December 20, 2014

Keys to the game: Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

Several days ago I told you Miami Dolphins defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are in a sack drought. Well, in digging deeper into the matchup between the homestanding Dolphins and Vikings on Sunday, I've discovered the drought may soon end.

It seems Minnesota left tackle Matt Kalil so far this season has been the prescription for whatever inability to get to the QB might ail a pass rusher. Kalil, according to statistics, has allowed 12 sacks.

That is the most sacks allowed of any tackle (left or right) in the NFL this year.

Good news for Dolphins.

The rest of the day's matchups? Well, it is Saturday and so here are the keys to the game:

When the Vikings pass the football: Former Northwestern High star Teddy Bridgewater is the rookie starting quarterback but he seems to be maturing quickly and has won five starts. He is unlikely to take a lot of risks so that he can limit the turnovers that hamper so many young QBs. So Bridgewater will throw checkdowns, and shorter, quicker routes, which is one reason he’s aiming for his third consecutive game with a 70 percent completion mark. Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jairus Wright, who has eight catches the past two games, make up a solid nucleus to a receiver corps. The Dolphins need more pass rush production from their front four, particularly Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Vernon has one sack in the last four games while Wake has 1.5 sacks the past five games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Vikings run the football: The Dolphins and every Vikings’ opponent has escaped a potentially tough day because running back Adrian Peterson was suspended earlier this season for hitting his son with a switch. So the Vikings have turned to Matt Asiata, who is not a star but knows how to find the end zone. Asiata has scored 11 touchdowns the past 15 games. Asiata is versatile in that he caught seven passes last week. (Told you Bridgewater checks down to safer passes). The Dolphins last week put a tourniquet on the bleeding of rushing yards allowed. They allowed only 108 yards against New England after allowing 661 yards in the previous three games. Progress! Miami is nonetheless 22nd in the NFL against the run. Miami will see the return of starting linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi this week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: The story goes that the Dolphins could not throw deep because the offensive line didn’t give Ryan Tannehill enough time to wait for those long plays to develop. Then last week, the Dolphins threw deep and the reason stated was that the team can do it, but only when the defense is in man coverage. So what’s wrong with dictating to the defense rather than allowing things to be the other way around? Anyway, the Dolphins will face a defense that plays some man, some zone, some off man. Sometimes it blitzes. Sometimes it does not. Mike Wallace, Miami’s most explosive receiver, says he can get open against any defense and has been open over 80 percent of the time this season. Well, last year Captain Munnerlyn, playing for Carolina at the time, was unable to stay anywhere close to Wallace. Miamian Xavier Rhodes starts at the other cornerback and last week did good work shadowing Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.The Vikings are sixth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game and can get after the passer with DEs Everson Griffen (12.5 sacks) and Brian Robison (four sacks in past seven games). ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Miami run game has averaged under 4.0 yards a carry the last two games and no time this season has it been under the 4.0 mark in three consecutive games. The Dolphins hope that isn’t the case as they face the No. 23 run defense in the NFL. One of the reasons the Dolphins stuck with Dallas Thomas at right tackle even as he was allowing seven sacks in five starts is because he is an underappreciated run blocker. But he is doubtful for this game, meaning Jason Fox will start. The Dolphins running back rotation may be shorter this week with Daniel Thomas likely not playing because of a knee injury. If Thomas doesn’t play that may thrust LaMichael James back onto the active game day roster. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: The Vikings last week had a 26-yard field goal blocked in a game that was decided by two points. The Dolphins last week had a field goal blocked on their first series and the loose football was picked up and returned 62 yards for a touchdown. So it is fair to say everybody is seeking redemption. Do not be surprised if this game comes down to a field goal. The Dolphins have played three games decided by three points and are 1-2 in those. The Vikings have lost all three of their games decided by three points or less. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: First-year coach Mike Zimmer has his team pointing in a good direction late in the season. The Vikings have won two of three games and gave the Detroit Lions a tough time until succumbing, 16-14 last week. The defense Zimmer has installed is taking root and should be familiar to Miami fans because Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle learned under Zimmer and uses many similar concepts. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are having a bad December. They’ve lost two big games in a row and are thisclose to being out of the playoffs. Joe Philbin asked his team to play 60 minutes this week – something the team hasn’t completely done this year except in a couple of games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

