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45 posts from October 2015

October 16, 2015

Dan Campbell (head coach) will have to control Dan Campbell (crazy competitor)

When he arrived in Miami as an NFL intern coach, fresh off a 12-year playing career, Dan Campbell was still a little nuts.

His mind told him he wasn't playing anymore. His emotions, his desire, his personality, his competitiveness told him, go get 'em!

"Those days are done," Campbell told me this week. "I think I've been able to step back. In 2010 when I got here and I was working with the offensive line, I was the intern under Tony [Sparano], the first three games I almost passed out each game I was yelling so hard.

"I was running around. It was unbelievable. I figured out I can't sustain this. And I wasn't playing anyway, so what am I doing? So I've finally been able to keep my emotions in check and I've gotten better because the reality is I can't [play] anymore because if I could, you'd still be doing it.

"So I'm much better."

Campbell was more controlled as the team's tight ends coach although the guy was still neck-veins-bulging intense on the sideline. But on Sunday as the interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Campbell will have to be as controlled as perhaps he's ever been on a sideline.

"I'll be fine. I'll keep my emotions," Campbell told me. "It doesn't mean I might not lose it once or twice but I'm in control of what I need to be in control of. I'm aware of it."

Campbell has been challenged this week to, pardon the cliché, take it one day at a time. He has been counting down the practices. He's been putting one foot in front of the other. He's tried to avoid thinking about Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans -- his first as interim coach.

"I'm not even thinking about it. I really don't want to think too far, to even the game yet," Campbell told me. "Because when I start thinking about that game on Sunday I start getting butterflies. It's a good nervousness. It's a good energy. But I don't want to get there yet because I'll end up nuts. I'll use up all my emotion before I'm ready to get there.

"The time will come but I just want to make sure that every day, like when I wake up in the morning, I want to make sure the schedule is right. And when I go to bed at night I want to make sure I put everything to bed for that day. And all I'm thinking about is, "Am I doing what's right for these players? Am I giving them the best opportunity to go to the game, play fast, compete and fight?' That is my sole purpose right now. That's all I'm thinking about right now. I want to give them every opportunity to have success."

Things are going to be different on the Miami sideline on Sunday. The past four years the Dolphins have had a composed, organized, restrained (maybe too restrained) head coach on the sideline. 

Some of that changes Sunday.   

Blown call vs. Jets may have helped get Philbin fired

Amid the myriad reasons Joe Philbin is no longer the head coach of the Miami Dolphins -- slow starts, lack of leadership, poor record, lack of improvement -- you might add a blown call in the last game against the New York Jets.

That's right, a blown call against the Dolphins may have helped seal Philbin's days in Miami.

In that Jets game, the Dolphins trailed 27-7 entering the fourth quarter. Then they scored a TD on a Ryan Tannehill pass to Kenny Stills with 10:05 to play. So 27-14.

The next time Miami got the ball, the offense drove for another touchdown. Tannehill threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Jarvis Landry to make it 27-21 with over six minutes to play. Except the scoring play was nullified by an offensive interference penalty against DeVante Parker.

And the Dolphins failed to make up the score or the time, throwing an interception several plays later, losing their momentum, and losing the game.

Problem is the penalty call was wrong. That, according to a Dolphins source, is what the NFL admitted to the Dolphins when the team turned in its officiating report the day after the game.

The Dolphins indeed should have been down 27-21 with six minutes to play and momentum on their side.

So there's this: What if the Dolphins had carried that momentum to a 28-27 win? It is not a far-fetched notion because, if you recall, the next time the Dolphins got the football they marched from their 16 yard line to the Jets 26. What might have changed if instead of being down 13 at that point, they'd been down only six with the ball on the New York 26?

We'll never know what would have happened. But this much is certain: If Miami had been able to pull  out a 28-27 win, Philbin would still be the coach today. That is a fact. Stephen Ross would not have fired his coach if the team was 2-2 after a win rather than 1-3 and on a three-game losing skid.

And, yes, I know what many (most?) of you are saying now: You're happy the official blew the call which helped get Philbin fired.

That doesn't change the fact the blown call might have played a role in his ouster.  

October 15, 2015

Dolphins football czar Mike Tannenbaum: We like our team

The Miami Dolphins are 1-3 and that's ugly. Miami is the first NFL team to fire its coach this season and that's ugly. The Dolphins are in the cellar of the AFC East and everyone else in the division has a winning record and, yes, that's ugly too.

So think of the Dolphins as that ugly mutt you give your heart to despite his fleas and scraggily hair. Because that is figuratively how Dolphins football czar Mike Tannenbaum is looking at his team.

He likes them. Still.

"First and foremost it's four games in," Tannenbaum told The Miami Herald Thursday. "That's 25 percent of the season. So, again, let's see how the rest of the season plays out. We made a change, ultimately [owner] Steve [Ross] made the decision, and the decision was made early enough to see if we could get a spark -- To see if we could get more production out of a team that we like.

"And we haven't played good enough but we're trying to make changes to rectify that."

During a 20 minute conversation, Tannenbaum repeatedly defended moves that seem questionable at this juncture and players that haven't lived up to their billing or contracts so far.

"We're 1-3 and that means we're all 1-3," he said. "We have to do a better job of and be more consistent. If we can get one thing done immediately that would be getting off to better starts. That would go a long, long way toward helping us. We've been outscored 37-3 in the first quarter and it's impossible to win when that happens.

"So if we could possibly hold serve that first quarter, if we could just hang in there, that's going to do a number of things. It would give our pass rush a chance to rush the passer. It would give our run game more opportunities because now we're not behind every single week where we have to throw it every down. Getting off to a better start would be a real force multiplier for us."

But here's the thing, Dolphins have been doing this to themselves. They are not, as Curley of the Three Stooges would say, a victim of circumstances. They are indeed the ones sleepwalking early in games, not anyone else. They field the defense that's been unable to get off the field on third down. They are the offensive players dropping passes to start games -- as happened against the New York Jets when Jarvis Landry and Greg Jennings had early drops.

Tannenbaum gets that. But he's apparently not moved at this point.

So what does he think of Ndamukong Suh, the team's highest paid player, producing seven tackles, including three for a loss, and one quarterback hurry in four games? Does Tannenbaum think paying Suh $114 million, including $60 million guaranteed, is still the right call?

"Yeah, look, I'm really glad that he's here," Tannenbaum said. "He's four games in and we signed him to a six-year contract. He's played very, very well in the NFL. He's a good player. I'm glad he's here. I expect him and the entire defense to play better."

(By the way, Earl Mitchell has basically the exact same production so far as Suh. Mitchell has seven tackles, including three for a loss, and a quarterback hurry. The difference is Mitchell averages $4 million per year and Suh averages $19 million.)

The Dolphins big ticket defensive line was supposed to be a team strength. It might reach that promise if defensive end Cameron Wake, hobbled by a hamstring injury the past three games, gets healthy and produces as in the past.

But he's not producing so far. He has yet to make a solo tackle and has no sacks. He does have one quarterback hurry.

"When you look at Cam's production, a couple of things come to mind," Tannenbaum said. "We've had some sacks called back. We've had defensive penalties when we've had sacks. And two, I would attribute some of that to the 37-3 first quarter start because, again, when teams can run the ball against us they don't have to throw it. If teams didn't have those leads, we'd have more opportunities to rush the quarterback. But, I'm really glad Cam's a Dolphin. He's an all-time great player. He's an all-time great person. Great story. Great leader. Our expectation is [his play] is going to change here pretty soon."

Although the Dolphins do not agree with the grades on their guards -- particularly on Dallas Thomas -- both Thomas and Jamil Douglas are among the lowest graded guards in the NFL, per metrics site ProFootballFocus.

