October 09, 2016

Arian Foster, Laremy Tunsil, Branden Albert not playing versus Titans

Huge surprise here: Dolphins rookie Laremy Tunsil is inactive for today's game against the Tennessee Titans.

That's not only surprising because Tunsil was not on the injury report this week but because Branden Albert is also inactive and going to miss his second consecutive game. Albert was on the injury report with an ankle and illness issues during the week of preparation.

The Dolphins say Tunsil hurt himself preparing for the game. The team says the injury is an ankle.

The Dolphins will start Billy Turner at left tackle and Dallas Thomas at left guard against the Titans.

This should come as no surprise but it is also notable: Miami Dolphins running back Arian Foster, doubtful for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans, is not playing.

Foster will be inactive for the third consecutive week with a hamstring injury.

He last played Sept. 18 at New England. Foster tweaked a groin in that game and left the game in the first half.

But the reason he's not played the past three weeks is the hamstring injury. Foster also had a hamstring injury in the preseason.

The Dolphins are expected to start Jay Ajayi against the Titans today.

Count that as one of the changes the Dolphins are promising in Sunday's game against the Titans. Please read the column.

The interesting question will come next week if Ajayi plays well today and Foster is ready to come back. Who starts then? What's the plan then?

Foster has gained 47 yards on 16 carries this season, a 2.9 yard per rush average. Ajayi is the team's leading rusher with 75 yards on 18 carries for a 4.2 yard per rush average.

The full list of inactives for Miami:

25       Xavien Howard                CB

29       Arian Foster                    RB

53       Jelani Jenkins                  LB

55       Koa Misi                         LB

67       Laremy Tunsil                  G/T

76       Branden Albert                T

84       Jordan Cameron             TE

Interesting that both Jenkins and Misi are down today. I expect to see Cameron Wake at linebacker at some point although Donald Butler and Neville Hewitt are listed as the starters.

September 29, 2016

Shocking! Dolphins players with injury histories are injured

CINCINNATI -- The Miami Dolphins injury report this week is a cynic's dream.

The cynic looks at the group of players on Miami's report that includes a third of the team and says, "I told you so."

And you know what? It is hard to dismiss the criticism because so many of the injured Dolphins this week came to the Dolphins or have been with the Dolphins with a history for injuries.

Running back Arian Foster is the most prominent name on Miami's injury list. He is a poster child of injury history. He's missed 19 games in the past five seasons, and tonight will mark his 20th missed game in that span. He missed 12 games last season and has missed two of four this season. He's had hamstring, groin and last year's Achilles' injury.

Who is surprised Foster is hurt? No one.

So the Dolphins have no excuses for relying on him.

Misi is out with a neck injury. And that means he will not play all 16 games this season. That's expected because he has not played all 16 games in a season since his rookie season in 2011.

Misi finished the 2015 season on injured reserve. He finished the 2011 season on injured reserve.

Misi has battled back and abdomen injuries (2015), a serious ankle injury (2014), a knee injury (2013) and a shoulder injury (2011).

Koa Lisiate Foti Analeseanoa Misi has battled almost as many injuries as there are letters in his full name.

Jelani Jenkins is listed as doubtful for this game. He has a groin injury. He had a knee injury in August that required surgery. He has not missed games this year yet, but his history suggests he will because he hasn't played a full season since his rookie year in 2013 when he was only playing on special teams.

Jenkins had recurring ankle issues in 2015 that found him starting games he could not finish because of the injury.

And while that credits the player for being tough and resilient enough to make it to the game despite the injury, it actually hurts the team because coaches make plans and adjust their inactive lists, counting on the player to contribute. Then he goes out and suddenly the plans have to be shredded.

Interestingly, that is exactly the situation the Dolphins find themselves in tonight with Jenkins. Frankly, I'd sit him.

Mike Pouncey is about to miss his fourth game of the season because of a hip injury suffered August 19. And I reported this was likely on Sept. 16. Pouncey's season debut will come on Oct. 9 against Tennessee, barring another setback.

Pouncey has not played a full season since 2012.

Last year Pouncey battled foot, hip and knee issues. The foot injury ended his season prematurely. In 2014, Pouncey needed surgery on his other hip in the offseason and that forced him to miss the first five weeks of the season. in 2013, Pouncey had an issue with food poisoning that forced him to miss time.

The concern now is the hip. He's had surgery on both the left and right hip. And his latest hip injury -- to the left hip again -- now suggests that side is a problem.

Tight end Jordan Cameron will miss this game with a concussion. The Dolphins are hopeful Cameron can return to the lineup by the Oct. 9 home game against Tennessee. But to say that is the plan is not accurate.

No one knows for certain when Cameron will be back because only the neurological tests that players must take and pass to get back on the field will determine that.

And Cameron, a smart, thoughtful guy who has a family to think about, is almost certainly not going to rush the matter. He's not going to tell doctors he feels good if he knows he's not yet 100 percent -- something some players actually do.

The Dolphins signed Cameron in 2015 knowing concussions were an issue with him. Jordan had three concussions in three seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

He suffered a concussion in practice in 2012 and missed two games. He suffered a concussion in Week 15 of 2013 and missed Week 16. He suffered a concussion in Week 8 of 2014 and missed three games.

Cameron has also had shoulder, rib and hamstring issues since 2011. The hamstring issue in '11 forced him to miss eight games. But it is the concussion injuries that shout concern.

Miami gambled and won on the issue in 2015. Cameron played all 16 games. But that was the first time in his NFL career he was able to complete a full season.

Miami's luck, and that seems to be all it was, has apparently run out on that front. 

The Dolphins have other players on this week's injury report that raise red flags. That injury report, which included 15 injured players, had names we've seen on injury reports in the past.

DeVante Parker has had hamstring injuries this entire season and dating back into the offseason. That comes after the foot problems he had in college and with the Dolphins last season. He's expected to play tonight despite being questionable with a hamstring injury, but the point is he has a hamstring injury. Again.

Kiko Alonso missed his entire second season in 2014 with a knee injury. He missed time last season with the Eagles because of a knee injury and a concussion. He has so far been healthy with the  Dolphins but he is questionable tonight with a hamstring injury. Yes, he's playing.

But as with all these guys, the injury history is the injury history.

And it should not be overlooked.

January 16, 2015

Decision on Kevin Coyle's status has been made

Kevin Coyle is staying with the Miami Dolphins and keeping his job as defensive coordinator.

Coyle's status had been uncertain since season's end in part because the Miami defense had a disappointing year and in part because head coach Joe Philbin had not been clear on what direction he was going to take with his assistant after the season.

"I need obviously some time to think about some things," Philbin said the day after Miami's season ended. "The season just ended, but I haven’t made any decisions about any coaches for 2015, none of them.”

That was the last word on the topic from the Dolphins. And so as the weeks passed and there was no factual direction on the matter, speculation grew Philbin was at least considering accomplished defensive coordinators such as Jim Schwartz, Dick LeBeau, Vic Fangio and others after they were discharged from their jobs and became available.

But if the coach entertained such considerations at all, he has now dismissed them.

Coyle remains the Miami defensive coordinator.

And this is what I think: Get used to it. There is little to be gained by arguing the contrary (if that's what you believe) when it absolutely is not going to be done. This is indeed an eletion. But only one man gets a vote. That man is Philbin. And he's cast his vote in favor of Coyle. So wish Coyle success.

The Dolphins need success from Coyle, certainly more than they've had lately.

The defense slumped, particularly late in the season, and finished 20th in the NFL in points allowed. It is their lowest finish in the most important statistical category since 2009.

Interestingly, part of the argument against Coyle is that he took over a defense that was No. 6 in the NFL in points allowed and in his three years the unit regressed to No. 7, No. 8, and then No. 20 last season.

But rather than blaming Coyle for the drop, Philbin is obviously charging Coyle with fixing the problems.

Those problems?

The Dolphins have to find a way to play better late in the season instead of worse. The Dolphins allowed 41, 28, 35 and 37 points the final four games. Cornerstone players such as Brent Grimes, who had been outstanding early in the year, faded for some unknown reason.

Grimes wasn't alone. The Dolphins got more production from their entire defensive line earlier in the season than it did after about the halfway mark. And, interestingly, the linebacker corps seemed to be more productive early in the year when there was uncertainty and unexpected injuries (such as Dannell Ellerbe going out for the year and Koa Misi missing multiple weeks) than later in the year.

Coyle has admitted he needs to figure out a plan this offseason for maximizing, and indeed developing, Dion Jordan. Jordan was a No. 3 overall selection out of Oregan in 2013. For multiple reasons including a shoulder issue and an NFL suspension he has failed to get fully integrated into the Miami system.

The Dolphins at times use him as a 4-3 defensive end. And sometimes they use him as a strongside linebacker. So what is he?

Coyle is a proponent of the 4-3 defense and so his retention likely means the Dolphins will remain a base 4-3 team. Early in the coach's Miami career that was something of an issue because the personnel Coyle inherited had been acquired to play a 3-4 scheme.

One assumes another offseason in which the personnel department seeks talent upgrades for the scheme Coyle intends to run may help that matter.

And help is definitely necessary.

The Dolphins this offseason have obvious needs at linebacker -- particularly middle linebacker where the Misi experiment did not -- and cornerback, where the Dolphins may lose Cortland Finnegan to retirement.

(Finnegan has not announced his final intention to retire but he hinted at it previously and brought numerous family and friends to the Miami season-finale so they could ostensibly watch him play one final NFL game).

Even if Finnegan tries to play again, he also was not very good after he suffered a high ankle sprain midway through the season.

The Dolphins also have a number of free agents from the defensive side of the ball, including Jared Odrick, Louis Delmas and Jimmy Wilson, so the return of those players is uncertain. The team also may make salary cap related moves concerning Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler.

So in that respect the defense may be changing in 2015.

But the defensive coordinator will not.

January 15, 2015

PFF end of season recap of Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins season ended with a whimper (again) and the team is already into its offseason planning. Part of that planning has been studying and gaining an understanding of how the 2014 team played.

