The Dolphins are gearing up for a matchup with the playoff-bound Patriots this Sunday. This will be a good test against a quality opponent – perhaps the best in the AFC – to see just what kind of a team the Dolphins have and where they are.
As documented below, the Patriots have something to play for here and will likely be motivated. If the Dolphins win, it will position them amongst the top teams in the NFL.
Here are ten thoughts on the game and the state of the league as we enter the last week of the regular season.
1. Same ol’, same ol’.
The New England Patriots will enter this game needing to win it to clinch the top seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s the same situation they were in last year when they entered the Dolphins game and ultimately lost it. Same stakes but the guess here is that we’ll see a different conclusion. Or at least a different approach.
In 2015 the Patriots decided to go with a curious game plan in this game. Their run game had been struggling and they decided to use it to fix that aspect of the offense rather than devising a strategy which would have been more likely to take advantage of their current strengths and win. They failed on the ground and ultimately fell to the Dolphins, 20-10. The Denver Broncos took the top seed as a result and the AFC Championship was in Denver where the Patriots are 0-3 in the playoffs with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Ultimately it proved to be their undoing.
Not many people criticize Belichick too heavily nowadays but the way that the Patriots chose to play the game was universally considered to be a mistake in retrospect that may well have cost them a Super Bowl title. The guess here is that this year the lesson will be well learned though you wouldn’t know it from the quotes going into the game.
"[Finishing strong is] a big part of our mindset," defensive co-captain Devin McCourty said. "We just know it doesn't matter. I think everyone wants to talk about home-field advantage and playoffs and stuff like that. We just know the most important thing as a team is playing good football.
"That's going out, like I said during the week, executing during practice, playing and practicing at a high level. That gives us a chance to come out here Saturday and play well. We see it work. We go out there and have a good week of practice and then we come out here and play well so I think all across the board as a team, we know that, we understand it."
In any case, the Patriots will almost certainly play to win so that they can enter the playoffs on a high note. They definitely want the path to the Super Bowl to run through Foxboro.
2. One huge factor that will likely figure heavily into determining the outcome of this game will be whether the Patriots continue their thieving ways by winning the turnover battle against the Dolphins. They enter the game Sunday having forced 12 turnovers during their last five games, which is tied for the second most in the league over that stretch.
It’s a complete turnaround since opening the season with nine takeaways in 10 games, including only two from Weeks 4-11. That continued a trend in that their 21 forced turnovers last season were their second fewest under head coach Bill Belichick. So from the 2015 regular-season opener until Week 11 in 2016, including the playoffs, the Pats had only 32 takeaways in 28 games. In all four Super Bowl runs, the Patriots averaged at least two takeaways per postseason game.
“Once you start doing good things over and over, it starts to become contagious,” defensive back Malcolm Butler said. “It just goes with the flow. It just starts happening automatically, but you’ve got to work for everything.”
“There’s nothing that correlates more to winning than turnovers,” Belichick said Saturday, as he often does. “No. 1 is points. No. 2 is turnovers.”
Don’t the Dolphins know it.
3. As predictable as the sun’s rising and setting, the New York Jets media and fans are finally getting serious and calling for the team to play Christian Hackenberg. For weeks they wasted time calling for Bryce Petty to play when everyone knew that the Jets had no plans to make Petty a starter. The minute the Jets took Hackenberg in the second round, he became the heir presumptive and Petty’s status was superfluous.
Now that Petty injured his shoulder last week in New England and is unlikely to play this week against Buffalo, the voices rose in support of throwing Hackenberg into the breach instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The thought was that Hackenberg would need two years of development before starting when he was drafted. But, at least as far as fans and some media are concerned, that’s all going out the window in the face of a losing season where fans just want to see progress wherever they can find it. The team’s explanation that Hackenberg isn’t fully baked yet and the implication that starting him may damage his psyche isn’t resonating as much anymore, no matter how much truth there may be to it. Comments from former NFL quarterback and current CBS analyst Dan Fouts are to the point.
“There’s only one way to learn, and that’s by playing," Fouts said. “The experience you get as a player far outweighs anything you can do by watching from the sidelines. [The Jets] are not going anywhere, so I think this is a perfect time to give Hackenberg a shot to see what he can do.’
“You have to have experiences in failure as much as success, and part of being a quarterback’s makeup is how do you handle the rough times?
“A rookie quarterback is going to have a lot of rough times. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-round pick or a sixth-round pick like Tom Brady, you’re going to struggle and you’ve got to have that experience on the field to [learn how] to handle it.’’
For every Aaron Rogers who got years to develop behind Brett Favre, there’s a Peyton Manning who was thrown into the fire in a futile losing season before successfully emerging. There’s something to the theory that you’ve either got it or you don’t and if it's your destiny, you will succeed regardless of when you start playing.
The world will never know but given that if they stick to the plan, the Jets will have to sit Hackenberg in the face of the media pressure next year as well, he is bound to be a test case for one side or the other eventually. We just don’t know which one yet.
4. As the year winds down and coaching staffs come into focus, how a team reacts to the disappointment that all non-playoff teams becomes a huge issue. In that respect, two situations around the NFL are of interest to fans.
The first is the situation in New York where the team has looked an awful lot like it has quit on head coach Todd Bowles, making what should have been a disappointing, but not totally debilitating season into one that has put Bowles' head squarely on the block.
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, one of the team's most promising players, said after a disastrous blowout loss to New England last week that, "Guys just weren't ready to play. We didn't really play with a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm. It seemed like we were out there going through the motions.
"Me, personally, I play hard every game. I know a lot of other guys on this team do, but some people are probably looking past the season, thinking that it's over and stuff like that."
Williams also said he doesn't think Bowles should be blamed for that. But he will be. In truth, you could argue that he should be.
But that’s not all. The latest problem is apparent in fighting amongst the players where defensive end Sheldon Richardson ripped Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Marshall and Richardson have been at odds all season. In a situation that is familiar to fans around the country where Marshall has tried to be a team leader, the former Dolphin and Bear has instead caused a rift. A few days ago, Marshall apparently decided to “lead” by angering Richardson when he commenting on Richardson's vulgar Snapchat video, which drew the wrath of Bowles.
Echoing Bowles' comments on the video, Marshall called it "unacceptable."
"I don't care what that guy says," Richardson said, commenting on whether he was upset by Marshall's take on the matter.
The feud was sparked again Saturday, when Marshall said the 38-point loss was "embarrassing."
Minutes later, Richardson was asked by reporters if he felt the same way.
"He should be embarrassed," said Richardson, confirming he meant Marshall.
Richardson was asked why Marshall should feel embarrassed.
"No reason," Richardson said. "He just should be. He knows what he did."
Richardson declined to provide specifics.
Richardson and Marshall had a heated exchange in the locker room following a Week 3 loss to the Chiefs; the incident was so intense that Bowles addressed it immediately with the entire team.
Asked if he respects Marshall, Richardson said, "Personally? Yeah. Professionally?"
He shrugged, as if to say no.
This is bad news for Bowles. True or not, fair or not, the feud makes it look like he has lost the locker room that is no longer playing for him to begin with. Add that to speculation in the New York Post that owner Woody Johnson uncharacteristically stayed away from the New England game because he was tired of watching his team be uncompetitive and it’s a grim picture.
Bowles probably shouldn’t be fired. But don’t be surprised if he is.
5. The other situation to keep an eye on is in Minnesota. This one isn’t as dire in that no one really believes that head coach Mike Zimmer will lose his job. But a bit of an ugly incident isn’t casting his control over his team in the best light either.
The Vikings considered themselves to be on the verge of a playoff berth before the season started and when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down with a serious knee injury, they went all in, over paying the Eagles for Sam Bradford in exchange for a 2017 first round draft pick and a conditional 2018 fourth rounder. Initially the move appeared to pay off as the Vikings started the season 5-0. But their dreams were then flushed down the toilet as they went an ugly 2-8 in the last 10 games entering the Bears game on Sunday.
The Vikings desperately needed a win to keep their very slim playoff hopes alive last week. Zimmer wanted Xavier Rhodes to shadow Packers receiver Jordy Nelson throughout last Saturday’s 38-25 loss but in an act of outright mutiny, Rhodes decided that he should instead stay on his side throughout the first half before Vikings coaches put their game plan back on track by halftime. Rhodes explained it like this.
“We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we’d never done that when we played against the Packers.Us as DBs felt like we could handle him. That’s how we felt as DBs that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we’d always played against them and played our sides, we never followed, so that’s what we felt as DBs. That’s what we went with.”
Nelson had one of the best days of his career, catching nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Almost all of the damage came in the first half, when Rhodes wasn’t shadowing Nelson and when Rhodes stayed on Nelson in the second half, he held him to two grabs for nine yards.
“That’s what he was supposed to do the whole game,” Zimmer said. “Someone decided they wouldn’t do that.”
That someone was apparently the other staring cornerback, Terence Newman, who approached Zimmer about the issue before the game and was told to “do what you are supposed to do.” He didn’t and the rest of the Vikings defensive backfield followed.
The incident probably says more about Newman’s future with the team than Zimmer’s. But these are the kinds of things that happen when a team goes all in thinking that they can make a playoff run and then becomes disillusioned as it collapses down the stretch.
6. Want to know why the Buffalo Bills can’t get out of their own way to compete in the AFC East? Look no farther than the timing of the firing of now ex-head coach Rex Ryan. Ryan was finally let go after weeks of speculation surrounding his job with what could be kindly termed, “curious” timing.
Anyone with any common sense would have fired Ryan on Sunday, giving interim head coach Anthony Lynn a full NFL work week to prepare for the season finale vs. the Jets. Yes, Sunday was Christmas but, as Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk points out, with three years left on a contract at more than $5 million per year, an eight figure unemployment package wouldn’t make for a terrible holiday gift.
In any case, Ryan was fired on Tuesday, leaving just five days until their next game and leaving Lynn in a difficult spot.
On top of that, the Bills have decided not to play quarterback Tyrod Taylor because if he were to get injured, he would be guaranteed over $30 million dollars in advance of an option which becomes due in March.
That sends a wonderful message to players who will told to play to win while the team’s actions say “just play out the string.” Combined with the Jets notable lack of effort over the last couple games mentioned above, I’m sure that will make for a wonderful environment for football in New York on Sunday.
7. I found comments by defensive lineman Marcell Dareus after the Ryan firing to be interesting. The conversation with ESPN reporter Josina Anderson centered on what went wrong with the Buffalo defense that is widely believed to be the single biggest reason why Ryan was let go.
"It was just too much detail for a lot of guys, and I feel like for a lot of guys it was too much going on for them to check here and check there, if this happens and that happens. Then nine times out of 10, a team will throw something out there that we weren’t prepared for, and then the adjustment to it, we had to get use to and try to make it happen and make plays."
Ryan is widely accepted to be a brilliant defensive coordinator and I always cast a suspicious eye towards explanations like this because Ryan’s defenses have worked extremely well in other places like Baltimore and New York. But Dareus added a kicker that makes a lot of sense.
"We’ve learned the defense this year, and we have played it pretty fast, and we have played it pretty good, but with injuries brings new players [and] younger players up, and from there you have more injuries. Then from there you simplify the defense to the point where everyone can play fast. There always was just constantly a change with whatever was going on and how everybody was playing it."
Having a plan for injuries when, not if, they happen is a big part of whether an organization can find consistent success year to year. A healthy year can mean good things for anyone but the organizations that compete year in and year out are the ones that overcome the injuries that always catch up eventually with any team.
Complex schemes mean it’s tougher for healthy and often younger back up players to step in and seamlessly take over. This appears to have played a big part in Ryan’s downfall and it’s a good point in favor of the “do a little bit and do it extremely well” group of strategists around the league.
8. Having said that I contend, and always contend, that fired personnel from the front office down to the coaching staff often find that they were their worst enemy.
Within the locker room every coach needs to set the bar high and players need to expect to win as much as possible every single week. But privately within the front office and publically in the press, this is a whole ‘nother issue. In particular, setting public expectations is a huge part of how you are perceived and how you are perceived is a huge part of whether you will keep your job year to year.
No one exemplifies this more than Ryan. This quote from January 2015 shortly after he took over as the Bills head coach, pretty much says it all.
"I'm not going to let our fans down," Ryan said. "I am not going to do that. I know it’s been 15 years since the Bills made the playoffs. Well, get ready, man. We're going. We are going."
Almost two years later, the Bills haven’t made the playoffs.
This really isn’t Ryan’s fault. Honestly, how Doug Whaley manages to keep his job is a mystery to me. Whaley has been with the organization since 2010 and in charge since 2013. In that period the Bills have arguably the worst drafting record of any of the NFL franchises. They have only 22 of their draft picks on the active roster and only 31 on the team, ranking them dead last in the NFL.
And yet it's Ryan who takes the fall because it was Ryan, himself, who implied that he was given a playoff quality roster and then ultimately failed to deliver.
9. We knew something odd was going on between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and running back Doug Martin. And it may not bode well for his future with the team.
Martin was a healthy scratch for last week’s game against the Saints.
"Coach's decision," Koetter said after the 31-24 loss Saturday to the Saints. "You know, we've got four backs, and we can't give them all touches. So, like we sat 'Quizz' a week ago. But (Charles) Sims and Peyton Barber are a lot more involved in special teams. So we really only have room for one primary ball carrier right now, so I felt like it was better for us this game to go with Quizz."
How much did Martin's lack of production (less than three yards per carry) factor into Koetter's decision?
"I'm not going to get into any of that," Koetter said. "We're blessed at running back. This was a decision for [Saturday]. It is what is it for [Saturday], and we'll see what we have to deal with what comes next."
Hmmm…well, as it turned out, there was more to it than that. Martin has now been suspended for four games and is entering a drug treatment center.
“Nobody knew," offensive lineman Evan Smith told reporters. "Nobody is mad at Doug. We don't want anybody to fall on hard times, and if they do, that's kind of a big part of the locker room -- we're a big brotherhood and we all pick each other up."
"I don't think any of us can understand what he's going through unless (we've) been in his shoes," Koetter said. "So I don't pretend to be able to understand what he's been going through. The only thing I really want to say is ... I think it's a positive thing that he's taken steps to put himself in position to have better health and a better life long-term."
Martin is having a bad year and has lacked explosion after missing six games with a hamstring injury. Still the star running back signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract with $15 million guaranteed last offseason. In light of this development, it’s not impossible that the Bucs will release Martin but the cap hit would be tough to swallow if they did.
And what would the market be like for Martin? Martin is a star in the league and, at 27 years old he’s in his prime. But teams aren’t too jacked up about shelling out money for free agent running backs nowadays, especially those who seem to have a serious drug problem. The thinking is that you can find a good one in the middle rounds of the draft.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this situation.
