November 07, 2014

Lions present Miami Dolphins a major problem up front

There are some inarguable NFL truths.

Elite quarterbacks erase a multitude of roster flaws. Tight ends are red zone matchup nightmares and, as I repeat incessantly to my twitter followers, they catch TDs in the red zone. And, of course, it is hard to win in the NFL unless you win at the line of scrimmage.

For our purpose here, let's deal with the third of those truths. You'll recall that the Buffalo Bills have made a living against the Dolphins lately, simply by winning at the line of scrimmage. You'll recall that last week I told you the Dolphins could use that very script against the San Diego Chargers.

Well, lo and behold, that was exactly how the Dolphins beat the Bolts. They swamped them at the line of scrimmage. San Diego could do nothing up front offensively, leaving Phillip Rivers to fend for himself -- which he could not -- and they mustered zero running game. The Miami offensive line, meanwhile, allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to keep his uniform mostly in pristine condition.

The formula worked for Miami.

But the formula might work against Miami in several respects this week.

The Detroit Lions, you see, at least on defense are not just a mirror image of the Buffalo Bills up front. They are an enhanced, faster, younger, better image of the Buffalo front seven The Lions, in short, can dominate up front in ways few Miami opponents can.


Detroit defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones this season have combined to produce 50 quarterback hurries, per DT Ndamukong Suh has produced 26 pressures by himself and that ties him with Buffalo's Kyle Williams, only one pressure behind Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy.

Linebacker DeAndre Levy, meanwhile, is very good in run defense. He has a very high run stop percentage of 16.6, meaning he shuts down the run (like by himself) 16.6 percent of the time.

All this says the Miami offensive front will have a tough challenge on Sunday.

“Well, number one, they are very stout upfront," coach Joe Phillbin said of the Lions. "They are a physical football team. They are active on the second level as well. Not only are they strong, but they can move and they are athletic. I think their pursuit is very, very good, and they tackle well. When you have those components, it makes it tough. What are they averaging, 3.2 or three yards they are giving up per rushing play? That’s way up there in the National Football League. They are playing good run defense.

“[Suh] is an excellent football player. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s athletic, he moves well, he gets off blocks. We’re going to have to play, Mike Pouncey, our whole offensive line’s going to have to play well."

On the other side of the ball, the Lions are not a run-first team. Truth is they don't run well at all, although some concession has to be made for the fact RB Reggie Bush has missed time and actually played hurt before that. It is also true the Detroit offensive line is not exactly a Great Wall so that works against the Lions.

The Lions have given up 24 sacks this year. They are 26th in sacks per pass play, which is bad.

But the Lions are not the disaster up front that San Diego was because of injuries. Indeed, they present a picture of getting healthier up front as right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who's been battling a concussion and other injury issues this season, is set to return against Miami. Waddle hasn't gotten a ton of snaps this year but has been very efficient in pass protection when he does play.

(You may not have heard of Waddle but he is a 2013 undrafted free agent -- a fine pickup by Martin Mayhew, Brian Xanders and the rest of the Lions' personnel department).

“I’ve watched the guys at length and, for the most part, those guys, they work well together," Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake said. "They’re a hardnosed, tough minded kind of group and obviously play to the whistle. So I think the front, that’s another challenge for us to do whatever we can to find the weakness, get after the quarterback and do our best to keep him from getting the ball in the hands of playmakers."

Isn't that often the key?

Yes. Yes, it is. And while the Miami defensive front has a marked advantaged over Detroit's offensive front, it is not as pronounced as the Dolphins enjoyed last week. The Miami offensive front, meanwhile, has zero advantage over the Detroit defensive front. Last week the Dolphins easily pushed the Chargers around and protected quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

That script probably won't be available this week.

November 06, 2014

Pro Bowl match: Mike Pouncey vs. Ndamukong Suh

The game within the game this week will be played at great heights along the line of scrimmage when the Miami Dolphins visit the Detroit Lions and guard Mike Pouncey faces defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Pro Bowl offensive lineman versus Pro Bowl defensive lineman.

“He’s a really good football player," Pouncey said Wednesday. "He plays really hard. He’s a Pro Bowl football player. We have to go out and play our best against him. He’s going to be the best defender we play against all year."

That is high praise from Pouncey. And Suh will be trying to live up to that billing by playing well, but also playing a lot of snaps.

The Lions, you see, are without tackle Nick Fairley, who is out with a knee injury, and had been without C.J. Mosley, who was sent home from London and suspended for two weeks. Mosley is back with the team.

That left the Lions with only three viable tackles against Atlanta. So Suh played. And played. And played, getting few series off.

“I’m built that way," Suh said. "I’m built to endure long drives. I’m endured to just go out there and play whatever snaps I need to play. I think I’ve, over the years, proven that I can maintain and take care of myself to where I can play whatever game, with whatever consequences or anything that comes across our way."

And Suh is good with that workload. 

"I look at my rookie year and I don’t think I remember coming out of the game, so it is what it is," Suh said. "I don’t really look at it like that. I look at it as an opportunity to go out there and play, have an impact that much more and go from there."

Awesome. So how about we tackle the elephant in the room?

Suh, you see, has this reputation as something of a dirty player. Don't believe me. Let your eyes decide:




Anywho, It is fair to say most of those instances have not happened lately. But they have indeed happened.

So is Pouncey ready to defend himself or his quarterback if Suh get all extracurricular?

“No, we don’t worry about that," Pouncey said. "We are going to go out, play hard. We’re not worried about him playing dirty. We worry about him playing as hard as he can. We have to go out there and match his intensity."

Yeah, I get the feeling Pouncey will be matching intensity bigtime if Suh takes a cheap shot at Ryan Tannehill.

October 31, 2014

A familiar formula for Miami Dolphins to ride to victory

Any Miami Dolphins fan can recite the reasons the Buffalo Bills, for example, have dominated their team in recent games: It's the line of scrimmage.

Simply, against teams with great defensive fronts, the Miami offensive line struggles because the interior of the Dolphins offense has at times been terrible inconsistent. On the other side of the ball, a team with a solid offensive line (such as Buffalo) has been able to overcome if not containt Miami's very good defensive front.

With me so far?

Well, Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, the Dolphins might have the ability to turn that exact script against the San Diego Chargers. It is likely the only hope the Dolphins have of winning that game because, frankly, the Chargers have better skill players on offense than Miami -- starting with quarterback Phillip Rivers.

The way I see it, Rivers is great and tight end Antonio Gates is great but their mark on a game fades if the Dolphins can win at the line of scrimmage. And from the looks of history and circumstances that seems quite possible.

Consider that the Miami defense is ninth in the NFL in sacks with 21. That's good. But it is tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks per game -- averaging three per game. The Dolphins rush the passer very well and that no doubt is one reason the secondary lately has feasted on interceptions (six in the past four games).

Combine that with the fact the Chargers are on their third starting center, having lost their starter and backup for the year, and that third guy -- Rich Orhnberger -- is struggling with back issues.

Combine that with the fact the Chargers lead the NFL with 103 pressures allowed despite sitting 16th in the league in the number of passing plays, according to

Combine that with the fact the Chargers struggle to run the football -- they only average 3.1 yards per rush and are 30th in rush yards per game at 85.8

And what you see is a developing picture of the Dolphins holding a distinct advantage along the line of scrimmage when their defense is on the field.

Well, what about when the Miami offense is on the field?

To start, the Chargers are not exceptional at rushing the passer. Their 15 sacks is tied for 19th in the NFL. Defensive end Corey Liuget is their sack leader with 2.5 out of the 3-4 set. He's good. But where's production from Dwight Freeney?

The San Diego defense also allows 110.9 rush yards per game. That's 14th which is middle of the pack. Safety Eric Weddle often has to creep into the tackle box to augment the run defense. And that is not a sign of a dominant run defense.

If the Dolphins, which for some curious reason don't run often enough despite having success at it, would decide to stick with the run, the statistics suggest they could have success against San Diego.

So what does this all mean?

This game offers a viable opportunity for the Dolphins to win the game at the line of scrimmage. It has been done to them with success all too painfully in recent history.

Perhaps they can flip the script.



October 29, 2014

Miami Dolphins secondary has been excellent but is about to be seriously tested

The Miami Dolphins secondary is on fire.

Last Sunday it had two interceptions of Blake Bortles, by Brent Grimes and Louis Delmas, and both returned their picks for touchdowns. (That's very good for the Dolphins). Delmas also had a recovery of a Bortles fumble.