My friends at ProFootballFocus.com offer this end of season recap of the Dolphins:

Offensive line

Left tackle Branden Albert went out for the season Nov. 9 at Detroit but his +17.5 was still good enough to rank him eighth best among all tackles, which highlights how big of a blow the Albert injury was to the Dolphins/

After a promising start to his rookie season, right tackle Ja’Wuan James struggled in the move to left tackle. Since Week 10, James’ -30.0 is the worst of any tackle in the league, and his 29 hurries allowed in that time were 11 more than any other tackle.


Ja'Wuan James is not a left tackle, folks. We knew this. He was not drafted for this. Cannot kill the kid for this.

Coinciding with James’ move to LT was Dallas Thomas starting five games at RT. James had the worst grade of any tackle since Week 10, but Thomas was third-worst at -20.3. He allowed seven sacks, five hits, and 14 hurries in his five starts.

Remember the Dolphins coaching staff stubbornly refusing to remove Thomas from the lineup?Remember me saying Jason Fox would be a better option -- no, not great but better?

Well, in the two games Fox started he performed well against Minnesota and poorly against the New York Jets in the season finale (who didn't)? But combined Fox graded out a -3 with no sacks allowed those two games.

Not great. But better than Thomas.


Quaterback Ryan Tannehill had a 99.7 rating when throwing deep outside the numbers to the right. He went 8-for-21 for 252 yards with a TD. It was down the deep middle of the field and to the left where he struggled, going a combined 8-for-32 for 226 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

Tannehill was pressured on 38.3% of his drop-backs, sixth-most in the league, and took a sack on 18.2 percent of his pressured drop-backs, which was 12th most in the league. If you interpret these stats, it suggests Tannehill successfully avoided sacks more often than not when pressured.


On 177 carries in 2013, Lamar Miller forced 20 missed tackles. On 216 totes in 2014, Miller forced 32 misses. So Miller did improve the percentage of plays in which he made tacklers miss.

One area where Miller still needs to improve is the passing game. His six drops on 44 catchable balls yielded the fifth-worst drops among halfbacks who saw at least 25% of their team’s running back targets.


Tannehill’s passer rating when targeting his receivers: Mike Wallace 114 passer rating for Tannehill, Jarvis Landry 96.6 passer rating for Tannehill, Brian Hartline 91.1 passer rating for Tannehill, Brandon Gibson 77.9 passer rating for Tannehill.

Oh-oh, Brandon.

Despite playing injured for most of the season and even missing two games, tight end Charles Clay received a similar grade in the passing game in 2014 (+4.0) as he did in 2013 (+5.0). He also vastly improved his run blocking from -6.1 in ’13 to +2.9 in ’14.

Jarvis Landry, like a lot of rookies, appeared to hit the wall late in the season. Through the first 13 weeks, he was 13th in the league in YAC (315 yards), but over the last four weeks, fell to 39th (92 yards).

The folks at PFF credit the rookie wall. I offer this alternative: The Patriots, Ravens, Vikings, and Jets -- all coached very well on defense -- changed up coverage strategies on Landry near the end of the season after seeing on tape what he had done earlier in the year.

Defensive Summary

After sitting out the first four games while on suspension, safety Reshad Jones’ +14.4 led all NFL safeties from Week 5 onward. Despite playing just 38 percent of his run snaps within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, Jones had a 7.6 percent run stop rate that was third best among safeties. When he did play within eight yards on run plays, that run stop rate improved to 13 percent.

Defensive end Cameron Wake’s 65 pressures were fourth among all 4-3 DEs, behind Charles Johnson, Michael Bennett, and Junior Galette.

Dion Jordan rushed the passer 103 times in 2014 and produced 12 pressures. He dropped into coverage 40 times.

Derrick Shelby had a -2.3 grade overall, but excelled versus the run (+6.7). His 10.3 percent run stop rate was fifthe among all 4-3 DEs who received at least 25 percent of their club’s run snaps.


Both Cortland Finnegan and Jimmy Wilson were exposed in the slot, each allowing a 120-plus passer rating to the opposing quarterback when covering the slot receiver. In limited time before he was injured, Michael Thomas allowed two catches on 35 snaps in the slot.

Brent Grimes had a +5.8 coverage grade through nine games, allowing a 60.0 passer rating against him. Over the last 7 games, however, his coverage grade fell to -5.7 and he allowed a 118.0 rating to opposing quarterbacks.

January 14, 2015

Dolphins OL must meet great force with greater force

The NFL does nothing in a vacuum and so today when the Buffalo Bills introduce Rex Ryan as their new head coach it will have ripple effects.

In South Florida the ripples have the potential of looking like waves crashing against quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That's because Buffalo's new coach, as most of you understand, is a very good defensive coach. Regardless of what you think of him or his head coaching ability, there can be little dispute he knows defense. His teams may often stink but his defense consistently troubles with multiple schemes and confusing blitzes and innovative wrinkles.

And now Ryan takes over the Bills defense.

Let me see ... Buffalo's defense finished the 2014 season No. 4 in the NFL in points allowed. They were No. 3 in the NFL with 30 takeaways. They led the NFL with 54 sacks. They sent three defensive linemen -- Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams -- to the Pro Bowl.

They are expected to get outstanding young linebacker Kiko Alsonso back after he missed all of 2014 with a knee injury.

And Rex Ryan is going to coach them. On Tuesday, Ryan released a statement thanking former Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for his service to the organization and releasing him to find other opportunities. Part of that statement read, "our plan is for our defense to continue to play well and be a dominating force.”

Which part of all that makes a Dolphins fan feel good?

Ryan stays in a division that already boasts defensive wizard Bill Belichick. In New York, the Jets Tuesday hired former Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, another budding defensive guru based on his work with Cardinals the past two years.

It is enough to make one feel, I'll say it, queasy.

So how does this affect your Miami Dolphins? Must I spell it out?

The only way an answer force in the NFL is with superior force (great, I sound like Patton now). If the Bills are going to have a great, attacking, "dominating" defense that has three Pro Bowl players on the defensive line, then the Dolphins need to do work on their offensive line.

Winning the AFC East is impossible without a great offensive line. Simple as that.

The Dolphins have the nucleus for a very good offensive line. Assuming left tackle Branden Albert returns to form (so far, so good) and stays healthy, and Mike Pouncey can go back to the center spot he has told the team he prefers, the Dolphins have a good start.

Ja'Wuan James can then go back to right tackle and this offseason must work to improve a body that is a little soft, to be frank, so that next year his run blocking can catch up with his solid pass protection.

That's three chips.

GM Salguero re-signs free agent Samson Satele as a backup center. That does not mean he is the plan at starting guard if GM Salguero fails to get a guard, because GM Salguero will find a superior guard barring something akin to a Biblical flood. Satele is simply a fallback at center should Pouncey struggle with health. Period.

As to the guard situation. Daryn Colledge is a free agent. Wish him well. He filled a void in 2014 (more or less) but he is not the answer for a team needing OL upgrade.

Indeed, let's address this right here: Cheap, off the scrap heap, stopgaps, projects and back of the draft guys are not too often the answer. The Dolphins last year had a chance to spend in free agency to upgrade at guard but chose instead to be thrifty -- signing Colledge and Shelley Smith fairly cheaply.

They got what they paid for. Neither guy is a blue chip. Yet combined they cost $4.5 million worth of cap space that could have more wisely been used on one better player such as Jon Asamoah or Zane Beadles. No, those guys aren't awesome but they were pretty good both of them, Asamoah in particular.

Note to Dennis Hickey: The Patriots have Belichick. Buffalo is coming at you with a Saks-type defensive line. The Jets have a front seven from Neiman Marcus. 

Stop shopping at Target.

So this offseason I'm looking at pending San Francisco 49ers free agent guard Mike Iupati. Loyal readers of this blog will remember I advocated drafting Iupati in the first round in 2010. The Dolphins instead got Jared Odrick, who is good but never stamped the defense with his game or audacious personality.

Iupati can help stamp the offensive line with a physical, no-nonsense approach that makes total sense. Will he be expensive? Sure, he will. But again, you buy a $500 pair of English or Italian shoes in 2015, you'll still be wearing them in 2020. You buy a cheap Chinese-made pair in 2015, you'll be barefoot in 2016.

The next issue I tackle centers around 2014 third-round draft pick Billy Turner.

Turner played left tackle at It's Very Cold Up There University. He is not an NFL left tackle and plus the Dolphins have one. The Dolphins also didn't draft him to play right tackle because that was the vision for James.

So the vision was to play Turner at guard, preferably left guard.

Then life got in the way. Turner injured a foot in training camp and that derailed his season because this coaching staff simply cannot get guys who fall behind in camp caught up for whatever reason. It happened last year with Dallas Thomas and Dion Jordan and the Jamar Taylor and Willie Davis. It happened this year with Turner.

"It was a little tough because I got injured right away and it cost me six or seven weeks so that changed the process for me," Turner told me recently. "I faced a little adversity there. But coming back from the injury and talking to the coaches they said they wanted me to focus on my technique and whatnot and from the point I came back to where I was at the end of the season.

"I thought my technique got 100 times better than it was. On a personal level, I know my technique got much better and that's going to make me that much better and much more capable to play when I do get my shot."

Great. But here's the issue: The coaching staff used Turner as a guard when he got healthy because that was the original vision but that changed to tackle once Branden Albert went down with an injury. When Nate Garner then went down with his migraines, coaches worked Turner at both guard and tackle in practice.

Turner, a rookie, never settled in anywhere. And I get it because once the season threatens difficult issues they need to be resolved somehow.

But this offseason offers a fresh start. Pick a side for Billy Turner and slot him in at guard on that side. No, Dallas Thomas is not better. No, Shelley Smith shouldn't be ahead of him. No, Garner isn't going to be your answer there, either.

Turner is a third-round pick. Count on that pick to pan out. Tell Turner, who is currently unsure what he's going to play, that he is a guard. Let him start getting his mind right to play guard.

And then play Billy Turner at guard.

"Who wouldn't like to settle into a position but at the same time, who knows where you're going to end up," Turner told me.

No. Wrong.

The Dolphins should know. And they should let Turner know.

And, by the way, I'm not awarding the spot to Turner. He starts out as the starter in January. But he needs to get stronger and change that body this offseason. He knows that. He also needs competition.

Draft, please.

