourth quarter when he got sacked from behind and rolled up by Jerry Hughes.

The Dolphins quarterback left the game for a series then returned for a couple of series before being pulled once Sunday's 19-0 Buffalo victory seemed sealed. But Tannehill expects next week when the Dolphins play the Jets in the season-finale, he'll be the starter.

"No, i feel good," he said when asked if there was a chance he might miss the game.

At another point in his presser Sunday afternoon, Tannehill said he felt, "fine."

Bills blitz Dolphins in 19-0 loss for Miami

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Pick the reason for this debacle -- a 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

The Dolphins gave up seven sacks.

(The Bills beat up quarterback Ryan Tannehill so thoroughly he left the game twice -- the first time with a knee injury, the second time probably to keep him from getting killed because he had no mobility. The knee injury he suffered bears scrutiny.)

Matt Moore threw two interceptions in the short period he played for Tannehill.

The running game was left back in South Florida as offensive coordinator Mike Sherman didn't call on it. Fact is, Sherman left the points back in South Florida today as well. Terrible job by him as the Dolphins were shut out for the first time since the season-fnale last year. The Dolphins had eight three-and-outs this game.

The defense could not stop the run.

And Thad Lewis -- a second-stringer now after rising from practice squad QB months ago -- beat the Dolphins for the second time this season.

I am shocked. I know, I know, I should not be. We've had the Dolphins lay eggs in important games before. But this?

Horrible.

Pathetic.

Disappointing.

Today they looked like the same old Dolphins. And that's not good.

Live blog: Dolphins at Bills

ORCHARD PARK N.Y. -- It is looking likie a nice day here.

Yes, it's cold. But under slate gray skies it is neither raining nor snowing. It's only somewhat windy but nothing out of the ordinary.

The Dolphins have all their players they want today. Daniel Thomas, the only player who was questionable, is active as previously reported.

The Dolphins inactives are Pat Devlin, Mike Gillislee, Jalil Brown, Chris Owens, Danny Watkins, David Arkin and A.J. Francis.

For the Bills, E.J. Manuel, Stevie Johnson, Aaron Williams, Ronnie Wingo, Brandon Smith, Mark Asper and Antoine McClain are inactive.

Jim Leonhard will start at strong safety. Robert Woods will start at WR and Thad Lewis will start at QB.

Now that you've done that, check out my column today. it tells you whether the Dolphins are a team you should believe in or not at this stage in the season.

There's also live blog here today. Enjoy:

 

 

Bills sound the alarm on Dolphins -- won't work

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y -- The Dolphins were awakened at 3:30 AM by fire alarm bells at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. There was no actual fire.

Just guessing here but, um, it was a bad joke.

This is not the first time this happens. It happened in the early 90s when the Dolphins visited New England. That night the players and coaches were actually removed from their rooms and they actually had to wait in the lobby until fremen gave the all clear.

The Dolphins' traveling party did not have to leave their rooms Sunday morning.

It doesn't matter. As I wrote in today's Miami Herald the Dolphins won't blow their chances to get into the playoffs this year. This team has been through too much to fall short now.

By the way, the Dolphins are healthy. Daniel Thomas, the only player questionable prior to the game, is expected to be available.

December 21, 2013

Keys to the game: Dolphins at Bills

I picked the Dolphins to beat the Bills on Sunday.

I don't believe Thad Lewis, who started at quarterback the first meeting between the teams and helped the Bills to victory, can author another win against Miami.

Here are the matchups: 

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Bills get after the quarterback and it is not just about Mario Williams. Yes, Williams leads the team with 12 sacks – only 2.5 shy of establishing a career best – but Buffalo has four players with at least eight sacks. That’s the reason they lead the NFL with 49. So what’s the answer? Throw quickly. Throw on early downs. Avoid throwing out of necessity. Ryan Tannehill is having a fine month. He’s spreading the ball around to a handful of receiver and the locking down of any one of them does not upend the Miami passing game. So while the Bills have a major advantage at the line of scrimmage, the Dolphins enjoy a major advantage down the field. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: Daniel Thomas, hobbled for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, is hobbled again with an ankle injury. He may not play. That definitely signals another week in which Lamar Miller will be allowed to carry most of the load rather than share 20-25 carries with Thomas. The Bills offer fertile ground for running the ball. They’re 26th in the NFL against the run. They’re not much better (23rd) in rushing yards per attempt, which confirms the previous statistic. The questions that matter here are the Dolphins going to stick with the run when it doesn’t work? And will offensive coordinator use the run to play situational football if the opportunity presents? The answer to both questions in the first meeting was no. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Bills run the football: C.J. Spiller was hobbled the last time the teams met and that’s why he rushed only six times for 11 yards. But he’s healthy and playing more like the guy who last season rung up 130 yards from scrimmage against Miami. Spiller is averaging 4.6 yards per carry but the Dolphins can hope poor conditions will slow his wide runs and mitigate his speed. The Dolphins, once a top-10 team against the run, are a shadow of that now. The Dolphins are No. 22 against the run and that’s when run-stuff Paul Soliai is 100 percent healthy. He’s not now, as he’s nursing a tender ankle. Look for the Bills to use the running game as their primary weapon as long as the game is close. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

