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 ProFootballFocus.com 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 ProFootballFocus.com 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 ProFootballFocus.com 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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September 18, 2014

Miami Dolphins OT problems seem solved so far

The Miami Dolphins still have an offensive line problem because the quarterback is getting sacked and the Pro Bowl center is still not playing (probably back by the Sept. 28 game vs. Oakland in London) and the running game has been hit and miss.

So football being a team sport and the offensive line being one unit, everyone says the Dolphins still have an offensive line problem.

But that is not entirely accurate.

The Dolphins do not have an offensive tackle problem right now.

Yes, the OTs are part of the unit and so they get lumped in with everyone else. But not here. Here I try to be a little more nuanced and, as the blog name says, in depth.

And left tackle Branden Albert and right tackle Ja'Wuan James are so far playing well. How well?

The Dolphins have played two games. Both men have gotten positive grades internally within the organization for both games.

And in understanding that you must have perspective on the depth (there goes the blog name again) of the problem these two guys are so far solving.

Remember 2013? Yeah, forgettable especially for the offensive line because of 58 sacks and blowup dolls and trays being thrown on the lunchroom floor and people going AWOL and the harassment scandal and the running game so inconsistent that third-and-one was a passing down.

Well, the truth is a lot of the line's on-field problems happened at the tackle positions. Indeed, a majority of the on-field issues happened at tackle.

The team did give up 58 sacks and the three tackles gave up 27 of those -- with Tyson Clabo yielding 13, Bryant McKinnie giving up seven and Jonathan Martin giving up seven in his shortened stint.

The Baltimore loss? Clabo. He gave up two sacks on consecutive plays late in the game that forced Miami to punt the ball away. The Ravens then drove for the winning field goal and afterward Clabo blamed himself for the loss.

The Buffalo loss at home? Clabo again. Mario Williams won consecutive one-on-one matchups against Clabo to record two sacks, including a strip sack that set up the Bills for their eventual game-winning field goal.

So It was on the tackles a lot last year.

And that's the reason the Dolphins poured so many resources into the position this year. General Manager Dennis Hickey paid Branden Albert $46 million over five years with $25 million guaranteed to sign as a free agent.

And so far, Albert has lived up to the contract. He has not allowed a sack this season. Not in the preseason. Not in the first two games of the regular season. That's why he's highly rated by metrics services and anyone with eyes.

"That’s cool," Albert said, "but, I’ve still got to do better to help this team. So I’m going to keep striving to do that. I’m not worried about what people think of me. I’m going to worry about what my teammates, coaches and fan base think of how I’m playing. So that’s all I worry about."

(Newsflash: Players, coaches and the fanbase are people, too).

Anyway, Hickey also invested his first round draft pick on Ja"Wuan James. And James got the requisite four-year deal worth $8.4 million with $4.45 as a signing bonus. Worth every penny so far.

James has started at right tackle from day one and has only given up one sack this season. But ... The sack came Sunday against Buffalo when Mario Williams got to Tannehill. But if you look at the play, the problem started when Shelley Smith lost the one-on-one match with his man who then wrapped himself around Tannehill. The Miami quarterback shed that attempted sack and stumbled straight into Williams who was still locked up with James. 

Williams gets the sack. James gives up the sack. But not really.

“I would say he spent a fair amount of time one-on-one against him," coach Joe Philbin said of James matching up against Williams. "I thought he played well. I think in both games he’s played pretty well. He’s got a lot of things to work on and improve, but again I think if you are going to play offensive tackle in the National Football League, at some point in time, you have to demonstrate the ability you can block a defensive end one-on-one. He certainly wasn’t perfect. He’s got a long way to go, but there are some good pictures on film if you study the tape of him blocking whoever lines up against him. It was encouraging."

Considering last year, absolutely.

Perhaps it is too early to declare the Dolphins' offensive tackle problems solved. But so far so good.  

[BLOG NOTE: Today is the first day of you needing to comment via facebook, a new Miami Herald policy for its blogs. Log in and have at it. Enjoy the exchange of ideas.]

September 17, 2014

Reshad Jones joins Jordan, remains on suspended list

Reshad Jones isn't coming back early, either.

The Miami Dolphins safety will not have his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs lifted this week, despite earlier reports by some media, even as the NFL and NFL Players Association today are expected to announce a new policy, The Miami Herald has learned.

[Update: A source close to Jones confirms now that he's been told he's not returning early.]

Jones remains on the suspended list along with teammate Dion Jordan, about whom The Herald reported Tuesday would also not have his suspension lifted.

So why are the two Dolphins players still suspended while other players around the NFL, such as Denver receiver Wes Welker and Dallas safety Orlando Scandrick, are being informed they can report to work as early as Wednesday?

The players under the performance enhancing substance policy suspensions being allowed back before their suspensions run their course tested positive in the offseason for amphetemines, which under the old drug policy were treated the same as performance enhancers thus were subject to the same four-game suspension upon the first positive test.

Those players' offseason amphetemine positive tests now are dealt with differently under the new drug policy.

Now, players testing positive for amphetemines in the offseason will be remanded to the recreational drug policy which allows for extra testing and counseling upon a first positive test but not a suspension.

Inseason positives for amphetemines will be treated same as before -- meaning there will be suspensions upon a first positive test result.

The fact neither Jones nor Jordan fall under the group who tested positive for amphetemines and will remain suspended suggests they tested positive for something other than amphetemines.

Both Jordan and Jones can return to the Dolphins on Sept. 29 -- one day after the team plays its fourth game of the season. The Dolphins will play Kansas City this weekend and Oakland on Sept. 28 before the players are allowed to return.

September 13, 2014

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo

It is going to be electric in Buffalo on Sunday. The team is welcoming Jim Kelly to the game and I would not be surprised if he doesn't address the crowd or perhaps even the team before the game. The team is also introducing Terry Pegula, the Buffalo Sabres owner who has reached agreement to buy the Bills. Pegula has promised to keep the Bills in Buffalo.

