December 02, 2015

Bobby McCain in, Jamar Taylor out; It's SMURFS secondary time!

Dan Campbell promised some lineup changes and he wasn't kidding.

The Miami Dolphins interim coach said Wednesday Bobby McCain is competing to start at cornerback on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. The coach said McCain, a rookie, will start opposite Brent Grimes if he has a good week of practice.

That's coachspeak for Bobby McCain is starting.

That means Jamar Taylor who has struggled in recent weeks is out.

Campbell said Brice McCain will be the nickel cornerback.

Yeah, the Taylor infatuation was short. He is on the way to joining a number of other second-round Dolphins picks that did not live up to expectations.

The size of the Miami secondary across the board might become a concern. Brent Grimes and Bobby McCain are 5-10. Brice McCain is 5-9.

But Campbell said he's not worried about that because those three are "gritty" and all will get their hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage to hold them.

On a non-cornerback related issue, Campbell said he expects Mike Pouncey to get some work at practice on Thursday and that suggests his status for Sunday is improving. 

Branden Albert, meanwhile, missed practice for rest purposes on Wednesday.

Five starters miss practice; Matthews, James out; DeVante Parker starts!

The New York Jets didn't just beat the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, they beat up the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

And the fallout from that was seen at pratice this afternoon with five starters missing work altogether as the team began preparations for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Center Mike Pouncey (foot), defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (calf), wide receiver Rishard Matthews (ribs), right tackle Ja'Wuan James (toe) and left tackle Branden Albert (unknown) missed practice today.

All but James and Albert suffered their injuries against the Jets.

James is about to miss fifth game since suffering his injury at New England Oct. 29.

Matthews has fractured ribs and that means he is about to miss Sunday's game. Receiver DeVante Parker told The Herald's Adam Beasley he is starting at the X position against the Ravens.

"I think I just need to show people what I can do," Parker said. "I haven't been getting as many reps as I wanted, but now I have a chance to show people what I can do."

Pouncey is not working today but he is out of the boot and the team hopes he might be able to play Sunday. Jamil Douglas is working in practice at center today in his absence.

Albert, by the way, may be missing merely on a rest day. We'll see when the injury report comes out.

December 01, 2015

Zac Taylor speaks (along with Salguero commentary)

Today's NFL, as violent and physical as it is, is about fear in some respects.

One way the NFL show fear is teams hate personalities and opinions and different points of view. And that's one reason practically all, if not all, NFL teams prohibit the media from talking to assistant coaches. The NFL mandates the head coach speak to the media. The NFL mandates the coordinators speak to the media.

That's it.

The defensive line coach doesn't typically speak during the regular season.

The quarterbacks coach doesn't typically speak during the regular season.

And even the coordinators, mandated to speak, do so only once a week and for, perhaps 10 minutes.

That is the way it has been for years. And that is why I have very little perspective on Zac Taylor despite the fact he's been with the Dolphins since 2012 and I've covered the team since we were writing stories on stone tablets.

(By the way, back in those prehistoric days of the 1990s, coaches talked any time. You walked up to them after practice and you could just talk to anyone. Don Shula was not afraid the message from an assistant would be different than the message from him because, my guess is, he was confident he had passed down his message well enough that everyone got it.)

Anyway, when Zac Taylor was promoted to play-caller on Monday -- the Dolphins are not calling him the offensive coordinator -- after replacing Bill Lazor, that was the first time he conducted a full-fledged press conference since arriving in South Florida.

Amazing, right?

The guy has been training a young quarterback for four seasons, he was obviously a next guy in line so to speak, and ... silence.

(Not blaming the Dolphins. Just the way it has become in the NFL since Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick dropped the Iron Curtain over the league to keep the media away).

So Taylor had to talk on Monday because the NFL mandates it.

And what follows is all that he said. And what follows all that he said is what I think of all he said. Again, I don't know Zac Taylor and he doesn't know me. But I know this team. And I know poo when I see it coming out of someone's mouth.

So let's get to it:

(Opening Statement)  -- “Obviously these are unusual circumstances for me. This is not ideal. This is not how I dreamed up this situation happening. Bill Lazor was awesome to me. He put his heart and soul into this offense and I know that every coach upstairs in that staff have a ton of respect for him. It’s disappointing to see it happen like this because we were all invested in this offense and it’s on all of us. And he took the fall for us, but certainly we owe it to him and we owe it to this organization to get on track and get going on offense. I know you guys are going to ask questions on what’s our identity going forward, what’s my philosophy. I have not called plays before. That’s probably a question that’s going to come of me. What I want to see us do is run the ball. I know we’ve said that before but we’re going to run the ball, okay. I think it’s important that our players have that mindset. Obviously situations dictate how the game is called but it’s important I think for any offense to get that thing going. We’ve got a lot of trust in these players. We want them to have confidence. We’re going to streamline what we do on offense. We’re going to simplify it. It’s important that the players know that we believe in them. I think they’ve known that all along but it’s on them as players and coaches for us to get this straight and start scoring some points and winning some games and start helping our defense and special teams out. With that I’ll open it up to questions for you guys."

Salguero thoughts: A play-caller had better have great anticipation of what is coming from the opponent. He must think about what the other guy is thinking about, both in drawing his game plan and attacking on game day. Taylor showed great anticipation in talking of what he expected in the form of questions. And he also recognized he and the team have weaknesses. You have to understand you have weaknesses before you can mask them. Well done.

(On what this means for QB Ryan Tannehill) -- “Ryan (Tannehill) and I have had a relationship for a long time and it’s important for him. He’s always had input in this offense and I think we have a great relationship. I know how he thinks and he knows how I think. It’s important for him to have plays where he can be accurate, he knows exactly where he’s going with the ball. Not that that hasn’t been the case but when I say streamline and simplify things for everybody and make sure that we’re all on the same page and make sure that we can get the most out of our passing game. That always stems from having a good running game."

Salguero thought: Plays were he can be accurate? So have they been running plays he isn't capable of being accurate in? Also, nothing wrong with simplicity. Do something so well that the other team cannot stop it no matter that they know it is coming. This, however, requires a high degree of talent. It requires you to have more talent than them. Taylor may soon find out the Dolphins don't have more talent than the other guys, particularly in the middle of his offensive line.

(On if QB Ryan Tannehill has been hamstrung in the offense) -- “No, I think a lot has always been asked of him. He’s a very smart guy. He can handle anything. We’ve always put a lot on his plate. I don’t think that in any way he has been hamstrung. We’ve got to find a way to get guys to play the best they can possibly play and that’s what we’re going to do this week as we game plan."

Salguero thought: Spin. Tannehill has wanted the ability to do more. I thought Taylor said he knew what Tannehill was thinking?

(On if QB Ryan Tannehill will have more latitude to call audibles at the line) -- “Those are things we’re still discussing. This all happened fast this morning. I feel like I’ve been able to deal with everything but game planning at this point. There are times where we have to sit down as a staff and narrow down what our approach is as we go forward. So everything is on the table, certainly. I want to continue to meet with Dan (Campbell), meet with all the offensive coaches. We’re all going to have input in this thing and make sure that we’re all on the same page. We are going to do what’s best for this offense, what’s best for Ryan (Tannehill), what’s best for those linemen so that we can score some points."

Salguero thought: Consensus is good. Offense by committee is not good. Are you going to take charge or not? And if not, because you just took over, you have set yourself up for failing with other people's ideas.

(On the lack of run game) -- “I think each game has been different. Unfortunately some games we haven’t had the lead early and so it causes you to go in a different direction. I can’t sit here and say that we’re going to run the ball 10 straight times. That’s not what I’m saying at all, but it’s important to have the mindset that you’re going to establish the run; whatever it takes."

Salguero thought: The idea that you can run the football only when you have the lead is bogus. You're down a touchdown, you do not abandon a plan that took you six days to perfect. You're down 10-0, you do not abandon a plan that took you days to perfect. You are down 14, you do not abandon the plan. Now it's halftime, and that by definition is the time to regroup. If your plan isn't working by then, you had a crappy plan. Time to do something else.