When the Bills pass the football: The biggest surprise of the week came when coach Doug Marrone announced that starting quarterback E.J. Manuel would not start against Miami and would be replaced by Thad Lewis. This suggests a windfall for the Dolphins because Lewis was a practice squad quarterback when the season began and obviously is a backup at best. But the backup helped author Buffalo’s October victory over the Dolphins so overconfidence cannot be a wise thing for Miami. Unlike the end of last week’s game, the Dolphins expect to have all their starting defensive backs available for this game. The Bills will be without receiver Stevie Johnson. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: The Dolphins exiled Dan Carpenter before the season began – picking rookie Caleb Sturgis over the veteran. The Bills gladly signed Carpenter. The Dolphins were right to do what they did, based on the salary because they saved money. But Carpenter has been better than Sturgis in 2013. The Bills are 11th in field goal percentage with Carpenter. The Dolphins are 27th in field goal percentage with Sturgis. Leodis McKelvin, who last year had a punt return TD in Buffalo against Miami, hasn’t returned one for a score all this season. If that trend continues, it would mark the first time since 2010 McKelvin is held without a return TD. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo

Coaching: Joe Philbin has his team on a three-game win streak and the playoffs beckon if the team can close out the season with two more wins. That is commendable considering the Dolphins suffered a four-game losing skid, lost to winless Tampa Bay and had an NFL scandal to deal with this season. Doug Marrone was a good-not-great coach at Syracuse. He’s working toward becoming a good coach in the NFL. He’s a work in progress. ADVANTAGE: Miami

December 20, 2013

Playoffs: Dolphins could be in or out this weekend

Most of the playoff scenarios I've been sharing with you are about good news: If the Dolphins do this or that they make the playoffs.

There's even a scenario under which the Dolphins can make the playoffs this weekend. If they beat Buffalo and both Cincinnati (vs. Minnesota) and Baltimore (vs. New England) lose, the Dolphins are in the postseason.

But there is a flip side to that.

The Dolphins can also be eliminated from the playoffs this weekend.

If Baltimore beats New England while Cincinnati beats Minnesota and Oakland beats San Diego ... and the Dolphins lose to the Buffalo Bills ... it's over for Miami. The Dolphins would not qualify for the playoffs regardless of what happens the final weekend of the season.

Yes, there are scenarios in which the Dolphins lose and still get in -- assuming the Bengals and Ravens don't both win. But that gets more complicated.

Bottom line: Dolphins win and the other two (Baltimore, Cincinnati) lose and the Dolphins are in. But the Dolphins and San Diego lose and the other two win, the Dolphins' playoff chances are done.

Most Dolphins walking wounded will be playing

If you believe the injury report, you'd say the chances of cornerback Brent Grimes and running back Daniel Thomas playing against the Bills on Sunday are poor.

Neither one practiced Wednesday nor Thursday. Grimes is nursing a groin injury, Thomas the ankle that forced him to miss a couple of games a few weeks ago.

Well, I'd tell you it is not quite as dire as what the injury report suggests.

Firstly, the Dolphins Thursday injury report is a farce. The Dolphins do not practice on Thursdays this season. So the report the team releases is a guesstimate of what would have happened if they had practiced -- and about 98 percent of the time this year it has simply been a repeat of the Wednesday report. So I dismiss that thing as soon as it comes into my email inbox.

Secondly, Grimes continues to insist he'll ready to go.

"I'm feeling good, I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm doing what I have to do (with treatment) to make sure I'm feeling right for the game. I feel real good right now."

Grimes was at practice again Friday. He will travel with the team to Buffalo. Barring a setback, expect him to be available against the Bills.

Thomas ... that's a little trickier.

He's not 100 percent. He's managing some pain and swelling. His outlook doesn't look quite as rosy as Grimes's outlook.