10. Who was the most disappointing team of 2016? An ESPN poll asked just that and at the time of this writing the Carolina Panthers were running away with it at 28% of the vote. The Vikings were second with just 11%. But for my money, I’ll take the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina went to a Super Bowl last year but a lot of things fell their way as they were 2015’s team of destiny. Once things got tough, you pretty much knew Cam Newton would start to pout and that the team would be unlikely to be able to pull off a second run. The Vikings have been building towards this season for some time but hadn’t, and still haven’t, shown that they can beat anyone who is really any good with an awful offensive line that was and continues to be their Achilles heel.
But Arizona was a different story as they had shown that they could compete with the best in 2015. They had it all and had emerged as media darlings heading into 2016 with everything from head coach Bruce Arians being everyone’s favorite gruff and candid uncle to David Johnson who is well on his way to developing into the NFL’s best running back. Amazon even featured the Cardinals in a series called "All or Nothing."
Despite being 8th in total offense and 3rd in total defense, the Cardinals were 6-9 entering Sunday’s game and are a bit of a puzzle. All of that apparent mojo entering the season disappeared rather quickly and they have become something like the antithesis of the 2015 Panthers – whatever could go wrong, has gone wrong.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic told KJZZ radio that he thought part of the problem was that the team began to believe its own headlines.
“I always go back to their struggles at the beginning of the season. I kept hearing from players, ‘Well, we’ve proven that we can rattle off a lot of wins in a row. We won 4 in a row in ’13 and 6 in a row in ’14 and 9 in a row in ’15.’ This is such a year-to-year league and what you did last year means nothing. I kept thinking, ‘This team, the 2016 team, hasn’t proven that they can win 2 in a row.’ I think maybe there was a failure to realize that every season is a season unto itself and what you did last year doesn’t carry over into the next year.”
In any case, they have simply been unable to break through and a lot of it appears to have been just plain bad luck. The Cardinals have lost a lot of close games this year and you could argue that if they just snap the ball correctly and make the kick, they could have easily won three more games and been in the middle of the playoff hunt.
But that’s the loser’s lament and the more cynical amongst us might be more likely to call “bad luck” something more akin to “failure to finish.” In that respect, Arians and the rest of the Cardinals organization is going to have to give some thought to what they can do to turn that around. In the meantime, the challenge for those players who survive the offseason will be to bounce back in 2017 where, they hope, fortune will begin to favor them again.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
After the Miami Dolphins got the greatest Christmas gift in the world from the Kansas City Chiefs in the form of their first playoff berth since 2008, there was a lot of discussion regarding what direction the Dolphins should take during their final regular season game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
On the one hand, Miami is suffering from numerous injuries, and even the players who are healthy enough to play are seriously feeling the wear and tear of the regular season and are trying to fight through the pain. So sitting the starting players would give an extra week of healing as the Dolphins prepare for the Wild Card weekend.
On the other hand, Miami does have a chance to make their playoff trip a little easier if they manage to beat the Patriots on Sunday. A win would put the Dolphins at 11-5 and put them in a position to potentially jump into the fifth seed rather than the sixth, which would let them face the Houston Texans rather than the Pittsburgh Steelers who is their current projected opponent.
But for that to happen, they also need help from the San Diego Chargers who will need to win at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that - ironically enough - is largely responsible for Miami getting into the playoffs to begin with. Long story short, there is no guarantee that a win against New England gets the Dolphins anything other than an improved record.
So we asked you all what you think Miami should do. Should they sit their starting players and concede the sweep for the Patriots and let their wounds heal? Or should they send whoever is able out onto the football field and try to take out their division rivals in an attempt to potentially improve their playoff situation?
The poll was incredibly lopsided.
Fans voted 86% in favor of Miami trying to beat New England - not just because of the playoff improvement but also because of their own newfound pride as a franchise.
Here are some of the things that you all said in response to the poll's question.
There were a few who voiced concern over the possibility of losing an important player like Branden Albert or Jay Ajayi to an even more severe injury, but the overwhelming majority didn't care about that and want to see the New England Patriots go down now that Miami has found a way to win football games no matter what.
For this writer's thoughts, I would honestly like to see the important players like Ajayi and Albert rest if only to ensure their availability for the playoffs. If the Dolphins can beat any team, they can beat a team that they already beat earlier this season.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung.
Follow Ian Berger: @ian693
Looking back growing up in Brooklyn, people often ask me how did I become a Dolphins fan. Well, I guess we have to go back to the summer of 1971. I was 13 years old, and been only a baseball fan, NY Mets, following my dad. He was never into football, so I was not naturally born into following a team, I had choice when it came to football.
Most kids in the neighborhood were naturally Jets or Giants fans. As I was trying to learn the game on my own by watching on TV, I did not feel any magic for those teams, perhaps it was their current record, or perhaps it was something else?
Anyway, it just so happens that summer of 1971, my family had a road trip down to Miami to visit my mother’s aunt. It was the typical dysfunctional family trip you would watch on many movie screens. You all have seen it… parents fighting, how were they going to pay for this vacation, car breakdown somewhere in Vero Beach, and on and on it goes…
So as a 13 year old being dragged in and out of the back of the car while visiting some 90 year old great great aunt, here I was in Miami. And then somehow it happened. There was Dolphins paraphernalia. Yes, that’s what I wanted, something, anything with that Dolphins logo. I can not even remember exactly what it was, but it said on the front I’m a Dolfan. I felt a connection. For I had a football team that I chose by myself.
We all know it was not easy to follow an out of town sports team in the 1970’s. For those millennials reading, there was no internet, no ESPN. But it was great times. I had an identity, I was the Dolphins fan. During that 1971 season while walking to and from school, and during lunch period, and whenever with friends, I was the Dolphins fan. Within my group of friends, besides the Jets and Giant fans, we had a Packers fan, a Chiefs fan, and a Cowboys fan. It was great, for the Dolphins were on the rise.
And then there was the game…Christmas 1971, the playoffs we were playing the Chiefs.The longest game! Two overtimes, I was loving it, and been a sincere, passionate fan ever since.
Looking back now the years seem to blend together. The players still stand out though. My favorites, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Manny Fernandez, Jake Scott, Dick Anderson, and of course Dan (never had a son, but second daughter named Danielle. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone it’s for Number 13), and Coach Shula.
Enjoyed the glory years, and felt the pain during the playoff losses, and yes, the losing seasons.
Sat through many Dolphins-Jets games in New York. Yes, abused by the Jets fans, got to see the famous Marino spike game and had a last laugh while exiting the Meadowlands that day. Have been fortunate to visit Miami and see some games in the sun amongst the fans. By the way, love the new stadium!
Like most die hard fans, I try very hard not to miss a snap of a Dolphins game. Gave up my DirectTV, so visit a local sports bar on Long Island every Sunday to watch.
Also for the first time took my girlfriend dressed in Dolphins garb to our first MetLife takeover. It was at the event, I got to finally meet my new friend Ian, Big E…AND same last name as me…what a difference visiting MetLife with my hundreds of Dolphins family. It was truly a great event, that every Dolphin Yorker should attend.
Finally, my feelings today as a long time fan. Yes, it’s great that we are back. Finally we seem to be in the right direction with a front office in synch and a head coach that is a true leader AND innovator, where he can encourage and motivate a team to reach limits where talent alone may not prohibit.
But I have seen the Dolphins at the height of the game. Real true Perfection and class. And I have also seen the lows, the ownership gaffes, the coaches (let's not mention them), those mistakes at the draft.
Where we have to go…we need to all believe, there does need to be some fortune and luck, but our talent will get better. Let us not settle. Let us again reach the top.
Soon we will not care what some newspaper reporters say (even when they are our own), soon we will not care what the out of town so called experts think or say.
Soon we will not discuss if we should rest or should we play, or which is the better path to travel, Houston or Pittsburgh. Soon we will be the one the rest of the league is looking at. Soon we will be the ones watching the first week of the playoffs BUT then awaiting a visitor to come to our home.
Let us get back there where we belong and not accept anything less.
This testimonial was given by Mark Berger. Follow him on Twitter: @Bergerdeluxe1
The Miami Dolphins have been forced to shuffle their defensive backfield yet again, as Isa Abdul-Quddus, the starting safety for all 15 games this year, was placed on Injured Reserve. To fill his roster spot, the team promoted undrafted free agent rookie safety AJ. Hendy to the active roster.
Hendy, out of Maryland, is 6 feet and 209 pounds, and has been on the Dolphins practice squad throughout the entire 2016 season.
Abdul-Quddus was signed in the offseason, after playing his first five years for the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions. He started every game this season, and has done reasonably well. The Dolphins starting safeties will now be Michael Thomas and Bacarri Rambo. Rambo was signed in October to replace Reshad Jones, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
Special teams ace Walt Aikens is expected to also step up and see significant playing time in Abdul-Quddus’ absence.
The defensive backfield of the Dolphins will be tested early and often this weekend, as the team faces the top rated passing offense in the league when Tom Brady’s New England Patriots come to town.
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
Newsflash: The 2016 Miami Dolphins have made it to the playoffs! For many Miami Dolphins fans, you already know this.
But, for a good number of other Legacy Dolphins Fans, welcome back! The last 15 years have not been kind to our team, and many of you chose to step away for a while, mainly due to the frustration that we all had to endure week in and week out, year after year.
In case you missed a few things, here’s a brief recap from the past 15 years:
In 2016, the Miami Dolphins replaced their coaching staff, who signed and drafted a few players. Although six starters had their seasons ended early due to injury, including Ryan Tannehill, this year’s Miami Dolphins are heading back to the postseason, currently sitting with a 10-5 record.
It’s not because of a gimmick play. It’s not because of one specific player or two specific players. It’s because this team has been more resilient and driven then any of the other Dolphins teams from the past 15 years. It’s because the new coaching staff, led by Adam Gase, has gotten this team believing that they can win each week, regardless of who their opponent is. It’s because the coaching staff is putting each player in the best position to succeed, regardless of if they are a Pro Bowler, rookie or backup.
It’s yet to be seen where this Miami Dolphins team ends up in the postseason. But, what you can bet on is that the Miami Dolphins for the next few years will be worth watching and they will definitely be worth rooting for.
So, blow off your Dolphins jerseys, hats and socks. You’re going to need them for a while! And, welcome back!
This column was written by Ian Berger. Follow him on Twitter: @ian693
I am going to be a football snob for a second and tell you what my biggest pet peeves are. The first one is when watching football with someone who is a casual fan and the casual fan says, “Why do they just run it in the middle where all the guys are? Go around.”
And the second thing I hate is when someone says, “They should just throw every time, they are getting nowhere running the ball.” This is the logic that the past Dolphins regimes had. Most playoff teams are at the very least capable of running the ball. There are few exceptions but those exceptions either have elite defenses or an elite QB. Sometimes both.
After watching the first five games of the Dolphins season, I was saying to myself same old story. But then my offseason prayers of getting a head coach who would commit to the run were answered. I have been a Tannehill apologist to a fault, but I have been realistic with his potential. I don’t know if he will be elite, but I have always said he would benefit the most with being in a run heavy offense.
His skill set is a strength in a run first offense, and his weaknesses would be minimized in a run first offense. One of Tannehill’s major strengths is his effectiveness in the run game. A committed run game would limit opposing defenses from teeing off on Tannehill, and Tannehill wouldn’t have to rely on pocket presence which is his biggest weakness.
First time in the game against the Bengals they ran the ball. The Dolphins call a stretch play to the right with Damien Williams. The offensive line can’t get a seal block on multiple defenders. The offensive linemen need to get to the outside shoulder of the defenders. Williams is only able to get two yards.
The signs of running success were there in the beginning of the year. You can see how strong Jay Ajayi is on this play. Even though he is hit around the line of scrimmage he still fights through the tackle to gain 11 yards.
Poor communication and bad blocking causes this play not to be able to develop. The Dolphins call a counter play. Dion Sims is the lead blocker on this counter run. He needs to block the first free defender.
That would be the linebacker who shoots the gap between the left tackle and the left guard. Sims does not pick up this man and the linebacker is able to make a play on Ajayi around the line of scrimmage.
The Dolphins call a stretch play to the outside. A defender blows up the play by bull-rushing Billy Turner right in the backfield which forced Isaiah Pead to the outside.
Against the Titans, on this stretch play the left guard Dallas Thomas needs to get on the left shoulder of the nose tackle or at the very least cut off the nose tackle, which would allow the center, Anthony Steen, to get to the next level. Dallas Thomas does not complete this task and the nose tackle disrupts the play.
The Dolphins run a counter play. Dion Sims’ responsibility is to get the free defender on the edge to the left of the formation, but Dallas Thomas gets beat, (I am as shocked as you are) so Dion Sims has to change his responsibility and take on the defender that beat Dallas Thomas.
Now the free edge defender is able to hit Jay Ajayi in the back field. Ajayi does what he does best and fights through the tackle to gain positive yards.
The signs were evident of Ajayi’s future success even in Week 5 when it seemed that all was lost. He shows strength, balance and speed on this play. Stop me if you heard this one but Dallas Thomas gets pushed five yards into the backfield and runs into Ajayi. Ajayi is able to stay on his feet, and burst to the outside for a gain of nine yards.
This drive is a synopsis of the early problems in the run game. Dolphins struggle to run on first down. Then they get pass happy. The Dolphins eventually get a first down but a penalty on the next run play makes them revert back to a predictable pass play. That’s when Tannehill is put in an undesirable passing situation that far too often leads to a sack, fumble, or interception.
You would never think that this team who struggled to beat the Browns at home were the same team who would win nine out of ten of the next games to clinch a playoff spot. Most fans were looking to the offseason, and looking at the draft for potential top five picks.
So how did we get to winning nine out of the next ten games? We got healthy at the O-line. We got are starting five offensive linemen back. Coach Gase stayed with one running back. And finally the Dolphins committed to the run game.
The picture above is the biggest indicator of the Dolphins success in my opinion. I purposely only included the rush attempts and no other stats. Why? Because to me you need to run the ball no matter if the score is close. Successful results of a consistent running game, when it comes to yardage, will come.
Here is the first attempt of the game with all five of the scheduled starters on the offensive line. It is a counter play to the left. Everyone has a hat on a hat, even Kenny Stills does a good job of blocking his man. Ajayi false steps to the inside before bouncing outside.
The Dolphins call an off-tackle run to the left. Once again all the offensive linemen have a hat on a hat, and they create a huge lane. Ajayi isn’t touched for 10 yards.
Here is another counter play to the left. All the blockers are taking care of their responsibilities, and Ajayi isn’t touched until he gets 20 yards.
