September 15, 2014

The PFF and Salguero rewind of the Bills loss

There seems to be a controversy surrounding Ryan Tannehill.

I say he's played, how to be tactful, not good enough this season and indeed if you want to go back further, he didn't exactly finish strong last season with two duds at the end of 2013. So four consecutive games of disappointing play.

ProFootballFocus.com, meanwhile, seems to think Tannehill is ballin'. He is the No. 2 rated quarterback on their site behind Matt Ryan.

I don't buy it. Hey, the PFF guys are good people. But friends can disagree. I have reached out to them to get clarification on why they're wrong and I'm right.

Anyway, here's the rewind of Sunday's Miami Dolphins loss to Buffalo.

Offensive Summary

Not including Lamar Miller’s 4 snaps to start the game, here is the RB snap breakdown after Knowshon Moreno left the game: Miller 50, Damien Williams 17, Orleans Darkwa 9.

Brandon Gibson “started” again, but Jarvis Landry played more snaps, 44-41. The Dolphins seems to be doing this a lot. They started Miller at running back in the opener and gave the ball more to Knowshon Moreno. On Sunday they started Michael Thomas at safety (a curious situation that suggests something amiss) but Louis Delmas played more snaps.

Dallas Thomas replaced Shelley Smith at right for all 41 snaps following Smith’s knee injury. (Smith is expected to miss 2-4 weeks). To that point, Smith (-1.7) had allowed a sack and two hurries.

Ja’Wuan James (+3.2) acquitted himself well vs. Mario Williams, committing just one penalty and allowing a sack. 

Passing

Tannehill was sacked four times, but when he got the ball out under pressure, he was on target, going 7-of-8 for 44 yards when pressured. The rest of the time? He went 24 of 41 (58 percent completion).

None of Buffalo’s four sacks came on a blitz. All came with the four-man pass rush.

Rushing/Receiving

Beware of the small sample, but Damien Williams caused two missed tackles and 13 of his 19 yards gained came after contact.

Charles Clay, Brian Hartline, and Jarvis Landry all saw a target against at least five different Buffalo defenders.

Mike Wallace with another productive day, but he and Tannehill missed on another deep connection and he produced just six yards after the catch (YAC). That is now four potential TDs Tannehill and Wallace -- poor Tannehill throws is to blame on three of the four -- that this duo leaves on the field.

Defense

CB Will Davis only logged 14 snaps as the third corner with the Bills going heavy with plenty of two tight end and/or two-back looks. Davis might be winding down because when Reshad Jones returns to the team, Jimmy Wilson will move back to the third corner from safety. Jones is expected to return to the safety job.

Earl Mitchell (+4.3) once again provided elite run-stuffing play, as all four of his tackles went down as defensive stops. Mitchell is not steller and often goes unnoticed but he has been the most consistent performer of all Dolphins defensive line starters this season.

With Dannell Ellerbe and Koa Misi out, Jason Trusnik (59 snaps) and Jelani Jenkins (57 snaps) clearly ran as the nickel linebacker pair, with Philip Wheeler returning from injury to provide just 23 snaps. Trusnik's snaps are expected to diminish considerably next game against Kansas City as Misi is expected to return for the Chiefs. 

Coverage

Despite his modest 14 snaps, Davis was picked on by Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel, who completed four of his five targets (all four to Sammy Watkins) when targeting the second-year cornerback.

Watkins proved to be the one threat in the passing game for Buffalo, commanding 11 of Manuel’s 24 targets, and catching passes against four Miami DBs. Watkins finished with eight catches for 117 yards and a TD.

Follow me on twitter @ArmandoSalguero

[BLOG NOTE: Starting this week, to comment on this blog you’ll need to log in with a Facebook account. We encourage lively discussion on the blog, but also believe that respect and civility must be part of good debate. This change brings commenting on MiamiHerald.com blogs in line with our policy on the rest of our website. We made that change in Feb. 2013. Your blog posts will carry the name on your Facebook account; you will have the choice of whether your post also appears on your own Facebook page.]

 

Dolphins dealing with issues including QB and RB

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- I have seen zero improvement from Ryan Tannehill so far this year. And that's why I wrote in my column today that the Dolphins may have a problem that goes far beyond losing to Buffalo or playing inconsistently.

I don't think it is time to bench him yet.

But another stinker next week like he delivered against New England and Buffalo and I can guarantee the conversation about benching Tannehill will be joined within the Dolphins coaching staff. It's not about having patience here. Joe Philbin has plenty of that, especially for his quarterback.