Two weeks ago, the secondary had an interception against Jay Cutler, this one by Reshad Jones, and that pick gave the offense the ball at the Chicago 23 yard line and also eventually led to a touchdown. Cortland Finnegan also caused a fumble in that game.

On Sept. 28 against Oakland, the Dolphins secondary collected an interception by Grimes, which led to a Dolphins field goal, and Finnegan recovered a fumble and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. Oh, yes, Jimmy Wilson and Walt Aikens also had an interception each in that game.

So to recap the past four games, the Miami secondary has six interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns and two others that resulted in 10 points, collected two fumble recoveries, including one returned for a touchdown, and forced another fumble.

Three of the four members in the starting secondary -- Grimes, Finnegan and Delmas -- have scored and Jones had a turnover that led to a score.

Great work by them. Fine job by DB coach Lou Anarumo and his assistant Blue Adams.

So this unit is doing work, no?

“Most definitely," Jones said Tuesday. "We’ve got some veteran guys on the outside. I think we have some of the best corners in the league. Me and Lou [Delmas], I think we’re doing a good job. We’ve got the ball rolling in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep it going."

Ah, there's the issue.

It's an issue because while the Miami secondary has been a turnover-producing machine and has rivaled the offense in points production, it has done much of its work against some lesser quarterbacks.

The two interceptions in Jacksonville came against a rookie quarterback. The interception against Oakland was against a rookie quarterback. The fumble return against Oakland happened on a bad exchange between the center and the rookie quarterback's backup, Matt McGloin.

Jay Cutler? He's been a good quarterback. He's a veteran. His numbers are solid. But everyone understands there are questions about him of late.

The one game the Miami secondary hasn't really produced big plays in the past month was against Green Bay. And one supposes that's because QB Aaron Rodgers is elite. So it's understandable.

But the problem is the Dolphins and that ball-hawking, turnover-producing, points-scoring secondary are about to embark on a series of games against top-tier, indeed, elite quarterbacks.

No more rookies (Bortles and Derek Carr). No more backups sent in the game to clean up (Matt McGloin). No more QBs that are being looked at sideways in their own locker room (Cutler).

The next three of four games the Dolphins meet quarterbacks that boast QB ratings over 100.

The next three of four games the Dolphins meet quarterbacks with TD to INT ratios of 3-to-1 or better.

The next two of four games the Dolphins meet quarterbacks who have already thrown 20 TD passes or more and still have at least half a season ahead of them to chase more scores.

In the next four games the Dolphins meet Phillip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Kyle Orton and Peyton Manning. (Wait, Orton is that Sesame Street quarterback that does not belong with the others, right? Well, only if you dismiss his 104 QB rating and 9 TD and 3 INT work since taking over the starting job in Buffalo.)

In other words, things are about to get real for the Miami secondary starting with Rivers on Sunday. He of the bolo tie has 20 TDs and 5 INTs so far with a 109.9 rating, which is third-best in the NFL. That means he's having a very good season.

“Everybody knows Philip Rivers has been a great quarterback in this league for a long time," Grimes said. "He gets rid of the ball quick. He stands and looks pressure in the face and still makes accurate throws. He has a great arm. You can go on and on about him.

"You’ve just go to make it tough, just like anybody else in this league. There are a lot of great quarterbacks and, if you give them easy things, you’re going to make them look even better. We’ve just got to try and challenge him all game and make things not easy for him."

Finnegan echoed his fellow cornerback...

“He’s playing at a high level, at an MVP level," Finnegan said. "He’s got 20 touchdowns. He’s got receivers. He’s got a tight end. He’s got a running game. You’ve got to be on point. You can’t give him anything easy, make them earn everything. You’re hopeful at the end of the day that’s enough, but we’ll see.

"It’s a tough task."

That's the way it is going to be for the Miami secondary the next four games. They've faced some inexperienced quarterbacks the last few weeks. They face some elite guys, particularly Rivers and Manning, the next few weeks. 

Oh, I forgot to mention: Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson said Tuesday he'll be ready to play after nursing a bum ankle the past month when the Lions return from their bye ... against the Dolphins.

October 26, 2014

Dolphins roster more sound than Jets, Pats or Bills

JACKSONVILLE -- The AFC East standings today say the Miami Dolphins are a third-place team with a middling 3-3 record and there is nothing exciting to see here.

But if you read my column in today's Herald, you should get a different view of this team in comparison to the rest of the division. Simply, I believe the Dolphins have as complete a roster as there is in the division.

No, they don't have a future Hall of Fame quarterback like the Patriots do.

They don't have the best head coach in the division, either. (Patriots, again).

But the other teams in the division have significant holes in their rosters that the Dolphins don't have. It speaks volumes that all the other teams in the division are making significant roster and lineup changes recently to try to patch or hide their flaws.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are banking on stability to get better. They seem satisfied that the roster that is a sound mix of young and experienced players can continue to improve with more games this season.

Please read the column. And come back later today for a live game blog.

October 25, 2014

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE -- The Miami Dolphins have not won two consecutive games this season.

Until Sunday when they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. Well, at least that's my prediction. That's my pick. I'm picking the 3-3 team over the 1-6 team.

What a gambler!

Anyway, consider the keys to the game:

When the Jaguars pass the football: In what initially was supposed to be a sit-and-learn season, Blake Bortles took over at quarterback from Chad Henne (remember him?) in Week Four. And since then he’s completed 100 passes, the third-most in the NFL over that four-game span. Bortles uses the check-down a lot, which is one reason he owns a 65.5 completion percentage. The Dolphins must try to get him to look further downfield because that’s where the turnovers come. Bortles has five TD passes and 10 interceptions. The Miami secondary is coming off a stellar outing against Chicago – having shut down Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. A unit that can contain that star-studded attack should be able to handle a rookie quarterback and a wide receivers corps that features three rookies. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Jaguars run the football: The Jaguars gave up on Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason and committed to free agent Toby Gerhart as their primary ball carrier. Except that Gerhart suffered a foot injury against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and missed two games. The team is being cautious with his return. Former Deerfield Beach High star Denard Robinson is handling most of the duties at running back even though the Jaguars have former University of Miami player and washout Storm Johnson on the roster. The Dolphins struggled in run defense the first three weeks but have delivered three consecutive solid performances, including limiting the Bears to 52 rushing yards and a 3.7 yard per carry average last week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: This attack is morphing from one that tried to connect on the deep pass with regularity (but could not) to one that concentrates on the short to intermediate routes – slants, quick outs, screens. That asks receivers to get open quickly and make a defender miss, but more importantly, it does not require quarterback Ryan Tannehill to hold the ball a long time or connect on long throws he has been known to struggle with that approach. As a result, Tannehill has increased his completion rate and the Dolphins are moving the chains more consistently through the air. The Jaguars don’t do a lot of things well on offense or defense and one of the things this team struggles with most is pass defense. The Jaguars are No. 30 in the league in pass defense. The Jaguars allowed over 320 yards passing in three of their games – all losses. The Jags do get to the passer effectively, ranking fifth in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Chris Clemons has a sack in three consecutive games. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Ryan Tannehill has the team’s longest run each of the past two games. He is quickly becoming a dynamic threat that must be respected as a runner. What does that mean? Eventually teams will be looking for the quarterback keep on the read option and be caught flat-footed when Tannehill neither hands to the running back nor keeps, but instead throws. When the Dolphins are near the goal line, however, look for Lamar Miller to continue as a growing part of the plan as he has scored a touchdown in three consecutive games from inside the red zone after not scoring at all the first three games of the season. The Jags defense has been solid both on the ground and through the air while in the red zone, allowing only two touchdowns in opponents’ last 13 red zone trips. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Brandon Fields is having a nightmare season so far. His gross punting average is 31st in the NFL among 32 punters and his net average is last among 32 punters. The net average is obviously affected by Miami’s struggles covering punts as well as Fields’ own inconsistency. The Dolphins are also hoping kicker Caleb Sturgis, who had a kick blocked and missed another kick wide right last week, can get his act straightened out. Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee is good enough that he takes up an entire page of notes on the team’s game release. He has the most career FGs in club history, he has seven career game-winning FGs, his 92 percent success rate is second in club history and he’s connected on 23 of 38 kicks from 50 yards or more. ADVANTAGE: Jacksonville.