In my opinion Ajayi is one of the elite running backs in the league. The one reason I have this opinion is because of how hard he runs in the 4th quarter. Here is an example of a complete run to close out the game in the 4th quarter. It is an off tackle run to the right. Once again everyone holds their blocks to open a nice lane for Ajayi to run.
There are two things that make this play successful beside everyone holding their blocks. Pouncey is able to get to the second level so smoothly and effectively to handle the linebacker, and Ajayi is able to use his strength to break tackles and speed away from the defenders.
Against the Jets, the Dolphins run a sweep play to the left, the offensive linemen are able to block their assignments. Leonard Williams was able to push Laremy Tunsil back, but Tunsil was able to seal Williams away from making a tackle in the backfield. Ajayi shows off his burst on this play. Once he sees the hole, Ajayi burst through and runs relatively unscathed for the touchdown.
Here is another example of Ajayi being the equivalent a closing pitcher in baseball. The Dolphins are one first down away from ending the game. The Dolphins run a dive to the left of the formation. Ajayi sees the cutback lane and burst through. He is able to gain the need yardage and end the game.
This film review was done by Matthew Knowles. Follow him on Twitter: @blueflamespcl
For many seasons, the Miami Dolphins were just plain bad. Either it be their seven consecutive years of non-winning records, or the Jonathan Martin bully drama, or the constant coaching carousel, the Dolphins organization gave reasons for the national media to dislike them, or to use them as the butt of jokes.
Yes, after going 1-4 to start the season, the Dolphins caused analysts to assume that these were the “same old Dolphins” or to at least state that it was going to take a full season for the new coaching regime to make a difference in the overall results for the team.
But then, something changed. The Miami Dolphins beat a Pittsburgh Steelers team that was picked by many to go deep into the playoffs. Then, they won another one, and then another. They reeled off six wins in a row, and now the Dolphins have won nine of their last ten games.
But, the national media has not only given the Miami Dolphins zero respect for their winning record, they continue to speak negatively about a team that arguably has the best momentum out of any team in the NFL right now.
Just watching the Miami Dolphins vs Buffalo Bills game on CBS tells you all you need to know about how the national media feels about the Fins. First, Coach Cowher picked the Bills to beat the Dolphins during the pregame show, stating that the Bills would be fighting for Rex Ryan’s job, with no mention of how the Dolphins could win. But then, during the broadcast of the game, it was evident that the announcers were rooting against the Dolphins.
During the game, it was mentioned at least eight times how the Buffalo Bills could make the postseason, while only mentioning the Dolphins playoff possibility once during overtime. In addition, the broadcasters were arguing an offsides call against the Bills during the game that should not have been called, while also making mention of all of the missed flags against the Dolphins that were not called.
If you were to ask any Dolphins fan how the Miami Dolphins have been winning, they’d say its due to great coaching, or different individual players on the team stepping up at the right time, or the winning mentality of the players that leadership has instilled.
However, if you were to ask the national media how the 2016 Miami Dolphins have achieved 10-5 on the season, they’d say its due to lucky bounces, or the Dolphins playing bad teams, or bad coaching by the teams that the Fins are playing.
For whatever the reason is, the Miami Dolphins continue to get no respect from anyone besides the Miami Dolphins team and fan base. Maybe it’s the ghosts of Christmas past that are driving this mentality. But maybe it’s time for the national media to give the Miami Dolphins the credit and respect that they are due.
Maybe it’s time for the national media to stop focusing on the reasons that this team shouldn’t be doing so well, and it’s time for them to focus on the reasons why the Miami Dolphins ARE one of the top 10 teams in the NFL.
In case you didn’t know, the Miami Dolphins are 10-5 and will be in the 2016 NFL Playoffs!
This column was written by Ian Berger. Follow him on Twitter: @ian693
The Dolphins play the Buffalo Bills on Saturday and could clinch a playoff berth in the process. Here are ten thoughts on the game and the state of the NFL entering week 16.
1. There are plenty of people in Dolphins land who are holding their collective breath waiting for the bottom to drop out as this season winds towards its end with Miami still in the playoff hunt. Everyone knows the stakes and everyone knows this will be an uphill climb.
Well, for one thing because the Bills, who they need to beat this week, are good. Yeah, sure they’ve got a 7-7 record. But the 28-25 victory Miami got over Buffalo in October isn’t really an indicator of where they are at now.
The team that the Dolphins beat didn’t have receivers Sammy Watkins or Robert Woods or defensive lineman Marcell Dareus or linebacker Shaq Lawson.
In addition, running back LeSean McCoy played with a hamstring injury. McCoy is now healthy and he’s had three 100-plus-yard performances in the last four games.
On the other side, the Dolphins won’t have starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Mike Pouncey or Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones.
So, yeah, there’s all that. And even with all that I say that the Dolphins have this one because they have one intangible that the Bills are going to be hard pressed to overcome. It’s that “team of destiny” feel that pervades the Dolphins every game now.
Sometimes, no matter what the sport and no matter what the team, you just get on a roll. Fifty-fifty balls bounce your way, timely calls by the referee fall in your favor, teams fall at your feet with turnovers and penalties. It isn’t quite that good but there is a feel about the Dolphins where no matter what they try, you just kind of know it’s going to work.
The Dolphins are passing when teams stop the run and they run when teams stop the pass and they do both well when they have to. More on that below.
They have it all going right now and it’s all working. Fans need to sit back and enjoy the ride while it lasts.
2. Along the same vein, the Dolphins are certainly hitting the teams in their division at the right time. The Jets are a veteran team at the bottom of the division and had little to play for last Saturday and it showed as they play out the string. Now the Dolphins take on the Bills who are in turmoil as they will once again not make the playoffs.
The major issue in Buffalo right now is whether Rex Ryan will keep his job. Reports for weeks have indicated that he will be fired any time now as the team will look to get an early jump on the market for coaches in the offseason. However, one report in particular is more puzzling than the rest.
Adam Schefter of ESPN has said that the Bills are not only “preparing to move on from Ryan” once the season comes to a close, which would end his run with the team after two years, but that 1) Ryan is aware of this and 2) general manager Doug Whaley will remain and will hire the new coach.
Both aspects of this report defy logic. Let’s concentrate on the first.
If ownership had, indeed, decided to fire Ryan there would be no reason to tell him or, if they did, it would only be to, you know, fire him.
No one could expect a head coach to do his job optimally under conditions where he already knew he was gone and there would be no reason to expect him to. Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula would surely pick an interim coach.
It is possible that ownership has, indeed, decided to fire Ryan but would rather see him coach out the string than give an interim coach a chance simply because they want a fresh start and don’t want an interim coach to make a case that he’s earned the job. That would be understandable but there would be no way you would tell Ryan if that were the case.
3. I also find the second aspect of this report, that Whaley will remain, to be less than logical.
Sure, it’s possible that Whaley has a good relationship with ownership and that they’d be more comfortable with him staying on. But good owners won’t let that stop them from making a change where the evidence indicates that its necessary. The suggestion that Whaley should be given the opportunity to blow a third head coaching hire is less than sane. Whaley also hired Doug Marrone in 2013.
The question here is what has Whaley ever done to deserve the loyalty of ownership? He’s been with the team since 2010 and general manager since 2013 and the team has seen nothing but misery ever since.
Most importantly, Whaley’s draft record has not been exactly stellar. For instance, he was integral in convincing the organization to draft E.J. Manual in the first round, far above the value most people put on him. All agree it was a major mistake that crippled the franchise for years.
More recently in 2016 he took Shaq Lawson despite the fact that NFL teams had flagged his shoulder injury during medical checks at the Combine in February. Lawson was eventually shut down for half the season as the shoulder required surgery. One league source told Pro Football Talk that, “His shoulder was so bad it would have dislocated tying his shoes.” And yet the Bills still drafted him.
It also didn’t help that second round pick Reggie Ragland landed on IR before the season started after he tore his ACL. Third round pick Adolphus Washington has been only so-so with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Whaley, himself, said before the season that he bears responsibility for the performance of his draft classes.
“If they don’t perform, then they’re not going to play,” Whaley said. “We’re going to play the best people. We think they’re the best people, and if they come in and don’t perform that well, then we didn’t do our job right. So that’s on us. I have no problem with that.”
And yet here we are with Ryan shouldering the blame for a lost season while Whaley reportedly escapes scot-free. Go figure.
4. The Dolphins have been emphasizing that the declining production from running back Jay Ajayi is “not his fault” over and over again through the last couple of weeks. And I could not agree more with this message. It is, in fact, no one’s “fault.”
No matter who the team is and no matter what their position, one message that defensive players repeat constantly is that they have to stop the run. Running plays are generally “safe” and assuming the running back can simply hold on to the ball, few bad things can come from doing it. No defense can afford to allow an offense to simply run over them. It is a sure path to defeat.
Because of this, teams must concentrate on stopping Ajayi and the Dolphins running game, usually by bringing an extra man into the box (i.e. close to the line of scrimmage where he can be more effective at helping against the running game). That leaves one fewer man to cover receivers deep. So the harder a team has to concentrate on stopping your running game, the more it opens up the pass.
That is why Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has stuck with the run despite its apparent lack of success. Against the Jets they ran the ball a staggering 60% of the time despite gaining only 2.5 yards per carry. The game before that it was 55% and only 2.7 YPC in a win against Arizona.
And perhaps not coincidentally, they ran the ball only 16 times and 29% of the time in their only loss in the last three games against the Ravens.
Yes, a really great offensive line like the Cowboys could run the ball effectively against an eight man front and ideally you would like the Dolphins to have that.
“We don’t want [Ajayi] to be frustrated because we haven’t quite got the results we are looking for,” Gase said. “We’ve run into some tough defenses. We have another one ahead of us this week. They are going to try to stop the run and make us one-dimensional. That’s what most teams have tried to do with us the last nine games.”
Truth. Nevertheless, no matter how many yards it results in directly, the more Gase sticks with the run, the more good things will happen.
On Saturday, Ajayi faces a Buffalo team that he trampled for 214 yards on 28 carries (a 7.6 average) in their Oct. 23 meeting. “We’re going to make some adjustments,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “He’s a heck of a back.”
And better news the Dolphins could not have received.
5. One more Buffalo note. I find their situation with quarterback Tyrod Taylor to be interesting. He’s on what amounts to a contract year and I’m looking forward to seeing how he performs.
The Bills' extension with Taylor, signed in August, already puts the quarterback under contract for $27.5 million in 2017 -- a salary that is guaranteed if Taylor suffers an injury that prevents him from playing next season. The Bills have until March 11 to exercise an option on Taylor's contract that would trigger the 2018 through 2021 years of the deal, paying him $15.5 million immediately and lowering his 2017 salary to a fully-guaranteed $12 million.
If the Bills do not exercise Taylor's option by March 11, then the entirety of his $27.5 million salary in 2017 becomes fully guaranteed March 12, and Taylor would be slated for unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season. But it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will do that so under the current deal it comes down to 1) trigger the three-year option or 2) release Taylor before March 11.
There is, of course, one other consideration – they could try to renegotiate the contract. The Bills probably will want to do this but the question is, what would it take on Taylor’s end to motivate him to agree to a change? The answer is, the same amount of money or more that he’d get as a free agent.
There are going to be a number of teams looking for a quarterback in the offseason including the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and potentially the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos. In 2016 through 14 games Taylor has completed 62% of his passes at 6.8 yards per completion with a passer rating of 91. He’s also gained over 500 yards on the ground.
Those numbers are pretty average and they belie Taylor's vexing inconsistency. The Bills have found that the quarterback that they have in quarter one will often not be the same as the one that they get in quarter four.
So they are stuck with an interesting conundrum. Paying Taylor what he’ll get as an average starting quarterback on the free agent market might be more than they would like. On the other hand, not paying him means starting over with someone else who may well not be as good.
It will be interesting to see how Taylor does against the Dolphins defense, one that isn’t exactly the ’85 Bears but on the other hand can cause you some serious headaches with a defensive line that is finally starting to perform up to its reputation. In other words, it’s a defense that a quality quarterback should be able to perform against.
6. The Chicago Bears and injured 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller find themselves having an interesting but common problem amongst NFL teams. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio summed things up in an unusually candid way for a modern NFL coach.
"Any time a guy's hurt, there's three stages to getting back to the field," Fangio said. "One is you've got to get medical clearance. Two, the player's got to say he's ready to go and feels confident and he's champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he's better than what the other choices are and if he really is back to being able to play. A has happened. B hasn't. So C is a non-issue."
Translation: We think he can play but he doesn’t want to. The Bears eventually gave up and put Fuller on IR this week.
The problem is that you can’t climb into the head of a player and figure out what the issue is. Fuller is a former track star and there is some thought that perhaps he just doesn’t want to play unless he’s close to 100%.
Tracy Porter summed up the attitude amongst most NFL players, one that most teams would prefer was the predominant one. "If doctors or trainers say it's not going to damage you in the long run, then if you can tough it out, that's what some guys try to do.
"Overall, it's a very fine line trying to be tough versus trying to be responsible and (not) further damage yourself and your team."
But that doesn’t appear to be what’s upper most in Fuller’s mind. Presumably, being medically cleared, he can’t damage his knee further by playing. But he’s still not on board. His comments on the matter are interesting.
Said Fuller: "I just listen to my body. It tells me what I can and can't do. Right now I can't go out there and play. That's the line, I guess.”
I suppose. But I really wonder how many players “listen to their body.” And I wonder if they do, how many times it says, “don’t play football” but they do anyway. My guess is a lot. Once you’ve played one game in the NFL, my bet is that every player in the league has a body telling him not to play. That’s professional football.
Availability is a talent. Football is going to punish your body and there’s no getting around that. If you don’t accept it, you don’t’ play. And if they don’t play, Fuller and those like him aren’t going to be around long even after they’re healthy.
7. I mentioned last week that players like the Seahawks' Richard Sherman, who fans and media insist are intelligent despite the ridiculously stupid things that pour out of their mouths, irritate me.
Sherman has again inserted himself into my consciousness as he abused Jim Moore of ESPN 710 in Seattle, one of the members of the sycophantic media I referred to. The exchange came as a result of a sideline exchange where Sherman screamed at Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after the Seahawks had tried a pass play at the goal line rather a run play. The play choice stirred up dark memories of Seattle’s goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX.
Sherman: “You don’t want to go there. You do not. I’ll ruin your career.”
Moore: “You’ll ruin my career? How are you going to do that?”
Sherman: “I’ll make sure you don’t get your media pass anymore.”
Moore: “Is that right?”
Sherman: “Yes, it is.”
Sherman later apologized but it was too late. Setting aside whether Sherman could actually see that Moore never gets another press pass (my guess is that he could), he once again showed his stupidity in, like so many players, looking at the working press as the enemy.