December 16, 2014

Tape review from PFF of Miami Dolphins loss

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin changed his team's Tuesday schedule this week. Rather than practice as they've done the previous 14 weeks, Philbin is having his players simply lift weights today. There will be no media availability and instead that will be extended to Friday.

This blog will be lifting weights on Tuesday as well.

What the heck.

But as Tuesday remains the day my friends at send in their initial tape reviews and I add when and where necessary, we will do that today as well.

Offensive Summary

Left guards Shelley Smith and Daryn Colledge continued to rotate every two series, with Colledge edging Smith in snaps against the New England Patriots, 46-35.

Running back Lamar Miller handled 43 of 81 snaps, while Damien Williams played 20 and Daniel Thomas chipped in with 18. The majority of Williams’ snaps came on the lengthy final drive. Williams, by the way, dropped a touchdown pass.

The Dolphins dropped two touchdown passes on Sunday with Rishard Matthews having the other one.

Brandon Gibson, inactive and little used in late September, has apparently gotten back in the coaching staff's good graces. Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry handled 61 and 60 snaps, respectively, while Brian Hartline and Gibson had 44 and 43. That's a lot for Gibson.

Ja’Wuan James took over the left tackle spot when Branden Albert was injured at Detroit. James seemed to initially adapt quite well to the move from right tackle. But after playing relatively weel against Denver and the Jets, James has struggled the past two weeks, according to PFF. Against the Patriots he allowed 11 hurries, a new career high.


Ryan Tannehill finally hit on that deep-ball everyone had been waiting for. Overall, Tannehill was 3-of-8 on throws of 20+ yards for 104 yards. The fact the Patriots were playing man coverage in the first half had a lot to do with Miami's desire to attack with the deep ball.

Tannehill was pressured on 23 of his 51 drop-backs but both of his interceptions came when he was under no duress.


All of Lamar Miller’s success was limited to the first half and almost exclusively on outside runs; on 8 runs between the guards on Sunday, Miller produced only 15 yards.


Darrelle Revis started the game shadowing Jarvis Landry, but the rookie later saw coverage against LBs, safeties, and other cornerbacks. After Mike Wallace beat the Pats on the opening play and for a one-handed TD to close the half, New England coaches adjusted and put Revis on Wallace.

It worked because Wallace was targetted only one time in the second half when covered by Revis and didn't have a catch against Mr. Island. Wallace did finish with five catches for 104 yards against everyone else.

Even with Kyle Arrington injured, Malcolm Butler didn’t see any snaps in the second half after being burned by Wallace for two big plays in the first half. Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson saw snaps as the nickel and/or dime defenders for New England. More adjustments from the Pats. 

Defensive Summary

With the Patriots going pretty heavy in two TE personnel, the Dolphins’ base defense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the defensive snaps.

Kelvin Sheppard made his first start since 2013, and he finished with four stops -- a high for Miami. The official statistics had Sheppard for 10 tackles to lead the team.

Dion Jordan dropped into coverage on eight of his 17 snaps. He was often running after New England tight end Gronkowski in coverage. But ...

Jordan was not on Gronk on either of the TE's two touchdown catches.

The Dolphins solved their run defense issues of the past three weeks. They allowed 108 yards on 29 attempts, but most of those came in the second half. In the first half, the Dolphins gave up only 20 rushing yards on 13 carries.


Despite intercepting a pass in the first half, Jason Trusnik was targetted by Tom Brady. The Patriots completed four of five attempts against him for 55 yards.