As for the remainder of the walking wounded, Paul Soliai (ankle), Chris Clemons (knee/hamstring) and Nolan Carroll (knee) -- the most worrisome of that group is Carroll. And yet all expect to play on Sunday.

Long snapper John Denney missed practice today. It is unclear why at this point.

[Update: Thomas is the only player listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Carroll practiced full Friday and is probable. Grimes is probable. The reason Denney missed practice is because he's ill. I'm assuming he won't go AWOL soon.]

December 19, 2013

Bills bring sacks, Dolphins offer improved protection

The enduring picture the Dolphins should have of their first meeting with the Buffalo Bills this year is of defensive end Mario Williams beating offensive tackle Tyson Clabo for a sack, stripping the football, and having it recovered by teammate Kevin Williams at the Dolphins 34 yard line.

A few plays later the Bills kicked a game winning field goal.

The sack sticks in the memory for both teams. The sack also speaks to that which has at times defined both teams.

The Dolphins have allowed an NFL high 51 sacks this season. Those sacks have accounted for 353 lost yards, multiple fumbles and something far more lasting: Those sacks have put the Dolphins on the verge of breaking the franchise record for sacks allowed in one season.

That number is 53 sacks allowed in 1969.

The Bills' defense, on the other hand, leads the NFL with 49 sacks. Buffalo has four players with at least eight sacks and Mario Williams leads that charge with 12. He is merely 2.5 sacks short of setting his own career best in tormenting of the quarterback.

So that's where the Dolphins offensive line and Buffalo defensive line will find themselves initially on Sunday. Buffalo's strength against Miami's weakness.

Bad, right?

But there is hope for the Dolphins. The offensive line the Bills faced in that first game Oct. 6 is gone. Changed. Kaput.

The left guard is different. The left tackle is different. And while the right tackle remains the same, he's playing like a different guy. The Dolphins were allowing 4.4 sacks per game on average before, with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin and the early-season Tyson Clabo in the lineup.

They are allowing 2.6 sacks on average with Sam Brenner/Nate Garner and Bryant McKinnie and a resurrected Clabo in the lineup.

So has quarterback Ryan Tannehill noticed? Does he feel more comfortable in the pocket now?

“Yes, I think so," he said Wednesday. " It’s natural I think when you’re being protected more, being given a little more time. Building that confidence, receivers knowing that I’m going to have an extra half second, second, whatever it may be. Myself, feeling comfortable to go through second and third read, maybe not having to force it to that first guy. It plays a big part in our offense.”

There has been no better change in direction than Clabo. He yielded eight sacks and 19 hurries his first six games this season. Then the Dolphins traded for McKinnie who moved in as the left tackle and Martin moved over to right tackle for one week.

Clabo was benched in the first meeting against New England.

Well, a week later Martin was AWOL and the Dolphins turned back to Clabo. And in the seven games since going back in the lineup, Clabo has yielded three sacks and nine hurries -- meaning he's basically cut his sacks and hurries allowed by more than half.

"He’s not getting beat obviously and he’s run blocking well to go along with good pass blocking," Tannehill said. " Obviously, I don’t know O-line fundamentals but he’s keeping guys away from me and he’s doing a great job of that."

So what does this all mean?

The Bills will undoubtedly be the most difficult opponent the Miami offensive line faces this year if they want to keep Tannehill upright. But it also means the Bills would be mistaken if they think they'll be facing the same Miami offensive line they faced last time.

December 18, 2013

Marrone: Thad Lewis to start vs. Miami Dolphins

Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel was hobbled a bit after suffering a minor knee injury against Jacksonville last week. He practiced Wednesday on a limited basis.

And after that practice, head coach Doug Marrone decided Manuel wasn't well enough to play against the Dolphins.

So Marrone announced this afternoon that Thad Lewis, the one-time practice squad quarterback, will start at quarterback for the Bills against the Dolphins Sunday. Lewis started the teams' first meeting Oct. 20.

The Bills beat the Dolphins 23-21 in that game.

Lewis is excited, obviously. "We want to play for the city of Buffalo," he said today. "This should be a great game."

The Bills did not shy away from throwing the ball the first meeting against the Dolphins. Lewis threw 32 times and completed 21 for 202 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT. His quarterback rating that day was 70.1, which is unimpressive.

Lewis started three games for the Bills while Manuel was out. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes in that span, threw 3 TDs and 2 INTs.

Obviously, the fact Lewis beat the Dolphins once will cause some Dolphins fans to think this is bad news. This is most definitely not bad news for Miami.