Sherman fails to understand that most reporters are actually fans. If not fans of the team, then fans of the sport. Virtually all of them are happier when they are writing positive things. But they need help from players and coaches in order to do that.
Moore was giving Sherman an opportunity to explain himself and put the incident in a positive light (if possible). Responding with threats instead of quotes leaves reporters with no choice but to put the most negative spin possible on this incident and those like it.
Players and coaches would do well to treat reporters as partners rather than adversaries. Many of the truly smart ones know that and many are treated well far past the time that they deserve to be when they act upon that knowledge. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher lasted far longer than his record would have indicated that he should have because his relationship with the press was excellent and many refused to attack him for years because of it.
Unfortunately Sherman has once again proven to be less than the intelligent person that his fans insist that he is. In fairness, he is unfortunately far from alone.
8. The Cleveland Browns are becoming more and more likely to be the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 and not win a game. The experience is obviously wearing on head coach Hue Jackson.
Jackson reportedly spoke with Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown for an extra 30 minutes after a recent loss to the Giants before addressing the media. When he emerged from his office, his eyes welled up with tears in his postgame press conference while explaining that being winless “is probably the hardest thing ever.''
It is evident that this season is getting to him emotionally and that he's seeking answers from the front office for how things will be different going forward.
I hope Jackson’s not holding his breath. Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam recently held a full staff meeting at the team facility in Berea, OH and preached continuity. Speakers at the meeting also included Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta. The meeting was intended to calm the waters and boost morale of a staff that's lived through the Browns 3-30 record since the end of 2014.
For the record, continuity is a good thing. If you’ve got the right people in place, that is. But whether the Browns do is highly, highly questionable. The two men in charge are Brown, a lawyer, and DePodesta, a statistician who helped oversee the “money ball” success of baseball’s Oakland Athletics. And that has to be leaving the well-regarded Jackson feeling like he’s been cut adrift in strange NFL waters with no land in sight.
Haslam is trying an admittedly innovative, analytics-based front office model but there's no evidence it's working. In fact, there's data to the contrary -- the Browns' winless record and a lackluster 2016 draft class.
You feel for Jackson but, similarly, you have to feel even worse for the fan base. Dolphins fans can certainly identify to some extent as they prepare to break out of their own streak of seasons without a playoff win. This writer follows the Chicago Bears who haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1986 and have only sniffed the playoffs once in the last ten years. Before that I grew up with the old St. Louis Cardinals. Try following a team that would typically select a player in the first round only to have draft rooms around the league break out into open laughter.
But all of that pales in the face of the brutal way that the Browns franchise has treated its fans over the course of more than 50 years. The NFL lives by selling its fans hope for the future. The Bears in Ryan Pace have a real general manager in charge who was previously with a reasonably successful franchise in the Saints. The Dolphins are run by executive Mike Tannenbaum but at least general manager Chris Greer, with 17 years experience with the Dolphins, is right there with him.
Imagine what it’s like knowing that the only way your franchise of choice is going to be able to build is through a draft run by two guys who have never worked in an NFL personnel department. This might be the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed in a league that produces incredible things almost for its living. That Browns fans manage to hang on in quiet desperation year after year is a testament to either their fortitude or their stupidity. Probably both.
In either case, both they and their head coach deserve better. But I don’t see how they’re going to get it any time soon.
9. The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the Los Angeles Rams by firing their head coach last week in order to get an early jump on finding a new coaching staff. The Jaguars (2-12) fired Gus Bradley after the franchise's ninth consecutive loss Sunday. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville, the worst winning percentage (.225) of any NFL coach with at least 60 games.
General manager Dave Caldwell said Monday that former New York Giants Tom Coughlin "would be somebody we'd be interested in talking to" about the team's coaching vacancy.
The 70-year-old Coughlin was Jacksonville's first head coach, leading the Jaguars to a 68-60 record in eight seasons (1995-2002). Coughlin resigned last January after 12 seasons with the Giants, but has made it clear he wants to return to the NFL. He is currently serving as a senior adviser to the league's football operations department.
Caldwell could give him a shot at getting back on the sidelines.
"Tom's a great man and a great person, and we'll see where it goes," Caldwell said. "There will be a lot of guys we're interested in talking to."
There are plenty of hot young names that are undoubtedly high on the Jaguars list. Current interim head coach Doug Marrone will undoubtedly get a good look. Former San Francisco 49ers coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley should get varying degrees of consideration.
But in some ways, Coughlin does make a great deal of sense. His history with the franchise would make him a popular hire despite his age. He’s also an offensive coach with some history developing quarterbacks, most recently and famously, Eli Manning with the Giants with whom he won two Super Bowls.
Fixing young Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has regressed dramatically this year, will be the first and most important thing on the agenda for a new head coach in Jacksonville no matter who they hire.
There is some talent on the Jaguars that may make potential hires feel that they can win immediately in a very weak AFC South division if they can get the quarterback situation squared away quickly. This will be a popular job amongst the candidates and it’s one to keep an eye on.
10. With the Jaguars job and the Rams job now both open, here’s one absolute dead solid guarantee that I will make. There is no way on God’s green earth that Jim Harbaugh is leaving the University of Michigan to take an NFL head coaching job. It’s possible he’ll do it someday. But absolutely not this year.
Why? Simple. He hasn’t beaten Ohio State and he hasn’t won a national championship.
When Harbaugh was at Stanford he flat out hated Pete Carroll at USC, once actually prodding the normally easy going Carroll to exclaim, “What is your problem?!”
I sense the same passion when it comes to Urban Myer and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Harbaugh is on a mission and he’s not going to be side tracked by the NFL now that he’s got his teeth into the rivalry.
In my opinion he’s well on his way to accomplishing both goals as Ohio State didn’t so much beat Michigan as Michigan beat itself this year. The less talented but more disciplined team won the 2016 match up but that won’t last long and if Michigan isn’t in the national championship playoff next year, I’ll be surprised. If Harbaugh ever gets to the point where he’s actually won that playoff a couple times, yes, I can see him taking on the challenge of an NFL job.
But he’s got plenty of time in the future for that. Ohio State is right now and that’s all that’s driving him.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
When you’ve spent nine years doing something, and doing it well enough to win a Super Bowl and top-paying contract at your positon, switching positions isn’t always something most players are willing to do.
Jermon Bushrod isn’t like most players. And the Miami Dolphins are grateful for that.
A fourth round draft pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Bushrod became the starting left tackle during his six years with the New Orleans Saints, and was entrusted with protecting quarterback Drew Brees’s blind side during their Super Bowl championship season in 2009.
He then signed a big time contract, $35 million over five years with the Chicago Bears, and started for three years there, winning Pro Bowl nods in two of those seasons before being released due to concussion and shoulder issues suffered in the 2015 season.
He found work rather quickly, as Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was familiar with Bushrod from serving as Chicago’s offensive coordinator during the 2015 season. Gase brought Bushrod in initially to compete at tackle, but when Brandon Albert returned to health, Bushrod was given a chance to move inside to guard, where he would still have a chance to start.
He fought to embrace that process after facing fast defensive ends as a tackle, where he had time to get his feet and hands set. Facing much larger, stronger interior defensive linemen was a challenge.
“Inside, these dudes are strong,” said Bushrod. “Your technique has to be faster. Your footwork has to be faster. Hands have to be more precise. It’s a work in progress.”
Bushrod initially rotated at the guard position, but after the Dolphins started the season 1-4, Gase shook up the team, releasing three offensive linemen in one fell swoop, handing the starting right guard job to Bushrod, who has done everything Gase has asked and more.
“He's fought his way through some ups and downs throughout the season,” says Gase. “It hasn't been as easy as what it looks like right now. When you do change positions, especially going from one side of the line to the other, let alone going outside to inside, it's just a different view from the positon you're playing. He kept fighting through it and he tried to learn as fast as possible, and he's done a great job with that. I know he's still trying to get better.”
Bushrod is indeed playing better for the team as the season wears on, and along with rookie Laremy Tunsil at left guard, has begun to cement a position that has been a sore spot to pretty much every Dolphins fan on the planet for the past three seasons. As a result, quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore have had more time in the pocket to let downfield plays develop, allowing Gase to be more varied in his playcalling.
“(Bushrod’s) been through a lot of the things,” says Gase. “Whether it be part of an organization that was winning a lot, winning a Super Bowl, and then getting an opportunity to go somewhere else and become one of the higher paid players in the league at left tackle, (then) going through the ups and downs he did there, fighting through injury.”
“He probably could have had some opportunities to go somewhere else and still play tackle,” Gase continued. “He probably could have made some different decisions. Maybe he could have gone somewhere else for more money; but the fact that he had some faith in us to try to help him get healthy and get an opportunity to play, that was a great thing for us, because he did have faith in us doing the right thing. He stuck with what he was trying to do, which was get to as close to 100 percent as possible and then learn a new position. Not many guys would do that.”
In addition to firmly filling a needed position along the line, Gase also appreciates Bushrod for his leadership skills, and credits him with helping to solidify the offensive line group in the locker room and film sessions.
“His leadership ability is really something that's unique,” says Gase. “The way that he goes about his business as a veteran player is something you want younger guys to see."
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
On this episode of PhinManiacs Live, Luis and Chad talk with former Dolphins tight end Troy Drayton about the team and the influence Adam Gase has had on the team this season.
Then the topic will switch to Matt Moore and whether or not he can continue his success against the Buffalo Bills, and the linebacker situation.
Dolphins fans, don’t believe the hype! Don’t get sucked in. Or, maybe we should.
Yes, the Miami Dolphins are 9-5 with two games left in the season. Yes, the Dolphins do control their own destiny to get into the postseason. Yes, this team has new leaders that have brought a new meaning to “accountability” and “team.” Yes, the Dolphins have guaranteed that the 2016 season will be their first winning season in over seven seasons.
But, this is the Miami Dolphins. This is the team that has given us letdown after letdown the past ten years, with only two winning seasons during that timeframe, of which one of them was due to a gimmick play that worked until the playoffs came around.
I want to believe that this team is different. I know that this team is different. But, I also can’t help but remember all of the reasons why I can’t sell the farm on this Miami Dolphins team making it to the postseason. But maybe, just maybe, the reasons that they won’t make the playoffs are merely illusions of reasons why they will. Here are a few:
The Miami Dolphins have been losers for so long and for so many years, that even though the loyal Miami Dolphins fans are watching this team mature right in front of their eyes this season, it’s hard for the nation to grasp and understand how this Miami Dolphins team, the team that is currently 9-5 and in the driver’s seat to make a playoff run, is different from all of the prior year teams. There are SO many reasons to doubt this team, but so many more reasons to believe that they are special.
With all of that said, after the dust settles on this2016 season, theseMiami Dolphins will make the playoffs!
What they do after they punch their golden ticket to the postseason may surprise a lot of people.
This column was written by Ian Berger. Follow him on Twitter: @ian693
Christmas is a time for giving and good will to all, and with all the focus that the Miami Dolphins organization puts into doing their part in the community, this is a concept that they know all too well.
So in what can only be described as a perfect demonstration of the true spirit of Christmas, the Miami Dolphins hosted 125 elementary school students from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county partner schools for their annual Holiday Toy Event inside the practice bubble in Davie.
"Anytime you're with kids, it's a fun event. They actually put a smile on my face." said Dolphins defensive end Jason Jones. "They're running around, having fun and it's for a good cause. I've been a part of a lot of these kids events, but every year it's the same type of joy."
That joy the students got the chance to feel came courtesy of the Dolphins players and coaches, who were given wishlists from the students dictating exactly what they wanted most for Christmas. Then, all that was left to do was collaborate together to fund and provide the toys and equipment, essentially giving the players and coaches the opportunity to play the role of Santa Claus for those 125 children who would otherwise likely have a barren stocking on Christmas morning.
"I've been peeking around, we got some Beats, some tablets, girls want the little doll sets and things like that, so it's a great thing that everybody got pretty much what they wanted." said rookie running back Kenyan Drake. "I'm a firm believer in that - obviously - kids are the future of this country, so you go out here and you show support and show anybody can get anywhere from any kind of background, and that can give them the support they need to always accomplish their dreams."
Besides Jones and Drake, other Dolphins players in attendance included Donald Butler, Leonte Carroo, John Denney, Thomas Duarte, Jakeem Grant, MarQueis Gray, A.J. Hendy, Mike Hull, Dominique Jones, Tony Lippett, Spencer Paysinger, Senorise Perry Jr., Lafayette Pitts, Terry Poole, Kenny Stills, Kraig Urbik, Julius Warmsley and Sam Young.
Also doing their part were the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders, who have become a staple of the community events as well as during their performances on the field.
“The best part was taking a picture with the cheerleaders. I want to cheer for the Dolphins one day,” 11-year-old Tequila Parish said. She attends fourth grade at Goulds Elementary and received Monopoly, Sorry and a Galaxy Samsung Tablet. “I want to say thanks to Santa and the Miami Dolphins!”
But the students weren't just treated to presents, it was after all a Christmas party. Bouncehouses and face painting were available to play and have a good time prior to opening presents, and dinner was provided by Papa John's Pizza.
Miami's philanthropic tendencies know no bounds, and should be admired and recognized especially during the Christmas season, when the spirit of giving is so heavily emphasized. On the same day this event took place, other Dolphins players were playing Madden against members of the U.S. Military at an event called Pros vs. G.I. Joes in support of the United States armed forces.
It's alway stated during any community event how good it feels to give back, but in the case of the Miami Dolphins, they go above and beyond what would be expected of them to try and make South Florida a happier place for those who are less fortunate.
And now that the Dolphins are currently standing tall at 9-5 and on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, their focus has not shifted and they are proving that - unlike what some may be inclined to believe - winning and being community-oriented and focused are not mutually exclusive concepts. That is what sets the Dolphins above the rest of the league.
"We've got some generous guys on this team," said tight end MarQueis Gray. "Guys that are unselfish, guys that are willing to make other kids and their holidays special, that speaks volumes for our team."
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung.
As a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, it has always been a dream of mine to go to another city and root for the Dolphins in another team’s stadium. I have never attended a Miami Dolphins away game.
And, as I have been a Dolphins season ticket holder for the past five years, I have attended many home games where other team’s fans showed up in numbers to Hard Rock Stadium to support their teams, like when the Pittsburgh Steelers came to town and brought many of their fans with them.
With a combination of an encouraging season by the Miami Dolphins, many years of opposing fans taking over Hard Rock Stadium, the Dolphins versus Jets game being held on a Saturday night, and the event organization and professionalism by the MetLife Takeover group, I felt that this year was the perfect year to check this experience off my bucket list.