(On how ready he feels calling plays despite never doing it before) -- “I’ve called a thousand games in my head, I can promise you that. Now that doesn’t translate to being on the sidelines and calling a game but I am absolutely prepared. This is, as a player you dream about playing in the Super Bowl, as a coach you daydream about calling the Super Bowl. There is no substitute for experience, there is no doubt about that, but I have all the confidence with the staff around me – I have unbelievable guys on offense that are there to help me. However many there are, I believe in every single one of those guys. This is not just about me, this is about the players executing, it’s about all of us assistant coaches being on the same page putting together the game plan. The words will be coming out of my mouth on Sunday, but it will be a cumulative effort I promise you that.”

Salguero thought: Taylor will be fine calling plays. He's a bright guy, from what I've been told. The part that worries me is "assistant coaches being on the same page putting together the game plan." Get them on the same page, Zac. That's your job. Get the vision from Dan Campbell and make it come alive.

(On what was going through his mind this morning) –“I felt awful for Bill (Lazor). I saw the guy put his heart and soul and the hours he put into this thing. He’s treated me with nothing but respect. I learned a lot from him. He’s a great person. He’s going to land on his feet. He’s going to be just fine. That’s just the way this business works. Felt terrible for Bill (Lazor). That’s just the way it goes.”

Salguero thought: The NFL is a results driven league. As Yoda said, "Do. Or do not. There is no try."

(On when he found out of the position and if it was before or after he found out about the change with Bill Lazor) -- “Just right after I found out about him I found out about myself."

Salguero thought: Next.

(On what can be done to achieve continuity on the offense) -- “We just have to find ways for our players to play with confidence. That’s the biggest thing and making sure that we are all on the same page with the game plan. I’m not saying that that hasn’t happened. That’s what we have to do because we haven’t been very good so far and that’s on everybody- coaches and players. Whatever we have to do to make sure the players are confident in what they’re going to do and that they know the plan, we can go with that. We can execute it. And there is no substitute for the players having confidence in what they’re doing and doing it full speed. That’s what we’re going to find ways to do.”

Salguero thought: Are Dolphins players ... not smart? Have they not known the plan well enough to execute it fast? Asking for a friend.

(On if they need to be more physical) -- “When you’re not winning games and you’re not running the ball well then yeah, you could always say you need to be more physical. How do we accomplish that? There are a lot of different ways. Dan (Campbell) has been working on that since he’s been here. Dan (Campbell) always has a good plan in place and I trust that he’ll get these guys going."

Salguero thought: Next.

(On how strange it is to be put in this position) -- “It’s unique. It’s not something that you plan on. But like I said, any of you guys in your own jobs, you’re always prepared for the next step. It’s something that you always think about and dream about. So it’s always something I thought about. I did not anticipate this being the situation, but it’s certainly something I’ve always prepared for since I’ve been a coach.”

Salguero thought: Right answer.

(On if he has met with his players) -- “I did, yes. I met with the quarterbacks first and then I met with the offense. You know, I didn’t give a message too different from what we got going here right now. These players know that they are accountable for everything that goes on in the game. As coaches we have to prepare them and the players have to be accountable for what they put on tape on Sunday. It’s a cumulative effort and I trust everybody that we’re going to be on the same page and we’re going to get this thing going the right way.”

Salguero thought: Good.

(On what the issue is on third down) -- “(There is) a lot of issues. If I knew the answer to that we would have been doing it. We’re going to continue to evaluate everything that we do. We always feel good about our plan going in; I’ll be honest with you. Every week we sit there as a staff we feel good about the plan. We just have to continue to evaluate that and find the best ways to get first downs because a lot of it is we get to third down and we’re not converting and that’s the way the game is shaking out. It’s on us. We’ve got to have a great plan in place, we need to have the players execute it and we have to make sure it happens."

Salguero thought: If you knew the answer? It is now your job to know the answer. Bill Lazor didn't provide the answer. This is your problem now. Provide the answer.

(On if it’s that extreme to go away from the run in situations they are behind) -- “Each situation is different. Going forward we are going to do our best job to have the best plan in place and our players are going to know that plan and our players are going to execute it to the best of their abilities. We’ve got to move the ball.”

Salguero thought: Take him at his word.

(On if he keeps in touch with Mike Sherman) -- “I do, absolutely.”

Salguero thought: Dumb question. Mike Sherman is Zac Taylor's father-in-law. Even if they don't stay in touch, Taylor isn't going to say it and reveal a family rift. Geez.

(On if he will go to Mike Sherman for advice) -- “Always. I have always done that. He’s been a huge influence in my life in many ways. I learned a lot of football from him. He’s always been unbelievable to me. I talk to him almost weekly. He’s always been a big influence and key in my life."

Salguero thought: Just, please, stay away from Go and Go-Go .. And always lining up the WRs in the same spot with virtually no presnap motion ... And abandoning the run, which he did too often, also.

(On if he would like to see QB Ryan Tannehill use his legs more) -- “I mean that’s one of the things we’ll talk about as a staff, finding ways to get this offense going forward. And if we believe that’s Ryan (Tannehill) using his legs more then absolutely that’s what we’ll do. If we feel like it’s going in a different direction then we’ll do whatever we have to do to be successful and to make sure the players and coaches are on the same page.”

Salguero thought: He runs a 4.6. Let him run. Is he going to get hit? Maybe. No more than he gets hit when he's a statue in the pocket.

(On if he will call plays from the sideline or the booth) -- “That has not been determined yet. I’ve been in the booth for the last two years. I was on the field for seven years before that so I’ve done both. I’ve just got to keep thinking about that, talking to Dan (Campbell) and seeing what the best plan is for everybody. But that has not been determined yet.”

Salguero thought: Do whatever you feel most comfortable doing. Nobody cares, as long as it works.

(On if he has numbers in mind for what he wants the offense to look like) -- “I don’t have numbers in mind. I have balance in mind. We need to be balanced; that’s the most important thing. So as long as we achieve balance I think the points will come. Again, we’ve got to come up with a gameplan against Baltimore because this is a good defense we’re facing. But obviously our best shot is to be as balanced as we could be.”

Salguero thought: Great answer.

(On if the run game has been abandoned too soon) -- “Like I said, each situation in a game is different. Each game always feels differently and we’ve just got to do a great job  of coming up with a plan and sticking to it. I’m not going to say that we’ve abandoned it too quickly. Each game has felt differently but we’ll have a good plan of being balanced moving forward.”

Salguero thought: Zac, say "Yes" and take the next question.

(On if fixing the run game is a matter of quantity or different calls) -- “We’ve got 11 games under our belt so to say that we’re going to completely change what we’re doing. We believe in the system and what we’ve been doing. We just have to find ways to be more effective. There may be different things we throw in as a staff to try to get us going but to say that we’re going to abandon what we’ve been doing, we all believe in what we’ve been doing, we’ve had success in this system and so we just have to find ways to utilize it the best way possible.”

Salguero thought: First and goal from the 1 and Dolphins in shotgun. No. Five-yard slant on third-and-10. No. Bubble screens up the ying yang. No, people have caught up to that. Fake the bubble screen and throw an out to the other side. And for God's sake don't run a draw on third-and-25 and have that be one of only seven running plays you call all game.

(On if he expects QB Ryan Tannehill to line up under center more often) -- “Again, that’s something we’ll have to talk about as a staff. We haven’t determined any true game plan thoughts as it pertains to Baltimore yet. So I’ll know more about that later on in the week.”

Salguero thought: Again, impose your will. Have courage of your convictions, as Shula used to say. If you don't, you fail using somebody else's idea and you'll hate yourself for it.     

 

November 30, 2015

Bill Lazor fired, Zac Taylor new playcaller

When the head coach calls the offense "anemic right now" it cannot be good news for the offensive coordinator.

Dan Campbell said those words Sunday afternoon.

And Monday morning the Miami Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor after less than two years on the job, per a source.

A source tells me QB coach Zac Taylor, is replacing Lazor the final five games of the season. He will be the primary play-caller and remain as QB coach.

The Dolphins underperformed on offense this year. They have been outscored 172-72 in five games, all losses, to AFC East opponents. That's an average score of 34-14.

(Yeah, the defense needs major work, too.)

But the point is it is impossible to win averaging two touchdowns per game within the division. The Dolphins are averaging 20.4 points per game this year and that is down about four points per game from a year ago.

Over the last five games, the Dolphins have averaged just 15.6 points. In that span, the same offense allowed -- allowed -- three safeties and a pick six touchdown. In nine of 11 games this season, Miami has scored 20 points or less.

