1. In addition to the old “it's meant to motivate him - and it's working!” nugget, I’m reading now that people think that starting Davon Godchaux over Jordan Phillips will make his “stamina issues” less obvious.
I’m really having a hard time understanding why people insist on making excuses for this guy. I know he’s a former second round pick but for heaven’s sake, let it go.
He’s not good enough. Period. Time for the Dolphins to move on. I’m frankly disappointed that they haven’t and that they didn’t do more to protect themselves at the position before the summer started.
2. There are more than a few people who seem to be wondering why Lawrence Timmons isn’t playing middle linebacker given that he played inside in a 3-4 scheme with the Steelers.
There are probably a number of reasons for this but one that’s apparently undersold is the fact that calling plays isn’t really Timmons' strong suit. Traditionally, the middle linebacker has the speaker in his helmet and fills this role.
One of the things that the Steelers found out early is that Timmons is at his best when he’s unhindered by a lot of details. Dealing with a lot of Xs and Os isn’t his strength.
You don’t want to make him worry about things like where guys are lined up. You want him to line up and just play. He can do that better on the outside.
3. If the Dolphins can’t get Jakeem Grant to the point where he can get through a game without dropping the ball, I just don’t see how they can continue to waste their time on him.
They’d like to see Grant develop as a punt returner but, despite reportedly catching hundreds of balls in the offseason, he doesn’t seem to be much more reliable.
They say that the biggest jump in performance for any player is between his first and second years. There’s a reason for that - the expectations are considerable higher and you need to either fish or cut bait.
People don’t keep talking about how you are a young player still learning the game anymore and there are no more “rookie mistakes”. By your second summer you’ve either corrected them or the team moves on.
For all Grant’s apparent talent, the first thing you have to do as a receiver or returner is get a hold of the ball and keep it. Unless he can show he can do that consistently this year, we can safely conclude that it’s never going to happen.
4. I was a little surprised and not a little concerned by reports that the Dolphins negotiated a contract extension with T.J. McDonald.
I like McDonald well enough on the field but what’s the rush? He’s serving an eight game suspension after a second run-in with the NFL over disciplinary issues. I can’t help but think that if it wasn’t a problem he’d still be a Los Angeles Ram.
Yes, you can protect yourself to some extent in the contract language. But it's not a good look.
The Dolphins needed to show a little more caution here.
5. The most comforting thing about the Jarvis Landry domestic violence allegation? The NFL has video of the incident.
Landry’s ex-girlfriend, Estrella Cerqueira, claims that the couple had a “vocal disagreement” but that Landry would “never, ever do anything to harm me or anyone else.” The problem is that Cequeira is the mother of Landry’s child and has a monetary incentive in the form of child support to downplay the incident.
In any case, the camera never lies. One way or the other, we’ll know for sure when the NFL’s decision on whether to punish Landry or not comes down.
6. I sympathize with the Dolphins and their fans in terms of the injuries that the team suffered during training camp. But really, other than the loss of the starting quarterback - and the team ended up breaking even on that one - I don’t think the injuries have been that far out of the ordinary.
Yes, the loss of your starting left guard hurts. But those things happen every year to every team. And it's not like Ted Larsen was anything more than a borderline NFL starter to begin with.
Sure losing Raekwon McMillan hurts. But he was a second round rookie linebacker who has proven nothing. As for Koa Misi’s ongoing neck troubles, see the comment on Larsen above.
If these are the only linebackers to go down this year the team can consider itself to be extremely fortunate.
If your team’s depth can’t carry you through injuries like this - and I mean not just through training camp but all year - then you were never meant to win anything anyway.
Only true mental toughness can sustain a winning culture in the NFL. Injuries can never be allowed to be an excuse for failure. Once that happens, death inevitably follows.
7. Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson going to the Seahawks for Jermaine Kearse and a second round pick was quite a shock. A seventh round swap was also involved.
Richardson will fit in well with that locker room. I can’t imagine the Seahawks don’t win that division even with what looks to be a terrible offensive line.
8. Meanwhile the Jets take one more step towards first overall pick as the dump a 26-year old Pro Bowl defensive lineman in exchange for a wide receiver who has never had more than 685 receiving yards. And people in New York are steamed. One source told the New York Daily News, “We should have sent them Hack.”
It’s now evident that quarterback Christian Hackenberg was way overdrafted. His physical talent was undeniable but after some very rough years as the Penn State quarterback, this was a gamble that the Jets should have never taken.
The odds are good no one else in the league was even considering Hackenberg for at least another round and, truth be told, even with most quarterbacks being overdrafted nowadays he belonged in the fourth. It’s just one more piece of evidence that the organization is in total disarray.
Rebuilding is the right thing to do there. Rebuilding with the current leadership under general manager Mike Maccagnan is useless.
9. Having said that, personally I think just throwing away the entire 2017 season in an effort to get the top 2018 draft pick and the chance to select a quarterback from the much touted 2018 class is a mistake.
For one thing, its not a given they’ll be bad enough to get it. The Browns and the 49ers are both going to give them a run for their money almost no matter how bad they get and Buffalo is approaching the same territory.
I’d say there are three consensus potential top ten QBs, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. If one gets hurt or has a lousy year, one decides not to forego his senior year, and the Jets don’t get the first overall pick, they tanked away an entire season for nothing.
Add the fact that history shows that only one of those quarterbacks will turn out to be a legitimate franchise quarterback anyway and you realize that the whole thing is ridiculously stupid.
Whenever Dolphins fans get depressed and start to doubt their fandom after yet another loss to the Patriots or some similar event, they should pause, think a minute, then fall to their knees and thank whatever god they worship that they aren’t Jets fans.
10. On a related note, I never want to hear another Dolphin fan claim that they have it extra tough because they play in the AFC East.
Half of the division tapped out before the season even began.
This story was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
1. I can understand why the Dolphins are uneasy with Byron Maxwell at cornerback. I have never been comfortable with the Dolphins depending on Maxwell to hold down one of the cornerback spots and its no surprise that he’s having difficulty doing so (again). The problem that the Dolphins have is that they don’t have any good alternatives. Head coach Adam Gase explains what the Dolphins are trying to do:
“We’re trying to play physical and really challenge the receivers and let our defensive line get there. Just keep that consistency going. You practice hard and do it right, I think good things usually happen.”
The alternative that’s most commonly mentioned for the spot is Alterraun Verner. The problem? Verner is 5'10". Maxwell is 6'1".
If the Dolphins want more physical play from their cornerbacks they almost have to go with Maxwell. And that’s a problem.
2. The way the Dolphins continue to rely on Maxwell reminds me a bit of the situation with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.
Phillips is a second round draft pick that the Dolphins don’t want to give up on. But its far past time for them to cut their losses, especially now that Davon Godchaux has shown that he can handle the job. The Dolphins are probably thinking they can rotate in Phillips on passing downs which is much better than allowing him to get run over.
But, unlike Maxwell, Phillips has shown me nothing that suggests that he can play defensive tackle in the NFL.
Ideally the Dolphins should have planned for this failure and signed a veteran in the offseason. They won’t do it because they are evidently bound and determined to see what they want to see in Phillips but it’s still not too late to find someone on the waiver wire after this week’s roster cuts should they come to their senses and want to get in another rotational player.
3. No one is going to hear this but tight end Julius Thomas is already showing signs of being this year’s Mario Williams. He can’t block, he’s not getting open, and he’s showing every sign of being a Mike Tannenbaum roll of the dice that came up snake eyes.
I guess we’ll see.
4. This isn’t going to shock anyone but you can count on DeVante Parker seeing a lot of passes this season now that Jay Cutler is the quarterback.
Signing Cutler was the best thing that ever happened for Parker’s career. Past history tells me that Cutler walked into the first Dolphins practice, looked around, found the biggest guy on the field and said to himself, “There’s my guy.”
Most people seem to think that this will cut deeply into Jarvis Landry’s targets. It won’t. Landry will get his passes out of the slot. But other outside receivers, especially guys like Kenny Stills and, most especially, Leonte Carroo, are going to suffer a great deal.
In any case, Parker’s going to get the ball. Whether he’s open or not.
5. I’m very disappointed that linebacker Rey Maualuga is still apparently not in shape to play. The Dolphins need him to be ready to start the season badly.
With the two-gapping Godchaux in front of him taking on double teams, the team needs a linebacker who can read the play and attack downhill to meet the runner in the hole. If the preseason has shown us anything, that is not what Mike Hull is. He’s getting caught flat footed right where he lines up four yards deep in the backfield.
As it was put very well in the Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday, after Lawrence Timmons and Kiko Alonso the Dolphins might not have a linebacker who would get claimed by another team if they were waived.
6. One of the most interesting questions of the Dolphins offseason has been why the over-under for the team in Vegas is only 7.5 games.
Based upon their performance last year, you would think that the over would be a slam dunk. And yet… these guys make their living setting betting lines and they have a bad habit of being right.So what gives?
There are a number of reasons that are commonly given for why this could be.
Last year I wrote about that “new coach boost” that teams with new coaches can get. Every player concentrates just a little bit more because every player knows that with a new staff with no loyalty to any player on the team, every job is up for grabs - more than usual. Everyone is uncomfortable and that can lead to better focus and a boost in performance.
This year that boost is gone. Don’t get me wrong. Adam Gase is a tough coach and I’m sure he’ll do what it takes to keep these guys on their toes to the extent that he can. But the fact is that they’ve all had a year with him now. They know him and they’ve developed relationships with him and, well, they’re more comfortable with him. It’s a different situation and it might lead to a natural let down - one that every team in the second season with a coach might reasonably expect to experience.
But with the Dolphins it's even more than that this year.
There’s a dichotomy in sports in general and in the NFL in particular that comes into play here. Over and over again you’ll hear that teams want to “sign their own”. They want to re-sign their own draft picks to second contracts rather than rolling the dice with free agent rejects from other teams. I’ve said it too.
The Dolphins acted on their words this year. Boy, did they ever.
They took care of a lot of their players with long term contracts - Kenny Stills, Kiko Alonso, Andre Branch, Reshad Jones.
Ordinarily everyone would support this. But this isn’t just one or two guys they signed. It's a good chunk of their most important players. The downside is that they’ve made everyone, well, comfortable. Comfortable financially. Comfortable in that they know they aren’t going anywhere. Secure in their starting jobs into the future. A lot of guys.
The truth is that this is something that we all want - me included - and I congratulate these players. It’s a feel good. And, hey, a little loyalty might boost performance, too, right?
But there’s also this niggling feeling that a little discomfort isn’t always a bad thing. Here’s hoping the 2017 Dolphins aren’t going to make that doubt into disappointing reality.
7. The likely backup tackles for the Dolphins? The inconsistent Sam Young and undrafted rookie Eric Smith.
Look for the Dolphins to rake carefully through the waiver wire to fortify this position along with defensive tackle (as usual) and, as mentioned above, linebacker (as usual) if at all possible. Otherwise they’re asking for trouble again the minute a starter goes down.
8. Is anyone else wondering if it's time to cut ties with Brandon Doughty? He certainly hasn’t done enough to make a case to be the backup on this team (or any other team) entering his second year.
Teams should always, always have a developmental quarterback, especially teams like the Dolphins who have a coach like Adam Gase who can likely help develop one. Matt Moore isn’t going to play forever. A seventh round pick last year, it may be time for the Dolphins to consider other options if they already suspect, as I do, that Doughty doesn’t have what it takes.
9. I like Dave Hyde at the Sun Sentinel, especially when he’s going toe to toe with the smirking Omar Kelly on video. But I have to disagree mildly with him as he compliments Adam Gase on the way that he handled the Jarvis Landry trade rumor.
For the uninitiated, Mike Lombardi was doing his typical troll job by “reporting” that the Dolphins were trying to trade Landry. Lombardi pulls things like this every once in a while to stir things up. Similar statements have never to my knowledge turned out to have anything substantial behind them.
In this case, he’s likely referring to trade conversations that took place before the draft and almost certainly no later than May. That’s neither surprising nor helpful to his readers/listeners, especially when he’s trying to pass it off as something that’s currently relevant.
In any case, Gase responded by sitting Landry down and addressing the issue rather than letting it fester - nice work! The problem is that Gase told him there was “no chance” that he’d be traded. And I guarantee you that’s a lie.
If anyone calls to ask about Landry, the Dolphins have to listen. They might demand something that they think no one will pay this close to the start of the season and that’s fine. That means the chances are extremely low. Perhaps I’m being too picky about it but everyone has been surprised before and the truth is that the chances aren’t zero.
10. Yes, it's a disappointment that Charles Harris hasn’t flashed in the preseason. But all that means is that he might join the long list of defensive ends that needed a year to get their feet underneath them. Gase has it right here:
“I remember when playing Oakland early in (Khalil) Mack’s career, that first year everybody kept talking about how he didn’t have any sacks and when you’re a coach and you’re watching tape, you’re going we don’t want to be the team that gets this guy rolling because he was close so many times. You know it’s just … that’s how it is.”
Another recent example can be easily found in Atlanta where Vic Beasley followed up a disappointing four sack 2015 season with a whopping NFL leading 15.5 in 2016.
Dolphin fans may just need to be patient with Harris. The result might be worth the weight.
This story was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
It's been interesting monitoring the reaction of Dolphins fans to the signing of new quarterback Jay Cutler. Just as has always the case with Cutler, few fans are on the fence when it comes to opinions about him. Love him or hate him, he always gets a reaction.
As someone who lives in Chicago and watched almost every pass Cutler threw there, I think I can say with some confidence that the Dolphins did pretty well with this signing. They didn't have a lot of choice in terms of quarterbacks this late in the game and, truthfully, Cutler and Tannehill are almost the same guy statistically.
Cutler's career passer rating is 85.7 vs. Tannehill's 86.5, practically a dead heat. And it's not coincidence that both men had the best years of their careers under former Bears offensive coordinator and current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. Cutler threw for 3,659 yards, 21 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions with Gase in 2015 and Tannehill tossed for 2,995 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 picks in 13 games a season ago.
In particular, in drastic contrast to most of the rest of his career, Cutler was a model of consistency in 2015. He posted passer ratings of at least 88.4 in 10 of 12 starts including ratings of 151.0, 117.0, 100.5 and 100.2.
Dolphins fans would not be the first to ask why Cutler, a quarterback with a well-deserved reputation for being particularly difficult to manage, connects so well with Gase. In order to address that, you have to look at what Cutler's major problem was under other coaches.
I have contended for many years that it was the simple fact that Cutler has trust issues. He really doesn't trust anyone on or off the field. This has been historically evident evident in every aspect of Cutler's life where he even got cold feet and backed out of his engagement before evidently realizing he'd made a huge mistake and went through with marrying Kristin Cavallari.
But our business with Cutler is on the field where that lack of trust was evident in the way that he plays football. Cutler has always been a classic "see it, throw it" quarterback. He typically waits for receivers to come open, then uses his arm strength to try to force it in too them before the window closes.
This can work in the modern NFL but it only gets you so far and there is a ceiling for virtually every quarterback of this type. Good teams with good defensive backfields won't allow those open windows for enough time for anyone to be able to consistently fit the ball in.
For that reason, offensive coordinator after offensive coordinator tried desperately to get Cutler to throw with anticipation to his receivers. They had limited success primarily because Cutler never could bring himself to trust that the other players would be in the right place when he threw the ball. Inevitably, there would eventually be a mistake where Cutler threw to a spot and the receiver wasn't there. Interception. Have it happen a few more times and, poof, Cutler was back to waiting before throwing the ball.
The key to Gase's success where those others failed was that, somehow, like Cavallari, Gase persevered and got Cutler's faith to the point where he could actually execute the offense the way it was designed.
In this respect, Gase's answer when asked the reason for Cutler's success in 2015 was interesting (the emphasis is mine).
"I just see the way that he's decisive," Gase said late in the year. "He knows exactly where he's supposed to go with the ball. The thing that's been most impressive has been how he's controlled the line of scrimmage in the no-huddle setting. It's allowed him to really show who he is. I know he's been somewhat of a quiet guy around here. But I think there's more to him than what he's shown in the past, and we're seeing that.
Bears veteran tight end Zach Miller recently expressed similar thoughts.
"I think Adam gave him full reign and comfort to be himself and to be a leader and really step up," he said. "Be a little more vocal. Connect in a different way with other players and other people than he did in the past."
The results were evident in Cutler's play as receiver Eddie Royal stated quite accurately: “The word trust comes in. Sometimes the timing is not going to be there but you still have to play. You have to trust that the guy is going to be in that spot when you throw the ball. Jay has done a great job doing that, knowing where the guy is supposed to be and trusting that he is going to be there because a lot of throws are timing throws.”
Gase has a well-deserved reputation for adjusting to his players and playing to their strengths. His work with Cutler in 2015 took this to another level. Cutler is extremely intelligent but coaches by their very nature are micro-managers. Most of the best ones like to control every aspect of what goes on once players take the field. To give that up is extremely difficult but Gase did it to a larger extent than, evidently, anyone else Cutler had ever had to deal with and it paid off.
By trusting Cutler and giving him more control over his environment, Gase got Cutler to return that trust to the benefit of the entire offense and, indeed, the entire team. He threw the ball to the right spots. His turnovers dropped drastically. He was a different quarterback.
The Dolphins were extremely lucky to be able to pick up Cutler when they did and to have the right coach in place to take full advantage of his talent. Not many teams can survive the loss of their starting quarterback for an entire season. But if Gase can repeat what he did with Cutler in 2015 - and there's little reason to believe he can't - it seems evident that the Dolphins should be able to compete this season with little or no drop off at the quarterback position.
Bottom line, it's going to be alright, Dolphins fans. Trust me.
This story was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
1. I found it interesting that Dolphins Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum was so anxious to make it clear that the Dolphins were open to trading back in the draft to pick up more picks.
The Dolphins have a huge advantage over much of the rest of the NFL for one reason - they are apparently satisfied that they have a good starting quarterback and don't feel that it's a need. That puts them in a position to take advantage of those teams that do.
Number 22 would ordinarily be a long way to trade up to get back into the first round to take a quarterback. But with so many teams with a need at the position, teams picking at the top of the second round may feel that that's what they need to do in order to get their guy. The Dolphins also have the Giants, the Texans, the Chiefs and the Saints sitting behind them in the first round.
This could definitely be the year to look at the team successfully trading back in what looks like a very deep draft at a couple positions of need.
2. I also have found the debate about whether the Dolphins should take a guard in the first round to be entertaining, seeing that it has led to some Sun Sentinel-on-Sun Sentinel infighting.
For what it's worth, I think Omar Kelly has the right on this debate. Dave Hyde seems to subscribe to the somewhat old fashioned idea that guards aren't that important and that they can be picked up late in the draft. The truth is that it depends on what kind of offense you are running and, especially, on what kind of quarterback you have.
If your quarterback is working mostly from the pocket, keeping a clean space in front of him is far more important than completely controlling a defensive end on the edge. Good pocket quarterbacks know when to step up almost by instinct and, given room to maneuver, they can keep their eyes down field if the pocket isn't too muddy. That's where a really good pair of guards can be extremely important.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill definitely falls into the category of a quarterback who could benefit from this kind of thinking. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have been prevalent in the organization for some years with some really bad guard play coming from the likes of Dallas Thomas, Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner taking place in front of Tannehill. Meanwhile they have spent first round picks on tackles Ja'Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil.
The presence of Adam Gase may change all of that, however, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Dolphins go guard in the first round this year.
3. I've heard it said that the Dolphins did a good job of filling their holes in free agency so that they can go in any direction in the NFL.
Hogwash. As outlined above, guard is a need but it is far from the only one.
Cameron Wake is 35 years old and Andre Branch, Terrence Fede, William Hayes and Julius Warmsley are all below average defensive ends with limited upside. At the third linebacker spot the Dolphins are still sticking with Koa Misi despite seven years of direct evidence that he's not an adequate answer at the position. And, worst of all, at defensive tackle the Dolphins have Ndamukong Suh with a whiff of a hope of a dream that Jordan Phillips will somehow magically turn into a good, consistent player in his third year in the league on the other side.
That's no way to build a roster, folks.
The Dolphins got by with some poor defensive talent last year because they had some good coaching and there's no better evidence of that than the fact that Vance Joseph was hired as the Broncos head coach. This despite being the coordinator of a Dolphins defense that was statistically well below average (30th against the run and 18th in points allowed). Now Joseph is gone but much of the talent deficit is still there.
The Dolphins badly need to build at the line of scrimmage in this draft on both sides of the ball if they want to compete as an elite team. And they have a lot of work to do.
4. Speaking of Tannehill, as good as he was last year, he seems optimistic that there's still a lot of room for improvement in his second year under head coach Adam Gase.
“I’m looking to take a big step forward this year,” Tannehill said. “You’re kind of getting your feet wet, especially in the spring of your first year. You’re learning, you’re trying to take in as much information and new stuff as you can. Along the way, you miss a few things or you’re not as good at a few things as you’d like to be. You combine that with having a year of tape and film and just being in the offense, you should some big improvements throughout the spring. Zero in on the details, getting a little more comfortable with things and once you get into the season, you’ll see those things paying off.”
One of the smartest things the Dolphins have done in the last ten years is hire a head coach who can coach quarterbacks. Tannehill was barely an average quarterback before Gase arrived. Now he's arguably on his way to being in the upper third of the league if he's not already there.
If you've got a quarterback, you have the opportunity to compete every year. If you don't, the best you can do is the occasional spurt where you get lucky and stay healthy in virtually every other area. Coaching is a huge part of that and if your quarterback guru isn't the head coach, you are going to quickly lose him to another team.
In that respect, the Dolphins are set for a long time to come.
5. The Dolphins caught a little bit of a break when the New England Patriots opted to offer Buffalo restricted free agent Mike Gillislee a contract.
The Patriots hosted the restricted free agent on a visit last week and have made him an offer. The Bills did not match the offer to Gillislee, which means the Patriots will have him.
I've long held that Damien Williams is an undervalued asset for the Dolphins, one who is a valuable special teams contributor and one who I still think could share carries with a bigger back on many NFL teams.
6. One of the things that came out of the pre-draft press conference was that the Dolphins were making defensive adjustments that would eliminate the need to look for a prototype defensive end. This really shouldn't have come as a great surprise.
The Dolphins showed quite a bit of interest in signing defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency. Poe is a mountain of a man at 346 pounds who really fits best in a two gap defensive scheme.
A two gap scheme is one where a defensive lineman takes a blocker head on and is responsible for the gap on either side of him. A one gap scheme is one where a defensive lineman shoots a gap and is only responsible for that gap.