I hear there aren't a lot of great interior offensive line prospects at guard. But the plan should definitely call for the Dolphins adding a guard if one is available relatively early in the draft.

Again, the Bills are going to come at this team with a high-priced defense and a newly minted defense-minded coach. Belichick is king of the division. And the Jets front seven merits respect.

Your quarterback Ryan Tannehill has endured more sacks the past two seasons than any other NFL quarterback. You need to make a franchise defining decision on Tannehill after the 2015 season. So put him in the best position to maximize his talents by protecting him.

It is quite fundamental, really.

Don't allow yourself to be sitting in the same position next year where people are having to project how good Tannehill is or is not based on the fact he had to work under the most adverse circumstances -- no protection -- in the NFL.

Address the offensive line.

Meet Rex Ryan's force (not to mention Bill Belichick's and Todd Bowles') ... with greater force. 

January 07, 2015

Joe Philbin to get contract extension

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin's status for the 2015 season was not in doubt once team owner Stephen Ross publicly endorsed him before the season ended. But that endorsement raised the question whether the Dolphins would commit to Philbin financially beyond that '15 season, which was scheduled to be the final year of the coach's contract.

That question is now answered because a club source close to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said this evening the team will indeed offer Philbin an extension.

The purpose of the extension is two-fold: It addresses the idea that Philbin would enter next season as a lame duck coach. It also insulates the Dolphins should Philbin's Dolphins have a good year and the coach wish to parlay that into other opportunities.

The Dallas Cowboys, it should be noted, allowed head coach Jason Garrett to enter this season, the last on his currently contract, without an extension. The Cowboys won the NFC East, have won a playoff game, and Garrett is for most intents a hot commodity and a free agent after the season.

The Cowboys still expect to sign Garrett to a new deal but that might now cost them more than an extension would have cost before this season.

The fact Ross will offer Philbin an extension is not unprecedented. He gave Tony Sparano a contract extension after the 2010 season so that Sparano would not enter 2011 as a proverbial lame duck.

But here's the truth of the matter:

Giving Philbin an extension won't really guarantee the coach a job beyond 2015. Although Ross will make a financial commitment to Philbin, he can still fire the coach if he wishes with the understanding he'll still pay off the contract.

Ross paid Sparano after firing the former Dolphins coach late in the 2011 season.

So while giving Philbin an extension will indeed give the coach financial certainty for at least one year and perhaps more, it will not guarantee Philbin he will be the Miami coach beyond 2015.

Only winning will help Philbin in that department. 

January 06, 2015

Possible DC candidates for all to see

Kevin Coyle is apparently still the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins this morning but we don't know if that is only a temporary stay before he's fired or if Coyle is in fact safe for 2015.

Why don't we know?

Only Joe Philbin knows and he has not been ringing my celly with the answer.

(True story: Philbin does not call any media member. He also doesn't return emails. He once explained to me that his job and family take up practically all his professional and personal time, so he doesn't have time to form a relationship with a member of the media outside his normal and customary press conferences. Hey, I can respect that approach, although I think it unwise. The coach is free to set priorities as he wishes. But, I would counter an ally in the independent media never hurt anyone and Philbin has none.)

Anyway, I digress.

If Coyle is indeed safe then I have completely wasted hours of work on the exercise we're about to embark. But my instinct tells me Coyle is not safe. So here goes:

Someone on my twitter mentions on Monday demanded that I "name names" of possible replacements for Coyle. Why would I do that, I thought, when the Dolphins defensive coordinator is not fired. Plus, I thought, this could take a lot of work.

And then I remembered I don't have a pending locker room access or Dolphins press conference to attend now, in part because the defense was bad at season's end and so there was no postseason work to do. So it's the Dolphins themselves that gave me all this time to do this work.

This exercise also could help us understand whether the Dolphins, specifically Philbin, might find suitable replacements should he decide to move on from Coyle.

So here is my list of people who may be on the market as possible defensive coordinator candidates this offseason. This is in no particular order of strongest candidate to weakest candidate:

Candidate         Current job         Experience

Eric Mangini      SF TE coach      Former N.E. DC, former Cleveland and NYJ head coach.

Ed Donatell       SF assistant      Former Atlanta, G.B. DC. 22 years NFL experience.

Jim Leavitt       SF assistant      Former S. Florida HC, former DC at Kansas State (No. 1 D in nation).

Mike Trgovac    GB assistant    Former Carolina DC (2003-2008), NFL Top 10 in pts. allowed 3 of 6 yrs.

Winston Moss    GB asst HC      Miamian, 16 seasons NFL assistant.

Steve Spanuolo Balt. asst.       Former DC NYG (2007-08), Saints DC (2012), Former HC Rams (2009-11).

Gary Gibbs       KC asst.          Former N.O. DC (2006-08), former Oklahoma DC.

Emmitt Thomas KC asst.         Former DC in Philadelphia, G.B., Minnesota.

*Jim Schwartz   Buff. DC         Former HC Lions (2009-13), former DC Tennessee (2001-08).

Gunther Cunningham  Sr. coach asst.   Former HC KC, former DC KC twice, former DC Lions, former DC Raiders.

Mike Smith    Unemployed   Former HC Atlanta (2008-14), former DC Jacksonville (2003-07), former Baltimore defensive assistant (1999-2002).

Mike Nolan   Status unknown   Former HC San Fran. (2005-08), DC NYG (1993-96), DC Wash. (1997-99), DC NYJ (2000), DC Baltimore (2002-04), DC Miami (2010-11), DC Atlanta (2012-14).

These are all candidates with experience as coordinators on teams who have recently enjoyed defensive success. Obviously, there are more candidates on teams with poor defenses. There are also good position coaches who I believe will eventually be solid coordinator candidates which are not represented here.

Among the latter group, Mike Vrabel, the linebacker coach in Houston is one. Patrick Graham, the linebacker coach in New England, is another. Graham is interesting in that he graduated from Yale and was a Yale merit scholar. Both have been influenced to one degree or another by New England coach Bill Belichick. 

*Schwartz is hoping to land a head coach job but that is uncertain at this time.

January 05, 2015

Cowboys 8-8 not in same universe as Dolphins 8-8

A reasoned perspective free of over-reaction is important in the management of an NFL team and perhaps that's the reason multiple people within the Miami Dolphins organization let me know Monday they appreciate me sharing this perspective on why owner Stephen Ross not making a head coaching change after the 2014 season was understandable.


But, a reasoned perspective free of inaction is also important and for that reason today I address the folks riding the pendulum that's swinging wildly in the opposite direction -- those saying no change at all is warranted. I heard from a Dolphins person in that circle Monday (love you, bro, but you know I don't agree) and he used the Dallas Cowboys as an example of why continuity is the right way for Ross and his Dolphins to go now.

The narrative I heard is that just as the Dallas Cowboys stayed the course after three consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the Dolphins are so far staying the course after consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2013 and 2014. And, the narrative continues, just as the Cowboys were rewarded for their patience and perseverance with a 12-4 season in 2014 and playoff win two days ago, the Dolphins could be on the road to much regular-season success and perhaps a playoff berth in 2015.

And that is exactly wrong.




The Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins are nothing alike beyond those multiple 8-8 records.

First, it must be said the Cowboys did indeed finish 8-8 in 2011, but they did so after losing a season-finale against the New York Giants. That game was essentially an NFC East title game. And the Giants, having won the game, went on to win the Super Bowl.

Secondly, the Cowboys did indeed finish 8-8 in 2012, but they did so after losing a season-finale against the Washington Redskins. That game once again was an NFC East title game. And the Redskins won the game to capture the division title and move on to the playoffs.

Thirdly, the Cowboys did indeed finish 8-8 in 2013, but they did so after losing a season-finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. That game again was an NFC East title game. And the Eagles won it by two points, capturing the division title and moving on to the playoffs.

The Cowboys obviously did not make the playoffs any of those seasons. And they were merely a .500 team. But they were good enough to go to the season-finale with a chance to win their division.

How is that even remotely similar to what the Dolphins have done the past two years?

What year did the Dolphins have a chance to win the AFC East on the last weekend of the season? Indeed, the Dolphins this past season were basically eliminated from the playoffs earlier than they were the year before. And they never got close enough to be in a win-and-you're-the-champion situation because the gulf between them and the New England Patriots is vast.

The Dallas 8-8 record put that franchise thisclose to three consecutive division championships. The Miami 8-8 records left the Dolphins in third place this season, further back in the pack than they were last season when they finished in a tie for second.

But that is merely appetizer. To the main course: The differences between the Cowboys and Dolphins are much more stark than their seemingly congruent .500 records.

After the 2011 season in which Dallas finished 8-8, owner Jerry Jones made changes. Yes, he kept head coach Jason Garrett, which is where all the focus is. But he demoted John Garrett from his job as passing game coordinator and hired former Oakland head coach Bill Callahan as the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator.

After the 2012 season in which Dallas finished 8-8, Jones made changes again. He kept Garrett again. But Jones fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and hired Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator. Jones also hired former Detroit head coach Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach.

After the 2013 season in which Dallas finished 8-8, Jones made more changes. Once again he kept Garrett. But the owner demoted Kiffin and promoted Marinelli to defensive coordinator. He also took away Garrett's play-calling privileges and hired former Detroit head coach Scott Linehan to call the plays.

So while Jason Garrett posted a 24-24 record, he kept his head coach post. But owner Jerry Jones fired two defensive coordinators, changed the offensive coordinator twice, and took away Garrett's play-calling role.

And when all that dust settled prior to the start of this fine season for the Cowboys, Jones had demoted inexperienced assistants and hired three former NFL head coaches (Callahan, Marinelli and Linehan) and two former college head coaches (Kiffin and Derek Dooley) to Garrett's staff.

Continuity? Jones is more interested in the right continuity rather than staying the course for its own sake.

Jones saw value in keeping his head coach but also in constantly adding superior experience and a higher grade of assistant coach year after year after year.

This year the Dolphins are banking on continuity. Joe Philbin, whose career record is 23-25, gets another shot to raise the Dolphins from their 8-8 doldrums of the past two seasons.

But as we sit here, the Dolphins have not shown quite the same aggressiveness in improving the staff serving their young coach that the Cowboys did in improving their staff for their young coach. Yes, there were moves foisted upon Philbin last season and, predictably, those worked.