Coaching: Gus Bradley has an infectious attitude. He is optimistic, energetic, and comes with a solid resume as a defensive coordinator and assistant coach. But in his second in Jacksonville, Bradley is 5-18 (.217 winning percentage). Not good enough. Joe Philbin and his staff are coming off one of their finest performances. They took a disappointed and likely dispirited team following a tough Green Bay loss and got them ready to play and play well within one week. The result was a fine win at Chicago. Miami coaches helped erase physical mismatches against their defensive backs and offensive linemen. And they got their team to play with consistency. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

October 24, 2014

NFL trade deadline: Miami Dolphins possiblities

The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday and unless I miss my guess, the day will likely come and go without a blockbuster to shake things up. That's the NFL, where significant midseason trades simply don't happen very often.

But let us dig deeper on the Miami Dolphins. I have no information whether they are shopping anyone or shopping for anyone. But my guess (again) is it would be somewhat difficult for Miami to get rid of some weight based on who they might offer, salary cap ramifications and, of course, compensation.

Three players the Dolphins could logically decide they would trade for the right compensation?

Wide receiver Brandon Gibson.

Guard Shelley Smith.

Defensive end Dion Jordan.

Again, I'm not saying these guys are on the trade block. I'm saying that if someone comes along and makes an attractive offer for any of these, logic dictates the Dolphins would listen. And there are logical reasons to consider each as viable on the trade market.


Gibson was a healthy scratch in last week's game. He has lost his starting slot receiver job to rookie Jarvis Landry. Landry is the future. And Gibson is one year removed from patellar tendon surgery on one of his knees. So for a wide receiver needy team, he might be somewhat attractive in that he's experienced, he's not a diva, and he might come cheaply -- perhaps a sixth or seventh round pick.

For the Dolphins, trading Gibson might make sense because he is redundant on the roster as a receiver and he cannot get active because he does not play special teams. He has been passed on the depth chart. And the major purpose he serves is as insurance against an injury to one of the four guys ahead of him. If he goes, the Dolphins would still have five receivers in Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews and Damian Williams.

So offer him to the New York Giants. Their slot receiver Victor Cruz just went down for the year.

The cost of trading Gibson? It would offer a cap savings this year that could be carried over to next year. There would be dead money left on the books, too. But the move would ultimately help the cap by up to $1.7 million this year. By the way, if the Dolphins cut Gibson next year with a post June 1 designation, they can pocket a $3.26 million cap savings.

Dion Jordan: This is not an outrageous idea, primarily because there is always interest in a pass-rushing lineman or linebacker and Jordan can be either in the right system. Also, the Philadelphia Eagles approached the Dolphins about making a Jordan trade last offseason. Also, Jordan is young (only in his second season).

Why would the Dolphins do this? I don't believe they would barring a stellar offer and, you must recognize no one makes a stellar offer at this time of year. There would be no way the Dolphins would get back comparable compensation for what they invested in Jordan, which was not just a first-round pick but a high No. 1.

No one is going to give a first-round pick for Jordan. I don't think his value now is even a second round pick.

Why? Again, people are looking for bargains. Jordan is unproven. He is coming off two suspensions for violating the NFL drug policy on performance enhancing drugs and the NFL substance of abuse policy. That's the double play of drug policies Jordan ran afoul of. Not good, despite the fact he now says he's "drug free." The truth is Jordan faces an extended suspension of up to one year for his next strike in the substance abuse regimen. So that taints him in a trade scenario.

Then there is this: The Dolphins would have to be blown away (pardon the pun) by a trade offer to consider moving Jordan because the move is a salary cap nightmare. Trading Jordan at this point would leave nearly $10 million in dead money on Miami's books. Even trading him next offseason would be a $1,060,209 cap hinderance when you do the math on the $6,607,836 in dead money minus the scheduled $5,610,627 cap cost that would come off the books. It would be a negative cap move for the Dolphins to trade Jordan even in 2015.

It's four times worse now. Literally.

Trading Jordan doesn't become a cap savings move until 2016. And, remember, such a move is not done in a vacuum. The Dolphins would want appropriate top compensation for Jordan now to take the cap hit. I seriously doubt anyone would be so desperate as to make such an offer for a player who is unproven and whose reputation off the field is now questionable.

Then there is Shelley Smith. Believe me, this would not be a blockbuster. Smith is a reserve lineman who has been a reserve lineman throughout his career. The Dolphins believing he could morph into a starter apparently included a little wishful thinking.

Yet Smith is making better-than-backup money. His cap number this year is $2.5 million and next year it goes to $3 million. I'd be shocked the Dolphins would carry Smith on the roster next year for $3 million unless he wins a starting job coming out of training camp.

I would not be shocked if they simply cut him after June 1 and took the $2.75 million cap savings that would bring. But for now, it might also make sense to deal Smith for a seventh-rounder and take the cap savings of over $1 million this year that could be carried over into next year.

You get a late round pick and a million bucks in cap savings for trading a second- or third-stringer.

Yeah, I doubt anyone out there bites.

Same applies to outside linebacker Phillip Wheeler. Trading him would saddle the Dolphins with approximately $10 million in dead money. His cap number (with him here) would go up (with him traded away). And no one is going to pay for Phillip Wheeler's services to any significant degree because no one will want to take on the horrible contract the Dolphins gave Wheeler in 2013.

So this is not happening, folks. More likely the Dolphins simply cut Wheeler after June 1 next offseason and save $3 million against the cap.

So what if the Dolphins go shopping for help?

Firstly, I think the Dolphins have a pretty solid roster as it stands. Jeff Ireland laid parts of a good foundation and Dennis Hickey has in one year done an outstanding job of adding to it. I'm writing a Sunday column on the topic that will post Saturday so please watch for that.

But if this team fancies itself a playoff contender and a trade deadline buyer, perhaps upgrading at running back or linebacker or maybe even cornerback might help. I'm not talking giving a first-, second-, third-, or fourth-round pick for anyone because I doubt anyone worthy of that compensation is available.

But a reserve corner who is an upgrade over Jamar Taylor or Will Davis? That would be good.

A big RB who could offer a change of pace to Lamar Miller? That would be good.

Tuesday is the trade deadline.    

October 22, 2014

Miami Dolphins kicker and punter in the crosshairs

Tuesday was not a wonderful day at work for Miami Dolphins kicking specialists Caleb Sturgis and Brandon Fields. That's because their boss called them out for jobs not too well done so far this NFL season.

Coach Joe Philbin singled out Sturgis during a team meeting, in front of all the other players, for missing a field goal in Chicago last weekend.

The coach was also asked during his press conference about his punter Fields having a suprisingly poor season kicking the ball so far and Philbin didn't mask the fact something is wrong there.

It was eye-opening because the coach often covers for some players.

Not this time.

Sturgis is connecting on only 78.6 percent of his kicks so far this season. That's 28th in the NFL out of 32 kickers. From 30 yards on out, Sturgis is 6 of 9 (66.6) and that is also not a good mark.

Sturgis had a 32-yard attempt blocked in Chicago. But it was the missed 50-yarder that drew unwanted attention for Sturgis.

"We told him today, we were in the team meeting today and we said we’ve got to make those field goals," Philbin said. "We kind of went through that sequence where we took a sack and knocked ourselves back, and made the field goal more difficult.

"That being said, I said to him right there in the whole team meeting, we’ve got to make those field goals. He knows that and I suspect that he will work at it and he’ll get better at it."

Sturgis is in his second year and hasn't yet lived up to the No. 5 draft pick the Dolphins invested on him last season. So the fact the coach called him out in a team meeting and then shared that fact publicly is not terribly shocking.

This is:

Fields, arguably the best punter the Dolphins have ever had, is having a terrible season so far. And Philbin didn't argue the point Tuesday.

"Early on we got the punt blocked in Buffalo," Philbin said. "He just hasn’t looked as comfortable quite yet back there, as he has in the two years that I’ve been here, the previous two years. I’m confident he’ll work his way through it and he’ll get back to being the outstanding punter that we all know.

"For his standards, it’s not quite what we’re used to. I think he would acknowledge that, but I’m very, very confident that he’ll get back to that soon."

Fields has a long way to go to get back because his 43.3 gross average this year is 31st in the NFL out of 32 punters. His average is the worst he's had since his rookie year in 2007 and, amazingly, it is only one yard better than his 2013 net average of 42.4.