The Dolphins are seriously considering benching Douglas this coming game against Tennessee in favor of Billy Turner. But Tannenbaum should not be surprised by the play of the interior offensive line, particularly Miami's guards. He elected to not sign veteran Evan Mathis in the offseason and during camp even when pundits (me) were saying the Miami guards are a weak spot.

Tannenbaum acknowledges some of that may be true, even as he defends his players.

"Our guards have been inconsistent," he said. "The more we can keep our games balanced, the more we can run the ball into the second, third and fourth quarters, where teams have to honor the run, the better we'll be.

"I don't think we can put ourselves in situations where teams can tee off on us. We have young players there in Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas and I think they're going to get better because they're young players and they're ascending. We think the guard play will improve as the year goes on."

The Dolphins expected their ascending quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, to be close to a finished product this season after having a very good year in 2014. But despite being in his second year in the same offense, Tannehill has been every bit part of the struggle for an offense that is 31st in the NFL in points per game.

Tannehill's 77.1 rating is near the bottom of the 2015 quarterback class and 15 points lower than it was in 2014. 

"As the quarterback you get more of the blame and credit," Tannenbaum said. "With him, it's a manifestation of teams have been able to blitz and we haven't made them pay. When that happens it's hard. We have to be more balanced on offense. I think that's going to open up plays in the passing game. We tried to add a lot of depth and talent to the playmakers. Hopefully over the next 12 games, they'll get more opportunities. If we make teams play the run that will open up the pass and that will play to Ryan's strengths." 

No more active practices one day before the game for Dolphins

Under interim coach Dan Campbell the Miami Dolphins are going to keep their travel schedule and approach just as they did under former coach Joe Philbin.

With one potentially significant change:

The Dolphins are going to practice on Friday and walk-thru on Saturday now.

Under Philbin the past couple of years, the Dolphins have used Friday as a walk-thru practice day. And Saturday, or the day before the game, has been more of a practice day with some walk-thru work but also some relatively competitive drills.

A couple of NFL teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, have used this approach because sports science departments contend this is a great way to allow the athletes to slow down on their work a couple of days before the game and then build back up just prior to game day.

And in theory this sounds rational.

But in practice this has been a disaster for the Dolphins based on the anecdotal evidence that the team hasn't typically started fast in games played one day after the active practice regimen.

Some history: The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls under multiple coaches using the day before game day as a walk-thru. The Dolphins had their walk-thru days just prior to game day under Don Shula and every other coach except Joe Philbin.

But in recent years the Dolphins were among the teams trying to reinvent the wheel.

Sometimes that has resulted in a flat tire.

Campbell, who played 11 seasons in the NFL, is going back to the old way. 

Buster Skrine doesn't play on the Titans but they're going to be coming

Everyone who watched the Miami Dolphins in their London homes loss to the New York Jets saw cornerback Buster Skrine blitz the Miami offense time and time and time again.

It happened 22 times to be exact.

He came off the corner from the left side. He came off the corner from the right side. He blitzed. And blitzed. And blitzed. And blitzed.

And everyone in the stands saw it. And everyone in the press box saw it. And everyone at home probably saw it, too.

And the pertinent questions afterward was whether Ryan Tannehill saw it? Whether offensive coordinator Bill Lazor saw it? And if they did, why didn't Tannehill call a different protection at the line or audible to a different play or do something footballish that offenses do to not look helpless when the other guys are doing the same thing so much and having repeated success.

And NFL Network last week seemed to answer that question by saying Tannehill could not get out of the plays called before Skrine revealed himself because the Miami QB is not allowed to audible at the line of scrimmage.

That may be true to a degree. Apparently Tannehill indeed cannot change the play to another play at the line. At least he could not before now. But he is allowed within the parameters of the play called to pick from various options within that play to adjust things.

Seem clear?

Yeah, not to me either.

So I asked interim coach Dan Campbell if Tannehill can audible or do something to avoid us seeing more Buster Skrine-type nightmares on Sunday afternoon.

“I would say obviously we took a long look at that," Campbell said. "If anyone blitzes you that much, you’ve got to identify the problem of what’s going on. He’s had the ability to alter protections or re-idea if he felt he needed to because he understands the problems.

"Of course, Mike Pouncey does a good job of that too. He kind of sets the table. Ultimately, that’s a result of where we got in the game just of us not complementing each other. We got in a position of where we are behind significantly. The Jets know it. We’re trying to get the ball down the field and it’s just a bad formula. It’s something you don’t want to be in. There are things that we’ve addressed with that protection-wise.

"Maybe, we’ll keep another guy in there if it’ll help him. To be honest with you, we’d love to take as much off of Ryan as we can as far as that’s concerned. He can handle it. He’s a smart guy, but really we just want to (say), ‘Hey, here’s the point. Let’s play ball. If you’ve got to throw high, he’ll throw high. Got to throw a side? We’ll throw a side. Let’s play ball.’ Ultimately, hey, what’s the worst thing in the world? You’ve got to throw the ball to Jarvis Landry for three yards? Well, the guy is pretty dynamic. He can make people miss."

Ok, so it doesn't sound like Tannehill can audible. And it sounds like Pouncey is most responsible for setting protections, although I assume Tannehill is still the guy identifying the Mike linebacker. But apparently the Dolphins don't want Tannehill thinking too much before the snap of the football.

And so what does Tannehill say of this?

Not much.

“I’m not going to get into the specifics of our offense and exactly what we do," he said. "I feel great about our game plan each and every week. Obviously, coming off the bye, we’ve modified a few things and looked at areas where we can improve and we look to do that going forward."

My read: Tannehill couldn't audible in the true sense of the concept, which to me is a strange way to handle a fourth-year quarterback, before this week. So that's why the Jets made the Dolphins look so bad on that blitz. But I assume the Dolphins will be prepared the next time someone decides to run the same darn blitz a jillion times because they don't want to suffer the same embarrassment again -- especially after having two weeks to address the issue.

That's good because, well, the Titans are just the team that might want to try to do the same thing as what the Jets did. People unfamiliar with Tennessee should remember that Dick LeBeau is working there and he is credited by many for introducing the zone blitz to the NFL. The defensive coordinator is Ray Horton and it was his defense in Arizona in 2012 that brought the A-gap blitz against the Dolphins time and time and time again.

And so the Titans are predisposed to blitz and do it with the same look or player over and over. The question now is are the Dolphins, with a QB that hasn't been able to call conventional audibles, ready to handle it this time? 

October 14, 2015

Miami Dolphins considering lineup changes

The Miami Dolphins are working on their preparations for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans and with a new coaching staff (more or less) comes the possibility of lineup changes.

A source tells me that although the team has not fully decided on changes and will monitor what happens at practice this week, there are indeed possible changes being considered at right guard and wide receiver.

I told you this morning I would bench Greg Jennings for DeVante Parker. The Dolphins are certainly considering benching Jennings. But his replacement would more likely be Kenny Stills instead of Parker.

Stills had the best game of any Miami receiver against the New York Jets, as he caught five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. He had a 42-yard reception in that game.

The team is also going to look closely at putting Billy Turner at right guard ahead of Jamil Douglas, per a source.

Douglas, a rookie who has started all four games this season, has struggled so far. He is one of the lowest-graded guards in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

So the Dolphins are going to consider returning Turner to the spot he held down at the start of training camp. Turner, whose reputation is of a physical player who still needs refinement, fits into the narrative new coach Dan Campbell has laid out for being a "nastier" team, particularly up front on the offensive line.

[Update: Interim coach Dan Campbell said Turner "worked in" with the starters at practice today.]