But there is at least one obvious move that should be made this year at defensive coordinator that has not yet come to pass.

What I'm saying is Jerry Jones, patient with his head coach and eager to maintain continuity for his franchise, would absolutely force that move because, well, he did exactly that the last three seasons. Garrett, as loyal to his assistants as anyone, accepted those moves and is now benefitting from them.

Your move coach Philbin. Your move Mr. Ross.

Lack of star coaches makes Ross decision understandable

The Miami Dolphins season ended over a week ago, the NFL playoffs are in full and dramatic swing and I still get emails and tweets to my twitter account asking for a reasonable, logical reason Dolphins owner Stephen Ross kept Joe Philbin as the team's head coach.

First of all, let it go, people. Joe Philbin is your coach. Stephen Ross paid $1.1 billion for the right to make that call and he made it. It is done.

Secondly, if that doesn't appease you, think of it this way ... Ross had a pretty good reason for keeping Philbin that had nothing to do with 8-8 or "Kodaking" (ask the community in the comments section), or perpetual mediocrity, or losing three of the final four games, or missing the playoffs, or getting "queasy" on an NFL sideline.

It had to do with firing someone and then possibly hiring someone new who might not be as good.

That's it.

Think what you will of Ross or Philbin but I am convinced the owner decided he would rather keep a solid coach over the idea of hiring someone he simply didn't know would be great or even good. Ross, I believe, chose to keep a coach with experience over one that might have to take the franchise back to a proverbial Square One and learn on the job as a first-time NFL head coach.

I am convinced that once Ross looked around the coaching landscape beyond Jim Harbaugh -- whom Ross publicly denies considering but I know was considered -- he saw no one he was certain was better than Joe Philbin.

And, with perhaps a couple of exceptions, I agree with that assessment.

All one has to do is study what the teams that currently have NFL vacancies are doing to fill their openings and it is enough to make you thankful the Dolphins are not travelling that path of uncertainty.

The San Francisco 49ers, by all accounts the jewel of teams currently without a coach, over the weekened interviewed Mike Shanahan, according to multiple reports. They're interested in current defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as an in-house candidate. They like Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is said to interest them. Rex Ryan was scheduled to interview over the weekend as well.

And, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, perhaps the hottest coordinator on the market, is scheduled to interview with them also.

Quick ... which one of those is guaranteed to win the NFC West next year?

Personally, I think Ryan might have been a fit in Miami had Ross decided to make that move. But he's not a slam dunk. He's missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons. He's a great defensive mind but has proven incapable of figuring out offense. He has some off-field interests that a few years ago became embarrassing to the Jets.

The point is Ross wasn't sold on Rex.

And I'm not sold on any of those other candidates.

The Jets got rid of Rex Ryan and their high-priced search committee consisting of former GMs Ron Wolf and Charley Casserly is reportedly very high on Doug Marrone.

Marrone has a 15-17 career record as an NFL coach. And he's the star of this offseason's coaching search for the Jets. Think about that.

The Buffalo Bills, left at the altar by Marrone last week, have interviewed Quinn, Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Quinn, I must remind you, is a former Dolphins defensive line coach.

Anyway, unless Gase is promising in his interviews to bring Peyton Manning, unless Bevell is loading up Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, and unless Quinn is bringing the Legion of Boom with him, I find all three guys kind of, well, uninspiring.

Obviously, I'm not in on the interviews. But none of these guys have the reputation that Mike Tomlin brought to his interviews back in 2007 when he was still a position coach.

All of these men will get head coaching jobs and immediately have to start learning their craft on the job. None are slam dunks.

The Raiders are considering Tony Sparano and the usual suspects named above.

The Falcons like Rex and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was fired as the Denver coach after two years.

The point is Jon Gruden isn't raising his hand and saying, "interview me."

John Harbaugh doesn't seem to be in a hurry to leave Baltimore.

Nick Saban isn't coming back to the Dolphins -- or the NFL at this point.

(If I were San Francisco or Atlanta, that's exactly who I'd try to lure).

There also are no Andy Reid or John Fox types on the market this year -- men who are proven winners at one NFL stop that have for whatever reason worn out their welcomes and are ready to start winning in new surroundings.

My expectation is that Ross looked at all this before he decided stick with Philbin. My hope is the owner was so sophisticated that he understood upgrading was not a certainty this offseason (outside of Harbaugh) and so he chose not to reshuffle a deck in a very high stakes game.

If that is true, I can respect that approach because, frankly, I don't see any shining sure-fire hires this coaching cycle, either.

So Joe Philbin.

Learn to accept it or find a new team. 

December 28, 2014

Rex Ryan as Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator?

My column today explains defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's status with the Miami Dolphins and tells you about the decline of the Dolphins defense this year.

And, no, I don't believe the New York Jets today will light up the Dolphins because, well, have you been paying attention to the New York Jets offense? But the evidence of trouble for this Dolphins defense was presented already and often this season.


I'd try to hire Rex Ryan as Miami's defensive coordinator. Frankly, I would have tried to hire Rex Ryan as the head coach with Bill Lazor as the offensive coordinator and Dennis Hickey remaining as GM. But that's just me. I wouldn't stand still amid mediocrity, if I were an NFL owner.

And six years out of the playoffs, three by this coach is, well, mediocre.

But that's not reality. The real owner has decided the head coach is staying. And now he has a decision to make on, among other things, who will be his defensive coordinator.

Why not Rex Ryan?

Ryan is expecting to be fired as Jets coach, per multiple reports. Duh. He himself his missed the playoffs four consecutive years. But anyone that knows the NFL, understands Ryan is a gifted defensive coach.

So why not  hire him at Kevin Coyle's replacement?

Well there are obstacles. Firstly, another team might hire him as coach. Television might hire him as an analyst. And, Joe Philbin and Ryan don't seem to be a good match based on Ryan's free and open personality and Philbin's more, shall we say, stoic approach to things.

Rex, being Rex, last week opened the door to the possibility by publicly lubing up Philbin and the Dolphins on his conference call with the South Florida media when he was asked his thoughts on Philbin returning.

"He’s a (heck) of a football coach," Ryan said, using a word other than heck. "So, obviously Miami made a great decision bringing him back. I can tell you going against him, that’s a heck of a football team and that’s a really well-coached team. No surprise that he’s back. He’s one of the better coaches in the league and I’m really happy for him."

Philbin was complimentary of Ryan as well during the week.

So is this a thing? Can Rex Ryan come to the Dolphins as their defensive coordinator?

Doubtful at this stage.

But it is not beyond possibility that Miami has an opening. Personally, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

December 20, 2014

Keys to the game: Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

Several days ago I told you Miami Dolphins defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are in a sack drought. Well, in digging deeper into the matchup between the homestanding Dolphins and Vikings on Sunday, I've discovered the drought may soon end.

It seems Minnesota left tackle Matt Kalil so far this season has been the prescription for whatever inability to get to the QB might ail a pass rusher. Kalil, according to ProFootballFocus.com statistics, has allowed 12 sacks.

That is the most sacks allowed of any tackle (left or right) in the NFL this year.

Good news for Dolphins.

The rest of the day's matchups? Well, it is Saturday and so here are the keys to the game:

When the Vikings pass the football: Former Northwestern High star Teddy Bridgewater is the rookie starting quarterback but he seems to be maturing quickly and has won five starts. He is unlikely to take a lot of risks so that he can limit the turnovers that hamper so many young QBs. So Bridgewater will throw checkdowns, and shorter, quicker routes, which is one reason he’s aiming for his third consecutive game with a 70 percent completion mark. Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jairus Wright, who has eight catches the past two games, make up a solid nucleus to a receiver corps. The Dolphins need more pass rush production from their front four, particularly Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Vernon has one sack in the last four games while Wake has 1.5 sacks the past five games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Vikings run the football: The Dolphins and every Vikings’ opponent has escaped a potentially tough day because running back Adrian Peterson was suspended earlier this season for hitting his son with a switch. So the Vikings have turned to Matt Asiata, who is not a star but knows how to find the end zone. Asiata has scored 11 touchdowns the past 15 games. Asiata is versatile in that he caught seven passes last week. (Told you Bridgewater checks down to safer passes). The Dolphins last week put a tourniquet on the bleeding of rushing yards allowed. They allowed only 108 yards against New England after allowing 661 yards in the previous three games. Progress! Miami is nonetheless 22nd in the NFL against the run. Miami will see the return of starting linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi this week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: The story goes that the Dolphins could not throw deep because the offensive line didn’t give Ryan Tannehill enough time to wait for those long plays to develop. Then last week, the Dolphins threw deep and the reason stated was that the team can do it, but only when the defense is in man coverage. So what’s wrong with dictating to the defense rather than allowing things to be the other way around? Anyway, the Dolphins will face a defense that plays some man, some zone, some off man. Sometimes it blitzes. Sometimes it does not. Mike Wallace, Miami’s most explosive receiver, says he can get open against any defense and has been open over 80 percent of the time this season. Well, last year Captain Munnerlyn, playing for Carolina at the time, was unable to stay anywhere close to Wallace. Miamian Xavier Rhodes starts at the other cornerback and last week did good work shadowing Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.The Vikings are sixth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game and can get after the passer with DEs Everson Griffen (12.5 sacks) and Brian Robison (four sacks in past seven games). ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Miami run game has averaged under 4.0 yards a carry the last two games and no time this season has it been under the 4.0 mark in three consecutive games. The Dolphins hope that isn’t the case as they face the No. 23 run defense in the NFL. One of the reasons the Dolphins stuck with Dallas Thomas at right tackle even as he was allowing seven sacks in five starts is because he is an underappreciated run blocker. But he is doubtful for this game, meaning Jason Fox will start. The Dolphins running back rotation may be shorter this week with Daniel Thomas likely not playing because of a knee injury. If Thomas doesn’t play that may thrust LaMichael James back onto the active game day roster. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: The Vikings last week had a 26-yard field goal blocked in a game that was decided by two points. The Dolphins last week had a field goal blocked on their first series and the loose football was picked up and returned 62 yards for a touchdown. So it is fair to say everybody is seeking redemption. Do not be surprised if this game comes down to a field goal. The Dolphins have played three games decided by three points and are 1-2 in those. The Vikings have lost all three of their games decided by three points or less. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: First-year coach Mike Zimmer has his team pointing in a good direction late in the season. The Vikings have won two of three games and gave the Detroit Lions a tough time until succumbing, 16-14 last week. The defense Zimmer has installed is taking root and should be familiar to Miami fans because Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle learned under Zimmer and uses many similar concepts. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are having a bad December. They’ve lost two big games in a row and are thisclose to being out of the playoffs. Joe Philbin asked his team to play 60 minutes this week – something the team hasn’t completely done this year except in a couple of games. ADVANTAGE: Even.