Likewise, Philip Wheeler was also exploited. Brady was able to match Gronk and Julian Edelman on Wheeler a few times, completing 3-of-3 for 62 yards.

Cortland Finnegan played well in his first game back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss a month of games. He limited Brady to a 50% completion percentage (5-of-10) when he looked his way. It was, however, interesting to see Gronkowski get behind Finnegan in one-on-one coverage. Brady underthrew, giving Finnegan the chance to make up ground and defend the pass.

Opponents’ passing

Juxtapose Brady’s deep-ball figures to Tannehill’s: Brady went 4-for-8 on 20-plus-yard throws, for 127 yards.

No wonder the Dolphins didn’t blitz that much: On eight drop-backs facing the blitz, Brady was 7-of-8 for 86 yards and a score.

December 11, 2014

Ryan Tannehill: 'The season is not over'

Miami Dolphins fans have generally tossed in the towel on this season -- at least based on what I see on my twitter timeline and in my email inbox. And I would say there might be a player or two in the Miami lockerroom that has seen a shift in the way business is being done. One even told me Wednesday that "coaches are in self-preservation mode."

But quarterback Ryan Tannehill?

He looks out toward the horizon that offers a Sunday meeting against the New England Patriots and figures it is worth sailing toward, even following last Sunday's loss to Baltimore in what was considered a de facto playoff game.

“We didn’t play well in a big game for us, but the season is not over," Tannehill said Wednesday. "Obviously, it’s not fully in our hands now, but we can still control what we can control. That starts with this game on Sunday."

Tannehill went on to call the coming Patriot game "a big game for us."

"I’m excited about this opportunity," Tannehill added.

And what opportunity do the Dolphins have? Well, the math says the Dolphins have not been eliminated from anything. Yes, they dropped from being among the likely playoff teams to far back in the pack of teams chasing a wildcard berth following the Baltimore loss.

And, yes, they have tiebreaker issues working against them.

But stranger things have happened. (Work with me here, ok?)

"It’s a very, very important game, absolutely," coach Joe Philbin said. "You get an opportunity to play the New England Patriots. Your team is going to have to play extremely well to beat these guys, there’s no doubt about it. That’s what we told the team. They’ve seen the tape already. We practiced yesterday. We are going to practice here again [today]. On paper, they are a good team and, on film, they are a good team. We are going to have to play extremely well."

The opportunity the Dolphins keep talking about includes possibly ruining the Patriots' run a little bit. New England can clinch a division title with the win and a playoff berth, so there can be motivation in not allowing that to happen this week.

Not on our watch!

Something like that.

And, of course, coaches are trying to win to keep their jobs and players are trying to put good performances on tape to make sure they're employed next year as well -- if not in Miami, somewhere.

This game matters in the greater context. And it matters to individuals.


For Dion Jordan it matters because he will likely get a chance to show off his athletic prowess by getting a few opportunities to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"If I have to do it to help my team, then I’ll definitely do it," Jordan said. "This year, they’ve put me in position to cover other guys. I had to get ready mentally and physically to do it. If it happens this week, I’ll be prepared."

For Jarvis Landry, it is an opportunity to gauge his success now that he's no longer a secret. After last week, for example, Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees found Landry after the game to share his feelings about the rookie.

"He just said, 'You’re a great player,' " Landry said. "His job was to contain me a little bit and much credit goes to them. When you think about a Ravens defense, you always know they’ve had great defenses and great defensive coordinators, just took it as a compliment."

Yes, a great compliment. But you don't think a Bill Belichick defense will similarly take note of Landry? Yes, it will.

For Dallas Thomas, this game is an opportunity to get some redemption. Look, I think he deserves to be benched. I've seen enough. I'd play Jason Fox over him. But that apparently isn't happening because Philbin sees a lot of good in the very obvious and public bad Thomas has put on tape since becoming the starting right tackle.