It is usually the scheme run by teams such as the Dolphins who, at least up until now, have expected their defensive linemen to penetrate and disrupt in the backfield. This certainly is what Ndamukong Suh will continue to do on his side of the field, meaning that the Dolphins might be planning to run one type of scheme on one side and the other type of scheme on the other in certain situations.
The guess here is that new defensive coordinator Matt Burke has decided to follow Adam Gase's lead on offense and adjust his scheme to the personnel and game situation. This means that fans can start looking for quite a bit more diversity and originality in how the Dolphins will handle their defense. It also means quite a bit more complexity and it should be interesting to see how the team handles it.
7. A lot has been made of how difficult the last six games of the Dolphins schedule are. They play the Patriots and the Bills two times apiece along with the Broncos and the Chiefs.
The New England, Denver and Kansas City games, I get. But, division rival or not, trouble with them in recent years or not, the Bills are still the Bills. They, along with the Jets, should be the reason why the Dolphins make the playoffs, not an excuse for failing to do so.
8. One of the more inexcusable actions to occur in the offseason was the way that the Washington Redskins handled the allegations by former Redskins player and radio personality Chris Cooley that GM Scot McCloughan was drinking again and that it was affecting the way that he did his job.
What was the response? Do nothing and say nothing, leaving it out there that McCloughan, a recovering alcoholic, was back off the wagon.
McCloughan was eventually fired by team president Bruce Allen, who effectively replaced him in the front office.
Allen now says that he talked to Cooley privately with McCloughan present.
Why didn't he respond publicly?
“There was someone who said on the radio that there was jealousy. Then, there was somebody who said we were trading Kirk Cousins for Tony Romo and giving the Cowboys draft picks. Then Chris said what he said. Then somebody said ‘X, Y and Z.’ I can’t keep up with sports-talk radio; I don’t ever want to keep up with sports-talk radio. If I had Twitter, maybe I would say, ‘This is false! This is false! This is false!’ . . . Every time somebody throws something against the wall to speculate, we’re not going to respond to all that. That’s what the media does. It’s impossible to answer all of the foolishness that’s out there,” Allen said.
Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments:
Of course Allen can’t be expected to respond to every single thing that’s said on sports talk radio. But this wasn’t just any old thing. This was a guy who works for the team speculating that alcoholism was affecting the team’s G.M. That would have been a time for the team president to speak up. Allen didn’t.
I don't ordinarily use this space simply to quote someone else and add "me, too." But this time I'm saying it with emphasis. Me, too!
This was an inexcusable way to treat an employee. The only thing that would have been worse would have been to falsely imply that the rumors were true, which Allen effectively did for weeks by simply not commenting up until the publication of this interview many weeks later.
9. One of the most enjoyable aspects of draft season for me is reading the anonymous quotes from NFL personnel scouts and executives that Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Bob McGinn collects. There are always a few surprises here.
Probably the most interesting article of the series this year was the one that McGinn did on DeShone Kizer. Like many athletes are big football schools, quarterbacks are apparently worshiped on the Notre Dame campus and it evidently affected Kizer because McGinn's scouts absolutely eviscerated him.
“You look at that team, they’ve got players,” an AFC personnel man said. “There’s no way they should win just four games. It was because of this guy, the quarterback. Boy, at times he looked bad. He was so bad against Stanford in the first half that they benched him.”
“You look at that team, they’ve got players,” an AFC personnel man said. “There’s no way they should win just four games. It was because of this guy, the quarterback. Boy, at times he looked bad. He was so bad against Stanford in the first half that they benched him.”
An NFC personnel man described Kizer as a selfish player worried mostly about status and money.
“That’s what drives him,” said the executive. “It’s all about him. Prima donna. Thin-skinned.”
We all know its lying season in the NFL and its possible these three men are all hoping that Kizer will fall. But his own actions lately have seemingly backed this evaluation up.
On April 20, Kizer was quoted as comparing himself to Tom Brady and Cam Newton.
“Name a college quarterback who goes into the game-plan meetings on Monday and throws his notes at the coaches,” Kizer said. “No one else game plans the way I do. No one else prepares the way I do. No one else knows football the way I do. No one else is as big as I am. No one else is as powerful a runner as I am. Pat Mahomes might throw the ball 80 yards and I can only throw the ball 72, but I guarantee he can’t throw an out route the way I can. No one else can do what I can do. And I’ve truly figured out in this process, if I can maximize all my potential in every aspect of the game – this is bold – I do have the ability to be the greatest quarterback to ever play. Imagine taking Brady’s intellect and Brady’s preparation and putting it on a guy with Cam Newton’s body. Why can’t I be the greatest? The only thing stopping me from it is me. That’s what’s driving me now.”
OK, the guy is confident. Not very unusual if you are a quarterback. Probably a lot of them think it even if they don't say it.
But Kizer, apparently realizing how arrogant he sounded, decided to claim that his comments were taken out of context the very next day.
Not even drafted yet and he's already blaming the media? Apparently upon thinking about it (and probably talking to his agent), Kizer thought so, too. Because the NEXT day, he decided to effectively retract his claim and own up to the quote.
The point? Kizer's first instinct was to blame someone else after his misstep. He then decided that didn't sound too good either and that he'd better say what he had to protect his brand.
Sounds pretty much exactly like the kind of guy the anonymous evaluators were describing. Even his college head coach said that he needs more time to grow not only on but off the field.
As Miami fans know well a la Dion Jordan, most NFL draft picks don't fail due to lack of talent. They fail because they don't have the attitude it takes to succeed. And Kizer sounds to me like he's got a great deal of Ryan Leaf in him.
Bottom line, heaven help the team that spends a high draft pick to draft Kizer.
10. Miami fans, there is one thing you should always, always be grateful for.
Let's set the scene. It's 2014 and you've got the 22nd pick in the draft. You like Johnny Manziel.
Your GM and head coach don't agree. He's 5'11", can't see over his linemen and can't throw from the pocket, something that every good NFL quarterback has had to do well since the 50s. To top it all off, your scouts can't find one single person on the Texas A&M campus who is willing to say that he'll grow up.
But you're the owner and you like him.
So what do you do? You reportedly overrule everyone and take the guy no one wants.
And what happens? It's a disaster because, well, no one wanted him, he can't throw from the pocket and he never grew up.
Fast forward to 2017. You are again in the draft room and this time you are drafting first overall in part because, well, you hitched your wagon to Manziel in 2014.
Again, you want a quarterback. The top guy is someone from North Carolina named "Mitchell" Trubisky. You like him.
Your head coach - the only one of the three men making decisions at the top who is a football guy - doesn't agree. He's OK but he only started for one year in college and he needs a lot of development. Your head coach wants a sure fire impact player who is the consensus best pick in the draft, Myles Garrett.
But you are the owner and you want a quarterback.
So what do you do? Do you:
a. Learn from your previous mistakes, go with the football guy and take the slam dunk first overall player
b. Overrule him and take the quarterback. Again.
Who wants to bet that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam chooses "b"?
Do whatever it is that you normally do. Get down on your knees and bow your head. Turn towards Mecca and bow. Sacrifice a goat in your living room.
Do whatever it is and then say the following: "Thank you.”
“Thank you for not making me a Browns fan."
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
When I was in my early 20s I went through a repeated cycle every six months that most people likely go through.
I’d go out, often to a party and get very drunk. This would inevitably lead to what we might kindly call a “rough night.” After turning my intestinal tract inside out for most of the next morning, I’d say the same thing every time.
“Never again. Never, ever again.”
But it did happen again. Every six months or so I’d go out and apparently, with the previous incident being ancient history in my young and - let’s be honest - really stupid mind, I’d repeat the cycle. Over and over.
This didn’t stop until I hit my late 20s when a switch apparently clicks on for most of us and the feeling that you’re not invincible and that you are in the process of doing something you’re going to seriously regret later hits and actually sticks. But it took a long, long time with many repetitions for that to happen.
Which brings me to the case of recently signed Dolphins defensive back T.J. McDonald.
First the good news. The Dolphins have a gap at safety opposite Reshard Jones. Last year’s free agent acquisition, Isa Abdul-Quddus, has been released after suffering a severe neck/shoulder injury that likely won’t allow him to play in 2017, if ever again. McDonald appears to be an ascending player who could help the Dolphins a lot on the field this season in that capacity. Here’s a scouting report from ESPN Rams reporter Alden Gonzalez:
"T.J. McDonald, listed at 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, is a hard-hitting safety who was ideal for the aggressive style of former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Last season he also made some pretty drastic improvements in coverage. Pro Football Focus had him with an opponents’ QB rating of 68.8 while serving as the primary coverage defender, which was nearly half the QB rating he surrendered over the course of his first three seasons (121.6).
"McDonald played in every game last year and registered six defended passes. At 26, he was also a young free agent. He should provide the Dolphins with a major lift in their secondary for the second half."
The bad news has to with that last part: “for the second half.” As in “for the second half of the season.” Because McDonald is suspended for the first eight games for his violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Though there are no reports of an initial violation, an eight game punishment almost always means that it’s a result of a second encounter of some type with the league.
Admittedly a lot depends upon the circumstances surrounding that first rules violation. But it’s fair to ask what the odds are that McDonald is in for a third suspension, which almost always is for an entire 16 game season.
If you listen to McDonald, the Dolphins have nothing to worry about.
"For me, definitely this is something that will never happen again," McDonald said on a conference call Friday. "I've learned, I've owned up to it, and I definitely want to grow from it. "
Uh huh. I’ve heard those words before. Heck, I’ve said those words before. Yes, I didn’t lose millions in free agency because of it but mine wasn’t the result of being under the influence of drugs, either.
In fairness, even McDonald acknowledges that actions speak louder.
"Yes, obviously words are only so much. For me, I definitely … This is something that will never happen again and I’ve learned (from it) and owned up to (it). I definitely want to grow from (it). (My) priorities changed, everything’s changed. This whole experience is something I’m definitely going to grow from.”
So what reasons do we have to believe that will be true?
Well, getting away from the west coast won’t hurt. McDonald was born in Fresno, California and went to college at USC. As the son of former NFL player Tim McDonald, it’s fair to assume that he didn’t grow up in poverty. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad influences around the area for him. Getting away from all of that with a move about as far away as you could get probably won’t hurt McDonald’s chances of staying clean.
Of course, Miami offers its own set of temptations.
Objectively speaking, a good look at the statistics behind these violations yields interesting results. The data that I’ve collected for players suspended for more than one violation of the substance abuse policy from 2013 to 2016 are in the following table (suspensions were considerably more rare before that, leading to very little useful data).
Each of the players listed which was suspended more than four games, presumably for more than one violation of the policy. Dion Jordan was included because, as most Dolphin fans know, his four game suspension was in response to a known second offense.
Of the 15 players in the table, seven (almost half, bolded) appeared again for a third presumed violation – so far. You can expect that number to grow, perhaps a lot, because six of those second offenses came in 2016, not allowing much time to pass for a third offense.
In other words, if McDonald actually manages to stay out of trouble, he will, to a certain extent, be beating the odds.
What does this means for the Dolphins? Well, for now, not much. His contract is reportedly for one year at the veteran minimum.
The problem will come if McDonald performs well and the Dolphins are faced with re-signing him. At that point, Miami will be walking into dangerous territory. The odds say that making a long-term commitment could have consequences.
Unless, that is, McDonald’s young brain finally syncs up with his mouth when he says, “Never again. Never ever, again.”
We shall see.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
“What in the world happened to Julius Thomas in Jacksonville?”
That is a question that everyone is asking right now along with its companion – “Will the Dolphins get more out of him?”
The answer to question #1 gives a great deal of insight into question #2.
Thomas was the toast of the league in the 2015 offseason. A premier free agent tight end out of Denver, Thomas caught 24 touchdowns in then offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s first two years as the Broncos’ play-caller. Jacksonville eventually signed him to a five- year, $46-million contract with $24-million guaranteed.
Then the wheels came off and Thomas began to underachieve and though Thomas did have 76 catches in two years with the Jaguars, it wasn’t anywhere near the production that they thought that they were going to get from him.
Why did Thomas fail in Jacksonville to the point where he was traded to Miami this offseason for only a seventh-round pick in next month’s draft? Part of it has to do with his own limitations and part of it with Jacksonville’s evident failure to recognize those limitations.
Thomas is at his best when he is used as a rebounder with straight-line speed. You expect him to be running seam routes and the like. But that’s not what Jacksonville did with him.
“We’d like to have him catch to where we can get up-field,” Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley said in November last year. “We knew [short routes] could happen, because we were chipping him. He had to chip and then get release. With that, maybe if his route was supposed to be at seven, it was going to be at five. Then we said if we are going to throw it to you, the last two are on you.”
Those short routes were a problem because what Thomas is not is a stop and start guy. Only seven of Thomas’ 76 catches (9.2 percent) were on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air. The average completion was 21 yards and included three touchdowns (29, 21 and 22 yards).
The average completion of his other 69 catches was only 8.4 yards.
In 2015, Thomas averaged only 3.1 yards after the catch (142 yards on 46 catches). In 2016, Thomas averaged only 3.3 yards after the catch (99 yards on 30 catches). That equaled only a 3.2-yard post-catch average in two years.
Thomas was a player who needed to make his catch downfield while in motion.
In November last year when Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley was asked what Thomas did well in the offense, his response was comical.
“We feel Ben Koyack is doing a pretty good job,” Bradley said.
Koyack has played in 14 games and has 19 career catches for 161 yards.
“I think the ability to keep us with more options, the style of runs that we’re trying to run when Ben is in there,” Bradley said. “I think everything is available to us that’s in our run game. I think that Julius has gotten better with the run game.”
You signed Julius Thomas to block? Really?
In fairness, Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell denies that Thomas was traded because he can’t block. And an anonymous source told the Florida-Times Union that he thought that the Jaguars did try to use Thomas correctly.
“They made him the single receiver, put him in the slot, had him play the wing – moved him around to give him all kinds of different advantages to create plays,” the source said. “Every tight end ran similar routes as he did.
“He’s a very specific player that, really, is hard for an [offensive staff] to game-plan for. In a true two-tight end system, he could put up better numbers because he would be on the field more and be treated as the third receiver. But to make a living doing that is tough because of the team-speed issue. Defenses are able to stay in base and stop the run and also with the speed of some linebackers, they were able to cover him man to man and were actually faster and more physical than Julius.
“The run-after-the-catch was an issue. For a big guy, I don’t know if he played like one.”
And that gets to the root of another somewhat disturbing problem. Justified or not, Thomas has gained a reputation for being soft. During the 2015 free agency period an anonymous Denver Bronco said, “Julius is here to get his money and get out. That’s just how some guys are. He didn’t grow up playing this game and it’s just not in his DNA to put it all out there.” When asked directly if Thomas was soft, he said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Thomas had missed 28 games in his first four seasons and struggled with an ankle injury down the stretch in 2014. At one point, Thomas allegedly deemed himself 90 percent healthy, which in NFL circles is almost as good as new. As a result the question was asked whether Thomas was legitimately hurt or just taking it easy to avoid further injury.
Thomas also had a number of medical concerns with the Jaguars including a back issue but he has declared himself healthy and ready to go.
“I can tell you that it’s fortunate for me that I don’t have any lingering deficiencies from the injuries,” Thomas said. “At different times you’ll have injuries that really affect you and make it hard.
“I don’t have any handicap injuries that will hold me back. They’ve all been able to heal up. The fortunate part is it’s always something new. It’s not chronic.”
Setting that aside, it’s evident that Thomas really wasn’t put in a position to succeed in Jacksonville. Whether that was because he couldn’t beat a linebacker off of the line of scrimmage or because the Jaguars preferred to play him in a less that advantageous way according to how their offense runs is a big question.
But one fact remains true: whatever he did in Jacksonville he certainly did previously succeed with Gase in Denver. And I can’t imagine that two years has made him that much different physically now than he was then.
Reuniting with the head coach of the Dolphins could well bring Thomas back to prominence. Gase thinks a great deal more than most about how to use his players and he knows how to take advantage of their specific talents without asking them to do more than they can do. He’s flexible enough to fit his offense to his talent rather than insisting that the talent work to fit his offense.
His disappointment with how little he got out of tight end Jordan Cameron last year was to the point.
"I couldn’t really click with him,” Gase said. “I was trying to figure out what was best. I don’t know how many times I went back and watched his Cleveland tape, the year he had 80 catches to see what was I doing wrong.”
Gase didn’t succeed with Cameron or fellow tight end Dion Sims in the passing game. But he certainly did succeed with most of the rest of the offensive players and he certainly did the same with Thomas in Denver before that. Gase knew very well how to get Thomas off the line of scrimmage and push him up the seam, something that the Jaguars evidently could simply not figure out how to do.
If that’s true, we’ll have our answer to question #2.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
It's wild card weekend for the NFL playoffs and the Dolphins are still in the game as they travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are ten thoughts on the team and the NFL heading into the game.
1. I note that running back Jay Ajayi is playing the “disrespect card” this week.
“We hear a lot of talk about the other team and who they have and the players that they have,” Ajayi said. “And it’s kind of starting to get to me where you have to understand we have players too, you know?
“We have guys that are playing at a high level and are showcasing their abilities. And I think it’s time people need to respect that we have players on our offense, too, and we can get some stuff done when we’re on our game.”
I ordinarily scoff at things like this. But in this particular case, I think Ajayi has a bit of a point. The Dolphins are ten-point underdogs to a team that they actually beat earlier in the season.
I don’t think the Dolphins are exactly being “disrespected” so much as they are being underestimated. In particular, I don’t think national commentators have really been paying attention to what has been happening on Ajayi’s side of the ball.
This has become a very, very good, diverse offensive unit. Anyone who believes that the Dolphins have to have success running the ball in order to succeed against the Steelers hasn’t been watching. They need to commit to the run, yes. But they don’t necessarily need five yards per carry from it in order to score points.
Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker have become a handful and the Dolphins are getting more every week out of their tight ends. Though I don’t agree with it myself, there’s an argument to be made that Matt Moore is actually a better quarterback than Ryan Tannehill.
Offensively this is as good of a playoff team as there is out there.
2. Defensively this is a different story. From the beginning of the year, the team has been in trouble at cornerback and it looks like Byron Maxwell, the only one they’ve got that you could call “solid,” might not play. Injuries have hurt them at safety and they haven’t had a dropoff at outside linebacker only because their starters aren’t any better than their backups.
The last time these teams met, Roethlisberger had a particularly bad game. He got hurt but he wasn’t throwing well even before that. I don’t think anyone is counting on that happening again.
This is a defense that has, to an extent, been exposed late in the year. But all is not lost…
3. I am personally going to love watching every minute of this game because success for the Dolphins, indeed for each team, will be determined right where it should be - at the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins need to do exactly what they did last time these teams met in Week 6. Push them around up front.
The offensive line needs to protect Moore and they need to block for Ajayi. If they do both adequately, this is going to be a great matchup.
The defensive backfield might be a disaster and the linebackers might not be good. But if the defensive line plays like they did last time against one of the best offensive lines in the league, none of that will matter as much.
And the great thing if you’re a Dolphins fan is that the defensive line is playing about as well as they have all season. I’m still not a Jordan Phillips fan but Ndamukong Suh is peaking at the right time and Cameron Wake has been dominant all year.
This was a defense built to win up front. Phillips only flashes and hasn’t developed into a consistent force and Mario Williams is a shadow of his former self. But Suh and Wake are still leading the way and that might be enough to win.
I really can’t wait to see what happens.
4. I am going to start this item by apologizing to those of you who consider Williams to be irrelevant and are tired of me hammering him (which I did relentlessly during the first half of the season). If you are, skip this one because I can’t resist taking one more shot at a guy that I have come to dislike so much.
Williams was the biggest-name free agent acquisition of the 2016 offseason. He carries the sixth-highest salary cap number on the team and he reportedly will be waived this offseason. Some would call him a “salary cap casualty.” I call him a thief for stealing the Dolphins’ money.
Williams was a starter for the first five weeks of the season and managed only one sack. At the time defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called him out for needing to play harder. Eventually Joseph came to realize that he was wasting his breath because “playing harder” was only part of the problem. Williams couldn’t play dead.
Williams spent 2015 taking his failures out on former Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan by bashing him for playing him out of position and the Dolphins front office, headed by Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum, bought it.
They should have known better.
Predictably, it turned out to be just one of a series of excuses that Williams would use to explain his lack of production, now with the Dolphins, from blaming teammates in the defensive backfield who didn’t give him time to get to the quarterback to claiming that he couldn’t play due to injury long after he’d been benched.
The truth is – and even if Williams can’t face it, every other team in the league knows it now – Williams' skills have declined. He can’t help that and I certainly don’t blame him for it. But I simply cannot abide players who make excuses for failure.
The best players in the NFL are mentally tough people who overcome adversity and emerge from the other side as better human beings, if not always as better players. Williams was a huge disappointment because in Miami, just like in Buffalo, he couldn’t look within and blame the real cause of his problems - himself.
5. I find the fact that Vance Joseph is such a hot head coaching candidate to be very interesting. The Rams, 49ers and the Broncos all appear to be interested.
The Broncos aren’t a big surprise because Joseph interviewed with them before they hired Gary Kubiak and they were reportedly impressed. But why other teams would be interested given the state of the Dolphins defense is a bit of a mystery.
The comments from Dolphins head coach Adam Gase on the matter are almost ironic.
"Our players on defense should be proud because one of the reasons he's getting these opportunities is they've played well, and did some things people didn't expect us to do," Gase said of the Dolphins defense. “It is a credit to him and our defensive coaches.”
Hmmmm…the Dolphins defense allowed a franchise record 6,122 yards in the regular season and ranked 29th in total yards allowed per game (382.6) and 18th in total points allowed (28.3).
Yes, there were injuries, as documented above, especially to the safeties. But the poor defense pre-dated most of them and, when you look at the big picture and what was lost and what it was replaced with, I didn’t think what happened hurt them much more than injuries hurt most teams over the course of the season. I definitely don’t think injuries justify what was at times a really poor defensive performance.
I think it is a lot more likely that teams look at Joseph’s situation in Miami and they see it for what it is. They think he did a good job coaching a poor roster (except for the defensive line) with little depth (including the defensive line) and they think that a bad Dolphins defense would be even worse statistically without him.
I admit that’s a grim and somewhat cynical assessment for a defense that was at least good enough to be part of a playoff team. But that doesn’t make it wrong.