So there are intangibles working for Buffalo on Sunday.

I'm picking the Dolphins 24-21. Basically, I don't believe in Buffalo QB E.J. Manuel.

Here are the keys to the game:

When the Bills pass the football: The Bills are not a proven passing team. Despite the fact they invested heavily to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins this year and invested heavily to draft quarterback E.J. Manuel last year, this team is a question mark throwing the football. Last week the Bills threw for a modest (modest is a nice word for paltry) 169 yards. That’s not scaring anyone. Until Watkins proves he is the same beast in the NFL he was at Clemson and until Manuel proves he’s an accurate, polished NFL passer, the Bills will likely see teams stack the tackle box to stop a very good running game while daring them to throw. The Dolphins are definitely going to throw multiple fronts at the Bills, including a four-man line, a three-man line and even a five-man line. They will zone blitz and count on ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon to win their matchup against Buffalo’s offensive tackles. Vernon should be no stranger to Buffalo tackle Seantrel Henderson. They both played and practiced against one another at the University of Miami. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Bills run the football: The Bills make their living running the football. It’s been that way in the past and they have picked up were they’ve previously left off, having averaged 5.8 yards per carry while gashing the Chicago Bears for 193 yards last week. C.J. Spiller, the smallish, fast back, is the primary ballcarrier. He does a lot of work inside but has the speed to go 70 yards on a given play. Fred Jackson is the bigger, slower but also more instinctive ballcarrier. The Dolphins should be wary of quarterback E.J. Manuel running the ball, particularly in the red zone. Although Manuel isn’t a scrambler and actually was injured last year against Cleveland while running, he can pick his spots. He did so last week, keeping on a spread option play and scoring on a six-yard run. The Dolphins know to win this game they must stop Buffalo’s run game. So even with all three of their starting linebackers out of the game, the Dolphins will commit to this up front even if it exposes them some to play-action. If the Dolphins stop the run, the Bills cannot win. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill has picked up where he left off last season but in some instances that’s not a good thing. Last week Tannehill failed to connect on three potential TD passes to Mike Wallace when he delivered poor throws to a wide-open receiver. (OK, one that Wallace caught out of bounds in the end zone might have been a TD with a better effort). The point is Tannehill left a lot of points on the field instead of on the scoreboard. The Dolphins also want to welcome Charles Clay into the season. He not only was bracketed in coverage by the Patriots in coverage last week, making him hard to find, but also had a drop that might have resulted in a touchdown. He can be a dynamic player. The Dolphins want him to start being that now. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: Knowshon Moreno is the NFL’s leading rusher after one week. And although common thinking suggests that will not be the case after this game because the Bills are supposedly very good up front and good against the run, consider this: The Dolphins have seen holes in the Buffalo front in that it sometimes suffers from its linebackers over-pursuing. When linebackers over-pursue, that opens up cutback lanes. And the Dolphins’ zone blocking scheme is perfectly suited for providing cutback lanes. So what happens when a run game built to create cut back lanes meets a defense that sometimes over-pursues and allows cut back lanes? Big holes. The Bills can obviously dash Miami’s hopes of running by winning at the line of scrimmage and keeping discipline among its linebackers. Pretty simple, really. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Dan Carpenter is better than Caleb Sturgis. Let’s agree on that. But the Dolphins’ second-year kicker nonetheless connected on all four of his kicks last week, giving him a very good start to the season. The Miami special teams are capable of big plays as proven when they set the tone immediately and gave the offense a short field with a blocked punt against New England. Jarvis Landry was very good on kick returns and that’s why his 28-yard per return average ranks fourth in the NFL. Landry was solid (not great) on punt returns. Colton Schmidt has taken over the punting duties for the Bills from Brian Moorman, who was the punter the past dozen years and did it so well he was on the team’s 50th anniversary team. Moorman was cut in August an all but announced his retirement. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Joe Philbin has put a different looking team on the field, if the season-opener against New England can be believed. That, in part, is due to him doing a better job and having better assistants that are upgrades over last year. Last year, coach Mike Sherman was thrilled when Mike Wallace caught three passes for 59 yards in a game. This week, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor criticized his offense that put up 33 points and implored them to be better. Doug Marrone is coaching for his job. New ownership in Buffalo is on the way so this year is the year for Bills coaches. Meaning? They are obviously motivated to succeed. The fact they’ve had success against the Dolphins in the past gives them a slight edge. Philbin has not won in Buffalo as the Dolphins coach. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

September 12, 2014

Miami Dolphins rally to side of cancer-stricken fan

Miami Dolphins fan Michael Smith has all but lost his fight with stage 4 colon cancer. After nearly three years of chemotherapy and antibiotics and hospital stay after hospital stay after hospital stay, the Smiths signed the documents to place the 42-year-old former aircraft mechanic in hospice last week.

"It's a new step for us, but a very hard step for us as well," said Amy Chandler-Smith, Michael's wife. "There's a realization one comes to when you sign papers to go to hospice. It's a huge, huge thing. Because you're admitting defeat. Photo 3

"He's a fighter and he's always been a fighter. He's always fought for his family. He's always taken care of his family, and now it's admitting you have to give up. There's nothing else you can do.

"There's no more treatment for him. He can't get any more chemo. He's gotten too much antibiotics and his kidneys and liver are having issues. If he gets any more they'll start making him more sick."

It's bad.

Michael is gaunt. His face is drawn and colorless. And the picture of him in that bed at Hospice by the Sea at Memorial Hospital South in Hollywood speaks to his prognosis.

"It's terminal," Amy said. "He's kind of the light's are on but no one is home right now. He'll have moments when he'll be up and be fine and talking and be okay and there's other times when he's lost and in la-la land and he kind of looks through you and not at you.