"There’s a lot of pictures in the game where he pass protected well to be honest with you," Philbin said of Thomas. "There are a lot of good pictures in the game. There are a few that aren’t very good. I think in the run game he’s been productive, but you have to remember there are 50-some-odd plays in a game. We all sometimes get focused on the three or four bad ones, but there are a lot of good things."

By the way, Philbin is under the microscope now. He knows it. He talked Wednesday about the challenge he and his staff face. They beat New England in the season-opener. And here we are 13 weeks later and the Patriots (10-3) have a very good record and the Dolphins (7-6) do not.

So what does it say if a team is good enough to sweep the division leaders but not be consistent enough in the other games?

“I said about myself, our staff, how we are able to get these guys ready to play, it’s December 14 when it’s kickoff time in New England," Philbin said. "We are playing an outstanding opponent. We need to play our best football game of the year. You get paid as a coach to get your team to play up to their potential. That’s what we have to do."

The season isn't over. Yet.

November 25, 2014

Salguero and PFF review of Miami Dolphins at Denver

This week's study of the Miami Dolphins film following the loss to Denver will leave you with questions.

The questions:

Why didn't defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle blitz more?

Why Daniel Thomas in the red zone?

Is there a competition at left guard?

Why did Peyton Manning seemingly do something dumb and go after Brent Grimes after Lowell Rose came into the game?

And, of course, will Ryan Tannehill ever complete a deep ball to Mike Wallace?

The grading:

Offensive Summary

Left tackle Ja’Wuan James did well against DeMarcus Ware and company on his side (0 pressures) on his 22 snaps, while Jason Fox predictably struggled some on his 40 snaps, allowing one hit and one hurry.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor continues to mix up snaps with his WRs: Mike Wallace got 47, Jarvis Landry got 45, Brian Hartline got 43, Brandon Gibson got 35, and Rishard Matthews got 20. Interestingly, Gibson has been seeing more snaps lately than he was in early October. That speaks to his continual improvement from knee surgery a year ago and refusal to give up on himself and go into a practice funk.

Running back Lamar Miller handled 40 out of 62 snaps despite a knee and shoulder injury, but was curiously taken out in the red zone in favor of Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins are looking for a bigger, stronger back in the red zone to avoid negative runs.

LaMichael James saw his first action as a Dolphin. Thomas got 15 snaps, James got four snaps, Damien Williams got 3.

Shelley Smith and Daryn Colledge would rotate every two series or so, with Colledge finishing with a few more snaps, 35-27. It will be interesting to see if this was a function of easing Colledge back in after he missed three games or if Smith has earned sharing the position while Colledge has been out. It could be both reasons, actually.


Still no deep ball for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the intermediate game was on point. He was 7-for-8 for 109 yards and a TD when throwing between 10-19 yards.


Jarvis Landry caught five of his seven passes against Chris Harris, but his touchdowns came in coverage against Bradley Roby and Rahim Moore.

Tannehill did look to attack SS T.J. Ward in coverage, targeting him a team high eight times. Four of those targets went to Dion Sims.

Defensive Summary

Still have the All-22 checks to be made, but the Dolphins missed 14 tackles as a team versus the Broncos.

Miami’s normally dominant front four was rendered useless by Peyton and the running game. they registered just the one sack, hit, and pressure.

Lowell Rose came on for the injured Jamar Taylor, playing 14 snaps, but then Walt Aikens, who has been working mostly at safety in practice, relieved Rose for the final 9 defensive snaps.


When the Dolphins went to a zone, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas ate the Dolphins alive on crossers. Jelani Jenkins allowed 6-for-6 targets to be completed to the top two Denver WRs for 84 yards.

Against Dolphins DBs not named Brent Grimes, Peyton was 26-of-30 for 250 yards and four four TDs. Grimes was targeted five times, allowing two grabs for 7 yards.