6. And now for our weekly look at the current state of the New York Jets.
Todd Bowles won the battle and survived the week. But his chances of surviving the war look grim right now. The team has struggled at the most important position in football since Brett Favre left in 2008. That puts them in the same boat with most of the bad teams in the league.
The Jets are apparently hanging their hats on the development of second round pick Christian Hackenberg, who they decided in the offseason had a higher upside than Bryce Petty and selected in the second round. The Jets will need to find a veteran starter this offseason because, coming out of Penn State, Hackenberg was so raw (read “bad”) that the Jets decided he needed, not one, but two years to develop and they therefore aren’t counting on him to contribute until 2018.
But potential gets you fired in the NFL and the Jets might be finding that out right now.
One Jets coach, quoted anonymously in an ESPN report, said Hackenberg is so inaccurate that he "couldn't hit the ocean".
Bowles had a different take. "He just needs to play, he has to play. There's nothing wrong with Christian, he just needs to play."
But apparently not this season where they were so afraid to put him on the field that they played Ryan Fitzpatrick, already with one foot out the door, rather than expose their future to the ridicule that almost certainly would have followed any effort to play him.
Even 2018 is uncertain but if Hackenberg doesn’t emerge from the miserable depths of ineptitude that he showed in the college ranks and fails, it’s unlikely that Bowles will survive to see 2019 with the team.
Hackenberg was over-drafted as a far too risky second round pick. Now it appears that Bowles and the rest of the organization will live or die with it.
7. It looks like the Dolphins won’t be getting much competition from the Buffalo Bills very quickly either.
In one of the oddest and funniest events of the year, things couldn’t have gone much worse for Bills GM Doug Whaley during his season ending press conference. To say that Whaley failed to inspire much confidence that the Bills are internally healthy and ready for a turnaround would be something of an understatement.
In a stunning revelation, Whaley said that he wasn’t involved in the initial decision to fire Ryan."I wasn't privy to the conversation so I cannot get into the details." When asked if he got any explanation from ownership for the firing Whaley said “I didn’t need any.”
OK. So what made him decide on Anthony Lynn as the interim head coach? Well apparently he didn’t decide that, either. Believe it or not, Whaley claimed that Rex Ryan recommended Lynn (apparently after being informed that he was fired) and so that’s who they appointed.
Predictably reporters reacted with incredulity.
Honestly, like the reporters who were there, I just don’t know what to make of this. Half of me believes that Whaley was out right lying. But if he was, then he was effectively throwing ownership under the bus because his denials clearly suggested a dysfunctional organization where no one knows what anyone is doing.
Which is, of course, probably what it is.
If only explaining the Patriots success was as easy as explaining the failures of the Dolphins' other AFC East foes. Then the Dolphins would really have some answers.
8. Speaking of dysfunctional franchises, let’s look in on the Cleveland Browns as they enter the post season. In so doing, let me address a report in the Chronical-Telegram that pretty much sums up my problem with how this franchise is being run.
The Browns are apparently doing their due diligence in investigating the top quarterbacks coming out in the draft. In the process, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry made the trip to El Paso, Texas to get a look at North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the Sun Bowl.
Andrew Berry, OK. Sashi Brown, most certainly not OK.
Brown is a lawyer who has never worked in an NFL personnel department. What in the world is he doing going to a game to “scout” a quarterback?
Brown has no business evaluating an NFL prospect. He, in fact, has no business being anywhere near a NFL draft room at all. But for some reason, the owner of the Browns, Jimmy Haslam, has decided to put his franchise into Brown’s hands.
It was a year of havoc in 2016 where head coach Hue Jackson was practically the only football man making these personnel decisions. Jackson, predictably, was focused on game preparations at the time of the report. He didn’t even know Trubisky was playing.
“But since you said that, I will definitely take a shot and look if I can,” he said. “We are going to see all of these guys as we move forward, all the prospects that are out there and evaluate them accordingly.”
To his credit, the near miss on an 0-16 season may have finally made Haslam see the light. According to Ian Rapoport at NFL.com the Browns may be searching for a little more scouting muscle. The expectation is for Cleveland to hire a top scout to serve as the main football voice and be charged with finding the kind of players Jackson wants.
Unfortunately, the potential hire would still be below Brown. Nevertheless, let’s hope for the sake of all Browns fans that there is some truth to this rumor and that Brown has the common sense to step away from the process and let those who know what they are doing make the decisions.
Otherwise, I can’t imagine we’re going to see anything but more misery in “factory of sadness.”
9. Despite reports to the contrary, it looks like the Baltimore Ravens will be sticking with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator.
"In my heart, in my gut and in my head, this is the best way to go," head coach John Harbaugh said.
Why he thinks that’s true, I don’t know.
The Ravens finished 8-8 largely because they ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing (29th), third-down efficiency (21st), red-zone efficiency (19th) and scoring (18th) after Mornhinweg took over for Marc Trestman for the final 11 games of the season.
More to the point, the Ravens had the same issues that led to Trestman getting fired. Baltimore simply failed to commit to the run.
"I believe we're going to be physical," Harbaugh said. "I believe we're going to run good, solid concepts that Joe can execute efficiently and I believe, within that system, there's room for a lot of creativity. That's what we got to chase."
I get it. You can’t just fire your offensive coordinator every year and there’s value in continuity. But the key to continuity isn’t hesitating to fire the wrong guy. It's finding the right guy in the first place.
Terrance West is a talented running back who ran for four yards per carry. The Baltimore Ravens can run the ball. They just need a coach who will do it.
The evidence indicates that, despite his assertions, Harbaugh hasn’t found one yet.
10. "Do you want to know what they’ll say next?” Apparently not enough people do.
In a hilarious development, Skip Bayless, who has partnered up with Shannon Sharpe for a new show on FOX Sports 1 (slogan above), revealed both a huge ego and a huge degree of sensitivity to social media.
A “fan” apparently posted comments on a recent Facebook Live stream that contained over-the-top praise of Bayless. The problem? It turns out that Bayless was the poster. He apparently intended to do it under a dummy account. Apparently he’s the dummy.
I can’t imagine what it’s like having such a raging urge for the approval of others that you actually have to fake compliments and do it yourself. But I can’t say that I’m surprised.
The guess here is that Bayless actually doesn’t have too many fans, per se. He might have people who want to hear whatever outrageous garbage he will forcefully spit out of his mouth next. That’s their problem. But I think few people, if any, actually take it seriously.
Apparently not seriously enough to post compliments on Twitter so Bayless doesn’t have to do it, himself.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
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
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
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
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
After six weeks of bliss, the Dolphins finally came back to earth on Sunday with a 38-6 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. Here are ten thoughts on the loss and the general state of the NFL as we exit week 13 of the NFL season.
1. The Ravens essentially beat the Dolphins with the short passing game Sunday. Few passes went more than 10-15 yards downfield as quarterback Joe Flacco carved up the Dolphins zone defense, finding relatively large gaps in coverage, especially over the middle and especially in the areas where the linebackers were.
In response, the Dolphins switched to more man-to-man in the second quarter but that exposed the defensive backs, which have been a worry for this team all year. Tight end Dennis Pita had a particularly good game with nine receptions for 90 yards and it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that no one could cover him.
It was not a good day for the Dolphins secondary or the linebacker corps in the passing game and, if there's a finger to be pointed, it has to be at this aspect of the defense.
2. I’m going to cut the defensive line a break here. Though Flacco was not sacked and saw very little pressure he was generally getting rid of the ball quickly and the passing game was very efficient. There wasn’t much time for the defensive linemen to get to him.
I also have to say that Flacco surprised me with his pocket movement. When he did drop back and give the defense time to put a little pressure on him he showed a surprising degree of mobility. Flacco isn’t ever going to be the kind of quarterback that is going to get out and run the ball for 20 yards. But within that narrow space he’s got some phone booth quicks that make it tough to get your hands on him. That contributed here as well.
3. The matchup of the Dolphins running game against a very good Ravens run defense was something that I think everyone looked forward to seeing. Going into the game Baltimore’s defense ranked first at 74.9 yards allowed per game and second in yards per attempt (3.4). In the last four games those numbers were 63 yards rushing per game and a 3.1 yards per carry.
Statistically the Dolphins only ran for 3.9 yards per rush but that number is deceptive. Running back Jay Ajayi had 12 carries for 61 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and I thought the Dolphins ran the ball very well until they fell behind too far in the second half.
I liked what I saw here.
4. As good as the Ravens defense has been, they have still struggled to get pressure on the passer with their front four. That proved true again Sunday as the Dolphins offensive line forced Baltimore to blitz before they could get to Ryan Tannehill. Even then they only gave up two sacks despite the fact that the whole stadium knew that they were going to have to pass late in the game.
Overall this was not a bad day for the Dolphins offensive line and the only real problem I had with them was that far too many of the seven penalties that the Dolphins incurred were on this unit. I’d like to see them clean that up.
5. The player who did have a bad day with a subpar effort and one that I think contributed in a major way to the loss was Tannehill. After a stellar effort last week where he was a rock against the 49ers, Tannehill (29 of 40 for 226 yards, 63.1 passer rating) was a major disappointment on Sunday.
Despite not seeing much pressure, Tannehill was far too inaccurate under the circumstances and the three interceptions that he threw, the first of which in the end zone, were all very damaging. The second sticks out as being a particularly bad throw behind Jarvis Landry which was intercepted at the Baltimore two yard line.
6. Overall, I think the game came down to execution and preparedness to play. The contrast between the Dolphins secondary and the way that the Baltimore defense played was particularly stark. While the Dolphins were a step slow all over the field, the Ravens reacted with such speed and quickness that all I could think of was that more misdirection plays may have worked on them as they reacted almost too quickly to what the Dolphins were doing.
Offensively Baltimore played particularly well and executed when they had to where the Dolphins simply failed at big moments far too often for anyone’s liking as illustrated by the six points scored despite the fact that the time of possession was almost evenly split.
Coming off of a six game winning streak, I think there was a thought amongst some fans and media members that a letdown was inevitable and it may have hit the Dolphins this game. At the same time, the Ravens at 6-5 were playing for their playoff lives and they executed like it. The combination resulted in what we got on Sunday.
7. Most Dolphins fans know what Geno Smith looks like on the field. So it will surprise no one that I was somewhat amused at Smith’s comments this week as he prepares to hit free agency next year.
“My mom told me something that was pretty special. She’d been going to my games since I was a kid and never missed a game. And these past few years, I missed more games than I missed in my life and she said, ‘There’s always a time for that, there’s always a season where you feel like things aren’t going right. And then what comes after that is usually the best part of your life.'”
Geno’s mom may or may not know about life advice. But I guarantee you that she doesn’t know anything about talent. Unless “the best part” of Geno’s life doesn’t involve playing quarterback in the NFL, I think he’s still got an uphill battle ahead of him.
8. I also kind of laughed when Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey defended another overdrafted quarterback this week, objecting to the use of the term “mystery” in relation to Christian Hackenberg.
“I don’t like that word,” Gailey said. “I think he’s a developmental player at this point. There’s a lot of talent there. The sky’s the limit.”
Well then why isn’t the second round pick starting, as most highly drafted developmental picks should be doing in the Jets situation?
Jets fans have been wringing their hands the last few weeks wondering why the Jets aren’t starting Bryce Petty. Of course, they aren’t playing Petty. They told you everything you needed to know about how they felt about him when they drafted Hackenberg so highly.
The real question is what’s wrong with Hackenberg that you can’t even trust him to get out on the field at the end of a lost season. The explanation that he’s only been playing as part of the scout team doesn’t hold water. All young quarterbacks are in the same situation at this point. They play regardless for teams when the chances of making the playoffs become basically hopeless at the end of the year.
The guess here is that Hackenberg needs a great deal of work – much more work than the team probably anticipated given his second round status despite the fact that virtually everyone else who watched Hackenberg last year at Penn State knew better. And that introduces doubt about the future of this “mystery” man.
9. Staying with the Jets, the team has obviously been a major disappointment this year at 3-8 and, quarterback issues aside, many are questioning the direction of the team.
The defense has been a particular disappointment and I think it comes down to two factors.
First, the star-studded defensive line featuring Leonard Williams, Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, has underperformed. Going into their game with the Colts on Monday night, the Jets had only 19 sacks, which ranks 29th in the NFL. Now consider that they had seven sacks in the season opener against the Bengals and you can see how awful their pass rush has been.
Second, turnover margin correlates with wins more than almost any statistic and the Jets have been particularly poor at generating them. They have nine takeaways. Only the Colts, Jaguars and Bears have fewer. By comparison the Jets had 30 takeaways last year.
This is a very bad look for head coach Todd Bowles, who was hired as a defensive guru. While most of the country concentrates on their problems at quarterback as they talk Ryan Fitzpatrick, Petty and Hackenberg, it was the defense that was supposed to carry this team and it’s the defense that is letting them down.
The offseason will be a time for a hard look at what is going on there and it's likely to be very uncomfortable for many of the people who are involved on that side of the ball.
10. I’ve been reasonably critical of the Dolphins for letting players that they have spent time and money developing leave in free agency. But there’s at least one situation where I think we can now safely say that they did the right thing.
The Buffalo Bills invested a guaranteed $24.5 million in tight end Charles Clay, luring him away from the Dolphins as a transition-tagged free agent in March 2015. And in fairness Pro Football Focus has graded him as the NFL's second-best run-blocking tight end this season entering their game against the Raiders on Sunday. But the Bills signed Clay to catch passes and Clay has been particularly poor in that aspect of his game.
Despite having the NFL's seventh-highest average annual contract value among tight ends, Clay ranks 28th among his position in receiving yards per game and 28th in yards per catch. With 36 catches for 323 yards, Clay is on pace for 469 receiving yards, which would be his least-productive season since 2012. Clay has yet to score a touchdown this season.
Worse yet, it will be difficult for the Bills to move on from Clay if they desire to do that. In order to create salary-cap space last February, the Bills converted a $10 million roster bonus into a signing bonus, spreading out that guaranteed money over the remaining four years of his deal.
That means the Bills would lose $4.5 million in salary-cap space if they released Clay before June 1, 2017. So it looks like they are stuck with him at least through 2018.
This was a bad contract for an overrated player. True, the Dolphins haven’t been stellar at tight end either and they could probably use Clay. But Dion Sims had three catches for 39 yards on Sunday, second in receiving behind only Jarvis Landry, and he has been coming on of late.
Bottom line, I think this is one that we can all look back on and be glad that the Dolphins held their ground.
10a. Most fans and media are spending a lot of time trying to figure out what the reasons are for the success of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott seemingly came out of nowhere and few people predicted that he would have the kind of success in his first year in the NFL that he has had. One reason is clearly that he has not had to undergo the kind of indoctrination by blitz that many NFL rookie quarterbacks face. One reason for that may surprise you.
Only four starting rookie quarterbacks -- EJ Manuel, Nick Foles, Carson Wentz and Robert Griffin III -- have been blitzed less than Prescott since 2009. In some cases, that's probably because of a quarterback's mobility. But the other reason it's tough to blitz Prescott is that he’s got fellow rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot next to him.
"A lot of times when you’re blitzing, you’re talking about blitzes, you’re trying to win on the back," Viking coach Zimmer said before heading into Thursday’s game against the Cowboys. "This back doesn’t get beat very much. There’s different ideas of the blitz. Sometimes you want to play man-to-man and you rush five, and sometimes you rush six and play some kind of zone or man or zeroes. You have to be smart with how you rush him, and you have to be disciplined in the rush lanes. They’ve got a lot of situations where he can get the ball out quickly."
Elliot came out of Ohio State with a reputation for being one of the most complete backs to enter the draft in years. Prescott is reaping the benefit of that versatility. Most rookie running backs find it hard to get onto the field because they need to learn to protect the quarterback and head coaches don’t want to get their passer to get hurt during the training period.
With Elliot it’s the opposite. It’s his ability to block that makes him so valuable for Prescott. Not only that, but Elliott's presence as a receiver gives Prescott an option when he’s in trouble. -- he's caught 24 passes for 303 yards in addition to leading the NFL in rushing.
The Cowboys are a great example of how complimentary football works on the offensive side of the ball. Having one of the best offensive lines in football certainly helps. But you could make the case that Elliot is the cog in the wheel that makes the whole thing run.
10b. Oregon needs a football coach, and Chip Kelly is sitting at 1-11 with the San Francisco 49ers. He says that he’s not interested. But Dolphins fans know how much statements like that are worth (I’m looking at you, Nick Saban).
10c. A private group led by Ronnie Lott is working on a plan that could present the Oakland Raiders with a viable stadium option that could keep them in the Bay Area. The proposal is currently being vetted by the city of Oakland and Alameda County. It would reportedly call for $600 million in private money, $200 million in public money from Oakland and Alameda County, $200 million from the NFL and an additional $300 million from owner Mark Davis.
The private money, not the public, might be the hang up here though getting the public funding won’t be easy either. It would come from Fortress Investment Group and what they would demand as part of the deal isn’t known.
There is also a general pessimism surrounding this deal for other reasons. For one, at least publicly, Raiders owner Mark Davis appears to be concentrating exclusively on moving to Las Vegas. But I really never got the impression from his comments that Davis has ever really wanted to move this team and this deal may be worth keeping an eye on.
10d. The dust up between Eric Dickerson and the Los Angeles Rams has been both amusing and enlightening looking at it from the outside in.
Dickerson has been highly critical of the team and its coaching staff, particularly quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke. So when he asked for sideline passes, head coach Jeff Fisher said “no” because he felt that some of the coaches would have been uncomfortable with it and the team offered Dickerson a luxury box instead. Dickerson was insulted and he made the issue public.
Neither side comes across looking good here. Dickerson is a Hall of Famer and, as former players are wont to point out, he’s going to be a Ram for life whereas, like most coaches, Fisher is just passing through. On the other hand, the team therefore has tried to accommodate him while bowing to Fisher’s wishes and to turn your nose up at the offer of a luxury box looks spoiled and petulant.
But I personally think that this is a particularly bad look for Fisher and the Rams. Former players are asked about their teams all the time and can be highly critical everywhere, not just in Los Angeles. Former Dolphins have often been critical of the team, especially of ownership, but the team has maintained a good relationship with them. Indeed, many are members of the media and actually get paid to criticize the team.
Bottom line, I’m wondering how Fisher can ask his team to be mentally tough when he appears to be so thin-skinned himself.
10e. The NFL will reportedly ditch early morning football games broadcast from London. I can only speak for myself but as an early riser, I loved these games while they lasted. A full day of football not requiring that I stay up until midnight followed by an early day at the office was just the ticket for me.
There might not have been enough of us to keep these games on. It’s hard to know for sure because the ratings were never really made clear in the press. But I have to assume that they beat whatever else was on at that time of the morning by a mile. In any case, I will dearly miss them.
11. Next up for the Dolphins is the Arizona Cardinals. They pulled out a win on Sunday against the Redskins but things have not gone nearly as smoothly for the Cardinals this year as they did last year when they and their head coach Bruce Arians were the darlings of the NFL.
Last season, Arians' name was on everyone’s lips as he came back to lead a highly successful Cardinals team after being literally run out of Pittsburgh as their offensive coordinator at the end of the2011 season in a weird incident where the Steelers claimed he retired after not offering him a contract. Arians followed within weeks afterwards by taking a coordinator job with the Colts.
This year with the team at 5-6-1, things haven’t been as rosy. Just last week Arians slammed his team for being “selfish.”
“I’m very surprised,” Arians said, via ArizonaSports.com. “We’ve been talking about it for four weeks and the veterans obviously haven’t done anything about it, so maybe young guys will step up and make the opportunity they need.”
Arians also said that the team isn’t as physically tough as they need to be.
Bottom line, the Dolphins have a real opportunity here to bounce back against a team that is struggling to find itself internally.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
After yet another nail-biter, the Dolphins come out on top again against an out-manned San Francisco 49ers team. Here are ten thoughts on the game and on the state of the NFL as a whole as we exit week 12 of the season.
1. After some good weeks of effort from the defensive line where it seemed like Cameron Wake was leading a revival, they really let the team down Sunday. Despite the fact that everyone in the stadium knew that the 49ers were going to throw the ball, the defense managed only two sacks. The 49ers averaged a staggering 7.7 yards per carry and though Colin Kaepernick accounted for a great deal of that, Carlos Hyde and DuJuan Harris also averaged over five yards per carry.
Once again, the play of the defensive tackle opposite Ndamukong Suh, who saw double team after double team, was particularly disturbing. The defensive line is at their best when they are penetrating against the run. I didn't see enough of that Sunday against what I consider to be a very mediocre 49ers offensive line.
You can blame the injuries on the Dolphins offensive line for their failure to run the ball well (see below) and, though it’s not an excuse, I think that's fair. But that Dolphins defensive front is relatively healthy and they need to do better on their end.
2. There was much talk throughout the week about how the depleted offensive line with Sam Young at left tackle, Kraig Urbik at left guard and Anthony Steen at center would do.
There's little doubt that the Dolphins struggled in the running game this week. But I thought Ryan Tannehill got pretty decent protection as he was only sacked twice. Admittedly it was against an inferior opponent. But overall I thought the Dolphins got by better than they did last year when, in a similar situation, the interior of the offensive line collapsed in disgrace.
3. Having said that, the poor effort running the football was mildly disturbing. Jay Ajayi averaged only 2.5 yards per carry and the play of the offensive line was a big part of that. If it weren't for Ryan Tannehill's six rushes for 34 yards, the Dolphins would have had almost no running game at all.
To his credit, despite the struggles, Adam Gase kept calling running plays. Unlike last week when they gave up on the running game in the second half, the Dolphins finished with 26 running attempts compared to 30 passes for a pretty decent balance. Chalk it up to a lesson well-learned by Gase. Let's hope he keeps it up.
4. The Dolphins built their current winning streak on running the football and stopping the run. It is somewhat problematic that they failed on both ends of that formula Sunday. They are fortunate that they were playing the 49ers.
It seems evident that they need a completely healthy offensive line to pull that off. Let's hope that everyone gets well soon. The Dolphins won't be going far in the playoffs without them.
5. The one single thing that impressed me most about the game Sunday was the play of Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was a rock, never panicking even under pressure. He used his mobility to get out of the pocket and out of bad situations and basically accounted for what little running game that the Dolphins had himself. He was accurate both short and deep and his ball placement was impeccable.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that, more than anyone else on the field, this win belongs to him.
6. Also give Colin Kaepernick credit. No matter what you think of him off the field, he surprised me by having a very good game Sunday.
Kaepernick's story could be a lesson in perseverance. His first three seasons in the NFL were magic as he made plays with both his feet and his arm to lead the 49ers to the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. But his fall the last couple of years has been dramatic and there were times last year when he literally looked like he forgot how to play quarterback.
Chip Kelly had a rehabilitation job on his hands with Kaepernick and he hasn't made it easy with his issues off the field nor with his doubts about whether he even wanted to be with the team in 2016.
To my eye, Kaepernick looked every bit as good as he ever did in 2013 Sunday as, with his arm and his legs, he made play after play to lead a miserable football team into a reasonably competitive stance. If that kind of play continues, Kaepernick would stand as an example of what can happen with a little self-belief fortifies with a little decent coaching and a lot of elbow grease.
7. Speaking of Kaepernick, I noted with interest the attention that he got over his political stance in Miami. Armando Salguero, a Cuban refugee himself, was particularly pointed in both his questions for and his comments about Kaepernick, particularly addressing his choice to wear a t-shirt with the photograph of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro on it.
Not too surprising, and probably more to the point, Kaepernick had a number of his facts wrong.
What continues to fascinate me is why anyone, anywhere, should care what an athlete or entertainment personality thinks about politics. These people are typically no more informed than anyone else and usually fail to understand or acknowledge that there are two sides to every story.
It's an old saying but it's basically true. Opinions are like butts. Everybody has one.
Most of the time I ignore people like Kaepernick giving no reaction at all to what they say or do simply because nothing is what those opinions are worth.
8. Has there ever been a bigger tease than Percy Harvin?
Harvin is an electric player with a lot of talent. When he plays. But to no one's surprise, at least no one who has followed his career, Harvin was unavailable to play on Sunday for the Bills against the Jaguars due to the recurrence of a migraine headache.
It’s always something with Harvin. From his health to his attitude to his desire to play, something is always lacking and it has led to him being one of the most overrated players of the past decade with the Vikings, the Seahawks, the Jets and the Bills. Harvin has appeared in two games for the Bills this year with one start, catching only two passes for six yards. He also has one rushing attempt for 11 yards.
In what has become a typical scenario, the desperate Bills gave Harvin yet another chance to prove his worth four weeks ago. They called Harvin on the off chance that he might want to play again and Harvin surprisingly accepted. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Harvin unretirement ends in the near future. To be repeated over and over again until teams finally get a clue that this guy simply is a waste of talent.
9. OK, so maybe there is one bigger tease than Harvin, and Dolphins fans are becoming intimately familiar with the situation.
Dion Jordan, the third pick overall in 2013, has contributed only 46 tackles and three sacks in the 26 games he's played since.
I will admit up front that this probably isn't entirely fair but you'd think that after almost two years without playing football, Jordan would be anxious to get back out on the field. But, honestly, I'm not entirely sure that's the case.
After what seemed like an interminably long period of suspension, Jordan waited until just before he was re-activated to get surgery done on his knee. Why in the world didn't he get it taken care of earlier so that he'd be ready to go when he was re-instated?
Add to that what I don't see as a particularly enthusiastic response to whether he'll be able to play at any point this year after beginning to practice this week.
"It's my health. It's my body. If my body tells me I'm not ready to perform against the best athletes I'm not going to put myself out there," Jordan said. "But the way things have been going, they've been going well and I've got high hopes for myself to get out there and compete before the season ends."
Look I get it. In isolation without the last minute surgery aspect, maybe this statement slips by without comment. No one wants to risk further injury by getting out there too early and suffering a setback.
But I'm used to players saying confidently and passionately that they'll be out there and letting the medical personnel hold them back if necessary. But a neutral response that basically come down to "Eh. I hope so."? That worries me.
I don't hold out much hope that Jordan is going to be any better now than he was before the injury. But at this point I have to wonder how much of his past failures on the field have to do with his desire to be there at all.
Like Harvin, this looks like it could be a case of a criminal waste of talent.
10. Speaking of the Bills, they may not be having the kind of success on the field that they thought they would entering the season, but thank heavens that they are keeping the world safe from dildos in the stands. Bills Vice President of operations and guest experience Andy Major said that dildo “throwers” have been caught and banned from the stadium in Buffalo for life.
“Luckily nobody was hurt, none of our players stepped on it and blew their knee out,” Major said.
Chalk up one victory for the NFL against this major cause of injury throughout the league. Players can now feel safe from knee injury on all those artificial surfaces now.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
It was an interesting post game chat centered around the initial version of my 10 thought article following the dramatic come from behind victory to beat the Los Angeles Rams. Luis Sung, our intrepid editor and all around nice guy tried to keep me from putting my foot in my mouth during what amounted to a post game rant in what was originally point #3:
"[I] can't blind myself to the fact that this was a miserable offensive effort for most of the game."
"The thing that stuck out was the 5.2 yards per rushing attempt. The offense evidently came to work when it came to this aspect of the game against an outstanding Rams defensive front. The only question I have is why, when they were so successful in the running game and so poor when passing, did they have only 19 rushing attempts compared to 34 passes."
Fortunately, Luis is keeping an eye on me and, once I got him my column, he pointed out that Ajayi generally got stuffed and much of his yardage came on one 36 yard run in the first quarter. As those who read the column will know, I took his advice and removed the comment. And, despite what I'm about to say, I'm glad I did and I will explain why.
Having said that, I took some time Wednesday to actually breakdown running back Jay Ajayi's runs to evaluate the situation. (Because what the hell else am I supposed to do over Thanksgiving? Talk to family? Right…)
Anyway, here are the runs:
There are 16 total rushes (11 in the first half) and, as Luis pointed out, most were stuffs for 4 or less yards. However, it wasn’t just one long run that resulted in Ajayi's 4.8 yards per carry. Five of those runs went for 8 or more yards.
If you ask me, that’s a decent day for a running back and not at all atypical. One good long run and roughly 1/3 of the rest for very good but not great yardage is what I typically expect for an average running team. In this case a very good running team against a very good rush defense.
I welcome disagreement on this but, after looking at the data, I don’t think I was that far off with my original comment. I really don’t think that there's any excuse for giving the ball to Ajayi for only 16 runs. He was doing fine.
Adam Gase does this sometimes. He gets frustrated and his blood gets up when the offense isn’t functioning. His competitive juices get flowing and his solution is to go to the pass because, well, let’s face it. That’s what offensive coordinators who believe in their team do. Unfortunately more often than not it makes things worse not better. The Dolphins were very fortunate to win the game.
When Gase was the offensive coordinator of the Bears last year and with the Broncos before that, John Fox kept that under control because he’s conservative, defensive guy. The combination of those two personalities was very potent. But with no one there to check Gase now that he's a head coach, we may see more of this against good defenses when things aren’t going well. To his credit, previous comments indicate that Gase recognizes the problem. But I wonder if he’ll ever be able to control it. It will be something to keep an eye on.
Of course, Adam Gase isn't the only one who has faults when his juices get flowing.
I’m actually not displeased that we took that comment out of the article. I do have a distinct tendency to be contrarian that isn't always a good thing. I knew that the articles elsewhere this week were going to be overly positive about Sunday's win (and the have been).
I guess that gets me going and leads me automatically to point out the negatives just because I know no one else will. Sometimes goo too far, spitting out vitriol when everyone else wants to just relax and enjoy it while they can. In that respect, I'm glad that there are people who feel free to advise me to put a check on that when it gets out of hand.
That's simply the only way my own nature can be stopped from leading me astray. And finding someone to do that might, in the end, be the only way that Gase will be able to defeat his own demons, as well.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
The Dolphins pulled off a dramatic comeback victory over the Los Angeles Rams this week. Here are ten thoughts on the game and on the NFL as Week 11 of the season wraps up.
1. First, kudos to the Dolphins for having the fortitude to come back to win this game with two touchdowns in the last five minutes. It was a wonderful effort and it was exactly the kind of game that playoff teams have to win. It’s now evident that the Dolphins are building a very special season where things are falling their way. Every fan should enjoy this while it lasts.
2. Having said that, I can't blind myself to the fact that this was a miserable offensive effort for most of the game.
It’s human nature for a team to let down when they are in the middle of a win streak. As a result, the Dolphins were unlikely to be playing with the desire and concentration that comes when teams are desperate for wins.
Nevertheless, I don’t think that's actually what happened as the Dolphins offense basically played dead for 3 and 2/3 quarters on Sunday. There were a lot of factors that went into the necessity for the late game comeback but perhaps there was none that was more important than the play calling.
The first thing that stands out is the startlingly low yards per pass. The Dolphins were at 2.3 at halftime and that sank to 1.1 in the fourth quarter before they came back to win it and finished with 3.7. The Rams, with a rookie quarterback making his first start, actually did better in this category than the Dolphins.
The Dolphins have to be able to throw downfield. They have the talent to do it. Why they didn't try more often is beyond me.
3. It has to be acknowledged that Ryan Tannehill (24 of 34 for 172 yards) did not have a good game. His ball placement was poor, he was inaccurate and he did a poor job of picking up the back-side blitz. When the Dolphins finally got a break and recovered a fumble in Rams territory, Tannehill finally threw deep only to give the ball back on an INT in the end zone.
4. Jared Goff didn't have a great game either but he's a rookie in his first start and yet he arguably out played Tannehill for most of the game until the dramatic ending.
Notably, Goff has a (perhaps natural at this stage) tendency to panic under pressure. Whenever he even sensed that a blitz was coming he rushed the pass and it was usually inaccurate. He's going to have to settle down and learn to keep calm in those situations.
I might add that Goff's accuracy and ball placement were generally a disappointment this game. In fairness he saw a fair bit of pressure from the Dolphins defensive front and he was throwing on the move quite a bit. Though he's certainly mobile, based upon what I saw, that is not his strength and he's going to have to be given some time in the pocket if the Rams expect him to succeed.
Many were surprised when Rams head coach Jeff Fisher decided to promote first overall draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff, to the starting lineup. Reports were that Goff wouldn’t play until the Rams were mathematically eliminated. They’re still alive at 4-5, and if Goff gives the offense a spark they could end up in the mix for a playoff berth. But head coach Jeff Fisher has claimed that Goff is ready.
“It’s was just Jared’s progress, and the progression week, after week, after week,” Fisher said. “Preparing to be a two, preparing to be a play away from going in. When he got the reps over the last three or four weeks, they were right, they were good, they were good decisions. So it was time.”
That's all nonsense, of course. Goff struggled notably in the preseason and there's hardly much reason to believe he's gotten significantly better with no playing time since.
The truth is that the Rams have little to lose at this point. The offense had, in fact, done very little under former starter Case Keenum. Keenum was not the reason the Rams have been so bad but he hasn’t helped. This season he’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 23 times and the Rams are 24th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play.
Keenum’s interception percentage is 31st in the NFL and the Rams are 31st in the NFL in touchdowns per game. In fact, the Rams have not scored more than one TD in each of the past three games.
Given that is the case, Fisher wisely figured that he might as well let the offense be just as bad while developing their quarterback of the future. As they have in all of their previous games, they will still rely on their defense to win.
The real question is whether the Rams even can develop Goff. Jeff Fisher is a defensive head coach and his Assistant Head Coach/Offense, Rob Boras is a former offensive line/tight ends coach. That means the person who has been primarily responsible for overseeing Goff's development is quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke. Weinke has all of two years of NFL coaching experience - 2015 and half of 2016 with the Rams.
Goff is a wonderful talent. But at least as important is who is bringing him along. The Rams have been a wasteland for quarterback play since Kurt Warner left St. Louis in 2003. With Sam Bradford being its most recent and notable failure at the position. You have to wonder if Goff is about to get lost in those bad lands as well.
5. Speaking of the defense, that was a nice effort. Even though they were dealing with a rookie quarterback it’s no small feat to hold Todd Gurley down and I thought they did a nice job at the line of scrimmage.
More and more I'm coming to appreciate the play of Kiko Alonso. He's all over the field and he's largely responsible for what has been an improved (though still flawed) run defense.
6. Eight penalties for 82 yards is too many. A holding call on Ja'Wuan James in the first quarter nearly took the Dolphins out of field goal range and a couple more plays for loss did the rest. Those were valuable points in a game like this.
7. I was a bit disappointed when Dolphins center Anthony Steen, who played well in place of starting center Mike Pouncey (hip) Sunday, decided to criticize Alabama head coach Nick Saban last week.
Steen told the Palm Beach Post that he now regrets waiting until the end of his senior season to have the shoulder surgery he needed, and he thinks Saban’s approach leaves Alabama players hurt.
“If you can work through pain, you can go. But at ‘Bama, that was the problem,” Steen said. “A lot of things you went through and you shouldn’t have. You should have stayed off of it. That’s why a lot of guys from ‘Bama are hurt.”
If Steen was actually hurt or had done permanent damage to his shoulder by playing, I agree would with him. But as far as I can tell he hasn't. So I question whether Saban actually pushed him too far.
Indeed, it may well be Steen's toughness and willingness to play hurt was one of the reasons he has made it to the NFL. One scout from the Bleacher Report before the 2014 NFL draft called Steen "Possibly the very definition of 'toughness' as it relates to OL scouting purposes." CBS Sports said, "Steen's technical consistency, toughness and instincts are exactly what NFL teams look for in the ideal guard prospect."
The statements are ironic given that the Dolphins chose highlight their 2016 draft class by trying to make them into something that they weren't, characterizing them as "alpha personalities" despite zero independent evidence that scouts ever viewed them that way. Steen appears to the kind of guy they should have been touting all along if that's what they wanted.
In any case, if you ask me Saban did Steen a favor. He pushed him to play and, while doing so, highlighted what was perhaps his greatest strength.
8. Greg Hardy is gone but hardly forgotten.
Hardy infamously was arrest for domestic violence after assaulting an ex-girlfriend by grabbing her, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her. Only the Dallas Cowboys and their win at all costs owner Jerry Jones dared to sign Hardy after he hit the street (One wonders what he told his granddaughter.)
"Don't go dating an NFL player, now darlin'. Unless he can rush the passer. Heh, heh, heh." [slaps her on the behind]). However, after a miserable season with the Cowboys in which he under-performed and was a locker room distraction, even Jones let him go. Hardy has been waiting for another team to sign him ever since.
Good luck with that. If he ever had a chance - and I doubt very much that he did - it’s got to be gone now after he was indicted on one count of felony possession of a controlled substance after a September 25 arrest. He allegedly had 0.7 grams of cocaine in his wallet, which police detected after pulling him over for turning without signaling.
Hardy was and is a blight on the National Football League, a product of a win at all costs mentality that results in animals like this getting rich off of fans who are forced to root for them against their better judgement. You honestly wonder under the circumstances how the league has the nerve to wear pink in October while keeping men like Hardy employed.
Fortunately, we'll almost certainly never have to deal with watching this particular hard case anymore. Let's hope that its extended more and more to others whose behavior calls for sanction rather than adulation.
9. I find the Green Bay Packers to be like a train wreck. I can't look and yet I can't look away. Some pundits were predicting that the Packers would be among the all-time best this year with the return of a healthy Jordy Nelson, who was supposed to be the major missing cog in the Packers wheel that caused the apparently decline of Aaron Rodgers stats last season.
That hasn't turned out to be the case. Among their notable deficiencies this year has been their problems at running back. The carousel of running backs in Green Bay this season has included Eddie Lacy, Knile Davis (acquired from Kansas City and released after two games), James Starks and Don Jackson (who was placed on injured reserve).
Through it all, the most effective runners have been quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who’s averaging 6.3 yards per run and has three rushing touchdowns) and converted receiver Ty Montgomery (who was the team's leading rusher in two different games this season).
The latest hope at running back for the team is Christine Michael, who they picked up from waivers after the Seahawks surprised the league by releasing him.
Michael had two different stints with the Seahawks, who drafted him in the second round in 2013 (one spot after the Packers picked Lacy at No. 61 overall). As recently as this summer, he had earned praise from his teammates who said he was a different player than he was the first time around. Indeed, NFL pundits have marveled at Michael's talent and production and it was thought that he was on his way to a fine season.
At least publicly the Seahawks have only praise for Michael.
"He's been busting his tail the whole time he's been here," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. "Everything we've said about him has been true and real, and he made a great comeback with us. He was the only guy there for a while, and we're really grateful to the play that he gave us. He's a good kid."
But privately things may be a little different. Reports have indicated that Michael was too inconsistent for the Seahawks and that they couldn't trust him to run within the offense. He struggled to hit the right hole or trust the design of the play. Those are vital elements of any run game but particularly for the Seahawks. The running back is the conductor of the offensive line. His patience, the number of steps he takes, all those details help a run succeed or fail.
Whether Michael will be better within the Green Bay offense is an open question. But they are so desperate to find answers at the position, they may rather have a reasonably productive back who freelances than the answers that they currently have on the roster. Such is the state of what was supposed to be a record-breaking offense this year.
10. Of course, the other major problem is the play of Aaron Rodgers, himself. Rodgers at his best drops back, hits the last step in that drop and fires the ball immediately to the open receiver. But he hasn't looked like that on a consistent basis for over a year now, preferring to hold the ball and play backyard football while trying to make a play. Pundits have blamed the fact that his receivers can't get open for the problem and the return of Nelson this year was supposed to solve it.
For the first time in his career, perhaps ever, Rodgers is taking significant criticism from former teammates and the press. And he apparently hasn't liked it much. Even nice guy Tony Dungy has gotten into the act as both he and not so nice guy Rodney Harrison took off on Rodgers on Thursday’s edition of Football Night in Carolina on NBC and NFL Network. Dungy and Harrison particularly addressed Rodgers' recent habit of publicly criticizing teammates and/or coaches during post-game press conferences following losses.
Dungy: “When you’re losing, you can’t make those kinds of comments. I remember my first year in Indianapolis when we lost a playoff game to the Jets 41-0. Mike Vanderjagt, our kicker, comes out after the game and says, ‘Tony Dungy doesn’t fire people up. He’s just an easy-going guy. We don’t need that.’ Well, that might have been true, but when you lose, it’s not the time to say that.”
Harrison: “I’m going to say this as nice as possible — shut up and play football. Every time that you mention something in the media, it creates a sense of divide in that locker room. Everything that they think about – say it in-house, and don’t bring the media and everyone outside of that locker room into it.”
Former Packer Jermichael Finley has also been among the latest to speak out with some particularly damaging comments.
“Aaron Rodgers is so scared of what guys are going to say that he doesn’t say nothing at all,” Finley said. “He doesn’t get vocal. He goes into his little shell. He’s not a guy who hangs out with the fellas. He’s real self-centered.”
Finley isn't the first teammate (former or otherwise) to take his shots at Rodgers. Even when Rodgers has apparently been playing well, other players have or are suspected to have done so and they haven't lasted with the team. Former Packer and Dolphin guard Daryn Colledge was one such player who called out Rodgers in a team meeting for not admitting that he was holding the ball too long when the offensive line was taking heat some years ago in 2009.
Current Bears guard Josh Sitton wasn't known specifically for doing it but he was outspoken and he was known to have called out the coaching staff on at least one occasion last year. It would certainly not be surprising if criticism of Rodgers miserable play last year came with that.
Rodgers isn't just self-centered. He appears to be sensitive to criticism. If he continues to play like he is, he'd better get used to it because it won't stop until he starts reading the defense, getting rid of the ball, playing within the offense and throwing more accurately.
10a. I know that it seems like it’s a long way away but the later we get in both the NFL and the college football season, the more it feels like NFL draft time. Indeed, sites are already starting to speculate about what teams will need what and none will be more prominent than those who will be desperate for quarterback help.
In that respect, I found this article on NFL.com to be quite interesting. In the column, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah looks at six teams who he thinks will be targeting the quarterback position. Most made sense - the Browns, 49ers, Bears and Cardinals. However, a couple were, in my opinion, questionable.
First off, the suggestion that the Jets will be looking to draft a quarterback and/or sign a veteran is popular right now and, I think, pretty suspect. The Jets drafted Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015 and, though fourth rounders aren't always slam dunk starters, I'm not sure they given up on him.
But Petty isn't the reason I find this opinion questionable. You might argue about the Jets commitment to his future but there's no denying that they are committed to 2016 draft pick Christian Hackenberg. Like Jeremiah, I don't think Hackenberg is the answer for them. But the Jets have to believe otherwise. To draft Hackenberg in the second round and then not commit to him as your future starter would be ludicrous. They would be, and should be, a laughing stock.
No, I can't imagine the Jets not giving Hackenberg the starting job next year.
The other suspect team on the list was the Jaguars, who appeared to have an answer at the position with Blake Bortles. Bortles started well as a rookie but has regressed this season. His mechanics are a mess and during the bye week he even resorted to visiting QB guru Tom House, indicating that perhaps he wasn't getting the help he needed from head coach Gus Bradley and his staff.
Bradley may be gone after this season but Bortles isn't going anywhere. I have to believe that the Jaguars would rather spend the offseason trying to fix Bortles, who at least has showed potential for a couple years before regressing, than starting over by drafting a new quarterback.
10b. Before we jump too far ahead it should be mentioned that one or two of those teams listed above are going to go for a veteran replacement. Especially if you are a team who thinks that they can win now, as in Arizona or Denver (not listed), the possibility of adding Tony Romo is going to be tempting.
In addition, another quarterback that Dolphins fans are pretty familiar with might be enticing for one of these teams. Tyrod Taylor entered the weekend needing to show that he could be the future in Buffalo badly. Time could be running out for Taylor in his quest to convince management to activate the next phase of his five-year, $90 million contract, which would cost them $27 million for next season alone if they decide to kick in the second year.
Buffalo beat the Bengals on Sunday but they did it with only an average effort from Taylor who went 19 for 27, 166 yards and a passer rating of 70.9. Hardly the stuff that characterizes a $90 million quarterback.
The bet here is that Taylor's talent and mobility leads someone to sign him in the hope that he will be the future. We shall see if it comes true.
10c. I noted with interest the Dolphins decision to cut cornerback Chris Culliver. Culliver had become something of a beacon of hope for Dolphins fans who had hoped that he could step in as something of a savior to strengthen what is by far the Dolphins greatest weakness - their defensive back field.
The release of Culliver was a shame but not terribly surprising. Signing him was a desperation move for this team. The front office, which has garnered much (IMO undeserved) praise lately for finding quality players, left the organization short on depth and once Xavien Howard went down (and possibly didn’t develop - we won’t know until he actually hits the field) there was no plan B.
10d. Speaking of Taylor, he is one of a row of mediocre quarterbacks that the Dolphins will be facing as they drive to finish the season in the playoff hunt. Besides Jared Goff this week, they will have San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, Baltimore's Joe Flacco, Arizona's Carson Palmer, New York Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick (33rd) and Taylor. All are significantly worse than Ryan Tannehill and all but Taylor have even been worse than even last year's version of Tannehill - and that's debatable.
This series of teams with bad play at the helm is representative of the poor play in the AFC overall and, in particular, of the ease with which the Dolphins could make the post-season. If they can manage to play even average football the rest of the way, there should be - and the odds are that there will be - an exciting finish to this season.
I can't wait.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
The Dolphins are coming off of a big divisional win at home against the Jets that brought their season to the .500 mark. Here are ten thoughts on the win, the team, and the league as we exit Week 9 of the NFL season.
1. Before we left for the break, we had determined the formula for winning football games for the Dolphins. They came through on half of that formula Sunday. They ran the ball 32 times, over half of the total of 61 plays for the game. While doing so, they averaged a very respectable 4.3 yards per carry for 137 yards, most of that on the back of Jay Ajayi (24 times, 111 yards, 4.6 ypc).
Ajayi once again ran behind some excellent blocking from a healthy starting offensive line. The result was a very effective play action passing game as the Jets linebackers were sucked up in response to the run fake.
As long as the line stays intact, this should be a staple the rest of the season. But depending upon their health is a risky business. Even while playing some miserable, flawed teams through the rest of their schedule, they're going to need some luck.
2. Unfortunately, the Dolphins didn't hold up their end on the second part of that formula - stop the run. The Jets ran the ball 21 times for 140 yards, more than the Dolphins. The average yards per carry was 6.7 and Matt Forte had a banner day (12 rushes for 92 yards, 7.7 ypc).
One problem that the Dolphins had was that whenever a defensive end like Andre Branch moved inside, the Jets ran over them. This is the disadvantage of trying to play a specialized pass rush defense like that and you wonder if the Dolphins will cut down on its use in the future.
Though Jordan Phillips came up with a huge interception near the end of the third quarter, it was also hard not to notice that he struggled otherwise yet again after having a good game against the Bills before the break. He seemed to have a great deal of trouble getting off blocks.
3. One thing that really stood out to me today was the use of the tight end by the Dolphins. Dominique Jones had three catches for 42 yards with a couple big catches including one for a touchdown.
Really good offenses have this in common - they have a tight end that they can count on in the red zone. You wonder if the Dolphins have found one in Jones.
4. The other striking thing, of course, was how sloppy this game was. It wasn't just Ryan Fitzpatrick's two interceptions or Matt Darr's dropped snap on a critical pun late in the game. The penalties were egregiously bad on both sides. The Jets led the way with ten critical penalties for 77 yards but the Dolphins' eight for 86 yards were arguably more damaging, taking seven points off the board on a Jakeem Grant touchdown while constantly giving the Jets first down after first down.
The result was the appearance of efficient offense on both sides, as there were only four punts the entire game, two on each side. But the reality is that each defense took turns kicking itself in the foot.
The Dolphins will have to address this issue and clean it up.
5. Could Alex Smith be experiencing deja vu in Kansas City. He's only been out for a couple weeks with concussion issues but Nick Foles is looking pretty good behind him.
Many will recall that Smith was the starter in San Francisco when he suffered a concussion and opened the door for Colin Kaepernick to take over. He never got the starting position back again.
Foles has been looking good playing in Smith's place. He was 16 of 22 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns, a 135.2 passer rating, 10.1 yards per attempt. That last statistic stands out because Smith has been criticized for his dink and dunk style in Kansas City.
Foles's footwork was a mess when he first arrived in Kansas City three months ago coming off some miserable seasons with Chip Kelly, known for his offensive system but apparently not so much for his quarterback coaching. Foles has done a lot of post-practice work with head coach Andy Reid and co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, doing “slide” drills where they’d watch him repeatedly drop back into an imaginary pocket for ten minutes and harp on his feet.
“A lot of it was balance, you know?” Nagy said. “The ball was up here and your balance is off, your feet are wide … you just want to get the balance nice and controlled — smooth — and that will calm everything down.”
Foles's improvement demonstrates that getting a franchise quarterback for your team is only half the battle. You have to have the coaching to develop that quarterback into something as well.
In any case, though head coach Andy Reid has said that Smith is the starter when he's recovered, one never knows what will happen. It's a situation that's worth keeping an eye on.
6. Speaking of franchise quarterback coaches, a pretty good one was fired last week. Greg Olson was let go from the Jacksonville Jaguars during their bye week. He may not be much of an offensive coordinator but he's a heck of a position coach and I'd expect him to be in demand next year.
In the meantime, Blake Bortles brought in his personal passing coach, Adam Dedeaux, to help him fix his awful mechanics on Monday and Tuesday. Two days isn't likely to do a lot of good but it will be interesting to follow Bortles's trajectory to see if he can pull out of his funk over the course of the rest of the season.
The gut feeling here is that he won't and that he's going to need a full offseason of dedicated work with somebody to get things straight. In the meantime, Olson appears to be the fall guy.
7. Speaking of byes, the Patriots started theirs this week and I thought it was interesting that despite being generally considered to be the only really dominant team in the NFL this year, they don’t appear to be satisfied.
What the Pats have been doing is clearly working. They went 3-1 without Tom Brady once he returned from his four-game suspension, he went on to be named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month. Brady has been unbelievable the past four weeks, completing 73.1 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Despite relying heavily on Brady's arm (as well they should), LeGarrette Blount is fifth in the NFL with 609 rushing yards and second with nine touchdowns.
Nevertheless, Josh McDaniels plans to spend the break working to make things better. McDaniels called football “an imperfect game” and there is plenty for the team to clean up, most notably fumbling 15 times, second-most in the league to San Diego’s 17.
“Whether it is penalties or taking care of the football — we put the ball on the ground too many times already in the first half of the season — those types of things are factors you want to improve on,” he said.
“The thing I enjoy the most about our team offensively is the way they come in to work each day. We couldn’t ask for more,” McDaniels said. “They have a great attitude, a great mindset, they’re excited to be there, they work well together, they really love each other in terms of the relationships that we have in our room, which means a lot because it’s a lot easier to work with guys you appreciate and like than the other thing.”
It’s hard not to compare McDaniels' attitude to what I could gather from the thoughts of the Dolphins coaches during their bye week. Though I wouldn't claim that they were satisfied with their first half season, there was definitely a feeling that they'd found their formula for winning in the weeks leading up to the break and there was a lot less emphasis on the glaring deficiencies that still exist on the team.
Perhaps that's natural in a 4-4 team with an easy remaining schedule that is trying to convince its players and its fans that the best is ahead. But I would have been a lot happier to have heard more about the need to improve than about how great things are going heading into the second half of the season.
8. And one area I'd definitely like to see improved is defensive end. In particular, the excuse making for and from Mario Williams makes me sick.
First he underperformed because Rex Ryan played him out of position at rush linebacker. So he comes to Miami to be the starting defensive end and he under-performs. So then it's because they aren't covering well on the back end and he's got no time to get to the quarterback.
So what is it now?
Well, apparently playing a full 60 minutes of football is too much for old man Williams.
“When Mario was a young guy, he was a freak,” said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. “So he was a young guy and he could go at 60 percent and still be better than most. He's no longer that 23-year-old first pick of the draft. He's a little older now so he's got to work a little more. And that's okay.
“So I think Mario understands now that playing 30 plays at 100 percent he helps us win versus 55 plays at 50 percent. So Mario playing less but playing harder helps us win. Sometimes you can't play that hard for 50 plays at a certain stage of your career.”
Right. Williams did not appear on the stat sheet for the game against the Jets. So now what happens when he isn't playing hard for those 30 plays. More excuses?
9. In the meantime, 34-year old Cameron Wake takes over for the now apparently decrepit (and younger) Williams. Though Wake is playing wonderfully (it would be hard to understate his role in stopping everything that came his way Sunday or how important the pressure he brought from the outside was), I'm sure that the Dolphins would prefer not to have to put him on the field as much.
The reasoning is simple. At Wake's age, despite the fact that he's not showing it, you have to figure that his body has only so many snaps left in it. The Dolphins would like for those to come in high impact, passing situations where he can make the most of them. But instead they're having to spend them to make up for Williams' failure to produce.
Through what even Dolphins coaches are admitting is sheer lack of effort, Williams is wasting the last couple years of Wake's career with snaps that he'll never be able to get back. Perhaps he should have to pay for Wake's first year or two of retirement when it comes.
10. So what about the guy that Williams was supposed to replace in the lineup? Well, Olivier Vernon is feeling pretty "ticked off" recently.
It seems Vernon has been frustrated as he has been limited by a wrist injury through the Giants’ first seven games. So he's been whining and using that as an excuse, right?
Hmmmm. Not so much.
“Well, you know,” Vernon told the New York Daily News on Thursday, “when you’re set on playing a certain way and you’re hindered a little bit, (you’re) gonna be ticked off, you know? But there ain’t no excuses, man. It’s about just getting back right and going out there with my teammates and trying to get wins.”
I know it was ridiculously expensive to keep the home grown and home-developed Vernon. But you have to wonder, was it really better to go the cheap route and sign a weak-minded mercenary who is only half a player who can only play half a game for about half the money?
10a. This, the second of two divisional wins at home, was a big one for the Dolphins. Now we get to see if they can continue their recent winning ways on the road against the San Diego Chargers. The team has been fun to watch and will continue to be as long as the health of that offensive line holds. We shall see how far they can take it. With a mediocre and very flawed AFC, anything can happen.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
The Dolphins pulled off an impressive home victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Here are ten thoughts on them and on the NFL to follow up on the game:
1. The Dolphins also turned in a very good game last week in a big win against the Steelers. But how much of it was a miserable performance by the Pittsburgh? The Steelers looked like they were moving in slow motion in what was a very sloppy game for them. It seems likely that the Steelers took that game too lightly and they got caught looking forward towards their next game against the New England Patriots this week.
The last time the Steelers were badly beaten this season was 34-3 by Philadelphia. The Eagles had lost their last two contests since coming into today’s game.
The Bills were generally accepted to be a foe who is less likely to let down this week. They’d won four in a row after an 0-2 start. But it’s worth remembering that the last three wins came come against quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett (New England), Case Keenum (Rams) and Colin Kaepernick (49ers) at quarterback.
Having said that, this game was pivotal in proving the Dolphins hopes that they actually found a formula for consistently competing effectively or, on the other hand, proving that they are still the AFC East doormats. Happily they repeated their performance against Pittsburgh, effectively proving that they may, indeed, be more competitive than their performances earlier in the season may have indicated.
This game goes a long way towards convincing fans and media that the team is for real.
2. What's particularly impressive was the way that the Dolphins dominated the line of scrimmage. As always Jay Ajayi ran extremely hard 28 times for 214 yards and an impressive 7.4 yards per carry. Though Jermon Bushrod, Ja'Wuan James, Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil all had some occasional struggles in protection, the offensive line generally dominated the line of scrimmage.
The nice job that the Dolphins did running the ball resulted in a large difference in time of possession (37:02 - 22:58), giving the defense a break that kept them fresh to hold up their end of this bargain. On the other hand, the Buffalo defense wore down a bit as the game moved on and as the Dolphins offensive line continually pushed them around.
Perhaps what was most surprising to me was that, despite another 200 yard effort from Ajayi last week, the Bills didn't appear to respect the Miami running game at the start of the contest, sometimes keeping the box light, perhaps not wanting to expose their defensive backs. Whatever the reason, it worked in the Dolphins favor as this aspect of the game was impressive.
3. The defensive front seven looked very good this game as the defense did a wonderful job of stopping the run. The linebackers looked aggressive and were generally playing downhill and the defensive linemen were penetrating to stop the run. At 34 years young, Cameron Wake is everything he's been in the past and looked particularly good getting pressure on Tyrod Taylor with 1.5 sacks on the game. Ndamukong Suh also came alive in the second half despite (as usual) seeing consistent double teams. A nice effort all around.
There's no doubt about it. The Dolphins are running the ball and stopping the run. There's not a better formula for success.
4. Marcus Mariota ran wild on the Dolphins when the Titans played Miami earlier in the month, losing 30-17. Mariota had 60 yards rushing on seven carries.
So the Dolphins knew that stopping mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor had to be a priority. Taylor had 236 rushing yards and 6.9 yards per attempt coming into Sunday's game. He also throws very well on the run and he looked good when Buffalo rolled him out, something they did frequently Sunday.
The Dolphins knew going in that they needed to rush the passer with discipline to contain Taylor without flushing him from the pocket.
"He's popped on a bunch of third-and-longs, and he's run for first downs," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "We can't have that. It's too hard to get into third down with this team."
So it was nice to see the Dolphins do at least a decent job of keeping Taylor in the pocket today. Taylor was limited to 35 yards and much of that came on a planned run into the end zone in the second quarter. That needs to continue to carry over as the Dolphins progress during the season.
5. It was a rough start to this game for special teams after allowing a 35 yard punt return that set up the Bills first field goal. That was followed by a blocked punt.
Combined with some rough moments in the form of blocked field goals leading up to this game, the special teams will be an area that Dolphins fans should look to for some improvement in the coming weeks.
6. This game wouldn't have been close had the Dolphins not continually shot themselves in the foot with penalties, especially early in the game. In all they had an inexcusable 13 for 116 yards including seven in the first quarter. That also has to be cleaned up.
7. Bills head coach Rex Ryan was relatively tame in his comments on Ex-Bills pass rusher and current Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams this week, obviously not trying to rile Williams up.
"Mario has been an outstanding player in this league for a long time. I don't think I've said anything critical about Mario ever. In fact, I would take you to task on it. He might have felt differently here, but that's OK. If he's motivated to play well against us, I would expect him to. You're playing a divisional game, and I expect him to be very motivated, just like we'll be."
Something tells me Williams was motivated very well. Ryan wasn't quite so complimentary in an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this summer after Williams blamed his poor play with the Bills on being asked to drop into coverage as a linebacker.
"He's a good kid, but I am used to some mean [expletive] that play out there. The Terrell Suggs, Jarrett Johnsons of the world. I screwed them, too? I had them drop [into coverage], too. Not one of them bitched," Ryan said. "Von Miller [dropped into coverage] in the Super Bowl. Why? Because that's what's asked of him; that's what his job is. Your job is to play. Coaches spend a hell of a lot more time studying tape and everything else. They are trying to put the team in the best position to be successful, not an individual."
Anyone who has read anything that I have written about Williams knows that I agree with Ryan. However, that may be, if Williams was ever going to perform as a Dolphin, it was going to be this week when playing his old team. To his credit, Williams did make an impact, having a sack and occasionally getting some good pressure on Taylor in the second half. We will see how far that carries over into the future as well.
8. Of interest was whether Dolphins kicker Andrew Franks improved his technique this week. Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said that Franks, who has had two field goals blocked this season (24 and 27 yards) and also missed from 50 yards, has had some things to work on.
“We believe a lot in our guy. He knows he’s got to make those shorter field goals and fix the problem and elevate the ball more on those shorter field goals. He’s got to get that corrected. The two field goal blocks we had this year were not the protection.”
Franks has a tremendous leg and there's no reason for him to have to drive the ball low through the uprights even from relatively long distances. To my eye he did better this game and did not have a kick blocked as a result.
9. Also of interest was the situation of Bills running back LeSean McCoy. On Thursday, ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that McCoy wouldn't play on Sunday. However, McCoy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus disputed the report saying that McCoy would be a game time decision.
His contention seemed to be born out as McCoy practiced on a limited basis on Friday, indicating at least some possibility that he would be ready by Sunday. In the end McCoy played though he was not particularly effective carrying the ball eight times for only 11 yards before leaving in the third quarter with the bad hamstring.
The situation is a good example of the poor state of sports journalism, particularly as it relates to the NFL. More and more, reporters care about being first over getting the report right and the advent of Twitter, where such reports can be made instantly available with no time for second thoughts or correction, has only made the situation worse.
More and more, the average football fan in search of good concrete information finds him - or herself abandoning national sources of TV and Internet news in favor of local newspaper reporting where at least some integrity appears to have been maintained. For now.
10. The Minnesota Vikings, who entered Sunday's games as the league's only undefeated team, are the talk of the league. Minnesota has a wonderful, aggressive defense and it has the capability to continue to carry the team far this year. They have an excellent coaching staff and head coach Mike Zimmer is proving to be one of the best in the league.
But the Vikings have a problem and it’s the same one that exposed them last year whenever they played any team outside of the NFC North that was any good. Their offensive line continues to stink despite moves in the offseason to bring it up to standard. That continued on Sunday in an awful 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with one of the worst offensive performances I've seen all year by a team with a healthy starting quarterback.
Tackle Andre Smith was acquired in the offseason and it was hoped that he would stabilize the right side of the line. He was put on injured reserve two weeks ago after underperforming for the first four weeks. Left tackle T.J. Clemmings has struggled and he has now moved back to the right side to replace Smith.
Dolphins fans will be familiar with former first round pick Jake Long, who the Vikings have desperately signed to help fill the hole on the other side. In all, six weeks into the season Joe Berger is the only one of the Vikings' five opening day starters not to miss time because of injury.
The Vikings had amongst the easiest schedules in the league entering the season and the guess here is that they will continue to win despite their travails on the offensive line. But last year, the Vikings were sunk in the playoffs by poor line performance once the played a really good team in the Arizona Cardinals. The guess here is that they are already well on their way to something similar no matter what their record will be.
10a. I took note of a recent story in the New York Post where former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said that he still thought he could be a head coach.
“Well, we’ll see about that,” Coughlin said when asked if he’s still seeking a coaching job. “One day at a time. I hope I can make an impact in the job that I’m in. That’s why I’m in that position (NFL’s senior advisor to football operations)."
Like brilliant 79 year old Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, I think Coughlin could make a pretty good offensive coordinator. But at 70 years old, I can't see another team hiring him as a head coach.
10b. Former Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans is suing the Texans and the NFL for making him play on a poor field in Houston that led to a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2014. Jadeveon Clowney told teammates that his early season knee injury that year, which required arthroscopic surgery, came after he landed on a "hole" in the turf. After Kansas City complained about the turf, the Texans abruptly abandoned their grass-based field system after only one home game last year.
Personally I doubt that this lawsuit has much of a chance but it will be interesting to follow it. If it's successful, it could open a Pandora's box for the NFL as a whole. There are a lot of poor fields around the league, most notably in Pittsburgh and in Chicago, especially late in the season when it virtually impossible to grow grass. Players are split as to whether the grass is better than turf in such locations but there's no denying that the field is a danger to the players.
The NFL could be dealing with a lot of trouble if the suit actually succeeds. Stay tuned.
10c. The Super Bowl runners up Carolina Panthers have crashed down to earth this season as they have started the year at 1-5 going into their bye on Sunday. If you are wondering how this happened, the lack of a pass rush is a huge reason for their problems.
Carolina has 11 sacks through five games after posting 44 in the 2015 regular season. Reserve safety, Tre Boston, leads the team in sacks with two. Reserve defensive tackle Kyle Love – who wasn’t even on the team until recently – is second at 1.5. Particularly problematic are Kony Ealy and Charles Johnson who both have zero sacks.
In order to make up for the deficit, Carolina has had to blitz frequently, exposing a young secondary that is without Josh Norman, who left for the Redskins in free agency.
With things not going Carolina's way, you have to wonder if and when its going to have an effect on quarterback Cam Newton. Newton's attitude after the Super Bowl loss last season wasn’t an aberration. Former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith had to spend some time with Newton early in his career telling him to stop sulking on the bench every time the team struggled. He appear to have not adjusted his attitude since and it will be an interesting situation to monitor.
10d. Next up for the Dolphins are the New York Jets who came away with a 24-16 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday. The Jets have struggled with quarterback problems as Ryan Fitzpatrick has under-performed since re-signing with the team late in the offseason. He was replaced by Geno Smith as the starter, who subsequently injured his knee in the second quarter and left the game.
Fitzpatrick had a decent game and provided a spark in the win. But whoever starts, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a struggling team that the Dolphins can take advantage of at home next week to get back to 0.500 for the season.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
The Miami Dolphins pulled off a dominant performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and fans are likely feeling a lot better about their team now than they were before the game. Here are ten thoughts after the victory.
1. The offensive line did a superb job of protecting Ryan Tannehill. But where they particularly excelled was in blocking the run as they dominated the line of scrimmage. Jay Ajayi (25 carries for 204 yards and 8.2 yards per carry) ran hard as usual and he had a great day.
The Dolphins had particularly good success attacking the edges early in this game, especially to the right. They may have been taking advantage of an apparent lack of speed on the Pittsburgh defense, particularly at linebacker where injuries have depleted the position.
In any case I agree with most analysts and fans. The Dolphins need to run the ball to win. It was a big part of their victory Sunday in a great effort.
2. For those who were disappointed that there wasn't more of Arian Foster in this game, I don’t think anyone should be too surprised. Head coach Adam Gase almost certainly held Foster back a bit coming off of his injury but that's not the entire explanation.
This is the way the Dolphins want to use Arian Foster and it has been since they signed him. They don't want him carrying the load the way that Ajayi did Sunday. They want to just bring him in for the occasional series to use him, particularly in the passing game. This is where he excels, not hauling the rock on the ground 20 times where he's averaging less than three yards per carry coming off of a ruptured Achilles tendon.
I think we can expect to see Foster a bit more in the future. But don’t hold your breath if you are expecting him to be the primary runner this season unless it becomes absolutely necessary (again).
3. Like their cohorts on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive line dominated most of this game when that side of the ball was on the field. The pass rush was particularly good and that, of course, helped the defensive backs who looked much better today, especially Byron Maxwell, who was allowed to play more press coverage than usual. The Dolphins allowed only 169 yards passing for only 4.6 yards per catch.
Cameron Wake has still got it and he had a good game Sunday. Even the much criticized (by me anyway) Jordan Phillips got into the act forcing Ben Roethlisberger out of the pocket on his first interception.
In fact, the only player who that didn’t join in the fun was Mario Williams who once again barely showed up in the stat sheet with no sacks and only one tackle. I think we can officially classify that signing and all of the high hopes and excuses that came with it as a bust. More on that below.
4. This was a high effort game for the Dolphins. The defensive line was very active but what stood out to tell the tale was the blocking downfield by, for instance, wide receiver Kenny Stills. This factor more often than not is a good indication that a team is giving it everything they have. It was a nice team effort.
Having said that, I have to wonder why Gase was forced to push these players so hard to get them to give their all in an NFL game. See below for that also.
5. Having said all of that I must state that the Pittsburgh Steelers played about as poor of a game as I've ever seen them play on Sunday. It seemed at times as if they made almost every mistake that you can make.
The Steelers occasionally looked like they were moving in slow motion and they uncharacteristically missed some big plays. A Ryan Tannehill interception was dropped early in the game was typical. There were also a number of drops from and miscommunications with receivers and they made a number of mistakes in coverage that gave the Dolphins a number of big plays.
Both teams committed too many penalties, but though the Dolphins six for 65 yards was bad, the Steelers eight for 95 was simply unacceptable for any team that usually competes at the highest level.
The two interceptions from Ben Roethlisberger were also very uncharacteristic and even when he wasn't under pressure Roethlisberger was pretty inaccurate all day. It could have been the knee that kept him out of the game late in the first half but he wasn't favoring it in any way that I could see and I didn't think he was throwing well even before that.
Kudos to the Dolphins for taking advantage but you have to wonder if the Steelers didn't take this game too lightly and if they got caught looking forward towards their next game against the New England Patriots.
6. Things are never perfect in the NFL for anyone. Players have to adapt to their changing environment or perish on almost all good NFL teams.
With that in mind, even in the face of a generally fine performance by Ryan Tannehill (24 for 32 for 252 yards) against the Steelers I found quotes from Gase last week defending him to be mildly disappointing.
“When we have 18 dropback passes and he’s hit or sacked on nine of them, and completions we do have he has got guys in his face, I’m supposed to blame him for that?” Gase said. “I’m calling the plays. I know what it’s supposed to look like and it’s not looking like that right now as far as what’s going on around him."
The best quarterbacks in the NFL, those in the top ten, don't let poor protection stop them from being good. This year the prime example is Andrew Luck, who has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league and yet still manages to perform like the top ten quarterback that he is.
I'm not saying that Ryan Tannehill needs to be great. But he needs to perform like a quarterback who belongs in the top third of the league even under adverse circumstances. Because no matter who you are, there will always be adversity that needs to be overcome.
Sure Tannehill performed better with better performance from a healthy offensive line. Of course he did. But how often is that going to happen? How often can any reasonable team expect it to happen?
The truth is that a healthy offensive line won't make Tannehill a better quarterback. And Gase's attitude isn't helping.
Gase is a head coach now and he can't be making excuses for his players. That just encourages them to make excuses for themselves, something no NFL player can do. And once they do start doing that, you're sunk.
7. On a related topic, I note that Gase guaranteed Tannehill his job through the end of the season last week. Members of the media defended this decision as the "intelligent approach."
Guaranteeing a season after game 5? I'm not so sure.
I know that the Dolphins have a decision to make about Tannehill. But I think you can make a decision quicker than that about his future. And once you do, you owe it to the franchise to look and see what else you've got.
Perhaps you know what you have in Matt Moore and perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you'd like to get a look at Brandon Doughty. Whatever it is, playing Tannehill all year is not something you want to be cornered into this early.
8. Along with many members of the media, quarterback Ryan Tannehill thinks that Gase sent a message to the team by releasing Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas last week.
"I think it sends a pretty clear message," Tannehill said. "Obviously, it's a tough part of the business. [They are] guys that you spend a lot of time with – good people – but it sends a message to everyone on this team that, 'You've got to get your job done, or we're going to find somebody who can.'"
True the team played hard on Sunday. But the message I got was a little different from what the players may have heard. Here's what I heard:
"Even after each of these players finished the year in miserable fashion in 2015, our coaching staff and our front office still managed to totally misevaluate them. Now we're releasing them in the desperate hope that guys we pick up off the scrap heap and off of our practice squad will be better. Help."
Gase, of course, seems to have totally missed the point.
“A lot of times everybody thinks it’s really easy to just say, ‘Hey, let’s go grab this guy,’” Gase said.
“I mean, who’s out there? We’ve got a list of guys that we’re always tracking and evaluating. This is part of our evaluation process. At the time, that’s where we were at. That was the roster we went with and we decided to make a change.”
Nobody cares about now. We already know it's too late now. The point is, where was everybody in March when the correct decisions really needed to be made about this roster? Where were they in September when the final roster was set? When Gase can answer those questions, he'll know where the roots of his problems lie. And it's not with questions from the media.
9. And what is the root of Gase's problems? Media analyst Louis Riddick obviously thinks he knows the answer as he went off on an epic rant on the Dolphins last week.
“When it comes to some of these teams and some of the way they flop around out there and put out inept performances, it’s frustrating and annoying to watch, seeing the league recycle the same names who haven’t proven they can build [expletive].”
“There are people who deserve opportunities to build teams and organizations that owners would never consider, because they wouldn’t even know what to consider.
“With the Dolphins, there is a lot of blame to go around. It’s frustrating because there are no excuses in the NFL. The league is built for everyone to have a shot. To have such a long sustained mediocrity, you have deep rooted issues.
“If I am Stephen Ross trying to figure out why we look like crap, I am asking the question, ‘How can we look like this? What the hell is going on?’ And then make the decision about whether we have right people. Right now, they’re not even competitive. Gase said they’re inept on offense – to get the ball run on you like that, with the money they have invested on the defensive line, it’s gross. Someone has to be held accountable.”
It's fairly obvious to me that Riddick has someone particular in mind when he talks about recycling "the same names who haven’t proven they can build [expletive]" and "people who deserve opportunities to build teams" not getting a chance.
He's aiming squarely for Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum.
Tannenbaum heads a front office that is driven by politics, one that has built a roster in the worst possible way - through free agency and veteran trades. Signing risky veteran after risky veteran, Tannenbaum has hit on roughly half of them with absolutely no one behind them in terms of depth to make up for the deficit.
It’s a shallow roster that has no chance to compete unless it's almost completely healthy. And is it any wonder that free agent mercenaries and players that other teams didn't want have to be pushed to simply put forth an NFL level of effort?
Even coming off of a big win Sunday, it doesn't take away from the fact that the Dolphins need to rebuild - should be rebuilding already by playing as many young players as humanly possible. In my mind there's little question about that any more. The real question is whether they have the right people in place to find that talent and develop it? I have my doubts.
10. I'm finding it to be interesting as I listen to the expert evaluation of the top teams around the league that there is a flat refusal to understand what's happening in Green Bay. Media gurus continue to slobber over the Packers as one of the three best teams in the NFC even as their offense continues to under-perform and Aaron Rodgers continues to look miserable.
Many seem to want to blame the lack of talent at wide receiver. The "separation problem" started last season, when Jordy Nelson was out all year because of a knee injury and, in theory, receivers struggled to win one-on-one matchups.
But to my eye, the receiver talent looks no different this year than it has in the past in Green Bay, especially with Nelson healthy and back on the field. Rodgers' completion percentage was 60.7% in 2015, his lowest mark since 2008. This year that has continued.
Rodgers has been off-target on more throws -- short and long -- this season. According to ESPN Stats & Info, going into Sunday's game against the Cowboys he had underthrown or overthrown a pass for an incompletion on 24 percent of his attempts this season compared to 17 percent from 2008-15. He entered this week’s games ranked dead last in the NFL in completion percentage (56.1) among starters, and the Packers’ passing game was only 27th in the league.
For over a year now, Rodgers has looked hesitant in the pocket, not getting rid of the ball quickly and decisively and throwing with anticipation to his receivers. Often this has less to do with the talent and more to do with the lack of confidence in those around the quarterback. And that appears to be Rodgers' problem.
The Packers had another miserable offensive game against the Cowboys, scoring a discombobulated 16 points and I was amused when Dan Patrick said while showing the replays on Football Night in America that Rogers had an "off day." He's beyond that and well on his way to a second "off year." And you now have to wonder if its ever going to stop.
If the Packers offense is going to turn it around, their best opportunity comes against the miserable Chicago Bears this Thursday night. But if it doesn’t happen then…
10a. Speaking of the Bears, many have noted that the NFL television ratings are down 10% compared to last year. The most common explanation that's given is the election for president, which engrosses at least a certain segment of the superficial fan base.
But if you ask me, the NFL needs to take a serious look at the nationally televised games that its allowing the networks to put on to represent their league.
Case in point: As noted about, this Thursday we will be treated to the 1-7 Bears on Thursday Night football. The next week we get them on Monday night against the Vikings. That's after they were on primetime two weeks in a row earlier in the season.
Election or not, do you really expect most of the nation to tune in to watch that hot garbage?
If this continues, the NFL owners will have to give money back to the networks. And even if you think many of them don't care about anything beyond what is immediately landing in their pockets, including the image of the league, if this continues beyond Election Day and into December, I think the odds are they'll do something about it.
10b. Cardinals offensive guard Evan Mathis was put on injured reserve on October 9 shelving him for at least 8 weeks and possibly the rest of the season. What does Mathis say about the possibility of playing another year?
“I’m only going to play if someone lets me be a third down pass rusher.”
So, that's a maybe?
10c. Next up the Buffalo Bills, an up and down team from which you can never quite tell what to expect. The Bills are a streaky team that has now won four in a row after losing their first two.
The Bills could come in and continue to be red hot. But some would say that they're due for an off game and the Dolphins have now shown that if they do and if the Dolphins can avoid a letdown themselves after a particularly high effort game, they can and should take advantage of it.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
Here are ten thoughts after the extremely disappointing Dolphins loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
1. Fans all over the country are mourning the loss of any hope that this might be a playoff team after this devastating 30-17 beat down of the Dolphins. This, the first and easiest of four straight home games, was a must win for this team if it was going to maintain any hope of competing for a playoff spot in the AFC East division.
Not only did they lose it but they lost in devastating fashion at home to a team that is very inferior to most of the NFL. Now, combined with the near loss to the Browns two weeks ago, Dolphins fans are being forced to the realization that this is not a good football team.
I've commented on this before but the disappointment of fans and media members over this is largely the fault of the team. The Dolphins set high expectations going into this season when many, including myself, understood how highly unlikely it was that they would compete in such a division. National media members with, perhaps, a more clear vision of what the team was up against, consistently picked the Dolphins to place last in the division and it looks like they had a good handle on it after five games.
Had the team more realistically billed this as a rebuilding year that was about the development of young players like Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins fans would now have more to look forward to. As it is, it is well on its way to being a lost season.
2. What may be most disconcerting was the fact that the Dolphins, led by Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum, so badly misjudged the talent on this team. Tannenbaum went out bargain hunting in free agency and in the trade market last offseason, taking risks on players such as Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams and Arian Foster.
Arguably Alonso has been adequate and Foster, though he's been poor in yards per carry, can certainly still do damage in the passing game. But Maxwell and Williams have both been failures, a winning percentage that should not be surprising under the circumstances.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the Dolphins have no depth behind them (or anyone else) on the roster. Draft picks and younger, developing players that would be picking up the slack on good teams around the league either don't exist or are failing on the Dolphins.
Add that to the decision to go with players who already showed themselves to be miserable substitutes last year like Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, and you've got a poorly built, flawed roster largely put together by an executive who knows how to sign players that he's heard of and who have been good in the distant past, but who knows little or nothing else about scouting or personnel.
3. I'm only stating the obvious but the Dolphins knew that the key to this game defensively was stopping the run. They did not do that, allowing 235 yards rushing on 41 carries for an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
As was frequently the case last year, the Titans gained much (though not all) of their yardage by running away from Ndamukong Suh and over Jordan Phillips, who was dominated at the line of scrimmage, as well as whoever the end was on that side, usually Terrence Fede or Andre Branch.
What really makes this bad is that the Dolphins even stacked the box with eight men at times to stop the Titans and still couldn't do it. The Dolphins flat out got dominated at the line of scrimmage.
4. Also disturbing was the total lack of a pass rush on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Dolphins defensive line, which was supposed to be the strength of the team, really let them down as they had zero sacks on what has been a struggling Titans offensive line.
Mariota also deserves some credit as he did a good job of avoiding the rush. His mobility is underrated and the Dolphins need to do a better job of keeping quarterbacks like him in the pocket. The fact that they seemed unprepared for it and didn't do much during the game to try to contain Mariota might be another indication of the inexperience the Dolphins have in first year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
The poor pass rush exposed the Miami defensive backfield. The defensive backs spread the blame around as Byron Maxwell burned for second touchdown in the second quarter. So did Michael Thomas. Tony Lippett lost Rishard Matthews in the end zone to give the Titans their final touchdown. Altogether it was a poor defensive outing.
5. Speaking of the poor pass rush, I notice that Mario Williams has a new excuse.
Last year Williams blamed Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan for his poor performance last season, claiming that Ryan played him out of position at outside linebacker.
Well, this year he's back at defensive end for the Dolphins. How's that going for you, Mario?
“... If we can get guys to hold the ball a little longer,” William said of the sacks. “The ball's coming out pretty quick.
Ah. So it’s the defensive back's fault now. I see.
Through five games, Williams has recorded seven tackles (including just two for loss), three quarterback hits and one little sack. He did not appear on the stat sheet at all on Sunday.
Yes, the ball is coming out fast. But Williams knows as well as anyone that's true around the NFL nowadays. Defensive linemen still manage to perform despite that, through talent and determination. There is an old saying that has been passed around the NFL for decades: "There are a thousand reasons for failure, but not a single excuse." It’s getting late for Mario Williams to learn that lesson but he needs to do so.
6. Also interesting was how often the Titans attacked the edges in the passing game to their running backs. This was apparently an effort to take advantage of mismatches with the Dolphins linebackers and it seemed to work reasonably well for much of the game.
Though much of the blame for this loss lies with the defensive line, letting the linebackers off the hook would be a mistake. It’s another area where there is an apparent dirth of talent and it showed Sunday.
7. Ryan Tannehill was under siege all game as the Dolphins patchwork offensive line with Dallas Thomas at left guard and Billy Turner at left tackle struggled to protect him. Ja'Wuan James also had a terrible game, allowing two sacks by himself. Tannehill was sacked six times.
In fairness, most of those sacks came where Tannehill had time to do little more than drop back. But not all of them did. Tannehill's lack of pocket presence and awareness definitely didn't help his offensive line nor did his apparent penchant for occasionally holding the ball too long.
One of the things that Tannehill absolutely must do in these situations is read the defense and get rid of the ball quicker. That's always the case but particularly when the offensive line is shaky. Tannehill was criticized in training camp for holding the ball too long and he needs to overcome that problem if the Dolphins are going to succeed.
8. Damien Williams much be taking lessons from Arian Foster on how to catch a pass and run with it. He has some really nice receptions and you wonder if that won't be a route to more playing time.
9. I was very amused last week when reports started to appear claiming that the Dolphins' lack of fight was the biggest concern for the team. Anybody remember when media members were lauding the Dolphins for drafting "alpha personalities" last May? Some of us questioned it then and I'm still questioning it now.
10. Also somewhat amusing was the message sent by the team last week after the team's loss to the Bengals. Suddenly the Dolphins are preaching patience.
"Right now, we haven't met what we were expecting to happen," head coach Adam Gase said Friday after the game. "Obviously, we have a lot of time to fix the things, make some adjustments."
What happened to "angry Gase," the fiery head coach who was going to bench the whole team if they didn't start winning? All of a sudden it's, "we've got plenty of time to correct this and we will."
Gase is a first time head coach who is learning a lot of lessons right now. One of them should be that he needs to be the same guy every week. And that guy should be the voice of reason who is going to make players play harder for him by convincing them that he's going to help them be better and by sending subtle messages to the team through his actions here and there. It's really the only way I've ever seen it work on a consistent basis for any period of time.
10a. Some mild uproar was raised in Chicago last week as a fan who ran out on the field during a Bears game wearing a gorilla suit and a t-shirt with a protest logo on it was arrested. The bail of $250,000 was considered by some to be excessive.
I'm all for the right to free speech and protest. But you have to be smart about your method for doing so. Running out on the field is not only can result in a dangerous situation for both participants and fans and as an interested viewer I definitely don't want to see protesters trying it every game.
As far as I'm concerned, the more strongly such behavior is discouraged, the better.
10b. Jeff Fisher is 3-2 this season as head coach of the LA Rams and after a reasonable start it appears that his team is on the way back to the .500 mark.
Fisher's MO is that he gets the team very high for divisional games. The problem is that getting the players too high for those games leads them to let down against teams outside the division. Fisher's record against divisional opponents since 2012 is almost 0.500 but against non-divisional foes it drops to 15-24 with one tie.
Hence big wins early in the season against the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. But we've yet to see them try to sustain it against teams that they should be able to beat outside the division. Whether his team rises or falls this year will depend upon how Fisher and his players handle those games, something they've done a poor job of in the past.
10c. The Arizona Cardinals are 2-3 and after a poorly played win on Thursday night against the hapless 49ers they appear to be rapidly regressing after an excellent year last season.
The Cardinals were the toast of the NFL after going deep into the playoffs last year under head coach Bruce Arians. Arians' bravado and forthrightness makes him well respected by members of the media and the team even had a special series produced by Amazon.com about them in the offseason.
Now it looks like the team is falling back down to earth a bit. The now injured Carson Palmer hasn' t looked like the same quarterback he was last year and he seems to be continuing this year the way he left off in the playoffs last year, a 49-15 loss to the Panthers in which he looked like he allowed the pressure of the game to get to him.
Fans around the league love Arians and he's ridden a wave of kudos. But now is when he and his staff really have the opportunity to show who they really are. Facing adversity, the question is whether they are good enough to pull the Cardinals out of their funk to finish a season well in which they started so poorly. The bet hereis that they do it. But the proof will be in the pudding.
10d. Next up the Pittsburgh Steelers and it’s not going to be any easier. The Steelers are 4-1 and have won two in a row beating some very good football teams in the Redskins and the Chiefs. This one could be ugly unless the Dolphins get a lot better very quickly.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
After another tough loss for Dolphins fans on Thursday Night to the Cincinnati Bengals, it has to be evident to even the most optimistic observer that the Dolphins are among the league’s worst football teams four games into the season. Here are ten thoughts coming off of the loss.
1. I’ll do something that not many people are doing this week and start off with a positive. The Dolphins much maligned run defense was excellent for most of the game. They had held the Bengals to just 42 yards on 18 carries for an average of 2.3 ypc in the first half. They finished the game with only 2.1 ypc. Particularly from halftime on the Dolphins defensive line dominated the run game, penetrating well into the backfield to disrupt the plays.
2. Which brings us to a related point. The disparity in time of possession in this game really told the story. The Dolphins held the ball for just 21:58 in the compared to the Bengals 38:02. When the disparity was 25:52 to 15:13 near the end of the third quarter, you had to figure that it was just a matter of time before the Dolphins defense finally wore down. But the truth is that, despite likely being very tired, they held up well to the end, their saving grace probably being that the Bengals had so little success running the ball.
3. The defense also deserves kudos for their red zone effort. Over and over the Bengals drove deep into Dolphins territory only to have the defense stiffen and allow a field goal instead of a touchdown. The defense couldn’t get off the field and they allowed the Bengals to keep the ball for far too much time. And the Bengals were obviously missing their best red zone target in tight end Tyler Eifert but give the Dolphins their due. Their effort in the crunch kept the team within striking distance far longer than they should have been.
4. Somewhat disturbing, though hardly surprising, was the way that the Bengals receivers had their way with a poor Dolphins defensive backfield. A.J. Green (10 catches, 173 yards) is going to get his catches no matter who covers him but C.J. Uzomah (4 catches, 45 yards) and Brandon LaFell (4 catches, 44 yards) both had big catches over the course of the game over Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett. The Bengals also attacked an ailing Dolphins linebacker corps with two of the three starters out by sending Giovanni Bernard out on routes for three big catches and 24 yards.
Lippett was starting over Byron Maxwell, who was demoted for his effort the previous weeks, and didn’t have a good game. Particularly bad was his missed tackle on A.J. Green allowing him to dance in for the Bengals only touchdown. In fairness to Lippett, there were a number of missed tackles over the course of the night from almost everyone on the field.
The coaching staff will likely be much maligned for starting Lippett as Maxwell, though a mediocre player, is still better than Lippett right now. But Lippett has youth on his side and the thinking may be that if they’re going to have average to below average play at the position, they might as well develop the younger draft pick for the future.
Whether Lippett is actually good enough to have a future as a starter is another issue for another day. For now, let’s just say that the decision to play Lippett wasn’t as bad as it may seem when put in perspective.
5. The Dolphins offense was, of course, a huge problem in this game. They struggled once again on third down (0 for 5 in the first half).
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill called the game “One of our worst performances” and I’d have to agree. The most disturbing aspect may be the fact that it wasn’t just one thing that was going wrong. Players were making mistakes all over the field. When this happens, it’s often a function of poor preparation and poor coaching. Players aren’t ready to play, mentally or physically.
This is particularly worrisome because Adam Gase tried to play tough guy last week, benching players like Maxwell and threatening others like Ja’Wuan James. The purpose was obviously to send a message that the team had to start concentrating and pick up their game after the problems that the team had against Cleveland last week.
This is the problem with hiring a first time head coach. Many of the veteran coaches around the league nowadays try to keep an even keel and not react too much to performances week-to-week. Whatever Gase was trying to accomplish, it didn’t work. So the question is, now what does he do?
6. Having said that, maybe now Gase should go ahead and bench James the first opportunity he gets not to be tough but simply because he’s not good enough. James struggled with Carlos Dunlap in pass protection and allowed a critical strip sack of Tannehill that allowed the Bengals to kick yet another field goal right before halftime.
Right now there are injuries along the offensive line that are bad enough to, amongst other things, push Laremy Tunsil from guard to left tackle (where he performed well, by the way). Gase probably can’t afford to bench James, the disappointing former first round pick right now. But he’s been underwhelming and it may be time to consider the possibility that he’s not the best player at the position when everyone is healthy.
7. The play of Billy Turner at left guard is another reason why benching James isn’t possible right now. Turner was man handled up the middle by Geno Atkins on some critical downs, sacking Tannehill almost before he had time to set up in the pocket.
Admittedly Turner wasn’t the first and will be far from the last lineman to struggle with Atkins. But the Dolphins are really going to have to think hard about moving on from Turner and Jamil Douglas after this year. If their performance late last year didn’t prove it, performances like this do. They aren’t good enough to compete to start and, therefore, aren’t good enough to be adequate backups.
8. The Dolphins didn’t run the ball badly (13 rushes for 64 yards, 4.8 ypc). But playing from behind, they didn’t get a chance to run it enough. Jay Ajayi had a particularly good game running the ball (5.5 ypc) and he caught both balls thrown his way.
But the passing game was disturbingly poor.
Many have attributed this failure in the passing game to the wide receivers not being able to get separation from the Bengals defensive backs and there’s little doubt that this was a factor. Many will also say that Tannehill didn’t get adequate protection but that’s not entirely true. The protection was sometimes very good, just inconsistent. Add this to Tannehill’s notoriously poor pocket presence leading to the strip sack near the end of the first half and the pass rush sometimes looked worse than it was.
Tannehill simply wasn’t sharp, dropping back and holding the ball rather than quickly getting rid of it as an Adam Gase offense would typically demand that you do. This might be attributed to the fact that the Bengals were doing a reasonably good job of disguising their coverages, especially early on.
We heard rumors all offseason that Tannehill was having a hard time getting up to speed on Gase’s offense, holding the ball significantly longer than, for instance, Matt Moore, in practice. You have to wonder if this apparent struggle with the Bengals backfield movement before the snap is a manifestation of that problem.
Either way, Tannehill is in a watershed year. Gase has to decide whether he is going to be the guy he stakes his head coaching career on. You have to doubt that he’s going to want to do that with a quarterback who can’t seem to put two good halves of football together. If Tannehill wants to be that guy, he’s going to have to be better and more consistent.
9. I was somewhat amused when Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christenson had this interesting observation after being asked about Tannehill’s 17-yard run in the fourth quarter against the Patriots. Tannehill lowered his head and bowled over a defender:
"I started holding my kidney and I said it's a reoccurring nightmare," he said.
Christensen is the former Indianapolis offensive coordinator who had the misfortune to have watched Andrew Luck sustain a kidney injury on a run.
I hear Dolphin fans say over and over again how foolish it is not to roll Tannehill out and have him throw on the run, where he is often more effective. How many times do they have to watch quarterbacks like Matt Moore sustain concussions before they realize that just can’t happen regularly in the NFL?
10. Rumblings are starting to be heard amongst fans and media as justifiable criticism of Mike Tannenbaum for the dearth of talent on the Dolphins roster that he has built. One of the things that has stuck out to me is the lack of turnover on the bottom of the Dolphins roster.
Front offices run by veteran personnel men are characterized by a constant search for young, undiscovered talent that might not fit one team or system but which might fit very well with what their teams want to do. For instance, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has worked over that roster in concert with coach Bruce Arians almost constantly churning the bottom of the roster. Keim comments on the matter are interesting.
“Ideally, what I would like to do is get in a situation where we are 48 to 49 strong in terms of our roster,” Keim said. “Then you are always trying to roll the back four or five players, trying to find the right mix because there are going to be guys that hit the waiver wire that you think upgrade your talent and you want to take shots with. You have to be active and aggressive because if you are not, you're going to miss out on some things. It doesn't hurt to bring guys in for a couple of weeks, give them a sniff and see what they can do.”
Tannenbaum isn’t a personnel man and doesn’t have this perspective. Indeed, his philosophy seems to be to find risky veteran guys who have done it before rather than trying to plumb the depths of undiscovered talent. The Dolphins have made no roster moves over the first month of the season that weren’t injury-related. Whether intended or not, the message being sent is that the roster is as good as its ever going to get right now. I leave it to Dolphins fans to judge whether they think that should be the case.
10a. Next up is the Tennessee Titans at noon a week from Sunday. The game is one of four straight home game at Hard Rock Stadium. If the Dolphins can’t get themselves right during this home stand, it’s probably never going to happen and they are in for a rough year the rest of the way out.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
1. After performing very well last week, the Miami defensive line crashed back down to earth against a much better New England offensive line. In particular, it was thought that Mario Williams, after performing very well against Seattle, would be a difference maker in this game if he recovered from a concussion in time.
But in the end, Williams disappeared and looked much more like the player that we saw during the preseason and during the season before that in 2015. If Williams got close to the quarterback in the first half, I didn’t see it. And he wasn’t alone by a long shot. Cameron Wake was nowhere to be seen most of the time and Jordan Phillips was Jordan Phillips.
Having said all of that, in fairness the Patriots did a very nice job, particularly in the first half, of limiting the Miami pass rush with quick passes that made it very hard to get to Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. But there were also ample opportunities where the Patriots threw deep and when they came, the defensive line had a very difficult time getting there.
It’s a long season and some ups and downs might be expected. But it’s reasonable to doubt that this unit is going to be better than it was last year, even with the presence of Ndamukong Suh.
2. Of interest to me was the Miami run defense which, statistically, wasn’t bad (4.2 yds per carry). However, the statistics are deceiving. The Patriots were frequently running on second and third and short and they had a disturbing habit of getting just enough for a first down, thus extending drives.
And LeGarrette Blount seemed to have an awful lot of nice carries while Brissett was adjusting to the game in the second and third quarter. Also somewhat concerning was the fact that Miami was once again unable to finish by stopping the Patriots from running off quite a bit of clock with six minutes left in the game and a difference of only seven points.
In any case, it’s no wonder that the first half time of possession was so lopsided with Miami having the ball only nine minutes to New England’s 21. The Patriots did a marvelous job of controlling the ball and the Dolphins defense is going to have to stiffen in such situations if they are going to get off the field while the game is still in hand.
3. Having said all of that, the biggest problems for the defense were in the backfield. They threw every type of coverage at the Patriots, who simply handled whatever came their way with aplomb. They found mismatches in man coverage (e.g. Kiko Alonso covering Martellus Bennett on the second Patriots touchdown) and it was evident that the Dolphins were under manned. When they blitzed, it got picked up and they got burned. When they dropped into zone, the receivers found every seam and soft spot.
Not a single defensive back played well, including, unfortunately, Xavien Howard, who at least has the excuse of being a rookie. Howard also had a hands to the face penalty that negated a Cameron Wake sack.
This seems to me to be the spot where the Dolphins must improve the most to compete with the NFL’s best. They need to be able to cover the Julian Edelman’s of the league or they’re simply going to struggle.
4. I’m going to cut the offense a break here. They really didn’t have much of a chance to get going in the first half in part because the defense simply couldn’t get off the field. It’s true that they didn’t take much advantage of the chances they got to do something with the ball and they flat out didn’t execute for most of the half. But their opportunities, especially in the first quarter, really were limited.
Arian Foster shared snaps with both Kenyan Drake and Jay Ajayi. We may see more and more of Drake as they get him work to try to develop him. I’ll give Ajayi credit, he looks to me like he’s trying to be more patient at times when he runs. He also managed to catch four passes (to my great surprise, Arian Foster had no receptions). Ajayi didn’t have much success in the end but who did?
It was somewhat surprising that last week’s second running back off the bench, Damien Williams, didn’t see the field.
Ryan Tannehill had a rough first half as well and wasn’t particularly accurate.
One positive was the offensive line, which I thought wasn’t bad in protection for most of the day. Unfortunately, they were the only thing that was really positive until the Patriots went to a much more conservative offense with a big lead and a rookie quarterback in the second half.
To their credit, the offense took advantage of that and Jarvis Landry (10 rec, 137 yds) in particular made a good day of it. The much maligned Jordan Cameron (5 rec, 49 yds, 1 TD) ended up having a reasonably good day as well (despite another drop). And DeVante Parker made some nice plays. But it was too little too late in the end.
5. There is, however, one negative aspect of the offensive performance that has to be emphasized. Again.
The Dolphins were concerned last week about their poor third down efficiency (three conversions of 13 attempts) and they claimed that one goal this week was to solve this issue. It looked to me like they had limited success.
The Dolphins were only 1 of 5 on third down in the first half as they fell behind big. I hesitate to suggest that they solved it in the second half (they finished with 5 of 10) because the Patriots held a big lead and though they showed some aggressive looks, the coverage was looser in the second half defensively.
This is an issue that will continue to be watched closely.
6. Another huge issue, was it so often is, was the Miami turnovers. The Dolphins lost the ball an unacceptable four times to the Patriots one. Fumbles by Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry hurt the Dolphins badly as did a Ryan Tannehill interception, the second might be forgiven as it came when Tannehill was trying to make a play to tie the game in the final minute.
Particularly damaging was the Landry fumble which came right after the Dolphins only recovery and, therefore, kept a desperate offense from taking advantage.
You aren’t going to win many games against good teams, especially good teams like the Patriots, if you don’t win the turnover battle.
7. Both teams should be upset over the number of penalties in this game. Miami’s statistics in this respect weren’t horrible (5 for 49 yds) but they can do better. New England head coach Bill Belichick, on the other hand, is likely to be more unhappy with his team’s stats. Seven penalties for 65 yds were unacceptable and were enough to be the potential difference between winning and losing in games where they are down to their third string quarterback.
I’m sure the Patriots will be spending some of the very precise time they have in this short week emphasizing that this needs to be cleaned up.
8. You had to figure that Martellus Bennett wasn’t going to be down with the Patriots offense for long. Bennett barely got the ball last week against Arizona and was used mostly to block. But he came alive on Sunday with 5 rec for 114 yds.
He’s not Rob Gronkowski, but he’s a tough match up nevertheless. When the Patriots get both of them on the field they’re going to be a nightmare.
9. Adam Gase has already faced a number of challenges as Dolphins head coach. He’s got a talented receiver in DeVante Parker who apparently doesn’t like to practice. Though I’ve frequently labeled him “Adam Sunshine” for his blindly positive comments to the media in the face of less than positive play from some of his players, Gase took the right track with Parker by calling him out publicly. Parker has responded well (verbally) to the jabs.
"Everything he said publicly he told me privately,'' Parker said. "It was good. He's showing he cares. He's telling me what I need to do to be better. I love it."
Similarly, when running back Jay Ajayi apparently responded poorly to losing the top running back job in the last preseason game - and deservedly I might add. He “did something in the building — away from the football field — that made a lot of people upset.” Gase left him behind rather than take him to Seattle.
“I think he has been really good,” Gase said about the player’s work this week. “He has been really engaged in meetings. I know he has done a great job … He has done a very good job at practice. We’re heading in the right direction in that area.”
Whether these moves translate to improved action on the part of these players will only be seen over time but they were probably the right moves.
I made the point repeatedly in the offseason that Gase is a first time head coach with a first time defensive coordinator (Vance Joseph). That’s a lot of things being done for the first time by the two most important coaches on the staff.
I won’t call Gase a good head coach, yet. There’s a lot more that goes into it and he really hasn’t faced much adversity yet. He’s still in his honeymoon period and isn’t being criticized too harshly for field decisions yet. We also still can’t say much about the coaching staff he hired. We will really only be able to judge him over a long period of time. But having said that, at least as far as it goes, so far so good.
10a. There are probably an awful lot of general managers out there right now that need a “Jimmy Garoppolo tracker.” That’s why I was surprised by the suggestion this week that the Patriots made a mistake in drafting him. For instance, the Dolphins took wide receiver Jarvis Landry right behind the Patriots choice of Garoppolo and Landry has, indeed been a good, productive player while Garoppolo has been sitting the bench. Nevertheless, the view that the Patriots would be better off with Landry is short sighted. The Patriots might very possibly get multiple first round picks in a trade after Garoppolo performed extremely well the first two games of the season.
If he returns from his shoulder injury to play well in the next two games, they almost certainly will. Meanwhile Jacoby Brissett may be on his way to developing into a quarterback who is just as good.
Personally, I think teams should draft a quarterback every year. I’ve heard a lot of nonsense from teams that refuse to draft quarterbacks when they get the opportunity about not reaching to get one. Well, tell that to the Patriots. They invested a second round pick in a quarterback they didn’t need and spent a couple years developing him. It’s now paying off, just as it did when the Packers drafted Aaron Rogers when they didn’t need him. It’s an investment that ultimately will pay off fivefold (at least) if you manage to develop one.
Bottom line, the value for the player and the position is set by the market. If you are consistently evaluating players below that value, you are the one who is undervaluing the position because you are the one who refuses to pay the going rate.
10b. The (relative to the rest of the NFL) poor TV ratings for last week’s Miami game against the Seattle Seahawks very much surprised me. The game drew a disappointing 14.9 rating in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, meaning that 14.9 percent of local homes with TV sets (about 244,000 homes). This was a very favorable 4 P.M. match up against one of the league’s best franchises. Indeed, most of the nation saw it.
Last season, Dolphins averaged a 16.9 rating, worst among the 28 markets with only one NFL team. But that’s more understandable. They weren’t good and most people believed the coaching situation made the teams prospects somewhat hopeless, particularly in the last half of the season.
This year is different with a young, dynamic head coach in Adam Gase and more than a few promising young players that should be fun to watch as they develop. The team has gone out and signed the best defensive lineman in the game in Ndamukong Suh and appears determined to do what it takes to win.
A team with the Dolphins’ storied history and promising prospects - in the long-term if not the short-term - shouldn’t be near the bottom of the league in television ratings.
10c. The Miami offense will have a prime opportunity to recover next week against the Cleveland Browns, possibly the worst defensive unit in the league. The Browns went up 20-0 on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday before surrendering 25 straight points to lose the game.
To make matters worse, the Browns already lost their starting quarterback in the first game of the season and back up Josh McCown stayed in the game against Baltimore despite an injured left shoulder.
The dreadful Browns were also hurt by a missed field goal and three costly penalties in the fourth quarter.
This is the kind of game teams with competitive aspirations have to win. Look for the Dolphins to get very healthy at home next week against this team. If they don’t, it could be a sign that bad trouble is ahead for them.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
There will be a lot of hand wringing in Dolphins land over the one that got away in Seattle. But all in all there was a lot to like about the Dolphins performance in the Northwest and there’s a lot to be encouraged about. Here are two thoughts on the game and about the NFL in general after Sunday’s game.
1. We’ve heard over and over again about how bad the Seattle offensive line is. And it is bad, no doubt about it:
a. Left tackle Bradley Sowell had not started a game since 2013.
b. Left guard Mark Glowinski had one career start before Sunday.
c. Justin Britt had never played center before this year.
d. No one’s known what was going on a right tackle all summer.
It’s a mess. Just like it was last year.
And we’ve heard all summer how good the Dolphins defensive line was going to be this year. And, despite the lack of evidence in the preseason, to an extent you had to believe it. Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle in the league and I’m willing to believe that Cameron Wake will be a great guy to have in there on passing downs all year.
But before yesterday, the Dolphins defense was pretty porous with Mario Williams, Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell all failing to show up during the preseason. Williams in particular was a disappointment.
So now that the games count, these guys needed to show up. And to their credit, for the most part they did. Virtually everyone got pressure on Russell Wilson from Cameron Wake to Suh totaling three sacks and nine quarterback hits.
That was a comfort. Because if they couldn’t do it Sunday, they never were going to.
2. Another very encouraging sign was the penetration that the Dolphins defensive line got against the run. This was something that was also missing during the preseason and it was badly needed against a Seattle team that might have the best backfield from top to bottom in the country. Thomas Rawls, rookie C.J. Prosise, and the very under-rated Christine Michael are all strong runners that promise to perform well this year. The Dolphins limited them to 112 yards on 32 rushing attempts, an average of only 3.5 yards per carry.
Penetrating against the run and attacking downhill with the front seven is the only way that the Dolphins can turn it around and improve the run defense. To my eye, they stepped up Sunday.
3. Even with some of the mistakes that they made, the Seattle defense was very impressive against a Miami offense that is improved.
What is so striking is how aggressive and especially how fast the Seahawks play. The only way to really beat a defense like that is to go with a lot of misdirection - counter plays, traps, etc…
Unfortunately these aren’t big parts of the Adam Gase offense. But one thing that the Dolphins executed well, especially early, was the screen pass. Gase has a wonderful feel for when to call such plays and he was an artist on Sunday with the timing of some of his calls.
We may see more of these kinds of plays against a less than disciplined Seattle defense more and more as the season goes on.
4. The most noticeable thing about the Dolphins offensive performance was the play of Ryan Tannehill. There were a lot of things wrong on Sunday and the bottom line is that they didn’t score enough points. But Tannehill definitely wasn’t one of the problems.
Tannehill has looked about as sharp as I’ve ever seen him in the preseason and it looks like he’s going to carry that accuracy and good decision making into the regular season. The go ahead fourth quarter drive was masterful on his part.
That’s all excellent news. Because if there’s one thing that everyone knows about the NFL, it’s a quarterback’s league.
5. Another encouraging sign was the play of Arian Foster.
There’s just very little doubt about the fact that Foster is physically limited and those hoping that he’ll return to the form he had in 2014 are fooling themselves. But he’s been very effective in making up for it with good vision and some quick cut backs. His experience is carrying him through in a way that is somewhat surprising, given how slow he looks in terms of his straight ahead speed.
Once Foster gets into space, he’s very elusive and he spent much of the first half yesterday making a lot of yards on his own - which is, of course, how good running backs are judged. It’s one of the things that makes him such an excellent receiver.
It would help if someone else stepped up to get Foster off the field more. Perhaps Damien Williams, who also had a good game, will see more time.
But in any case if Foster stays healthy, I’d say that the Dolphins may be more at least adequate at the position.
6. Perhaps the most encouraging thing of all about the game was the fact that the Dolphins flat out looked better coached as a team than Seattle did.
Seattle didn’t really play a very good game and the players made a lot of mistakes that we aren’t used to seeing from them. There were blown coverages, missed tackles, and Wilson was occasionally not on the same page as the receivers. And the two turnovers that they gave up to Miami’s zero could have been a big difference in the game.
Unfortunately the Dolphins didn’t do a good job of capitalizing on much of this. A terrible first half Kenny Stills drop after Seattle completely blew the coverage on him comes to mind as a typical example. The blocked field goal from 17 yards out after a fumble recovery by Kiko Alonso, a result of a Laremy Tunsil rookie mistake on the offensive line, was a terrible blow.
And, of course, the fact that the offensive line couldn’t hold up against a simple four man rush to avoid giving up a sack of Tannehill in the end zone at the end of the game was a disappointment (though in fairness, the whole stadium knew they had to pass).
The Dolphins didn’t play badly as a team and they did some very encouraging things against a tough team in a tough place to play. But it’s obvious that they need to learn to finish in these situations. If they do that, they could have a bright season ahead.
7. Like most people I’ve talked to, most of you are probably getting sick of seeing commercials pushing Skip Bayless’s move to FOX Sports. Bayless is undoubtedly getting big money to make this move because he’s “controversial” which in my mind means that he’s an irresponsible “journalist” who says things more to get attention than to contribute reasonable opinions on the issues of the day. When he was still writing for the Chicago Tribune, he was the only man in America whose name told you what to do with his column.
So for those of you who, like me, have not been big fans of Bayless, I’ll provide some comfort by saying that I think this is the first step on the road to obscurity for him.
Does anyone remember Jay Mariotti? That's what I thought.
Mariotti, another “controversial” personality, moved from the Chicago Sun-Times to AOL some years ago now. And that was the end of him. Because it's one thing to be in front of people in their morning paper every day. It's another to ask them to go somewhere out of the way to read a guy they never really liked to begin with.
Bayless doesn’t realize it but he’s in the same boat. It's one thing to be on ESPN, a network that sports fans flip on in the morning out of habit. It's another thing altogether to be on a channel people ordinarily go out of their way to turn on. I can’t imagine that anyone but the most casual sports fan would ever do that for Bayless. And they're all watching Good Morning America or something.
So say goodbye, Skip. With any luck, those commercials will be the last we see of you.
8. My first thought when the Bears signed Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton after he was released by the Green Bay Packers was, “Why didn’t the Dolphins call him?” Well, the answer is that they might have.
In giving his reasons for signing with the Bears, Sitton, who is from Pensacola, Fla, seemed to imply that a team like the Dolphins might have been interested.
"It didn't have anything to do with sticking it to the Packers," said Sitton. "More familiar with the division, close to where I was. I like the weather up here. We had a few other teams interested. It's too damn hot in the South."
Miami is pretty close to home. And heaven knows it gets hot.
Sitton would have been a logical addition for a Dolphins team that doesn’t mind throwing money at a problem if they think it can help. And SItton would have been a huge upgrade over Jermon Bushrod.
9. In reviewing the offseason, particularly disappointing to me is how few of the Dolphins draft picks won jobs over veterans this summer.
The Dolphins spent last year developing draft pick Jay Ajayi only to see him lose out to Foster, a 30-year old veteran coming off of a torn Achilles tendon. Ajayi blew his shot in the last preseason game (if not before that), fumbling and dropping yet another pass.
Almost as disappointing is the fact that Foster beat out third rounder Kenyan Drake, who was injured a good part of the summer and didn’t show enough in what little time he had to justify his draft status. He didn’t play on Sunday over Williams.
Drake may eventually come on and he needs to. Third round picks need to turn into starters in the NFL if teams are going to get ahead of the game.
The situation at cornerback is almost as disappointing where Byron Maxwell is the Dolphins best at the position. Maxwell was consistently asked to play the opponents number one receiver last year and failed miserably. It looks like the Dolphins may repeat the Eagles mistake by asking him to do more than he’s capable of again. Why? Well, partly because Tony Lippett failed to develop.
"Lippett really struggled; he’s got to learn to locate the football,” team employee Nat Moore said late in one Dolphins game broadcast.
Lippett was so bad this summer that second round pick Xavien Howard, who joined Drake in being out for much of the summer, “won” the job by default. Howard started Sunday and was solid. But one could hardly say that he earned it on a field that he barely saw all camp.
And finally there’s the case of Bushrod, a 32-year old offensive lineman with a bad back who had never played guard before this year. He beat out not one but two Dolphins draft picks, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner. And, of course, Jamil Douglas didn’t even make the 53-man roster.
I’ve harped enough about Jordan Phillips’ failure to develop so I’ll just mention him and leave it at that.
So what’s my point? The NFL is a draft and develop league. You can’t win consistently unless you do that. No one wins long-term by buying free agent mercenaries, even at bargain basement prices.
In fairness, Leonte Carroo got the start with DeVante Parker out and played reasonably well Sunday. Jakeem Grant fielded punts though they didn’t trust him to return balls inside the 20-yard line, giving that duty to Jarvis Landry. And Tunsil, despite some rookie mistakes in handling the line stunts that the Seahawks threw at him, was fine for his first NFL game.
But overall the Dolphins need more from their draft classes. I don’t know if it’s the identification of talent by inadequate front office evaluation or the failure to develop it by incompetent coaches or both. All I know is that if this summer is any example, and in my opinion it has been, something has to change or the Dolphins are going to continue to be bottom feeders far more often than they will be winners.
10. Next up is the New England Patriots. Jimmy Garoppolo (24-for-33, 264 yards, 1 TD) handled his duties in place of the suspended Tom Brady reasonably well Sunday night. He went went 8-for-10 on third down and the Pats looked pretty good in beating one of the best teams in the league in the Arizona Cardinals, albeit on a missed late field goal.
The bad news for the Dolphins is that the Patriots look to have a pretty potent running game. They used tight end Martellus Bennett to effect and LeGarrette Blount is a mighty tough load to bring down. Julian Edelman added a lot to the passing game as well, rounding out a reasonably good offense.
But the good news is that the Dolphins may once again be playing against a crippled offensive line. The Patriots are banged up along the offensive front, particularly with Nate Solder out for the season with a torn bicep. Tight end Rob Gronkonski was also out Sunday with a hamstring issue and Rob Ninkovich is serving a suspension.
So the Dolphins have an opportunity to catch the Patriots at less than their best. Perhaps this time they’ll be able to finish and take advantage.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
With the Dolphins coming off of a reasonably nice performance in a 17-6 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Friday, there are plenty of positive to emphasize this week. Here are ten thoughts after the win.
1. Everyone take note. I have never written this before and it's always possible that you will never see me write it again.
Jordan Phillips looked good Friday.
Like so many other things that we saw, Phillips' improvement in run defense was laudable. Starting last year and continuing into this preseason game, criticism of Phillips has been justifiably relentless. As the defensive tackle opposite Ndamukong Suh, Phillips has been the weak point in the run defense as time after time opponents have run away from Suh in his direction for big yardage.
His performances on the field seemed to contradict the sunshine and rainbows that head coach Adam Gase threw our way earlier in the week when addressing the play of Phillips.
"And then Jordan (Phillips) has done a good job. The one thing that I noticed about him from the Dallas game was he was really moving well once the plays kind of start happening and it was going sideline to sideline, he was trying to get to the ball. Even in practice, I’ve noticed that he’s been one of those guys finishing quite a bit down the field, trying to do what the coaches ask him as far as tagging off there at the end. For a big man like that to run 20, 30 yards down the field to tag off the runner and then come back and do another rep, that’s what you want to see out of that front. I know they preach it. You guys hear them yelling all the time on the field as far as chase the ball. I think he’s trying to do exactly what the coaches want.”
For the record, when your coach has to mention that you are making tackles 20 yards down field and not in the backfield for a loss, that’s not good, even when it’s in a lame attempt to be positive.
But it was all different on Friday where the Falcons rushed for just 2.1 yards per attempt. Phillips was penetrating into the backfield and disruptive, something that will be even critically important this year as the Dolphins transition to a wide-nine front.
If he continues to look like he did against Atlanta, kudos to him and kudos to the coaching staff for apparently helping him along - and this won’t be the last time I say that in regards to Friday’s performance.
2. As big of a factor as Phillips was, a major part of the improvement in the run defense was the play of the linebackers. As a group the linebackers, though athletic, have been far too passive in defending the run. Cameron Wake’s comments last week were to the point.
“You have to come downhill as a linebacker [in the run defense]. Stalemates don’t work. Sideways doesn’t work. You have to go and you have to impose your will on whoever it is – nine (technique), six (technique), four (technique), shade, linebacker – it doesn’t matter. In order to stop the run, you have to have a mentality of aggressiveness and aggressiveness is obviously moving forward, which… is penetration.”
And, again, that’s what we saw on Friday. Generally speaking, the linebackers did a marvelous job of attacking the line of scrimmage and the tackling as a whole was much improved. Kiko Alonso and Koa Misi totaled seven tackles between them and five of them were solo. That needs to continue.
Again, I’d like to throw some credit the coaching staff’s way. This was an adjustment over the mistakes made in previous games. It's early and those have to keep coming but I consider all of this to be a positive sign that the Dolphins might - maybe - have a staff that can help these players maximize their gifts.
3. As far as the pass rush goes, the good news is that Cam Wake looked like he was just fine to me. The 34-year old left defensive end was coming off of an achilles injury and, given his age, there was significant doubt about his ability to recover.
Friday went some way towards relieving that anxiety. Wake looked healthy and, even though he had no sacks and no tackles, he was a handful in limited play Friday night. I thought he got pressure and was disruptive. As long as that remains the case, it’s all good.
4. Unlike Cameron Wake, Mario Williams did not look good. At all. Again.
Williams spent part of last season and the offseason throwing shade at Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan for “playing him out of position” last year at outside linebacker and many Miami fans and members of the media bought into it. But a look at the tape showed a degradation of skills that Williams’ lame excuses couldn’t cover up. Now the rubber is meeting the road and though it’s still the preseason, it’s not surprising that Williams continues to fail to get close to the quarterback snap after snap.
The Dolphins should not lack pass rush with Suh and Wake on the field. But given what we’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t count on Williams to produce anything but more excuses in the near future.
5. The cornerback position remains a concern for the Dolphins.
There were times when the coverage looked good and they did produce one interception and some near misses. But these were mostly due to changes in coverage that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan simply failed to read correctly. Ryan wasn’t seeing the field well Friday night and he didn’t seem to see some of the Miami defensive backs. Perhaps we should give defensive coordinator Vance Joseph a little credit here.
But that aside, the cornerbacks looked bad in man coverage. Tony Lippett continues to stand out as a weak link and Julio Jones did whatever he wanted no matter who was covering him.
I know that many hope that things will get dramatically better when Chris Culliver is ready to play and when Xavien Howard gets his feet under him. I’m sorry but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Culliver was awful last year and he graded out as the 110th best cornerback last year at PFF. Though he was much better before that, I don’t think that’s way off for 2015.
Howard is a complete unknown and he definitely had some serious flaws coming out of college including some grabby hands when he panicked in coverage and that could get him into some trouble in the NFL with penalties.
Bottom line, this position might well be a problem all year.
6. Despite running the ball for only 2.5 yards per carry, to my eye the Miami run blocking was dramatically improved Friday night. This was particularly true on the drive where Arian Foster ran pretty much wherever he wanted through and around an Atlanta front that was being dominated at the time. Foster practically walked into the end zone at the end of it.
The only pick that I have is that I’d like to see this more consistently over the course of the entire game. But that drive gave us a glimpse of what could be if the players manage to perform to the level of their talent.
7. Everyone loves Arian Foster. Everyone wants to see him succeed and for one drive Friday night he certainly did. But a close look at the way he’s running the ball still has me concerned.
Foster looks slow. You can cover it up with phrases like “smooth cuts” and you can rave about his vision and veteran savvy. But there’s no getting around that he was visibly inferior physically to every back on the field on both teams.
I’m not saying that this can’t be overcome or that Foster won’t contribute. That was patently obvious based upon his production even to his biggest doubters and the offensive line did a wonderful job of blocking for him Friday. But the hallmark of a good back is the ability to make yardage on his own and there’s no getting around the fact that, other than one move that he put on an injured defender on the outside in space, Foster didn’t do much of that - or have to do much of it.
One thing that Foster does very, very well is catch the ball. He’s amongst the most natural pass catching running backs I’ve ever seen. That stands in stark contrast to both Jay Ajayi and Isaiah Pead. Especially Ajayi. Though he caught everything that came his way Friday, Ajayi looks like the tin man running routes out of the back field.
What Ajayi did show was power and he definitely runs hard. On some runs it was obvious that he was trying to be more patient. He broke one or two tackles and that’s also a good sign. But he’s probably never going to be anything more than an adequate pass catcher.
Particularly disappointing on Friday was the performance of Pead. To me, Pead was looking the best of all of the running backs and many were high on him despite the fact that he was playing mostly against backups. But to my eye, Pead showed almost nothing Friday night. I think he had opportunities to show what he could do and he didn’t perform.
Bottom line, the Dolphins run game looked better in spurts Friday night. But I still think running back is an issue. Adam Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen are going to have to use these guys carefully to play to their strengths while they’re out there.
8. Perhaps the best sign of all on Friday was that Ryan Tannehill continues to play well. The Dolphins put Tannehill on the move again the very first play of the game with a read option that busted loose for 22 yards.
Miami fans won’t want to hear this but don’t count on this happening more than occasionally over the course of a game. Matt Moore’s concussion last week was a prime example of why coaches (and many quarterbacks) hate plays like this and though they’re willing to use them, neither this nor the planned rollouts are ever likely to be a staple of the offense.
Tannehill was reasonably accurate this game and though he did have the occasionally poorly placed ball, generally it was all pretty good. He’s ready to start the season. He had one interception that on a tipped ball that was simply a good play by defensive end Brooks Reed. It wasn’t his fault.
Tannehill also generally got good protection and that’s how it should be. The Atlanta pass rush looks to be amongst the worst in the league with the only legitimate threat that I saw being Vic Beasley.
Atlanta had no sacks and they’ve had only five all preseason. And, it being the preseason, they did not try to blitz much to make up for the deficit. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t do anything.
One reason I would like to take yet another opportunity to laud the coaching staff is the fine way that the offensive line handled Atlanta’s line stunts up front. This has been a definite weak point of this group and they did a fine job of smoothly reacting and exchanging defenders along the line to pick up wayward linemen coming around the outside.
9. Speaking of the offensive line, backup center Anthony Steen deserves mention in this space. Along with the rest of the line, Steen looked like he was well prepared for what came his way. His head was on a swivel and he did a reasonably good job of helping his line mates when he was uncovered.
When he was covered or when he was called upon to block a pass rusher one-on-one, things got a little less stable. Steen was over powered on occasion and I wouldn’t exactly have called the pocket up the middle clean when Tannehill had to hold the ball for any length of time. But there were no free pass rushers and he didn’t give up a sack.
He won’t be replacing Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey any time soon but, generally speaking, I would say Steen was “good enough”.
10a. [Head shake] Jordan Cameron. Come on, man.
10b. There are a lot of nice things to say about the Dolphins offense but the bottom line concern is a big one. Only seven points in the first half.
The Dolphins have chosen to go with the short passing game with very few shots down field and that’s fine - as long as you execute and do so consistently. They just didn’t do that enough.
There weren’t an unreasonable number of penalties and there was only one turnover. So I can’t claim that they were shooting themselves in the foot that much. But if I’m Adam Gase the one thing I’m emphasizing to the offense leading up to their first game against Seattle is that they need to make positive yardage on every single play. Everything falls into place if they do that.
10c. Next up is the Tennessee Titans, who play against Oakland on national television Saturday night. Marcus Mariota and wide receiver Tajae Sharp have been stealing the show in Tennessee as they connected six times for 68 yards last game against the Panthers.
Tennessee has been emphasizing the run with what they are calling “exotic smash mouth” football. Though we won’t see much of the starters it will be of interest to see how the Dolphins backups do as they continue to try to stop the run against what could be a determined opponent. A player’s ability to demonstrate that he can do so may be the difference between making the roster and being left off come Tuesday (if not before).
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
The Dolphins running back situation has to be a major focus for this game. The performance of Jay Ajayi hasn’t been stellar to this point and at least one run from Arian Foster was down right concerning last week. Either head coach Adam Gase knows something we don’t or he’s putting a brave face on the issue.
“We’re trying to evaluate that position. It seems like all of those guys are playing really well and that’s a good thing. The fact that we are complaining about running back depth, I’ll take that all day.”
I assure you, no one is complaining about depth. They’re worried that a team that wants to play multiple running backs doesn’t appear to have even one that is of starting quality.
Jay Ajayi is the young draft pick that the Dolphins have had a year to develop. Undoubtedly they’d like to see him take this job. Draft and develop - that’s the path to consistent success in the NFL.
But so far Ajayi has lacked the patience, vision and has not demonstrated the receiving skills of a good all around starting running back. He’s still young and he’s got a lot to learn. But playing running back isn’t brain surgery. It’s time for the Dolphins to see more out of Ajayi.
Arian Foster is another problem. He didn’t play against the Giants and with only 2 carries for -5 yards against the Cowboys, there is only limited set of plays to look at.
“We didn’t have much to evaluate,” Gase said of Foster’s performance. “The couple of carries that he had, there wasn’t much there. He tried to create a couple things on his own. Hopefully we can get him going a little bit this week. Obviously I don’t want to overdo it with him but I’m pretty sure, his resume speaks for itself.”
He did, indeed, try to make something happen on his own and, arguably, he should have. Given virtually an even head start at the line of scrimmage on the Dallas periphery, Foster failed to out run the defensive end and get around the edge on one run that he really should have been able to bounce outside. It was only one play. But for a player coming off of a ruptured Achilles tendon it was a bad sign.
Dolphin fans need to focus on Foster’s speed, quickness and, especially, his explosion. Clearly the Dolphins value him most as a pass catcher. His ability to separate from linebackers in coverage is therefore crucial to the success of their plans.
As far as his resume is concerned, the Dolphins are going to have to forget that. Except for where it accounts for veteran experience it should mean nothing and the fact that we’re hearing about it so often is also a concern.
Finally, there is Isaiah Pead, a guy who may be the best all around running back that the Dolphins have. Pead shows more of the physical characteristics of Ajayi with more of the veteran savvy of Foster. He runs with patience and with vision and he’s shown the ability to catch a pass.
"I’ve been here since springtime learning Coach Gase’s offense." Pead said. "It’s all about being patient and taking it one snap at a time and making reads. Not making cuts in your head. Take what you’ve got."
After doing extremely well against back ups, the odds seem to be in favor of Pead getting more first team snaps and it will be interesting to see if he can take advantage of the opportunity. If he does, the Dolphins may have found an unexpected solution to a problem that Gase doesn’t seem willing to even admit that he has, yet.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
The Dolphins had a rough outing Friday night at Dallas in their second preseason game. Here are ten thoughts on the Dolphins coming off of the game.
1. Left guard Dallas Thomas is trying to disregard the criticism he’s getting on social media.
"Social media gives people, what's a good word to say it? It gives them [the courage to say things] that they wouldn't say to your face."
He’s got a point. But that doesn’t make them wrong. Perhaps despite the hypocrisy of those who hide behind their keyboards, Thomas should listen a little bit to what they have to say. Particularly in light of this statement.
"I feel like I did good [against the Giants in the first preseason game],” he said. "I had that one bad play, but besides that I was fine."
"Never wavered," Thomas said of his confidence. "Shoot, I started all the games last year and I did real well. I just want to keep building from that and carry it over to this year."
No. He had one obviously bad play where he stuck out. But otherwise he was overpowered. A lot. Sometimes you need someone who is watching from the outside looking in to tell you that.
2. Thomas was replaced by Laremy Tunsil in the starting lineup Friday night and the bad news for him is that Tunsil was generally solid. Barring a serious setback, that competition may be over.
One that I don’t think is over yet is on the other side. Billy Turner was replaced by Jermon Bushrod at right guard and Bushrod gave up a bad sack in the first quarter. Turner doesn’t respond well to stunts and blitzes and that showed up again against the Cowboys. But Bushrod just plain got physically beaten straight up on the sack, something that rarely happens to Turner.
The big question on Bushrod is health. It’s well known that he lost his starting left tackle job on the Bears last year after an injury that he’s recovered from since. But what gets little attention is the fact that for two years, the Bears had to baby Bushrod as they regularly gave him practices off during the week to rest a bad back.
The Dolphins have done the same and, indeed, that is a large part of the reason why Bushrod was available to them in the first place.
The tie in this competition has to go to Turner. The Dolphins can’t afford to start a player who can’t be relied upon to go 16 games and practice with the unit every day unless he is very definitely better than the alternative. This is one to continue to keep an eye on.
3. Another reason to believe that the Dolphins haven’t finished fiddling with the line is the poor performance running the football Friday night. Yes, Tannehill got decent protection generally but the blocking wasn’t so smooth on the other end of the spectrum.
The Dolphins running back situation doesn’t help. The Dolphins aren’t in a good situation there and, though I’m generally patient and advise caution when interpreting the results of a preseason game, I don’t see this situation getting better.
Care always needs to be taken when reading newspaper reports in the preseason and there’s no better example than the fluff which came out regarding Arian Foster. No matter what anyone says, Foster (2 carries, -5 yards) doesn’t look completely physically sound to me. From the very first run where he didn’t show the speed to get around defenders and bounce it outside, it was evident that Foster, though still nimble, lacks explosion and isn’t as fast as he should be.
Jay Ajayi (6 carries, 19 yds), on the other hand, has been better physically but runs forward like a bull, hitting the hole hard but ultimately lacking the patience and vision that Foster typically shows. And letting a pass bounce off of his hands for a near interception last week alleviated no one’s fears about his receiving skills, something that Foster excels at.
Adam Gase will need to play to these guys strengths if the offense is going to click on the ground. In that respect, it is notable that the very first series of the game the Dolphins played Ajayi on second down and Foster on third down. I know that isn’t the way that Gase has played it in the past but it says here that he might be flexible enough to realize that this will be the best arrangement and history be damned.
Regardless, one way or the other, he’s going to have to manage this situation to get the best out of these backs at least until Ajayi develops into a more polished all around running back. Personally from what I have seen the Dolphins should give him every possible snap to do that.
But it's evident that they think they can win now, despite all evidence to the contrary, so playing to Foster’s strengths may be (and in my opinion probably will be) the option that they take.
One more thought on this matter. If you took the names off the jerseys and just asked me who looked the best, I’d have picked Isaiah Pead (4 carries, 48 yds and a nice catch for 30 yds). Something to think about.
4. Another thing that stuck out to me about the offense was how Gase and Tannehill have tried very hard to get the tight ends involved in the passing game. Tight ends were targeted eight times on Friday night.
Tannehill didn’t look to them much last year and Gase obviously considers the position to be an underutilized potential weapon. And he’s right. But you have to wonder if they have the right guys playing the position as no one has been overly impressive. Jordan Cameron, in particular, is starting to come under fire.
Gase has a well deserved reputation for playing to the strengths of his players. The tight end position doesn’t look very strong. We’ll have to wait and see what develops as we rapidly progress towards the regular season.
5. Much has been made of the improvement in the passing game Friday night over the previous game against the Giants. Though the starting offensive line gave up pressure early, the passing game did look much better with some good Tannehill connections with Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker going on. Tannehill’s passer rating was also 119.2 and that was all moderately encouraging.
But that doesn’t mean all was rainbows and sunshine. Tannehill regularly struggled connecting with receivers who were getting muscled out of plays and knocked off their routes, especially in the red zone, a result of having a corps of wide receivers that generally isn’t especially big.
He was also victimized by so many drops that I lost count. Amongst the worst were drops in the end zone by tight end Jordan Cameron and receiver Jarvis Landry along with another would-be touchdown that DeVante Parker didn’t catch.
Despite the positive vibes coming from this offensive performance, there is still plenty to clean up and plenty to worry about.
6. One of the more interesting aspects of the offense Friday night was how quick the pace was. The Dolphins often didn’t huddle and tried to put a lot of pressure on the defense. They had two touchdown drives of 75 yards, neither of which took four minutes.
Gase apparently thinks it's working.
“It was good for our guys to see how tired the defense might get as the drive goes on and take advantage of it,” Gase said. “Our guys won't understand what this offense can do to a defense as far as the fatigue factor until they really get into a game. We only played the first half. We still would have had 30 minutes left.”
Going no huddle and not substituting allows the offense to dictate the matches. And I’ve never seen a quarterback yet who didn’t love it. I’m sure Ryan Tannehill is no exception.
7. Speaking of things that Tannehill might love, it was good to see him rolling out and hitting Kenny Stills on a 55 yard bomb on Friday night. Tannehill even ran twice for 16 yards on consecutive plays. Tannehill’s presence and movement in the pocket are suspect but he is far better on the run and has some underrated mobility.
Offensive coordinators as a rule don’t like it because it's a risk to the quarterback and Clyde Christensen will probably be no exception. But it promises to be effective when they do it.
8. Much has been made of James Morris’ illegal hit on Matt Moore. Moore suffered a concussion and although no one is saying it out right there are plenty implying that the hit was dirty.
Dallas Thomas said, “That wasn’t right. They clearly saw he was sliding, and they just attacked. That was wrong.”
No one likes to see their teammate get hurt and fans are going to be fans. But believe me, if Morris had wanted to hurt Moore, he'd have hit him a lot harder than that. Definitely illegal. Definitely not dirty.
9. One thing that disappointed me (and many other people) greatly during Friday night’s preseason loss to the Cowboys was how poor the front seven looked. The problems were particularly evident against the run.
"We just got to do a better job of stopping the run," head coach Adam Gase said, referring to 112 rushing yards Miami allowed on 12 carries in the first half. "We just got to get some negative plays, get our hands on some balls and when we do, we have to finish it."
Unlike the previous game against the Giants, all of the defensive starters but Cameron Wake played. And there are indications that Wake will be more of a situational pass rusher than a starter any way. The defensive line did a poor job of penetrating and generated little pass rush.
We’re used to seeing this from Jordan Phillips, who was struggling to get off blocks last season and has shown little improvement through two games this preseason. And, indeed, as happened last year, the biggest runs generally went to Phillip’s side. Yes, Phillips technically isn’t the starter but he’s certainly part of the rotation and Earl Mitchell showed little better last year.
But it was very disappointing to see even Ndamukong Suh struggling to penetrate. And despite lining up next to Suh to take advantage of those double teams, Mario Williams made you wonder if he’d continue to say that he was playing out of position or if he’d manage to come up with some other excuse this year.
Admittedly the Dolphins were lined up against the best offensive linen the NFL. But we’ve heard all camp about how the Dolphins offensive line looked so bad because the defensive line was so good. Fans saw little evidence of that Friday night.
10a. The play by the defensive backs wasn’t much better. Again, admittedly, Byron Maxwell wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, cornerback to be burned in coverage by Dez Bryant. But he’s going to see a lot of good receivers this year so he’d better step up. In any case, the other defensive backs have little excuse.
Tony Lippett was called for a holding penalty the very first play of the game. Lippett then gave up a potential touchdown that was called back. Bobby McCain was for 58 yards on the first play of the second half.
Particularly disappointing is the lack of development by Lippett, a young 2014 fifth round draft pick with some length that you would hope the Dolphins could bring along to be a competent starter.
These are the kinds of players that you need to come through if you are going to compete consistently in the NFL. So far, there’s little evidence of it and everyone has to hope that Xavien Howard develops better and more rapidly.
10b. One final note. Someone is going to have to tell Dak Prescott (12/15 for 199 yds) that it's not supposed to be this easy, something that Brandon Doughty (2/3 for 7 yards) found out the hard way Friday.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
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