Sorting out a few more Dolphins issues in the aftermath of Sunday’s gut-wrenching loss:
### So just how unusual is it for teams to call defensive timeouts in situations like Joe Philbin did twice against Green Bay, and how often does this curious approach actually work?
To quantify this, we studied all NFL games played this season and all games played during Philbin’s 37-game tenure and included defensive timeouts that were called by the team that was leading by a margin of one touchdown or less late in the game but were not called because of injury and were not called for the purpose of conserving clock time to get the ball back. (We excluded icing kickers; the Dolphins have lost all three times when Philbin has done that.)
Here’s what we discovered: Philbin seems to call those types of timeouts more than anybody; he did it as many times in the Packers’ game-winning drive Sunday (twice) as the entire rest of the league did in the first six weeks of the season! The Packers hit big plays after both Miami timeouts: an 18-yard pass on a 4th and 10, and later, Aaron Rodgers’ game-winning touchdown to Andrew Quarless.
Of two similar timeouts called in all other NFL games this season, one was successful for the defense (Chicago sacked the Jets’ Geno Smith) and one was unsuccessful (Denver, trailing late, completed a 42-yard pass after a Seattle timeout).
But in Philbin’s defense, consider this: During his previous 36 games as coach before Sunday, he called a timeout in that type of situation seven times and five of the seven plays that followed those timeouts were positive plays for Miami. Philbin is essentially now 5 for 9 after Sunday, because both of those plays after timeouts were disastrous for Miami against Green Bay.
Of the two times before Sunday that the Dolphins defense failed immediately after a Miami timeout (an 18-yard completion by Philip Rivers, a 4th and 8 conversion by Tom Brady), Miami won both of those games.
Here's when Philbin's approach worked: Last season, Andrew Luck followed two late Dolphins timeouts with an incompletion and sack late in a Miami win. And with the opponent having no timeouts left, Miami’s defensive timeouts last season preceded Rivers’ game-sealing incomplete pass against the Dolphins (from the Dolphins' 25 yard-line) and preceded each of two Brady misfires (an incomplete pass and a Michael Thomas interception) from the Dolphins' 14 yard-line to close out that December Miami win.
So Miami did the exact same thing last season against San Diego and New England that it did Sunday --- calling a timeout to get organized defensively before the game's final play, when the opponent had no timeouts. Miami made the play to win both of those games last year; it didn't Sunday.
So Sunday was the first time Philbin did this odd timeout thing and lost the game. He said he will continue to assess that approach.
So is his philosophy smart or foolish? Jason Taylor called Philbin’s decision “a head-scratcher” on NBC Sports Network.
Jimmy Johnson said via e-mail that there are “arguments for both sides,” but noted: “If you need the time defensively, you help the offense by giving them a breather and allow them time for a play and substitutions.”
### Why was it a mistake to have Philip Wheeler in one-on-one pass coverage on Rodgers’ winning touchdown?
Consider: Over the past two-plus seasons (one season for Oakland, 20 games for Miami), Wheeler has allowed 105 of 138 passes in his coverage area to be caught (for 1020 yards), with that 76 percent failure rate among the worst for all NFL starting linebackers.
Over the past three seasons, quarterbacks have a 111, 109 and 95 rating in his coverage area. No wonder he was annoyed about being left alone against Quarless!
Miami instead should have used Jelani Jenkins, who has permitted only 10 of 19 passes thrown against him to be caught this season (with a 67 passer rating). Jenkins said he was lined up against a running back on the play.
### Did coaches scold Wheeler for publicly criticizing the defensive call on that play?
Wheeler said no. “And I don’t apologize for anything I said,” he said Tuesday. OK then.
### What Dolphins player, in jest, threatened to bench himself after the game?
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who said Sunday: “If I don’t play better I need to sit my [butt] down.”
Finnegan has allowed 18 of 25 passes thrown against him to be caught for 201 yards, with a 95.6 passer rating against.