The bottom line is it seems teams have caught up to the offense in Miami, much as teams have caught up to the offense in Philadelphia, where Lazor was QB coach before coming to Miami.

Taylor has been with the Dolphins four seasons as the quarterbacks coach. It is his first NFL job. Indeed, it is his first fulltime coaching job. Previously, Taylor served as a graduate assistant coach/tight ends coach at Texas A&M from 2008-11.

Taylor came to Miami under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and stayed after Sherman was dismissed in 2014. Taylor is Sherman's son-in-law.

It is probable the Dolphins will continue to run the same offense -- as they ran more or less the same defense when defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was fired.

But the playcalls ... A draw on third-and-25? Those five-yard slants on third-and-eight? The force feeding of the bubble screens?

Those will change, one supposes.

It will be interesting if quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be given wider latitude in calling audibles. He did not have that latitude under Lazor's system. He could audible to a play that was served up to him before the snap. But he could not audible to any play he wanted after he scanned the defense in front of him.

Tannehill was not a big fan of the Lazor offense at the end. Just last week he said cryptically, "Right now we are just trying to do the best we can with the offense that we run," showing about as much public displeasure with the whole thing as he dared.

This season has been savage on Dolphins coaches, by the way. They have fired their head coach, their defensive coordinator and their offensive coordinator. All of them were fired after losses to the New York Jets. Pattern here? Owner upset at losing to his hometown team?

[Update: The Dolphins have confirmed Lazor has been "relieved of his duties as OC," that Taylor is the playcaller and wide receiver assistant Phil McGeoghan has been promoted to wide receivers coach.]

 

November 29, 2015

New York Jets defeat the Miami Dolphins, 38-20

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Don't believe the window dressing.

Don't believe that late TD passes from Ryan Tannehill to Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker -- the one to the rookie came with five seconds to play.

Don't believe anything that happened after the New York Jets took a 35-7 lead on the Dolphins Sunday afternoon en route to a 38-20 victory.

OK, I'm wrong. Believe the strip sack fumble turnover the Dolphins gave up after recovering the ensuing kickoff. That's believable. That's so Dolphins.

But otherwise think only of the way the Jets, a team struggling in recent weeks, got to 35-7.

They did it running the football. They rushed for 138 yards.

They did it shutting down the Miami running game. Miami rushed for 12 yards.

They did it shutting down the Dolphins on third down. The Dolphins converted only four of 15 third down tries. They converted four of 27 on the season against New York.

They did it throwing time and time and time again to Brandon Marshall who was matched up against Brent Grimes and winning that match throughout the day while the Dolphins sideline did nothing to change strategy.

The Dolphins got nothing out of Ryan Tannehill who was outplayed by Ryan Fitzpatrick for the second time this season. Indeed, Tannehill threw an early touchdown that extinguished a potential scoring drive when the game was still in doubt.

Tannehill was 28 of 49 for 245 yards with two TDs and the INT.

Fitzpatick was 22 of 37 for 274 yards and four touchdown passes. Four.

This game was a mini playoff game for both teams.

The Jets continue to have playoff hopes. They are 6-5.

The Dolphins are 4-7. They are in last place in the AFC East and 0-5 against the division this season. Their season playoff hopes are zero. Zilch. Nothing.

Instead this team is going to be hiring a new head coach and coaching staff after this season is over.

 

November 28, 2015

Ryan Tannehill isn't going anywhere, folks

NEW YORK -- One of the favorite pastimes of Miami Dolphins fans is to grade quarterback Ryan Tannehill and argue whether he should be the team's quarterback or not.

Let me settle the argument for you.

Ryan Tannehill is the Dolphins quarterback and it will remain that way, barring injury, for the foreseeable future. That's because, as I write in my column today, the club's personnel department is convinced Tannehill is a franchise quarterback.

And that comes, amazingly, even as the coaching staff treats Tannehill as a game-manager.

But because the personnel department, headed by executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum, isn't going anywhere and the coaching staff's future is uncertain, Tannehill is going to be here. Also, replacing him is not easy.

One interesting thing in my mind about how the Dolphins think is that paragraph in my column that says the clubs may draft a quarterback in the next couple of seasons -- and as early as next year.

The Dolphins really like Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, according to a source. And because that is true, I watched Lynch for a half on Saturday afternoon against SMU.

He threw seven touchdown passes.

In one half.

Well, the idea of being in position to draft Lynch was nice, but unless the Dolphins lose out, they're not going to be picking high enough in the first round to do that. Lynch, 6-6 and 250 pounds and with a rocket arm, isn't going to drop through the middle of the first round where Miami is likely to pick.

So Ryan Tannehill, folks.

By the way, the comparison exercise I was walked through that I shared in the column was interesting to me. Put yourself through the exercise and you tell me if you agree with the Dolphins.

One more thing: If you are on the replace Tannehill bandwagon (and it is quite large) tell me the plan for filling the position. That's right. One cannot advocate getting rid of this better-than-most quarterback unless you have someone better waiting in the wings.

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at New York Jets

As we get closer to the end of the season the picture of what the Miami Dolphins actually are getting from some of their key players is becoming much clearer with a more complete body of work.

And that work suggests solid seasons from Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon (lately), inconsistency from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and some issues of concern with Brent Grimes. All this according to work by metrics site ProFootballFocus.com.

Miler has been good this year, but he's best when running between center Mike Pouncey and left guard Dallas Thomas, accounting for 145 yards on 19 carries. This is a suprise because of the left guard thing, but that's what the study shows. Miller is ranked sixth among running backs by PFF.

Vernon has the second best grade of the Dolphins defense behind Ndamukong Suh -- personally, I think Reshad Jones has been the most impactful player on the Miami defense with his plays directly leading to the win in Philadelphia.

Anyway, Vernon ranks 11th among rush defenders, according to PFF.

Grimes is interesting because he is clearly the best cornerback on the team and remains an athletic freak. But he has yielded 32 receptions on 53 passes thrown his way for 514 yards with two touchdowns allowed. He has three interceptions and four passes defensed. PFF ranks him 40th among cornerbacks.

Tannehill? Not good, especially when teams apply blitz pressure. When blitzed, Tannehill has six touchdowns, five interceptions and has been sacked 14 times. When he isn't blitzed, Tannehill has thrown 11 TDs and 5 INTs with 16 sacks. That suggests a tough day against the New York Jets on Sunday because the Jets bring the heat.

How the Dolphins will do against the Jets as a team is an interesting question. The Dolphins have won three consecutive games at the Jets. But they lost to New York earlier this season.

This is how they match up:

When the Dolphins pass the football: First, the Dolphins must be ready for the cornerback blitz from Buster Skrine. If they aren't, they aren't trying. Two touchdown passes is good, and that's what quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw in his last outing against Dallas. But combined with an interception that is returned for a touchdown, that simply isn't up to franchise quarterback standards. Tannehill has been inconsistent this season. He had a game in which he completed 94 percent of his passes (Houston) and had two others in which he was over 70 percent (at Buffalo and at Tennessee). But the last two weeks he's been under 60 percent completion rate, including only 54 percent last week. Unless Tannehill finds a stretch of consistency, fans will begin to question whether he's the right quarterback for the Dolphins. One way the club is trying to improve the passing game is by getting tight end Jordan Cameron involved. Cameron was targeted five times last week but the fruit of that work didn't show as he caught only two passes for 21 yards. He did get a red zone touchdown, something the Dolphins need more of. Cameron has not dropped a catchable pass this season so throw to that guy. The Jets secondary is suspect. Antonio Cromartie has one of the highest burn rates among defensive backs this year. Adding to that problem, Darrelle Revis, among the best corners in the league for many years, is not playing. And while Revis has shown signs of decline, no Revis is worse than declining Revis. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: This is a weekly thing, it seems, but the problem with Miami's run game is quantity rather than quality. The Dolphins run the ball quite well when they do it. They average 4.8 yards per carry, which is tied with Seattle for third in the NFL. But with only 207 rushing attempts this season, the Dolphins are 31st in the NFL in actually trying to run. And here's the thing: In a passing league, good teams run and bad teams do not. The three teams -- Miami, Cleveland and Detroit -- who have run the least this season have nine wins between them. The NFL leader in running the ball this season is Carolina and the Panthers are 10-0. The Dolphin will have to have patience if not outright stubbornness about running on the Jets. New York boasts the No. 3 run defense in the league. That's because the front is active. In past nine games, for example, defensive end Sheldon Richardson has seven sacks and a forced fumble. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has six sacks and a forced fumble. They get after it. ADVANTAGE: New York.

