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45 posts from October 2015

October 03, 2015

Key to the game: Jets at Miami Dolphins in London

LONDON -- Yes, the two-game skid is unacceptable for the Miami Dolphins and so the reflex is to blame everybody.

Well, everybody is not to blame. There are some Dolphins players who are delivering so far this season.

Two of those, according to ProFootballFocus.com are Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Pouncey is the team's highest rated offensive player and the No. 1 rated center in the NFL. Suh struggled mightily the first week of the season and was a bit better the second game and still better last week.

(No, Suh hasn't been great, especially not $114 million spectacular, but good nonetheless).

Suh is Miami's highest rated defensive player and the sixth-rated defensive tackle.

Both need to play great for the Dolphins to have a good chance to win on Sunday against the New York Jets. Here's how the team's match up:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Last week was a nightmare for the Dolphins and quarterback Ryan Tannehill shared in the epic struggle, throwing three interceptions and fumbling once. And while he was under heavy pressure that perhaps forced the interceptions, greater awareness of throwing at an area from which a blitz comes rather to the other side of the field might have helped. Surprisingly, Dolphins coach Bill Lazor said that while Tannehill was throwing to the wrong team, his receivers were winning on the outside at a greater rate than previous games. It didn't translate to completions or first downs. Interestingly, rookie DeVante Parker continues to develop and the likelihood he gets more playing time on Sunday is almost certain. The Jets are battling apparently minor strains to both starting cornerbacks, with Darrelle Revis nursing a groin and hamstring pull on the same leg and Antonio Cromartie still battling a knee sprain that hasn't kept him from playing but has been bothersome. The Dolphins struggled to keep the Buffalo rush off Tannehill last week, and Jets head coach Todd Bowles similarly attacks with exotic blitzes to pressure the quarterback. ADVANTAGE: New York.

When the Dolphins run the football: Jonas Gray got more carries than Lamar Miller and both players averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The problem? Neither got enough chances, which has been the problem for the Miami running game this season -- fair quality but not enough quantity. Miller will be back to getting the most carries this week but Gray seemed to show he deserves chances. The problem for Gray is a calf strain that limited him in practice. If Gray is fine, the odd man out is Damien Williams, whose carries would fade if not disappear altogether. The Jets have perhaps the best defensive front in football. Come to think of it, their entire defense has been pretty good so far which is the reason it is No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed. ADVANTAGE: New York.

When the Jets pass the football: Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall is 6-foot-4. Eric Decker, who lit up the Dolphins (10 catches for 210 yards) in the season-finale last year is 6-3. He's day-to-day with a knee injury but if he plays, the Dolphins simply do not have a way to match up with 5-10 Brent Grimes and 5-9 Brice McCain. The bright side to this is quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is as erratic as a starting NFL quarterback can be. He's as likely to throw a touchdown (he has six) as an interception (five) and that's happening even as he's been making liberal use of the checkdown this year -- one reason he has a 6.09 yards per attempt average, nearly a yard less per attempt than Miami. By the way, the Jets are 30th in the NFL in interception percentage. The Dolphins got two picks in the opener and haven't followed that up with any such turnovers since. Maybe if they wouldn't give 10-yard cushions on so many plays, they'd get closer to the takeaways. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Jets run the football: Starting running back Chris Ivory was active for last week's game but did not play because of a quadriceps injury. He will play this week. Bilal Powell carried the load for New York in his typical hard-running but unspectacular fashion. If Powell is not right, the Dolphins are at an advantage. We also know right guard Willie Colon won't play against Miami and that hurts the Jets because he's a physical force in run blocking. He'll be replaced by Brian Winters. The Dolphins run defense is plagued by players taking poor angle, missed tackles and sometimes shoddy effort. So there is no surprise that Miami is 30th in the NFL against the run. ADVANTAGE: New York.