“Billy worked in today with the starters and we’re just going to see how he progresses this week and Jamil is working at it too," Campbell said. "We like both of those guys, they both deserve an opportunity to compete for the job and we’ll see what happens."

Will playing DeVante Parker be another decision made late?

The Miami Dolphins have for a long time been slow in reacting to changes that simply needed to be made.

The firing of Kevin Coyle? One year too late.

The firing of Joe Philbin? Two years too late.

The firing of Jeff Ireland? Should have gone with Tony Sparano.

And, if you are a loyal reader of this space, you know the late action isn't limited to the firing of upper management or coaches. This franchise is often late making moves on the field.

Benching Dallas Thomas for Jason Fox last year? Happened three games after it seemed clear Thomas wasn't meant to be a left tackle.

The cutting of Daniel Thomas? Two years too late.

The cutting of Michael Egnew? One year later than it should have been.

The benching of Gibril Wilson took too long. Playing Cameron Wake took too long -- remember he was clearly the team's most explosive pass rusher in 2009 but the team was still giving more snaps to Joey Porter because it wanted to avoid a major locker room problem that happened anyway.

This seemingly happens time and time again. Early last year no one knew if Jelani Jenkins could play. But everyone knew Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe could not based on what they did in 2013. And yet, the only thing that freed Jenkins from the bench was injuries to practically all the starting linebackers.

And I state this history to remind you that today Greg Jennings remains a Dolphins starting wide receiver.

And DeVante Parker is not.

And the question is why is it taking so long to make a move that is inevitable?

Is it health-related because Parker had that foot surgery in the offseason and missed much of training camp?

"My foot's 100 percent," Parker said this week.

Is it because Parker, a rookie, lacks confidence or ability?

"I think I can make big plays," Parker said.

So when is Parker going to be unleashed?

"I'm not sure yet," Parker said. "I wouldn't know."

Well, what better time than, you know, now? The Dolphins have a new head coach. The Dolphins have a new defensive coordinator. The Dolphins have a new offensive consultant. The Dolphins are trying to rebrand themselves as this competitive, tough, motivated, team.

And they're going to do that and keep the first-round draft pick with the big-play potential coming off the bench?

Look, there would be solid reasons for limiting Parker. Maybe he's just not that good. Or Greg Jennings is playing great ahead of him and the production demands he keeps getting more snaps. Or the offense is going great and changing things might affect chemistry.

Except none of those are true.

Jennings, a good man and solid leader in the wide receiver room, is not making plays so far this season. He has seven catches in four games. He's averaging 7.7 yards per catch. And his seven catches have come on 18 targets which means his catch percentage is 38.8 percent.

That catch percentage is the lowest in Jennings' career, with the previous career low coming his rookie season when he caught 43.6 percent of passes targeted to him. Most of his career Jennings has delivered a 60ish catch percentage, including last year at 64.1.

So the guy in front of Parker isn't performing at this point for whatever reason. And the guy in front of Parker is 32 years old. He's not the future. Parker is.

So why continue to fiddle around with something that has not worked and isn't likely to be the plan in the long run?

Anybody have that answer?

Parker is getting anywhere from 12-25 snaps per game. He has four catches on eight targets for 49 yards. That's a 12.3 yards per catch average.

Does he have the position nailed down? No.

Has his performance so far screamed play me? No.

But his ceiling is way up there. And everyone else's is lower.

So take a chance on potential.

Look, one of the problems the failed Joe Philbin era was known for was an inability to get young players quickly developed and into the lineup. Part of that problem was due to circumstances, such as Dion Jordan failing drug tests and being suspended and such. You can include youngsters being injured in their first training camps for also hindering things -- Jamar Taylor and Dallas Thomas were injured their first camps. And certainly DeVante Parker was.

But rather than simply shelve those players and wait until next year, it is up to coaches to not give up. It is their job to continue working to get something out of those players even as the rigors of weekly preparations demand attention to other players.

This new coaching staff (sort of) cannot commit the same mistake Philbin's did and make it the player's responsibility to get up to speed or be shelved. It is the organization's responsibility to develop every player as quickly as possible.

The way to handle this is not to bring him along slowly and cautiously and wait for next year. The Dolphins should not be handing out redshirt seasons. The way to do that with a player who has gifts like Parker, a player at a spot where the veteran isn't really performing, is to throw him in the pool and make him swim.


October 13, 2015

What's wrong with the run attack? Everything, apparently

The Miami Dolphins running game is bad right now. And by bad, I mean 69.3 rushing yards per game, which is 31st among 32 NFL teams.


So who shall we blame for this?

Well, interim coach Dan Campbell blamed just about everybody on Wednesday. He failed to blame the playcaller Bill Lazor, who doesn't seem to have nearly enough desire to run the football as he needs and that dates back to last year when the run game averaged 4.7 yards per carry (second best in the NFL) but had only 399 attempts (22nd in the NFL).

Everyone else got blamed, including running back Lamar Miller who took it on the proverbial chin as Campbell spoke in fond terms of how Knowshon Moreno ran the football last year, leaving unsaid that Miller needs to pick up his game and perhaps some of Moreno's attitude to do that.

"When you’re upfront and you’re blocking for a running back, when you see a running back who sticks his foot into the ground and goes north-and-south, breaks some tackles and runs over people and gets up, I think of it like this, for me, I always think of Knowshon Moreno last year and when saw Knowshon and the way that he ran, those guys fed off of it upfront," Campbell said. "They just do because they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this guy is running hard, I cannot let him keep taking hits, I will block for this guy until the end because he is pouring out his heart and soul for this run.' "

So Campbell obviously wants more decisiveness or planting of the foot and heading north and south, from Miller. And he wants more hard-running and attitude from Miller.

Of course, the offensive line and tight ends have to do their part up front and that hasn't been consistently good enough so far this season, either.

"First of all, we’re trying to change the attitude of those guys up front," Campbell said. "It’s about finish, we need a little bit nastier attitude, we need a lot nastier attitude."

Campbell said it is up to the offensive front to get the running back to the secondary and then the perimeter people have to do their job and block downfield. That's not been the Dolphins' major problem much this season because, frankly, not a lot of runs have broken downfield.

Miller, Miami's leading rusher, has gained a modest 131 yards on 37 carries in four games. He's averaging 3.5 yards per rush. He's averaging 32.8 yards per game.

His longest run of the season is 17 yards.

So, I guess, the short version of this post is the Dolphins running game is on a sick bed. The coordinator doesn't use it enough dating to last season. When it gets used, the offensive line isn't nasty enough to make it work, the running back isn't decisive or physical enough, and the perimeter people have to do better downfield to get longer runs.

That's a lot to fix.

October 12, 2015

Back to football at Miami Dolphins camp

Back to football for a moment: The Miami Dolphins are back on the practice field and, not amazingly, things are still a little unsettled.

Cornerback Brent Grimes (sprained MCL in his knee) is not practicing today, although coach Dan Campbell said he ran around a bit today. Defensive end Cameron Wake (hamstring) did not seem to be active during the portion practice open to the media. And defensive tackle A.J. Francis also seemed not to be practicing.

Offensive tackle Branden Albert was working. That's good news as the team hopes the last three weeks off (two games and the bye) will have given him time to recover from his hamstring injury.

How much is about to change with new head coach Dan Campbell is an evolving issue. You've already heard the idea is to have more competitive practices, perhaps a bit more physical.

We'll see how that carries over to games.

The Dolphins will make tweaks on offense and defense but as of this morning, some players didn't know what those tweaks would be.

"It's only been a day as you know and this deep into the season you can't start from scratch," defensive end Derrick Shelby said. "But, you'll see, I guess when we see. Hopefully it's good things."