"The cancer has taken a toll."

The cancer is obviously winning. But despite this the Dolphins learned of their fan's dire situation and have rallied to his bedside.

They cannot save him. There are some things not even an NFL team can do. But they can acknowledge him. They can encourage him.

And they're doing just that.

It started oddly enough. On Sunday, when the Dolphins opened the regular season, the Smiths gathered by Michael's bed. Amy dressed her husband in his Dolphins gear.

"Oh my God, he is just the biggest fan." she said, "And this was just my husband putting on his Dolphins gear. I got him ready for the game. I was, 'Mike, it's the Dolphins, it's the season,' So we got ready."

The shirt Michael wore reads, "We are a Dolphins family."

"That's because we are a Dolphins family," Amy said. "We're true, true, true Dolphins fans. Good or bad. Rain or shine. We've always supported the Dolphins."

Sunday was a good day. The Dolphins won. And much more importantly but not to be dismissed as assumed, Michael survived the day.

That night, laying in bed, Amy recounted the day and what the football team meant to her husband. Right then she decided it really would be great to have her husband perhaps meet a Dolphin before he passes.

So she got on the phone and called friends, who called friends, who got on social media and reached out to the team.

"The next day there were Dolphins calling me," Amy said. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get a Dolphin here, let alone the next day, let alone a parade of past and present Dolphins here. We've had so many it's amazing."

Photo 2<---- Mark Duper was the first to visit.

Troy Drayton visited.

Zach Thomas called because he was going out of town. He promised to get back in touch today when he returns.

Derrick Rodgers called. Rogers then had Tim Bowens call. Lousaka Polite is visiting today. He asked if he could bring anything like "snacks, books, anything."

Roy Foster visited.

Three current players visited Wednesday at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Rookies Ja'Wuan James, Arthur Lynch and Billy Turner visited after their work day at the training facility had ended.

"It's an amazing outpouring," Amy said. "I'm so blown away. They have been truly beyond amazing."

Those visits and precious moments have been priceless for Michael and the family. But there are still other issues.

Michael had to stop working shortly after being diagnosed in November 2011. He tried to go back but couldn't do the job. The family lived on disability income and with no insurance had to rely on Medicaid from the state.

Then the medical bills began to pour in. The radiation bills alone were roughly $60,000, Amy said. And it does not stop there. There's ambulance bills, hospital stays, medicine.

"Astronomical," Amy said. "We get bills every day. I get a bill or two in the mail every day. To be honest with you, I haven't opened many of them. I can't afford to pay them. Getting them every day in the mail, they just sit in a pile. I'm scared to open them because I can't afford to pay them."

The family -- including the five children ranging in ages from 20 to seven years old -- had to downsize.

"We've had to downgrade everything," Amy said. "We've had to move into my mother-in-law's." 

The Dolphins have not helped the Smiths financially. Nor has anyone asked them to do so.

"Asking for money is odd to me," Amy said. Photo 1

But a company named HealthDonor has come along side the Smiths to try to help raise money. The company operates a crowd-funding platform to help people raise money for individuals with unexpected medical expenses in their time of greatest need.

One hundred percent of the donated money goes the beneficiary. If you wish to help the Smiths go to this link and kindly do so. You'd be helping someone in the Dolphins family. I checked the site out.

At the time of this writing $360 had been pledged to help the Smiths.

[Update at 10 p.m.: I'm told that Michael Smith died Friday afternoon surrounded by his family. May he rest in peace.]


September 11, 2014

Joe Philbin has improved Miami Dolphins coaching staff

Joe Philbin has not won in Buffalo as the Dolphins head coach.

He lost in Buffalo in 2012 -- final score 19-14 -- and he lost in Buffalo last season -- with that one going down in the media guide as a 19-0 score.

So why do I bring up this sour fact while you're still shopping for hotels in Phoenix for Super Bowl 49, following last week's season-opening win over New England?

To say this: The Dolphins go to Buffalo again this weekend. And while the same head coach is leading this Miami team, it is already clear it is a different type of coaching staff.

This one?

Better. Upgraded.

The view from multiple angles is that when Philbin relented (because he didn't want to) and fired friend, mentor and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and then replaced him with Bill Lazor, the Dolphins head coach did himself and the franchise a service.

In getting Lazor, Philbin picked a rising commodity in the coaching ranks. Multiple NFL people have told me Lazor will be a head coach candidate within three-to-five years assuming his work continues its current trajectory. He is demanding. He is "real," with players as quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Wednesday. And he's got a good scheme that has pulled plays from his multiple experiences and stops both in the NFL and college.

“He’s been great. He wants to be great. He wants to score a lot of points," Tannehill said. "He wants me to play well and that’s what I want. It’s been good to have him push me along and teach me the ins and outs of the offense and expect to play well. That’s what I like."

Dolphins offensive linemen also have a growing kinship not just with offensive line assistant John Benton but his offensive line assistant Jack Bicknell Jr.

This is not meant as a putdown but it is a fact: The Dolphins' offensive line coach the last two years had never coached in the NFL before coming to Miami with Philbin in 2012. Jim Turner was a career college coach.

This year the Dolphins offensive linemen get coached by men with a combined 15 NFL seasons of experience. Benton has been coaching NFL players 10 years in St. Louis and Houston; Bicknell Jr. has made stops with the Giants, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, the last two as the lead OL coach.

So aside from the fact GM Dennis Hickey upgraded the tackles a great deal and addressed the interior line well enough to hold the proverbial fort until Mike Pouncey returns, these two guys have indeed brought the talent -- all new to each other -- together very quickly.

I'm not saying they are going to be the Great Wall of China. But the Patriots did show multiple fronts against the Miami line on Sunday and the adjustments got made. There were some technical issues, but it was the first game out.