But the clock is ticking on everybody on the football side of this organization and people in that kind of situation who merely stay the course often stay the course right out the door.

By the way, Joe Philbin defended Tannehill after the game when I asked him if thinks he can win a division with a quarterback playing like Tannehill is playing. The coach blamed everyone for playing poorly thus covering for Tannehill.

And, yes, the special teams were bad, the defesive front got no pressure and the offensive line ineffective. But Tannehill's game stood out as bad because it's his second in a row and, pssst, he's the quarterback.

I trust deeds more than words. And Philbin's deeds spoke volumes to me at the end of the first half Sunday.

With 2:21 to play and all three of their timeouts, the Dolphins got the ball at their own 17 and ran the ball. And ran again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

They actually moved the ball to their own 29 with 19 seconds to play and did not call time nor did they try to pass. They had the ball at their 35 with 13 seconds to play and did not call time and did not try to pass.

That tells me Philbin didn't trust his offense and he obviously didnt trust Tannehill to avoid an interception or a strip-sack of some kind. The Dolphins played it safe down 9-0. They didn't throw downfield trying to get in field goal territory.

Safe is good. But safe doesn't score before halftime and give you a chance to take the lead with your first possession of the second  half. Safe does not change momentum before halftime.

So Matt Moore is not at bat yet. He's not even in the on deck circle.

But if Tannehill continues to struggle like he has to start 2014 it will not be long before Moore is picking out a bat.

Tannehill, by the way, is not Miami's only issue right now.

The team needs to find a running back because Knowshon Moreno is out at least a month and probably longer and, let's face it, Lamar Miller isn't the answer there. I mean, Miller is a nice change-of-pace guy. He titilates with his size (222 pounds) and speed (4.49).

But his hands are inconsistent and he simply doesn't run over people or make them miss. And now that he's nursing a bit of an ankle injury, how's he going to carry the load?

GM Dennis Hickey most assuradly will be searching for help. Maybe it turns out to be Daniel Thomas. Maybe someone else is out there. None will replace Miller but the hope is someone can take carries for Miller.

The Dolphins have something of a quandry right now because they are soon going to need two roster spots for the return of Reshad Jones and Dion Jordan.  If they add a running back, they're going to need another roster spot.

There is speculation the team might place Moreno on the Injured Reserve (designated for return) list. But that is not an easy decision because that means Moreno would not be allowed to practice for six weeks and cannot be activated for eight weeks. During this time, the player doesn't count against the 53-man roster limit, but he does count against the cap.

So the team would get the roster spot but lose Moreno until mid November. That's harsh. I suppose it all depends on whether indeed Moreno has a fracture (likely) and what kind of fracture (clean break or not) it is to determine how long he'll be out. 

[BLOG NOTE: Starting Tuesday, to comment on this blog you’ll need to log in with a Facebook account.
We encourage lively discussion on the blog, but also believe that respect and civility must be part of good debate. this change brings commenting on MiamiHerald.com blogs in line with our policy on the rest of our website. We made that change in February 2013. Your blog comments will carry the name on your Facebook account; you will have the choice of whether your post also appears on your own Facebook page.]

September 14, 2014

Knowshon Moreno out 4-8 weeks

Knowshon Moreno suffered a dislocated left shoulder and possible fracture that will keep him out of the lineup at least four weeks but up to eight weeks if there is a serious fracture, a source told The Herald Sunday.

Moreno, the Dolphins running back, injured himself on his first carry of the game.

He gain four yards and did not play the rest of the game.

It was a blow to the Miami running game because last week Moreno rushed for 134 yards on 24 carries. The Dolphins will have to rely on Lamar Miller now. He had 11 carries for 46 yards against the Bills and has gained 105 yards on 22 carries for the season.

The Dolphins used Damien Williams on Sunday, giving him five carries.

It is likely general manager Dennis Hickey will go hunting for a running back tonight or Monday morning.

Miami Dolphins lose by 19 points to the Bills -- again

ORCHARD PARK -- The Dolphins beat the Patriots and came here last December and laid an egg, losing to the Bills.

Well, 10 months later, the 2014 Dolphins beat the Patriots to open this season and came here and laid an egg, losing to the Bills 29-10.

Two 19-point losses at Buffalo.