Campbell ordered a change in the locker stall layout starting today, based on the suggestion of assistant head coach (promoted today) Darren Rizzi. Players are now grouped by positions. Most players had their lockers changed.

A couple of players that did not have their stalls changed were defensive end Cameron Wake and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Their layout remains the same and somewhat interesting in that it looks something like this:


                  Wake stall.....Empty stall....Empty stall....Empty stall....Empty stall....Suh stall.

That setup seems strange to me. Yes, these guys are vets and deserve some space. And they probably have a ton of equipment to stow. But four empty stalls between them?

Isn't there a rookie, like say Jordan Phillips, who might benefit from lockering next to one of these guys? These two men are supposedly leaders on the team. So they sit by themselves?

This is the way it has been since the start of the season. And I haven't really made a big deal about it because, frankly, I'm not sure it means that much to me.

But now that it obviously means that much to Campbell that he's having the entire locker room re-arranged, I think it bears reporting.



October 08, 2015

Dolphins fire defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle

The Miami Dolphins today continued to purge their coaching staff as Kevin Coyle was fired after 68 games with the team.

Defensive back coach Lou Anarumo takes over as the new defensive coordinator. He was the defensive coordinator for the Merchant Marine Academy in 1992-94 and that is his only experience as a coordinator.

Jeff Burris has been promoted to assistant DB coach and will work with cornerbacks while assistant DB coach Blue Adams continues to work with safeties.

The Dolphins will continue to run a 4-3 defense and the terminology will remain the same. But there are supposed to be tweaks coming.

In Coyle's time as defensive coordinator the defense steadily regressed on multiple fronts, most importantly in giving up more points with each passing year. Before Coyle arrived, the Dolphins allowed an average of 19.6 points per game in 2011.

But Coyle was hired by former head coach Joe Philbin and converted the 3-4 defense into a 4-3 unit. And that unit allowed an average of 19.8 points per game in 2012, then 20.9 points per game in 2013, then 23.3 points per game in 2014 and 25.3 points per game through four games this year.

The consistent regression was only part of the issue with Coyle's tenure, however.

Last year whisper arose from players who were not happy with the coach's play-calling and approach. Former linebacker Phillip Wheeler, who struggled in Coyle's system, was among its most vocal critics.

The complaints became louder this season as players, requesting anonymity, sought out some members of the media and talked of disliking the read-and-react approach up front and the playing os some players out of position they were accustomed to playing.

There was even a meeting between Coyle and players last week to try to iron out the differences. But two players said nothing was changed significantly after the Buffalo Bills beat Miami 41-14. Although some meetings and other things were tweaked the Dolphins defense allowed 27 points and over 200 yards rushing in a loss to the New York Jets.

That was the last straw for Philbin who was fired Monday. Coyle survived that day but he was on notice because it was clear interim coach Dan Campbell would have say over whether Coyle stayed or went.

One player, meanwhile, told me that even with Campbell as the new head coach, he felt nothing was really going to change on defense if Coyle remained.

Some things are bound to change now. 

October 07, 2015

Dolphins adding Al Saunders to offensive staff as part of juggling

When the Miami Dolphins went to London last week they obviously picked up a love for the British people. And so today they've hired one.

The team has added London-born Al Saunders to their coaching staff as senior offensive assistant.

Saunders, 68, has been an NFL assistant in some capacity since 1983. Saunders has been retired  semi-retired, I guess, since the Raiders did not bring him back as a senior offensive assistant (no idea) after the 2014 season.

Saunders is obviously coming in not to replace Bill Lazor but to lend a hand with the offense. Saunders has worked in Baltimore, Kansas City, Washington, Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis. His greatest success came with the Rams while they were putting their Greatest Show on Turf offense on the field. Saunders was the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach on that team.

I told you previously the Dolphins were mulling changes to both the defense and offense and while this is not the firing of Kevin Coyle many fans want, it is a tweak to the offense (maybe) that is 30th in the NFL in scoring.

The Dolphins are moving assistant QB coach Ben Johnson to tight end coach. That move obviously replaced Dan Campbell. Johnson was the tight end coach at Boston College in 2011.

Receivers coach Ken O'Keefe, who had never coached in the NFL prior to joining the Dolphins, has been re-assigned. He is now a senior offensive assistant. Assistant wide receiver coach Phil McGeoghan will continue working with the WRs.

The Dolphins are averaging a paltry 16.5 points per game on offense and that's even with a touchdown credited to the unit that was actually scored on special teams against Washington.

Finally this: Joe Philbin is a gift that keeps on giving. He put together a weak staff that has no real depth. There is no one on the staff that is apparently willing and capable of replacing either Bill Lazor or Kevin Coyle as coordinators.

A team with 24 coaches and there are apparently no redundancies. No stars in waiting. So executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum has to go looking outside the organization in search of help. This is practically an impossible assignment at the start of October, four games into the season. Teams in need of assistants usually find them in January and February -- eight months before the start of the next season.

You may say, well, the Dolphins picked tight end coach Dan Campbell from within the staff to be the head coach. Yeah, Dan Campbell was originally hired by Tony Sparano.

October 06, 2015

Miami Dolphins mulling direction of assistants (updated)

When the decision was made to fire Joe Philbin, the Miami Dolphins gathered the entire defensive staff and made it clear to everyone: The team would study the idea of moving in another direction with its coordinator and in doing that would be reaching out to candidates both inside and outside the organization.

[Update: And this just in ... there are possible changes on the offensive staff being considered as well.]

And that's what's happening at this hour.

Interim head coach Dan Campbell has talked to players and coaches. Executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum has spoken to defensive coordinator candidates outside the organization.

No decision has been made right now so Kevin Coyle remains in place for now.

A final decision on the direction to be taken may come within the next 24-48 hours.

And, yes, one of the possible decisions the team may make is to keep Coyle in his current job as defensive coordinator. Yeah, he also might be fired. And he knows that.

(The Dolphins say they are aware some players do not like Coyle. The Dolphins say they are aware some players like Coyle just a lot.)

[Update: Relative to the possible offensive changes, you have to understand the Dolphins are averaging two offensive touchdowns per game. That's not good enough. So no one is safe there, either, for now.]

It's all a matter of what is in the best interest of the organization, I am told. The staff is aware they are being evaluated at this stage, four games into a season that has so far delivered a 1-3 record at the bye week.

I am told if the Dolphins do hire from the outside, they will continue to run a 4-3 defense. And whomever comes in new must agree to learn the current terminology because one person learning new terminology is better than two dozen players learning new terminology.

So what is the point of all this?

The Dolphins sincerely think they can salvage this season. And they see this decision about the defensive staff as pivotal in whether that happens or not.

On Stephen Ross's absence, Dolphins problems, Kevin Coyle, and a name to keep in mind during the coming coach search

LONDON -- That's right, mates. I'm still in London. I was supposed to use this bye week as a mini vacation but instead the Miami Dolphins conducted a mini Black Monday and so here I am.

And as I work, my chief question today is how has Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle managed to keep his job so far? Look, it is not personal between myself and Coyle. I'm sure he is a good guy and has a nice family and all that.

But this is about putting a good defense on the field for the Miami Dolphins and he hasn't done that. I nonetheless do not blame Coyle for the fact he's still on the coaching staff. He's merely reporting for work.

I put this on Stephen Ross and the fact he is an absentee owner to his $1 billion NFL business. That was my column today. It's about Ross failing to recognize he should have fired Philbin long ago, about Ross failing to do it the right way once he decided to take the step, about Ross not really knowing his new interim coach Dan Campbell all that well, and about Ross not yet seeing that Coyle has to go.

And why all this?

Because Ross simply is not around enough.