Then there's the linebackers coach.

George Edwards, who as the linebacker coach last year, had tons of experience. He'd coached with the Redskins, Cowboys, Browns, and was even the Bills defensive coordinator in 2010-11.

But something wasn't translating. Something didn't click last year with the LBs. And it may have been predictable based on what I was told in 2012.

"We got guys in the room underperforming and I think he's one of them," one linebacker told me of Edwards in 2012.

Alrightie then.

New linebacker coach Mark Duffner is equally experienced, having spent time with Jacksonville and Green Bay and Cincinnati. I don't know him from Adam, honestly, but I hear around the league he is very well respected as hard-working, loyal and capable assistant. He pushes players. He teaches well, I'm told.

The proof seems to be that when the Dolphins had zero starting linebackers in the game on Sunday, the reserves played well.

I'm not saying the reserves didn't make any miscues. But the results are the results.

So what does all this mean?

I'm not saying the Dolphins are beating the Bills or going undefeated or you should get back to that call booking the Phoenix hotel room.

I'm saying Joe Philbin has improved the group of coaches supporting him. That already is apparent.

Source: Misi, Wheeler out for Buffalo

The Miami Dolphins will be without all three of their starting linebackers on Sunday when they play the Buffalo Bills, as Koa Misi, nursing an ankle injury, and Phillip Wheeler, still nursing a thumb injury, will join Dannell Ellerbe, who is out for the year, on the sideline.

A source familiar with the status of the players told The Herald Thursday morning that Wheeler and Misi could return to the lineup as soon as the Sept. 21 game against Kansas City.

The only issue with that is the Dolphins play the Bills before then. The Bills rushed for 193 yards in a victory over Chicago last week and that makes them the NFL's No. 3-ranked rushing team. 

The Dolphins will have to slow Buffalo's rushing stampede with a linebacker corps that consists entirely of reserve players.

Jason Trusnik is expected to play in place of Misi at middle linebacker.

Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Freeny are expected to man the outside linebacker spots.

There is also a chance the Dolphins could integrate recently acquired Kelvin Sheppard into the mix. At the very least, the former Bills and Colts linebacker is expected to be active for the game and probably play on special teams only six days after joining the team.

The Dolphins linebacker corps is something of a M.A.S.H unit right now.

Rookie Jordan Tripp (chest) has already been ruled out by the team. Fellow rookie Chris McCain, who had a blocked punt and a sack in his NFL debut, has missed the past two days of practice dealing with an illness and a hip injury.

McCain is expected to be available on Sunday, however, barring some sort of physical setback.

[BLOG NOTE: Today is Sept. 11. I want to take a moment to honor and memorialize the passing of those who died during the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001. On a personal note, I also wish to memorialize the passing of my mom on 9-11-2009. Love you, Mami.] 

September 10, 2014

Wallace: Miami Dolphins could have scored 50

The Dolphins are still basking, at least a litte bit, in the afterglow of their 33-20 victory over New England in the regular-season opener and part of that is recognizing what went right and what went wrong.

And although plenty went wrong enough on offense that needs correcting, that fact also speaks to this truth:

"Honestly, it's not bragging or boasting but but I honestly feel like we could have scored at least 50 points," Wallace said Wednesday.

Wait, Wallace thinks the Dolphins could have hung 50 on the New England Patriots? On defensive guru Bill Belichick?

Well, you might think so too also after hearing Wallace go through the litany of mistakes the Dolphins made to stop themselves.

"I had a fumble early in the game, Lamar [Miller] had a fumble, we had a double move that should have been a touchdown, we had an interception when I ran a post that should have been a touchdown, we had a throw to Clay (which he dropped) that should have been a touchdown, we missed wide open ones," Wallace said. "That's already 21 more points so we could have had 50."

Actually, Wallace seemingly forgot a throw to Dion Sims that should have been a touchdown which he dropped. So that's four more points as the Dolphins settled for a field goal.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on Monday and quarterback Ryan Tannehill Wednesday talked about leaving points on the field.

The Dolphins have apparently been adding those points up. Yes, had they made all the plays, they might have eclipsed 50 last Sunday. 


Miami Dolphins missing key players in practice

The Miami Dolphins are practicing today but the defense is working a lot of backups because starters Randy Starks and Koa Misi missed practice to add to the absence of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe who is on injured reserve.

The Dolphins defense in practice today is without players that combined for 453 tackles, including 26 for loss in 2013. This according to math genius of The Herald's Adam Beasley.

Starks is wearing a boot on his left foot. He was working with trainers to rehab whatever injury he is suffering. Misi, who missed three quarters last week with an ankle sprain, was in a cast on his left ankle. A cast is not an boot. It suggests a more serious injury.

The Miami linebacker corps is decimated with two starters  -- Ellerbe and Misi -- either definitely out or trending that way. Even Phillip Wheeler who is practicing at least on a limited basis is still lessened because he is still wearing the cast on his right hand, wrist and thumb that he wore last week to attend to his fractured thumb.

Wheeler was unable to play with his injury last week.

Obviously, if the Dolphins must resort to backups, the candidates are Jason Trusnik handling the chores in the middle for Misi and Jelani Jenkins handling the Ellerbe position at weakside outside linebacker as he did last weekend against New England.

There's obviously is a chance the Dolphins can integrate newly acquired Kelvin Sheppard into the lineup or use Jonathan Freeny if Wheeler cannot go against the Bills.

So the LB corps would be something akin to Trusnik, Jenkins and Sheppard or Freeny if the starters are out -- which is a very real possibility.

The Starks injury is worrisome because he is a starting caliber player. And although the Dolphins have Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick, the run stopping defense becomes a concern if Starks cannot play, compounding the loss of practically the entire linebacker corps.

Interestingly, Starks practiced on Tuesday. So this injury happened since then.