Lewis is a backup and a project for a reason. Manuel, a rookie, was the starter for a reason -- namely he's simply more talented.

The Dolphins are living right, friends.

I will say this: The Dolphins, frankly, respected Lewis too much in that first game. You'll recall that the team had a 21-20 lead and the ball at their own 48 yard line with 3:39 to play. Run the ball three times and use Brandon "flips the" Fields to punt Buffalo deep and the Dolphins are forcing Lewis to drive 80 yards for a TD or maybe 45-yard for a field goal with less than 2 minutes to play.

But Miami coaches trusted throwing the ball more than they trusted their defense.

Ryan Tannehill on second-and-eight stepped back to pass and was crushed by Mario Williams, who caused a fumble. The Bills recovered at the Miami 34 yard line. Dan Carpenter eventually connected on a 31-yard field goal to give Buffalo the lead.

Dolphins coaches afterward said they threw because Lewis had success the week before against Cincinnati, throwing an improbable deep pass for a TD. The Dolphins feared he would do that against them.

They thought Mario Williams vs. Tyson Clabo was a better matchup than the Miami D vs. Thad Lewis with less than 2 minutes to play.

I hope if that choice pops up again this game, the Dolphins will have learned a lesson. Trust the D. Force the young QB to beat you. Don't let Mario Williams beat you. 

Mike Pouncey: NFL scandal 'wasn't true'

If you read today that Jason Taylor, on a committee appointed by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to institute a code of locker room conduct, believes the Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito scandal was 'overblown' you probably should not be suprised.

It seems many Dolphins players believe the issue was overblown and some blame the media for the scandal.

Number starting center Mike Pouncey, a person of interest in the investigation conducted by Ted Wells, as one of those thinking the scandal was a media fabrication that he says "wasn't true."

'"All along we've known we done things the right way," Pouncey said. "That hasn't changed. It's been the same day since Day One. We never let any outside distractions get to us because we knew everything that was being said wasn't true. So we've just been doing our job and it's been paying off late in the season for us."

"We had the same team, we had the same mindset. We knew everything that was being said wasn't true. It affected us not one bit."

This statement seemed odd to me because while I know the media (as a giant all-encompassing entity) has gotten multiple stories on the scandal completely wrong, to say everything that was being said was untrue is ridiculous.

The media did not cause the scandal. That was conceived within the Dolphins roster and birthed when Martin threw down his lunch tray and left the team.

The media did not force Jonathan Martin to go AWOL. (He did that on his own).

The media did not suspend Richie Incognito. (The Dolphins -- Joe Philbin, onwer Stephen Ross, general manager Jeff Ireland -- did that).

The media did not leave any voice mails. (Incognito did that).

The media did not claim there was a physical attack on Martin. (Martin's lawyer did that). By the way, that alleged attack happened at Pouncey's house, a Martin associate has told the Miami Herald.

The media did not start an NFL investigation that compelled practically the entire Dolphins roster, coaches, personnel people and staff, to speak to Wells. (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, at the request of owner Ross, did that).

So does Pouncey really think the scandal was a media thing?

"No question," Pouncey said. "You don't?"

No. I don't. The media didn't write any texts, either.

"One text," Pouncey said. "What does that mean?"

Obviously all of it means very little within the Dolphins locker room right now. That is perhaps one reason the scandal has not affected the team's ability to get hot and go on a three-game win streak so far this December.

That's good.

But the belief that the whole scandal was largely a media fabrication leaves open the possibility that the same environment that led to the mess remains unchanged and unrepetant because everyone insists nothing wrong happened. Players are convinced that which drove Martin to go AWOL was, well, nothing.

It would be interesting if that's what they're saying to their owner or their coach or the league because it was their owner, who said he was "appalled" by the issue, their coach, who suspended Incognito, and their league, which is still conducting an investigation on the affair.

[NOTE: I've no doubt Dolphins fans feel the same way as the players. Scapegoating the media is convenient and easy. Go for it in the comments section. It is predictable. But dismissing an issue that dominated the organization for nearly an entire month and still may lead to the suspension and/or firing of people as merely a media thing is unwise.]

Here comes two poor quarterbacks -- oh no

Go ahead, try to understand the Miami Dolphins. You cannot. It's impossible. They cannot be predicted. They cannot be understood.

And there is no more obvious way to illustrate this than to offer Miami's success against quarterbacks in 2013.

The Dolphins this year have beaten Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Impressive, right?