Special teams: The Jets have allowed an 89-yard punt return this year. The Dolphins got their lone victory at Washington because of a 69-yard punt return touchdown. The Jets are 29th in the NFL with a net punting average of 34.6 yards. Miami's Matt Darr, meanwhile, is averaging 42.9 net yards per punt. The Jets have an experience advantage at kicker with Nick Folk and he's perfect on eight PATs and 4 of 5 on field goals. Andrew Franks last week missed an extra point which was an issue for him in college at RPI. He has connected on three of four field goals this season. The Dolphins used Jarvis Landry as both a kick and punt returner last week. If that continues, what's the point of having Raheem Mostert on the roster? ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Coaching: If this was a popularity contest, Joe Philbin would lose. Dolphins fans are unhappy with how the Miami staff has been unable to resolve the problem of starting slow. There has also been an inability to run the football, stop the run, pressure the passer and keep Miami's passer clean. the Dolphins staff has tried to address each issue during practice weeks, so far with no good results. Meanwhile, rookie coach Todd Bowles is winning over Jets fans despite a clam and understated demeanor. His team attacks on defense and wants to run the football on offense. Like the Dolphins, the Jets trailed last week and seemed out of the game. Unlike the Dolphins, they but fought back and made the game close even in defeat. ADVANTAGE: New York.

October 02, 2015

Branden Albert not playing against the New York Jets

LONDON -- The Miami Dolphins are shutting down Branden Albert until after the bye week.

That means Miami's starting left tackle will not play against the New York Jets on Sunday, marking the second straight game Albert misses.

Albert, nursing a hamstring injury, will be replaced on the line by Jason Fox who played left tackle last week against Buffalo in his absence.

"He was solid," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said of how Fox played last week against the Bills. "I thought he did a good job."

The Dolphins are obviously being cautious with their starting left tackle. Although he has practiced on a limited basis earlier this week and did so again during a walk-thru practice here Friday, the team is concerned exposing Albert to game action could cause a setback that would require multiple weeks for him to recover from.

Albert is officially listed as doubtful for the game. Tight end Dion Sims (concussion) is listed as out officially so the Miami offense will be without two starters.

Tight end Jordan Cameron (groin) and running back Jonas Gray (calf) are listed as questionable but they are expected to play.

Will Davis joins list of players performing well...for somebody else

LONDON -- A troubling pattern that has manifested over the past few years added another example Thursday night back in America when former Miami Dolphins cornerback Will Davis had a good game for the Baltimore Ravens.

Davis, a 2013 third-round pick of the Dolphins, was traded to the Ravens last week for a seventh-round pick.

And that ended an unspectacular time in Miami in which Davis was often hurt -- he's still recovering from knee surgery performed late last year -- and never really found a home on the Miami defense.

Well, after one full week in Baltimore, Davis on Thursday night looked better in Baltimore than he ever looked with the Dolphins. The Ravens played him as their slot cornerback, not outside as Miami tried  to do for so long. They put him in the game ahead of Kyle Arrington, who has been with the team longer.

And Davis had a key tackle on Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown on third down in the open field (Dolphins tackling stinks right now) and had another important pass defensed on a third down (the Miami defense has not been good on late downs so far this season).

So feel good for Davis.

And feel pain for the Dolphins because this is what has been happening too often: Players here go elsewhere and perform better than they did here. Players from elsewhere who performed well come here and don't play up to those same standards. In some cases, players come here after playing well elsewhere, don't perform here, and then leave and go on to play well again.

And this is not just my imagination.

This is a thing, folks.

When the trade happened, I tweeted that if recent history proved true, Davis would play better in Baltimore than he did in Miami. Will Davis favorited that tweet. 

And after the game last night he tweeted, "Ozzie Newsome ...I thank you!!!"

Newsome is the Ravens' general manager who brought Davis to Baltimore.

This, of course, is no big thing if Davis playing well for another team in one game were an isolated incident.

But it is not.

Sean Smith left the Dolphins in 2013 after four uninspiring seasons and is Kansas City's best cornerback.

Vontae Davis was traded from the Dolphins in 2012 and last year was one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.

No worries, it's not like the Dolphins are lacking good cornerback play this year, right?

Karlos Dansby played great in Arizona before he came to the Dolphins. He got here in 2010 and was gone by 2013, in part, because his opinions were different from Joe Philbin's opinions. Anyway, Dansby went back to Arizona and played great again.