We're not done. 

The Dolphins are limited in backups they have working in practice. Linebacker Jordan Tripp (chest) is still not practicing and hasn't worked since the preseason finale. Linebacker Chris McCain (hip, illness) was not at practice today for the second consecutive day.

We're not done, folks.

Offensive lineman Billy Turner is still in a boot and did not work during the portion of practice open to the media.

Center Mike Pouncey been running but still has not been cleared to practice. He will not play against the Bills.

Rookie Terrence Fede, who has not practiced in three weeks because of a knee injury, also is not practicing and will not play against Buffalo. His loss, not a major problem in the opener because most everyone was healthy, starts to become more pronounced with Starks in a boot and other defenders hurt.

Miami Dolphins believe Bills have best D front

We know what the Bills did to the Dolphins last season.

(Quickie lesson in recall: Teams played twice, Bills won both despite starting a third-string QB who is not even in the NFL right now because their defense, particularly their defensive front, dominated the Dolphins offensive line.)

Well, that memory I suppose is the basis of a theory that is circulating the Dolphins locker room that is coming from coaches: The Bill have the best defensive front seven the Dolphins will see this year.

“We just game-planned him a little bit today," right tackle Ja'Wuan James was saying. "They were saying this is probably going to be the best line we are going to face all year, so we just have to prepare, prepare like we just did for (the Patriots) game and help the team to get better."

Let's pause here to consider the idea of the Bills being the best defensive line the Dolphins face this year.

The Dolphins will play the Jets. They have a fine defensive front -- with Wilkerson, Richardson, Harris and them.

The Dolphins will play Baltimore. They have a fine defensive front -- Suggs, Ngata, Canty, Smith

The Dolphins will play Denver. They have a fine defensive front, particularly at linebacker with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and Danny Trevathan.

The Dolphins will play Detroit. They have a fine deensive front -- Suh, Fairley, Levy, Tulluch.

And I haven't even mentioned the Bears and Packers who will bring challenges with players named Jared Allen, Lance Briggs, Lamarr Houston,  Julius Peppers and  Clay Matthews.

Also, the Bills got good but not great results against Chicago last Sunday. The Bills held the Bears to 86 rushing yards and are the No. 11 run defense now. Well, the Dolphins, led by AFC defensive player of the week Cameron Wake, held New England to 89 rush yards and are No. 12 in the league against the run.

So are the Bills dominant so far?

Regardless, the Miami Dolphins see the Buffalo Bills as probably their biggest challenge of the year up front.

And you know what?

They are probably correct.

The Bills suffered a serious blow to their defensive front when they lost linebacker Kiko Alonso in the offseason. But, frankly, they still intimidate.

Mario Williams is a $100-million-plus defensive end and no one in Buffalo is saying he's overpaid. Kyle Williams is a good veteran and Marcell Dareus, despite off field problems, is a rising player. Brandon Spikes is not a three-down linebacker in my estimation but he is outstanding against the run. Keith Rivers is solid at strongside linebacker, and the depth of the unit is solid so they simply keep coming.

It will be a challenge for a Dolphins offensive line that played very, very well against the Patriots. If they can play well against the defensive front they see as probably the best they face all season, the Dolphins may have something here.

October 31, 2013

Dolphins starting to string embarrassments together

How has this Dolphins season, only seven games old, already been something of an embarrassment?


We start with Mike Pouncey pictured wearing a cap requesting the release of suspected murderer Aaron Hernandez. The picture hits the Internet and causes a public outrage. When Pouncey wants to apologize for photo to quell the public indignation, as his brother Maurkice immediately did on the advice of his team the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins forbid the center from saying anything. They apparently think saying nothing will make those offended feel better.

They also forbid Pouncey from saying anything after is subpoenaed to testify in front of a Grand Jury in relation to the Hernandez trial. Glad to see the team learned a lesson. Not really.

Right tackle Jonathan Martin on Monday then goes AWOL from the team when he gets upset over a lunchroom prank by teammates. He hasn't been around for three days. But the Dolphins, who refuse to acknowlege the national story, list Martin as doubtful for tonight's game against Cincinnati.

Defensive tackle Randy Starks, upset he is demoted from his starting job after going to the Pro Bowl last year, celebrates a sack by shooting his bench a one-fingered salute. The player denies it publicly, but the gesture was aimed at the coaching staff.

It took receiver Mike Wallace one game to show his unhappiness with the Dolphins game plan when he wasn't targetted at all in the first half of the season opener and only five times all game. Wallace, by the way, has toned down his distaste for how he's being used publicly but not so much privately.

Other players are also questioning the approach of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Guard Richie Incognito is unhappy Sherman stopped calling running plays in the second half of the New England loss and has been public about the Dolphins abandoning that which was working.

"I think we should just keep running the football 30, 40 times a game," Incognito says. "That's our blueprint for success. We have to run the football for four quarters."

The dislike for Sherman's play-calling can be found throughout the Dolphins organization. One high-ranking person within the team is dumbfounded by Sherman's approach in some situations, saying the coach misses "101 stuff" -- meaning fundamental things.

Coach Joe Philbin's relationship with the media has grown tense and, earlier this week, even combative. It wasn't that way last year even during a 7-9 season. The difference this year is the increased influence of Executive Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte, a member of the New York State bar and a Bill Parcells disciple. Aponte, originally hired to manage the salary cap underJeff Ireland, got from under the general manager's umbrella when the two clashed. She has become a close Philbin ally.

Aponte shadows Philbin during television interviews, radio interviews and press conferences. During one recent taping of Philbin's coaches' show, she stopped the taping to straighten the coach's tie.

The second-year coach meets with Aponte before every press conference and accepts advice on what to say to the media. Can you ever imagine Don Shula doing this? Aponte's typical advice is for Philbin to say as little as possible even though the mission statement from team owner Stephen Ross, Philbin's and Aponte's boss, was to have the Dolphins become a more transparent and fan-friendly organization after the Parcells departure.