Opponents’ Passing

The Dolphins did limit the big plays in the air against the Broncos. Manning Peyton was just 1-of-6 on throws of 20+ yards. Manning missed Sanders open deep for a touchdown against Grimes twice in the final quarter but overthrew both passes. The Dolphins had rolled coverage to the other side of the field so even though the Denver quarterback did not appear to be picking on newly installed Lowell Rose, an obvious weak link, he was in fact throwing to the right receiver locked in man coverage. The lone strike to Sanders that did go for a catch was a poorly thrown ball.

Maybe the Dolphins should’ve blitzed more. On eight blitzes during passing downs, Manning was 3-of-7 for 13 yards, which did include a TD but also the team's lone sack -- that in the red zone.

Opponents’ Rushing

The Broncos really aimed to get the running game going. They used a sixth offensive lineman 18 times, and blocking TE Virgil Green saw 56 snaps, while Jacob Tamme played 23 snaps. The Dolphins got bullied. They had no answer and, troubling, worse as the game wore on.

The Broncos were most effective running on the edges with the extra lineman; on six C.J. Anderson runs behind left or right end, he had 63 yards; Juwan Thompson’s 21-yard run also came behind right end.

November 13, 2014

Offense good on surface but has issues deep down

The Miami Dolphins have scored 227 points this season and that suggests everything is working smoothly because that's 11th-best in the NFL and the 25.2 per game average exceeds the 25-point per game goal coach Joe Philbin set for his team before the season.

But this statistic is indicative of what the Miami offense really has been so far in 2014. It has been an iceberg that allows one view for everyone to see above the surface and a hidden and more ominous picture that is harder to find below the water line.  

Below the surface everyone knows that average is a mirage. It includes the three defensive touchdowns so far compared to only one all of last season. It doesn't speak to the habitual slow starts and frustrating inability to seal victories by simply moving the football and killing the clock. And it says little about the games against Buffalo, Kansas City, Jacksonville and Detroit in which Miami scored exactly one offensive touchdown.

Nine games played. One offensive touchdown in four of them.

Against the Lions last week, the lone touchdown came when the offense got the football at the Detroit 3 yard line, following a blocked punt returned 55 yards by Dion Jordan. That was Miami's touchdown drive last week: Three yards.

So while this unit. led by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, is seemingly well ahead of last year's 19.8 points per game, no one on the Dolphins -- not coaches nor players -- are celebrating because this unit has potential that's not being met and issues below the surface.

That's what multiple players are saying. That's what several sources within the organization are seeing.

The passing game, for example, suggests marked improvement compared to last season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved his completion percentage, his touchdown-to-interception ratio and his quarterback rating this season.

Tannehill has added running the ball as a dimension to his game and is making better decisions throwing the football.

You know what that makes him so far? The No. 17 rated quarterback in the NFL. Yes, that's better than No. 24 last year but everyone I've spoken to and even Tannehill admits that in Year Three he is still a work in progress because there are still worries about accuracy and pocket awareness and quickness making decisions.

Tannehill's yards per attempt average is 6.63 this season, which is 29th out of 32 quarterbacks and lower than last year's 6.66 average. This may not seem important to you, but Lazor is on record stating yards per attempt is the most accurate measure for the health of a passing game. So in a year where NFL passing numbers are better and higher across the board, the Dolphins have taken a small step back in this area.

Tannehill also has still not solved his deep ball accuracy issues. He missed three deep touchdown throws earlier in the season and one on Sunday against Detroit. Yes, that's fewer than a year ago. But that's the view above the surface.

Below the surface the fewer missed deep passes is, in part, a function of the Dolphins trying fewer shot plays.

One player recently told me in frustration, "they were there earlier this season but something always went wrong, just like last year. Either the receiver drops a pass or the quarterback has no time or he can't get it to his guy. It was nobody's fault. It was everybody's fault and now he (Lazor) doesn't seem to trust us dialing them up."

The evidence of such mistrust? It is not on the surface where Mike Wallace is on his way to an 80-catch season or rookie Jarvis Landry has become a threat all over the field. That's good. Very good.