Phillip Wheeler was good in Oakland before he came to the Dolphins. Then he was bad here.

Ndamukong Suh was a beast with the Detroit Lions for five years. He was arguably one of the NFL's Top 10 players the past two years. He signed a $114 million deal with the Dolphins this offseason. Is he an NFL Top 10 player so far for Miami?

Did you watch Charles Clay for Buffalo last week against Miami? The first drive was practically a scripted statement made by Clay and Rex Ryan and the Bills to the Dolphins. Clay caught a couple of passes thrown off target. He looked fast. He made three defenders miss on his 25-yard touchdown.

It is only one game but, dang, I don't remember that Charles Clay in a Dolphins uniform.

The Dolphins had Dan Carpenter. They cut Carpenter for elf Caleb Sturgis. Carpenter was better than Carpenter after that transaction and continues to be better today after the Dolphins have already jettisoned Sturgis. 

Richie Incognito? Rated among the NFL's best guards with the Bills right now. Never was that with the Dolphins.

Kenny Stills was more than solid with New Orleans the last two seasons. The Dolphins gave up a third-round pick for him. He's not that good so far in Miami.

Mike Wallace was excellent with Pittsburgh. He never reached those heights in Miami despite becoming the team's highest-paid player. More importantly, Mike Wallace was not a problem in the Steelers locker room. They wanted to re-sign him but he turned down their contract offer. And yet in Miami ... problem.

John Jerry was a washout with the Dolphins. His great claim to fame is the Dolphins picked him ahead of tight end Jimmy Graham in the 2010 draft. He was also involved in the harassment scandal. But he's a starter for the New York Giants now and playing better than any Miami guard is right now.

Tony McDaniel left the Dolphins in 2013. He went to two Super Bowls with Seattle and was a starter on a great defense last year.

And, of course, there are instances where washout players here continued to be washout players elsewhere. Clyde Gates, Daniel Thomas come to mind. There are also instances where players who were solid here continue to be solid elsewhere. Reggie Bush, Paul Soliai and others are on that list.

But where is the player who comes to the Dolphins with little or no reputation and simply blossoms? Where's that guy?

It is not Brent Grimes. He was a Pro Bowl player and the Falcons franchise tag player before coming to Miami.

Not Cortland Finnegan, not Samson Satele, not Brandon Gibson, not Louis Delmas, not Earl Mitchell, not Jason Fox, not Daryn Colledge. None of those. They all performed or are performing in Miami how they performed elsewhere first.

So when do the Dolphins turn average into really good and productive?

Fans might settle for that because after watching average Miami players performing really well elsewhere, simply holding serve here seems like an upgrade.

October 01, 2015

Osi Umenyiora: Dolphins defense issue 'on defensive coordinator'

LONDON -- English-born former NFL defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora will be among the hosts at the NFL fan rally at Trafalgar Square here on Saturday as both the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets will gather before an expected crowd of approximately 40,000 to raise the curtain on the International Series that begins Sunday.

Umengyiora obviously has been doing his homework on both the Dolphins and the Jets and he discussed Miami's defensive line struggles (only one sack in three games, none in the past 11 quarters) while appearing on NFL Network's NFL HQ Thursday.

And in that discussion, Umenyiora put the line's struggles squarely on defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.

"Ndamukong 'the beast from the east' Suh, from what I've seen he's still playing very well," Umenyiora said. "Cameron Wake is one of the best pass rushers we have in this league. I am going to put this squarely on the defensive coordinator's shoulders.

"What I've seen is Olivier Vernon dropping into coverage, I've seen Cameron Wake two-gapping, I've seen Ndamukong Suh two-gapping which is what you can't have with these perennial All-Pro pass rushers. You have to let them rush up the field. You have to let these rushers rush and the defensive coordinator hasn't done that.

"That's why they're underperforming. But I think they're going to get back to that this weekend."

The Dolphins run a base 4-3 defense that should typically use one-gap concepts for the four defensive linemen. That means a lineman is responsible for one gap. He must try to stop running plays there. He often rushes the passer from that gap.