As for the net average this year?

It's 31.8. That is dead last in the NFL. That is so bad it is nearly four yards worse than the next worst net average. Oh, and it is the worst of Fields' career by four yards.

Yes, long way back.

October 21, 2014

The PFF and Salguero rewind of the Bears win

Glad tidings on the scoreboard typically translate to good grades for the Miami Dolphins from my friends at and this week is no different.

The Dolphins beat the Chicago Bears and the film rewind of the victoy was kind to Miami.

Here are some nuggets:

Offensive Summary

RB Damien Williams saw the first snaps in relief of Lamar Miller, but Daniel Thomas ultimately played more, holding a 24-5 snap count advantage over Williams. Miller handled 43 of 71 snaps.

The Dolphins played plenty of 12 personnel protecting the lead in the second half, but Jarvis Landry saw 42 snaps and looks entrenched as the starter in the slot for now. Brandon Gibson, meanwhile, was inactive for his second consecutive game.

In what’s already been a dominant year for LT Branden Albert, he recorded his highest grade (+6.9) of the season, excelling in the run game (+4.4) and silencing Jared Allen and Willie Young in the pass rush. Young led the NFL in sacks before this game.


QB Ryan Tannehill had a clean pocket, with no pressure on 27 of his 36 drop-backs. He was 23-for-27 with 239 yards and 2 TDs on those drop-backs.

With a clean pocket, Tannehill was able to look down the field a little more. On passes travelling 10-19 yards downfield he was 6-of-8 for 78 yards and the pair of scores.

The shot down the field and the bomb have apparently been benched by the Dolphins. The team simply doesn't try them recently. Tannehill was 1-of-3 for 25 yards on passes of 20-plus yards downfield.


The primary success in the running game came behind Albert. Miller attempted six runs behind his left tackle, producing 32 yards.

Miller is doing a better job not going down on first contact. He posted 38 yards after contact, his second highest number of the season, despite just 63 yards overall on the ground.


The Dolphins were able to take advantage of TE Charles Clay’s matchups with the Chicago LBs. Three of Clay's four catches and 46 of his 58 yards came against Shea McClellan and Khaseem Greene, including his TD catch.

Tannehill attacked Greene at will, targeting him the most of any Bears defender. Clay, Miller, Thomas and Williams caught seven of eight targets for 79 yards, with the lone miss being a drop by Miller on a check-down.

Defensive Summary

DE Cameron Wake continues to make right tackles look silly. In addition to his sack-fumble-recovery, Wake tallied three hurries and made two more stops in the run game.

Michael Thomas and Jamar Taylor split nickel corner duties in Jimmy Wilson’s absence. Thomas played 26 snaps as slot corner, while Taylor played 19 snaps at right corner, kicking Finnegan to the slot in those instances. Taylor struggled giving up two penalties.

Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi were the nickel LBs for most of the day, with Philip Wheeler joining them in the base. Misi couldn’t finish the game out and Jason Trusnik and Wheeler manned the nickel on the final drive.

Brent Grimes couldn’t finish out the game either, leaving on the final drive. The three DBs to close the game at corner were Finnegan at RCB, Thomas in the slot, and Taylor at LCB.

The Dolphins did not report any injuries for either Grimes or Misi so it will be interesting to see if both players practice on Tuesday.


Despite allowing six catches on nine targets for 67 yards and a score, Cortland Finnegan bounced back from his very poor Week Six. He broke up two passes: one in the end-zone near the end of the game to Brandon Marshall and another on a deep-ball to Alshon Jeffery.

Besides the interception, safety Reshad Jones broke up two passes and allowed two catches on 4 targets.

After shadowing Jordy Nelson last week, Brent Grimes was back at his left corner position. Bears QB Jay Cutler targeted him just three times, resulting in two catches for 8 yards. Excellent work by Grimes and the people up front who rushed Cutler.

October 16, 2014

Pouncey will improve ... So Miami Dolphins should run more

Mike Pouncey had not played a game in 10 months so, yes, he was nervous on the eve of his season-debut against the Green Bay Packers.

“I was nervous. I woke up that morning like at 4:30 in the morning," Pouncey said Wednesday. "I had a bunch of family in town, so I just expressed to them how nervous I was. I felt like I was a rookie all over again. But once I got out there after that first snap, it was just great to be back out there. I felt back to normal."


Not back to normal.

Normal for the past three seasons has been playing center. Normal has been getting in a training camp and preseason. Normal has been not waiting until October (Week 6 of the season) to play in a season debut.

And that's really good. Because as Mike Pouncey's season becomes, shall we say, more normal, we might see his level of play become much better -- maybe to the Pro Bowl heights we saw at times in recent years.

Remember, when I first wrote about Pouncey possibly making a change from center to guard on Sept. 28, he told me he could be a Pro Bowl guard. Well, let's go ...

"I did all right," Pouncey said of his performance. "But I hold myself to a high standard and I’ve got to play a lot better than I did."

Pouncey's history suggests he will be better. And that is where I think the Dolphins can turn this into a part of a season-helping (saving?) idea:

Look, Even when the right guard spot was an abyss -- with one mediocre guy playing for a while until he got hurt and was replaced by another mediocre player -- the Dolphins were running the football pretty well.

The team is No. 3 in rushing yards per attempt at 5.0. The team is ranked No. 6 in rushing yards per game at 136.2. And these impressive rankings despite the fact the team is No 15, or middle of the pack, in rushing attempts per game at 27.4.

So you know what I think?

With an improving OL, because Pouncey will likely be better with every passing game at RG and rookie RT Ja'Wuan James is improving as well, with Lamar Miller so far showing he deserves more carries, and with the passing game being mostly inconsistent, I think the Dolphins should run the football more.

Much more.

They should be run-first, if that's what it takes. 

Obviously, what they've been doing in mixing more passes than runs hasn't exactly worked to a great degree. Why not do what you do better more often, especially when your personnel to do that thing you do better is, well, getting better?

It is just an idea. 

October 15, 2014

Can the Miami Dolphins put stinging loss behind them?

The loss to the Green Bay Packers was a gut punch. To me, that bitter defeat has the potential to be a season-defining moment that sends the Miami Dolphins on a tailspin from which they might not recover.

So this week I am looking for signs this team is rebounding. I am searching for clues to see whether Sunday's loss will linger like a hangover after an all-night bender or whether the team is walking a straight line to the next assignment rather than being haunted by the past.

The Dolphins provided some of those clues on Tuesday. Oh, some players were honest. They said they still felt the sting of the loss a full two days after it was sealed.

"Even during practice I was kind of upset we lost the game," receiver Mike Wallace said. "I was still thinking about it. But once [Wednesday] comes, we've got a new gameplan. We got to let it go. It's tough to lose those type of games but we got to move forward. We'll be fine."

That's honest and expected. Let's face it, that game stung. And for many people the pain of failure is stubborn and hard to overcome while the satisfaction of victory is fleeting.

“I think it’s tough," cornerback Cortland Finnegan admitted. "I think when you had a good team right where we had them, it’s tough, but it’s the 24-hour rule. I think the Chicago Bears don’t give a rip what happened against the Green Bay Packers. So we’ve got to go out there and give them our best."

A football team is the united heartbeat of 53 individuals and a coaching staff. (Yeah, that's some prose). Anyway, even as there is only one heartbeat there are varying opinions and reactions. Some players said they had already moved forward.

The question is whether those players and the coaches will dominate over any lingering lack of confidence, or pain, or emotional bankruptcy in willing the entire group to pivot to the next game against the Chicago Bears.

Joe Philbin said he saw a tangible sign that the defeat is not lingering.

"I thought it was our best Tuesday practice of the year," Philbin said after a session that lasted approximately 90 minutes. "I know we had a tough hard-fought game the other day, but I thought our guys came out and really prepared extremely well. We’ve got a long way to go before the game and a lot more of the game plan to put in, but I thought we got off to a good start."

A good practice suggests the players were not sleepwalking. It suggests they were being professional and moving on to the next assignment.

But it is only one sign. It is still early in the week. Philbin and his coaches must be wary of a team liking wounds or picking at scars for too long. And so Philbin talked to the players about it.

“We talked a little bit in the team meeting." Philbin said. "We said look, ‘We’ve got to be tougher than that mentally.’ Really, as we all know, obviously it takes tremendous physical skill to be an NFL football player, but, once you get there, a lot of it is mental. So all of us, myself included, we all have to get back to work. This is an important game and we have to play well."