December 19, 2014

Dolphins' Ross cannot have it both ways

Folks, we cannot have things both ways.

That is the lesson to be learned today because in Friday's Miami Herald, Adam Beasley is reporting Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross "has shown no indication that he has any interest in making a coaching change."

And this report, quoting a source, may calm the waters at the team's headquarters because it gives current coach Joe Philbin cover. And it shows that Ross, who in 2011 tried to hire Harbaugh even while he had a coach still in place, isn't doing the same thing through back channels at this stage -- covering the all important no tampering shoulder shrug.

So nothing is happening at this time, according to this source. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon virgin.

All this non-activity and non-interest and non-discussions of change with anyone could mean Ross is a gangsta mastermind, who owns the greatest poker face on Earth and doesn't tell his underlings anything.

Or it could mean Ross is the most slow-reacting, out-of-touch owner in the NFL.

I pick option one.

Honestly, am I seriously supposed to believe that as the Dolphins hit another benchmark of mediocrity last week at 7-7, with a coach who is 22-24 since 2012 ... in the midst of a December that has seen the offense score three touchdowns in 33 possessions while the once-proud defense is giving up an average of 27.3 points per game, including 69 points the past two weeks ... when the Dolphins lost consecutive big games ... the owner gave not one thought to the idea of making a coaching change?

He's just sitting there, showing, as the story says, "no interest in making ... a change," from Philbin to Jim Harbaugh?


Please tell me the Dolphins are using some media to make sure Harbaugh buys the point the team doesn't want to overpay for him. Please tell me the story is missing nuance.

Because if it is totally on the mark, then the man who owns the Dolphins is currently committing ownership malpractice sitting around thinking about, well, nothing.

Talking to no one.

Just helplessly observing as his team has regressed in recent weeks.

No. I choose to believe Ross is a brilliant man. I know he thinks outside the box. He values bold ideas. I believe he understands better than most his team is not performing to potential. I believe his eyes are wide open and he sees everything every disappointed fan sees and more, because he has the benefit of insight based on inside knowledge that most do not have.

Please, somebody tell me that is the truth.

Please tell me Ross is indeed considering every possibility for fixing his team including a coaching change, that he is leaving no stone unturned including Harbaugh, that he has made it clear 7-7 is not acceptable (because in Year 3 of a coach tenure it is not), and that he's thinking about this today and around the clock every day.

Because if Ross at this time really isn't considering anything, or anyone, or anything about anyone, this franchise is in trouble. Paralyzed.

So which one is it? Because you can't have it both ways.

December 17, 2014

The big issue on a coach: Who is an upgrade?

Last week I reported that if Dolphins coach Joe Philbin did not make the playoffs, owner Stephen Ross would consider making a change at coach.

I reported that the No. 1 target for Ross, who believes the Dolphins should be better than 7-7 at this stage, would be current San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh if he becomes available. Harbaugh's availability, by the way, seems likely.

But, as I also reported, there is no slam dunk on Harbaugh because, among other things, he may not wish to come east because of family concerns.

And then I reported this: It is quite possible that if he fails to land Harbaugh, Ross could survey the landscape of available candidates and basically decide none would be an upgrade over Joe Philbin. Keep that in mind. This could be a Harbaugh or bust exercise for Ross.

Again: It is possible Ross keeps Philbin if he cannot land Harbaugh. Keep this in mind amid reports that Philbin is definitely out or likely out. No decision on that matter has been made at this point.

This all assumes the Dolphins do not collapse the final two weeks of the season. They collapse and there is no saving Philbin.

But if they go 9-7 the waters get murky. Look, in my opinion Philbin has failed multiple times in getting his team to win games that mattered in the playoff chase. He failed with the playoffs on the line last year against Buffalo, and then against the New York Jets. He failed with playoff position on the line again this year against Baltimore and then got blown out by New England.

So on the big stage with a door to the playoffs wide open, Philbin's teams walked into a stone wall instead. That is a deal-breaker for me.

But Philbin's team can still salvage a 9-7 season. There is still failure in that -- winning meaningless games after losing meaningful games. But, hey, 9-7 is improvement and the coach can argue that to the owner when all is said and done.

That argument would ring hollow for Ross if Harbaugh signals (yes, it would be done through back channels) that he would come to Miami.

But the same argument may win over Ross if he cannot get Harbaugh and he cannot identify a clear and obvious upgrade to Philbin. That is the giant elephant caveat in the room.

And you know what else? If Ross cannot convince Harbaugh to come and doesn't think anyone else is better and keeps Philbin ... that would not be unprecedented.

After the 2003 season, then-owner Wayne Huizenga wanted to get rid of Dave Wannstedt. But he looked around and decided there were no obvious better choices on the market. So instead he kept Wannstedt while demoting him in that he took away his authority to make the final call on talent. Ironically, Huizenga gave final say power to Rick Spielman, who is now a pretty good GM for the same Minnesota Vikings the Dolphins play on Sunday.

Also interesting: Huizenga hired Dan Marino at the same time.

(Yes, I have seen this movie before, folks).

But I digress. So who is available assuming Harbaugh shuns Miami?

Well, Jon Gruden is out. He is a Ross favorite but he just signed a contract extension with Monday Night Football. It also doesn't seem as if Bill Cowher will be answering phone calls from the Dolphins.

Alex Marvez at FoxSports1 on Tuesday did a primer of available assistants that will be "hot" starting on Black Monday -- one day after the regular-season ends and coach firings begin.

Marvez mentioned Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Yeah, only if he can bring Peyton Manning. He mentioned Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, on whose defense the Dolphins scored 36 points. He mentioned Tony Sparano. Don't think that would work since he and Ross HATE each other.

He mentioned Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Well, if the Dolphins have a vacancy and it is not filled by Harbaugh, keep on eye on Jackson getting an interview because he is a client of Dolphins "consultant" Mike Tannenbaum and as a minority he would help the Dolphins meet the requirement of the NFL Rooney Rule.

[Update: Jackson was represented, in part, by Tannenbaum last year but this year is exclusively represented by Octagon's John Thornton -- famously a rookie of the year with the Titans Super Bowl team and a former Bengals captain.]

Quinn is a Tannenbaum client. The problem for Quinn is he has no head coaching experience. Why would Ross want another on-the-job-training situation?

Fans have been tweeting at me (@ArmandoSalguero) about Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. I remind you Bowles was the Dolphins' interim coach in 2011 and got a head coach interview with Ross. He did not get the job.

And while it is not unprecedented for Ross to double back from a previous search -- he hired Tom Garfinkel in 2013 after interviewing him during his 2009 CEO search, when circumstances led Garfinkel to the San Diego Padres -- Bowles would be another on-the-job-training candidate.

Honestly, must the Dolphins be a training ground?

Anyway, some guys with previous coaching experience include Gary Kubiak, the offensive coordinator in Baltimore and former Houston Texans coach. Solid. Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is out there. He strikes me as a fine coordinator, if you get my drift. And Patriots offensive coordinator and former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is out there.

(I wonder what Ross's feelings are about possibly getting used by a Patriots employee again after the Nick Casserio experience last year during the GM search).

Current New York Jets coach Rex Ryan will likely be out there but I've been told and reported last week that's not in the cards for the Dolphins. Atlanta coach Mike Smith might be out there. I have no opinion on him other than the past two years have not been very good.

Me? I think out of the box. I like Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. He has head coaching experience. He has won everywhere he's coached. He admittedly has no NFL experience but he wrote a book titled Hurry Up No Huddle -- An Offensive Philosophy, the principles of which multiple NFL offensive coaches have incorporated.


Heck, yeah. But bold.

Alas, Ross isn't asking my opinion. He does ask and get the counsel of a litany of advisors. Dan Marino, Carl Peterson, Garfinkel, Tannenbaum, Matt Higgins, Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, Paul Tagiliabue, former Michigan AD Dave Brandon. Some are employed by the team. Some are not. Some have more sway lately than in the past, as it varies. The Dolphins insist Ross is making all the calls -- sad they feel the need to insist this since he's the owner and that should be wholly understood -- but Ross absolutely listens to the varying opinions of his people. There is zero doubt about that.

Anyway, someone familiar with Ross's thinking texted me Tuesday, "Somewhere out there is the next Mike Tomlin."

Yeah, but I don't know if Ross can find that guy. I don't know if by making a change, Ross absolutely, positively finds an upgrade, either.

That's the issue. What coach could take the Dolphins to the next level?

Ross believes Harbaugh could.

But failing that, who else?

Perhaps no one -- and that, amazingly, might lead to Joe Philbin 4.0.

December 16, 2014

Tape review from PFF of Miami Dolphins loss

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin changed his team's Tuesday schedule this week. Rather than practice as they've done the previous 14 weeks, Philbin is having his players simply lift weights today. There will be no media availability and instead that will be extended to Friday.

This blog will be lifting weights on Tuesday as well.

What the heck.

But as Tuesday remains the day my friends at ProFootballFocus.com send in their initial tape reviews and I add when and where necessary, we will do that today as well.

Offensive Summary

Left guards Shelley Smith and Daryn Colledge continued to rotate every two series, with Colledge edging Smith in snaps against the New England Patriots, 46-35.

Running back Lamar Miller handled 43 of 81 snaps, while Damien Williams played 20 and Daniel Thomas chipped in with 18. The majority of Williams’ snaps came on the lengthy final drive. Williams, by the way, dropped a touchdown pass.

The Dolphins dropped two touchdown passes on Sunday with Rishard Matthews having the other one.