No, I don't want him making personnel decisions. No, I don't want him calling plays. But also, no, I don't want him to be blind to things anyone who is around the team with regularity can see.

Imagine owning a store and only going there on the weekends? Imagine running a company while living 2,000 miles away? That's Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

By the way, Robert Kraft shows up most every day in New England. The Pegulas live in Western New York where their NFL and NHL teams play. Woody Johnson, for all his idiocyncracies, sees his team practically every day.

Not Ross.

(I grew up dirt poor. My family immigrated to this country without a penny. But my dad taught me you take a job and then you get out of that job or project only as much as you put into it. If you work at it -- hard -- it will somehow pay off. If you coast, you will not maximize your performance.)

So that's where I'm coming from, folks. I don't see Ross putting in much work on his football team. Of course, no one will tell him that because he's the boss and he treats people great and they like making hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars off him. But I don't work for him. So I don't mind calling it as I see it. Honestly, if I did work for him I'd call it as I see it. Whatever.

Anyway, read the column before Ross buys the Miami Herald and shuts the site down. Yes, kidding.

Moving on to future Dolphins issues:

These guys are going to try to sell you on the idea interim coach Dan Campbell may really turn this season around. And so he will be a serious candidate for the full-fledged gig after 2015.

I hope that works out. But taking the more likely scenario that miracles don't always happen into account, Mike Tannenbaum will be the guy picking the next Dolphins coach for Stephen Ross. Yes, it will be Ross's final call. But it will be Tannenbaum leading the search.

And I present to you a name: Jim Mora.

He checks a lot of boxes.

He is currently the head coach at UCLA and having success there. Check.

He is the former coach of the Atlanta Falcons (2004-06) and Seattle Seahawks (2009) so he has NFL experience as a head coach. Check.

He's 53 so he's young. Check.

His dad was Jim E. Mora, who coached the NFL New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the USFL. The GM of those USFL teams? Carl Peterson, who was a Ross confidant until about a year or so ago. Anyway, Mora has the gene pool, the name recognition, the connection to Ross and I'm told Mike Tannenbaum really likes him.

Check. Check. Check. Check.     

October 05, 2015

This is what people said on mini-Black Monday

The Miami Dolphins have had their own private mini Black Monday and more changes may be afoot. They better be afoot because players are watching and they want coordinator changes. So we'll see.

But this is what was said about the firing of Joe Philbin and the hiring of tight end coach Dan Campbell as the interim head coach today:

Mike Tannenbaum:

(Opening Statement) “I appreciate everybody coming out today. First, on behalf of Steve Ross, I just want to publicly thank (Former Head) Coach (Joe) Philbin and his family, Diane, his wife, for four great years with the Dolphins organization and truly giving this organization everything he had. It was important today that we tried to handle everything with as much respect and dignity as we could. We had good conversations, Steve did, I did with Coach Philbin and again he gave us everything he had for four years, obviously things weren’t going as we had hoped this year. Steve made the decision this morning and then we moved forward accordingly. Turning the page, we made the decision this morning because this season is only four games old and, when we made the decision to make Dan Campbell our interim head coach, it was with the thinking that, again, this season is four games old and we can still accomplish all of our goals this year, not a three-year rebuild, but in 2015 the Dolphins can achieve all of our goals that we set out for. Dan played in the NFL for 11 years, he’s coached for six, he brings leadership, toughness and energy, and I’m really proud to have the opportunity to work with him. With that, I would like to introduce Dan Campbell as our new interim head coach." 

Dan Campbell:

(Opening Statement) “I appreciate it, Mike. First thing first with Coach Philbin, I have the upmost respect for Joe. He’s been nothing but a class act for us and I’ve learned a lot from him. He didn’t have to hire me back in 2011, but he did, I was a part of the old staff and I’m forever grateful for that. There are a lot of things I’ll take with me, that I learned from him. As to what Mike just said, talking about this roster a little bit, that being said, this is my sixth season with the Miami Dolphins and this is the most talented roster that we have had in those six years. We have plenty of talent, we have the people in this building, we have the staff, there may be some things that have to be moved or shuffled as far as that goes, but I need time to sort those things out, but we have enough to win. We have to change the culture, I have to change the culture and that’s what I intend to do. And what that means is that we need to become a more aggressive front or team in general. We need to get our front four on defense, our front five on the offensive line, just as a whole, we need to breed a culture of competiveness, finish and intensity, and to me that’s where it all starts. That’s where we have to change it, we change it in practice, we make it much more competitive and we need these guys to go after each other a little bit. The best teams that I’ve been a part of are the ones that during the week they go after each other, whether it’s practice squad versus your defense, they’re giving the look or practice squad versus offense, but it gets heated, it’s intense and it’s people that are fighting to win. They want to get noticed or they want to do their job, it’s not just going through the motions, to me that’s what’s got to change and if we’ll start there, I think we’ll be in the right direction. I don’t think, I know that will put us in the right direction and then the ‘X’s and O’s’ will come later from there. I’m appreciative to Mr. Ross for the opportunity, I had a talk with him earlier today, I talked to Mike, I talked to Mr. Ross and this is the fifth organization that I’ve been a part of and nobody, nobody on those teams has spent more on resources or has committed more to wanting to win than Mr. Ross. That is the fact and he told me when I talked to him earlier he said ‘Whatever you need, I’ll be there for you. Whatever you think you’ll need, whatever it takes to turn the team around, you’ve got it.’ That’s fortunate to have an owner that is that way and that’s what I intend to do, and I’m appreciative for the support."

Questions and Answers:

Dan Campbell:

(On what makes him the right individual for this situation) “I feel like I relate to the players, I feel like that I’m somebody that understands them, it doesn’t mean that I’m there best friend, but because I’ve been in that locker room and I understand what it’s like when – I’ve been at the top, I’ve been at the bottom, I understand what it’s like to hit that rollercoaster, I understand what it’s like when things start going not the way that you wanted them to go and what it takes to bring people back. I feel like I’ve always been, whether it was a player or as a coach, that can pull the best out of people. I feel like everybody is different, no player is the same, no coach is the same and so with that there’s different ways to motivate players, some players they do, they need a kick in the rear, some players need to be patted on the back, some need to be challenged, they need to be told that they’re not good enough because that’s when they rise to the top. Those are going to be the things that I have to do and I feel like that is my strength, I understand people very well, I understand players and to me that’s what I do well, that’s one of the things that I do well.”

Dan Campbell:

(On if he expects to keep the defensive and offensive coordinators) “To be honest with you, like I said, I just found out like two or three hours ago about being interim head coach, I need time to soak all this in, I need time to really evaluate defensively what we’re doing, what we’re not doing, my head has been in offense and those things will come later. I don’t have time right now, I’ll get to that though.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(On Stephen Ross keeping Joe Philbin in the offseason and how he feels about making the change after four games) “I believe that Steve is going to be available later on so it’s probably more appropriate – I don’t want to speak on behalf of Steve, but what I can tell you from a general sense is, we weren’t happy with the direction the team was going, the results through the first four games of the season. Again, we felt like this was the best opportunity for us, for the 2015 Dolphins to make the change now, to give us an impact, to give us a better chance to win this season and, as we talked about earlier, Joe did everything he could for this team, for this organization, the record was what it was, we just felt like the time was now with the bye Week, with 12 games still left to be played this season.” 