It is easier said than done.

"One hunderd percent honest, it's how bad you messed up or how great you did," defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. "Sometimes you want to move past a game, so you move on. Sometimes it's easier than others and sometimes it's harder than others.

"In terms of lingering and thinking of what you did, [a loss] will last through a good part of Monday. You're sitting there and thinking about what you did, what's going to be said when you go back into the building, what you're going to be corrected on or what you might be praised for. When it's a loss everything is going to be illuminated as much as when you win but either way, you have a game next week and you have to perform. You think about them. And part of you becoming a pro is forgetting about them. Learning from it, extracting the nutrients from a win or loss, but moving on to the next."

We'll see how well the Dolphins can move on to the next this week.

October 14, 2014

Salguero and PFF review of Packers at Miami Dolphins [Updated]

[Update: The Dolphins have placed running back Knowshon Moreno on the injured reserve list this morning. He suffered an ACL tear in a knee against the Green Bay Packers and is now out for the season. Moreno played only three games for the Dolphins and actually ran the football only once in the second game (against Buffalo) in September because he dislocated his left elbow on that lone run. He finishes the season with only 31 rushes for 148 yards. Moreno signed a one-year deal worth $3 million last offseason. His Dolphins future is obviously uncertain given his injury history. Moreno had and ACL injury cut short his season in 2011 as well.]

Moving on ...

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan followed his best game with the Dolphins (versus Oakland) with his worst game with the Dolphins (versus Green Bay). Jarvis Landry may have made his eventual move ahead of Brandon Gibson earlier than expected while Gibson rested. And Will Davis returned to the bench, perhaps closing the window on his chance to shine in 2014.

Those are some of the snapshots you can take away from the film study of Sunday's 27-24 Dolphins loss to Green Bay done by my friends at and some added insight by me.

As with every Tuesday following a game, the grades are in, the review is complete.

Here are the grades from @PFF and @ArmandoSalguero: 

Offensive Summary

Despite not seeing the field in the second half, Knowshon Moreno still got 23 snaps in his first action since Week 2. Starting RB Lamar Miller got 34 snaps and Damien Williams got four when Miller needed a breather in the second half.

There was zero rotation at slot wide receiver with Brandon Gibson out. Jarvis Landry logged 47 snaps, compared to five for Rishard Matthews and one for Damian Williams.

Branden Albert handled Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers in pass blocking (+2.1), but had his worst day of the season in run blocking (-1.2), in addition to picking up his first two penalties as a Dolphins player.


Both of Ryan Tannehill's interceptions came on drop-backs where the Packers did not register a pressure of any kind.

Tannehill was almost perfect when he was not blitzed, going 13-of-16 for 187 yards, although he did throw an interception. He threw both touchdowns when Green Bay brought the blitz, but was 7-of-15 overall for 60 yards and a pick as well.

Tannehill struggled getting the ball down the field again, going just 4-of-11 on passes traveling 10+ yards; and three of those four completions were inside the numbers for about 10 yards.


The Packers would not let the Dolphins run behind Mike Pouncey. On eight total carries directed towards Pouncey or the gap between Satele and Pouncey, Miami produced just 3 yards.

All three of Tannehill's runs were of the designed variety, something Green Bay has struggled with for a few years.


The Dolphins were able to take advantage of Jarvis Landry vs. A.J. Hawk a few times; Landry was targeted twice vs. Hawk, catching both targets for 30 yards.

Despite dropping another pass, a potentially big play, Mike Wallace saw targets against six Green Bay defensive backs.

The Dolphins did nice YAC work. They gained 167 of their 244 receiving on yards came after the catch. This tells you, in part, how horizontal the Miami offense has become. The team relies on receivers catching short to intermediate passes and making yards afterward. The long throws that Tannehill has struggled with as a professional have been shelved the past couple of games. 

It will be interesting to see if this is a temporary situation or part of the permanent plan going forward.

Defensive Summary

Cameron Wake (+2.4) and Olivier Vernon (+3.7) continue to be two of the dominant 4-3 DEs in the game, each tallying two sacks, two hits and a hurry against the GB line.

Reshad Jones handled 77 of 80 snaps in his return from suspension. Jimmy Wilson, who previously started at safety during Jones' suspension, played 60 snaps as the nickel corner, Will Davis, previously the nickel corner, didn't play a defensive snap.

With Derrick Shelby suspended, the three rookies, Anthony Johnson (10 snaps), Chris McCain (12 snaps), and Terrence Fede (16 snaps) all saw some time on the field. Shelby was reinstated by the Dolphins on Monday and will rejoin the team Tuesday. I expect the snaps for the rookies will decline.


Cortland Finnegan was exposed by Rodgers and rookie Davante Adams for five catches on six targets for 70 yards. Finnegan also played too far off on Adams on the fake spike and failed to tackle the Green Bay receiver inbounds -- by takling the outside leg -- and thus Adams was able to slip out of bounds and keep his team alive. Finnegan tackles Adams inbounds and the game ends right there.

Brent Grimes allowed seven completions on 12 targets for 94 yards to Jordy Nelson, but held him to just 24 yards after the catch.

October 13, 2014

Miami Dolphins coaches must better recognize own players' flaws

Football in its 1951 black-and-white form has certain truisms.

Cornerbacks have to cover man to man. Wide receivers have to beat cornerbacks. Tight ends have to get open against linebackers and safeties. Offensive tackles have to block defensive ends. Linebackers have to cover tight ends.

So we're straight on that? The game, at the end of the day, is about one man trying to beat another man within the realm of 10 teammatess doing their jobs against, usually, 10 other guys in the opposing uniform.

So no one -- not me, not you, not any pundit or analyst anywhere -- can complain when a coach such aa Joe Philbin says something akin to "an offensive tackle has to block a defensive end one-on-one."

It is true. It is inarguable.

It's also true a linebacker has to be able to cover a tight end one-on-one. That is inarguable. It just is.

But the lines on these truths blur in real life amid the chaos of a game's final seconds, while the crowd is roaring and the headphone in the coach's ear is buzzing with assistants, and the pit in his stomach is threatening to become an ulcer if the bang-bang decision he's about to make doesn't work out just right.

In those (in)glorious moments, great coaches step forward, bad coaches demure and young coaches better learn quickly that some truisms cannot go unchallenged.

Where is this all going?

Last year the Miami Dolphins, under Philbin, lived and at least twice during the season died by the truism that offensive tackles must block defensive ends one-on-one. Against the Baltimore Ravens the Dolphins went by that credo and paid a heavy price when offensive tackle Tyson Clabo, asked to block Terrell Suggs and then Elvis Dumervil one-on-one, gave up untimely sacks that ultimately helped Baltimore win the game.

The very next week, the Dolphins found themselves in a similar situation and once again the coaching staff asked Clabo to block his man Mario Williams one-on-one on a couple of final pass plays in the final minutes of the game.

Once again, Clabo lost the matchup, Williams raced to the quarterback, caused a fumble and set up the Bills for a winning field goal.

Suddenly, that truism of offensive tackles having to block defensive ends one-on-one seemed, well, like so much hogwash. The real truth of real life is sometimes you have to make exceptions. Sometimes you have to come up with alternate strategies because the textbook does not apply on the field.

Humans are flawed. Players are flawed and sometimes your flawed player is simply not up to the assignment the trusim presents.

And, write this down, it is the coach's job to know what his flawed player can do. And what his flawed player cannot do.

 It is the coach's job to somehow mask or relieve his overmatched flawed player of things he cannot do. It is the coach's job to not ask his flawed player to do something experience and his eyes has shown him the flawed player cannot do.

Great coaches, in other words, throw the book of football truisms out the window when they understand their guys cannot get it done. (A corollary of this is great coaches try to press their advantage when they have superior players that cannot be blocked or covered or, as is the case with someone such as cornerback Darrelle Revis, can cover practically anyone all by himself and win consistently).

That's what a coach must do to a large degree: Know his player. Understand that player's limits. And never require that player to go beyond the bounds of that limit, particularly not in game-deciding moments.

Said another way, great coaches learn that truism are, well, stupid.

That brings me to Sunday afternoon and another truism. The Dolphins, as Joe Philbin said today, understand that linebackers must cover tight ends one-on-one. Not all the time. Not every single play. But sometimes a linebacker must cover a tight end one-on-one.

