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4 posts from October 1, 2013

October 01, 2013

Plummeting numbers for Wallace, Fins deep balls; Oden 'ways away'; Fins, Heat, UM chatter

Wednesday update: The Dolphins are bringing back linebacker Austin Spitler to fill one of two roster openings created yesterday when Kelcie McCray and Tyler Clutts were cut. 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

If there’s one thing we thought we could count on in the Dolphins offense, it was the presence of a better deep passing game. So it’s surprising that Miami is actually on pace to complete far fewer deep balls this season (12) than last year (20), when the Dolphins offense was often punchless.

And though Ryan Tannehill’s overall growth (the Saints game aside) is encouraging, the deep ball metrics –- and Mike Wallace’s degree of involvement –- are somewhat unsettling. Consider:

### On balls thrown 20 yards or more in the air, Tannehill has completed only three of nine such passes, for 86 yards. Only Kansas City has thrown fewer deep balls than Miami, and only the Chiefs, Jaguars and Lions have completed fewer. That’s disappointing for an offense whose most dangerous weapon is a receiver with elite speed.

By comparison, Philip Rivers has completed 8 of 17 deep balls (for 269), Aaron Rodgers 9 of 16 (305), Peyton Manning 7 of 14 (220) and even Geno Smith 12 of 21 (433), among many others. For his career, Tannehill has completed 23 of 60 such deep balls, which is mediocre.

### Wallace caught an NFL-high 14 passes thrown 20 yards or more in 2010, nine in 2011 and six in 2012. His 2012 numbers were impacted by Todd Haley taking over as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh.

This season? He has only one such catch (for 34 yards), in seven throws, including one dropped pass. (He has three drops overall.) No wonder his yards per reception has dipped to 11.7, well below his 16.9 career average and just 61st in the league.

Asked Tuesday if wants more deep balls, Wallace said, “Yeah” before the Dolphins intervened and said he had talked enough today.

Asked if the Dolphins need to throw deep more to Wallace, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said that’s “easy to say [but] coverage dictates a lot of that. We’re getting more two safety-looks to take away deeper looks. We called 12 deep balls [Monday]. They didn’t go there because coverage didn’t allow it to go there. You can’t force things when they’re not there.”

### Pro Football Focus ranks Wallace 101 of 103 receivers, and his 176 receiving yards through four games ranks 53rd in the league, behind Davone Bess, four rookies and two Steelers (Jerrico Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders), among many others. For Wallace, it’s his worst four-game yardage total to start a season, and the third-worst total of any four-game stretch in his career.

### Tannehill has completed 15 of the 28 passes thrown to Wallace, and that 53.6 percent completion rate is 79th in the league and by far the worst of any Dolphins offensive player. Of course, Wallace gets thrown more deep balls than others, which skews the numbers downward. But Charles Clay is at 80 percent, Brandon Gibson 71.4 and Brian Hartline 70.

Asked if it could take a year to develop chemistry with Tannehill, Wallace said Tuesday: “We don’t have a year to wait. It’s a big season for us. You never know. It could take one day or it could take a year. We need it now. We have to connect on plays. I think we’re on the same page for the most part.”

Sherman said the progression in the Tannehill/Wallace relationship "is about where I thought it would be. I want him to catch a lot of balls. Even when he's not catching balls, he's creating opportunities for others."

Can the Dolphins offense still thrive without many deep balls to Wallace? Yes, if everything else is done with precision. But the Dolphins expected a quick-strike element, and Wallace and everyone around this team hope that comes sooner rather than later. 

CHATTER

### Even with Cameron Wake out, No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan logged only 23 snaps Monday (he had one quarterback hurry), compared with Olivier Vernon’s 71 (he graded out well) and Derrick Shelby’s 51. Coaches are simply more comfortable using Vernon and Shelby against the run.... Wake and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle are hopeful about his chances of playing Sunday.

As for second-round rookie Jamar Taylor, he made his debut with 29 snaps but allowed all three passes thrown against him to be caught, for 60 yards. Coyle said coaches opted for Taylor over third-round rookie Will Davis (who showed ball-hawking skills in preseason) because Taylor had a better week of practice and can play more positions (both the slot and on the outside).