Brandon Gibson, inactive and little used in late September, has apparently gotten back in the coaching staff's good graces. Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry handled 61 and 60 snaps, respectively, while Brian Hartline and Gibson had 44 and 43. That's a lot for Gibson.

Ja’Wuan James took over the left tackle spot when Branden Albert was injured at Detroit. James seemed to initially adapt quite well to the move from right tackle. But after playing relatively weel against Denver and the Jets, James has struggled the past two weeks, according to PFF. Against the Patriots he allowed 11 hurries, a new career high.


Ryan Tannehill finally hit on that deep-ball everyone had been waiting for. Overall, Tannehill was 3-of-8 on throws of 20+ yards for 104 yards. The fact the Patriots were playing man coverage in the first half had a lot to do with Miami's desire to attack with the deep ball.

Tannehill was pressured on 23 of his 51 drop-backs but both of his interceptions came when he was under no duress.


All of Lamar Miller’s success was limited to the first half and almost exclusively on outside runs; on 8 runs between the guards on Sunday, Miller produced only 15 yards.


Darrelle Revis started the game shadowing Jarvis Landry, but the rookie later saw coverage against LBs, safeties, and other cornerbacks. After Mike Wallace beat the Pats on the opening play and for a one-handed TD to close the half, New England coaches adjusted and put Revis on Wallace.

It worked because Wallace was targetted only one time in the second half when covered by Revis and didn't have a catch against Mr. Island. Wallace did finish with five catches for 104 yards against everyone else.

Even with Kyle Arrington injured, Malcolm Butler didn’t see any snaps in the second half after being burned by Wallace for two big plays in the first half. Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson saw snaps as the nickel and/or dime defenders for New England. More adjustments from the Pats. 

Defensive Summary

With the Patriots going pretty heavy in two TE personnel, the Dolphins’ base defense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the defensive snaps.

Kelvin Sheppard made his first start since 2013, and he finished with four stops -- a high for Miami. The official statistics had Sheppard for 10 tackles to lead the team.

Dion Jordan dropped into coverage on eight of his 17 snaps. He was often running after New England tight end Gronkowski in coverage. But ...

Jordan was not on Gronk on either of the TE's two touchdown catches.

The Dolphins solved their run defense issues of the past three weeks. They allowed 108 yards on 29 attempts, but most of those came in the second half. In the first half, the Dolphins gave up only 20 rushing yards on 13 carries.


Despite intercepting a pass in the first half, Jason Trusnik was targetted by Tom Brady. The Patriots completed four of five attempts against him for 55 yards.

Likewise, Philip Wheeler was also exploited. Brady was able to match Gronk and Julian Edelman on Wheeler a few times, completing 3-of-3 for 62 yards.

Cortland Finnegan played well in his first game back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss a month of games. He limited Brady to a 50% completion percentage (5-of-10) when he looked his way. It was, however, interesting to see Gronkowski get behind Finnegan in one-on-one coverage. Brady underthrew, giving Finnegan the chance to make up ground and defend the pass.

Opponents’ passing

Juxtapose Brady’s deep-ball figures to Tannehill’s: Brady went 4-for-8 on 20-plus-yard throws, for 127 yards.

No wonder the Dolphins didn’t blitz that much: On eight drop-backs facing the blitz, Brady was 7-of-8 for 86 yards and a score.

December 12, 2014

Revis on Wallace? Just as likely Revis on Landry

Ryan Tannehill's words this week about the teammate that is going to be covered by Darrelle Revis on Sunday show how deep the pool of respect the Miami Dolphins quarterback has for the New England Patriots cornerback.

"Whoever they match him up on is going to have a tough game," Tannehill said, "but they are going to have to find a way to fight and find a way to get open.”

Well, many of us have been thinking the Patriots will match up Revis against deep threat Mike Wallace to stop the possibility of a quick strike over the top of their defense. Then again, maybe he'll be checking Brian Hartline to stop those annoying first down conversions and quick slants.

But the more I think about this, the more I believe it'll be Revis vs. Jarvis Landry.

Crazy, right?

Obviously Landry is only a rookie and still isn't as established as either Wallace or Hartline. But the strategy makes sense if you understand Patriots coach Bill Belichick tries to take away the opposing team's best weapon to force that team to win doing something else.

Well, Landry is Miami's most efficient pass catcher. He leads the team in catches. He has forged a bond with Tannehill. And despite being a rookie, he sets the tone for that offense in both toughness and persistence with the way he plays, the way he often breaks tackles, the way he makes the difficult catches.

So Revis, New England's best cornerback, on Landry, Miami's most productive receiver, makes sense.

It also makes sense even though Landry is a slot receiver and doesn't normally merit the other team's best corner. Revis, you see, is a very good slot corner when he needs to be. According to ProFootballFocus.com numbers, Revis has 136 snaps in the slot this season. That's less than Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington. But rarely does a team have their slot receiver mean so much to the offense as Landry does to Miami.

Another thing: When Revis goes into the slot he's a great cornerback that gets better. Again per PFF numbers, Revis allows a completion once every 15.4 coverage snaps at cornerback. But in the slot he allows a completion once every 22.7 coverage snaps.

So what if the Patriots do decide to contain, if not erase, Landry with Revis? What then?

Well, Wallace must step up. Hartline must step up.

The problem is the Patriots know that Wallace wants to step up by blowing the top off the defense and taking one 75 yards to the house. Problem is the Dolphins don't typically have the time to throw those passes that take so long to develop and on the rare occasions they do, Tanenhill has struggled to complete them.

I guess that is one reason putting someone not named Revis on Wallace seems like a logical gamble.

We'll see Sunday.

December 11, 2014

Ryan Tannehill: 'The season is not over'

Miami Dolphins fans have generally tossed in the towel on this season -- at least based on what I see on my twitter timeline and in my email inbox. And I would say there might be a player or two in the Miami lockerroom that has seen a shift in the way business is being done. One even told me Wednesday that "coaches are in self-preservation mode."

But quarterback Ryan Tannehill?

He looks out toward the horizon that offers a Sunday meeting against the New England Patriots and figures it is worth sailing toward, even following last Sunday's loss to Baltimore in what was considered a de facto playoff game.

“We didn’t play well in a big game for us, but the season is not over," Tannehill said Wednesday. "Obviously, it’s not fully in our hands now, but we can still control what we can control. That starts with this game on Sunday."

Tannehill went on to call the coming Patriot game "a big game for us."

"I’m excited about this opportunity," Tannehill added.

And what opportunity do the Dolphins have? Well, the math says the Dolphins have not been eliminated from anything. Yes, they dropped from being among the likely playoff teams to far back in the pack of teams chasing a wildcard berth following the Baltimore loss.

And, yes, they have tiebreaker issues working against them.

But stranger things have happened. (Work with me here, ok?)

"It’s a very, very important game, absolutely," coach Joe Philbin said. "You get an opportunity to play the New England Patriots. Your team is going to have to play extremely well to beat these guys, there’s no doubt about it. That’s what we told the team. They’ve seen the tape already. We practiced yesterday. We are going to practice here again [today]. On paper, they are a good team and, on film, they are a good team. We are going to have to play extremely well."

The opportunity the Dolphins keep talking about includes possibly ruining the Patriots' run a little bit. New England can clinch a division title with the win and a playoff berth, so there can be motivation in not allowing that to happen this week.

Not on our watch!

Something like that.

And, of course, coaches are trying to win to keep their jobs and players are trying to put good performances on tape to make sure they're employed next year as well -- if not in Miami, somewhere.

This game matters in the greater context. And it matters to individuals.


For Dion Jordan it matters because he will likely get a chance to show off his athletic prowess by getting a few opportunities to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"If I have to do it to help my team, then I’ll definitely do it," Jordan said. "This year, they’ve put me in position to cover other guys. I had to get ready mentally and physically to do it. If it happens this week, I’ll be prepared."

For Jarvis Landry, it is an opportunity to gauge his success now that he's no longer a secret. After last week, for example, Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees found Landry after the game to share his feelings about the rookie.

"He just said, 'You’re a great player,' " Landry said. "His job was to contain me a little bit and much credit goes to them. When you think about a Ravens defense, you always know they’ve had great defenses and great defensive coordinators, just took it as a compliment."

Yes, a great compliment. But you don't think a Bill Belichick defense will similarly take note of Landry? Yes, it will.

For Dallas Thomas, this game is an opportunity to get some redemption. Look, I think he deserves to be benched. I've seen enough. I'd play Jason Fox over him. But that apparently isn't happening because Philbin sees a lot of good in the very obvious and public bad Thomas has put on tape since becoming the starting right tackle.

"There’s a lot of pictures in the game where he pass protected well to be honest with you," Philbin said of Thomas. "There are a lot of good pictures in the game. There are a few that aren’t very good. I think in the run game he’s been productive, but you have to remember there are 50-some-odd plays in a game. We all sometimes get focused on the three or four bad ones, but there are a lot of good things."

By the way, Philbin is under the microscope now. He knows it. He talked Wednesday about the challenge he and his staff face. They beat New England in the season-opener. And here we are 13 weeks later and the Patriots (10-3) have a very good record and the Dolphins (7-6) do not.

So what does it say if a team is good enough to sweep the division leaders but not be consistent enough in the other games?

“I said about myself, our staff, how we are able to get these guys ready to play, it’s December 14 when it’s kickoff time in New England," Philbin said. "We are playing an outstanding opponent. We need to play our best football game of the year. You get paid as a coach to get your team to play up to their potential. That’s what we have to do."

The season isn't over. Yet.

December 09, 2014

Is this OL worse than last year PLUS Salguero and PFF review of Miami Dolphins loss to Ravens

Is this year's offensive line as bad at pass protection as last year's?

That, my friends, is a serious question that should be pondered at this point because there is data coming through that suggests the offensive line the Miami Dolphins have been putting on the field at times this season has been just as bad blocking for quarterback Ryan Tannehill as last year's terrible unit.

Obviously, the statistic everyone knows as if by rote is that last year the Dolphins allowed an NFL leading 58 sacks. And advocates of the 2014 line would say sacks this year are down. The Dolphins have allowed 34 sacks this year and that suggests significant improvement, so end of discussion.

No. Wrong.

Let's look beyond the raw numbers.