When the Jets pass the football: A word of caution: Jets offensive coordiantor Chan Gailey likes to set the tone early and likes the idea of catching the defense flat-footed to start the game. It is the reason he often calls a shot play right at the start. he used to do it as the Dolphins offensive coordinator years ago. He still does it. The first play he called against Miami in the teams' first meeting was a bomb to Brandon Marshall which was completed for a 58-yard gain. Marshall and Eric Decker have had great days against the Dolphins in the past but it is Decker that is truly the problem. While the Dolphins can and have matched Brent Grimes on Marshall, the team has no one that has been able to cover Decker. If you are suggesting Jamar Taylor should be the man on Decker, you are suggesting the Dolphins employ a defender who has struggled at times this year -- including last week against Dallas. Taylor is on that dreaded list of NFL DBs with the highest burn rate in the league. The wildcard here is New York quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick who is often wild with his throws. Some days he's on. Some days he's awful. ADVANTAGE: Jets.

When the Jets run the football: The Jets want to be a great running team to cover the warts of their inconsistent quarterback play but injuries have hampered those plans. Chris Ivory, who had a career 166-yard day against Miami in the first game, was great for two games and not quite as good the other eight games the Jets have played. The return of Bilal Powell to health helps but the status of center Nick Mangold is an issue for the Jets. Not that any of that matters against the Dolphins. Their run defense, expected to be outstanding after the signing of Ndamukong Suh, is 31st in the NFL. And while rankings sometimes do not reflect how a team is playing because they are affected by performances 10 weeks ago, this ranking is accurate. Last week, the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 166 yards. Facing a third-and-14 late in the game, the Cowboys picked up 15 yards on a draw play that put a dagger in the Miami comeback hopes. ADVANTAGE: New York.

Special teams: So Dolphins punter Matt Darr is a tough guy, as evidenced by his strong tackle of a Dallas player last week. It would be better if Matt Darr, a rookie, would play smarter. He made that tackle three yards out of bounds and was called for unnecessary roughness. Not smart. Indeed, special teams decisions have hurt the Dolphins several weeks running. Jarvis Landry had an issue on one kickoff last week and basically stepped out of bounds at the 4 yard line. The idea here for the Dolphins should at least be "Do No Harm!" That would be an upgrade at this point. Randy Bullock replaced an injured Nick Folk on the New   York roster the first week of November and the move has not cost the Jets as of yet. Bullock is 2-for-2 so far. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: This is the interim coach bowl! Todd Bowles was Miami's interim head coach in 2011. He didn't get the fulltime gig. Dan Campbell is now Miami's interim coach and unless he improves on his 3-3 record, he's not getting the fulltime job, either. Campbell has to impose his will on an offense that doesn’t run as much as he'd like. He has to find a way to get his defense to do the most fundament thing an NFL defense must do to win: Stop the run. So far, not too good. Bowles, by the way, out-coached former Miami coach Joe Philbin in the first meeting between the teams this season. ADVANTAGE: New York.

November 27, 2015

Ja'Waun James going to be out longer, Jason Fox in the scrutiny crosshairs

When Ja'Wuan James first suffered his big toe injury in New England Oct. 29, the expectation was he might be out as little as four weeks but perhaps as long as six weeks.

A club source told The Herald today it will be closer to six weeks.

That means James will miss Sunday's game at the New York Jets and probably next week's game against the Baltimore Ravens. The team hopes he might be able to play Dec. 14 against the New York Giants.

Dolphins coach Dan Campbell has acknowledged James wasn't playing Sunday against the New York Jets but with James out of the walking boot and into treatment, the hope is "this thing can progress pretty fast," Campbell said.

Out two more games is not fast.

In the meantime, the Dolphins will continue relying on backup tackle Jason Fox and that is not great news because Fox has not played up to the team's hopes for its third offensive tackle, a source said.

Fox has given up a couple of sacks, been penalized multiple times, and generally has not been a force in the running game.

It would not surprise if the Dolphins look to upgrade their No. 3 tackle position next offseason although, as a team source noted, it is hard enough finding two good offensive tackles much less three.

Fox is signed for 2016, the final year of his two-year deal signed last offseason. 

Dolphins raising some season ticket prices for 2016, requesting renewals now

The Miami Dolphins will be raising the price of approximately 46 percent of their seats at Sun Life Stadium for 2016 and they are asking all current season ticket customers to commit to renewing for next season by December 18 -- earlier than usual and before this season is over and a decision on the next head coach is made.

The Miami Herald learned of the team's intentions after multiple season ticket customers who had received their renewal letters emailed to complain mostly about the renewal deadline and secondly about price increases.

The Dolphins have confirmed renewal letters have been sent out and the December 18 deadline is correct. The team also confirmed some tickets will be increasing in price.

Per the team, less than eight percent of seats will be going up more than $5, although it is not immediately known how many are going up in the neighborhood of $5 and how many are going up a much more considerable amount than $5.

The team is also saying the price of 35,710 seats will remain flat or actually go down. That's 54 percent of the seats in the stadium.

But again, pricing is a secondary complaint among some fans. The timing on the decision to renew is the greater concern.

"This season will not even be over," said one season-ticket holder who emailed The Miami Herald unsolicited. "It seems to me that they clearly do not want season ticket holders to see what they are going to do next year before the renewal deadline.

"I think fans would be interested in hearing why they sent renewals this early, with such an early deadline."

The team said privately that this year's deadline is no different than that of some times in the past. But that is not true of all past years.

"The packages we received today demanding we renew by Dec. 18 at increased rates is insane," said another season ticket holder, who also emailed The Herald unsolicited. "The Dolphins tell us they can't refurbish the Club level for another year because they 'just' learned it is unsafe to work under a roof being built.

"The Dolphins are telling us that the early renewals are because they have a wait list.

"How stupid do the decision-makers at the Dolphins think we are? This is insulting to all fans."

Dolphins fans have been complaining to one degree or another since the refurbishing to Sun Life Stadium began last spring and the new seating arrangement changed prices and displaced some longtime fans from their seats.

But the club has boasted season ticket sales in 2015 was a booming success. The club actually sold out its '15 season ticket goals.

The football team's performance in that refurbished stadium has not been a booming success, however. The Dolphins are 4-6 and not currently looking like a postseason qualifier with six games to play. The team even fired head coach Joe Philbin in October and has a decision to make about its new head coach after the season is over.

Despite that lack of success on the field and the uncertainty on the coach and his staff, the club wants fans to make a purchase commitment with three games remaining in the season.

November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from Dolphins In Depth

Today, as is tradition here, we share Dolphins related reasons for being thankful even as we never lose sight of the fact we cover a game and there is always next week or next year and the results aren't in the same universe with those thing truly important  -- such as family, health, provision, soundness of mind and soul, and relationships with those who matter most.

Anyway, let's get to it ...

We are thankful the Dolphins should now know how to deal with Buster Skrine blitzes because, after all, they saw 22 of them the first time they played the Jets.

We are thankful new addition Quinton Coples, known for having a good appetite, should be hungry in a different way against his former team on Sunday.

We are thankful for that easy early season schedule. Yeah, that worked out great.

We are thankful for wide receivers coming out of nowhere -- even after not showing up during the offseason -- and leading the team in receiving touchdowns and yards.

We are thankful for hair color in a bottle because without it, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry wouldn't quite be themselves.

We are thankful for Joe Philbin rapping in a top hat because it didn't do squat for the win-loss record but it confirmed things we thought about the man.

We are thankful for an interim head coach coming out of nowhere and showing up with a big personality and straight talk.

We are thankful for an owner who recognizes when it's time to make a coaching change -- even if that recognition comes a couple of years after everyone else recognized it.

We are thankful for big, bruising running backs born in London.

We are thankful for trips to London -- if only they would not come at the expense of a home game against a division rival.

We are thankful for a reconstructed stadium.

And the looming reconstruction of the team that calls that stadium home.

We are thankful that Ryan Tannehill, sacked 169 times during his NFL career, can still walk.

We are thankful center Mike Pouncey is one nasty dude when he needs to be.

