WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Reason No. 206 to be discouraged about the Dolphins: Even the areas they assure us will be strengths never quite seem to measure up to expectations, and we’re seeing that play out yet again.
The Dolphins presumed they would be very good against the run and generate a bunch of explosive plays and even told us to expect more impact plays from their new linebackers and that Ryan Tannehill would make the greatest jump of the second-year quarterbacks.
Now consider reality:
### Run defense: For all of the hype around the front seven, any suggestion the Dolphins are among the best against the run is pure myth. They were at one point: In 2011, their last year in a 3-4 defense, they ranked third. That slipped to 13th in 2012, and now they’re 19th.
And despite the depth on the defensive line, this unit often wilts against the run late in games. Miami is allowing a deplorable 5.6 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, more than any team permits over an entire game. The Bills churned out 10 yards on a key run to make their game-winning field goal closer; the Patriots averaged 4.8 on the ground in Sunday’s fourth quarter.
Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are grading out very well, but Pro Football Focus ranks multiple other players in the bottom half-to-third of defenders at their position against the run: Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Chris Clemons.
And incidentally, this defense is clearly worse since Joe Philbin and coordinator Kevin Coyle arrived and switched them to a 4-3. In 2011, this unit ranked sixth and allowed 17 points per game. This defense is 20th and permitting 23.9.
### More explosive plays: Another unfulfilled promise, and a big reason why the Dolphins rank ahead only dreadful Jacksonville in AFC total offense.
The Dolphins have managed only 25 plays of 20 yards or more, tied with Cleveland and Buffalo for 23rd in the NFL. That’s 3.5 per game, barely ahead of the Dolphins’ 3.4 per game in 2012. The Jets, by contrast, have 31, despite Miami possessing superior skill position players.
Mike Wallace, billed as one of the top deep threats in the game, is tied with Jeremy Kerley and Ace Sanders, among others, for an absurd 70th with just four plays of 20 yards or more. That’s behind 69 other players, including the likes of Doug Baldwin (8), Ted Ginn and Jason Avant (6). By contrast, Baltimore’s Torrey Smith has 14.
Wallace remains frustrated and had another conversation with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman about it in recent days.
“We’ve got to be able to throw the ball deep,” said Wallace, whose seven drops are third most in the league. “We have to be able to back people up and not have people sitting us. We have to balance it out.”
Sherman said he has tried to throw deep, but “for whatever reason, something has happened here or there.”
Tannehill’s critical fumble Sunday was supposed to be a deep throw, but it was doomed by another pass protection breakdown.
And this is disconcerting: Tannehill has completed just 7 of 26 passes thrown at least 20 yards, with two touchdowns and four picks. Look how that compares with Andy Dalton (17 for 37, 7 touchdowns, no picks), Russell Wilson (14-27, 6, 2) and even Geno Smith (18-40, 3, 4).
Even after working together since May, Wallace said Tuesday he’s still not completely accustomed to playing with Tannehill. “He’s more of a timing quarterback,” Wallace said. His former QB in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger, “is a guy who extends plays and makes things happen.”
### Sherman told us in the spring that Tannehill would be the most improved second-year quarterback. Another inaccurate prediction.
It’s actually Andrew Luck, whose rating has risen from 76.5 to 91.3. Tannehill’s rating is only slightly better than 2012 (76.1 to 79.5).
### We were told to expect more game-changing plays from the new linebackers. Forget that. Ellerbe has no forced fumbles, interceptions or sacks; the man he replaced, Arizona’s Karlos Dansby, has 2.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Fact is, the Dolphins never should have expected this from Ellerbe, who has no sacks, one forced fumble and one pick in 52 career games.
Wheeler has zeros in those categories except half a sack, which was big in that it ended the Colts’ final drive in Week 2. The man he replaced, Kevin Burnett, has one sack and two forced fumbles for Oakland.
Despite Wheeler’s skills as a blitzer, he has averaged just one sack per season in 5-plus years, so perhaps the Dolphins overstated the value of this.
MORE FINS CHATTER
### Inside the locker-room, there has been questioning of Sherman’s play-calling and frustration over the offense not having an identity. Among players, Sherman gets more criticism than Coyle, unquestionably…. Practice squad receiver Nathan Palmer said he expects the Dolphins to promote former Jets receiver Ryan Spadola from their practice squad to their 53-man roster.
### Bryant McKinnie said he played “decently” in his opener and contrary to reports, insisted he did not allow a sack. Richie Incognito said McKinnie "hasn't had one missed assignment."… The Dolphins’ visit to the Boston area Sunday coincidentally drew the exact same regular-season rating as a Heat visit to Boston last season (17.5). That would have been unfathomable a few years ago – 1 of 16 games generating the same rating as 1 in 82.
A few postgame items from Heat-Bulls:
### Afterward, Bulls center Joakim Noah said the night was “disappointing” because “we really want to beat those guys. For Game 1, their execution was pretty impressive, but we really made a lot of mistakes. They kicked our butt. No excuses. We wanted to ruin their party. [But] I really believe in this team. The potential for us is crazy.”
### Still, the Bulls' confidence was not shaken remotely. Players spoke afterward of how well they match up with Miami. Derrick Rose blamed his rusty first game back (4 for 15 shooting, five turnovers) on "just me missing shots," nothing the Heat was doing. Luol Deng said before the game: "Everyone sees that we can beat them."
### Erik Spoelstra used his NBA Finals rotation, and the Heat outscored the Bulls 33-23 when their top four reserves in the game, paired with either Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. Norris Cole was a whirlwind of activity and had the best plus/minus on the Heat (plus 17).
### The Heat's 21-point lead at halftime was their largest ever in 47 games in Miami against the Bulls.... Dating back to last regular season, Miami has won an astounding 38 of 40. Dallas, in 2006-07, was the only other team to do that... Dwyane Wade is within seven blocked shots of tying Dennis Johnson for the most blocked shots in NBA history by a player 6-4 or shorter (675).
HEAT, CANES CHATTER
### Phil Jackson couldn’t help but tweak the Heat, telling the Bulls’ web site that Chris Bosh is “a one trick pony type guy.
“They’ve still got to deal with Wade’s knee,” Jackson said. “And will LeBron be able to clear people out with that off arm like he’s been able to do the last three years? Can Bosh sustain it?… The bench now has changed with Mike Miller gone. Ray Allen is a year older. All those things. Still, they have the horses. They have a good chance.”
### ESPN analyst and former Nuggets coach George Karl: “I'm concerned about Wade's injury. From talking to some people, Wade might not be an 82-game player anymore. He might be just a 60-game player.
“His career's been long and there was a wear and tear on his body last year that was somewhat obvious. And I'm concerned about that with Miami. There are so many teams that are close to Miami this year that me a choice of betting the field versus Miami, I think I'd take the field.”
### Analysts continue dissing UM’s chances at FSU Saturday. ESPN’s Jesse Palmer calls UM’s record a “mirage. Miami is not top 10 caliber, not in the same class as FSU.”
UM players are tiring of that narrative. “I’ve been hearing FSU is a 20-point favorite – I don’t care,” tight end Clive Walford said. “FSU is no different than our team. No mismatch.”
And UM offensive lineman Jon Feliciano notes UM’s defensive line is “10 times better” than the one that played FSU last year. "Justin Renfrow has been a really good asset.”
### Still, Al Golden called this perhaps “the most complete team” UM has played in his 2 ½ years here, and junior linebacker Denzel Perryman said FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is the best player he’s ever faced or will face to this point. Please see the last post for more UM notes.