This year's 34 sacks projects to 41 sacks allowed for the season. And yes, that is still way fewer sacks allowed. But now you have to understand why.

The fact of the matter is this year the Dolphins are allowing fewer sacks because, unlike last year, they have decided to throw fewer deep passes of 20 yards or more and almost none lately. Last year, even as the line was struggling, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman tried to continue running as much of his offense as possible and that included way more deep throws per game than what Bill Lazor is trying, which is almost none.

The numbers do not lie. Lazor's offense this season has attempted 33 passes of 20-plus yards -- an average of 2.5 per game. Sherman's offense last season attempted 58 passes of 20-plus yards -- an average of 3.6 per game

So the Dolphins are allowing exactly one less sack per game this year at a time they are trying about one less deep pass per game.

I don't think that is coincidental.

ProFootballFocus.com measures a QBs time in the pocket in their signature stats. In 2013 Tannehill had an average of 3.80 seconds from the time he got the ball until he was sacked. This year he has had an average of 3.22 seconds from the time he takes the snap to the time he takes a sack hit.

So last year's awful line was actually giving Tannehill more time to throw.

The resulting strategy is the reason last year the Dolphins were 22nd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt and this year they are 28th in yards per pass attempt. The actual difference between last year (6.74 yards per pass attempt) and this year (6.6) is nominal. But when you factor that most teams have had their YPPA go up due to the focus by officials on rules that prohibit contact beyond five yards, it is sobering that Miami's stat has gone down.

And the inability to block up front to get those passes completed downfield is the reason for the decline as the only difference from a year ago to this year is a change in strategy -- a strategy forged to help the offensive line.

Understand that none of this looks at run blocking. I think it is fair to say this line is run-blocking much better than last year's line.

But unfortunately for the Dolphins, they don't run enough to take significant advantage of that improvement and the NFL happens to be a passing league. So the focus is on this line's struggles protecting Tannehill.

It definitely is so after a game in which the Dolphins allowed six sacks.

Anyway, the folks at ProFootballFocus.com sent me their initial grades and views on the Dolphins loss to the Ravens. I added some of my own, as always.


 Offensive Summary

The entire offensive line struggled (all graded -1.4 or lower), but the right side had the most trouble with Dallas Thomas and Mike Pouncey each allowing 5 pressures. The fact Thomas gave up so much pressure isn't a surprise. The fact Pouncey did is an eye-opener.

Let's face it, Pouncey played better at center the past couple of years than he has at right guard this year.

Brian Hartline wasn’t hampered by the knee he tweaked against the Jets. He played the second-most WR snaps and caught a TD pass: Mike Wallace played 51 of 63 snaps, Hartline played 46 of 63 snaps, Jarvis Landry played 42 of 63 snaps, Brandon Gibson played 25 of 63 snaps, and Rishard Matthews played 13 of 63 snaps.

Lamar Miller obviously had the most running back snaps with 37. He was followed by Daniel Thomas (14 snaps) and Damien Williams, who played a third-down role and had 12 snaps.

Tight end Charles Clay returned after missing two weeks with an ankle injury. He started, but Dion Sims wound up with more snaps, 44-31.


The Dolphins attempted only one pass attempt of 20-plus yards on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill went 4-of-7 for 70 yards in the 10-to-19-yard range.

And so what is the problem? Again, the offensive line does not afford Tannehill any time. And because that is true, the Dolphins have simply lost confidence in calling plays that require them to hold their blocks for any extended period of time.

There were 22 drop-backs in which Tannehill was under pressure. He took the six sacks and was 10-for-16 for 114 yards on the other drop-backs. So Tannehill can still complete passes under duress. But he cannot complete passes while under a mass of defensive linemen bodies.


Lamar Miller had success early running on the edges. Behind left tackle Ja'Wuan James and outward he had four carries for 25 yards. He carried only one behind right end for 11 yards.


Tannehill was able to take advantage of rookie C.J. Mosley in coverage, targeting receivers against him 14 times. They came up with 11 catches for 108 yards.

Despite being picked on this season, the Dolphins were only able to target Lardarius Webb in coverage once. That was a serious flaw in the Miami game plan or an oversight in the in-game play-calling. Webb struggled and the Dolphins failed to take advantage of a cornerback who has struggled all year.

Defensive Summary

The Dolphins allowed 183 rushing yards only a few days after giving up 277 rushing yards to the New York Jets. The only Dolphins defender who played well on run defense for the second straight week was defensive end Derrick Shelby (+2.2). He had three stops on 18 run snaps.

Philip Wheeler played his second-highest snap percentage of the season, and highest since Week 4 as the Ravens used two-TE and two-back personnel on the majority of the snaps he played.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins played the first 43 snaps, but he sat out the final 22 snaps with a foot injury.


You remember that earlier paragraph about the Dolphins failing to target Webb? The Ravens did not commit the same mistake in failing to go after Dolphins cornerback R.J. Stanford.

Stanford was picked on mercilessly in coverage. He had an interception in the end zone so that was good. But he also allowed nine completions on 11 passes against him for 91 yards. He also got lost in the wash while chasing Steve Smith across the formation to give up a TD pass.

Wheeler was a liability in coverage also. He gave up two 20-plus-yard plays in coverage and 3-for-3 for 53 yards overall. On one of those long completions, Wheeler actually had decent coverage and could have limited the damage but he missed the tackle and gave up 12 more yards after the receiver shed his tackle attempt.

The Dolphins sent a blitz on 14 Joe Flacco dropbacks. So they recognized they weren't getting to him with a four-man rush and tried something else. Flacco threw his interception (by Stanford) on one of those blitzes. But besides that play, Flacco completed 9-of-13 for 70 yards and a score against the Miami blitz.

November 25, 2014

Salguero and PFF review of Miami Dolphins at Denver

This week's ProFootballFocus.com study of the Miami Dolphins film following the loss to Denver will leave you with questions.

The questions:

Why didn't defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle blitz more?

Why Daniel Thomas in the red zone?

Is there a competition at left guard?

Why did Peyton Manning seemingly do something dumb and go after Brent Grimes after Lowell Rose came into the game?

And, of course, will Ryan Tannehill ever complete a deep ball to Mike Wallace?

The grading:

Offensive Summary

Left tackle Ja’Wuan James did well against DeMarcus Ware and company on his side (0 pressures) on his 22 snaps, while Jason Fox predictably struggled some on his 40 snaps, allowing one hit and one hurry.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor continues to mix up snaps with his WRs: Mike Wallace got 47, Jarvis Landry got 45, Brian Hartline got 43, Brandon Gibson got 35, and Rishard Matthews got 20. Interestingly, Gibson has been seeing more snaps lately than he was in early October. That speaks to his continual improvement from knee surgery a year ago and refusal to give up on himself and go into a practice funk.

Running back Lamar Miller handled 40 out of 62 snaps despite a knee and shoulder injury, but was curiously taken out in the red zone in favor of Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins are looking for a bigger, stronger back in the red zone to avoid negative runs.

LaMichael James saw his first action as a Dolphin. Thomas got 15 snaps, James got four snaps, Damien Williams got 3.

Shelley Smith and Daryn Colledge would rotate every two series or so, with Colledge finishing with a few more snaps, 35-27. It will be interesting to see if this was a function of easing Colledge back in after he missed three games or if Smith has earned sharing the position while Colledge has been out. It could be both reasons, actually.


Still no deep ball for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the intermediate game was on point. He was 7-for-8 for 109 yards and a TD when throwing between 10-19 yards.


Jarvis Landry caught five of his seven passes against Chris Harris, but his touchdowns came in coverage against Bradley Roby and Rahim Moore.

Tannehill did look to attack SS T.J. Ward in coverage, targeting him a team high eight times. Four of those targets went to Dion Sims.

Defensive Summary

Still have the All-22 checks to be made, but the Dolphins missed 14 tackles as a team versus the Broncos.

Miami’s normally dominant front four was rendered useless by Peyton and the running game. they registered just the one sack, hit, and pressure.

Lowell Rose came on for the injured Jamar Taylor, playing 14 snaps, but then Walt Aikens, who has been working mostly at safety in practice, relieved Rose for the final 9 defensive snaps.


When the Dolphins went to a zone, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas ate the Dolphins alive on crossers. Jelani Jenkins allowed 6-for-6 targets to be completed to the top two Denver WRs for 84 yards.

Against Dolphins DBs not named Brent Grimes, Peyton was 26-of-30 for 250 yards and four four TDs. Grimes was targeted five times, allowing two grabs for 7 yards.

Opponents’ Passing

The Dolphins did limit the big plays in the air against the Broncos. Manning Peyton was just 1-of-6 on throws of 20+ yards. Manning missed Sanders open deep for a touchdown against Grimes twice in the final quarter but overthrew both passes. The Dolphins had rolled coverage to the other side of the field so even though the Denver quarterback did not appear to be picking on newly installed Lowell Rose, an obvious weak link, he was in fact throwing to the right receiver locked in man coverage. The lone strike to Sanders that did go for a catch was a poorly thrown ball.

Maybe the Dolphins should’ve blitzed more. On eight blitzes during passing downs, Manning was 3-of-7 for 13 yards, which did include a TD but also the team's lone sack -- that in the red zone.

Opponents’ Rushing

The Broncos really aimed to get the running game going. They used a sixth offensive lineman 18 times, and blocking TE Virgil Green saw 56 snaps, while Jacob Tamme played 23 snaps. The Dolphins got bullied. They had no answer and, troubling, worse as the game wore on.

The Broncos were most effective running on the edges with the extra lineman; on six C.J. Anderson runs behind left or right end, he had 63 yards; Juwan Thompson’s 21-yard run also came behind right end.

November 20, 2014

Deeper look at Broncos reveals they have issues

If you missed the past couple of weeks of intense film study on the Denver Broncos, you probably believe the Miami Dolphins next opponent to be what they've been since Peyton Manning arrived in 2012: A Super Bowl contender headed to the playoffs.

That isn't necessarily what these Broncos are right now.

The team the Dolphins will play Sunday is actually in some trouble. 

Yes, the Broncos are 7-3 and lead the AFC West. But they've lost two of their past three games, including last week's upset at the hands of the St. Louis Rams. They've lost their toughness on offense. They're struggling with significant injuries. And, oh yes, the local newspaper ran a letter to the editor calling for the firing of coach John Fox.