It is, what? A truism.

"Linebackers covering tight ends? Absolutely linebackers cover tight ends in practice," Philbin said today. "I do know our linebackers cover tight ends in practice."

And with six seconds to play on Sunday, with the potential game-deciding play at stake, already knowing what alignment the Packers were thinking about because they called time out specifically to spy that out, the Dolphins decided their linebacker Phillip Wheeler must cover Green Bay tight end Andrew Quarless one-on-one on the outside.

Hey, it is a truism. That's the call. That's how we roll.

Except ... wait one second.


Phillip Wheeler, every Dolphins fan, observer, booster, critic, and pundit knows, is not the best cover linebacker. He is, how to be delicate here, not long for this roster because the Dolphins overpaid for him and he's really only good at one thing and that is rushing the passer on A-gap blizes (my opinion) but definitely not at covering tight ends.

Everyone knows this. last year graded Wheeler a minus-8.2 for his coverage skills. He graded negatively in 10 games on pass coverage.

The Dolphins know this, too. I presume that's the reason late last year Wheeler was sharing duties with Jelani Jenkins on passing downs.

So knowing they have a flawed player ... Knowing also, by the way, that player had a broken finger a couple of weeks ago ... Knowing the Packers had initial intentions of putting their TE out wide because that's exactly what Green Bay did just prior to Miami calling time ...

The Dolphins put Wheeler one-on-one against Quarless anyway.

Because, the truism screams, linebackers have to cover tight ends one-on-one.

Well, Wheeler was beaten. It wasn't that close. Dolphins lost.

And after 952 words, I am going to make my greater point: I am not going to rip the decision to put Wheeler on Quarless 24 hours ago. That happened. It didn't work. I'm not going to rip the result, although I would have hoped Miami coaches would have known their personnel a little better.

Wheeler getting beat is a phrase I've typed before. Why would it surprise coaches?

But that's not my point. My point is to warn the Dolphins coaches. Don't do it again.

Don't come back next week against the Chicago Bears and ask Phillip Wheeler to cover Martellus Bennett one-on-one in the red zone and particularly not near the goal line. Bennett is 6-6 and 265 pounds after fasting a couple of days. He runs a 4.65 and is a mismatch nightmare for most linebackers and definitely for the smaller (6-2, 240-pound), slower (4.7) Wheeler.

All I am asking is that next time the Dolphins not put their flawed player in a position to fail rather than succeed. All I am asking is for the Dolphins maybe to get a quicker safety (Reshad Jones or Louis Delmas) on that tight end. Or get a better coverage linebacker (Jenkins) on that tight end. Or help Wheeler with a double -- don't know if that's doable inside the 5 yard line -- but certainly is further out.

All I'm asking is that the coaching staff that stuck stubbornly by its OT vs. DE one-on-one truism last year and cost the Dolphins a second loss because, again, their player wasn't up to meeting their truism vision, this time recognize this player is again not up to the challenge.

Recognize. Adapt. Adjust.

Don't let the same issue crop up a second time. Please.

October 10, 2014

Charles Clay: 'It hasn't gone as I planned'

The tight end is a big deal in the NFL. He is a matchup nightmare. He is a touchdown machine, particularly in the red zone, as I constantly remind my twitter followers. The tight end is, for some teams, the cornerstone of the passing game.

Unfortunately, not so this year with the Miami Dolphins and their tight end Charles Clay.

Through Week 5, NFL tight ends have combined for 752 receptions, 8,194 receiving yards and 72 touchdown catches -- all of which are on pace to be the highest combined totals for the position of any season in NFL history.

In history!

There have been 10 individual multiple-touchdown performances by tight ends in 2014, the second most through Week 5 of any NFL season (12 in 2013), including two by AFC tight ends last weekend. Their teams have posted a 9-1 record in those contests. 

Denver’s Julius Thomas, who leads all NFL players with seven touchdowns this season, had two TD catches in the Broncos’ 41-20 win against Arizona on Sunday. San Diego’s Antonio Gates had two touchdowns in the Chargers’ 31-0 win against the Jets in Week 5.

In Miami, meanwhile, Clay has 14 catches for 111 yards (a modest 7.9 yards per catch average) without a touchdown. It has been quite a disappointment so far, following last year's breakout season in which Clay caught 69 passes for 759, averaging 11.0 yards per catch, and scoring six touchdowns.

“It hasn’t gone as I planned," Clay said this week. "Obviously, I set very high standards for myself. Like I said, the bye week kind of gave us a chance to look back at those things, kind of look back and figure out how I could correct them. It’s just a matter of doing it now. I’m ready to go."

There is a common thought out there that Clay has struggled because of a knee injury that forced him to miss much of training camp and lingers even now. There is other thinking that Clay has drawn more attention from defenses bent on stopping him.

Well, the knee has been an issue, but do not overplay it. The knee should have zero affect on Clay dropping passes as the hands are not connected to the knee. And that's been a problem for Clay who has at least four drops so far this season, including a couple that would have gone for long gains and potential touchdowns.

"It's all minor things: Route depth. Stems. Catching the football," Clay said. "It's no secret I haven't been doing that very well. It's just a matter of coming back and getting all that corrected."

(Quickie football terminology lesson: A stem as it applies to pass catching is the Initial portion of a pass route in which the receiver runs straight upfield before cutting; during the stem, the receiver tries to make the defender think he is running a streak route.)

And while the New England Patriots did pay closer attention to Clay than other teams, he has not seen undue attention from defenses since that game. Yet, the production simply hasn't been what anyone hoped.

"I wouldn't say they've paid me more attention," Clay agreed. "It's just I haven't been playing to the standards I set for myself. That's something I kind of have to take full responsibility for. I don't feel like teams are paying me any more attention than they have been in the past."

Clay has been frustrated, about himself mostly, and part of that has to do with the fact he's in a contract year. He is making $1.4 million this year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next year.

The Dolphins and Clay's representation weren't able to agree on an extension before the season as ultimately both sides decided to let this year decide the direction of the coming talks. So far the direction of this season is not working in Clay's favor.

Even as other tight ends are enjoying a banner season.



October 08, 2014

What Reshad Jones must overcome to regain his job

The Dolphins are taking it slow with Reshad Jones -- at least so far this week.

During Monday's practice in preparation for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, Jones was back on the field and getting a full complement of repetitions. But those repetitions did not come with the first-team defense.

The first-team safeties remained Jimmy Wilson and Louis Delmas.

This despite the fact Jones was the starter before he was suspended for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs. This despite the fact Jones came back from the four week suspension in great shape.

“Very, very pleased with the condition that Reshad has come back in," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "He’s only had a few practices, so we’re still trying to get him up to speed in a lot of areas. But his conditioning has been very good and his play speed has been excellent.

"Sometimes guys give each other a hard time about having fresh legs when somebody comes back from either being injured or what have you, but he’s noticeably fast out on the field right now and covering a lot of ground and doing a good job."

So what's the issue? Why not put Jones right back where he belongs?

Well, the Miami defense has developed some since Jones went away. And Jones needs to catch up to the developments.

And while that can conceivably happen within a week or 10 days for some players, it can take coaches some time to believe the process is complete. They must be convinced Jones has the new material nailed down particularly with the fact the defense is about to face one of the NFL's most explosive offenses and Coyle says the Dolphins cannot afford to give up any cheap points.

"This is the type of team that you cannot give them any plays," Coyle said. "In other words, I guess that sounds simple, but you have to make them earn every yard. They’re going to earn some yards. But you’ve got to keep them putting the ball back in play. You saw the couple of bombs that went off in the (Minnesota) Vikings game early on, the post-play to (Jordy) Nelson. Against Chicago, they had a couple of guys running wide open down the field that he hit. You can’t do that. They’re too good.

"They’re going to move the ball, get some first downs. You’ve got to be able to make them earn every yard. You’ve got to be able to slow down, contain their run game and then get [Aaron Rodgers] into situations where you have a chance to try to mix it up against them and do some things against the passing game. The scary thing is that when they’re hitting on all cylinders, they’re an up-tempo team that gets a group out on the field. They’re not overly fast, but yet their tempo is very good and, when he gets in rhythm, he’s scary.”

It might just be that to prevent what he fears are breakdowns, Coyle and the Miami defensive staff defer to the status quo, keeping the lineup as it has been for four weeks.

On the other hand, Jones is unquestionably an upgrade over Wilson at safety. So eventually, he will get his job back.