The evidence is that Wallace's yards per catch is at 13.0 this year. And that is disappointing considering Wallace came to the Dolphins as a dynamic deep threat who averaged 17.2 yards per catch in Pittsburgh. He leads Dolphins wide receivers in yards per catch now but is merely tied for 50th among NFL receivers in the category.

Brian Hartline who averaged 13.4 yards per catch last year is still getting open, still running good routes, still practicing well, according to coaches. But his yards per catch stat has suffered by 3.2 yards since last year and is at a career low 10.2 yards per catch.  

Nobody's fault. Everybody's fault.

That leads us to the team's crunch time statistics -- third down passing, fouth-quarter passing, and red zone scoring.

On third down, Tannehill is completing 55 percent of his passes. His yards per attempt is at 5.86 yards. His rating is 74.4. And that translates to him ranking 26th among NFL third down passing leaders.

The fourth quarter has not been a friend to Tannehill and the passing game, either. Miami's QB is 34th in the NFL. The only QB below him that has gotten at least 80 fourth-quarter pass attempts is Austin Davis of the St. Louis Rams. Davis is usually a third-stringer and has this week been benched.

Statistics, you say? They can be skewed in number of ways, you say?

Consider: For whatever reason, be it a product of the system Lazor is running or the coaching staff's trust level, Tannehill does not often have the luxury of changing plays at the line if he sees something in the defense he does not like. He sometimes has the choice of two different plays -- a check-with-me option -- but hardly ever the option of going in a different direction.

This has raised eyebrows among players who say they had most success in systems the quarterback has greater freedom to be a playmaker.

That's not the only reason a couple of players have questions about Lazor. Before the season, Lazor told players the days of passing the ball on third-and-one were over. There was a buzz among Miami players about becoming a physical offense.

But after showing that phyiscal intent in the season opener against New England, with runs outnumbering passes 38-32, the Dolphins have settled into more of a passing mode. They've passed more than run in six of the past eight games. In two of those games the Dolphins threw twice as many passes as they tried runs.

The two players are wondering what happened to the idea of being a phyiscal offense.  

Making plays in the red zone has been an issue for the Dolphins this year. They are tied for eighth in the NFL with 20 red zone touchdowns. They lead the league with 43 red zone visits. Both numbers are good taken separately. Combined it's a bad thing.

As a result of inconsistent tight end play, because they don't have a running game they trust enough, and because they don't possess a player who is a matchup nightmare for the opposing defense in a short field, the Dolphins are converting 46.5 of their red zone visits into touchdowns.

That's 30th in the NFL.

“Well, we’ve had some negative runs down there," Philbin said. "We’ve had some sacks down there. We’ve had some dropped passes down there. We’ve had some penalties. I think the execution, when we study it, you look at the film, there’s some reason. Some of it has been good defense by our opposition. We certainly have to do better, but there are a lot of things that we can do better to help our scoring average go up.”

Yes, back to the scoring average.

The Miami offense has had some truly bright moments this year to get that average where it is. They've scored 38, 37, 33, and 27 points a couple of times.

The 37-point game against San Diego is the pretty, pristine tip of the iceberg because the Dolphins started well and didn't slow down until the game was out of reach. They struck a balance between pass and run, they spread the football around in the passing game, and they did it against the NFL's No. 8 defense.

The other high-scoring performances? The 38-point outburst came against Oakland, the NFL's 28th-ranked defense. And the two 27-point games came against Chicago, which has the NFL's worst scoring defense, and Jacksonville, which has the NFL's third-worst scoring defense.

But that probably goes unnoticed below the surface.

November 11, 2014

The PFF and Salguero rewind of the Lions loss

There is little doubt what the Detroit Lions did against the Miami Dolphins offense on Sunday will be seen by the Buffalo Bills. And they will try to replicate some of that.

On the bright side, the Bills don't have a Calvin Johnson or Matthew Stafford on their offense, so that will be tough for them to copy on the offensive side of the ball.