"Comes with the territory," Fox lamented on Wednesday.

The issues start right at the top for Denver. Manning, a future Hall of Famer, is in something of a drought. He has thrown two interceptions in each of the past three games after starting the year with 22 TDs and only three interceptions the first seven games.

Manning had never thrown multiple interceptions in three consecutive games as a Bronco before now. And it is the first time he does so since 2010.

So, of course, that has led Manning to become somewhat introspective because he's looked at the mirror lately and believes the reflection needs improvement.

"I just made a couple of poor decisions and that resulted in some negative plays and put our team in some tough spots," Manning said of the latest loss. "[It] kept us from scoring opportunities, so I just have to be able to be more consistent in the decision making and then I think as an offense we just have to get back to finishing those drives.

"We moved the ball fairly well all season and for whatever reason recently we’ve gotten down to the 30-yard line or not even in the red zone last week and just stalled. We’re certainly starting off the drives well; we just have to finish them well and that’s kind of the offense goal for me. Just being more consistent, finishing the game with better decisions."

If Manning's decision making was the length and breadth of Denver's problems, that team would be dealing with a temporary issue. But the problem seems deeper than that.

The offensive line in front of Manning, for example, is a mess. Yes, the word "mess" is neither technical nor complimentary. But how else to put it when the Broncos brought in former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito -- who hasn't played in a year -- for a workout to see if he might be an upgrade.

And this unit is indeed needing improvement. That's the reason two weeks ago center Manny Ramirez was moved to right guard. Right guard Louis Vasquez was moved to right tackle. And reserve Will Montgomery was installed as the starting center.

This on a line that had already started the season with former starting right tackle Orlando Franklin at left guard.

The line the Dolphins will face is in transition. And the transition hasn't been kind. They gave up two sacks, four quarterback hits and six hurries of Manning against the Rams, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Denver's offensive line, by the way, has accounted for 29 of the team's league-high 87 penalties. The 29 penalties break down to 15 false start penalties and 14 holding penalties.

"It's worse than bad — it's horrendous," Mark Schlereth, the ESPN analyst and ex-Broncos Pro Bowl offensive lineman told the Denver Post. "I watch every game of every team every week. It's bad technique-wise, athleticism-wise, toughness-wise. If I was grading, giving an F would be kind.

"I went back and looked at the last three games — they don't block anybody," Schlereth continued. "I mean, if it's not penetration, they're horrible from an athletic standpoint at getting to the second level. So they lose the line of scrimmage, getting shoved in the backfield, and then at the second level, half the time three guys are shoved back a yard or two and two guys have to completely spin around because they've missed their guys and they're watching the action, lantern-holding, like: 'Be careful in there, it's really nasty!"

There are other worries. The Broncos may not be at full strength on Sunday.

Receiver Emmanuel Sanders suffered a concussion against the Rams and had not been cleared to practice. He told reporters he considered himself "questionable" for Sunday. Tight end Julius Thomas, who has 12 TD receptions, also did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of an ankle injury. He said earlier he's "day to day."

So the Denver passing game might have fewer options. And, oh, did I mention their running game is not very good?

The Broncos are 27th in the NFL in rushing. Three times this season and twice in the past three weeks the Broncos have not been able to run for even 50 yards in a game. Last week, offensive coordinator Adam Gase seemed to have so little confidence in the run game he simply stopped calling those plays. The Broncos ran only 10 times against St. Louis.

"In my opinion, we lost that game because I didn’t play well enough in the passing game," Manning said. "Did we throw it a lot? Yes we did. There were plays to be made and I didn’t make them. No matter how many times you run it or throw it you have to produce when you do it and so that is what I’m disappointed about that I didn’t execute the plays that were called the way they were supposed to. So if you’re looking for productivity, you are looking to have the threat on any given down to do different things but certainly looking to produce."

November 13, 2014

Offense good on surface but has issues deep down

The Miami Dolphins have scored 227 points this season and that suggests everything is working smoothly because that's 11th-best in the NFL and the 25.2 per game average exceeds the 25-point per game goal coach Joe Philbin set for his team before the season.

But this statistic is indicative of what the Miami offense really has been so far in 2014. It has been an iceberg that allows one view for everyone to see above the surface and a hidden and more ominous picture that is harder to find below the water line.  

Below the surface everyone knows that average is a mirage. It includes the three defensive touchdowns so far compared to only one all of last season. It doesn't speak to the habitual slow starts and frustrating inability to seal victories by simply moving the football and killing the clock. And it says little about the games against Buffalo, Kansas City, Jacksonville and Detroit in which Miami scored exactly one offensive touchdown.

Nine games played. One offensive touchdown in four of them.

Against the Lions last week, the lone touchdown came when the offense got the football at the Detroit 3 yard line, following a blocked punt returned 55 yards by Dion Jordan. That was Miami's touchdown drive last week: Three yards.

So while this unit. led by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, is seemingly well ahead of last year's 19.8 points per game, no one on the Dolphins -- not coaches nor players -- are celebrating because this unit has potential that's not being met and issues below the surface.

That's what multiple players are saying. That's what several sources within the organization are seeing.

The passing game, for example, suggests marked improvement compared to last season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved his completion percentage, his touchdown-to-interception ratio and his quarterback rating this season.

Tannehill has added running the ball as a dimension to his game and is making better decisions throwing the football.

You know what that makes him so far? The No. 17 rated quarterback in the NFL. Yes, that's better than No. 24 last year but everyone I've spoken to and even Tannehill admits that in Year Three he is still a work in progress because there are still worries about accuracy and pocket awareness and quickness making decisions.

Tannehill's yards per attempt average is 6.63 this season, which is 29th out of 32 quarterbacks and lower than last year's 6.66 average. This may not seem important to you, but Lazor is on record stating yards per attempt is the most accurate measure for the health of a passing game. So in a year where NFL passing numbers are better and higher across the board, the Dolphins have taken a small step back in this area.

Tannehill also has still not solved his deep ball accuracy issues. He missed three deep touchdown throws earlier in the season and one on Sunday against Detroit. Yes, that's fewer than a year ago. But that's the view above the surface.

Below the surface the fewer missed deep passes is, in part, a function of the Dolphins trying fewer shot plays.

One player recently told me in frustration, "they were there earlier this season but something always went wrong, just like last year. Either the receiver drops a pass or the quarterback has no time or he can't get it to his guy. It was nobody's fault. It was everybody's fault and now he (Lazor) doesn't seem to trust us dialing them up."

The evidence of such mistrust? It is not on the surface where Mike Wallace is on his way to an 80-catch season or rookie Jarvis Landry has become a threat all over the field. That's good. Very good.

The evidence is that Wallace's yards per catch is at 13.0 this year. And that is disappointing considering Wallace came to the Dolphins as a dynamic deep threat who averaged 17.2 yards per catch in Pittsburgh. He leads Dolphins wide receivers in yards per catch now but is merely tied for 50th among NFL receivers in the category.

Brian Hartline who averaged 13.4 yards per catch last year is still getting open, still running good routes, still practicing well, according to coaches. But his yards per catch stat has suffered by 3.2 yards since last year and is at a career low 10.2 yards per catch.  

Nobody's fault. Everybody's fault.

That leads us to the team's crunch time statistics -- third down passing, fouth-quarter passing, and red zone scoring.

On third down, Tannehill is completing 55 percent of his passes. His yards per attempt is at 5.86 yards. His rating is 74.4. And that translates to him ranking 26th among NFL third down passing leaders.

The fourth quarter has not been a friend to Tannehill and the passing game, either. Miami's QB is 34th in the NFL. The only QB below him that has gotten at least 80 fourth-quarter pass attempts is Austin Davis of the St. Louis Rams. Davis is usually a third-stringer and has this week been benched.

Statistics, you say? They can be skewed in number of ways, you say?

Consider: For whatever reason, be it a product of the system Lazor is running or the coaching staff's trust level, Tannehill does not often have the luxury of changing plays at the line if he sees something in the defense he does not like. He sometimes has the choice of two different plays -- a check-with-me option -- but hardly ever the option of going in a different direction.

This has raised eyebrows among players who say they had most success in systems the quarterback has greater freedom to be a playmaker.

That's not the only reason a couple of players have questions about Lazor. Before the season, Lazor told players the days of passing the ball on third-and-one were over. There was a buzz among Miami players about becoming a physical offense.

But after showing that phyiscal intent in the season opener against New England, with runs outnumbering passes 38-32, the Dolphins have settled into more of a passing mode. They've passed more than run in six of the past eight games. In two of those games the Dolphins threw twice as many passes as they tried runs.

The two players are wondering what happened to the idea of being a phyiscal offense.  

Making plays in the red zone has been an issue for the Dolphins this year. They are tied for eighth in the NFL with 20 red zone touchdowns. They lead the league with 43 red zone visits. Both numbers are good taken separately. Combined it's a bad thing.

As a result of inconsistent tight end play, because they don't have a running game they trust enough, and because they don't possess a player who is a matchup nightmare for the opposing defense in a short field, the Dolphins are converting 46.5 of their red zone visits into touchdowns.

That's 30th in the NFL.

“Well, we’ve had some negative runs down there," Philbin said. "We’ve had some sacks down there. We’ve had some dropped passes down there. We’ve had some penalties. I think the execution, when we study it, you look at the film, there’s some reason. Some of it has been good defense by our opposition. We certainly have to do better, but there are a lot of things that we can do better to help our scoring average go up.”

Yes, back to the scoring average.

The Miami offense has had some truly bright moments this year to get that average where it is. They've scored 38, 37, 33, and 27 points a couple of times.

The 37-point game against San Diego is the pretty, pristine tip of the iceberg because the Dolphins started well and didn't slow down until the game was out of reach. They struck a balance between pass and run, they spread the football around in the passing game, and they did it against the NFL's No. 8 defense.

The other high-scoring performances? The 38-point outburst came against Oakland, the NFL's 28th-ranked defense. And the two 27-point games came against Chicago, which has the NFL's worst scoring defense, and Jacksonville, which has the NFL's third-worst scoring defense.

But that probably goes unnoticed below the surface.