My fear? That the coaching staff tries to split the baby.

In other words, I fear that enticed by Jones being in such good shape and being a physical presence, the coaching staff might try to play him part-time and play Wilson part-time. That sounds like an invitation to have miscommunication in the secondary.

Miscommunication in the secondary leads to blown coverages.

And isn't that what Coyle just said he's trying to avoid?

The next two days will be important for Jones if is about to take his job back. He's already gone a long way toward convincing the coaching staff he's physically able to play. If he can convince them he's up to speed on the scheme and game plan, he'll be back to his job.

Otherwise, it'll be Jimmy Wilson at safety again.

October 07, 2014

Manny Fernandez to join the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll

The best defensive tackle in Miami Dolphins history?

Bob Baumhauwer would be in the conversation. So would Tim Bowens, maybe even Randy Starks. But the best Dolphins defensive tackle on the Super Bowl stage?

Manny Fernandez.

No question.

Fernandez, a dominant lineman on the Dolphins Super Bowl teams of the 1970s and a great performer in their three Super Bowl games that decade, will be recognized for his outstanding career when the organization announces on Wednesday he will be inducted into the Honor Roll at Sun Life Stadium.

Fernandez, 68, was kind of sort of already on the Honor Roll because the entire 1972 undefeated team is up there as a unit. But he will now join others such as Jake Scott, Bill Stanfill, Nick Buoniconti, Larry Little, and Don Shula who made up that historic team to make the Honor Roll as individuals.

Fernandez will be recognized during halftime of the Dolphins' game against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 21. The Dolphins Honor Roll was initiated on September 16, 1990, with the induction of team founder Joe Robbie. The elements that go into the Dolphins Honor Roll selection include achievement, longevity and character.

Fernandez played for the Dolphins from 1968-75. He recorded 35 sacks in that time. But it was his total domination in Super Bowls that got everyone's attention.

In Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, Fernandez recorded 17 tackles and had a sack. Everyone seems to know that.

But the Dolphins played in Super Bowl VI and VIII and by the time his three Super Bowl game stats were compiled they included 28 tackles and three sacks.

Fernandez will be the 26th individual to join the Honor Roll.

October 06, 2014

Bye-bye to the bye as Miami Dolphins return to grind

The bye week has come and gone, with defensive end Derrick Shelby's arrest early Saturday as the only troubling incident coming out of the time off, and so the Miami Dolphins return to the season's grind with a 12:15 practice today. (Be sure to come back here around 1ish and follow me on twitter for updates from practice).

Anyway, the Dolphins find themselves after their bye in no better position than they did before the bye as a couple of AFC East rivals had good weekends while the New York Jets continued to show they have many questions and few answers as the division's worst team. More on that in a bit.

The Dolphins are 2-2 and while it can be said they seem pointed in the right direction, with that victory over Oakland a fortnight ago sending them happily toward their bye, questions about this team persist.

Firstly, it must be said that the Dolphins were a .500 team against the easier part of their schedule. The combined winning percentage of four teams in Miami's rearview mirror is .421. The combined winning percentage of the teams Miami is about to play the next dozen weeks is .474. No, neither mark seems daunting.

This does:

The Dolphins just faced E.J. Manuel (since benched), Alex Smith and Oakland rookie Derek Carr. They were 1-2 in those three games.

The Dolphins are about to face Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Phillip Rivers, Matt Stafford, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco.

The only thing that offers hope in facing that formidable row of QBs is the fact the Dolphins already played and beat Tom Brady in the season opener. Of course, Brady is coming around again in a Foxboro rematch, but if a team can beat Brady, the rest of the assignment is not without hope.

The Dolphins probably hoped Brady and the Patriots would continue to struggle this past weekend as they had the first four games, particularly in that Monday Night fiasco at Kansas City. But the Patriots emerged from a week in which everything and everyone in Boston was questioned with a stunningly easy victory over the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bengals.

The only good news for Miami in the wake of that result as that the NFL no longer has an undefeated team in 2014. The 1972 Dolphins will continue to be the lone NFL team to win it all and while remaining undefeated.

But history aside, that New England victory suggested the Patriots are not the declining team they were portrayed after Kansas City. On Sunday night the Patriots protected Brady, ran the ball, and found their tight ends in a manner that nearly recalled the Gronk-Hernandez heydays. Oh, yes, the defense also got excellent play from Darrelle Revis, who was finally unleashed from zone assignments to play man-to-man vs. A.J. Green. Revis won the matchup so he's not too old, he's not washed up and now the Patriots seem to have a clue about how to use him. None of that is good news for the Dolphins.

In Detroit, the Bills pulled out a come-from-behind victory when Dan Carpenter connected on a 58-yard FG. The win came on the road. Against a solid team. And with new starter Kyle Orton playing well enough to merit more starts as the new quarterback. The Bills are a talented team...except for their quarterback spot. If Orton settles that position with merely solid play, the Bills become a major problem for the Dolphins because, frankly, they've been a problem with poor quarterbacks as it was.

The news is not so good for the Jets. Their QB situation remains in flux. Geno Smith was the starter on Sunday and played so poorly he was benched at halftime. And then backup Mike Vick played poorly. So coach Rex Ryan is going back to Smith next Sunday.

But in shuffling QBs, the Jets are also lacking a running game and a solid defense. So to recap, no quarterback, no offensive help for the quarterback, no defensive help for the quarterback. The Jets are not contenders. Their best hope is that they can play spoilers -- again.

As for the Dolphins, this is a big week for center Mike Pouncey. He has been practicing on a limited basis for two weeks. He needs to get to full practice status before coach Joe Philbin will even think of playing him. Pouncey had hoped to return by Week 4. He didn't. If he misses Sunday's Green Bay game, that will be his sixth week (including the bye) out while fully recovering from that June hip surgery. This week is big.

Safety Reshad Jones should be back in the lineup against the Packers -- one hopes. Look, I know Jimmy Wilson is a nice player and did a commendable job while Jones was suspended. But Jones is better. Plus, moving Jones back into the lineup allows the Dolphins to return Wilson to his nickel corner duties, which allows the team to lighten the load on Will Davis, who was acceptable but not great the past four games.

My worry?

Kevin Coyle loves Wilson. Philbin is often conservative about putting guys back in the lineup quickly. And I worry the coaches may be lulled into thinking that because Wilson at safety and Davis playing outside in the nickel was not bad the first four weeks, it might be alright another week while Jones gets readjusted to playing again.



Wilson and Davis were fine against the QBs Miami just faced.

Did I mention the Dolphins are about to face Aaron Rodgers? 

September 25, 2014

Dan Fouts: Matt Moore 'wouldn't be a bad idea'

Dan Fouts and his beard will serve as the color analysts of the Dolphins vs. Raiders matchup in London for CBS. And as such, both will talk to the coaches and selected players from each team to get insight on the teams for the broadcast.

But Fouts already has a ready formed opinion on the game. For Fouts this game's biggest matchup is primarily about one thing:

"The biggest matchup is who has the hotter seat: {Miami's] Joe Philbin or [Oakland's] Dennis Allen," Fouts said. "It is that time of the year when fans and the media start to look at teams that are not doing well and speculate on the futures of not only coaches, but the quarterbacks as well.

"With Ryan Tannehill in Miami you’ve got a quarterback who has been very inconsistent.  People want to know should they go to Matt Moore at this point. Joe Philbin said yesterday that everything is on the table. So that means we might see Matt Moore. At 1-2 and with your team not playing very well, your quarterback inconsistent in a new offense and you have a veteran quarterback who’s had success in the league, this probably wouldn’t be bad idea. 

"Fortunately for the Dolphins they are playing a team that is struggling as well at 0-3."

Interesting. It is one thing when fans or legitimate media say that a switch at quarterback might be warranted. We have no playing experiencing to speak of. But when a former quarterback and a Hall of Fame one at that suggests it might be a good idea? Well, that adds some legitimacy to the idea.

What does Fouts think of the Raiders?

"They have to start running the ball better," Fouts said. "Hopefully Maurice Jones-Drew is able to play and give them a one-two punch with Darren McFadden.  I’m anxious to watch the young quarterback Derek Carr play. I think that he has all the tools, but he is just getting into his fourth game as an NFL quarterback.  If they can run the ball and the proverbial, “Take the pressure off” the young quarterback, then they have a shot."   