Bottom line?

The Dolphins are trying to be just as insulated since the Parcells departure as before because Aponte believes in the approach. Except these Dolphins should probably concentrate more on improving their play than they do at honing their message. Except neither Aponte nor Philbin have any of Bill Parcells' credibility for winning anything, much less multiple Super Bowls. 

And it doesn't look like that will change this season.

October 26, 2013

Keys to the game: Dolphins vs. Patriots

It's all hands on deck for the Dolphins because they are completely healthy and ready to use every player in the plan against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Everyone on the team practiced full on Friday. The coaching staff expects to use Bryant McKinnie at left tackle against New England, although a final decision won't come until Saturday evening.

Cameron Wake will get a full load of snaps as will cornerback Dimitri Patterson. Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is expected back at his starting job.

So who has the advantage?

Here are the keys to the game:

When the Dolphins pass the football: The Dolphins personnel department has pushed for Bryant McKinnie to start at left tackle while the coaching staff has taken a more methodical approach. Fans should hope the personnel department wins out because the Dolphins have basically lost two consecutive games when right tackle Tyson Clabo gave up key sacks against Buffalo and Baltimore. Adding McKinnie to the lineup means Jonathan Martin moves from left tackle to right tackle. This game will measure Ryan Tannehill’s ability to recover from a poor game, which his three-turnover game against Buffalo certainly was. The Patriots hope to have starting cornerback Aqib Talib back in the lineup but if he’s out again that will be a considerable help for Miami. ADVANTAGE: Patriots.

When the Dolphins run the football: Did the Dolphins coaching staff learn its lesson this week? Last week, against a weak run defense, the Dolphins didn’t maximize the running game, rushing only 25 times in a game that was never out of hand and in fact Miami led in the fourth quarter. The Patriots are no better than the Bills against the run, allowing four yards per rush, and they’ve been worse since the injury to Vince Wilfork ended his season and weakened the run defense. New England is now 31st in the NFL against the run. The Dolphins must, must, must give Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas a full plate of run attempts to shorten this game, avoid turnovers and move the football. It’s up to offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins (if Sherman doesn’t mess it up).

When the Patriots run the football: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has been criticized this week because he didn’t run the football enough against the Jets despite being in a game the Patriots led and were having success with their running game.  Is this an epidemic, or what? The Patriots, curiously, are statistically a more successful running team than passing team. They have multiple backs that range in speed and size and can work either outside or between the tackles. But if the Pats are going to have any success running this game, they have to do it outside the tackles because the Dolphins clearly have a talent edge on the interior against New England’s center Ryan Wendell. ADVANTAGE: Even

When the Patriots pass the football: Tom Brady has not been playing up to his career standards as his quarterback rating is 20 points lower and his completion percentage is way down as well. That speaks to the loss of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez and the injury to Rob Gronkowski but it also suggests Brady is struggling to get on the same page with their replacements. Gronkowski returned last week and Brady targeted him 17 times. Look for more of the same, particularly in the red zone. The Dolphins could not figure out how to defend New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham a month ago. They better figure out how to account for Gronk. The Dolphins have the ability to push the Pats pass pocket up the middle with their outstanding defensive tackles and Cameron Wake is ready to take all his usual snaps on the outside. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: The Dolphins are way better than New England on kickoff returns. The Patriots are way better than the Dolphins on punt returns. Miami punter Brandon Fields is the NFL’s leading punter that includes net and gross average while New England’s Ryan Allen is closer to the middle of the NFL pack. The Patriots have tried more long-range field goals than the Dolphins and have more success doing it, as Stephen Gostowski has connected on 8 of 9 attempts of 40 yards or more, including 2 of 2 from more than 50 yards. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Unless Joe Philbin has some sort of Wildcat-type innovation up his sleeve this category pretty obviously tilts in one direction. ADVANTAGE: New England.

Intangibles: Both teams are desperate for a win because the Dolphins have lost three in a row and the Patriots two of three. But the home field has been very good to New England as they haven’t lost an October game at Gillette Stadium since 2005 and are 21-1 there in October dating back to 2003. OVERALL ADVANTAGE: New England.

October 23, 2013

PFF and Salguero look back at Bills loss

This is the space were the pithy lead to the blog goes. As today I've already used up all my inviting prose, kindly go straight to the factoids and film study of Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills courtesy my partners at ProFootballFocus.com:


RT Tyson Clabo had his worst grade of the season (-4.6), allowing two sacks and seven hurries.

Salguero: Clabo will be replaced at right tackle by Jonathan Martin on Sunday against the Patriots or by next Thursday against the Bengals as the Dolphins shift the veteran to the bench after he's allowed eight sacks in six games. The only thing that might keep Clabo in the starting lineup is an unexpected injury or if newly acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie takes at least a game to learn the Miami offense.

Salguero: Although Clabo gave up the two sacks, no other Miami offensive lineman allowed a sack. In fact, Martin was the only other lineman to allow so much as a hurry or hit on Tannehill. Martin gave up three hits and four hurries. Mike Pouncey, Richie Incognito and John Jerry were clean in keeping Tannehill alive.

TE Charles Clay picked up his worst grade of the season (-3.4), with the majority of it (-2.4) coming in the run game.

TE Dion Sims saw his most snaps since Week 2 (24), but he was blocking on 19 of them.

Salguero: Dolphins coaches don't seem to have a very high regard for Sims as a pass catcher. They think his value is blocking. Obviously, I haven't seen him in a practice since training camp but he was developing at that time as a pass catcher. It's unknown whether that development in the passing game slowed or coaches are simply misjudging Sims.