They have lost to, among others, rookie Mike Glennon of Tampa Bay and Thad Lewis, who started the year on the practice squad and was at the time Buffalo's fourth quarterback choice to start. The Dolphins also lost to Joe Flacco, who went on a tear last postseason to help Baltimore win the Super Bowl but this year is average at best with 18 TDs and 17 INTs and a QB rating that puts him 30th out of 35 rated signal callers.

And that is interesting only because in the final two games the Dolphins play two rookie quarterbacks -- one of whom is inconsistent and the other of whom has played quite poorly.

The Dolphins are in trouble!!!!

Seriously, the final two games against the Bills and Jets would seem to be a gross mismatch of a solid, veteran defense against two young QBs.

This week Miami faces E.J. Manuel, who is the 28th rated passer in the league tied with, get this, Matt Schaub. Manuel was injured during Miami's early-season loss to the Bills so he did not play. He's made five consecutive starts since returning from his knee injury. The Bills are 2-3 in those games and Manuel has been, well, inconsistent.

(At least he's consistent with his inconsistency).

Manuel completed over 70 percent of his passes in wins over the Jets and Jacksonville last week. He failed to complete even 60 percent in losses against Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, which was his personal meltdown game in which he threw four interceptions.

Let's just say Manuel is not a rookie phenom. He's held his own and that's about it.

Geno Smith has been a disaster this year, as the Dolphins saw for themselves Dec. 1 when he posted an 8.3 QB rating against them and was benched in a loss at MetLife Stadium.

Smith has thrown 21 interceptions. He's had five games in which he's failed to complete even 50 percent of his passes. He's had only one game where he's thrown more TDs than INTs in a game and that came Oct. 7. He's the lowest-rated NFL quarterback among starters with a 62.9 rating.

So he's not exactly the biggest challenge the Dolphins have faced this season.

All that should encourage a Dolphins fan. All that plays to the Dolphins' benefit.

Now, if the Dolphins can only do to the youngsters what they've done to far better quarterbacks -- namely, beat them -- everything will be good for Miami. 

 

December 17, 2013

Injuries? Dolphins say what injuries?

It's a good day to be a Dolphins doctor because, well, you don't have a lot of work to do.

The injuries that were the cause of some concern for fans after the New England victory -- Nolan Caroll's knee, Brent Grimes' groin, and Paul Soliai's ankle -- apparently are not so serious.

All three players worked at least on a limited basis in practice today. Practice is not entirely open to the media. On Tuesday, the Dolphins limit access to only 15 minutes.

But during today's open session, Carroll was well enough to work with the scout team kickoff team, suggesting he'll be well enough later in the week to play his starting cornerback job. Soliai worked on individual drills -- obviously showing his ankle injury is not serious. And Grimes was also on the field, although he didn't take any work with the starting kickoff team on which he usually serves.

I'd say all three are limited. But limited is better than out.

The chances all three play against Buffalo seem quite good, barring the dreaded setback, of course.

This is interesting: Running back Daniel Thomas, who injured his ankle late against New England, is not practicing today -- at least he wasn't during the open portion. He didn't even have his helmet.

Playoffs, PFF and more

Let me start this morning by clearing up the playoff picture because many of my twitter followers seemed confused Monday night after the Ravens defeated the Lions.

First and most importantly, if the Dolphins beat the Bills on Sunday and the Jets in the season-finale, they will be in the playoffs. 

As you just read, what the Ravens do doesn't really matter to the Dolphins if Joe Philbin's team can win out. The Ravens can win out and if the Dolphins win out, then Baltimore wins the AFC North while the Dolphins take at least the No. 6 seed. Even if the Bengals and Ravens tie in the season-finale, after winning games this week, the Dolphins still qualify based on winning percentage if they win out.

The winning percentage for 10-6 is .625.

The winning percentage for 9-6-1 is .593

If the Dolphins do not win out, there are scenarios under which they can make the playoffs at 9-7 but then they would require help from other teams.

It is possible the Dolphins can win the AFC East, believe it or not. New England would have to lose out. Miami would have to win out.

Monday night's victory by the Ravens really doesn't affect the Dolphins, but it did affect the New York Jets. That victory officially put the final playoff nail in New York's 2013 season. The Jets are eliminated from postseason consideration.

Now ... as with every Tuesday, my partners at ProFootballFocus.com deliver their nuggets based on film review of the previous game. Today, I present to you the review of the Dolphins victory over the New England Patriots:

Offense

Right tackle Tyson Clabo had his best pass blocking game of the season, not allowing any pressure while working against Rob Ninkovich.