We are thankful Pouncey knows he needs to get stronger to be nastier.

We are thankful for a healthy Branden Albert even though he still walks as if he's 70.

We are thankful that linebackers will be available in the next draft.

We are thankful that cornerbacks will be available in the next draft.

We are thankful for a personnel department that recognizes it needs linebackers and corners in the next draft.

We are thankful that Achilles' injuries heal because ... Cameron Wake.

We are thankful we saw evidence of this because ... Dan Marino.

(OK, so maybe Marino's surgery didn't go quite as well as it could have.)

That made us thankful the Achilles tendon is in the leg, not the right arm.

We're thankful for home games. Remember what those are?

We are thankful there are only six division games because Miami fans can take only so much failure.

We are thankful for the next dozen years because the last dozen have been punctuated by 11 New England division title.

We are thankful for offseason championships because the Dolphins have won tons of them.

We are thankful for the immediate future because the immediate past offered no postseason appearance.

We are thankful NFL players are not solely defined by their rookie seasons.

We are thankful worrisome foot injuries can and do heal.

We are thankful Reshad Jones troubles coaches with the manner he carries interceptions into the end zone and takes them out as well.

We are thankful for Greg Jennings remaining a class act even if his ability has slipped.

We are thankful the number of times Ndamukong Suh's says "At the end of the day" compared to how many sacks he collects is down to about 10 to 1 instead of 50 to 1 as it was the first month of the season.

We are thankful for Lamar Miller's running.

And pass catching.

We are thankful Bill Lazor knows running the football is important in the NFL.

We are thankful that Dan Campbell reminds him every so often.

We are thankful to the Merchant Marine Academy for giving Lou Anarumo a foundation as a defensive coordinator.

We are thankful for fast starts even if they visit too infrequently.

We are thankful for a strong finish because it has been a stranger the past few years and is desperately needed now.

We are thankful for the greatest media relations department in the NFL.

We are thankful someday that department will show what it can do come the postseason.

We are thankful Brent Grimes isn't going to get sick eating Turkey today.

Because we know things don't go well when Brent Grimes eats something that makes him sick.

We are thankful that day after day, year after year, since 2007 you have come to this site and made it the most popular spot at The Miami Herald.

We know you don't always agree. We know we don't always get it exactly right. But you should know we'll always try to correct the record and accept blame when warranted.

So we are thankful for you sticking right here.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

 

We are thankful for that easy early season schedule. Yeah, that worked out great.

We are thankful for Joe Philbin rapping in a top hat because it didn't do squat for the win-loss record but it confirmed some things we thought about the man.

 

 

 

November 24, 2015

Jimmy Johnson an HOF semifinalist

Former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson and former University of Miami standout running back Edgerrin James are among the 25 modern-era semifinalists that will go on to the whittling process of selecting the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Johnson coached the Dolphins from 1996-99 and, no, he was not HOF quality in Miami. But he did take the team to the playoffs three out of four seasons and built what turned out to be a playoff-caliber defense.

The following is the complete list of Modern-Era semifinalists for the Class of 2016 with positions, years and teams listed. Also included are the number of times and years that each individual has been named a semifinalist since this reduction vote was added to the selection bylaws in 2004.

1.      Morten Andersen, K – 1982-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-2000, 2006-07 Atlanta Falcons, 2001 New York Giants, 2002-03 Kansas City Chiefs, 2004 Minnesota Vikings | (Times as a Semifinalist: 4 – 2013-16)

2.      Steve Atwater, S – 1989-1998 Denver Broncos, 1999 New York Jets | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2012-16)

3.      Tony Boselli, T – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars, 2002 Houston Texans (injured reserve) | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

4.      Isaac Bruce, WR – 1994-2007 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 2008-09 San Francisco 49ers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

5.      Don Coryell, Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 8 – 2005, 2010-16)

6.      Roger Craig, RB – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings | (Times as a Semifinalist: 8 – 2009-16)

7.      Terrell Davis, RB – 1995-2001 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 10 – 2007-2016)

8.      Tony Dungy, Coach – 1996-2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002-08 Indianapolis Colts | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2014-16)

9.      Alan Faneca, G -1998-2007 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2008-09 New York Jets, 2010 Arizona Cardinals | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

10.  Brett Favre,QB – 1991 Atlanta Falcons, 1992-2007 Green Bay Packers, 2008 New York Jets, 2009-2010 Minnesota Vikings | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

11.  Kevin Greene, LB/DE – 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 10 – 2007-2016)

12.  Marvin Harrison, WR – 1996-2008 Indianapolis Colts | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2014-16)

13.  Torry Holt, WR – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

14.  Joe Jacoby, T –1981-1993 Washington Redskins | (Times as a Semifinalist: 6 – 2005, 2008, 2013-16)

15.  Edgerrin James,RB – 1999-2005 Indianapolis Colts, 2006-08 Arizona Cardinals, 2009 Seattle Seahawks | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

16.  Jimmy Johnson, Coach – 1989-1993 Dallas Cowboys, 1996-99 Miami Dolphins | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2014-16)

17.  Mike Kenn, T – 1978-1994 Atlanta Falcons | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

18.  Ty Law, CB – 1995-2004 New England Patriots, 2005, 2008 New York Jets, 2006-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2009 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

19.  John Lynch, FS – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 4 – 2013-16)

20.  Kevin Mawae, C/G – 1994-97 Seattle Seahawks, 1998-2005 New York Jets, 2006-09 Tennessee Titans | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

21.  Karl Mecklenburg, LB – 1983-1994 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2012-16)

22.  Sam Mills, LB –1986-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

23.  Terrell Owens, WR – 1996-2003 San Francisco 49ers, 2004-05 Philadelphia Eagles, 2006-08 Dallas Cowboys, 2009 Buffalo Bills, 2010 Cincinnati Bengals | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2016)

24.  Orlando Pace, T – 1997-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Chicago Bears | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

25.  Kurt Warner, QB – 1998-2003 St. Louis Rams, 2004 New York Giants, 2005-09 Arizona Cardinals | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2015-16)

The list of 25 semifinalists will be reduced by mail ballot to 15 Modern-Era Finalists in January. That list increases to 18 finalists with the inclusion of the recommended nominees of the Hall of Fame’s Contributors and Seniors Committees. The 2016 Senior Finalists are Ken Stabler (QB – 1970-79 Oakland Raiders, 1980-81 Houston Oilers, 1982-84 New Orleans Saints) and Dick Stanfel (G – 1952-55 Detroit Lions, 1956-58 Washington Redskins). The 2016 Contributor Finalist is former San Francisco 49ers owner (1977-2000) Edward DeBartolo, Jr.

DeBartolo, Stabler and Stanfel will be voted on separately and, like all other finalists, must receive 80% positive vote from the full Selection Committee during the annual selection meeting on Saturday, February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, the day before Super Bowl 50.

Although there is no set number of enshrinees for any Hall of Fame Class, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s current bylaws stipulate that between four and eight new members will be selected each year. No more than five Modern-Era Finalists can be elected in a given year. Therefore, a class of six, seven, or eight can only be achieved if one or more of the Contributor and Seniors Finalists are elected.

 

Dolphins claim DE Quinton Coples

Former first round draft pick Quinton Coples is a defensive end. But he's not a 3-4 DE, he's a 4-3 DE. So he didn't fit in with the New York Jets, a 3-4 team.

And so the Jets waived Coples Monday.

And on Tuesday the Dolphins claimed Coples.

He is scheduled to report to the Dolphins by Wednesday and be on the field for practice. His first game for the Dolphins might come as early as Sunday when the Dolphins play, that's right, the New York Jets.

Coples was the 16th overall selection of the 2012 draft. But he has fallen out of favor in New York since new coach Todd Bowles changed the defensive scheme. He played a season-low five snaps in last week's 24-17 Jets loss to Houston. (Yeah, the Jets lost to Houston).

In 10 games this season Coples had no sacks and only 12 tackles, giving him a modest 16.5 sacks during his run with the Jets.

But for the Dolphins, a 4-3 defense, Coples immediately becomes a player who can help fill the void left by the season-ending Achilles' injury to defensive end Cameron Wake. This isn't a marriage, folks. This is some dates until the end of the season and then we'll see.

But this is certain: The Dolphins are clearly not giving up on this season with 5-5 currently being the gate to the playoffs and them sitting at 4-6 with six games to play.