The Dolphins do switch things up. And they do run two gap concepts. And in that regard, the defensive lineman is responsible for gaps on either shoulder. That means he must first read the play (pass or run, and to what side it is going if a run) and then react to the play through the appropriate gap.

Two gap defensive linemen typically read and react by definition.

And the problem with that?

The Dolphins are asking aggressive up-field rushers to think first and then react to the play in front of them rather than attack one gap and let everyone else fill the other gaps which are their assignments.

And so here are the issues:

This is not new to the Dolphins. They've done this to a degree or another since Coyle became the defensive coordinator. Indeed, when they ran a 3-4 defense, the Dolphins used the two-gap approach because that's how it had to be with the linemen.

So now -- four years into Coyle -- this is a problem? I can see that it might be an issue for Suh. He's new. I can see it might be an issue for maybe C.J. Mosley. He's new. But Wake?

I don't like a two-gap read and  react approach out of the 4-3. The Dolphins have tigers on the defensive line and the two-gap approach effectively keeps them on a leash. But it is not new to the vets on the team.

Another thing: Umenyiora is not around the Dolphins. So he doesn't know if they're going to change things up this week for sure or not. Indeed, if he were around, they're going to tell him about strategic changes?

But suppose he's right. Suppose a change is coming this week. So after three years and three games this season, now we change?

Think of what that would say about Coyle? It would tell me he used an approach on defense for years because he believed in it and was confident about it, and then four years in decided to change things suddenly because things weren't working?

Oh boy.

Thursday padded practices a complaint of some players

The past few weeks, the Dolphins have used Thursday as the day for a fully padded two-hour practice. And I get it.

To be a good team you have to hit a little bit. To be a good team you have to be physical and work hard. Teams of yesteryear used to do this kind of thing all the time. And doing it on Thursday shouldn't be a problem because it is three whole days from game day so there is time to recover.

Except that each of the past two Thursday's players have whispered complaints that the practices took it out of them and that, a couple are saying, is one reason the team starts so slow in Sunday games.

Yeah, I don't necessarily get it. But that is the complaint.

And apparently Joe Philbin is aware of said complaint. He cut practice time last week and was promising to look further at this week.

"We have to take a look at the practice schedule, look at the preparation and look at everything," Philbin said this week. "We're going to examine everything. I have some things on paper in terms of how we're going to prepare for this game. Obviously, we prepared for a game over there last year and had some success in that particular game. Every year is a new year. Every game is different. That's something that I'm beginning to look at right now."

Well, the Dolphins today have scheduled a two-hour practice. And they're in pads.

And as an added bonus, after practice today the team will board a plane later this evening and fly across the pond to London England in the ramp up to Sunday's "home game" against the New York Jets. They will land Friday morning.

So some players on the team that starts notoriously slow point to that Thursday practice as one reason for it, and this week they have that practice and schedule the six-hour flight as a bonus.

Yippie!!!

And this game will be kicking off at what will be 9:30 a.m. Eastern time in the United States -- a time Dolphins players are just starting to arrive at the stadium for a typical 1 p.m. game.

This should work out great for a team seeking to find a way to start fast.

“I don’t think the timing will have an effect on it just because we’re going over," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We’re going to get on the British Summer Time as soon as we get over there. I think it will feel like a normal one o’clock game for us, but we have to come out and play better early in games. I think the key to that is getting first downs. We just have to get the chains moving, we haven’t done that really in any of our games and not only get the chains moving, but score points. That’s ultimately what we’re not doing, we’re not scoring enough points and you’re not going to win games if you can’t score points, it’s plain and simple."

Yeah, not so simple. I arrived in London early this morning and I tried to sleep on the plane and I tried to be ready for the day and I was wiped out and had sleep for four hours to recover. So it takes an adjustment.

Obviously, the Dolphins have worked this schedule before. They used it and played quite well and started fast enough against Oakland last year -- although they did give up a touchdown on Oakland's first possession.

So it will be interesting if the complaints that have been going on for a couple of weeks persist. Or if a shock to the body this game offers changes things.