On Tuesday, he said: “I used my neck [injury] as a crutch not to tackle well. No one gives a rip.”
Finnegan, 5-10, said that on Sunday against Chicago, he will sometimes cover 6-4 Brandon Marshall. They have a colorful history; Finnegan said Marshall claimed he was identifying Marshall’s pass patterns before the snap in a Dolphins-Titans game in 2010, and Marshall was frustrated.
Told by one reporter than Marshall does not like him, Finnegan said: “I like him. That’s all that matters. I’m a likable guy.”
### For those hoping for defensive staff changes at UM, no decisions are expected to be made until UM sees how the season plays out.
An associate of Golden's (nobody mentioned in this column) has said it would be wrong to conclude that Golden would never replace Mark D'Onofrio because of their friendship if he decided that was necessary.
In interviews both with me last Friday and Tuesday night with Gary Ferman on Canesport Radio, James indicated a preference to allow the coaches to decide the composition of their staffs.
When I asked if he could envision a scenario in which he would tell a coach to make a change on his staff, James said: “My philosophy is you hire head coaches to run their programs and my job is to give them the support they need to be successful.”
He told Canesport Radio he would make exceptions and intervene if an assistant coach creates problems for a university such as committing an NCAA violation.
But Golden is "the one that needs to have the power to make all those decisions, the specifics of it. I'm going to ask questions. He runs his program, and he runs his program well. He'll make the decisions that are best for the long-term success of the program."
James told Canesport Radio: "You can't tell people what needs they have. If that's the case, I probably should be the coach."
He said in general: "I might talk to Al about how is our offense getting better, how is our defense getting better, what are we doing on special teams, where are we with recruiting."
### Has either the particularly harsh UM-bashing from former players or the fire-Golden banner flown by a disgruntled fan at Saturday's game struck James as over the top?
“It isn’t helping us get to where we all want to see the program,” James told me. “We all want to see the program back at the top. While I understand the frustration, we all have to look at what are the things to help us have that success. Things that don’t help us have success aren’t helping. Would I rather the former players not do it? Without a doubt.”
Of the criticisms leveled by former players, James told Canesport Radio: "It's disappointing when it's verbalized as publicly. These type of comments [don't] help us. [But] I respect who they are. They are all part of the family."
### James told Canesport Radio, as he has told me earlier this season, that he has full faith in Golden.
"Am I confident we're going in the direction we need to go? Without a doubt.... I have full confidence Al will make adjustments that need to be made to get us back to the top.... To rebuild a program takes time."
### Mario Chalmers said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra hasn’t explained why he has started Norris Cole instead of him in preseason, adding: “I don’t know where things stand but I just know I’m the starter.” Chalmers sat out tonight with a hip pointer.
### Chris Bosh said Shabazz Napier already is the Heat’s most creative passer: “He’s like a quarterback. He sees things before they happen.”
But field-goal percentage remains an issue for Napier.
“You have to work harder to get your shot [in the NBA]," Napier said. "Guys are much longer."
Against Atlanta tonight, Napier shot better than he typically has this preseason (4 for 8) on a 12-point, four-assist, one-turnover night.
### Some people inside the Heat believe James Ennis needs to play, and it will be disappointing if he doesn’t start the season in the rotation. But Spoelstra, while praising him, also cautions that his defensive “understanding and discipline with the system still has a ways to go.”
Said Dwyane Wade: “He’s a very talented kid. We all see it. I tell him all the time, ‘You can be as good as you want to be.’”
Bosh today called Ennis a “diamond in the rough. His athleticism, shooting ability and playmaking ability is second to none. He has a tremendous upside. He is going to help us a lot.”
Ennis had 10 points (just 3 for 9 shooting) and five steals in 19 minutes in tonight's preseason loss to Atlanta.
During the regular season, the Heat (0-4 in preseason) cannot afford nights like this one, when both Wade (4 for 12) and Luol Deng (1 for 6) struggle from the field.