Dan Campbell:

(On if it’s fair to assume that he hasn’t seen the team go after it enough during practice here) “I would say that that’s fair to say. What we’ve done a good job of is being mindful of the fact that we’re trying to keep these players fresh and ready to go on Sunday and who wouldn’t? We still have to be able to approach it that way, however, I feel like there’s a lot more that we can get out of these guys and we need to get out of these guys. We need to change the culture such, just like I said earlier, where it is so competitive on Wednesday,  Thursday and maybe even Friday that these guys – it is very intense, it is very heated, it may even teeter on the fact of having to break a few things up, but that is when you really get good, that is when the juices start flowing, that is when you get the most of your players, is when they’re having to compete during the week because you can’t just go through the motions on Wednesday, Thursday, even Friday and then you just turn it on Sunday. It doesn’t work that way, it just doesn’t. You want to get the most out of them, you have to challenge them, they have to be challenged. That goes from the best player we have on this team, to the one that’s not the best, OK? (Center) Mike Pouncey, as great as he is, he needs to be challenged every day, he needs somebody that’s going to push him every day and is trying to beat him every rep, that goes for every player, I don’t care if it’s (DT Ndamukong) Suh, I don’t care if it’s (LB) Koa Misi, I don’t care if it’s (WR) Jarvis Landry, they have to be pushed and they have to be worked, they have to be challenged and that’s the first thing that I’m changing. I’m going to challenge these guys and I want them to have to compete."

Dan Campbell:

(On if he feels the players weren’t challenged enough up to this point this season in practice) “I feel like there’s different ways to challenge these players and I’m going to do that.”

Dan Campbell:

(On his immediate reaction to taking on his new role) – “It was a little surreal, but, at the same time, it was something that I was willing to accept. Of course when you come into the role as a head coach, there’s only 32 of these spots, it’s interim head coach, I understand that, but it’s a little bit of ‘Whoa, OK, what are you getting into?’ but it’s also, I’m ready for this, I can do this. I understand this league, I understand these players, I know what it takes to win in this league, I’ve been around it, like I said, I’ve been around some really good coaches now and so I know what it needs to look like, I know how I want it to look like."

Dan Campbell:

(On if players have complained to him over time about the culture of the football team) - “No. No, I wouldn’t say that. I say no. I guess I could say that there are maybe one or two players that have mentioned something about how they wish it was a little more competitive, OK. But I wouldn’t say where it’s like the whole team is, ‘Hey we aren’t doing this. We aren’t doing this.’ Listen, just by nature, let’s call it what it is, there is a lot of guys that they can kid themselves and they want to say that they are really working hard. I’m not saying they don’t and that’s one thing about this team. This is the honest truth, this team plays hard. This team plays hard. They have not quit. They play to the finish, but the facts of the matter are they’re not competing, OK. I have to get them to compete. We have to get them to compete more, OK. So it’s nothing on a judge of their character or anything of that nature. We just have to go back to the basics, OK. We have to learn how to fight for a win at any rep at any time. That’s what we have to do. We have to learn that we are going to scratch and claw and do whatever it takes to win your one on one. I don’t care who you are, receiver, tight end, linebacker, defensive tackle. That’s what we have to do. The only way that starts is in practice. Like I said earlier, you can’t just go out there and say, ‘Hey I’m going to win,’ OK. There is very few freak athletes that can pull that off. There is a couple out there. There is a few that have been in history that have been able to do that. We have some very good players. We don’t have those types of players to be able to do that. It’s got to be taught. They need to see that this is the way that I want it and I’m going to talk the talk and walk the walk and you follow me. This is how I want it to look."

Dan Campbell:

(On if he gets respect from players because he is a former player) - “I think it’s conversations since I’ve been here. I think it helps a little that I’ve been where they’ve been and I understand what it’s like. But I also feel like I’ve built relationships with these players throughout the years. It’s one of mutual respect. It’s not one of, well you know, I’m the guy who’s going to go out with you and we are going to have a good time or go out to the bar. That’s not what I’m saying. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s talking about getting to know these people and getting to know these players. I feel like I have a good understanding of these players from (WR) Rishard Matthews to (S) Walt Aikens. I just feel like I have a feel of these guys. I love being around these guys. That’s the greatest thing about being in the NFL. Whether you are a player or a coach it’s being - the comradery, being around greatness and wanting to be the best. There are so many things. Snack on Saturday nights. You guys don’t even know anything about that do you? That’s what it is to me."

Dan Campbell:

(On if he sees himself being more than an interim head coach in this league) - “Yeah, I would say I’m not here just to finish the season out. That’s not my plan. Now, we’ll see at the end of the year. I’m not standing up here just to say that I’m the interim head coach. We are coming here to win games. That’s why everything has happened to this point. Like I said, I’ve got the utmost respect for Joe Philbin, OK. I’ve learned a lot from him, but this is where it is now. My plan is for this team to be competitive, find ways to win games, win now, OK. It’s still early now. It’s still early. We have time to turn everything around. We have plenty of the season left in us, but we can’t wait.  I’ll be honest with you, the bye couldn’t have come at a better time. It could not have come at a better time.”

Dan Campbell:

(On if there is enough leadership on this team) - “Yes there is. There is enough.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(On the chronology of this event that led to Dan Campbell being named interim head coach) - “I could probably help out on that as well. We had some preliminary discussions last night in terms of (Owner) Steve Ross, myself, (President) Tom Garfinkel, our president, it was before we left. Tom and I flew back with the team. This morning the decision was finalized by Steve and then from there we had to move obviously quickly. I had some conversations with (Interim Head Coach) Dan (Campbell). Steve had a long conversation with Dan and we finalized the decision after Steve spoke to Dan.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(On hearing interim head coach Dan Campbell discuss what he wants to change and if he thinks those things are the root of what the problem has been) - “Again, we are trying to figure out the best way to move forward. After four games, there were some things that weren’t going well. Obviously, there were a lot of things that we thought had to be better. In talking it over with Tom (Garfinkel), Matt Higgins, our vice chairman, and obviously Steve Ross, Dan’s (Campbell) name came to the top of the list pretty quick and we just felt based on Dan’s leadership, experience, he played again for 11 years. We just felt, given our circumstances, where we are as an organization, he gave us the best chance to move forward. It’s an important decision but at the end of the day it was a unanimous one. It was a quick one. There were a couple conversations this morning, but we moved forward and we felt really good about the decision.”

Dan Campbell:

(On the difference between playing hard and not competing) - “I would say it’s the fact that there is a difference between players that never give up. When you never give up, everybody’s looking for that quality. But just saying you never gave up and you’re getting beat one on one, that’s not competing. You’re not giving up, but you aren’t competing. That’s the difference.”

Dan Campbell:

(On if the players gave up at times in the first four games) - “No.”

Dan Campbell:

(On if he has talked to the players yet) - “No, I have not. I plan on talking to them later this afternoon.”

Dan Campbell:

(On if the offense needs to run the ball more and if the defense needs to rush up the field more) - “Again, that’s more X’s and O’s, and I’m just not ready to get into that. Again, I just found this out a few hours ago. There are things that I have to digest. Of course there are things I know about offense, what happened, what didn’t happen. To me, it’s not time for that. It’s time to analyze where we go from here and that’s my plan. That’s what I’m going to do, so I don’t even want to get into that.”

Dan Campbell:

(On how he would want to build a football team other than the competitive aspect) - “That’s tough to say because to me that’s where it all starts. When you say, ‘other than a competitive team,’ that’s where it all starts with me. Are you trying to go with X’s and O’s? (On his vision) – “Here is my vision. My vision is a bunch of hard-nosed guys that go out every day for practice and they are ultra-competitive to the point that it is fueled with intensity. These are guys that are scratching and clawing, let me not go that far into it. Very competitive, very intense, very heated. We go out Sunday and it’s that same team. It’s a team that’s not playing conservative or not holding back worrying about, ‘Am I a little too close to the quarterback?’, or ‘Should I hit him like this?’ We’re going to play by the rules, but we’re going to be much more aggressive. We’re going to walk that line is what we’re going to do. There is always that line where this is OK to do and this is dirty. I’m not saying we want dirty players, but we are going to walk that line. That’s what I want to do. I want us pulling the trigger. I don’t want us playing conservative. I don’t want us playing on our heels. I want us playing on our toes and we’re going forward, and we’re going through you. That’s the mentality."