It was about a month ago that I first started to consider joining the MetLife Takeover group that has annually been put together by Igor, Michelle and the @DolfansNYC group. I budgeted out the trip, including airfare, hotel stay, game tickets, and warm clothes. (living in South Florida does NOT prepare you for New York in December). The funds were available, so the trip was planned!
Leading up to the weekend, the weather plans kept conflicting, so the plans of what I was going to wear kept changing also. At some point, the meteorologists were planning for 18-degree weather with 3-5 inches of snow, and then another day it would be 45 degrees and rain. I received many recommendations of what to wear, so a combination of a few layers of clothes, extra socks, and a poncho were packed.
Saturday morning arrived. I left my house at 5:00am to be at Fort Lauderdale International Airport for a 7 A.M. flight. The morning weather in New York was snow accumulatingbetween 1-3 inches, so I wasn’t sure if the flight would be diverted, delayed or canceled. Fortunately, the flight took off on time and it landed safely at JFK as well. However, due to the conditions on the tarmac, planes weren’t leaving the airport, which left our plane waiting for two hours for an open terminal.
After finally locating a terminal and disembarking the plane, I was able to catch an Uber from JFK to my hotel. I dropped my things off at the hotel, then headed to Slattery’s Midtown Pub in New York City. What a truly amazing sight.
Hundreds of Miami Dolphins fans were at Slattery’s getting ready for the game. Most were attending the game, and some were staying back to root on our Dolphins. Festivities at Slattery’s included raffles for great Miami Dolphins prizes and memorabilia by the @DolfansNYC team, a live DJ, and plenty of chants of “J. . . E. . . T. . . S. . SUCK SUCK SUCK!”
On top of the fans being at the Pub, the Miami Dolphins organization incorporated Slattery’s into their gameday media coverage by having Nat Moore and Joe Rose broadcast live inside the Pub for their “Cup of Joe” broadcast.
And, to add a cherry on top of the sundae, Miami Dolphins five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Madison spent the entire day with the MetLife Takeover group, which was a real treat.
At around 3:30, the folks heading to MetLife Stadium jumped on to the waiting buses. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond the control of the @DolfansNYC group, one of the buses was inoperable, so the group was 1 bus short, and all of the other buses ended up being filled to capacity, but functional.
We finally arrived to MetLife Stadium around 4:45-5:00. A large group of Miami Dolphins fans had already begun to gather even before our buses arrived. There were buses from Pennsylvania, Maine, New Jersey and New York filled with Miami Dolphins fans meeting in this lot.
There were easily between 500-800 Dolphins fans at the Dolphins tailgate (and maybe 5 or 10 Jets fans as well...nobody’s perfect!) In addition to Sam Madison hanging out with the group, Sun Sentinel sports writer Omar Kelly stopped by to join in on the festivities:
The tailgate was VERY cold and very icy. The MetLife Stadium parking lot team did their best to clear out the snow from the storm earlier in the day, but there was plenty of slushy ice on the ground, and the temperature was around 30 degrees during the tailgating. Fortunately, our group was allowed to jump on and off the cozy busses to thaw out and to eat the food available during the MetLife Takeover tailgate.
At around 7:45, the group started heading in. Walking through a parking lot of mainly Jets fans wasn’t bad, due to the fact that the Dolphins fans walked in large packs. Once inside the stadium, the MetLife Takeover group TOOK OVER sections 345 and 346, and it was very evident that the Miami Dolphins fans outnumbered the New York Jets fans inside MetLife Stadium:
Besides the 34-degree temperature at kickoff, it really felt like a Miami Dolphins home game. With chants of “Let’s Go Dolphins,” “De-fense,” loud cheers for our team, the singing of the Miami Dolphins fight song after EVERY score, and the tweets and messages from friends and family letting us know how everyone could hear all of the Fins fans over the television, Fins Nation was definitely represented.
Midway through the 3rd quarter, most of the Jets fans left, and only the Dolphins fans remained. What an amazing sight it was to see so the stadium emptied out as much as it was, with only Aqua and Orange remaining:
The game ended with a Miami Dolphins interception, and all of the Fins Fans celebrated a great home game win at MetLife Stadium.
The MetLife Takeover group made it back to the buses around 12:15am, and got back to Slattery’s Pub around 12:45am. I walked back to my hotel, giving high fives to all the Miami Dolphins fans I saw wandering around New York City, and I finally made it back around 1:30am.
My flight home on Sunday was uneventful.mWhen I arrived home, I couldn’t wait to share this experience with my family.
The MetLife Takeover would not have been possible without the team from @DolfanNYC, for whom I am very thankful for. I know that this group spent countless hours putting together this experience for all of the Miami Dolphins fans in attendance, and I know that the excess funds that they receive for this event benefits the Miami Dolphins foundation in South Florida.
Kudos to you guys for another GREAT event.
The MetLife Takeover experience was one that I will never forget. Meeting Miami Dolphins fans that I’ve only interacted with on Twitter was a highlight for me, in addition to meeting Fins Fans from all over the country that joined in on this experience.
In closing, words cannot express the joy that this experience brought to me. Being part of the MetLife Takeover will be an experience that I will be able to cherish for a very long time. I would strongly encourage all Miami Dolphins fans to consider this event for future years. Add this experience to your bucket list, and check it off!
This column was written by Ian Berger. Follow him on Twitter: @ian693
With two touchdown catches in Sunday’s win over the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims highlighted an uncanny ability to find a crease in opposing defenses and displayed very good hands, making him one of quarterback Matt Moore’s first looks when the team needed a first down or red zone play.
Sims caught all four of his targets for 31 yards in the game, and has now caught four touchdown passes in the past four weeks. He missed two games earlier in the season with concussion symptoms, but since returning to full health, coupled with Jordan Cameron’s season-ending placement on Injured Reserve, Sims had become a key cog in head coach Adam Gase’s offense.
“It's basically what he has been all year,” says Gase. “We lost him there for a little bit (to) injury, but he has been consistent. He has done a really good job run blocking. He does a really good job in pass protection. He has really excelled in the passing game ... He has gotten some opportunities. He hasn't been used as just a blocker. Ever since that New England game when he caught that one ball where he was going across the field and made a great catch on third down, he showed everybody, 'I can run. I can catch.' There are a lot of things he can do to contribute."
Gase says that on one of Sims’s touchdown catches, he wasn’t the primary target. Once Moore realized that his first target was covered, he adjusted, and found Sims open in the endzone.
“He really lucked out a little bit,” admits Gase. “He wasn't really the primary, but he was in the right place at the right time and made a play. That ball was supposed to go to Damien (Williams), but he did a good job as far as being in the right spot after the initial read was taken away, and Matt did a great job of finding him.”
Moore laughed when asked if that was his best pass of the night, but was quick to praise Sims, saying, “It was a heck of a job by him in making the play and scoring.”
Since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Sims has been primarily a blocking tight end, backing up Charles Clay for two years, and then serving as a blocking complement to Cameron. But with Jordan suffering a series of injuries, Sims has used the opportunities to show he can be the next man up. Sims strives to be a workhorse in this offense, and in his typical humble approach, says it’s all about helping the team.
“We're competitors” says Sims. “Everybody is a competitor, and we want to compete. That's pretty much it, point blank. Coach Gase always talks about the next man up and he preaches it. Anything they want me to do, I'm just doing my part, doing my job. Opportunities are there and it's coming, so I just produce when my number is called. Whatever my role is, I embrace it and I do whatever I can to help the team.”
Could Sims be the answer for the Dolphins ongoing search for a great tight end? He may well be. And he’s certainly going to do his part to show the team his work ethic and desire to get the job done. For Sims, his approach is simple.
“Just grinding,” he says. “Just putting my head down and being the workhorse that I am, and producing when my number is called. That's pretty much it.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
Playoffs? You’re talking about playoffs??
While there are literally dozens of theories floating around this week, touting such things as the Miami Dolphins have a 92% chance of making the playoffs if they win against either the Buffalo Bills this Saturday or against the New England Patriots on New Years Day, there is no denying the palatable excitement among Dolphins fans these days.
We can make the playoffs!
And unlike recent years, when the team got everyone’s hopes up only to brutally dash them with inexplicable losses to close out the season, this year is different.
Admit it, back in October, when the Dolphins had stumbled to a 1-4 start, and rumblings were rampant that these were the same old Dolphins, no one, and I mean no one had an inkling that ten weeks later, the team would have rattled off eight wins in nine games, and be holding onto the sixth and last NFL playoff seed.
And the Dolphins control their own destiny, as they hold a one game lead over the three contenders for that last Wildcard Playoff spot.
So what are the actual chances that the team makes the playoffs? I’ll leave that to the mathematicians out there. But here is the ony scenario you need to know for the Dolphins to clinch the playoffs.
If the Dolphins win in Buffalo this Saturday AND the Denver Broncos lose in Kansas City to the Chiefs, the Dolphins are locked into the playoffs.
That is the scenario that all of Dolphins Nation will be rooting for this coming week, since plain and simple, it could happen.
Dolphins fans need to be aware of is this: If the Dolphins win one of their remaining two games, and Denver loses one of their remaining two, the Dolphins make the playoffs. In every case, the key component is that the Dolphins need to win one more game and get to 10 wins. And this weekend is the better possibility, because when the Patriots come to town on New Years Day, they could be playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Patriots have clinched a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and remain one game ahead of the Oakland Raiders in the race for home field advantage. They will need to keep pace one game up on Oakland, as should they end the season with tied records, the Raiders hold the tiebreaker for the #1 seed (common games tiebreaker, i.e. losing to Buffalo in Week 4 was costly for the Patriots).
If Miami wins once and Denver wins twice, along with Kansas City losing twice, Baltimore winning twice and Pittsburgh winning once, a 4-way tie would ensue for the last two wildcard spots, and Pittsburgh would get the 5th seed while Miami would still take the 6th seed based on a better record against common opponents. It gets messy if Denver doesn’t lose one of their last two games.
Bottom line? We’re all Dolphins fans, and we want Miami to sweep the Bills for the first time since 2003 this weekend. But then we need to become Chiefs fans that same afternoon, and hope they can knock the Broncos out of contention.
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball.
As the Dolphins defeated the Jets in perhaps the biggest win for the team to date, here are ten thoughts on the game, the team and the NFL during week 15 of the season.
1. It will surprise some but I’m going to take the position that the Dolphins running game is actually what won it for them. Since they only averaged 2.7 yards per run you may well ask how that can be.
The Jets came out absolutely determined not to let the Dolphins run the ball and they stacked the box with eight men to stop it – which they did. But that, combined with the fact that they decided that blitzing Matt Moore was the way to get to him led to disastrous results.
The Jets are one of the worse teams in the NFL in the defensive backfield and the Dolphins constantly picked on Darrelle Revis, Juston Burris and Marcus Williams in single coverage for big gains. I’ll have more on Revis below.
With the risks the Jets were taking, you could almost feel this game ready to be blown open. And, of course, it eventually happened with the dam bursting in the third quarter.
2. The other thing that stuck out to me was stupid mistakes that the Jets made. These were isolated but were extremely damaging. Cameron Wake came completely unblocked on a sack fumble, Walt Aikens was barely touched on the Dolphins blocked punt and both Ndamukong Suh and Wake got a free shot, knocking Petty out of the game, when the Jets snapped the ball early and the offensive linemen didn’t move.
This is what losing looks like, folks.
3. I was somewhat surprised with the all-star defensive line that the Jets have assembled that they felt the need to blitz this game. And, indeed, they did an excellent job penetrating against the run. But apparently they either have little confidence that they could get pressure on Moore rushing four or they just plain thought Moore would get confused and collapse. If that’s what they thought, they badly miscalculated. Say what you want about Moore but he’s not a rookie who is going to get confused at the first sign of something different.
4. The Dolphins defense did a good job of keeping the Dolphins in this game while the offense waited to break out. And when I say “the Dolphins defense,” what I really mean is the defensive line, which was outstanding, particularly against the run. You could have asked for more pressure from the front four on young Jets quarterback Bryce Petty but, statistics aside, you couldn’t have asked for more penetration against the rushing attack that the Jets threw at them.
5. The reason I say “statistics aside” is because the Jets actually rushed for five yards per carry. Some of that was because the Dolphins were playing light in the box but a lot of it was poor play from the linebackers who, other than Kiko Alonso in the middle, did nothing to help the defensive line. I know that the Dolphins are down to backups at this position but, as I pointed out last week, as far as I’m concerned, whether against the run or in coverage, the starters are backups, too.
6. I was less happy with the Dolphins pass defense. Once again, the Dolphins frequently resorted to zone coverage and a competent passing team would have torn it apart.
I understand why defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has headed in this direction. His safeties are atrocious in coverage, something that was particularly evident with Bacarri Rambo got beaten in single coverage for the Jets touchdown in the first quarter. But he’s either going to have to find a better solution than this or he’s going to have to get better play out of his defense in this coverage if he wants to beat playoff quality teams.
7. Matt Moore was what I would call competent this game. Neither he nor the Dolphins offensive line handled the blitz particularly well and Moore was frequently throwing off of his back foot in the face of pressure, something you can bet that the Bills will notice on film in preparation for the Dolphins next week.
But otherwise, Moore was everything you should expect a backup quarterback thrown into the midst of a playoff push should be. He was generally accurate and on time with the ball to the correct receiver. You couldn’t ask for better.
8. Bryce Petty really surprised me this game. Petty actually looked like a very competent quarterback who was simply showing his youth.
Petty was generally pretty accurate and he’s got a reasonably strong arm. Statistically his passer rating was only 14.5 but his receivers really let him down with some bad drops and he showed his inexperience on a bad interception in the red zone. The ball went right into the arms of Cameron Wake when Wake dropped into coverage in the second quarter. Petty never saw him.
Petty has one Achilles heel and I don’t know if it can be fixed. He’s got no feel for the pocket and he doesn’t move well when he’s in it.
For instance, Wake came totally free on the first sack-fumble recovery in red zone. Yes, Wake came fast and he was unblocked. But you could argue that Petty should have sensed him and it was only one example of something that I noticed frequently though out the game. Petty has no feel for what’s happening on his back side. He’ll have to overcome that if he wants to start in the NFL.
9. I know there are some who consider this to be a need area for the team with the injury to Jordan Cameron who wasn’t exactly a ball of fire when on the field with eight receptions for 60 yards in three games. But in my opinion MarQueis Gray and Dion Sims have recently more than picked up the slack.
Gray (three receptions for 28 yards) and Sims (four for 31 yards, two touchdowns) combined to be perhaps the best “receiver” the Dolphins had on the field Saturday night. OK, other than Jarvis Landry. They’ve both come on in recent weeks and Sims in particular has become a weapon in the red zone with four touchdowns in the last four games. That’s what tight ends are supposed to be.
