September 24, 2015

Miami Dolphins face dilemma with their anemic running attack

Lamar Miller, the Miami Dolphins starting and most effective running back, last season averaged 13.5 carries per game. And that was not enough. Miller privately told friends and others he'd like more opportunities in 2015 because he wanted to have a better season and he was convinced more carries would result in, well, more.

More yards.

More touchdowns.

More winning.

And, not coincidently, more money after the season because he is in the final year of his contract.

So more.

Except the first two games of 2015 have so far offered less.

Miller has 23 carries the first two games. That's 11.5 carries a game. And with fewer opportunities, Miller has understandably delivered less. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry last season. He's averaging 2.9 yards a carry so far this year.

And, yes, it is a very small sample size. Two games is nothing. But for the past few days since their upset loss at Jacksonville, the Dolphins coaching staff has been concerned about the running game and trying to figure out how to get it right.

“We’ve got to get more attempts," coach Joe Philbin said. "One of the big thing we’ve talked about as a staff is that we haven’t had great rhythm offensively. We’ve been behind in games. We haven’t run enough plays really. I think that’s all a part of it. You’ve got to eliminate penetration, got to break some tackles; all the things that contribute to a good run game. We haven’t had enough of that and we need to get more."

More is good. Miller likes more.

"As a running back you got to get a feel for the game," Miller said. "You got to get the feel for the defense and once you get that going you should be good."

The only way to get that feel is getting the football, yes, more.

"We have to be more consistent," Miller said. "Once we call run plays, we have to get positive yards. We have to get tough yards."

The problem here? The Dolphins have a multi-faceted problem. They haven't had the football enough to call more run plays. The run plays they have called haven't been consistently successful. And when offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has to decide between running it (which has been failing) and passing (which has been mostly succeeding) he has decided to pick what has been working because winning the game is more important than balancing run and pass.

Except this is a chicken and egg situation.

A significant way to make the passing game better is to, you guessed it, run the ball more and better and be balanced.

"I think the run game is something that we’re working on right now," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We haven’t been up to our standards in the first two games and it’s something that we’re putting a lot of time and effort into and want to get going.

"I don’t know exactly what our average was per rush, but it needs to be better. We need to be able to get four or five yards whenever we run the football, balance it out. We have good running backs. I think we have the ability to get that kind of yardage per run, but we aren’t doing it right now so we have to clean that up and be able to run the football effectively.”

"When [defenses] honor the run game, then it opens up a lot more play-action stuff for us and passes down the field. It’s definitely key."

This is kind of like a puzzle, isn't it? And here's a couple of more pieces:

The Dolphins offensive line hasn't been great at run blocking and it is physically beat up with left tackle Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey nursing injuries.

And this week's opponent, the Buffalo Bills, are a more than solid run defense. The Bills were No. 11 against the run in 2014. And in this season's small sample size they have improved on that front. The Bills are No. 2 against the run right now.

(Of course, that has something to do with the fact the New England Patriots last week decided to pass almost exclusively and lit up the Bills that way).

So the question becomes do the Dolphins, really wanting to establish their running game, get stubborn with the Bills and force the run? Or do they decide the best way to move the football against Buffalo is do what New England did and throw and thereby go another week with a poor run attack?

I don't know what they will do. It is an interesting dilemma.

Here's my suggestion:

Balance schmalance.

Do what gives you the best chance to win.

September 23, 2015

Miami Dolphins managing multiple injuries

Miami Dolphins trainers Troy Maurer, Ryan Grove, Jonathan Gress and Naohisa Inoue are going to be busy this week.

The Dolphins have a handful of walking wounded that need attention if they are to play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and it so happens several of them are key to the success of the team.

Offensive tackle Branden Albert, who left Sunday's game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury, did not practice today. Jason Fox is listed as the backup left tackle but I imagine Dallas Thomas may get some repetitions there.

Tight end Jordan Cameron, who left the game in the second half with a groin injury, did not practice today.

Running back Lamar Miller, who left the game with an ankle injury, was on the bike during the open portion of practice but it is possible he did limited work during the closed portion of practice.

[Update: He did not practice, according to the injury report.]

Miller, by the way, said he'd be fine. A team source said he and Cameron are day to day.

The Dolphins signed running back Jonas Gray off their practice squad to the active roster undoubtedly to guard against the possibility Miller isn't ready for Sunday.

Cameron also said he feels much better today and was moving around fairly well even as he was not practicing.

On the bright side for Miami, defensive end Cameron Wake, who missed all but 15 snaps of Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, practiced at least on a limited basis today. [Update: The injury report confirmed he was limited.]

And tight end Dion Sims, who missed last week's game while under the concussion protocol, has been cleared to practice and returned today at least on a limited basis. [Update: Sims was limited, per the injury report.]

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who tweaked his ankle on Sunday, practiced full.

Center Mike Pouncey (elbow) practiced on a limited basis and Reshad Jones (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis. Both are expected to play, barring an unforeseen circumstance.

Patriots quick passing attack vs. Bills already used by Dolphins vs. Bills

Thanks, New England Patriots. For nothing.

The Patriots last Sunday demolished the Buffalo Bills on defense. They stampeded the Bills to the tune of 40 points and 507 total yards, 451 of those passing.

And the most intriguing thing about the game was that the Bills defensive front -- among the best in the NFL last season and expected to be right there again this year -- was a relative non-factor. The Patriots allowed only two sacks. Brady had time to throw most of the day.

It gets worse for Buffalo. The two sacks they got? Not on the New England offensive line. It was other protection and even Brady's timing that led to those.

And how did this happen?

Quick throws.

Three-step drops.

Decisiveness on Brady's part.

Even with an undrafted rookie free agent David Andrews starting at center, fourth-round rookie pick Shaq Mason (all 6-1 of him) starting at left guard, and Josh Kline holding things down at right guard, the Patriots were unperturbed in the pass pocket.

The quick passing game seemed to surprise and frustrate the Bills.