Dan Campbell:

(On what former coach had the biggest impact on his coaching style) – “I’ve had many, many coaches. I mentioned some of them earlier from head coaches to position coaches to coordinators and to me I feel like I’ve taken a little of all of them with me. From Sean Peyton, Bill Parcells had a huge impact, there is no doubt. There is no question. I learned a lot from Bill. To me, nobody was better suited to deal with players than Bill Parcells. It’s funny because Bill was always regarded as a guy that you either loved Bill or you hated Bill, but you know what, everybody respected Bill and that made a big difference. To me, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do and I’ve taken the best qualities of all of those coaches that I’ve been around.”

Dan Campbell:

(On the vision he described for the team and if that is how he would describe himself as a player) – “I would say so, yes. I feel like I was a guy who always gave 110 percent. I wanted to win my one on ones. I was an emotional player. I was not the most talented player, but I feel like I was dependable. I could be counted on. And when my number was called, I would make the play. It’s funny because from a tight end – which is what I played – and I was a grunt. But you line up and you play a defensive end. They tell those guys in the defensive room, if they try to run to you and the tight end is blocking you – that’s not going to happen, right. It’s just a tight end. I used to take that personal. Like that used to really bother me, and I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be a guy that was you got your hands full all day and this is not just some ordinary tight end. And that’s what I’ve tried to instill with my guys since I’ve been here in that room. And that’s what I want to instill on this team. I don’t want guys just to do their job. I want guys to go out and dominate. To me, you don’t just coach guys to just get the job done. You coach guys to get the very most you can out of their talent. That’s the whole point. We have people in this building who bring in talent. Our job is to pull the utmost that we can get out of that talent, so that we get production on the field. It’s not just about doing your job. To me, doing your job is this - it’s what we’ll have, we’ll go 8-8, 9-7, 7-9. To pull the most talent we can out of those players, that’s how you win.”

Ross more likely to bounce Kevin Coyle than Joe Philbin

LONDON -- Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and head coach Joe Philbin will speak as early as this afternoon, but probably later, to discuss the state of the Dolphins.

Part of that discussion will be the job status of both the Miami head coach and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. And I'm told Ross is more inclined to ask Philbin to dismiss Coyle than he is to dismiss Philbin himself at this time.

Ross, I am told, wants to remain optimistic this season is not fully lost as Philbin seemed to be deluding himself about on Sunday. But unlike Philbin, Ross is closer to believing some sort of change must be made now. Philbin believes no staff changes are necessary at this time.

So Ross will have to push Philbin to remove Coyle and Philbin will try to convince Ross that shouldn't happen. And, of course, Philbin might also have to convince Ross not to fire him now also.

Nothing is yet decided but as I wrote in my column today Ross was embarrassed in front of friends and partners on Sunday. That is the second consecutive week Ross is beyond merely disappointed with a loss but actually upset about a loss.

Another thing: This is all about timing, folks.

Stay now or go now, Joe Philbin's chances of being the Dolphins coach in 2016 are slim and none.

By the way, Coyle is not the only issue the Dolphins face now. The regression of the offense is eye-popping. Yes, the Bills have a nice defense. Yes, the Jets have a very nice defense.

But this Miami offense is stunningly woeful on multiple fronts. It cannot protect Ryan Tannehill with any degree of consistency. The running game is missing in action. And outside of getting the ball to Jarvis Landry the offense has no real personality.

What happens when teams simply decide to take Landry away?

Sunday this offense had 12 third-down conversion opportunities. It converted zero of them. This offense also had four fourth-down conversion opportunities. Another goose egg.

When you go 0-for-16 on the big money downs you have to start looking around and wondering who are our playmakers and why aren't they winning against the other team's playmakers?

The bottom line is the offense is averaging 14.5 points per game (no, I'm not giving the offense that punt return TD vs. Washington). And that is 10 points per game less than this offense average last year.

October 04, 2015

Joe Philbin: Kevin Coyle is the defensive coordinator

LONDON -- Joe Philbin says he's not worried about his job security. And he's not worried about Kevin Coyle's job security because he has final say over whether the Dolphins keep or fire their defensive coordinator.

And Philbin says he's not firing Coyle.

As to his own status, Philbin isn't too worried, even following Sunday 27-14 loss to the New York Jets -- a game that sinks Miami's record to 1-3 and puts them deeper in the AFC East cellar.

"No, not at all," the coach said when he was asked about his job security. "I'm worried about getting this team straightened out, fixed and getting this team ready to play the Tennessee Titans."

The Dolphins play the Titans after the bye week. So Coyle survives the bye week?

"Kevin Coyle is our defensive coordinator," he said.

I asked him if he plans to keep it that way?

"Yeah," Philbin said.

Obviously the final decision on all this rests with owner Stephen Ross. Ross can fire Philbin if he wants. Or not.

And while Philbin has final authority -- according to his contract -- over the hiring and firing of his coaches, obviously the owner can ask him to make a move. That's something ownership did in 2014 with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

And if Ross makes that request, Philbin must decide if he's going to follow instructions or stick by his opinion and probably be fired himself.

So much uncertainty.

This much is certain: If Philbin has his way, no changes are going to be made.

Miami Dolphins lose to the New York Jets, 27-14

LONDON -- They question was whether the Dolphins would respond amid a difficult situation and a terrible week.

They didn't.

They got beat by the Jets. It wasn't a blowout. The Jets won, 27-14.

The Dolphins, down 27-7 at one point, showed some signs of life in the fourth quarter. But why does it take this long?

This team normally starts slow and then recovers early in the second half. Well, it started slow and got no faster as the Jets scored on their possession of the second half.

So what now?

Does Joe Philbin survive this coming bye week?

Does defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle survive?

To be determined. 

Brent Grimes out for Dolphins rest of game

LONDON -- The Miami Dolphins defense so far against the New York Jets has been soft.

They gave up a touchdown on the first drive and a field goal on the second.

Oh, and they lost cornerback Brent Grimes in the process.

Grimes suffered a knee injury the second drive of the day and although the Dolphins are counting him as questionable a source is saying he is out for the rest of the game.

Grimes was seen on the sidelinen icing the injured right knee.

Grimes, incidently, found his wife Miko in the stands as he stood on the sideline and gave a throat gesture, obviously suggesting his day is over.

The Dolphins are also without weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins who has a stinger.

No great options to replace Joe Philbin on interim basis

LONDON -- The fact Joe Philbin's job could be on the line Sunday if, as I reported, the Dolphins allow themselves to be blown out (again) this week raises some intriguing questions that are not easily answered.

The biggest question that such a scenario would raise would be is firing Philbin even feasible given that the Dolphins have no logical in-house replacement to take over as interim coach.

Believe it or not, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle makes the most sense to take over for Philbin should the current coach get blown out Sunday and then, well, get blown out during the bye week. Coyle served as Miami's head man in Philbin's absence last year when Philbin's dad passed away and he was away attending to those solemn family matters.

And, you'll recall, the Dolphins actually beat San Diego immediately following the week of preparation Philbin was away. But here's the problem:

Coyle is part of the Dolphins' problem right now.

Players are not saying this publicly but there is a growing lack of confidence in what the defensive coordinator wants to do on the field. Players very much dislike his read-and-react approach up front to start with. Yes, players are eager for the system to work. It has worked in some regards and to acceptable degrees in the past.