You could, perhaps, attribute some of this to good coaching and good use of the position by Adam Gase. It’s important for any running team to be able to use the tight end to both block for the back and to be a receiver to keep the defense honest. With the Jets stacking the box, it was particularly important in this game.
In any case, the position has become a strength of the team during their late season push.
10. Brandon Marshall spent his week in New York complaining about the physical play of Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell. Resuming his rant from six weeks ago, Marshall accused Maxwell of being "the same guy" from their November 6th meeting, meaning a defender who holds "on every single play."
"I'll be carrying my own flag just in case he decides to conduct himself the same way," he said, holding up the flag for reporters. "So I will help the refs out, but I thought they did a tremendous job the last time we played them."
Apparently Marshall will have to start moaning about Xavien Howard, now. The rookie came in and did an excellent job on Marshall who had only one catch for 16 yards for the game. Howard was also known for being “grabby” in college so I think you can expect that Marshall will be complaining about Dolphins defensive backs for as long as he’s in the division.
10a. I simply can’t believe that the NFL network couldn’t find someone better than Doug Flutie to provide color for this game. Tony Dungy joined them in the booth in the second quarter and really saved the broadcast because Flutie was not good.
I consider a good color man to be someone who teaches me something or points something out during the broadcast that I didn’t or couldn’t know. Dungy’s breakdown of the Cameron Wake interception, where you could clearly see that Petty didn’t understand that Wake was dropping into coverage and didn’t see him, was a good example of what a good color man will do. Though I suspected this was the situation when the play happened, Dungy confirmed it with as good of an explanation as you will find anywhere. Flutie, on the other hand, could only say that Petty tried to hold the ball back at the last moment and couldn’t.
Flutie knows what it’s like to play quarterback and that came across. But he had little else to contribute to the broadcast.
10b. With the Jets essentially playing for next year by starting Bryce Petty at quarterback, the future at other positions has begun to be debated as well. That includes free safety where Marcus Gilchrist is out with a torn patellar tendon. Who do they have in mind? Well, it turns out that many are pushing to see Darrelle Revis move there.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles flat out rejected the idea but not without qualification.
"No," the Jets' coach said emphatically on Wednesday.
"He's playing corner."
"It's not a thought process right now," he said. "It's something we might talk about in the offseason. It ain't gonna happen over the next three games."
In the preseason, Revis dropped hints about switching to safety in the future. Now, by his own admission, Revis, 31, is having a "down year." And he certainly looked awful out there this game. So a position change could be on the horizon sooner rather than later.
The interesting thing is that, like so many teams around the NFL, the Jets badly need someone at the position with Gilchrist out. He was replaced by Rontez Miles, starting beside Calvin Pryor, essentially two strong safeties in the backfield. Box safeties are a dime a dozen in the NFL. But finding a good, athletic free safety can be tough.
Like many aging cornerbacks around the league with some size who still have the athleticism to play but not the necessary cover skills, Revis could be an ideal solution to this problem. Many players resist the change because they view moving from cornerback to safety as a step down. But given that Revis was already considering it before this year, the switch realistically could happen for the Jets.
10c. Complaints amongst NFL players over the fact that they have to play Thursday Night games are becoming common, particularly amongst the most vocal. Amongst the most prominent in his criticism of this (along with so many other things) has been Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
“Poopfest. It’s terrible. We played, got home at like 1 o’clock in the morning or something like that on Monday, and then we gotta play again. Congratulations NFL, you did it again! But they’ve been doing it all season, so I guess we’re the last ones to get the middle finger…
“It’s just no regard. It’s hypocritical, as I’ve stated before. They make this huge stance about player safety, and then you put the players in tremendous danger…
“We’ll do a whole separate press conference about me and my disagreements with the league and their nonsense.”
In light of comments like this I thought comments from union chief DeMaurice Smith indicating that not all of the players feel this way on the issue were particularly notable. Smith would like to see teams give players more time off around Thursday games, so that their bodies can recover.
“The conversations vary and there are some teams where coaches give players a longer time off because of Thursday games. Those players seem not to mind Thursday nights so much. Other players complain about the short turnaround and the effects on their bodies,” Smith said.
Then Smith got to the heart of the matter.
“Let’s be blunt: We also look at it as the revenue that’s generated from the Thursday night package,” Smith said.
It’s easy for guys like Sherman to pop off and, of course, the media and the fans laugh and clap. But see what he has to say when the salary cap drops by nearly $7 million dollars per team when the Thursday Night TV package goes away. Something tells me he’ll be singing a different tune.
The same goes for preseason games where complaints amongst players can become bitter over the risk to their bodies in “meaningless” games. Recent suggestions have been to eliminate two of them and that sounds great in theory. But season ticket holders pay full price for those tickets and when two full games of revenue go away (roughly 10% of the cap) and the players find that there’s less money to go around, suddenly a couple games where starters barely have to play anyway don’t become so onerous.
Guys like Richard Sherman are frequently praised for being “smart” and “refreshing.” But I’ve never considered players who loudly and obnoxiously fire off one-sided and ill-considered opinions to the delight and applause of obsequious fans and members of the press to be anything more than what they are. Ignorant.
10d. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson is on the short list for the post of U.S. ambassador to the UK and many are wondering how it will affect the team and the league if he gets the job. If he lands the gig, Johnson, a chief fundraiser for the Trump campaign, would have to live in England.
Some are speculating that this would hamper the Jets in some way but I can’t imagine it’s anything but an advantage. To not have Johnson, not considered to be one of the better owners in the NFL, hovering over everyone’s shoulder during offseason activities can only help. The best owners in the NFL generally support team personnel without interfering. This would only help give a bit more of a free hand to those who know their business in the organization.
10e. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz’s rookie season got off to a good start as he played very well in three wins to open the year. The games since then haven’t gone nearly as well. The Eagles have lost 8 of 10 games and Wentz’s play has tailed off along with it.
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich recently said that he believes the downturn has gotten to Wentz and that he has lost his confidence.
“Well, for a while I thought he seemed totally unflappable,” Reich said. “Now, in some of the more recent losses, do you sense that this is, ‘Okay, he’s feeling this one, he’s feeling this one?’ Yeah, we’re all feeling it. I think he was that young, naïve — in a good sense — but still very mature guy who came in and it was like, ‘Nothing is going to get this guy down.’
"But it wears on you. It wears on you. Losing wears on you in this league. That’s why you’ve got to have the mental toughness. You’ve got to have the mental toughness because it’s a grind, and it’s especially a grind when you’re not winning the games that you want to win and you lose close games. You have to have the tenacity to fight out of it and not get too down. He has that.”
I’m sure Reich is correct in that keeping a quarterback’s confidence up is huge, particularly when it comes to rookies. But the eye says that there’s more wrong with Wentz than confidence. Wentz’s mechanics were beautiful at the beginning of the year after spending the offseason with coaches prepping for the draft. But they seem to have degraded over time as he has regressed with the Eagles. At least some scouts seem to be seeing the same thing. Via Yahoo.
“One NFC East source likened Wentz’s arm positioning to something from a baseball pitcher. Another evaluator said the rookie displayed ‘bountiful bad arm angles’ during his throwing motion.
“’[The] ball is dropped down, turned out, then looped back around,’ one evaluator said. ‘With his long arms and that motion, [it’s] very hard to be accurate. Especially on the move. … [The] inability to get the ball out quick and on time is key.’”
Instilling confidence is important and that’s a part of Reich’s position. But it would seem to me that keeping the rookie on track in terms of his technique on the field would be the more critical aspect of it. Perhaps Reich needs to worry more about that or he could be worrying about his job next.
10f. With the first head coaching opportunity appearing after the firing of Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, speculation on who the candidates for this and other positions that are bound to open up kicked into high gear around the NFL. Josh McDaniels seems to be at the top of everyone’s list and he’s definitely indicated that he’d be interested.
If he’s hired, one hopes the McDaniels will do a better job than he did the first time around with the Broncos where he lasted less than two years. Most point to the failure of those teams on the field as the reason for McDaniel’s firing. But his handling of player personnel may have been a big factor in that. The story of Jay Cutler may not be typical but it does give insight into McDaniel’s behavior. Via the Mile High Report:
“Shortly after Josh McDaniels moved into his office at Dove Valley, he called in Cutler and his agent, Bus Cook, for a closed-door meeting. The story goes that McDaniels began with a 20-minute dissertation of his resume, how he'd worked his way up the ranks in New England to become Bill Belichick's right-hand man with the offense and how the team would have been nowhere the year before without his tutelage of backup Matt Cassel. He continued on with justification of his hiring by Bowlen.
“After the perplexing recitation of accomplishments, McDaniels suddenly shifted gears.
“He began to bash and berate Cutler and his game to the tune of a verbal flogging neither had ever witnessed. The expletive-laden diatribe went on for a few minutes, after which Cook stood up and told Cutler they were leaving. As they walked down the long hallway past Bowlen's office, Cutler turned to Bus and said, ‘Get me out of here. I don't care how you do it.’”
I can’t explain this behavior but one thing is apparent. McDaniels apparently took over the Broncos and brought a huge ego with him when he did it. It’s one thing to coach under Belichick, it’s another thing to take over a team of your own and act like you brought the rings with you.
10g. With the game time temperature around 35 degrees with some snow on the ground early in the day, it was a bit amusing to hear those around the Dolphins wringing their hands over this “cold weather game” in New York.
With that in mind, we bring you to balmy Chicago where the game time temperatures for the Bears-Packers game are expected to be about 0 degrees with a wind chill around 20 below down on the field.
Of course, such games are a regular happening in the NFC North and these two teams are used to playing under these conditions. But when a southern team like the Dolphins visits its often the difference between winning and losing. Pro Football Weekly publisher and radio sideline reporter Hub Arkush gives an interesting perspective:
“Just over 11 months ago I had the pleasure of working the national radio broadcast for Westwood One as the sideline reporter in Minneapolis for the Seahawks-Vikings wild card game.
“The official temperature for the noon kickoff is recorded as six degrees below zero with a wind chill of 25-to-30 degrees below zero, the third-coldest game in NFL history but I can tell you thermometers mounted on the bleacher walls on both sidelines read nine below.”
“Of course, I didn’t have to run around and try and play football or hit anybody, and thank God nobody hit me, but I was on the field and I can tell you this: at least 60-to-70 percent of the players and coaches absolutely wanted to be somewhere else.
“The best team may or may not win the Packers-Bears game Sunday at Soldier Field. Talent will matter but it will be incidental to the team with the most players who actually want to be out there playing football.”
There’s a lot of truth to this. I personally saw a game that Michael Vick played in 2005, again against the Bears at Soldier Field.The wind chill started at minus-3 at kickoff and anyone who watched knew that Atlanta might as well have not played the game.
Vick rushed to the bench to get near the heaters so quick after every series and played so poorly while on the field that some honestly had to wonder if he just quit and threw the game just so they would go three and out. I never looked at Vick the same again, as it turns out, with more justification than I realized.
I’ve heard some say that all games in the northern part of the country should be played indoors where high powered passing offenses can rule the day with high scoring games. But if you ask me, there’s no better test of a character than a true cold weather football game.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
We asked and you answered.
Should the Miami Dolphins keep Mike Pouncey on the roster or should they move on from him? Or, perhaps, look into the in-between option and try to restructure his contract - which in this context, is the same as asking him to take a paycut.
Well our own Ian Berger took to Twitter and asked you all what the Dolphins should do with their superstar (but oft-injured) Pro Bowl center, and these were the results.
54 percent of the votes went into wanting Miami to restructure Pouncey's contract, which would make sense except for a couple of things. First and foremost, the likelihood of Pouncey taking a paycut (which is what everyone really wants, not a restructure) is slim to none. Pouncey is one of the top centers in the league and everyone knows this, including him. The only type of leverage the team would have is that he's often injured, but that isn't likely to make much difference.
The other thing to keep in mind with Pouncey is that he's actually paid similarly to other centers in the league, including his twin brother Maurkice who is with the Steelers and is also often injured - yet there are very few Steelers fans demanding Pittsburgh move on from him, because they know Maurkice is one of the anchors on their line, when healthy.
Pouncey - on average - makes $8,950,000 dollars a year, which puts him just below other star centers such as Atlanta's Alex Mack and Dallas' Travis Frederick, and just a few thousand dollars over Oakland's Rodney Hudson and of course his brother Maurkice.
Now the next question one has to consider is how much cap space will Pouncey be taking up next season? Specifically, compared to the other top centers in the NFL. Pouncey's cap hit in 2017 will actually lower from $10,025,000 to $8,975,000, with 2016 being his most expensive year on the team. Miami could potentially move on from Pouncey in 2017 with a $5 million dollar dead cap penalty if they so choose.
But other teams are paying enormous amounts of cash to their centers as well. Frederick will count for $14,871,000 in cap space for the Cowboys next season, and Mack of the Falcons will count for $9,050,000 next season, which is a $5 million dollar jump from 2016.
Other notable names with high cap numbers for 2017:
Now here's the thing. Only Kalil and Mangold are actually injured this season, and talk around the league suggests that Mangold, who has been a staple of the Jets offensive line for years, will be gone by 2017 and will likely be looking for work. But his capability as a center is still good, and injury is presumably the main concern.
So the Jets may move on from a solid - when healthy - center because they're concerned he won't be available for much of the year. That same issue is currently happening with Mike Pouncey and the Dolphins. But is it worth moving on from arguably the best offensive lineman on the roster just because he might get hurt? Injuries happen to everyone, as this season has clearly demonstrated.
If it were me, I would say Pouncey needs to stay at any cost. His ability when healthy, not to mention his leadership in the locker room (and make no mistake, the team often follows his lead) make him an indispensable piece of the Dolphins puzzle.
Should be willing to negotiate a restructure, then by all means do so. But in my humble opinion, there is no question that Mike Pouncey needs to remain a Miami Dolphin. His talent is too hard to replace, and Anthony Steen is showing to be nothing more than a solid backup at best. Unless the Dolphins choose to go the Cowboys route and draft a center high in next year's draft, there's no question Pouncey needs to be around.
He's worth the risk.
But there are many who would disagree with my position, and so here are some of the comments you all left on Twitter regarding this topic.
Early in the season and fresh off of Miami Dolphins running back Arian Foster’s surprising retirement, the J-Train pulled out of the station, and hit full speed fast.
Once the starting running back gig was his, Jay Ajayi hit the ground running, literally. In Week 6, Ajayi piled up more than 200 rushing yards, and then followed up with a repeat performance in Week 7, becoming only the 4th running back in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Then after another respectable showing against the New York Jets in Week 8 (130 total yards), Ajayi’s statistics became more pedestrian, only totaling 310 rushing yards in the past five games.
Did the wheels fall off the J-Train? Not according to the Dolphins.
“'B.A.' (Branden Albert) is playing with one hand,” said head coach Adam Gase. “(Laremy) Tunsil comes back from an injury, and he's not 100 percent.” Add in the fact that center Mike Pouncey has only played in five games this year, and you begin to see the reason for the falling production in the running game.
When you’re missing the entire left side of the offensive line, it can be hard to run in the NFL, and the Dolphins have spent the past month shuffling linemen to make up for injuries to their top three blockers.
With backup centers Anthony Steen and Kraig Urbik also nursing injuries, the push up the center, especially at the second level of the defensive front, has been sorely missing. Those missing pieces have had far more to do with the diminishing numbers in the running game than anything Ajayi is or isn’t doing.
As Gase explains, “Coming off some of these injuries we've had upfront, some moving pieces, we played some good defensive fronts. That's the one thing that myself and coaches have been reminding (Ajayi) of. Just remember we have played some good teams ... teams that have been good on defense. It's been the front seven that has been the strength of all of these teams that we've played.
“He just can't get frustrated thinking it's something with him,” Gase continued. “That's why the running game can be special sometimes, because it takes the entire unit. It takes the front, it takes the tight ends, it takes the quarterback making sure he's doing his job and making an out. It takes the wide receivers blocking down the field, and then it takes him just being patient and doing exactly what everybody knows he's supposed to do.
“And he's done that. We've been close quite a few times. Last game, there were a couple of them that were just so close to being explosive runs. I know everybody wants to get caught up with the numbers, but we're kind of looking at each play individually and saying, 'Okay, this was good. We're close.’ We've just got to finish this a little better.”
Ajayi leads the league in yards after contact, has great balance, and is highly adept at breaking tackles. And as the Dolphins head into New York Saturday night to take on the Jets, he’s healthy and not the least fazed by the possibility of freezing temperatures or rain. Many players shy away from hits in cold weather, but Ajayi isn’t concerned. After all, he played his college ball in Boise, Idaho, and he’ll be the first to tell you it gets pretty cold in Boise.
But don’t expect him to place any blame for his drop in production on any of his teammates. That’s just not how he rolls. Ajayi considers himself to be one of the best in the league at his position, and his numbers bear that out, as he heads into this weekend needing just 44 yards to notch 1,000 yards on the season. He takes it to heart to keep pushing, keep working to improve his game performance.
“I’m aware it’s not up to the level that I believe I’m capable of,” said Ajayi. “That’s more of a thing to the standard I hold myself, because I believe I can be one of the best. So each week, I go out there and try to have that kind of performance. Whenever I don’t do that, I’m disappointed.”
His coach doesn’t quite see it that way, but has faith that it’s only a matter of time before the J-Train is back on the tracks.
“I'm not getting discouraged by numbers right now,” says Gase. “I know if we keep giving him touches and giving him opportunities, and we get back in a rhythm, and we get guys healthy as we finish this thing out, I think we're going to start having the number production be better.
“We're a shoelace away so many different times to where all of a sudden that 5-yard gain is going to be 25,” said Gase. “I don't want him to change anything he's doing, because he's doing exactly what we need him to do, and he's doing exactly the same thing he did when we had those big-time rushing numbers.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
The Dolphins waited and waited for their Pro Bowl center to get back onto the field. He stated over and over that he wanted to play, that he desperately wanted to be on the field with his teammates. But the injury never improved, and so Miami has made the decision to place center Mike Pouncey on the injured reserve list.
A discussion was had with the team's medical staff as well as a specialist who was watching the situation, and the decision was made by head coach Adam Gase that Pouncey's season would end on Tuesday.
The hope is that by placing him there now, Pouncey will be ready to play again in 2017 and in the long term as long as there aren't anymore setbacks to his injured hips. He's had surgery on both hips in the past and the issue flared up again during a practice in San Diego weeks ago.
So with Pouncey gone for the season, that left an open spot on the roster, which was soon filled by veteran quarterback T.J. Yates, who was signed off the streets to be the backup to Matt Moore should something go awry.
Yates was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft and ultimately had mixed results. He only played in six games during his rookie year and completed 61.2% of his passes, threw for 949 yards and threw for three touchdowns and three interceptions.
In 2014, Yates was traded to the Falcons where he only played in one game and was later cut at the beginning of the following season, only to be signed back by the Texans in October of that year. He finished that season playing in four games, completing 49.1 percent of his passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns and one interception.
The signing of Yates is somewhat surprising considering the fact that rookie quarterback Brandon Doughty was waiting in the wings to get the call up from the practice squad, but it appears that Gase preferred to have a veteran in the locker room in case something happened to Moore, instead of sending a rookie seventh-round draft pick to make his debut in the midst of meaningful December football games.
With any luck, Yates won't ever have to see the football field, but with Pouncey out and an injured Anthony Steen trying to take the star center's place, the offensive line is once again beginning to struggle, particularly when it comes to the run game.
Pouncey is the anchor of the offensive line, but fans are beginning to grow tired of the center being on the sidelines all the time. With a $8,975,000 cap hit next season, Pouncey will take a lot of cap space and may or may not be available for much of the season.
Only time will tell what the front office decides to do with one of the team's biggest leaders going forward.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
1. What we saw at the end of this game was the difference between last year’s Cardinals and this year’s version and, perhaps, the difference in the Dolphins as well.
Last season, the Cardinals would have driven down the field to kick the final field goal to prevent overtime. But this year, it was a different Cardinals team, one that was called out by head coach Bruce Arians two weeks ago for lacking toughness, and who couldn’t dig deep and do the job when it counted.
On the other hand, it was the Dolphins who overcame difficult conditions in the heavy rain and an injury to their starting quarterback to finish and deservedly pull this one out. This was a gutsy win from a Dolphins team that hasn’t had many in recent memory. Kudos to them.
2. Having said that, this was an incredibly sloppy game, especially in the first half as the teams traded turnovers for much of the time. Ryan Tannehill was intercepted once and each team lost two fumbles. Carson Palmer was worse with two interceptions, one of which should have set up the Dolphins second touchdown. But, of course, the Dolphins gave it back on the goal line.
Perhaps the rain played a part in all of this but you could almost hear big top music playing in your head as the circus hit town in Miami.
As good as the Dolphins finished, let’s hope that their starts in big games are better than this from here on out. They aren’t going to get away with this playing teams who, unlike the Cardinals, are actually on their game in a playoff drive.
3. The Cardinals were flat out not going to let the Dolphins running game beat them and they did stop it with the Dolphins only averaging 2.7 yards per carry. But they paid a heavy price.
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase stuck with the run this game despite its apparent lack of success, rushing 31 times compared to 25 passes. Continuing to run the ball with the Cardinals concentrating so hard on stopping them set up the play action pass beautifully and the Dolphins did a lot of damage with it, perhaps most notably with a beautiful Tannehill pass to Kenny Stills for the Dolphins first touchdown.
This was very well handled by the Dolphins.
4. I knew David Johnson was a big part of what the Cardinals do but they rely on him even more than I thought. Johnson was everywhere, running the ball 20 times for 80 yards and catching the ball five times for 41 more. The threat that Johnson poses literally sets up everything that the Cardinals do offensively and he is by far the Cardinals most valuable player.
No doubt about it. Johnson does it all and if it weren’t for Le’Veon Bell, he would be hands down the best running back in the NFL.
5. The Dolphins had far, far too many penalties this game with 14 for 118 yards. That can’t continue if they want to compete with the best teams in the league. I expect the coaching staff to vehemently address that this week with the players.
6. Despite the problems in the running game I think the Dolphins offensive line deserves a great deal of credit for this win. They provided good protection for Tannehill, allowing just one sack. Tannehill helped a great deal by getting the ball out quickly and on time as well. Nice job all around.
7. Dennis Pitta burned the Dolphins badly last week and it highlighted yet another linebacker-related issue that the Dolphins have had to face. They needed to do a better job of covering tight ends.
Going into their final four games, the Dolphins face tight ends that rank 13th (New England’s Martellus Bennett), 20th (Buffalo’s Charles Clay) and 26th (Arizona’s Jermaine Gresham) in yardage among tight ends. Sunday was Gresham’s turn and, like Pitta two weeks ago with the Ravens, he led the Cardinals in receiving with five catches for 45 yards.
We’ve been reading a lot about how the Dolphins are making due without their starting linebackers Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins and now Kiko Alonso. But let’s be honest, folks. With the possible exception of Kiko Alonso, they’re all backups, not just the guys who were on the field Sunday. And even Alonso, who plays sideline to sideline about as well as anyone in the league, struggles to read, react and attack the line of scrimmage.
The drop off in talent hasn’t been that great and the organization should take a lot of the blame for that. Revamping the linebacker corps should be a major focus of the 2017 offseason.
8. It’s tempting to consider Dolphins third round pick Leonte Carroo to be something of a disappointment. Carroo hasn’t done much on the field this year with just three receptions for 29 yards and a touchdown. But it’s worth pointing out that he isn’t the only wide receiver with potential that is taking a while to earn his way into a bigger role with his team.
Many around the league have wondered why Vikings first round pick Laquon Treadwell hasn’t contributed more to a Viking receiving corps that could use him a lot more than the Dolphins need Carroo. Entering Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Treadwell had justone catch for 15 yards for the season.
"I think he's kind of catching up to the NFL a little bit now," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. "His quickness, his stops and starts, his acceleration [are better.]
"For a while there, he was pressing and trying to do everything. It's probably been a few weeks now that he's started to look better."
“Better” is the key word for players like Treadwell and Carroo. With the immediate success of recent first round picks like Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. we forget that for decades before that, wide receiver was a position that you drafted assuming that the player wasn’t going to be able to contribute right away.
Of all of the positions on the field with the exception of quarterback, wide receiver is the one where players have the most to learn over their college experience where route running and option routes weren’t usually a part of the program.
Bottom line, Carroo deserves and needs a red shirt year and it looks like the Dolphins are giving it to him. And fans and media are going to have to just accept that and be patient.
9. Speaking of NFL draft picks, I found this seemingly offhand comment from Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald to be interesting. Salguero was addressing the possibility that rookie second round pick Xavien Howard might be able to find his way onto the field this week to help the defensive backfield unit cover Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
“[Head coach Adam] Gase this week and [defensive coordinator Vance] Joseph on Thursday said they are not willing to push Howard to play unless the rookie feels he’s ready. Howard has had two knee surgeries in the past six months and the team has decided it will not push him at all to get back on the field. It will be strictly Howard’s call.
“And based on what Howard told reporters this week, he’s not ready to play yet.
“(Interesting that the player is apparently fully in charge of whether he plays or not and he’s not wanting to play yet.)”
Very interesting. Most of the time players can’t wait to get back on the field and it’s the medical staff that has to hold them back. Apparently this isn’t the case with Howard…
Anyone remember way back in May when the team was touting this draft as being full of rough, tough “alpha males.” Yeah, what happened to that?
10. News out of Buffalo has indicated that, once the verdict on Rex Ryan comes down, the Bills are also headed for a big decision on quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor has $30.75 million in contract guarantees due in March. The Bills can avoid paying those only by releasing him and starting fresh at quarterback.
The problem is that Taylor has rarely played poorly enough in his 25 starts with the Bills for the team to justify cutting ties with him. But his performance Sunday was a was all too typical.
After completing eight of nine passes for 102 yards in the first quarter, Taylor's accuracy and decision-making in the pocket eroded over the remainder of the game. He completed 10 of 26 passes for only 89 yards in the final three quarters.
Taylor is mobile and has the physical talent. Occasionally he even flashes greatness. But on balance, he’s an average quarterback. The Bills could do better. But by releasing Taylor they risk doing much, much worse.
10a. Another grim sign for Chargers fans in San Diego appeared this week as reports indicated that the Chargers are talking to the L.A. Coliseum Commission about playing there next season.
“In light of the vote of the people of San Diego, it’s back on the table in earnest,” L.A. Coliseum Commission President Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “So the appropriate amount of due diligence continues to be done, and we will see if in fact we can strike a deal.”
There’s a lot going on in connection with the complicated future locations of the Chargers and Raiders. The Chargers have little more than a month to go before the Chargers’ window of opportunity for an L.A. move closes and the Raiders window opens.
The Raiders, for their part, seem resigned to the likelihood that the Chargers will move to L.A. and they are focusing their efforts on Ls Vegas. But that could change if the Chargers fail to make a deal with Stan Kroenke, owner of both the new stadium and the Rams who will occupy it with whatever other team surfaces to make the move.
In the mean time the Chargers need to be making arrangements for next year, because if they announce an intention to move to L.A., they’ll move immediately. And the Chargers fans will watch a team that has resided in their city for 56 years depart, leaving yet another hole in the hearts of the NFL faithful.
10b. Also of interest was the news that suspended Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory was not be allowed to return to practice this week. The NFL told Gregory that he was “not in compliance” and therefore cannot practice with his teammates.
After being selected by the Cowboys in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft, Gregory was suspended in February for the first four games of the 2016 season due to violating the league's drug policy. A few months later, Gregory failed a second drug test, checked into an undisclosed treatment facility and was removed from the team's roster.
He received an additional 10-game suspension (14 games all together), making him ineligible to return to the Cowboys until Dec. 19. Now the news that he is not on the straight and narrow with the NFL is an ominous sign for his future.
Gregory is only one of a host of risky players that the Cowboys have recently decided are worthy to wear the star. Running back Ezekiel Elliot, selected by Dallas in the first round of the 2016 draft, is the subject of an active and ongoing investigation by the NFL.
The league continues to look into five alleged incidents in six days in July involving Elliott and a former girlfriend. As part of the probe, the NFL also has considered an alleged incident from February, one that the Cowboys surely knew about before they drafted the Ohio State star.
People always wonder why you don’t draft risky players. They wonder why so many teams passed on Laremy Tunsil. After all, the game isn’t played by angels. Well, this is why. It doesn’t matter if you’re an angel or a devil if you aren’t available to play.
The Cowboys are a franchise that simply refuses to learn that lesson under morally bankrupt owner Jerry Jones. This is the franchise that sold its soul to sign remorseless woman beater Greg Hardy last season. And this is what comes of that.
10c. Congratulations to Brandon Marshall. He has officially extended his life-long playoff-less streak to 11 seasons now.
In comparing this year’s under-achieving Jets team with his last under-achieving Bears team, the former Dolphin said the Bears locker room was "100 times worse because their locker room was divided."
What Marshall failed to point out was that the locker room was divided largely because of him.
The 2014 Bears started the year with hopes of making the playoffs with talented players like Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte. By the end of the year, disappointment had turned the team into a mess with weak head coach Marc Trestman losing the locker room as Marshall “led” the group by ranting and raving through tantrums after games.
The Bears were fundamentally flawed with players that one opposing coach within the division called “the biggest group of front-runners in the league.” They’re a great example of why you don’t try to build a team by acquiring veterans through trade and free agency. Hopefully Mike Tannenbaum is paying attention.
10d. Speaking of the Jets, they are up next for the Dolphins and the big question in New York is whether head coach Todd Bowles is going to survive this debacle and how much effort the team puts forth in the final games is going to play a big role in that organizational decision.
After Monday night’s debacle against the Colts, most observers agreed that the Jets showed a terrible a lack of effort. But at least publicly, Bowles disagrees.
“I thought the effort was a lot better, but I thought we made some bonehead mistakes that cost us,” Bowles said after watching the tape.
Bowles might say so but what the eye says is something totally different.
The real truth is that it doesn't benefit anyone to admit that your team isn't trying any more. But if the Jets don’t start showing some hustle, it isn’t going to matter what Bowles says about it. Indications that you've lost the locker room are probably the number one reason why a coach might be fired and should be fired. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bowles is coaching for his job and better motivation of his players had better be a big part of that effort.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
As expected, Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase delivered grim news this afternoon, but for Dolphins fans, it turned out to be somewhat good news, considering how serious the injury looked during Sunday's game.
Gase confirmed the knee injury, but said that quarterback Ryan Tannehill has sprained the ACL and MCL ligaments in his left knee, an injury that will likely keep him sidelined for the remainder of the 2016 season. Tannehill was hit late in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals when defensive lineman Calais Campbell fell into Tannehill’s left leg. Many fans feel it was a dirty hit, but Campbell says that left tackle Brandon Albert blocked him into Tannehill, and video review tends to support that claim.
“I got a crease, and the left tackle gave me a shove in the back,” said Campbell after the game. “It was slippery … It sucks. You never want to see a guy down and go out for the game. I hope he’s OK. I hope he’s not seriously hurt. I’m praying for him.”
Tannehill will avoid what would have been a long and ardorous recovery had he torn those ligaments, as tears typically take 9-12 months to fully recover from. A timetable has not yet been set, and Gase admitted that he wasn't sure how long Tannehill will be sidelined, but would also not commit to saying if Tannehill would play again this season.
According to Courtney Fallon of NFL Network, the Dolphins will evaluate Tannehill on a week to week basis, and there's a possibility that he could return as early as Week 17 for the home game against the New England Patriots.
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball.
Is Matt Moore a step back from the play that Miami Dolphins fans have come to expect from their quarterback?
The answer to that question isn’t as simple as it might look on the surface. The most obvious answer is that Tannehill must be a lot better than Moore simply because in almost five seasons of play, there has never really been a quarterback controversy in Miami. And that argument gains even more ground when you factor in the rumors that former head coach Joe Philbin badly wanted to draft Derek Carr in the 2014 NFL draft to replace Tannehill, yet it was never a question that Tannehill was the starter throughout Philbin's regime.
Tannehill isn’t an elite NFL quarterback, and no amount of evidence can prove that assumption wrong. He has his flaws, notably a lack of pocket awareness that borders on maddening to coaches, players, and fans alike, a trait that has resulted in an amazing number of hits, and a league leading 213 career sacks in his 77 consecutive starts.
Somehow Tannehill has always managed to get up from all those hits until this past Sunday, when a hit to the knee resulted in an injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season.
And now journeyman quarterback Moore steps into the limelight to take over for the Dolphins. Moore, who has never started an entire season (he had 13 starts in his one season as starter for the Dolphins in 2011), has the career statistics reflective of his status on the team – that of a very good NFL backup quarterback.
He has completed 453 of 769 passes for a 58.9% completion rate, 5,356 yards with 33 touchdowns against 28 interceptions, and has a career rating of 79.2. Not great by any count, but certainly better numbers than the typical backup quarterback in the NFL.
With 43 appearances over nine NFL seasons (he has actually played ten seasons, but did not appear in any games during the 2008 season), Moore has 25 starts with a 13-12 record in those games.
And now Moore, who expressed genuine sympathy for Tannehill’s injury, will take the reins for the remainder of the season.
Moore said of Tannehill, “My heart breaks. I know how much that guy puts his heart and soul and hard work into this.”
As Moore approaches his first start in almost six years, he considers himself up for the challenge, having spent every Sunday for almost five seasons going through the mental repetitions during practices and games, always ready to step up if needed. And as has been the mantra throughout head coach Adam Gase’s rookie season, he never looks past the next game, with a goal to be 1-0 at the end of each week.
“My focus right now is to get ready to go,” says Moore. “If I have to go, then be ready to go, and that’s it. You talk about where we’re at as a team, you can’t ask for much more. The ball is in our court. We just have to execute and play one week at a time.”
(As an irrelevant side note: the last career start for Matt Moore came in 2011, which was a 19-17 win over the Jets. The Dolphins travel to New York to take on the Jets this Saturday night.)
When Tannehill went down, fans could see the support and respect that he commanded from his teammates, as all have talked about how tough he’s been week in and week out, game in and game out. Moore feels he has that same respect as he takes over the quarterback position.
“I’ve been here a while,” says Moore. “And these guys know my position on this team and my role. I don’t think there was any doubt or hesitation. I believe that. I’m comfortable in there, and I think those guys are comfortable with me in there.”
As for Moore’s style of play, not much is expected to change as the team transitions from Tannehill. Gase admits that it will take some practice for him and Moore to get used to the playcalls and the flow of the game; before Sunday, Gase hadn’t called plays for Moore since the second preseason game at Dallas. But Gase has full confidence in Moore’s abilities, and to Moore’s credit, he fully understands his role within Gase’s offense.
“I’m a pocket passer who likes to throw it down the field,” is how Moore describes himself. “That’s how I would put it, but that doesn’t matter. If you’re in there, you have to execute the plays called. At the end of the day, the ultimate deal is to get the win, so whatever style that is, that’s what I’ll be.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
It was just a few months ago, during the Miami Dolphins vs. Tennessee Titans game on October 9th, when a large group of Dolphins fans at Hard Rock Stadium began chanting “we want Moore." Five weeks into the 2016 schedule, plenty of fans became frustrated with Ryan Tannehill, and chose to instead root for the backup quarterback.
Now, with three games remaining on the Dolphins schedule, those same chanters will now get their wish with Ryan Tannehill being out for the season. Matt Moore, however, may not be the savior for the Miami Dolphins. His inconsistent career is alarming.
Matt Moore joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent, signed by the Dallas Cowboys after the 2007 draft, after playing two productive years at Oregon State. He did not last past the preseason, and was signed by the Carolina Panthers when the Cowboys planned to sign him to the practice squad.
During his four years with the Carolina Panthers, Moore was inconsistent as a starter. While he was a Panther, he started 13 games, and ended up with a career stat line of 227 for 392 passes (58%) for 2,640 yards with 16 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. To say that he did not have a good start to his career is an understatement.
Moore joined the Miami Dolphins on July 28th, 2011, signed primarily to be the backup to Chad Henne. However, after Henne was injured during the October 2nd Chargers game of that season, Moore jumped in and showed some glimmer of hope. During the remaining games that Moore started that season, he ended up throwing three touchdowns during both the Kansas City Chiefs game and the Buffalo Bills game, which again illustrated his value to the team. He was even named team MVP that year.
During the 2012 offseason, the Miami Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill, at which time the franchise gave him the keys to the castle instead of waiting to see what Moore could accomplish after David Garrard got hurt. With Tannehill starting in 77 straight games for the Dolphins, Moore had become a talented clipboard holder, until Sunday, when Tannehill went down.
With only 1:29 left on the clock in a tie game with the Arizona Cardinals at the Dolphins 47-yard line, Matt Moore brought the Dolphins offense to the Cardinals one-yard line, after a beautiful throw to Kenny Stills which picked up 12 yards, and then another 29-yard pass to Stills. After two Damien Williams runs that brought the clock down to one second remaining, Andrew Franks attempted and made the game winning 21-yard field goal.
All signs currently point to Matt Moore taking the reins of the Miami Dolphins offense for the final three weeks of the 2016 season, against the Jets, Bills and Patriots. Will we see the Matt Moore of old, that was inconsistent and inaccurate for the Carolina Panthers, or the clutch Miami Dolphins Matt Moore that we saw in 2011 and during the Cardinals Game on Sunday?
Will Dolphins fans need to be careful for what they wish for, or will he be the savior that we hope he can be? Fortunately, the Dolphins are playing for something big to close out the season, and these next three weeks will show what kind of quarterback they have. And maybe, just maybe, a postseason appearance is still in the future.
This column was written by Ian Berger. Follow him on Twitter: @ian693
As the Miami Dolphins approach this Sunday’s home matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, one of the prime matchups that fans will be paying close attention to is where Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson lines up on each play.
And they won’t be the only ones.
“You want to keep your eye on 21," says quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “You have to be aware. He has a reputation, and it shows. You watch the game tape, and he shows up every week. It's not something you can ignore and say that he's just another guy out there. You have a ton of respect for him, and you're aware of where he's at on the field.”
A lockdown corner capable of taking away half of the field, Peterson typically shadows the opponent’s best receiver. He has five interceptions on the year, and is the type of player that offensive coordinators game plan around, rarely taking chances in areas where Peterson is roaming.
“I like our receivers,” adds Tannehill. ”I think that we can challenge him and still have an opportunity to make plays. But I have a lot of respect for him and the plays that he can make. It's not just going out there and having no regard for where he's at.”
Head coach Adam Gase has faced the Cardinals each of the last two seasons, giving him some insight on just how disruptive Peterson can be.
"This is the third year in a row that I've gone against these guys,” Said Gase. “They're very aggressive. Obviously in the secondary, they're very strong. Having Patrick (Peterson) out there makes it very difficult because he's such a good player, and he does such a good job on whoever he's covering of making it a long day. The rest of that crew plays off of him, and all those guys do a great job.”
Gase has obviously spent time this week with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as Tannehill almost mirrors Gase’s comments.
“You're aware of him as a player, just like you're aware of an elite pass-rusher or an elite linebacker,” says Tannehill. “You're aware of guys that can have a big impact on the game. Not necessarily that you're avoiding him throughout the whole game, but you're aware. You want to make sure that it's the right matchup, it's the right shot and the ball is in the right location. If you do leave one behind the receiver or throw one when you shouldn't, he's going to get it.”
Tannehill knows that lesson very well, as one of his interceptions last week came when his throw trailed behind the intended receiver. And he’ll be very aware on each play where Peterson lines up.
“Obviously, Patrick Peterson is well known and for good reason.”
Peterson isn’t the only defensive threat that the Dolphins are concerned about. The Cardinals defense is 11th against the run, and 3rd against the pass, which ranks them as the second best defense in the NFL. The Dolphins will definitely have their work cut out for them on offense, especially against five rushers, a tactic the Cardinals employ on the majority of their defensive snaps.
“That front is about as nasty as they come,” says Gase. “You know what's coming. You know five guys are coming more times than not, and they're going to put pressure on your offensive line to hang in there. When you've got a like Calais (Campbell), who's disruptive as he is, and now add in Chandler Jones … and now you look at the linebackers, and it's a lot of team speed, a lot of aggressive players. And then you have a great scheme that goes behind it to where they're not afraid to play aggressive.
“That's what makes that defense so tough to go against."
As scary as this sounds, Tannehill seems pretty confident in the game plan heading into Sunday. He says the team will take note of where Peterson and others line up, and where the pass rush comes from, and then adjust accordingly.
"Part of it is seeing how they're going to play it ... We'll just have to see early in the game how they're playing us and adjust from there."
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball.
Dolphins complaining about bad field conditions at Ravens game? Let Steve Smith tell you what he thinks
On the opening drive of last week’s game in Baltimore, several Miami Dolphins players had issues with traction on the field, starting on running back Jay Ajayi’s first carry of the game, when he slipped to the ground without anyone touching him.
And that drive ended when on third down, wide receiver Jarvis Landry slipped coming out of his route, causing him to be late getting back to the pass thrown by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and the pass dropped incomplete.
It’s not a surprise that the Ravens didn’t seem to be affected, while the Dolphins slipped and slid their way to a 24-0 first half deficit. (Side note before you say anything: Yes, I’m well aware that there were some other far more prominent issues that led to that terrible first half showing.) Throughout the years, NFL grounds crews are notorious for trying to find ways to give the home team an advantage where possible, sometimes watering the field late at night before a game, or cutting the grass high.
And who can forget that game in 2012 when the sprinklers on the Dolphins home field (inadvertently?) came on during a November game against the Seahawks?
Those things might seem inconsequential, but if a home team knows the field conditions will require a certain cleat to have the best traction, and the visiting team isn’t aware, it can cause some bad plays, which is exactly what seemed to happen in the Baltimore game.
But was something afoul (or afowl) on the Ravens home field?
“It was slick out there,” said Ajayi. “You saw some guys sliding around. There were definitely some people losing traction out there.”
Head coach Adam Gase was hesitant to lay blame on the field conditions, but was well aware of problems in that regard early in the game.
“That was a little surprising,” said Gase. “Most of our guys come out there early and start cutting and make sure that everything is good. I didn't hear anybody really complaining in pregame, but sometimes when you get out there, and it really starts happening, and you're trying to make a sharp cut, all of a sudden, you lose your feet, and you're trying to figure out, 'Is it the cleats?' Did I cut off the wrong foot?' We have to go back and look at that, because we really can't have that happen. We had a couple chances to make some big plays, and we've got guys falling down … the quarterback is expecting the receivers to stand up, and all the sudden, they go down, so that's a possible turnover right there.”
Defensive end Andre Branch chimed in, “The grass was terrible. We knew that coming into the game.”
But as has been the case all season under the Gase regime, Branch and others refuse to make excuses for the terrible play.
"That’s no excuse at all,” said Branch. “It was the atmosphere we played in. Those were the elements that we had to work with. They played on the same surface as we did, so it’s no excuse.”
And if you ask the unofficial voice of the Ravens, wide receiver Steve Smith is having none of the complaining.
"You keep asking me,” said Smith. “So it probably sounds like Miami was complaining about it. You want to know what the players think on the Ravens? Since Miami got their ass whooped, of course they're going to complain about it. But it looked pretty good for us.”
And there may well be a lot of truth in Smith’s comments, as the team (and moreso the fans of that team) that comes out on the short end of the score in almost any game is bound to look for excuses. Just don’t let Smith hear you complaining.
“They shouldn't be barking when they just started putting grass on half of the field when they had the dirt and the baseball field (until 2012, the Dolphins shared the stadium with the Miami Marlins). Beggars, again, can't be choosey."
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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