### Please see the last two posts for highlights of what Coyle, Sherman and Joe Philbin said today, and how the Dolphins reacted to insults spewed by Saints linebacker Junior Gallette.

### Though Greg Oden says he believes he’s ready to play short minutes in a game, he participated in only half of practice Tuesday (mostly non-contact) and Shane Battier said: “He’s got a ways to go, a ways to go. It’s going to take a lot of work by him, a lot of patience. We’ll integrate him quickly when he’s ready, but he’s a ways away.”

How so? “Just playing at an NBA level,” Battier said. That's why Erik Spoelstra left open the possibility that it could be two or three months before he plays in a game, while insisting there's no timetable.

Rashard Lewis said Oden played in his first pickup game in 3 1/2 years last week, but he was only allowed to play in one of five games held that day. Lewis said Oden ran the court well considering his long layoff.

On the positive side, “he was dunking everything” in the pickup game last week, Heat guard Roger Mason Jr. said. Lewis concurred, saying Oden was very strong in the basket area.

And Udonis Haslem said: “The skill level is there. The left-handed touch, the right-handed touch. Dunking. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen see.”

### Haslem said Kevin Durant saying publicly that James Harden should replace Dwyane Wade in Sports Illustrated's list of the top 10 NBA players was “shocking. I took it personal. It makes me mad. That’s why they call me ‘Angry Black Man.’

"Dwyane doesn’t get mad about that. He gets motivated. People have to learn to stop motivating this guy. You would think after 11 years, they would figure that out.”

### Mason said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called him last week, trying to talk him out of signing with Miami by telling him the Bulls soon would offer him a guaranteed deal. Oklahoma City told him the same.

“It was a leap of faith to take a non-guaranteed one-year deal here,” he said. “But they can use another outside shooting threat here, with Mike Miller leaving, and I have a lot of confidence in my ability.”

Spoelstra said: “His skill set is a fit for how we play, the way he shoots the ball. We tried getting him five years ago.”

### UM’s Al Golden smiled Tuesday when reminded of Jimmy Johnson’s philosophy to treat every player differently. Though he disciplined Duke Johnson for his two goal-line fumbles by not allowing him to wear a first-team jersey Tuesday, it would seem highly unlikely for playing time to be affected and it should not be.

Here's how Golden approaches disciplining a star, in Johnson's case: “It was a careless mistake. For anyone to do that, there has to be consequences,” Golden said. “You cannot freelance when we clearly tell them what the parameters are in terms of goal-line running. It’s easy to sit in those chairs as his teammate and say, ‘He’s treating Duke differently.’

But “there’s a lot of good bank built up” with Johnson. “There’s a lot of carries he got rocked and carried it well.”

Johnson said coaches told him this about the fumbles: “That’s unacceptable. You can’t do that."

He said the first fumble, in which he reached across the goal-line, "was bad judgment." The second was "a horrible play," he told our Susan Miller Degnan.

### Brad Kaaya, a critical piece of UM's 2014 recruiting class and Rivals.com's No. 8 quarterback prospect, received an offer from hometown UCLA today. His mother said UCLA "is an awesome program that he respects. At this time, he is committed to the University of Miami.”

But the Los Angeles Times reported today that UCLA's offer will be considered. "Any kid in Los Angeles would be interested in UCLA," said Ed Croson, his coach at Chaminade High in Hollywood Hills. "He's firmly committed to Miami, but I think he's flattered."

### When David Gilbert, an honorable mention All-Big 10 player at Wisconsin, transferred to UM, his body of work suggested he might start ahead of Shayon Green at defensive end.

But Green continues to impress coaches with how strong he is against the run, and he has justified playing on first and second down. And Gilbert –- who plays on some third-down pass rush packages -- needed time to improve his conditioning.

“I’m sure David would like to start,” Golden said today. “I don’t think we’ve seen the best of David Gilbert yet.”

Dolphins respond to Saints' insults; coaches address issues

Dolphins offensive linemen had mixed reactions today to Saints linebacker Junior Galette's insulting comments after Monday night's game.