Coples, at 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, is a prototype 4-3 defensive end. The Dolphins must make a roster move to officially add Coples to the roster.

At this writing they were in the process of doing exactly that.

Miami offensive line not built with division rivals in mind

The Miami Dolphins play in the AFC East and have been there for years and years. This is not news to the organization or anyone else. And so it stands to reason they should know that the teams they have to match up against, first and foremost, are their AFC East rivals.

They play those rivals six times every single season.

And if they cannot beat those rivals, they cannot matter in the postseason scheme of things.

This season the Dolphins have not won even one game against Buffalo, New England or the New York Jets. They are 0-4 against those teams with Sunday's rematch at New York up next.

I'm making these points because it stands to reason that someone within the Dolphins organization knows all this, and recognizes they probably should configure their team, in part, to cause their chief rivals a problem. It stands to reason but in one regard it has not happened.

Coach Dan Campbell, during his day-after-game press conference on Monday, matter of factly spoke about how the Miami offensive line isn't very big in a relative sense. The Miami offensive line isn't overpowering in a relative sense. And against defensive fronts that are bigger and more about holding ground rather than charging upfield with quickness, the Dolphins line struggles.

“I think that all of these teams in our division have a pretty good defensive line," Campbell said. "And I think a lot of these teams they’ve got a big front, big long guys, really two-gap guys, other than Buffalo which is a little bit more penetration. They’re trying to do some of that two-gap stuff that they have enough penetration between (Marcell) Dareus is a big guy in the middle.

"So I just think that they make life a little bit harder to try to run inside for us. We’re not the biggest line up front but we can certainly, there’s things in the run game we can do to get these guys moving. When you play these bigger lines that are shock, lock out, two-gap, shed, look for the ball, then you got to get them moving. You have to get them running. If they don’t ever have to turn their hips and run then you’re going to struggle in the run game."

Huh?

So you play in a division in which two teams (New York and New England) play two-gap, 3-4 fronts while the remaining team (Buffalo) plays a multiple front that includes 3-4 looks and that's what you sometimes struggle against because your line is built to be more athletic and mobile as opposed to being a steamroller?

And do not be fooled, the Miami line is not a steamroller. It is indeed more about technique and movement and making the bigger defensive linemen "run," as Campbell said.

Mike Pouncey is that kind of player. Branden Albert is that kind of player. Ja'Wuan James is that kind of player. Dallas Thomas is that kind of player.

Billy Turner is not that kind of player. He's a steamroller. He's more physical.

But four of Miami's five starting linemen rely on being athletic and technique-sound and quick rather than being overpowering. And that kind of lineman can struggle against bigger defensive fronts -- like the Jets, and New England have.

Interesting.

This will be food for thought during Sunday's game and in the season finale with New England. But it really is something someone should have thought about the past couple of years as this line was being built around Mike Pouncey, who is the anchor and his been on the Dolphins since 2011.

Anyway, speaking of Billy Turner, he turned in a very good game on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, per my friends at ProFootballFocus.com.

Turner was the highest graded Miami offensive player and had the third-best grade of any guard in the NFL for the week.

Other players who performed well, per the metrics site, included defensive end Olivier Vernon and safety Reshad Jones.

Vernon has turned it on the past two weeks and against Dallas turned in the second-best grade of any 4-3 defensive end graded by PFF.

Jones had the best grade of any safety in the NFL.

And rookie defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who only played 17 snaps, had the fourth-best pass rush grade of any nose tackle/defensive tackle in Week 11.

So with all these great things happening, why didn't the Dolphins win?

Well, Jason Fox struggled. He had the worst grade of any Miami offensive player and was 56th of 64 tackles in the league in Week 11.

Rishard Matthews caught one pass for 15 yards but had a drop.

Jarvis Landry had a drop.

Rookie linebacker Neville Hewitt struggled badly in his run defense to the point he finished 31st out of 31 outside backers graded for the week.

And, yes, Ryan Tannehill ranked 23rd among quarterbacks graded. He was particularly bad when the  Cowboys did not pressure him. His grade against pressure was actually higher than it was when there was no pressure.

 

 

November 23, 2015

Dolphins must look to next head coach to break free of mediocrity

"Time to start searching for the next coach."

That's a text I got from a source, a former NFL club executive, who witnessed the Miami Dolphins loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon.

And it wasn't so much that the Dolphins are a bad team or that interim coach Dan Campbell is doing a poor job. It's just that, as I wrote in my column in today's Miami Herald, the Miami Dolphins got on a treadmill of mediocrity about a decade ago and have seemingly convinced themselves they are actually getting somewhere as they burn all this energy and money and time and draft picks.

And the truth is the Dolphins have gone nowhere in all that time. Instead they have delivered season after season that look pretty much the same -- leading them to a 7-9 or 8-8 record but seemingly never into the postseason.

And the 2015 Dolphins, even under the hard work Campbell has put forth, are headed toward that same sad mediocre place.

So it is time to start thinking about breaking that frustrating cycle. And the only way to do that is to find a head coach who can make like Moses and lead this people out of the land of the ordinary and unspectacular.

Why now?

Well, for one, the Dolphins were the first team to fire their head coach this season when they booted Joe Philbin in October. And at the time, Campbell was given 12 weeks to not only keep the Titanic afloat but salvage her altogether.

He hasn't done that. His 3-3 record is solid work and obviously enough to earn him a legitimate interview and opportunity to win the job at season's end. But .500 is not to be confused with revelatory work. It's average. It's middling. Ordinary.

And this organization has had way too much of that the past decade to buy into more of it for the future. Remember, mediocre is supposed to be a layover. It's not supposed to be the destination.

Moreover, you'll recall I reported that a source told me it would actually be 4-6 weeks into Campbell's tenure before serious work needed to begin on planning for the looming interview process. That time has now passed. The time to begin due diligence has thus begun.

And this is wholly appropriate even as Campbell and his staff continue to work. They know the score. The win, they stay. They lose, they go. They lose as much as they win, they still go.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, probably need to get a jump on other teams that will be looking for a head coach because -- although they might argue the point -- the Miami head job might not be as attractive as some other jobs that will be open or might come open.

Don't believe that?

Consider whether a top tier coach might be more attracted to coaching the Dolphins with their superstar, high-priced but not difference-making Ndamukong Suh? Or whether that coach might be more attracted to a job such as, say, Indianapolis with its superstar, difference-maker named Andrew Luck, the guy who has taken that team to the playoffs three years including the AFC title game last year?

Yeah, every great coach will pick Indy.

Tennessee will have a vacancy. Marcus Mariota? Or Ryan Tannehill? That roster or Miami's roster? That cap situation or Miami's?

That's the reason the Dolphins need to get a jump on this work. They need to have a plan. They need to do the early work now. (Yeah, they've already done some of that work but more is necessary).

The Dolphins boast they are reaching for best in class year after year. It's an empty boast. They are a mediocre organization with mediocre talent and mediocre ownership playing in a tough division with a  superteam. And that can be a tough sell to the kind of coach they should want to attract.

So what kind of coach might the Dolphins want to attract?

Let's start with eliminating the coach-in-training, shall we?

While some within the Dolphins organization might value youth and energy and the possibilities of uncovering an up-and-comer, the formula has failed the Dolphins miserably.

Cam Cameron was a first-time NFL head coach hired by the Dolphins. Failed.

Tony Sparano was a first-time NFL head coach hired by the Dolphins. Failed.

Joe Philbin was a first-time NFL head coach hired by the Dolphins. Failed.

Even Nick Saban, a first-time NFL head coach, found the position distasteful once he got in it, deciding instead that the college game suited him better.

So do the Dolphins want to extend their lost decade of first-time NFL head coaches by hiring another first-time NFL head coach? That would be insanity.

The kind of head coach the Dolphins should hope for, should aspire to, is a head coach with NFL head coaching experience. And preferably that coach not only has experience but a record of relative success.

Asking too much?

John Fox fit that mold last year.

Rex Ryan fit that mold last year.

Gary Kubiak fit that mold last year.

Andy Reid fit that mold in the past.

Tom Coughlin fit that mold in the past.

The winningest coach of all time fit that mold, too. Don Shula took the Baltimore Colts to the Super Bowl before falling out of favor with owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Dolphins owner Joe Robbie recognized the rift, parted with a draft pick and hired a successful NFL head coach who went on to have greater success in Miami.