Special teams melted down, allowing a 102-yard kickoff return, a blocked punt, and giving up a muff punt return by Jarvis Landry. Brandon Fields also shanked two punts.

Disheartening.

It suggests last week was something of a mirage. And that is possible.

But there are reasons to think things will get better. Koa Misi will return next week and replace Jason Trusnik who proved today he's not it at middle linebacker.

It is possible that Reshad Jones and Dion Jordan will also be back next weekend. Mike Pouncey might even be ready to do some light practicing, although it is not likely he'll play against Kansas City.

 So the Dolphins get better.

Of course, the loss of Knowhson Moreno on his only carry Sunday seems to trump all those positives right now. Frankly, not many positives at all now. 

Knowshon Moreno out after elbow injury

Knowshon Moreno was the Dolphins most effective offensive weapon and they are going into the second quarter here in Buffalo without him.

Moreno injured his left elbow on his first run of the day -- a a four yard gain.

He is out for the rest of the game.

It looks as if he dislocated the elbow but that is not conclusive.

The rest of the running game will now have to be carried by Lamar Miller, Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa.

Live blog: Miami Dolphins at Bills

It is a beautiful day for football.

Temps are in the 60s and the sun is peaking through cloudy skies. The Dolphins are wearing their aqua tops and the Bills are in all white.

For the Dolphins the inactives are Mike Pouncey, Koa Misi, Jordan Tripp, Bruce Gaston, Jason Fox, Billy Turner and Terrence Fede.

For the Bills Cyrus Kouandjio, Lee Smith, Cyril Richardson, Keith Rivers, Jonathan Meeks, Bryce Brown and Ross Cockrell are inactive.

Jason Trusnik starts at middle linebacker and Jelani Jenkins starts at the weakside outside linebacker. Philliph Wheeler will be the strongside outside linebacker.

There will be a live blog today. Join me there.

If the live blog does load click here a couple of times.

Live Blog Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: Sept. 14, 2014
 

Games easier than practice? So far

My column today expands on how the Dolphins have begun this season with a different attitude and approach that many people are noticing both in the league, in the locker room and in ownership.

It has significance if it continues.

So please check out the column.

I talk about where that attitude comes from and from whom. But one thing not mentioned is the manner in which the Dolphins have been working in practice and the expectations coaches, particularly assistants, have for these players.

You'll remember last week, after the Dolphins beat the Patriots 33-20, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was asked how he viewed the performance by quarterback Ryan Tannehill. His answer? "...We better get better fast..."

How does that compare with past offensive coordinator Mike Sherman who talked about how "great" Mike Wallace played a game last year in which he caught three passes for 59 yards without a TD? Wallace greeted that comment with a look that suggested Sherman had a horn growing out of his forehead.

This year?

“We work so hard every single day at practice," Wallace told me this week. "We actually have guys tongues hanging out at practice. And for us to work so hard at practice makes the game kind of easy. I’m not saying our opponents are easy. But the tempo and how hard our coaches work us, it makes the game tempo easier and slower because we’ve seen it all. We’ve been in every situation in practice. We go through so many situations at practice everyday that no matter what happens in the game we believe we can overcome it.

"Even at halftime (against New England) when we were losing that game, I tell you there was not one guy who looked down or looked like he was worried. We had confidence in our abilities. We knew the reason they had points was our fault. I’ve been on a lot of teams but the confidence we had was great to see. It was like we’ve been here before. We’re not worried about it. We had each other’s back.

"Our team is on another level right now as far as comaraderie and guys being together."

That does not mean the Dolphins win today. Or any week.

But it means this team is better knit than past teams and apparently more prepared to withstand stress and adversity -- such as trailing New England at halftime, or traveling to Buffalo.

Today's crowd will be geeked. They started tailgating Saturday in the parking lots. Jim Kelly will be here. Recently inducted Hall of Famer Andre Reed will be here. The town is celebrating a sale of the team that will keep the team in Buffalo.

And the Bills are 1-0.

And they swept the Dolphins last year.

So let's see.

All the active players on the Dolphins roster traveled with the team, even the injured ones. Dion Jordan and Reshad Jones are not on the active roster. They did not travel and are not playing as a deal on a new drug policy between the NFL and players' union has still not been completely agreed to.

Come back later for the live blog.

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

Phillip Wheeler set to play Sunday after all

First the good news for Miami Dolphins fans: Linebacker Phillip Wheeler is expected to be available for the Dolphins on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, after all.