"This loss is squarely on one man's shoulders, it's on my shoulders," Buffalo coach Rex Ryan said afterward. "And, yeah, we got to get better as a team. There's no question. But I have to get better. Belichick out-coached me. No question about it. "

"The plan has to be better on defense. you can't give up 500 yards and beat anybody ... We did a [expletive] job. Our team has to get better, but I have to get better. It starts with me and I'm looking forward to next week."

Yeah, well, next week is this week and the Dolphins are the opponent. And I'd say the Dolphins would be smart to copy the Patriots' approach ... Except it feels like it was the Patriots copying the Dolphins approach against Buffalo.

Last season, in the first game between the teams, the Dolphins ran their offense. And Ryan Tannehill was punished. The Bills had four sacks. The Bills had multiple hurries. The Dolphins lost, 29-10.

And so in the rematch at Sun Life the Dolphins tried to get Tannehill to get the ball out fast. There were a lot of three-step throws. There were not any seven-step that I can remember.

Yes, the Bills still got pressure. They got five sacks. But the Dolphins moved the ball much more effectively and won the game.

That should be the approach again this weekend. Don't let Mario Williams go nuts. Don't let Marcel Dareus and Jerry Hughes and Kevin Williams dominate -- something they were not able to do last week.

The problem is the Bills have now seen this approach this season. It is fresh on their list of things to address -- not that they can really jump the snap count or anything to get to Tannehill any quicker.

The point is the Dolphins have a plan, if they elect to use it, to try to counter the Buffalo onslaught defensively. It's the plan they really used last November. 

September 22, 2015

Richie Incognito wants 'to give it to' the Miami Dolphins

The South Florida media by virtual consensus asked the Buffalo Bills for a chance to speak to Richie Incognito this week. Not gonna happen.

Regardless of whom you believe -- the Bills are saying Incognito didn't want to discuss his story or history in Miami at this time, while Incognito himself has texted some folks saying he's been muzzled by the Bills -- the conference call with Incognito is not happening.

Amazingly, however, we have Internet access and satellite feed access here in South Florida. It's a thing we have. So we've been able to see what Incognito said to the Buffalo media this week about his coming meeting with his old team.

"I think I’m personally motivated for every single game I play in. I’m juiced up; I’m amped up for every single game," Incognito said via Time Warner Cable News in Buffalo.  "This one just has a little more meaning. There’s obviously bigger things at play here. But for me, it’s just focusing, going down there, playing physical and playing tough football."

Obviously bigger things at play?

I would say so, considering the Dolphins jettisoned Incognito from the team's active roster midway through the 2013 season after fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, fed up with what he said was harassing behavior by Incognito and others, threw a plate of spaghetti against a wall and left the team.

At first the Dolphins defended Incognito. Then they suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team. Then the Ted Wells investigation rolled into town and found what it intended to find. And Incognito was then not re-signed by Miami or anyone else all of 2014.

Incognito signed with Buffalo February 7, 2015 and has so far been a good citizen and good addition to the team. He's the starting left guard.

But, ironically, after initially playing the villain nationally, Incognito is more beloved by Miami fans than Martin, the alleged victim, ever was. And the recent Ted Wells report of the New England Patriots has in some weird way helped Incognito's reputation because the public is now aware the NFL's assigned independent investigator is perhaps not quite as independent and open to all sides of an investigation as previously believed.

So maybe, just maybe, Incognito wants to return to the Dolphins, play well, and show them they should have stuck with him amid his crisis of personality in 2013.

"I think it’s one of those things where in professional sports you kind of cross paths with one of your old teams, and you want to give it to them," he said.  "You want to play well and you want to come away with a win. Especially since I’m so close to some of those guys and have been competing with them for so long. It’s like a brotherly love. You want to kick your brother’s butt in anything you do so it’s going to be fun to go down there and compete with them."

A suggested lineup change and PFF grades from Jacksonville

This week's film grades from include a couple of surprises and don't suggest the Miami Dolphins defense is the big heaping mess everyone (including perhaps me) have suggested the past couple of weeks.

But there is little doubt this team -- especially the defense -- need adjustment.

So before I get to the grades and insight, let me offer this suggestion:

Safety Walt Aikens needs to be benched. The Dolphins picked Aikens over Michael Thomas after Louis Delmas blew out his knee for obvious reasons. Aikens is bigger, stronger, faster. He has a higher upside. But the fact of the matter is Thomas is less mistake prone. And misreads and hesitation and, yes, mistakes on the back end of the defense are potentially catastrophic.

Aikens made one such mistake on a double move and gave up a 46-yard touchdown against Jacksonville. The Dolphins lost 23-20.

I'm not saying the Dolphins should give up on Aikens completely. He has value in sub packages, maybe. But he simply needs to be brought along more slowly, which was the plan anyway because he was the backup before Delmas got injured.

Thomas should be the guy right now.

As to the PFF grades:


WR Jarvis Landry had an overall grade of 3.5 this week and through the first two weeks he ranks third overall (4.9 overall grade) among wide receivers.

Center Mike Pouncey bounced back this week with an overall 2.8 grade (compared to 0.1 last week).

Running back Lamar Miller had a bad time on Sunday. He got no blocking to speak of and didn't do much with what little blocking he got. Oh, yes, and he injured his ankle. Miller had a -1.9 rushing grade (-2.7 overall) which ranked 80th out of 85 running backs.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished the game with a .4 overall grade which ranks 16th out of 33 quarterbacks.


Weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (4.0 overall grade) and strongside linebacker Koa Misi (2.6 overall grade) were the second and fourth ranked 4-3 OLBs in Week Two. Amazing, given the ability of Jacksonville to move the ball on the ground and with short passing gains.

Defensive end Cameron Wake, who came to the game with a hamstring injury, had an overall grade  of -1.2 on 15 snaps.

Cornerback Brent Grimes had a 1.5 Coverage grade which ranks 12th out 108 cornerbacks in Week Two. Grimes gave up a couple of passes including a 36-yarder, where he lost a jump ball, but he remains the team's best CB.

The fact is both Grimes and McCain had relatively good coverage all day. But both got beat on jump balls during the game. It is the price of having a 5-9 and 5-10 cornerback tandem.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished with an overall grade of 1.1 and had one QB hurry, one tackle, one assist and one missed tackle ranking him 20th out of 82 tackles.