But the ankle injury which kept cornerback Cortland Finnegan out of the game for two dozen snaps on Sunday and forced him to miss practice on Monday is a concern for Miami. It is not, you see, that Finnegan is great.

It's just that Jamar Taylor, the 2013 second round pick and backup corner, has been picked on when he's been in games this year. 

All that and more is reflected in the review of the tape following Sunday's 20-16 Dolphins loss to the Lions. Here is the review with insight from me: 

Offensive Summary

The offensive line obviously took a big hit with the loss of Branden Albert, as Ja'Wuan James slid over to LT, Dallas Thomas moved to RT, and Shelley Smith stuck at LG. Smith and Thomas had been rotating series at LG early on. Albert allowed 1 hurry before his injury, and the rest of the line combined to give up 2 sacks, 3 hits, and 17 hurries.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said he didn't feel any more pressure after Albert left as before. But I will say this: Ziggy Ansah dominated. (More on Ansah below).

Jarvis Landry rotated series with Brandon Gibson. At times, when Hartline or Wallace gets a rest, they'll play together. The snap breakdown at slot receiver: Landry 38, Gibson 30, Rishard Matthews 9.

Lamar Miller took a shot to his shoulder on an early reception but continued playing. He took only 11 snaps, however, suggesting the Dolphins were not comfortable exposing him further. A source told The Herald yesterday Miller "is fine." After Daniel Thomas fumbled, he was limited to mostly third downs, ultimately getting out-snapped by Damien Williams 27-22.


When Tannehill did have time to throw, he usually found his target. On 19 unpressured drops, he was 18-for-19 with 135 yards and his TD pass. However, he was 9-for-19 with 87 yards when he did see pressure.

The Lions didn't often send blitzers to mount the pressure. In all, they blitzed five times during the game, and Tannehill was 3-of-4 for 30 yards against the blitz. Detroit's four-man pass rush was the key to their success.

(Yes, the Buffalo Bills will see that).


The Lions didn't have an answer for Charles Clay or Landry in the middle of the field. Each player caught a pass against five different defenders. Clay, however, had a key TD drop. Yes, watching it again and again, it was a drop.

Despite the ugly interception to James Ihedigbo, Tannehill and the Dolphins liked the matchup, going after Ihedigbo a team-high eight times. They completed six of eight for 52 yards against the Detroit safety, including the INT and a drop by Clay.

Defensive Summary

With Michael Thomas done for the year, Jimmy Wilson fully reclaimed the slot corner role, logging 44 snaps. Jamar Taylor replaced Cortland Finnegan on the outside for the final 24 snaps when Finnegan limped off with an ankle injury.

Dion Jordan's 31 snaps featured seven run plays, 15 times rushing the passer, and then nine drops into coverage. Jordan was on Calvin Johnson in trail coverage during much of Detroit's game-winning drive. He actually defended a pass in the end zone.

(Why is he not a strongside linebacker? Why? Why?) 


Jamar Taylor was picked on when he came in to replace Finnegan, allowing 6-of-7 passes to be completed for 62 yards. Golden Tate especially embarrassed the second-year CB, catching all five targets for 57 yards against him, with some first down conversions later in the game.

The TD he gave up to Megatron and acrobatic interception in the end zone stand out, but besides those two plays, CB Brent Grimes allowed just 3-of-7 passes to be completed to Calvin Johnson for 41 yards. Considering the opponent, a good overall day for Grimes.

Detroit's Defense

Grades aren't final yet, but Ndamukong Suh's +7.0 grade stands out as an utterly dominant performance. Ziggy Ansah (+4.9) also was a major factor in the pass rush (two sacks, three hurries), but also had 4 stops in the run game.

Another Detroit defensive lineman, pass rush specialist George Johnson, also teed off on the Miami offensive line. Of his 29 snaps, 22 came rushing the passer. He produced five hurries and a hit on those 22 pass rush snaps.

(Yes, the Bills will see this on tape).

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.