Wheeler, who missed the season-opener while nursing a thumb injury, has been limited in practice this week because of that injury but the team has been encouraged by his improvement day to day.

The chances of Wheeler being available are apparently so good the Dolphins are debating whether to list him as probable.

Wheeler's availability improved dramatically because a bulbous cast that covered his entire right hand that he's been wearing was switched to a more manageable cast that exposes the tips of his fingers and allows him to grab potential ball carriers.

So Wheeler could find himself in the lineup.

Great, right. And the bad news?

I reported on Thursday morning that Wheeler was out for the game, per a source. I doubled back with that source Thursday evening and was told, "Things change. I guess I was wrong."

No.

I was wrong. Apologies.   

Koa Misi will not play, as I reported earlier. Dannell Ellerbe is on injured reserve and cannot play. So the Dolphins will have only one of their starting linebackers available on Sunday. How much Wheeler plays remains a question.

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

Senate Committee Chair Rockefeller looking to investigate NFL

U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), the chairman of the senate committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is trying to mobilize members of the committee in an effort to conduct congressional hearings on the domestic violence issue as it pertains to the NFL.

A source close to the situation told The Herald that Rockefeller's work to find traction for such hearings among his members is well known within senate offices since it began in earnest Wednesday.

The NFL enjoys wide ranging anti-trust law exemptions and benefits from the government and thus Rockefeller sees holding the league accountable on a wide range of issues as well within his purview.

Rockefeller is known within Washington's Beltway as not a big fan of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell has come under fire for his handling of the domestic violence incident involving Ray Rice and his then-fiancee inside an Atlantic City elevator in February.

The NFL suspended Rice for two games after the incident -- which was seen by most as mild rebuke. Although Rice was not convicted after entering a pre-trial diversion program, Goodell admitted to owners in a letter he got the punishment for the Baltimore running back wrong.

How wrong is now at issue as TMZ.com recently released a video of the incident in the elevator which is graphic and shocking. The video shows Rice knocking out the woman he has since married -- Janay Palmer -- with one punch and then dragging her out of the elevator when the doors opened.

Goodell has maintained neither he nor anyone else at the NFL saw the video before it was released this week. when the video was released, the NFL then suspended Rice indefinitely. The Batlimore Ravens concurrently released Rice.

But the Associated Press, citing an unnamed law enforcement source, reported Wednesday that a copy of the video was turned over to the NFL months ago and an NFL representative acknowledged its receipt through a voicemail which the source played for the news organization.

The NFLresponded it had "no knowledge of this," and has promised to further investigate the matter.

But Rockefeller is now asking members of his committee to become involved as well. Rockefeller, 76, is retiring after this year so opening hearings that would hold the NFL's proverbial feet to the fire is not to be considered a ploy to earn votes, the source told The Herald.

But, the source allowed, perhaps Rockefeller is looking for one final opportunity to make Goodell uncomfortable. 

If Rockefeller finds traction for conducting NFL hearings among his members, an announcement could come within days.

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.

September 09, 2014

Miami Dolphins reserve LBs great, or were starters not?

During the offseason, Jason Trusnik visited with coach Joe Philbin and during their chat the Miami Dolphins player wanted the head coach to get the idea that he wasn't just about playing special teams.

"Playing defensive football is important to him," Philbin said. "He felt he could make a valuable contribution. I thought Sunday was a great example of that."

It was an example brought about by necessity. The Dolphins needed Trusnik to start at the strongside linebacker because Philip Wheeler was out with a thumb injury. But when Dannell Ellerbe went down and Koa Misi went down, suddenly Trusnik was the senior member of Miami's linebacker corps.

This week? No different because even if Wheeler and Misi return (questionable at best for the moment) Ellerbe is out for the year. Jelani Jenkins is available but it seems obvious Trusnik will be the guy -- a certainty if the Dolphins are again two linebackers down.

Trusnik says he's ready. 

“I mean everything that happens in the game, we’re in front of them so we’re going to get the same type of blocks and we’re going to have to deal with the same type of stuff regardless of who’s behind us," Trusnik said. "So I guess in a way, we feel like we’re going to have to step it up just because we’re going to be the guys on the field who probably have been a part of, I guess knowing the defense a little bit longer than some of the guys that are coming in to fill the roles.

"But you know we’ve got plenty of guys at the linebacker spot who can play, who can fly around and make plays. Jason Trusnik is a guy who’s very important to our team and vital to our team as you can see now he’s filling in, but he’s one of our special teams captains. He’s our special team captain and I think he’s the type of guy that’s going to be able to come in and have a seamless transition.”