Strong safety Reshad Jones is having a very productive season so far. He has yet to miss a tackle in the 131 snaps he has played. The Dolphins as a team, meanwhile, have struggled with missed tackles so far.

New York Jets rolls, their D is best, Coyle says move on, Lazor gives interview clinic (updated)

The common theme on twitter as everyone watched the New York Jets beat and beat up the Indianapolis Colts was something akin to, "How could the Dolphins not have hired Todd Bowles in 2012?"

Look, I'm not a Dolphins apologist. But this is truly playing the result.

Bowles in 2012 was a future head coach but was he ready to be a star? Probably not. Three years later, perhaps it is another story. The truth is Bowles wasn't even the second choice behind Joe Philbin for the head coaching job. This is how it played out:

Bowles was beloved by the players and then GM Jeff Ireland liked him a lot. But owner Stephen Ross really wanted to hire Jeff Fisher. Bowles was interviewed in the first tier along with Fisher. As Ross was sensitive about being accused of mishandling his first unofficial coach search with Tony Sparano and Jim Harbaugh, the owner picked Fisher over Bowles and told Bowles he was eliminated.

But Fisher, offered the job, left the Dolphins at the alter. And so the team had to pivot because Bowles had already moved on.

That is when the Dolphins came down to Mike McCoy and Joe Philbin.

According to a source familiar with the search, McCoy was Jeff Ireland's choice. He was voted down by Carl Petersen and Dawn Aponte -- who were an important part of the search and had a vote.

So Joe Philbin.

Not that any of it matters now.

What matters is how the AFC East is stacking up.

Today the New England Patriots and Jets are atop the division at 2-0. The Patriots probably have the best offense in the division. The Jets, according to Monday Night Football color man Jon Gruden, may finish the season as the NFL's best defense.

Clearly the Jets have the AFC East's best defense right now. They play as a unit. They don't blow a lot of assignments. They get turnovers. They rush the passer. They're good against the run.

What else is there?

Back in Dolphins land, where the team has already begun preparing for Sunday's home opener against the Buffalo Bills, Monday was about turning the page. It was about putting lipstick on a pig perspective to Miami's loss at Jacksonville.

I present defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle:

“Obviously we have high expectations about not just the pass rush but just the overall play of our group. I think we would have certainly expected more through two games, but yet, I think we are seeing things that we anticipated from our opponents, they’re throwing the ball quickly, they’re using a lot of extra personnel in terms of protection, chipping. If you study the tape you’ll see the tight ends are hanging, the backs are staying in. That’s not anything that hasn’t happened in the past. We’ll get our share of sacks. We’ve had a couple of penalties down the field that were taken (sacks) away from us. Yesterday we had three or four occasions where the quarterback was flushed out and we had opportunities but we didn’t make them. Yeah, we’ve got to improve and I believe we will."

Salguero: I don't want to hear that penalties have taken sacks away. Penalties are a function of poor technique, or poor discipline, or poor coaching, or simply doing something outside the rules because physically one cannot win within the rules. So fix the penalties. The lack of a consistent pass rush is not from penalties.


"I think Brent Grimes had another good game for us. I think some of the guys that came in and played on the defensive line played well. The linebacking corps had a very solid game overall as a group across the board. I’m not into singling out individual players whether it be for how well they played or if they made a mistake here or there. There were a lot of guys who had winning performances for us. We just talked about that in our unit meeting."

Salguero: My bad, I thought the defense gave up 23 points in a loss. I didn't realize it had played so well.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor also spoke on Monday. What a difference from Coyle.

He was asked about the two guards, Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas who haven't been good enough for Miami thus far.

“Improving, but inconsistent," Lazor said, "not as consistent as we would like.”

Salguero: Perfect answer.

Lazor said he would have liked more shots down the field on Sunday. And why didn't the Dolphins get them?

“Sometimes you call a play with the purpose of getting the ball launched down the field and things go wrong. There are a couple of ways you can do it as a coach: you can say ‘OK, when you call this play, you are throwing it deep, period.’ Then you get into a situation where they do something where there is a five percent chance they change the look or they bail off and really that’s not the way we liked to play football. We like to build the shots in and we had some things that we thought would get it down the field, some we threw it down the field not complete and some we didn’t because of the reasons of football, whether it be decision, route running, protection or something that we didn’t get down, we addressed it very clearly with them today and football isn’t a perfect game. We as coaches have got to arm them with “Hey, here’s what we’re trying to get done on these plays, a certain number or times we would like to hit it this way or that way,’ but the reality is, there is no law that says you have to throw it deep to win. Some of our best drives and maybe they get criticized the most, are the twelve, eight, 13 and 10 play drives and sometimes that’s how you do it. Our job is to the ball in the end zone for points and it’s easier to call one play and get 60 yards, but sometimes we’ve got to do it over a number of plays.”

Salguero: Look, the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl last year without getting a lot of deep ball completions. They protect the quarterback, they move the chains, and they do not abandon the run so as to not become one-dimensional.

Lazor has to stick with the run a bit more. I think he knows it.

“You could look at every run play and talk about, whether you have five guys blocking or seven guys blocking it’s not perfect, it always starts there whether it be the pad level, whether it be the timing to come off to the linebackers. Certainly give Jacksonville credit, I thought they played really hard and fast and they played well upfront and at the second level. I don’t want to take away from them, but I think that’s where it starts. I think the decisiveness of the ball carriers and I also have to look at myself. I know there are times where there were two or three yard runs and they scare you off running it again, but we take all of those things into account.”

Salguero: Lazor, more than any coach that is allowed to regularly speak to the press, is self-aware of his flaws. He is accountable. Can't succeed without understanding what one does poorly and then corrects it.

The Dolphins tight end situation is dire. I mean, it is "is Michael Egnew available?" dire. Dion Sims missed the game with a concussion and Jordan Cameron suffered a groin injury.

The next couple of days will tell how tough this is going to be.