Lamar Miller returned from his concussion to lead the backfield in snaps. Miller had 38, Daniel Thomas had 18, and Marcus Thigpen had three.

Salguero: Interesting decision by coaches to gladly accept Thomas's fine work last week against Pittsburgh and then put Miller right back in there ahead of him this week.

Sam Brenner has overtaken Nate Garner as the fulltime LG. Brenner played all 64 snaps at left guard. 

Salguero: Brenner was solid. The sacks by the Dolphins were given up by Bryant McKinnie and John Jerry.

Ryan Tannehill handled the blitz well, going six-of-nine for 97 yards, while taking two sacks.

Tannehill struggled on passes outside the numbers left from 0-9 yards. He was just one-of-four, but the one came on his touchdown pass to Marcus Thigpen.

Tannehill mostly avoided targeting Aqib Talib (four targets, two catches, 22 yards).

Salguero: Tannehill is usually a better deep thrower going to his left. He's not as good throwing right.

Mike Wallace did most of his damage (four catches on seven targets, 57 yards) against Kyle Arrington. But when Marquice Cole came in briefly for the injured Arrington, that's when Tannehill and Wallace hooked up for their touchdown.

Alfonzo Dennard was the Pats’ most friendly cornerback, giving up catches on seven of eight targets to Hartline, Wallace and Matthews for 87 yards.

Salguero: Keep all this in mind because on the possibility that Miami and New England meet again in the playoffs, I expect the Pats to change strategy. I would expect Talib to be shadowing Mike Wallace. Call it a hunch.

Defense

Jared Odrick played a season high 75 snaps after Paul Soliai (seven snaps) exited the game early.

Salguero: I don't have an update for Soliai's injured ankle.

Jelani Jenkins played 29 snaps to Philip Wheeler’s 51 after Wheeler struggled in coverage for most of the day. Philip Wheeler gave up five catches on six targets for 70 yards, including Michael Hoomanawanui’s circus TD catch.

Will Davis totaled 51 snaps, grading out at -2.4, after Nolan Carroll went down.

Michael Thomas filled in for 16 snaps after Brent Grimes was forced out late in the game. Thomas held his own against Danny Amendola, yielding two catches on five targets, but also breaking up a TD pass that Amendola had in his hands and then delivering the game-clinching pick.

Salguero: All four of the Dolphins starting defensive backs will be on the injury report this week. I expect the safeties -- Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons -- to be available for Buffalo. I expect Brent Grimes to miss practice time but the team is optimistic he'll be available for Buffalo, barring a setback. Nolan Carroll, who sustained a knee injury, is the biggest problem. He will miss practice time this week. 

December 16, 2013

Mike Sherman: 'We're making noise'

Mike Sherman thought the Dolphins missed on an opportunity to win a statement game earlier this season when the team went to New Orleans undefeated but couldn't deliver a win. He does, however, believe the Dolphins came through in a statement game on Sunday.

And now where are they now?

"This was another opportunity like that one," Sherman said Monday. "This opportunity exists for us to go out there against a really good football team and make some noise. And that's what we're doing now, we're making noise. That's about it. We're playing as hard as we can play and coaching as hard as we can coach. And we're taking it one day at a time. However it ends up, it ends up."

One of the reasons the Dolphins are making noise is the December improvement of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He has thrown for 843 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs in three games. And yesterday's 312-yard, 3-TD performance was outstanding.

But maybe not his best, according to Sherman.

"Let's see, that was pretty near the top," Sherman said. "I don't know if it was the best, but it was pretty near the top. His decision-making was excellent. His compusure. He made some big time throws in critical situations. Considering the opponent, I guess it was near the top."

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, great guy, continued to add to the building legend of defensive back Michael Thomas. We all know Thomas was poached off the San Francisco practice squad by the personnel department last week. He showed up at camp on Tuesday.

And on Sunday, pressed into service by injuries to Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll, he intercepted Tom Brady to save the day. Well, Coyle was asked how many practice repetitions Thomas got with the defense last week.

"He got zero reps in practice," Coyle said. "The only reps he got were reps on the scout team (running the New England defense) and he spent a lot of time in meetings."

Coyle said assistant Blue Adams kept Thomas in meetings after practice, after most players had left Friday, then again on Saturday after the walk-thru.

On the final series, Jimmy Wilson moved to cornerback. He hadn't gotten a snap at cornerback dating back to OTAs two years ago, Coyle said. Rookie cornerback Will Davis was in the game. And obviously Thomas was in.

Interestingly, the Dolphins see Thomas as more a safety or nickel defensive back than a cornerback, Coyle said.