This needs to be said: It is great that Trusnik and Jenkins and to a lesser degree rookie Chris McCain, who is mostly a pass rusher at this point, played so well on Sunday.

There was virtually no drop in performance from the starters to the backups.

But I think everyone recognizes one possible reason for that is that Miami's reserves were prepared. And another possible reason is that Miami's starters are, well, just so-so.

Both Trusnik and Jenkins graded out with plus-grades for the game on Sunday. Misi and Ellerbe, meanwhile, already had minus grades in the 17 and 18 snaps respectively they took against the Patriots.

So if the arc of what had alread happened is to be believed, the Dolphins upgraded when they went with their reserves.

Nonetheless, I don't want to be the guy raining on these guys' parade so let's just say the reserves such as Trusnik and Jenkins and Jonathan Freeny played worthy of being recognized.

The question is assuming Misi and Wheeler cannot play against the Bills and Jenkins and Trusnik play well, what happens when the starters return?

I believe Misi starts. Coaches love him.

Wheeler? Not too sure.

McCain, by the way, is still not ready to start. He is slowed by a hip injury that kept him out of practice Tuesday and some last week. And he's still learning the defense and all the assignments. Think of him as a pass-rusher.

 

A PFF look at the Dolphins victory over the Pats

As I did last season, every Tuesday I will share with you the review of the previous Sunday's game (no idea what will happen Monday night) via my friends at ProFootballFocus.com.

The Dolphins dispatched the Patriots 33-20 on Sunday. So most of these grades should be pretty good.

By the way, I recommend a PFF subscription.

Consider: 

Offensive summary

Lamar Miller drew the “start,” but was out-snapped by Knowshon Moreno 48-27.

The breakdown of #3 receiver snaps was as follows: Brandon Gibson had 36, Jarvis Landry had 31, Rishard Matthews had 8.

Brandon Albert and Samson Satele came up with two of the bigger performances by any tackle or center in the league in Week One, especially in run-blocking. Albert had a +4.0 grade playing left tackle. Satele, signed in August to fill in for Mike Pouncey had a +3.2 grade.

If Satele continues to perform like this, it gives the Dolphins space to make sure Pouncey is fully ready and fully in football shape to come back from his hip surgery rehab. Maybe they give him two weeks of practice instead of just one.

Second TE Dion Sims is looking at mostly a blocking role; he was asked to block on 24 of his 39 snaps. Understandbly, by the way. He dropped a potential TD pass.

Passing

When pressured, Ryan Tannehill was an only 2-for-10 with 12 yards, with an interception, and a sack taken.

Tannehill’s struggles with the intermediate and deep accuracy continued, going 3-for-11 on throws of 10-yards or more down the field.

As I wrote Monday, OC Bill Lazor wants Tannehill to get better fast.

Rushing

Knowshon Moreno tallied 72 (of his 134) yards after contact and he caused six missed tackles during his breakout afternoon. Moreno is an AFC Player of the Week candidate for sure.

The Dolphins had the most success running right behind their center Samson Satele, recording 73 yards on 12 carries when running up the middle.

Lamar Miller didn’t force any missed tackles, but still had 21 yards after contact of his 59 total on the ground.

Receiving

Mike Wallace was moved around plenty and saw targets against five different Patriot defenders -- Revis (5), Alfonzo Dennard (2), Jerrod Mayo (2), Jamie Collins (1), and Dont'a Hightower (1). Think about this: Mayo, Collins and Hightower are linebackers so Bill Lazor found a way to get WR on LB matchups for Wallace four times during the game.

Moreno had a great day running the ball but didn’t have a single target in the passing game.

Defense

Cameron Wake lapped the rest of the 4-3 DEs this week with a +6.7 grade (the next highest was +3.2), registering two sacks, two hits, and two hurries in the opener. He played well, folks.

Jason Trusnik (66 snaps) and Jelani Jenkins (59 snaps) were the primary nickel linebackers when Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe were forced from the game.

Earl Mitchell (+4.1) was a standout performer from the interior line, logging three hurries in the pass rush and three stops in the run game.

Opponents' passing

Tom Brady’s accuracy over 10 yards was also shaky. He was 4-of-22 on passes of 10-plus yards down the field.

When blitzed, Brady was 9-16 for 134 yards. Meanwhile, when not blitzed, Brady went 20-40 for 115 yards and took three sacks.