When facing the blitz, quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a 98.7 passer rating. Against no blitz, he produced both interceptions and a 52.5 QB rating.

Salguero: This has been a truism with Tannehill practically all season. He has been a poorer passer when he is not blitzed.

Lamar Miller rushed for 43 yards and he picked up 38  of those after contact.

Both Miami running backs had good days making space for themselves. Daniel Thomas forced seven missed tackles on his 12 carries. Miller made five guys miss on his nine carries.

Mike Wallace caught 3 of 4 targets against Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore for 64 yards, but just 2 of 6 targets against Leodis McKelvin for 12 yards.


Randy Starks continued his rampaging season with a +6.6 grade and four hurries, one hit and a sack. He is the 7th ranked DT this season.

The Dolphins continued to limit their two highest paid pass rushers. Cameron Wake, returning to health from a knee injury, got only 22 snaps in the game -- 14 of those were pass-rush snaps. Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick, got only 26 snaps, with 19 of those on passing plays.

Salguero: Jordan is primarily a pass-rusher. Of his 19 snaps on passing plays, he rushed the quarterback 18 times and dropped into coverage only once. Jordan finished the game with one tackle, one quarterback hit and two hurries.

Salguero: Coach Joe Philbin said Wake is 100 percent healthy but he didn't want to push Wake toward a full workload on his first full game back. Look for Wake to get his usual number of snaps, perhaps double what he got last week, against New England. Wake got minimal production from his snaps. He had only one hurry and one tackle against the Bills.

Without MLB Dannell Ellerbe collecting most of the tackles in the middle of the defense as he usually does, Reshad Jones had his best game of the season with a sack and 6 defensive stops.

Jimmy Wilson was locked in at nickel corner, playing 34 snaps. Meanwhile, Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson split No. 2 cornerback duties, with Carroll logging 38 plays and Patterson 30.

When working in the slot against Jimmy Wilson, Stevie Johnson caught 3 of 4 passes for 34 yards. Versus everyone else, he caught 3 of 7 passes for 27 yards. So obviously the Wilson vs. Johnson match up was not a good one for Miami. Something to keep in mind for the teams' rematch in December.

Patterson allowed two catches on three targets, while Carroll gave up three catches on three targets.

October 04, 2013

Dolphins must do something at RT

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants have made trades in the past week to try to salvage their season. Perhaps they were desperate moves. Perhaps, but they were moves by general managers who have each won multiple Super Bowls and believe in doing everything they can to help their teams improve now.

Perhaps the Dolphins need to get themselves in that kind of company and mindset.

The Dolphins, 3-1 and thick in the hunt for a playoff spot, have a serious problem on their hands in that they cannot protect their quarterback. They can't keep Ryan Tannehill upright as the 18 sacks they've allowed not only suggests but screams at full throat.

So rather than just sitting around and hoping and praying and acting like hard work is going to suddenly turn Tyson Clabo into a 26-year-old version of himself rather than the 32-year-old version we've seen give up four sacks in four games, perhaps the Dolphins should start shopping for an offensive tackle.

Or perhaps the Dolphins should consider moving people around to address that right tackle issue internally.

Either way, perhaps the Dolphins would be better off doing something instead of nothing.

So what can they explore?

Well, I do not blame the Dolphins for not being in on Levi Brown, who was traded from Arizona to Pittsburgh. He's frankly not much of an upgrade on any level. I don't blame them for missing out on Eugene Monroe, who was traded from Jacksonville to Baltimore.

Don't get me wrong, it would have made sense to get Monroe and start him on Sunday at left tackle while moving Jonathan Martin to right tackle. That would have been a good move, considering Monroe instead will be lining up against the Dolphins on Sunday because the Ravens gave up an undisclosed third-day-of-the-draft pick (somewhere between the fourth and seventh round) to get him this week.

A league source has confirmed for me that Jacksonville didn't really make the usual round of phone calls to the entire league to make Monroe available. So the Dolphins apparently didn't know Monroe was available.

But as the trade deadline approaches at the end of this month, perhaps it is time to be more proactive. Perhaps rather than wait on teams to call and say they have players available, maybe the Dolphins should start calling to see if players are available.

There's nothing wrong with being an active shopper.

The Ravens proved this when they called about Monroe and got a good player who wasn't really on the market.

So maybe a call to Tampa Bay to see if Donald Penn is available might be warranted for Miami. This, by the way, was suggested to me by a twitter follower. And looking at it, Penn is playing great and although he's very expensive, he's earning that pay. He'd be a huge upgrade for Miami.

Why would the Bucs trade him?

Well, they probably wouldn't but they did reportedly call the Dolphins to see if Miami would be interested in quarterback Josh Freeman. (The Dolphins obviously said no). So the Bucs are sort of rebuilding. Penn is 30 years old and maybe Tampa Bay can be convinced that a draft pick next year (maybe a third or even a second?) is good business because Penn is 30, expensive, and they aren't winning any titles anytime soon with a rookie QB, anyway.

It's a shot in the dark. And it beats taking no shot at all.

Maybe the Dolphins this weekend arrange a little discussion between Jeff Ireland and Ozzie Newsome. The Dolphins and Ravens GMs can talk about Bryant McKinnie. Maybe after Sunday's game is over, the Dolphins can send a seventh-round pick or perhaps a bag of bolts and door handles to the Ravens for McKinnie.

McKinnie, by the way, isn't the player he once was. He was once dominant. But he's partied too hard and gotten too soft to be very good anymore. His feet are slower. His belly is bigger. He's no longer a star, which is the reason the Ravens are replacing him with Monroe.

But you know what? The combination of LT McKinnie and RT Jonathan Martin is better than the combination of LT Martin and RT Clabo. And maybe McKinnie can lose weight in the Miami heat (Yeah, it is still hot down here). And, again, the Dolphins aren't exactly paying a premium for McKinnie, a player they liked in the spring.