Am I the only one who sees this?

The perfect fit this year would be Sean Payton, should he choose to leave New Orleans. The guy has won a Super Bowl. He knows offense. He'll cost the Dolphins dearly in draft pick compensation.

And I have zero problem with that.

Chuck Pagano, a lesser name who has nonetheless gotten good results in Indianapolis, might also become available. He might not be another Shula, but he's already better than anyone the Dolphins have had since 1995.

I'm not saying it has to be either of these two. But the only way the Dolphins are going to break their cycle of mediocrity is to find a coach who is proven, who knows how to win, who can bring a great staff and who is not coming to Miami to learn on the job.

Time to start that work.

Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

November 22, 2015

Dallas Cowboys defeat the Miami Dolphins, 24-14

The Miami Dolphins came home to this?

They spent the past three weeks on the road, fighting and struggling to stay relevant and on their return to Sun Life Stadium on Sunday lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 24-14.

They lost to a team that had lost seven consecutive games and, granted had star quarterback Tony Romo back in the lineup. But Romo (2 TDs, and 2 INTs) was rusty much of the afternoon and it didn't matter.

The game was tied 14-14 going to the fourth quarter, and then the Miami defense surrendered a touchdown and a field goal on consecutive possessions. The offense, meanwhile, could not move the ball to keep Miami's hopes alive.

Coach Dan Campbell, down 10 with seven minutes to play, punted from Miami's own 47 yard line on fourth-and-six. There were seven minutes to play. The crowd booed. The Dolphins fate was sealed when Dallas marched from their own 13 yard line, picking up three first downs to squeeze the clock and a victory out of this one.

That final Dallas game-sealing drive had a third-and-14 at their own 15 yard line and converted when Darren McFadden rushed for 14 yards. Terrible.

McFadden started slow but had 129 for the game.

Several Dolphins players had tough days. Cornerback Jamar Taylor who was beaten for a touchdown and gave up a key drive extending penalty. Punter Matt Darr was inexplicably called for an unnecessary roughness penalty that helped lead to Dallas kicking a field goal that extended the lead to 10.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon had a good day with a sack, multiple hurries and causing outstanding left tackle Tyron Smith to be called for two holding penalties.

 

 

Jelani Jenkins is inactive; Koa Misi playing

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who missed the entire week of practice with an ankle injury and was doubtful for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, is inactive.

Neville Hewitt will start in place of Jenkins.

Koa Misi, meanwhile, is going to give it a go today despite missing most of the week with an abdominal issue. He is expected to start.

The other inactives today are WR Matt Hazel, RT Ja'Wuan James, TE Jake Stoneburner, CB Tony Lippett, OL Ulrich John, and LB Spencer Paysinger.

Cornerback Brent Grimes, out last week because he was sick, is back in the starting lineup today. Brice McCain will be the other starting cornerback.

 

November 21, 2015

Keys to the game: Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins

Saturday afternoon the Dallas Cowboys activated quarterback Tony Romo and that, more than anything that has happened the past seven weeks, gives that team hope of salvaging its current 2-7 season.

Yeah, um, the Dolphins don't want anything to do with the Cowboys salvaging anything. They have their own worries.

So how do these teams match up?

Well, before we get to that some perspective from my friends at ProFootballFocus.com.

According to the metrics site, Ndamukong Suh is now Miami's highest graded defensive player. He ranks fourth among all the NFL's interior defensive linemen.

Jarvis Landry is graded Miami's top offensive player and he ranks 15th among all wide receivers.

On the other hand Branden Albert ranks 36th among all offensive tackles and has, according to the site, had only one game (Tennessee) in which he graded out on the plus side. Me? I think he's been way better than that although he still has improving to do.

The No. 1 tackle in the NFL will be in this game and that will be Tyron Smith of the Cowboys, who has allowed only two sacks this year.

Greg Hardy is the highest-graded Dallas defender but the fact he's the No. 28 graded edge player shows you how much the Dallas defense has struggled.

Speaking of struggled, the Dolphins may have linebacker issues this game. Jelani Jenkins is doubtful and Koa Misi is questionable. And Kelvin Sheppard, the healthy starting linebacker, has also struggled this year, ranking 91 among all LBs PFF rates.

Onto the matchups:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has avoided throwing an interception in each of the past two games and he's been able to connect on a couple of deep balls as well -- a 46-yarder to Rishard Matthews against Philadelphia and a 42-yarder to Kenny Stills against Buffalo the week before. But Tannehill's primary job is to get the offense in the end zone. And the Dolphins haven't been doing that with any great regularity the last three weeks.  Miami has averaged 1.6 touchdowns per game the past three games. One way to perhaps quench the touchdown drought is a greater use of tight ends in the red zone. Jordan Cameron has been limited to just one catch in each of the past two weeks for a total of 11 yards. And while he was slowed by an ankle injury, he remains a threat that goes unused in the red zone's short spaces. The Cowboys pass defense is nothing if not unspectacular. Dallas is ranked 14th against the pass but the problem is the Cowboys are not collecting turnovers. They are 22nd in the NFL in interception percentage and their five interceptions is tied for 29th in the league. Oh, and outside of Greg Hardy, the Cowboys have not shown a fierce pass rush.  ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Rookie Jay Ajayi continues to impress with his downhill running approach which is a welcome change of pace from Lamar Miller's great speed and slashing style. The Dolphins are averaging 102 rushing yards per game since Ajayi came off the short-term injured reserve list. They averaged those same 102 yards the previous seven games before Ajayi showed up, but that was buoyed by an outlier game against Houston in which the Dolphins rushed for 248 yards. The run game is better. Trust me. Like their pass defense, the Dallas run D is merely acceptable. Sean Lee is playing weak side linebacker now and although he has played well, he hasn't had the resounding impact he had two years ago at middle linebacker. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who has played only five games, has not recaptured the run-stopping prowess he showed last season. If the Dolphins keep the game close and are stubborn about running the football, they should have some success. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Cowboys pass the football: Everything changed for the Cowboys when doctors cleared starting quarterback Tony Romo to play after he missed seven games, all losses, with a broken clavicle. Romo generally throws the football on time. He is aware and despite his increasingly limited mobility still moves well within the pocket. He has had chemistry in the past with top receiver Dez Bryant. He knows where tight end Jason Witten, the security blanket, is at all times. Most importantly, Romo is good in the fourth quarter which is why he's the second highest-rated fourth-quarter passer in NFL history. That should help the Cowboys, who have generally been in every game they've played but simply haven't been able to make one game-winning play. The question is can Romo come off an injury and immediately be, well, Tony Romo? ADVANTAGE: Dallas.

When the Cowboys run the football: The breakup of DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys diminished both, though it fattened Murray's wallet and helped the Dallas salary cap. The Cowboys calculated that any good runner could step in and pick up where Murray (1,845 yards to lead the NFL) left off last season. But in replacing Murray with Darren McFadden, the team filled the position but not the need for an excellent running back. McFadden has been solid lately but is still averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. The field might open up to McFadden now with Tony Romo at quarterback and defenses more wary of a Dallas quarterback not named Weeden or Cassel. Interestingly, the Cowboys were counting on Joseph Randle to help and he was averaging 4.1 yards per carry. But that shoplifting arrest late last year (there's a video) and his leaving the team this year led to his being waived and suspended by the NFL. The Dallas offensive line is still a good run-blocking unit but someone has to tote the ball to make that effective. The Dolphins are still 31st in the NFL against the run but have lately gotten better play up front from Ndamukong Suh. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Unable to mock Caleb Sturgis this week, we turn inward with expectations the Dolphins address decisions by kick returner Damien Williams, who last week seemed unsure on a kickoff return -- coming out of the end zone, stopping at the 1-yard line, injuring himself when he hit the brakes, getting tackled at the 1-yard line, and thus setting the Dolphins up for a safety on the ensuing offensive series. Jarvis Landry has proven a better returner but he's handling punts and playing receiver so the Dolphins have felt a need to use someone else on kickoffs. The Cowboys are very good returning kicks, not so good returning punts. They have blocked both a punt and a kick this season. Kicker Dan Bailey is the NFL's all-time most accurate kicker with a 90.4 career percentage. ADVANTAGE: Dallas.