Coverage

Will Davis was targeted a team-high 12 times, but allowed just three catches. Here’s who he was targeted with, and their catches in parenthesis: Brandon Lafell five targets (0), Kenbrell Thompkins three targets (0), Julian Edelman three targets (2), and Shane Vereen one target (1).

The Dolphins allowed just four catches on 11 Rob Gronkowski targets, with Jelani Jenkins (4 targets, 1 catch) and Brent Grimes (3 targets, 1 catch which was a TD) doing the best work on him.

Safeties Jimmy Wilson and Louis Delmas combined to allow eight catches on 10 targets, but those eight catches went for just 75 yards.

September 08, 2014

Lazor to Tannehill: Get better fast

The Dolphins blew out the Patriots on Sunday (did that really happen?) but in listening to Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor discuss the performance of quarterback Ryan Tannehill you get the feeling the coach wasn't too pleased with the player.

Lazor today was asked about Tannehill during his weekly press conference. That's nothing out of the ordinary as the offensive coordinator was asked about half a dozen offensive players.

But Lazor held the most critical comments about all of them for Tannehill.

“My number one feeling is that we better get better fast, particularly in the passing game," Lazor said. "I feel like there were a lot of plays that we should have made and didn’t make. Some might have been the throw or the decision. Some were the drop. I think a lot of them were easy to see if you were watching the game on TV and so I don’t think that’s a surprise.

"I think we are going to have to be better to win tighter games. We are going to have to be more productive in the passing game when the plays are there. They were there and we didn’t make them. It’s going to be a real clear message that we’ve got to get better."

Tannehill has got to get better alright. He completed 18 of 32 passes for 178 yards with 2 TDs and I INT. His quarterback rating was 79.9.

But as Lazor referenced and you saw on television if you watched, Tannehill threw multiple passes behind receivers -- some were caught while others were not. And he missed Mike Wallace on two passes that would have been touchdowns but were overthrown.

He had another pass to Wallace that would have forced the open receiver to come down with both feet in bounds for the score to happen. Wallace didn't do it. I put that one on Wallace moreso than Tannehill. But even that pass could have been better.

Ellerbe to injured reserve, Dolphins sign Sheppard

Dannell Ellerbe's hip injury was serious. That's the reason the team will place him on the injured reserve list, coach Joe Philbin announced today.

To replace Ellerbe, who will not be eligble to return this season, the team is signing free agent linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.

Sheppard played with the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 and Buffalo Bills in 2012.

“Well, Dannell is a heck of a player and we were excited about the prospects of him moving back to the Will position and playing as effectively as he could," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "But that’s part of the game and we move on and, like every team in the league does when you have injuries, you have to have people step up, fill in and we’ll do that and we’ll move forward."

The Dolphins now have to decide on a replacement for Ellerbe in the lineup as Sheppard may not be that immediately. The candidates are Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins.

“I can’t say enough about those guys and the job that Coach (Mark) Duffner and Coach (David) Corrao did to get those guys ready," Coyle said. "Those guys stepped in. Trus (Jason Trusnik), he was out there calling the defense, he was playing on special teams, he did it all and did a great job. Jelani, you noticed him because they were trying to throw the ball to the tight end, they tried to pick him on the wheel route and get the back down the sideline. Jelani, not only did he cover but he made a really good adjustment getting over the top of a potential rub route. It’s a play that we work a lot when we get prepared to play these guys because they’re very effective with it, but he did a great job. Jonathan Freeny had some quality snaps as well, so it was great to see that. You’re going to have to have your backup players step up when the time comes and they certainly did that. I was really impressed with the entire group. The defensive line, the pass rush was relentless."

Although Chris McCain played well Sunday and made two impact plays -- a punt block and a sack of Tom Brady -- he is not ready to contribute completely on defense as more than a pass rusher. That is his current role on defense.

“He’s a work in progress," Coyl,e said of McCain. "He’s getting better every week. We’re preparing him to play. He prepared to play both defensive end and linebacker last week and he’ll do the same this week. It’s pretty amazing to be in your first NFL game as an undrafted free agent and first snap block a punt and then come on later on one of his first rushes in the game he gets a sack of Tom Brady. I think he’ll remember that game for a long time."

The Dolphins have two other injured linebackers in Koa Misi (ankle) and Philip Wheeler (thumb). Neither is dealing with a season-ending injury situation.