But right now the level of confidence in Coyle among the players is not high. So this is the person that gets handed the reins to save the season?


If this was the end of 2014 and not the start of 2015, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor might be a candidate for the interim coach job. Lazor's approach, while needing refinement on the interpersonal front, is that of a hard-driving, no-excuse-making, accountability-demanding man. And, by the way, the offense scored more points last year than it had in many years.

But Year II of Lazor's system has so far been a dud. And Lazor has to shoulder that responsibility. So he's the answer?


Indeed, special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi is actually more likely to be a candidate than either Lazor or Coyle, I'm told. He has a good reputation and is respected by players. He was a head coach before -- albeit at tiny New Haven (1999-2001) and Rhode Island (2008).

Rizzi also has the respect of Executive Vice President Mike Tannenbaum, who would likely be the person picking an interim coach but more importantly the next true head coach. Rizzi and Tannenbaum have a New Jersey native thing to draw from.

There are other wildcard possibilities: Tight end coach Dan Campbell is a good coach, linebacker coach Mark Duffner, who was the Maryland head coach from 1992-96, and linebacker coach Jack Bicknell Jr., who was the head coach at Louisiana Tech from 1997-2006.

But stop for a minute. Consider everything you just read ...

... Which of these names screams NFL head coach candidate? Which of these men is going to be on a short list of names on Black Monday 2016 -- the date maybe a handful of head coaches will find themselves unemployed if history is to believed?

Yeah, none of them.

And that, in my opinion, is a reason the Dolphins aren't doing as well as they could or should now. This is a weak coaching staff when it has no obvious head coach candidates in waiting.

Tony Sparano, fired late in the 2011 season, didn't exactly have a stellar coaching staff. But his staff makes this one look like a high school staff by comparison. Sparano had former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni on his staff. He had former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell on his staff. He had former Chargers head coach Dan Henning on his staff. He had former 49'ers head coach Mike Nolan on his staff. Bill Sheridan had been a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay and was a linebacker coach on the staff. Sparano also had future New York Jets coach Todd Bowles on his staff and Bowles had already interviewed for a handful of head coaching jobs when he was with Miami.

What NFL head coaching experience is on Joe Philbin's staff now? None.

What NFL head coaching jobs have the men on Joe Philbin's staff interviewed for? None.

This says it all about Philbin's assistant hires so far: He had former Green Bay and Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman as a confidant and the most decorated and experienced assistant on his staff. Sherman's offense failed miserably in Miami but Philbin wanted desperately to keep the coach anyway. When he was forced to fire Sherman, how many teams came trying to hire the newly available coach?


Sherman, still relatively young at 60, is now coaching Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, Massachusetts.

Sherman's team is currently 0-3.

Philbin's inability to identify and hire a strong coaching staff -- as defined by past NFL experience and desirability to other franchises as head coaches -- has been an undoing for him. The irony of that, however, is that the staff's weakness could actually help Philbin keep his job because there's not a lot to pick from to replace him if his team gets blown out today.

October 03, 2015

Blowout loss will move Ross to consider firing Philbin during bye

[NOTE: This column was written Friday afternoon for publication Sunday in The Miami Herald. NFL.com reported similar albeit not exact same facts Friday evening.]

LONDON -- This is a dangerous time for Joe Philbin.

His team is floundering during what was supposed to be the easy part of the 2015 schedule. The Miami Dolphins are in last place in the AFC East. A blowout loss to Buffalo may be in the past but still lingers on some people's minds. And another important and likely difficult game against the New York Jets is here.

But it is what looms just beyond this Jets game that threatens Philbin.

The bye week.

The die week for some coaching careers.

The fact of the matter is if the Dolphins lose to the Jets on Sunday to drop to 1-3, owner Stephen Ross will not necessarily replace Philbin during the bye week. It's possible the Dolphins could lose and yet show enough encouraging signs of improvement to save the coach.

But …

If the Dolphins start this game poorly again, suggesting their preparation is lacking … If the Dolphins show little fight again -- as they did at times in the second half of the Buffalo game … If the Dolphins are dealt a loss this week similar in size and scope to the one they suffered in that 41-14 thrashing by the Bills ...

Then Joe Philbin's job will definitely be in jeopardy during the bye week.

If another complete and calamitous defeat befalls the Dolphins for a second consecutive Sunday, owner Stephen Ross will consider making a coaching change during the bye week.

How do I know this? I know.

Ross doesn't want anything to do with this topic. He declined to answer multiple questions on the matter during the week. He hasn't even discussed it with some of the most powerful employees within the Dolphins organization. But he has thought about it privately.

Publicly the owner sees no need for this discussion now because even as his Dolphins were mired in the doldrums of this season's first three games, one of which was a victory, Ross flew to England believing Philbin could still get the team turned toward a playoff berth by year's end.

Add the fact Ross likes Philbin and has a lot invested in Philbin and it becomes obvious that ownership is hoping to avoid the ugliness of an in-season coaching change.

Ross is instead hoping for the kind of turnaround the team enjoyed last season at this time.

Last season the Dolphins were 1-2 before traveling to London to play the Raiders. There was controversy surrounding Philbin and the team then because the coach inexplicably declined to endorse Ryan Tannehill as his starting quarterback publicly even though he had done so with the player privately.

But Tannehill played well against the Raiders. The team won a convincing 38-14 decision. And while the loss resulted in Oakland coach Dennis Allen being fired during the bye week, a victorious Philbin and the Dolphins freed themselves from controversy.

That's what a victory over the Jets would do again for this Miami team. It would provide breathing room for a team that has been choking on difficulty.

But a debacle for a second consecutive week could wreck Ross's optimism and confidence and strong belief in the current coach to the extent he goes looking within the organization for an interim replacement during the bye.

Bottom line? The Dolphins cannot lay another egg like last week without making room for the possibility a major change could be made.

Of course, Dolphins players and Philbin are feeling like their owner now. They have no expectation that a repeat of last week is coming. They're more looking for a repeat of last year's London trip than last week's Buffalo debacle.

"We've talked a lot about playing a 60-minute football game which we haven't yet done at this point in time," Philbin said. "We've talked a lot about making first downs and having balance and rhythm on offense. We've talked a lot about getting off the field on defense. We've talked about playing with better discipline overall as a team. We've certainly had a lot of discussions and want to keep it relatively simple but we want to make plays.

"And it's our job to put them in position to make plays."

The Dolphins haven't done much of what Philbin says needs to be done so far this season. He and his coaching staff have identified problems the team faces. But no one has delivered solutions consistently.

Making matters seem worse is the fact the rest of the teams in the AFC East have started the season well.

The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are playing as if they want to take their frustration over the deflategate controversy out on their opponents. Last week against Jacksonville, the Patriots' possession chart was scary good. It read:


Field goal.

Field goal.


Field goal.





Kneel down to end the game.

The Patriots made the Jaguars seem like unworthy opponents. That's the same Jaguars team that beat Miami one week earlier.

The Patriots also beat Buffalo decisively -- the same Buffalo that is 2-1 and blew out Miami.

The Jets, meanwhile, have gotten off to a 2-1 start and although they have troubles at quarterback they also have what one opponent described as "the best defense in the NFL."

So it is imperative for Miami to quickly fix whatever has been wrong. That's not just to save Philbin but to save the season.

"I think we feel the urgency and understand that we’re at a critical point in our season," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "Obviously, we haven’t performed up to par or even close to it the past two weeks. It’s a division opponent, on the road and overseas, so it’s a huge game for us not only for the fact that it’s a division game and just the way we’ve played the past two weeks, we need to come out and respond, and play up to our standards."