“Today it’s a question so it could be concerning," Lazor admitted. "I’ll find out soon. To me those are two good players that we’ve talked about all camp, I like both of those players and they can both play in the run game and the pass game. Missing them, it’s hard to replace talented players."


September 21, 2015

A one dimensional offense, a defense that needs to 'go back to the drawing board'

JACKSONVILLE -- The fourth quarter of Sunday's game here was a snapshot of what the Miami Dolphins have been so far this season.

On offense, the unit had become a one-dimensional attack. Lamar Miller injured an ankle and because the Dolphins brought only two running backs to the game, Damien Williams got two carries in the fourth quarter.

The problem with that? The Dolphins rushed only twice in the fourth quarter in a game that was tied at 20 until 43 seconds were left to play.

The other 19 plays the Dolphins ran on offense that quarter? Eighteen pass attempts and one spike play.

That's no way to try to win -- by basically eliminating half your offense in a tie game. The Dolphins had to rely on Ryan Tannehill and the passing game saving the day and although the quarterback threw for 359 yards, he couldn't get his team on the scoreboard the final period.

Not that it was a whole lot better the entire rest of the game.

"They came out and played hard," Tannehill said of the Jaguars. "We knew they were going to play hard. They're a sound defense and they executed well. They did a good job of stopping the run and then heated us up in the second half bringing the pressure.

"We just didn't make enough plays. We left some plays out there. And a close game like that you have to make big plays and we didn't do that."

The Miami offense isn't rolling right now. It scored only one touchdown against Washington. It had two toucdowns Sunday but there was simply no rhythm. No synch.

No one is making plays, either, outside of Jarvis Landry. No one is doing their job. Think of it this way: Both teams yesterday had to turn to backup left tackles for significant portions of the game. Jason Fox played nearly three quarters. Luke Joeckel was out for Jacksonville so they turned to their backup.

The Jaguars made Miami pay for having a backup LT in the game while their backup LT stood up and played well. The Miami side of that equation? Terrible.

So things were ... off.

"We want to be somewhat balanced and get our run game going and we didn't do that today," Tannehill said. "We haven't gotten off to the start we wanted to. I don't know exactly what that is at this point. But we are coming into a game confident. We're just not making enough plays."

Speaking of not making enough plays, the defense is not good right now and, yes, I blame defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle in my column today.

This is simply not acceptable, folks. This defense has faced two middle-of-the-road offenses the first two weeks and struggled.

What's going to happen when they face the Patriots twice?

Or Indianapolis?

Or anyone with an actual pulse?

But it's more than that. There is growing frustration on the part of various players about other players not doing their jobs up front. There is growing frustration with Kevin Coyle's substitution decisions.

It is the second week of the season and people are already whispering complaints.

You'd think it was the end of 2014 all over again.

Except it isn't. This defense was reinforced with the most expensive free agent on the market this offseason. And we're in only the second week of his Dolphins career. 

Ndamukong Suh was brought to Miami to make a difference.

And he has made zero positive impact so far. He played 60 snaps on Sunday. He had one tackle.

I blame Coyle. Simple as that.

Suh, who has been selected three times to the Pro Bowl, looks like just another guy in Miami. Did he suddenly forget how to play or is the problem with the Coyle approach or the scheme? Suh said Sunday the team needs to "go back to the drawing board" to "figure out what's best for us" as a team defense. That doesn't sound like he's totally bought in to the scheme.

Also this:

Suh and C.J. Mosley were two of the four defensive tackles on the Detroit Lions defense last year. That run defense was No. 1 in the NFL. But the Dolphins run defense -- with these two guys in addition to Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips -- have allowed 161 rushing yards at Washington and 123 rushing yards at Jacksonville Sunday.

How come they were good in Detroit but suddenly ineffective in Miami?

Here's my answer.

September 20, 2015

Jags beat Dolphins, 23-20


On defense. On Offense.

Motivated? No.

Urgency? Apparently not.

Willing to punch first? Nope.

And the coaching?

Simply terrible.

Branden Albert leaves Dolphins game permanently

JACKSONVILLE -- The Dolphins are tied with the Jaguars in the third quarter of today's game but if they are going to pull this one out they'll have to do it without Branden Albert.

Albert left this game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. He was worked on at halftime and the team then announced at the start of the third quarter he would not return today.

Jason Fox is playing left tackle in Albert's place.

Today's inactives favor the Miami Dolphins

The release of the pregame inactives offered an interesting transaction that is likely to affect the Miami Dolphins game versus Jacksonville.

While Reshad Jones and Cameron Wake are active, as I reported earlier, the Jaguars are going to be without starting left tackle Luke Joeckel today.

Sixth-year pro Sam Young, a native of Coral Springs, starts in place of Joeckel today.

The inactives for Miami are Will Davis, Tony Lippett, Jeff Linkenbach, Billy Turner, Dion Sims, Matt Hazel and A.J. Francis.

As I reported earlier Chris McCain is active today. He is expected play on special teams and in place of Cameron Wake for some snaps.

Miami Dolphins expect good news on Jones, Wake

JACKSONVILLE -- The Dolphins expect both Reshad Jones and Cameron Wake to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars today -- barring an unexpected setback to their hamstring injuries in pregame warmups.

Both players were listed as questionable for today's game.

So availability is not likely to be the issue.

The issue seems to be how long either play will be able to play. The team hopes it can relieve both players and not extend them so as to minimize the chances of aggravating their injuries.

That means Michael Thomas should get some snaps at strong safety.

And, obviously, Terrence Fede and other subs, such as Chris McCain, who will be active, will get plays for Wake.

{Come back later for inactives and other updates.]

On the Dolphins MLBs: Roles, playing time, how it should be done

 JACKSONVILLE -- Koa Misi had a good game last week. Although the linebackers, and the rest of defense, struggled to stop the run, Misi goes into today's games as the top outside linebacker in the NFL, according to

But as I write in today's Miami Herald Misi was one of the players who didn't get it done -- or didn't get a chance to get it done -- at middle linebacker for the Dolphins.

The position was once the epicenter of excellence for the Miami defense. Lately, it has been something of a black hole.

So please read my column. Now, as this space is infinite, let me share some things not in the column.

Maybe the fact the Dolphins have struggled to fill the MLB spot is because it requires great physical gifts but also quick thinking and recognition and experience.

Misi, for example, talked to me about the difference between playing inside and outside.

"Compared to outside it's like night and day," he said. "The amount of reads you have within the game, you have a lot more adjustments and calls to make. Just getting the defensive line aligned to where they should be and knowing if there's a motion what you have to do with the d-line and what your job is -- because that can change -- it's just a lot more happening there.

"Playing middle linebacker you're reading everything inside out. Playing outside linebacker you're reading everything on just one side of the field to the inside. Everything changes of how you're looking at things."

That work was not necessarily an issue for Zach Vigil last week. But after the snap, he needs to be much better.

"There's more communication that needs to be done very fast and very efficiently in this system to be effective," Vigil said. "You have to set the front. You have to call out things you see. I thought I was pretty good at that part of it. I just have to improve and get better.

"[Last week's] game I need to improve much from if I want to be a contributor on this defense."

All the players I spoke with agreed picking one player and rolling with that player is the way to get that player better. It is the only way, short of unexpectedly trading for Luke Kuechly, to get good production from the position.

Nobody likes the idea of changing positions constantly as the Dolphins have done the past two years.

"It's just easier when everybody knows I'm playing here and you're playing there and that's not going to change," Misi said. "Then you don't have think about I got to go back out here or I have to go play middle now in this game or outside linebacker in that game. It's easier when you're stuck to one position."

Kelvin Sheppard, who is sharing the spot with Vigil, thinks it is better when there is not a whole lot of sharing going on.

"Middle linebacker you can get into the flow of the game and you play better," he said. "You ask all 53 guys on our roster and I'm pretty sure they would all say they want to play every snap. I hope I'm on a team where all 53 guys are that competitive and I hope I am. Everybody wants to be on the field every snap. But the coaches handle that and defining roles. I just try to go out and execute the role that's given to me.

"And I want my role to increase more and more and more." 

September 19, 2015

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars

Some things we know: Ndamukong Suh did not have a great game last week at Washington and neither did most of his defensive line mates. The Jaguars offensive line is not good. And this weekend will be a meeting of the, so far this season, resistable force versus the movable object.

But here are some things you may not know: Suh last season had only two games in which he delivered grades nearly as bad as he did in his Miami opener, according to So in one Miami outing he's already delivered half as many "poor" (his word) games as he did all of last season.

And while the Jaguars offensive line is terrible, guard Zane Beadles last week actually had quite a good game. Beadles is the third-ranked guard after one week of play, per PFF.

How 'bout that?

Anyway, the rest of the how the Dolphins and Jaguars match up is not kind to the Jags. There's a reason they are a six-point underdog at home, folks.

The matchups:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill started slowly last year and he wasn't thrilled with his play last week. The difference is not playing well this year is defined as completing 64.7 percent of his passes and posting a 93.5 QB rating. Tannehill did throw a couple of passes that probably should have been intercepted but he is well ahead of last season's start when he was hearing talk of being benched after playing against the Jaguars. The Dolphins kept much of their plans for tight end Jordan Cameron under wraps in the preseason. They opened the wrapping against Washington and Cameron had four catches. The good news is the team has more stuff that it still has not shown, particularly in the red zone. The Dolphins believe their passing game will feed a different player every week. Some games it will be about Greg Jennings, others Jarvis Landry, others Kenny Stills. Yeah, let's face it, unless teams work at taking Landry away, he's going to be Tannehill's go-to go. The Jacksonville secondary added cornerback Davon House and safety Sergio Brown on the same day in free agency last March. This group is a work in progress. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Let's come to terms with the idea the Dolphins are not a running team. They ran the ball only 18 times last week against Washington and that included three runs by QB Ryan Tannehill. And while Lamar Miller averaged a modest 4.1 yards per rush, he got only 13 carries. He averaged 13.5 carries a game last season. So it could be that what we saw last week is simply the plan because we saw it last year as well. The Dolphins say they'd like to run the ball more and point to the fact their 13th play of the first half last week was in the two-minute offense because they didn't hold onto the ball enough. But that begs the question, would they collect more first downs and keep the ball longer if they ran the ball more? The Jaguars made some moves this offseason to address their front seven. They signed former Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick. They drafted Dante Fowler in the first round. Unfortunately, Fowler was hurt in a non-contact minicamp practice and is out for the year. Odrick, a 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 defensive end, is playing as a 4-3 defensive end for Jacksonville -- perhaps not his best position. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Jaguars pass the football: Quarterback Blake Bortles is supposed to be vastly improved in his second NFL season but he didn't show that in the regular-season opener. He threw two interceptions while completing only 55 percent of his passes. That makes him a 54.5 rated quarterback, which is 31st of 32 NFL starting QBs. It stands to reason Bortles will have better outings once he gets more talent around him. The problem is the Jaguars' passing game has been plagued by injuries to wide receiver Marquise Lee, a former second-round pick, and tight end Julius Thomas, a free agent signing from Denver. Neither is certain to play against Miami. The Dolphins did mostly good work in the secondary last week, with both Brent Grimes and Brice McCain collecting interceptions. But a hamstring injury to Reshad Jones may force Miami to start Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens at safety -- both of whom were backups when training camp opened. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Jaguars run the football: The Jaguars run attack is not necessarily the personality of the offense. Rookie T.J. Yeldon is the starter and Denard Robinson is a change-of-pace back. Yeldon is a 21-year-old rookie. The Jacksonville offensive line is a unit just recently brought together. Right tackle Jermey Parnell and center Stefan Wisniewski were signed in the offseason. Left guard Zane Beadles was signed last offseason and right guard Brandon Linder was drafted last season. And Luke Joeckel, the anchor and dean of the unit, has been in the NFL a whole two seasons. This is not a cohesive unit but neither has it had time to become a cohesive unit. The Miami defensive front is supposed to be great because, well, Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake and all. Except last week the Dolphins weren't prepared for cut-blocking early in the game by Washington while Suh struggled with that and double-teams. It will be interesting to see if the Jaguars copy the strategy this week and force the Dolphins to prove they're prepared for it. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: Everyone on the Miami special teams not named LaMike James had a great time last week. Special teams coach Darren Rizzi made a key decision to bench James from the punt returner role in favor of Jarvis Landry and Landry returned a punt for the winning score. That 69-yard punt return made Landry the special teams player of the week in the NFL. And rookie kickers Andrew Frank (FGs) and Matt Darr (punts) successful debuts. The Jaguars traded longtime kicker Josh Scobee to Pittsburgh  and kept first-year kicker Jason Myers instead. And Myers missed a 44-yarder to go with his make from 22 yards in his first game. Not great. On the bright side, punter Bryan Anger is quite experienced. He punted 94 times last season. That was second most in the NFL. Um, maybe the frequent use of the punter is not a bright side. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Coaching: The Dolphins made a lot of the same mistakes, had much the same approach, and played much the same way last week as the previous couple of years. This despite a supposedly upgraded roster. No, it is not time to panic but it is time to wonder if the reason for that is the team simply takes on the personality of its coaching staff. Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has a 7-26 record. How does he still have this job? ADVANTAGE: Miami