Galette said: "Up front, we kept taking advantage of their weak tackles and their inside guys. I wish we could play them again so we could tee off on them again. I don't think that team was as good as everybody was saying. We just abused their offensive line all game."

The Saints had four sacks, but center Mike Pouncey said that resulted from the Saints knowing the Dolphins would pass on most every down in the second half.

Pouncey said of Galette's comments: "He didn't really do much. Anybody can go and say what they did. But the film doesn't lie. Watch the film. The film doesn't lie. He had two tackles. I guess he's the best defensive player in the NFL." (Actually, Galette had a sack, quarterback hurry, and hit Ryan Tannehill's arm on his last interaction.)

Pouncey contradicted Galette's assertion that the Dolphins were trash-talking. "We're not trash-talkers," Pouncey said. "That's not part of our game. They didn't start trash-talking until they were up 25."

Left tackle Jonathan Martin said he doesn't care what Galette said, but that the Saints started the trash-talking.

And left guard Richie Incognito said initially that he had no comment about Galette's insult, but then added: "Win or lose, you have to stay classy. I don't think those comments were very professional."

Please check back later tonight, or in the morning, for the Wednesday buzz, with more Dolphins news, plus Heat and Canes chatter. Also, please check the last post for everything notable that Joe Philbin and the coordinators had to say today.

Tuesday update: Philbin, Sherman, Coyle address Dolphins' problems

Snippets from Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle from their Monday news conferences:

### Philbin: “The pass defense was not good enough, not even close. They executed well. We made it too easy on them. It has to be better.”

### Coyle, on his pass defense: “We need to improve. We need to be more productive. We’ve got to be more consistent with everything we’ve doing. We have to be better in coverage. I’ve got to get them in better position to make plays. I didn’t do a good job of that last night. It’s a combination of things. Hopefully, we can get it corrected.”

### Philbin, on why Daniel Thomas played a lot in the second half even though Lamar Miller outperformed him: “A little more pass protection that anything else. It was nothing Lamar did or didn’t do.”

### Does Sherman get the sense that Lamar Miller is clearly distancing himself from Thomas? “I don’t get that [sense]. We will continue the way we’ve been so far until someone really steps forward and makes that known to us.” (It seems Miller has stepped forward, but it doesn’t matter what we think.)

### Sherman, on the questionable fourth and one call early in the game --- the one that was pitched to Thomas, instead of a quarterback draw: “In hindsight, I wish I did” do something different. “The guy made a great play. That was a big play in the game. That will really haunt me.”

### Philbin, on Mike Wallace: “I thought he had seven targets, which might have been second on the team. I thought he played well. I thought he’s doing well.

“It’s still only four games. They’re working well together. Have good communication when they come off the field.”

Asked about Wallace’s performance, Sherman said: “Overall, we’ve got to do better.”

Sherman, on the Tannehill/Wallace chemistry: “The more familiar you become with a person and their style of play, the more familiar you become with how they throw and how they make their breaks, the better they will become as a tandem. It will continue to get better.”

Sherman said Tannehill/Wallace: “It’s about where I thought it would be. I want him to catch a lot of balls. Even when he’s not catching balls, he’s creating some opportunities” for others.

### Philbin, on his team: “I told them we are the only team in football that has a winning record and a minus turnover differential. That’s not sustainable. That’s not going to fly.”

But… “I like the group. I like the way they approach their business. We’re not unlike a lot of teams in the NFL that we don’t have a big margin for error. There are a lot of things we need to work on.

### Sherman, on Tannehill bouncing back from adversity: “Every great quarterback has days like that. That’s the strength of Tannehill. On the fumble, he has to hold onto that ball. He has to get down, to protect himself and the football. That’s something we can work on. He’s accountable for everything that leaves his hands. He has a resiliency you look for in a quarterback. Every quarterback will have a day like yesterday.”

### Philbin on Tannehill’s fumble issues: “His awareness in the pocket has to be better at times. It’s not acceptable either.”