McKinnie, by the way, is available according to a league source. And the idea of a deal is not unfamiliar to him as he raised it himself in an interview with the Baltimore Sun.

"We'll see," McKinnie said Thursday in his usual Australian accent (kidding), "maybe a trade, who knows?"

Obviously, those are not the only two tackles the Dolphins should explore. Explore everyone. Don't. Just. Sit. There.

Don't buy the fiction Joe Phiblin authors when he talks about guys working hard and getting better when the proof on the field truthfully counters that they are not getting any better. Some guys have maximized. Some guys have worked and they are who they are.

Change is needed.

Look in all crooks and nannies for that change. (See what I did there?)

One of the places, by the way, where the Dolphins should look is internally. That's right, on their very own roster.

No, I'm not advocating playing Dallas Thomas. The Dolphins are not that desperate.

I am advocating looking to see if perhaps Nate Garner can compete at right tackle. I am further advocating looking to see if perhaps moving John Jerry from right guard to right tackle might be suitable?

If you recall, Jerry finsished the 2011 season as Miami's left tackle. And he did a credible job when Jake Long went to his annual December appointment with the injured reserve list. The next year, the Dolphins moved him to guard and he's been starting but not starring there ever since.

Jerry is no great shakes at guard. And he'll probably be a mediocre-at-best tackle. But mediocre is still an upgrade from Clabo's four sacks in four games. Four sacks in four games stares longingly at mediocre. 

(Peanut Gallery: But Mando, if you move Jerry from guard to tackle you just create a problem at guard. What are you going to do with that problem?)

Garner is on the roster. Danny Watkins is on the roster. Or look to the trade market for a guard.

Do something.

I caught up with Watkins this week. The theme I came away with after the interview was he wants to compete for a starting job but he's still learning the playbook and Miami's techniques that have been so successful while giving up 18 sacks.

"Definitely feel good about it but there are still a few chinks in the armor so to speak," he said of where he's at. "But I feel good about it. It's definitely a different element coming in at the beginning of the season as opposed to being here for OTAs or training camp so that changes things. I'll go upstairs see the coaches and spend extra time with them watching the film and reviewing what I got to do. We'll draw stuff up if I'm unclear because some of it is new concepts. But they're really good about it."

So how are practices going?

"It's going well," he said. "The biggest thing is learning the technique and the offense. It's a lot better than what it was two weeks ago. It's when you flat line that you start getting in trouble. I'm just continually getting better."

As Dolphins practices are closed, I have no idea if Watkins is improving or not. I do not know if he's any good or not. But I'm hoping the coaching staff isn't simply accepting the status quo for the sake of keeping the offensive line intact.

Garner is also a possibility. Maybe he can be a better right tackle than Clabo. Maybe he can move in as the right guard and let Jerry go at right tackle. The point is not considering it, not trying it is a big mistake.

Obviously this week's game is not the time to try this. But the Dolphins have have a bye next week. That is the time to make changes. That is the time to bring in a player in trade or move Jerry and insert someone else.

Would that upset the continuity of things? Would that seem a bit desperate?

Giving up 18 sacks in four games and perhaps more on the way against Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil should put the Dolphins on the brink of desperation.

And continuity on a line that gives up 18 sacks in four games is not a good thing. It's a bad thing. It only suggests more of the same is coming in the future.

October 02, 2013

Dolphins' Mike Wallace: 'I'm definitely worried'

When the Dolphins signed Mike Wallace to the biggest contract in their team history -- $60 million over five years -- they bargained for a deep threat receiver who would blow the top off defenses with regularity.

It is something Wallace did often with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But as the first quarter of this season is over and those big plays have not happened, Wallace is now concerned.

"I'm definitely worried about it because it's game four," Wallace said Wednesday. "I'm not paranoid or anything but in Week Four it's not the way I imagined my first four weeks going. Definitely not. I'm pretty sure it's not the way anybody imagined it going. So for myself, and starting with myself, [quarterback] Ryan [Tannehill] and coaches, we all got to do a better job and find a way to make it work."

This is not to suggest Wallace being on the Dolphins isn't working. He's caught 15 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown. But his longest play was 34 yards and his 11.7 yard per catch average is well below the 17.2 yard per catch average he had before he arrived in Miami.

"I got to make big plays," Wallace said. "That's my main thing. I've been used to making big plays. And I definitely, definitely can make big plays. That's what I do. That's why I came here. That's why they signed me. It just hasn't happened so far for one reason or another."

Wallace is proven after four NFL seasons. He works hard. The talent vampire didn't suddenly drain him of his skills in the time since he left the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But the Dolphins' system doesn't seem to be a fit and his chemistry with Tannehill isn't the best. Indeed, Tannehill seems much more comfortable throwing the football to Brian Hartline and even Brandon Gibson, who also came to Miami in the offseason.

No one outside the Dolphins knows why that is. And if the Dolphins know why, they're not saying. But this much is clear, the current trend is not acceptable for Wallace.

"I know one thing, we not going to be able to go through a whole year like that," he said. "We have to make big plays. We have to back defenses up. That's what we have to do. Extra film work, different plays, whatever it is, whatever it's going to take, we have to get it done. We have to make big plays."

This current big-play drought doesn't mean Wallace is suffering from a sudden lack of confidence. He doesn't lack for that at all.

"I know I can do it," Wallace said.

But how fast it's done is now important for him as it should be for the Dolphins because the season is starting to leak away. So I asked Wallaced if his current worry would indeed grow to that "paranoid" state he mentioned if things don't change in the coming weeks and certainly by the middle of the season.

"Definitely," he said. "Then definitely something's wrong. And we're almost there. We only have four more games before that. We're already four games in. We don't have too much longer to figure it out. We got to make it happen. I don't know what we have to do. Hard work, I guess, by everybody."