September 18, 2015

Multiple questions on Miami Dolphins injury report

The Miami Dolphins officially ruled tight end Dion Sims out from Sunday's game at Jacksonville. Sims, who is suffering from a concussion, was not cleared to practice all week following his head trauma at Washington.

The Dolphins also listed safety Reshad Jones (hamstring), defensive end Cameron Wake (hamstring) and defensive end Derrick Shelby (eye) as questionable. All practiced Friday on a limited basis.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, are more beat up than Miami.

Starting safety Johnathan Cyprian, who has finger and calf injuries, is listed as doubtful after not practicing all week.

Starting left tackle Luke Joeckel is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. He did not practice all week.

TE Julius Thomas, DT Sen'Derrick Marks, DE Andre Branch and CB Dwayne Gratz are listed as out.

Stat of the week? Bortles goes down a lot

The stat of the week for the upcoming Miami Dolphins game at the Jacksonville Jaguars?

The Jaguars have allowed at least four sacks in eight consecutive games. That is the NFL's longest active consecutive game sack streak.

And that statistic obviously speaks to how the Jaguars led the NFL in sacks allowed last year with 71 and are off to a rousing start on the same category this season, allowing five sacks last week against the Carolina Panthers in a 20-9 loss.

In other words what I'm saying is the Jaguars' protection of their quarterback is putrid.

And that's good...for the Miami Dolphins, who didn't exactly get off to the fast start chasing quarterbacks everyone expected. The Dolphins defensive front, which players say they consider among the best in the NFL, last week collected one sack against Washington.

Rookie defensive tackle Jordan Phillips collected his first career sack. Meanwhile Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Olivier Vernon -- players with reputations for being able to chase the quarterback -- didn't get to the signal-caller.

“Each and every week you want to come into the game, you want to play better football, but the other team plays professional football too," Vernon said, obviously not realizing this rule excludes Jacksonville's terrible protection. "It’s not going to come easy, but on our side of the defense, we should’ve played better last week and we look forward to playing better this week.”

The Jaguars are seemingly perfect prey for a Miami defensive wanting a taste for quarterbacks.

The expectation (that word again) is the Dolphins should be able to do what eight teams have done the past eight games against the Jaguars -- which is make Blake Bortles or whomever is playing quarterback quite uncomfortable.

If it happens, consider it a launch point.

If the Dolphins, however, fail to mount consistent pressure against Bortles, that would suggest something is amiss because, again, everyone else seems to be able to do it.

It should be interesting to see.

September 17, 2015

Jones returns to practice, McCain needs to return to gameday roster

First the news: Safety Reshad Jones said he feels better about his hamstring injury today so he expected to practice at least on a limited basis for the Miami Dolphins.

His status for Sunday remains in doubt but the fact there's been progress on that front is good news for the team.

TE Dion Sims and DE Derrick Shelby missed practice today for the second consecutive day.

Sims is in the concussion protocol and has not yet been cleared. He was, however, on the bike during practice.

Shelby, who was poked in an eye Sunday during the Washington game, wore sunglasses as he roamed the sideline at practice -- even while in the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB).

Some interest to those wondering about Chris McCain.

His fall have been interesting since the offseason. The Dolphins were intrigued by his physical gifts and length to the point he was the starting strongside linebacker when training camp opened. And then, poof, he was not in the plans.

McCain lost his starting job when Koa Misi was moved from middle linebacker to strongside linebacker.

And last week he was a healthy scratch from the 46-man gameday roster. McCain was the only linebacker on the 53-man squad who was inactive for the game.

This is curious because it is hard to believe McCain is not one of Miami's best 46 players. The Dolphins instead put Spencer Paysinger, and rookies Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt on the game day roster.

But here's the thing: I covered this team last year. Against New England, McCain had a blocked punt. Against Green Bay he recovered a blocked punt. Was he great otherwise? No. He had all of one special teams tackle in the 10 games he was active in 2014.

But he makes big plays. He has that knack. That's worth a gameday roster spot.

So either Suh played poorly or good -- depending on who you ask

Ndamukong Suh, the Miami Dolphins $114 million man, has had time now to study and digest his debut performance for his new team and this is how he thinks he played in that first game:

“Poor," Suh said Wednesday. "I just didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do, but it’s over with. I’m moving forward to Jacksonville."

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, Suh's boss, has studied the tape of the one-tackle, one-assist performance by Suh. And this is what Philbin said when he addressed how Suh played in his first game for Miami:

“Yeah, he did a good job," Philbin said. "He did a good job. I thought he got off to a good start. I’m sure there is room for improvement. I think there is for our whole defense, certainly. So far, a good start."

Look, I realize that sometimes a coach wants to deflect criticism from his player. I hope that is what Philbin is doing here because, let's face it, Suh most certainly did not do "a good job" in his first Miami outing and doesn't mind admitting as much.

The concern here is if there is a bigger issue at work. The concern is whether the Dolphins head coach might be not holding high highest-paid player to a high standard -- privately, publicly, indeed, at all times.

It is not throwing Suh under the bus to acknowledge what was obvious to everyone. There's nothing wrong with doing that.

It is troubling, however, if the Miami coaching is in any way, shape or form comfortable that clearly substandard performance was in any way "good." Accepting sub-par performances, after all, is no way to climb out of Miami's perpetual 8-8 mediocrity.

This reminded me of a couple of years ago when Mike Wallace caught three or four passes for 50-some-odd yards in a game and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was glowing in his praise of the receiver.

Minutes later, Wallace was dumbfounded by the praise, saying he didn't think that what he'd done merited any praise because it was, as everyone but Sherman recognized, just a mediocre day at the office.

I understand if Dolphins coaches elect to sometimes deflect on behalf of their players, sure. But I also want them to have high standards that everyone -- the public, the players, everyone -- knows are the goal. And nothing short of meeting that goal gets an atta-boy no matter what.

The right answer from the coach?

Something akin to:

"He didn't play as well as he would like or we would like but he has another chance to do that this week and we have confidence he will."

September 16, 2015

Reshad Jones status for Jacksonville game 'tricky'

Reshad Jones was optimistic about his return to the lineup this week as he was leaving the visitor's locker room in Washington on Sunday. "I'll be OK," he said.

But a source close to Jones on Wednesday said it is more likely than not the Dolphins starting strong safety will miss Sunday's game at Jacksonville, barring a significant improvement in his hamstring. The source said even if Jones improves, the decision to play will be "tricky" because there is a possibility of re-aggravating the hamstring or possibly even making it worse by coming back before it is mostly healed.

Jones did not practice Wednesday.

If Jones cannot play against the Jaguars, the Dolphins will effectively be without either of the starting safeties they opened training camp with. Free safety Louis Delmas is out for the year with a torn ACL in his right knee.

The Dolphins would have to go with Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas as their starting safeties.

The Dolphins are also nursing injuries to other significant contributors today.

Tight end Dion Sims is in the concussion protocol and is not practicing. His status for Sunday is doubtful although that is not official.

Defensive end Derrick Shelby, poked in the eye during the Washington game, did not practice today.

On the bright side, defensive end Olivier Vernon, who left the game with an ankle injury, practiced today at least on a limited basis. And offensive tackle Jason Fox, who has been brought along slowly after suffering a concussion in the second preseason game Aug. 22 and missed the regular-season opener, is practicing today.

On another note, newly signed Raheem Mostert said the Dolphins have told him he will be the team's kickoff return man this week. That is, assuming he doesn't mess up in practice this week, of course.

After offseason of changes, Miami Dolphins defense again a focus

Last season ended with the Miami Dolphins, well, out of the playoffs but also looking at their defense with disappointment. And folks were looking at defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle kind of sideways.

That's not me saying that.

Coach Joe Philbin considered Coyle's work and weighed replacing the defensive coordinator. Obviously, the head coach decided against a change. But adjustments were needed.

So Coyle changed his approach in some respects -- trying to make sure the defense was better at doing fewer things. The personnel changed as players such as Phillip Wheeler were jettisoned while Ndamukong Suh was signed. And Coyle himself got in the weight room and lost some weight and added some muscle, a symbol of a new and better Miami D.


But after an offseason of adjusting the scheme, improving the DC's looks, and adding talent, here we are looking at Coyle kind of sideways again. After one game.

And let us have perspective here. The Dolphins defense allowed only 10 points on Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Most any team will take that every week.

But it isn't about the 10 points. That's great.

Iti s about what this game suggests longterm.

It is that after months and months of preparation for this game, the defense -- with the exception of Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes and maybe Koa Misi -- played on its heels at least half the game.

It was that the Redskins, which are not expected to be any sort of offensive juggernaut with a backup QB starting and a challenged offensive line in front of him, took the game to Miami.

It was that the Redskins surprised Coyle's unit with something so fundamental as cut blocking and it took a long time to adjust to that.

It was that Suh, a great player in Detroit, looked unimpressive with this unit.It was that folks were seemingly surprised the Redskins double-teamed Suh as if that has never happened before.

What's all this about?

Let's take them one at a time:

About the adjustments. The old adage applies here: High school teams adjust to opponents next week. College teams adjust to opponents next half. NFL teams adjust to opponents next series.

The Redskins cut Miami interior linemen time and again and there was no significant adjustment to that until the second half. Too slow.

“I think it takes a little bit, we have to be ready to adjust quicker as players and as coaches we kind of want to be able to see those things fast as we can so we can get that information, but really often times they’re the best guys to talk to, to try and figure out what’s going wrong because everything is happening so fast," Coyle said. "Whether it’s a tightening of an alignment, changing a shade from one to the other or changing a front, that type of thing, we’ll have some options and some answers as we move forward."

That's great. Coyle wants to talk to his players to better understand what is happening on the field. But it seems to me, once that conversation is over, after the first series, the adjustment should be made. After all, cut-blocking is a fundamental tactic. It is not revolutionary. Adjust.

As to the approach of the defense: It was uninspired save for Jones and Grimes and maybe Misi.

Suh seemed more nervous than inspired. And as a result his only tackle of the game came five or six yards downfield. Remember this guy is a proven star. And yet his first outing in Miami suggested he didn't have his mind right to play.

That's not me saying that. Coyle admitted that.

“I think he can play better and I think he knows that, but again, I go back to what I said earlier, I think he was amped up and wanting to really do well and it took him a little bit to get settled down," Coyle said. "I think they really did – they tried to scheme us some. They didn’t run at Ndamukong very much, they ran away from him and when they did run away, they had people down at his legs and chopping him, cut blocking him and things like that. They did some things schematically that they wouldn’t put him in a position where he could use his strength and things like that, but as the game wore on I think he did better. He did better in the second half and certainly we still expect big, big things from him as we move forward."

I would hope. The Dolphins cannot change the guy's contract so they better change his output and approach from the first game. It should not surprise anyone that teams will run away from Suh. It should not surprise anyone that teams will game plan for him. It has been happening for half a decade.

So why the issue?

Another issue the Dolphins have not fully resolved on defense over the past couple of years is the linebacker unit. First Dannell Ellerbe was paid big money to play the middle but stunk so then he got moved. Then Koa Misi was going to be the answer at middle linebacker until he wasn't and got moved. Then Kelvin Sheppard was going to be the answer until he wasn't and had to share the job.

So after a full training camp, we don't know if Sheppard is the guy going forward or undrafted rookie Zach Vigil is the answer. Both shared the job almost equally on Sunday. Neither was stellar.

What gives?

The season has begun. Pick a guy and roll.

But no.

The Dolphins are sharing the position for the purpose of, get this, building some depth.

“We felt that they both did a lot of good things in preseason and we let them know well in advance, prior to the game, early in the week that they both would be sharing time and that was the intention," Coyle said. "They both about split the number of reps when we were in base defense and they both did a good job. That’s positive, we think that we’re building some depth there, we’ve got a veteran player that played well and a young player that when he got in there, he hung tough and did a good job."

Building some depth.

When Jimmy Johnson saw Zach Thomas play one quarter in the preseason, he knew he would be his middle linebacker. He picked him. He let Jack Del Rio go. And he let Thomas grow into the job while, yes, suffering the struggles of growing pains as Thomas got better and better.


Maybe Zach Vigil isn't Zach Thomas. But if he's worthy of sharing the role...And he's young..And he's green...And the other guy is a journeyman...Go with the youngster and give him the work. Don't split the baby.

Finally, the biggest issue the Dolphins needed to address this offseason on defense was the run defense. The team was an unacceptable 24th against the run last year. Well, after one game this year it is 30th against the run. There were missed tackles. There were missed assignments. Coaches were surprised by the other team's approach. And Suh got practically erased.

That cannot be. It needs immediate attention.

“There are a lot of little things that we need to address here as we go forward after our first game," Coyle said. "I think part of it was the anxiousness of guys to go out there in the first game and really do well and sometimes you can overdo some things, but we’ve got to get off blocks and they did a good job on the backside of plays of low-blocking, the cut-blocking on the backside of plays and we didn’t play well in the first half.

"We have to do a better job of those types of things, there weren’t long breakout runs, but there were way too many five-yard runs, six-yard runs and we didn’t tackle as well. We had a couple of times where we made a hit at three yards and he would squirm and twist and now it’s second-and-4 instead of second-and-7, as a result we weren’t able to get them behind schedule much, particularly in the first half.

"That’s why are third down defense was as poor in the first half as it was. In the second half, we got them in longer yardage situations and they didn’t convert a third down in the entire second half. We’ve got to play better across the board, our players know that, we’re going to work hard on it here later this week hopefully like they say ‘you can make a lot of improvements between week one and week two.'

"We’ve got our share to make and we will."

They better.

September 15, 2015

PFF and Salguero review of Dolphins victory over Washington

The partnership between this blog and continues this year. As in the past, the metrics website will break down the Miami Dolphins previous game and provide analytics to me here. I'll add whatever insight and knowledge I can to augment your reading experience.

(Go ahead, make a joke).

Anyway, this week's one-touchdown (on offense) performance by the Dolphins is under the PFF microscope:


  • Right tackle Ja’Wuan James (2.3 pass block grade) did not allow a pressure on 38 pass block snaps.
  • QB Ryan Tannehill had a 0.7 passing grade on the seven pass plays the defense blitzed. Not terrible. Not great.
  • WR Rishard Matthews was the only Dolphins pass-catcher to drop a pass.
  • It was a rough outings for guards Dallas Thomas (-3.2 in 57 snaps), Jamil Douglas (-4.7 in 57 snaps) and left tackle Brandon Albert (-2.4 in 55 snaps). Here's the thing: Douglas is a rookie making his first NFL start. So his grade must be viewed through that prism. Albert was playing his first game since returning from knee surgery last November and, indeed, didn't get any snaps in any preseason games. So he is allowed some rust. What's the excuse for Thomas? Oh yeah, there is none.
  •  Tight end Jordan Cameron (1.1 receiving grade) was targeted five times on the right side of the field and three of those were 20-plus-yards from the line of scrimmage. You know what that suggests? Well, Cameron was Miami's only deep threat this game, but he continues to be the same player who last season was the only tight end with four receptions of at least 40 yards. The two longest -- for 81 and 51 yards -- were for touchdowns against Carolina and Pittsburgh; the other two were for 47 and 42 against Pittsburgh. No, the Dolphins did not complete all their deep passes against Cameron, but he is definitely a deep threat.


  • Defensive end Cameron Wake had his only sacks nullified by a penalty in the secondary on Jamar Taylor but he wasn't great agaisnt the run, either. He had a -2.1 run defense grade in 31 run snaps.
  • The Dolphins linebacker corps is not great, especially at middle linebacker right now. But strongside linebacker Koa Misi (2.4 overall grade) had nine tackles, three QB hurries and six defensive stops with just one missed tackle.
  • It was a rough day in coverage for Jamar Taylor (-2.3 pass coverage in 27 snaps) and Walt Aikens (-1.1 pass coverage in 27 snaps). Reshad Jones explained to me days before the game he and Aikens are still working on their communication and understanding of each other's tendencies. That is over and above simply playing the position with physicality and technique to Aikens.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Jordan Phillips had a sack in his first NFL game but he struggled against the run -- turning in a -2.7 run grade on the seven run snaps he played.
  • Cornerback Brent Grimes (1.4 pass coverage grade) allowed two receptions on five passes thrown his way for 22 yards and had one interception.

  Special Teams

  • LaMichael James had a -1.2 Kickoff return grade. He also fumbled, although the Dolphins recovered. Any surprise he was cut?
  • Jarvis Landry had an 1.3 punt return grade thanks to the game-winning 69-yard return for a touchdown.

Signature Stats

  • Running back Lamar Millar had an elusive rating of 28.6 and made two tacklers miss him on 13 attempts.
  • The Miami offensive line had a Pass Block Efficiency of 81.8 which ranks 13th out of the 28 teams who had played prior to Monday night. Not good.