### Philbin, on the Dolphins allowing a league-high 18 sacks: “It’s a unit wide issue. Every position has been impacted. At times offensive line has been beaten, running back or tight end has missed a pickup, quarterback has held onto the ball too long. It’s been widespread, not one particular individual.”

Sherman said sacks “were a byproduct” of the score in the second half. “We all bear the burden of responsibility about the sacks. It’s something we’re determined to correct.”

“I’m not saying because we ran the ball well that it’s a fixed checkmark.”

### Philbin, on the no-huddle offense: “We had some good production early. We wanted to change up the tempo. Sometimes we will use it spurts. It has a place depending on who we’re play and what personnel groupings we’re using.”

### Coyle, on problems with Darren Sproles: “The first series was a nightmare, as all of you witnessed. Part of it was our guys were so geeked up for the game, so anxious. We might have been too excited. They schemed us pretty good. They have a good coaching staff, some fine players. I’ve got to do a better job of helping these guys.”

Asked if he would have done things differently against Sproles if he had another chance, Coyle said: “There were times we were doubling him. But you can’t do it every play. They weren’t down the field throws. They were short throws. We had things in the game plan. Sometimes we hit on it, sometimes we didn’t.”

### Philbin said Derrick Shelby played well, Olivier Vernon had a sack. Those guys did well. Paul Soliai: He did a nice job. Dion Jordan did some good things.”

Coyle: Derrick has played well all season long, especially in the run game. He more than held his own there. Dion got some pressure, collapsed the pocket. They did a good job.

###  Coyle, on Wake potentially playing Sunday: “I hope so. We have to go through the week. Cam wanted to play.”

### Coyle, on Jamar Taylor’s regular-season debut: “Typical of a rookie player. Did some positive things, was a little off on a couple of things. I was pleased with way he responded. He competed. Game wasn’t too big for him.”

 ### Why Jamar Taylor instead of Will Davis? “Will had been up the week before.  He showed well in the practice week, and Jamar has some flexibility playing in nickel and outside.” On his alignment [against Jimmy Graham], he could have helped himself a little bit” with positioning.

Philbin: “The thing I liked about Jamar is he didn’t have glazed look. He completed.”

### Coyle, on Dannell Ellerbe: “He’s a fine player. He’s going to keep getting better. He’s a phenomenal linebacker. Can really run and make plays.”

### One other note: The Dolphins waived FB Tyler Clutts and S Kelcie McCray.

Postscripts, reaction from Dolphins' loss at New Orleans; Heat notes

Postscripts from the Dolphins’ discouraging 38-17 drubbing Monday night at New Orleans:

### Joe Philbin’s take: “We have to do better on defense. We obviously don’t want Jimmy Graham running down the field wide open for touchdowns.” (You don’t say?)

On the inability to slow Darren Sproles: “We tried zone, we tried man, we tried some pressures. Sproles is very good. We tried different combinations.”

Philbin said Ryan Tannehill (who now has an NFL-high six fumbles) has to “hold onto” the ball "better. He’s got to get down earlier” on scrambles.  

On the bright side... “I love the balance we had at halftime,” Philbin said. “We punted once in the first half. I thought we were executing well on offense except the two giveaways in the first half.” But his team unraveled in the second half.

With Baltimore visiting Sunday, “We’re going to find out a lot about our team with how we respond.”

### Tannehill had his first poor game of the season: 22 for 35 for 249 yards, with three interceptions, a key fumble late in the first half, and a 57.9 quarterback rating.  (On a SMALL positive note, he ran for 48 yards on four carries. And he threw one touchdown pass, a three-yarder to Charles Clay.)

“What really started it [downhill] was the fumble I had,” he said. “You have to hold onto the ball.” Curtis Lofton stripped Tannehill, who was holding the ball carelessly.

On the three picks: “First one, I held the inside guy with my eyes and [Jabari Greer] jumped the route. Not much we can do about it. Next one, got bumped a little bit and led Mike Wallace too far. Last one, I got hit as I was throwing.”

Tannehill said one problem was this: “When we got behind, we had to back off on the running game. It hurt us, not being able to use the run like we wanted to.”