September 21, 2014

Salguero's OL improvement, predicting KC game, keys

I'm picking the Miami Dolphins over the Kansas City Chiefs today. It means nothing because I'm 0-2 so far this year, having picked Miami to lose against New England and beat Buffalo.

What can I say, I'm better at writing than prognosticating. (Not by a lot, I know, smart alecks).

I'm also pretty good with ideas sometimes and in my column in today's Miami Herald I tell you how the Dolphins can put their five best offensive lineman on the field at the same time once Mike Pouncey is fully recovered from his hip surgery and returns to the lineup.

Interestingly, my idea is one Pouncey told me he is open-minded about although it would require some sacrifice from him.

So check out the column.

As for today's game against the Chiefs, here are the keys to the game:

When the Chiefs pass the football: Alex Smith has never played against the Dolphins despite being in his 10th NFL season. And the quarterback the Dolphins will see for the first time is having a hard time so far this season after posting a good season with the Chiefs last year. Smith has had very little protection from an offensive line that has been rebuilt. That line lost three starters to free agency. Eric Fisher, who was the No. 1 overall pick a year ago but is moving from the right to left tackle for the first time, has not been good. Behind shaky protection (six sacks in two games) Smith’s accuracy has suffered. The Chiefs do have a very good tight end corps, led by former Dolphin Anthony Fasano, that also includes Travis Kelce, who leads the team with an 18.6 yard per catch average. Fasano has caught a TD pass in 4 of the past 6 games. The Dolphins had a great pass rush in week one vs. New England but did not muster a sack against Buffalo last week. They want to get back to their New England level of performance. The Dolphins are also making some changes in the secondary. Will Davis, who has been inconsistent the first two weeks, is headed back to the bench. Jimmy Wilson, who started at safety the first two games, may still do that. But he will be at corner in the nickel replacing Davis. That means Michael Thomas is getting a lot of work, and perhaps even a start today, at safety. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Chiefs run the football: That sound you’re hearing is the Miami defense exhaling because Jamaal Charles, one of the most explosive runners in the NFL, has an ankle injury and is questionable for the game. He is a game-time decision. But regardless of whether Charles can play, Knile Davis will carry more of the running game than usual. Davis isn’t fast like Charles, but he is bigger (227 pounds) and more physical. The Chiefs were the 22nd ranked running team with Charles. And the 4.2 yards per rush is helped by the fact Smith has averaged 7.1 yards per rush, mostly on scrambles. The Dolphins are middle of the road against the rush. They’re ranked 13th in the NFL while allowing an average of 101 yards per game. The key to having any success against the Dolphins, however, is patience. That’s because teams are averaging only three yards per rush against Miami and that means the Dolphins are tied for fourth in the NFL in that category. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Miami passing game is not in synch for one reason or another. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has strung together four sub par games dating back to the final two games last season. Receivers are not consistently running precise routes. The interior offensive line has been inconsistent, particularly in pass protection. It’s just not been very good, which is one reason the Dolphins are 31st (next to last) in the NFL with a 5.17 yards per attempt average. But Mike Wallace is playing well. He consistently gets open deep and has 6 TD catches in the past 8 games. The Chiefs pass defense has been, how to put it delicately, atrocious. Opposing QBs are completing 72.9 percent of their passes. They’ve allowed five TD passes and have zero interceptions. Opposing QBs have a 126.9 rating against K.C. so far. That’s really good. -- for the opposing quarterbacks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Knowshon Moreno is out and that hands the reins to the Dolphins running game to Lamar Miller who is clearly not as good instinctively as Moreno and doesn’t run downhill as much as Moreno. Making the handoff a bit more cringe worthy is that a sore ankle slows Miller some. The interesting question comes in what the Dolphins do behind Miller. Wisdom suggests the carries will go to rookie Damien Williams who has 22 runs so far this year and has averaged 4.8 yards per rush. The question here is whether exposing Williams to more primetime playing time will be too big a stage for the rookie. That’s where the lesser possibility of giving recently re-signed Daniel Thomas work could factor. Thomas is not a better runner than Williams. But he’s more experienced. The Dolphins will go with Williams. We’ll see how that works. The Chiefs have a solid front seven, which belies the fact they are yielding 125 yards per game. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: The Dolphins last week had a punt blocked when Damien Williams declined to block his man. They muffed a punt. They yielded a 102-yard kickoff return touchdown. And to top it off, usually reliable punter Brandon Fields sliced not one but two punts off his foot to give Buffalo good field position. After a solid game against New England, this was a meltdown and one that cannot be forgotten unless the Miami special teams redeem themselves. For the Chiefs, rookie kicker Cairo Santos, an undrafted rookie free agent acquisition, has missed two of his four field goals so far with both of those misses inside 50 yards. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Andy Reid turned Chiefs around last season as they went from a team that had the No. 1 overall pick based on their record in 2012 to a playoff team that won 11 games. Unfortunately, Reid has not stopped turning the team around, as they are now winless. This game tests the coach’s mettle as his team faces an urgent situation, on the road, against an arguably more talented team. Joe Philbin has to find a way to get the Dolphins started more quickly as Miami has trailed at halftime of both games it has played. Dolphins coaches this week have tried to address issues with the passing game, the interior offensive line and with the nickel defense. ADVANTAGE: Even.

September 19, 2014

Tannehill...PFF...KC's (troubled) pass D...signature stats

So I've had an exchange of ideas with my contacts at this week. They believe Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is grading out very well so far this season. I don't sit down and give metrics grades week after week, so the PFF guys have me there.

But I have eyes, and as I write in my column in today's Miami Herald and I simply don't agree that Tannehill has played well -- definitely not well enough under any criterion to be the No. 3 graded QB in the NFL now.

PFF's Sam Monson saw my column as a "takedown piece" on his website. He said I bashed his site.

Look, I have an opinion and I shared it. That is my job. I am a columnist. But bashing? That was not Salguero bashing, trust me. As I wrote and repeat here, my opinion that PFF is misguided on its Tannehill grades does not mean I dismiss PFF as a valuable tool for seeing what independent analysts think of what's happening on the field after they conduct a film review of games.

I encourage you to visit and get a subscription to their best content.

But I also warn you that it is not the Gospels.

And so I continue to trust what I have seen in covering this team versus what that grade is yelling at me to believe -- that Tannehill is a Top 5 QB and has been that for quite some time.

Having said all that, I believe the Dolphins meeting with Kansas City on Sunday is a wonderful opportunity for Tannehill and, indeed, the entire Miami pass offense to get well. That's because the Chiefs are troubled in their pass defense right now.

Quarterbacks are completing 72.9 percent of their passes against K.C. so far this season. They've yielded five touchdown passes without an interception. The passer rating of opposing quarterbacks against the Chiefs so far this year is 126.9.

Oh, and outstanding safety Eric Berry hasn't practiced all week because he has an ankle injury.

I'm telling you this is a grand opportunity to throw the football because, if nothing else, the Chiefs are not good in pass defense.

“I don’t know about that," Tannehill said. "I see some guys that are talented on their defense. They have good pass rushers up front. They want to get pressure on the quarterback, they bring some exotic blitzes on third down. If they’re able to get to the quarterback, then they can force them into making bad decisions and throwing the ball downfield where it shouldn’t be. We have to do a good job of protecting up front and letting our receivers on the outside win. I like our receiver matchups no matter who we are playing against. I expect that we have the talent on the outside that can get open and win. It’s just a matter of having time to give them the ball."

Fine, but what's he really going to say in public? "I'm going to riddle this defense like everyone else has?"

Anyway, to show that the relationship with my friends at continues, despite our obvious disagreement on Tannehill's play the past 12 months or so, let me share with you some signature statistics they shared with me relative to Sunday's game:

K.C. quarterback Alex Smith has attempted eight passes of 20+ yards downfield this season; three have been completed, three fell incomplete, and two have been intercepted. So he's not had much success throwing deep.

In his 41 passing down snaps, running back Knile Davis has been asked to block just twice.

Kansas City’s makeshift offensive line has allowed the most pressure in the league through two weeks, with 32 total pressures.

Defensive end Justin Houston is rushing the passer almost exclusively from the left side of the defense, but he’s only doing it in fewer than 60% of his snaps, which is the second lowest among qualifying 3-4 OLBs.

Safety Ron Parker played 18 snaps in coverage after Eric Berry left last week’s game, allowing two catches for 17 yards on two targets.

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