"As big as the last play was, the play prior to it, it looks like on our film, the [receiver's) got the ball in his hands and (Thomas) comes over the top and punches it out. If he doesn't make that play, we never get to the last play."

Coach Joe Philbin declined to say whether the botched field goal was a fake or not. It was.

 

Dolphins in control after winning statement game

Let's begin with the fact Sunday's victory over the Patriots was, as I wrote in my column today, a statement victory.

The Dolphins planted a flag, drew a line, and dared the Patriots to overrun their position. Pat riley

That was how coach Joe Philbin put it to players when he had the pictured pamphlet put in every player's locker stall.

Think of the words: "Plant your feet, stand firm and make a point about who you are ..."

(Yeah, Pat Riley rocks).

The Dolphins are making the point that they are more than just a playoff aspirant now. They are a contender.

They've beaten New England, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati -- all teams that currently are in the playoff picture and, indeed, are leading their divisions.

They've beaten Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. That's some serious QB talent right there.

They've won 4 at home. They've won four on the road.

The Dolphins are 3-0 in December. Ryan Tannehill is ballin' as I predicted he would.

Things are looking good. The Dolphins are making a statement that hasn't been made in these parts since the 2008 run to the AFC East title.

If the Dolphins win out -- meaning, they win at Buffalo and win the season-finale versus the Jets -- they are in the playoffs. The issue no longer devolves into a tiebreaker with Baltimore based on Cincinnati's loss to Pittsburgh Sunday night.

If both the Dolphins and Patriots finish 10-6, the Dolphins win the AFC East. That would require New England losses to Baltimore and Buffalo. -- which I don't see happening -- but obviously the possibility exits. There's also a possibility a sixth-seed Miami travels to New England for a playoff game.

Never mind that.

The Dolphins must win their final two games. Success makes Sunday's victory meaningful. On the other hand ...

"This looses all it's luster if we don't win the last two games of the season," receiver Brian Hartline said. "This will mean more if we win the last two games."

Enjoy it anyway.

December 15, 2013

Miami Dolphins defeat Patriots, 24-20

Well, the dynasty isn't exactly dead ... But the Dolphins put a significant dent in the New England Patriots armor this afternoon.

Dolphins 24. Patriots 20.

It ended when Michael Thomas, signed last week, intercepted Tom Brady on fourth down with mere seconds to play. The Patriots in typical fashion had driven from their own 20 to inside the Dolphins red zone.

Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile, outdueled Tom Brady. He engineered the drive for the go ahead points. He hit the go-ahead TD. He finished the day 25 of 37 for 312 yards with three TDs and no interception. Tannehill's rating was 120.7.

Yes, this is the Dolphins biggest win under Joe Philbin.

 

 

Live blog: Dolphins vs. Patriots

Are you ready for a statement game?

Are you ready for a game that will decide the different between pretender and contender?

That's the Dolphins vs. the Patriots. Today.

The Patriots have both their starting OTs active today. Both LT Nate Solder and RT Marcus Cannon are up after missing practice much of the week.

There's a live blog today.

Join me.

Don't expect sympathy, seek the silver lining

The New England Patriots are down a lot of talent today.

Vince Wilfork and Sebastian Volmer went to the injured reserve list long ago. Rob Gronkowski went to the injured reserve list this week. As I reported last night, the team downgraded two wide receivers from questionable to out for Sunday's meeting with the Dolphins. And backup right tackle Marcus Cannon may not play so they'll be using their third-stringer against Cameron Wake.

We all feel sorry for them ...

... Said no one.

The nature of the NFL is teams lose talent they counted on. The Dolphins lost Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson.

And no one felt sorry for them.

The Dolphins lost Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin in the NFL's most publicized scandal of the year. And no one felt sorry for them.

But the Dolphins have risen out of that scandal. They have done what good teams with depth and heart do when they lose talent. They overcome. The find a silver lining to the storm.

And as I write in my column in Sunday's Miami Herald, there is a face to that silver lining for the Dolphins: Sam Brenner.

I tell you the improbable journey of the rookie and Brenner talks about what drives him.

As to what kind of player he is ...

“I’d say I’m a scappy guy. But at the same time, you can’t play this game and be dumb," Brenner told me last week. "You have to use your mind to excel. So I take aspects of both of those things into my game."

The amazing thing about the jettisoning of Incognito and Martin is that the offensive line is actually performing better without them. No, the line is not grading out better individually. No, they are not more talented.

But the sum of the parts seems to be an upgrade over the unit that included Martin and Incognito. Even coach Joe Philbin agrees.

"Well, we’re pleased with the way the guys are playing right now," he said. "There’s certainly still a lot of room for improvement out of our guys who are playing right now and we really haven’t sat back and said we’re playing a lot better this week than we did in week six or seven or eight.  I think there’s been some improvement, the guys seem to be working well together, this group that we have out there and that obviously has to continue on Sunday."

A silver lining out of a dark cloud.

December 14, 2013

Patriots downgrade two WRs

The Patriots, already stung by the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, will be without their two rookie wide receiver threats on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots on Saturday evening downgraded both Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson from questionable to out. Dobson had missed most of the week of practice with a foot injury. Thompkins had been limited with a hip injury.

Talk about limiting the passing game.

The Patriots still have Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman and they will be New England's top receiver threats on Sunday. Running back Shane Vereen is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.

Oh, yes, the Patriots also have Tom Brady at quarterback.

As for the Dolphins, I checked again today and was assured by a league source that safety Reshad Jones, who is questionable with a groin injury and didn't practice full at all this week, will indeed play on Sunday. 

Keys to the game: Dolphins vs. Patriots

I picked the Dolphins to beat the Patriots in Sunday's Miami Herald.

Simply, I think the loss of Rob Gronkowski is huge. I think Ryan Tannehill is playing well, as I predicted he would, in December. And I'm not sold on the New England run defense.

Consider:

When the Dolphins pass the football: In three career games against the Patriots, Ryan Tannehill has not been very good. He’s completed only 51.8 percent of his passes, has thrown three interceptions, fumbled twice and thrown two touchdowns. He’s also been sacked 16 times which, obviously, is only not solely his fault. The point is if the Dolphins are going to overcome the Beast in the AFC East, Tannehill has to step up his game. The Dolphins expect the Patriots to match Aqib Talib against Brian Hartline and then double and roll coverages with Alfonzo Dennard (if available) and others to Mike Wallace. The problem for New England, the NFL’s No. 16 team against the pass, is that tight end Charles Clay has come into his own and is now a primary weapon in the passing game. Clay had two TD catches last week against Pittsburgh. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Dolphins plowed both the Jets and Steelers running the ball the last two weeks and they are much better against the run than the Patriots. Truth is, practically everyone is better against the run than the Patriots because they lost run-stuff Vince Wilfork, who is out for the year, and they are also ranked 31st in the category among all NFL teams. The question for the Dolphins is not whether they’ll be able to run the football but rather do they have the patience and will to stick with the running game. The answer to that question this year has been sometimes yes, sometimes no, so there’s no telling which version of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will show up to Sun Life on Sunday. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Patriots run the football: If Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel are smart, and they are, they will try to resolve their team’s 2013 penchant for sleepwalking through the first half of games by playing smash-mouth football against Miami. The Patriots are a good running team – a fact that gets lost in the giant shadow cast by quarterback Tom Brady. The offensive line is good and well coached. The stable of running backs is deep, assuming a couple don’t fumble and get benched for the whole game. And that is why the Pats are No. 13 in the NFL running the ball. The Dolphins are, shall we say, challenged in their run-stopping consistency. Teams have been able to find a soft middle often times this season. This despite the fact Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick are all having solid seasons. ADVANTAGE: New England.

When the Patriots pass the football: The truth of the matter is the Patriots are lessened by the loss of Rob Gronkowski. Without Gronkowski in the lineup they score fewer points, throw for fewer yards, have less success on third down and in the red zone. And Gronk isn’t getting back in uniform anytime soon after blowing out a knee last week. Aaron Dobson also isn’t going to factor this game so Tom Brady will have to make due with mighty mites Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Kenbrell Thompkins, a South Floridian, is coming home but because he’s a rookie he does rookie things – which means he’s inconsistent. This group is not to be confused with the 2007 Patriots pass offense. The Dolphins are coming off a game where Ben Roethlisberger carved them up 328 passing yards and three touchdowns. But Brady doesn’t have the Steelers WR corps. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis has missed a field goal in six of the Dolphins last eight games. The Dolphins are a better kickoff return team, the Patriots are a better punt return team. Brandon Fields has the advantage at punter but the Patriots do a better job on kickoffs and punt coverage. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Joe Philbin has yet to beat Bill Belichick so that is a problem at the moment for the Dolphins. Interestingly, both men handle the press more or less in the same manner, which is to say, they hate them. But that’s where the comparisons kind of end. Belichick has a lot more experience, regular-season success and championships. ADVANTAGE: New England.