### ESPN’s Jon Gruden said Tannehill and Wallace “don’t look like they’re on the same page. They need to have a conversation on the sidelines and make these corrections. They’ve got to get Wallace straightened out in this pass offense.”

Tannehill threw seven passes to him; only three were completed, for 24 yards. Another was intercepted. And the only deep ball thrown to Wallace went through his hands.

Brian Hartline also had a relatively quiet night, with three catches for 34 yards. Brandon Gibson caught six for 71 (with a drop). Charles Clay had six catches for 42 yards and is on pace to set the single-season receiving yardage record for a Dolphins tight end.

### Purely from a Dolphins fan perspective, watching the Saints’ offense might be more exasperating than watching any other team because the Dolphins passed on or passed up every significant skill position player on this offense.

You all know about Miami passing on Drew Brees – twice. Miami took John Jerry instead of Jimmy Graham, had no interest in drafting seventh rounder Marques Colston, drafted Ted Ginn ahead of Robert Meachem and signed Reggie Bush (then let him leave) instead of Sproles, though that move can be justified because Bush was a generally effective starter for two years.

### Brees dissected the Dolphins, completing 30 of 39 passes for 413 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 144.5 quarterback rating.

He threw to Graham only four times, and all four were completed for 100 yards, including two touchdowns.

Sproles torched the Dolphins, with seven receptions for 114 yards and four carries for 28 yards.

The Dolphins tried a variety of personnel on Graham and Sproles – with no success. Reshad Jones was beaten badly by Sproles on a 48-yard pass early in the game. Rookie cornerback Jamar Taylor, in his first regular-season game, had decent coverage on Graham’s first touchdown reception (a 27-yarder), but Graham still caught it by simply out-jumping him.

Linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe were victimized several times in coverage. And Graham beat Chris Clemons for his second touchdown, a 43-yarder.

### Taylor struggled mightily to cover Colston, who beat him twice for receptions. Colston ended up matched up against Wheeler on another play and torched him, too. Nolan Carroll made two impressive breakups in coverage but was beaten at least three times.

### The Saints averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 24 attempts, but it hardly mattered, with Brees carving up the Dolphins’ secondary. And this was a killer: Brees and his weapons converted five of their first seven third-down chances, for 89 yards.

### Dolphins left tackle Jonathan Martin allowed two sacks and right tackle Tyson Clabo one. That means the Dolphins’ starting tackles have now permitted eight sacks in four games – four by each of them. Unacceptable! Gruden noted that Clabo has struggled handling power rushers.

With guard John Jerry also allowing a sack, the Dolphins have relinquished 18 sacks in four games and are on pace to allow 72 -- which would easily shatter the franchise record of 53.

### Worst call of the game: Mike Sherman opting to pitch to Daniel Thomas instead of having Tannehill run a sneak on third-and-an inch or two early in the game.

“It was a play we practiced all week,” Philbin said. “We liked it. I knew we were going to call it. They made a better play than us.”

As much as the Dolphins want Thomas to be an effective short-yardage back, he remains unreliable in those situations. Thomas closed with five yards on four carries, while Lamar Miller was far better (11 carries, 62 yards, 5.6 average).

### Positives, besides Miller? Paul Soliai, returning two weeks earlier than doctors expected, was terrific. Jared Odrick did good work, including a sack…. Marcus Thigpen, given a few snaps on offense, caught a pass for 50 yards….

Caleb Sturgis (34 yard field goal) remained perfect on the season…. And defensive tackles Marvin Austin, signed to replace Vaughn Martin, gave the Dolphins some impactful snaps.

### Gruden noted that “injuries had a lot to do with this” result and “I like the state of the Dolphins.” Of course, Miami played without Cam Wake and Dimitri Patterson and Koa Misi played but seemed less effective than usual.

Wake would have helped on a night Miami had just two sacks (Odrick and Olivier Vernon). Patterson would have helped on a night Miami’s coverage was porous. But this margin was too lopsided to believe that any one player would have made a difference between winning and losing.

### By the way,the Dolphins have played the most Monday Night Football games of any team and are 40-39 in those games.

### Please see the last post for a full report from Heat media day... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz