AFC East: Dom Capers

Turnaround alters Dolfans outlook on Porter

June, 5, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Joey Porter had to extract his wife from the angry mob.

That's how bad things got for the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

Porter was their big-ticket offseason acquisition and certainly wasn't performing up to his contract, which included $20 million in guarantees.

As the Dolphins slogged through a 1-15 season, Porter failed to record a sack in 11 games. He had zero sacks through the first six.

Amid the discontent in Dolphin Stadium each week were his wife, Christy, and their four children.

"My wife didn't take to people yelling at her," Porter said. " 'Who's this Joey Porter guy? We gave him all this money and he got one tackle today. Get him outta there!'

"Next year I had to put her in a box because she said she wasn't coming back to the games. My kids were there with my jersey on, [fans were] talking about their dad."

The Porters had a much better experience in 2008. Dad led the AFC with 17.5 sacks, and the Dolphins went to the playoffs as division champs.

Porter and quarterback Chad Pennington were honored Friday morning as co-winners of the team's Dan Marino MVP Award at a ceremony at Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant on South Beach.

When he pulled his truck into Dolphin Stadium last year, he was greeted with honks and waves from tailgating fans.

"I feel like I'm at home again, playing football and being accepted by South Florida," Porter said. "I'm just happy to be here."

Porter felt as miserable as the fans in 2007. He was miscast in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme and finished with a measly 5.5 sacks.

As a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers before joining the Dolphins, Porter thrived on the matchups. He could beat a left tackle, but also was put in position to overpower and outmaneuver helpless tight ends and fullbacks.

That didn't happen when he got to Miami.

"I was almost used as a defensive end because we played nickel so much," Porter said. "I had my hand on the ground before the snap.

"I never would make no excuses about it. I [got] beat up in the media because that year I was the big defensive acquisition to the team. They expected a lot out of me, and then you don't come out there and perform, 1-15, five sacks. They're like 'What happened to this guy. He fell off.' I got beat up by the media, but I was mad about it and came back and was put in a position to go out there and show South Florida how I can really play football.

"I just wanted to show you guys I do know how to play football. I didn't come all the way to Florida and forget how to play football. I was just happy to do that."

Bill Parcells came aboard late in 2007 and eventually cleaned house. He fired general manager Randy Mueller and hired Jeff Ireland. He axed head coach Cam Cameron and replaced him with Tony Sparano.

Capers was out. New defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni made it a priority to maximize Porter's abilities.

"It was refreshing to play football again," Porter said. "That 1-15 was one of those years that makes you doubt yourself. I know I doubted myself, had one of the worst years I ever had, coming back the next year, wondering what's going to happen.

"Coach put me in position to make plays. I tried to seize the moment and make the plays when I had the chance."

As expected, Capers leaves Patriots, too

January, 19, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

The New England Patriots have lost another highly respected assistant coach.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Dom Capers, a longtime defensive coordinator and former head coach, will join the Green Bay Packers as defensive coordinator.

Capers was with New England only one season as secondary coach. His departure was expected because he was overqualified for the job. He was a luxury hire for the Patriots, who found a place for him after the Miami Dolphins cleaned house a year ago.

He had been linked to the New York Giants' defensive coordinator job vacated by new St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, and was rumored to be joining former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels with the Denver Broncos.

The Patriots this month also lost vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, now the Kansas City Chiefs' general manager, and special teams fixture Brad Seely, who was named assistant head coach and coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.

Patriots lose another top assistant coach

January, 14, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

The New England Patriots have lost another key member of their football operations.

On the same day the Kansas City Chiefs introduced former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli as general manager, new Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini plucked special teams coach Brad Seely off the Patriots' staff.

Seely will get a promotion to assistant head coach. He was on Bill Belichick's staff for all four Super Bowl appearances. Seely joined the Patriots in 1999 and was retained when Belichick became head coach a year later.

The Patriots reportedly will bring in former Denver Broncos special teams coach Scott O'Brien, who was let go when Mike Shanahan was fired. O'Brien worked under Belichick with the Cleveland Browns.

Reports also had linked Seely to the Denver Broncos, where Josh McDaniels took over as head coach Monday. McDaniels was the Patriots' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Patriots secondary coach Dom Capers, a long-time defensive coordinator, also could be on the move, further depleting the Patriots of more brain power.

At least Patriot Nation can count on defensive coordinator Dean Pees not going anywhere.

How long can Patriots cope with defections?

January, 13, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

Brain drain continued Tuesday in Foxborough, Mass.

ESPN's Michael Smith reports New England Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli is joining the Kansas City Chiefs. The loss is the latest in a series of Bill Belichick consiglieres to flip.

Hotshot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was introduced Monday as Denver Broncos head coach. Reports indicate he will take secondary coach Dom Capers and special teams coach Brad Seely with him.

Top college scout Thomas Dimitroff became Atlanta Falcons general manager last year. Belichick coordinators Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini have departed since December 2004.

Pioli spent nine years with the Patriots, winning the Sporting News' Executive of the Year award in 2003 and 2004 and Pro Football Weekly's version of the award in 2007.

From the Patriots' media guide:

Pioli's primary personnel objective is to build a team, not to simply collect individual talent. As a result, the Patriots have been able to prosper despite the NFL realities of injuries and the salary cap, which have proven in many cases to be impediments to long-term success in pro football.

Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio will be Pioli's replacement, but how long will Caserio stick around? He already has gained notice around the league. Reports connected him to the Broncos and Cleveland Browns GM vacancies. So Caserio will remain with the Patriots, but maybe next year he'll want to call his own shots.

Belichick is a savvy overseer. He hasn't missed badly with his appointments. He makes wise choice after wise choice when identifying subordinates to carry out his master plan.

But how long can Patriot Nation expect to survive the loss of so many bright minds?

Around the AFC East: Jets zeroing in on coach

January, 13, 2009

Posted by's Tim Graham

New York Jets

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

Behind the scenes, Parcells pulls Dolphins' strings

December, 31, 2008
 Doug Murray/Icon SMI
 Under the Parcells regime, the Dolphins became the first team ever to go from winning a single game one year to being playoff-bound the next.

Posted by's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- The process began two days after Christmas 2007. A cataclysmic event took place at the Miami Dolphins facility. An observer arrived. He might as well have worn a black cloak and had a sickle in his grip.

He stood there, arms folded mostly, and watched from the sideline, taking mental notes that would decide the fate of dozens and alter the course of a franchise hurtling into NFL oblivion.

"I think the air in the practice field got a little thin," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.

Bill Parcells had arrived to straighten out a team headed toward 1-15. He didn't say much on the field that day. He exchanged quick pleasantries with head coach Cam Cameron, spoke to a couple of trainers.

But the process had begun -- quietly, icily.

"Guys were nervous out there," Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said.

Several Dolphins confessed they barked out their calls louder, ran faster and tackled harder under Parcells' surveillance.

A few veterans scoffed at the difference, claiming that if their teammates were playing harder just because Parcells was there, then they must not have been giving their all before.

Yet that, in fact, was the case, whether they wanted to admit it or not. Parcells' mere presence, forged by Super Bowls and high-profile turnarounds, whacked the Dolphins in their earholes.

He has remained virtually silent while overseeing the greatest single-season upgrade in NFL history.

On Sunday, one year and one day after Parcells first emerged onto the Dolphins practice field, they defeated the New York Jets at the Meadowlands to claim the AFC East championship.

As unfathomable as it seemed when Parcells agreed to renovate the dilapidated franchise, the Dolphins will host a playoff game next Sunday when they meet the Baltimore Ravens.

(Read full post)

Patriots have secondary concerns against Broncos

October, 19, 2008
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs knows the Patriots secondary needs to step it up.

Posted by's Tim Graham

Chad Pennington grabbed the New England Patriots' secondary and ripped it apart at the seams.

Philip Rivers pumped javelins down the sidelines.

Both methods lacerated the Patriots plenty. The Miami Dolphins beat them by 25, the San Diego Chargers by 20.

"Everyone has to realize it's a wound everyone's going to try to keep opening up until we heal it," Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "It's there."

The Patriots' defensive backfield has been overwhelmed as much through five games as it was all last season. New England has given up seven pass plays of 30 yards or longer. That equals the number it yielded in 2007.

Its sixth game won't provide any respite.

The Patriots on Monday night will host the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

New England's beleaguered secondary will be asked to contain a pass attack ranked first in the AFC and second in the league at 279.3 yards a game entering Week 7.

"I don't know what the questions are for us," Hobbs told reporters this week. "I just know there are questions out there.

"We need to go into this game thinking, 'I feel like my back's against the wall.' Our team's back is against the wall, and we have to come out swinging no matter what. It's early in the season. But this is how you get the momentum going."

After Miami came to Gillette Stadium in Week 3 and unleashed a dumbfounding game plan, New England's coaching staff -- a group that includes defensive architects Bill Belichick, coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Dom Capers -- had two weeks to strategize for Mike Martz's offense. The Patriots held the San Francisco 49ers to less than 200 total yards.

Last Sunday night, however, the Chargers bombed away.

Rivers, mostly picking on left cornerback Deltha O'Neal, completed passes of 48, 49, 59 and 22 yards. They weren't screen plays.

Hobbs also committed a 32-yard pass interference penalty to put the Chargers first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for a touchdown on the next play.

"I felt embarrassed," O'Neal said Wednesday. "I felt embattled. I felt like there were things I could have did that could have changed the outcome of the game. I'm my worst critic.

"I sat and thought about it the last couple of days, that whole flight home. I'm over it now."

Patriots fans should hope so.

Thunder-armed Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown for 1,694 yards and 12 touchdowns, numbers that rank third and fourth in the NFL.

When healthy, the Broncos have the most talented receiving corps. Brandon Marshall leads the NFL with 43 receptions despite being suspended for the season opener. Eddie Royal's 30 catches are tied for 11th even though he missed last week's game with an ankle injury. Royal is probable for Monday.

Cutler's other targets include Brandon Stokley (16 catches and two touchdowns the past three weeks) and tight end Tony Scheffler. Stokley suffered a concussion last week, while Scheffler is dealing with a groin injury. Both are questionable. Darrell Jackson, a three-time 1,000-yard receiver, is getting over a strained calf. He's listed as probable.

"They have a lot of different options and they really stress the defense in a lot of different ways," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They can pack them in and bring in two or three tight ends. They can spread them out and go with four or five receivers, or flex out Scheffler, who is like another receiver.

"They can get as tight as you want to get, and they can get as spread out as you want to spread out, and they do a good job."

The Patriots rank 12th in pass defense, but their first two victories came against opponents who either couldn't or wouldn't throw.

They knocked Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle out of the game in Week 1 and fended off Damon Huard. The New York Jets still were trying to figure out how to use Brett Favre, who passed for only 181 yards in Week 2.

A lot of factors have played into the Patriots' shaky pass defense.

The most obvious was Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel's departure. The Patriots clearly knew this was a big deal because they signed free agents Fernando Bryant, Lewis Sanders and Jason Webster and drafted two corners in the first four rounds.

Belichick didn't like any of them more than O'Neal, whom the winless Cincinnati Bengals cut because they didn't think he was anything more than a nickelback.

Other developments have left New England's defensive backs fending for themselves more than in recent years. The vaunted defensive line isn't getting as much push as it used to, giving opposing quarterbacks that much more time to work and less time for New England's defensive backs less chance to recover -- or not be detected -- when beat early on a play.

The Patriots won't have an easy time putting pressure on Cutler or forcing him i
nto bad decisions. The Broncos have allowed a league-low two sacks. Only the Kansas City Chiefs and Bengals -- one victory between them -- have recorded fewer sacks than the Patriots, who have seven.

Inescapable is the Tom Brady factor. Even the defense is affected.

Last year, with the record-breaking Patriots offense providing sizable leads before the echoes of "The Star-Spangled Banner" faded out, they had the NFL's seventh-ranked pass defense.

Under replacement Matt Cassel's direction, the Patriots have gone three-and-out on 14 of their 56 drives, sending the defense right back onto the field 25 percent of the time. They went three-and-out on 26 of their 170 possessions last year, a 15 percent frequency.

The longer games remain close, the less defenses can guess what's coming. Last year's Patriots turned loose on the quarterback and defended the pass from the second quarter on. This year's defense can't afford to commit so fully and, therefore, is unable to dictate.

"They've been all over the map a little bit," Cutler said. "You're not sure what you're going to get with those guys. I think they thought they could play man, control Rivers and the receivers and stop [LaDainian Tomlinson]. But they got hit with some big plays.

"It's going to be interesting to see what they do with us."

Defenses will need new manual to stop Fins

September, 23, 2008
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Ronnie Brown ran for four TDs and passed for another against the Patriots on Sunday.

Bill Belichick's library is believed to contain the world's third-largest collection of football books behind only the Library of Congress and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His collection of more than 500 titles is housed at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where Belichick's father coached 33 years.

While his New England Patriots use their bye week to regroup from Sunday's incredible 38-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins, this might be the perfect occasion for Belichick to get away and center himself.

On a shelf somewhere in Ricketts Hall he likely will find "Winning Single Wing Football: A Simplified Guide for the Football Coach," written by Dr. Ken Keuffel, who played for Princeton in the 1940s.

At the top of the book's cover is a testimonial:

The principles of single-wing football are enduring, and they're all covered by Ken Keuffel. Every coach in football can profit by reading this book. -- Bill Belichick

Had he reacquainted himself with Keuffel's book while preparing for the Dolphins, Belichick might've gleaned a tip or two on how to neutralize an unusual offense that gave the Patriots fits.

At least by NFL standards, there was nothing by-the-book about Miami's fascinating victory Sunday in Gillette Stadium.

(Read full post)

Around the AFC East: Ricky certainly intriguing

July, 23, 2008

Posted by's Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills

  • Turns out there is some benefit to mediocrity. Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan writes the Bills got a decent draft pick in CB Leodis McKelvin but won't have to fork it over like the first half dozen teams that selected. McKelvin, who's still unsigned, was taken 11th overall and could be an opening-day starter.

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

  • The Patriots have only LB Jerod Mayo left to sign entering the start of training camp Thursday morning. Boston Globe reporter Christopher L. Gasper wonders if the holdup is because the Bengals haven't signed LB Keith Rivers, who was taken at No. 9, one spot ahead of Mayo. It would be in Mayo's best financial interest to wait and see what Rivers does, but missing time in camp to wait out a contract he can't control would be risky.
  • Gasper also lays out 10 storylines to follow on the eve of the first air horn. No. 2 on the list is how the addition of former Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers as new DBs coach will make an impact. Fans in Miami are torn on whether to laugh or cry.
  • The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian provides a positional breakdown of the top training camp battles. Her top priority for the Pats: filling the void left by CB Asante Samuel. No, Capers doesn't qualify.

New York Jets

  • New York Daily News columnist Gary Myers implores the Jets to strike a deal for Brett Favre. "He would give the Jets legitimate hope," Myers quotes an unidentified GM. "It makes sense for them." And it would fall in line with the career-ending stops for Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas. The Jets went 4-12 last year and have more problems than Favre can fix.