Coaching: Dan Campbell grew up rooting for the Cowboys. And Jason Garrett coached the Dolphins quarterbacks in 2005-06. What does that mean? Zero. The issue here is the Cowboys have a deep, experienced staff that includes two former NFL head coaches -- Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli -- and a former college head coach in Derek Dooley. Tight ends coach Michael Pope coached Campbell and the Dolphins' interim coach freely admits most of the techniques he used to coach tight ends were learned from Pope. ADVANTAGE: Dallas.

A pup that has bite: Bobby McCain

Bill Parcells when discussing the evaluation of young players once famously said, "If they don't bite when they're puppies, they usually won't bite."

And while that cannot apply to every NFL rookie, it definitely seems to apply to Miami Dolphins defensive back Bobby McCain.

McCain, you see, is the pup who chewed up 95 snaps in a 96-snap game against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. This year he's played outside at cornerback. He's played in the slot. He played safety two snaps against the Eagles.

He has come out of the draft's third day, in the fifth round, and progressively improved and proved himself valuable enough that the Dolphins earlier this season traded away cornerback talent knowing McCain was on the roster.

“Bobby is a confident guy which, let's list corner qualifications right? Confident may not be No. 1, but it’s going to be in the top three and he’s a confident guy who’s not afraid of the big moment," interim defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. "All those reps he got, and it started kind of at New England, I think he’s gotten better every week. Our confidence level has grown with him so, however it shakes out, the kid got about 90-something snaps the other day which is almost two games for a nickel corner, but the more the merrier for a guy like that.

"Again he’s a young kid who wants to do well and the confidence level is growing on both sides. His confidence and our confidence in him.”

 McCain isn't ready to take over a starting job maybe just yet. Maybe he's vying for the slot cornerback job before season's end. But don't tell him he cannot do it, like, now.

Indeed, don't bring up any of the obvious reasons he shouldn't be a big deal right now.

Only a rookie?

"That to me doesn't matter," McCain said. "Young, old, tall, short, big, if I have to take that down block by a guard, I'll compete to win. If I have to compete for that fade ball, I want the ball."

But you're only 5-10 ...

"I don't really see that," McCain said. "I don't believe that I have to play like I'm 6-2. No, I have to play like I'm 5-10 and be an animal, be all over the place."

But you're only a fifth round draft pick ...

"True, that," McCain said. "I am a fifth-round draft pick but I feel I can play with the best of them, first-round, seventh-, free agent, I don't see names, I just line up in front of the guy and I cover him."

McCain has three passes defensed so far this season while playing time that was limited up until three weeks ago. He's mostly been a special teams stalwart. But he has bigger plans.

"I definitely view myself as a playmaker," he said. "When the ball is in the air, in my heart I feel there's no such thing as a 50-50 ball. It's just as much mine as it is yours and if you make a play, I'm going to come back and get the next one. I view myself as a guy that goes and gets the football, not just is there to get a PBU or something like that. I want the ball in my hands and make big plays."

McCain made plays at Memphis. He had 11 interceptions his last two years there.

And his attention, competitiveness and attitude suggests it might not be long before he begins making bigger plays for the Dolphins.

"I feel at home in the league, going out every week and performing," McCain said. "You have to do the job and I believe I can do that.

"Whether I'm in the game at nickel or corner or special teams, I just want to contribute. The more experience you have in the game, the better you should feel. I feel I can play with the best of them and now I have to keep moving forward."

November 20, 2015

Dallas Cowboys OL not up to '14 standards but still very good

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line last season was generally considered among the best, if not the best unit in the NFL.

The Cowboys, after all, were second in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing yards per game and were third in average yards per rush. The Cowboys also tied for ninth with 30 sacks allowed. So this unit that boasts three former first-round draft picks got a lot of deserved attention.

The Cowboys offensive line weaved a reputation for itself.

Unfortunately, reputation is a fleeting thing in the NFL.

It doesn't carry over year-to-year. It must be earned year after year, game after game, snap after snap. If you don't believe that, consider the current narratives surrounding Peyton Manning or Rob Ryan or the Baltimore Ravens for that matter.

And looking at the production of the Cowboys offense, one might be tempted to think the Dallas offensive line can be included in that little list of much-hyped, previously high-caliber, highly respected units or players or teams that is simply not performing to standards now.

The Cowboys have allowed 20 sacks this season and that's tied with Houston for 16th place in the statistical category. You remember Houston? The Miami Dolphins collected four sacks against Houston last time they played a home game at Sun Life Stadium.

The running game behind that amazing Dallas forward wall has also failed to live up to its reputation. The Cowboys have dropped to ninth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

And the effects on the unit have been felt on individuals. Guard Zack Martin, who didn't allow a sack as a rookie and was selected to the Pro Bowl, has allowed three sacks this season.

La'el Collins -- the subject of that Dolphins players-only flight (no knowledge of this by the organization, of course) to Baton Rouge to recruit an embattled free agent -- has been inconsistent as a rookie. I'm told he'll have a great play that suggests he truly is a future star. And then he'll bonk and play like ... like ... well, you know where I'm going but I'm not going to take a cheap shot here.

So the Cowboys offensive line is good from far. But apparently far from good.

Until you talk to someone who's studied them.

Dolphins defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is a good guy with good sense and a good eye for the opponent. And what he sees on tape when he looks at the Cowboys offensive line is not a unit retreating to the mean after putting together one fabulous season.

He sees a talented group.

“I think they are certainly good," Anarumo said. "if you look, they’ve got a bunch of No. 1s and No. 2s out there if I’m not mistaken and they’re talented guys."

He sees reasons why the production hasn't been the same in 2015 as 2014.

"I think anytime that you go through change, you lose (Philadelphia Eagles RB) DeMarco Murray I think had almost 2,000 yards last year and then you don’t have your starting quarterback so maybe the ball is not coming out on time and I think everything plays into it. I think they are a very good offensive line and again, you always talk about the prideful guys that we have and they’re looking forward to the challenge."

Basically, Anarumo believes the fact Darren McFadden hasn't maximized his opportunities on run plays like Murray did last year (he's averaging 3.8 yards per carry) and Tony Romo has been out of the lineup seven of nine games and backup Brandon Weeden and free agent addition Matt Cassel are not as good, has affected the offensive line.

The statistics confirm that theory.

Romo played the first two games of the season. The Cowboys won them both. He was sacked three times those two games.

The seven games under Weeden and Cassel resulted in 17 sacks.

So with Romo, Dallas allowed 1.5 sacks per game. With the other guys, that increased to 2.4 sacks per game.

Romo, by the way, on Sunday will start for the first time since his clavicle injury Sept. 20. And he will have a healthy offensive line in front of him that will be quite motivated to keep him from getting hit.

That promises a good matchup for the Dolphins defensive front that has turned up the pressure on quarterbacks since Dan Campbell became interim coach. The Dolphins had one sack in four games under Joe Philbin.

They have 19 sacks the past five games. Last week, Miami had four sacks but also added 10 quarterback hits on Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford.

The Miami front, in other words, has lately been playing up to the expectations everyone had before the season began -- and this despite the absence of Cameron Wake.

The Dallas line has not performed to 2014 heights but much of it isn't their doing and that might change with Romo getting the football out on time on Sunday.

It'll should be an interesting match.  

 

November 19, 2015

Jelani Jenkins (ankle) out of the walking boot

Sometimes the seriousness of NFL injuries are measured in the amount of incremental progress a player can make toward being fully healthy.

And that is the case today with Miami Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins.

Jenkins is still nursing an ankle injury suffered Sunday at Philadelphia. He is not going to be 100 percent healthy Sunday against Dallas.

But he is making progress.

After spending the past couple of days in a walking boot, Jenkins is out of the contraption today. And he did some light conditioning work in the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB) while the rest of the team practiced outside.

Jenkins did not participate in that practice at all. Neither did fellow linebacker Koa Misi, who is dealing with an abdomen issue. Misi merely jogged gingerly along the sideline by himself.

It is unclear if either player will be able to practice Friday but their status for game day remains up in the air.

They are truly going to be pregame decisions, which Dan Campbell said Wednesday.

"It's all hands on deck," defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said about what he might resort to if both players cannot play against the Dallas Cowboys.

The includes Chris McCain, who is taking some repetitions at linebacker in practice.