Miami Dolphins: Shelley Smith
With that in mind, let’s open the Dolphins mailbag and see what’s on the minds of Miami fans.
James Walker: I like the idea, Mjhogan. Although it's very early, Melvin Gordon currently is on my short list of targets for Miami. But I'm not convinced the Dolphins are ready to make that kind of move at this stage. Gordon was the best running back I watched last year in college football. I think he's going to be a good pro and worthy of a first-round pick. He's also a good fit for what Miami does offensively. However, Miami is happy with the improvements of Lamar Miller, who had his first 1,000-yard season. The Dolphins will look for a power back or a "bell cow" to complement Miller. But I don't expect it to be in the first round. The team has more pressing needs than another running back.
@JamesWalkerNFL would they think of taking Melvin Gordon in the 1st rd to pair with Miller? Or will they go linebacker? I'm fine with either- Mike Hogan (@mjhogan29) January 2, 2015
Walker: A surprise, Boom? By that you're asking me to reach a little on something that is not certain. Most people expect potential cuts such as linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, etc. But looking deeper into the roster, a possible surprise could be guard Shelley Smith. He signed a two-year contract last offseason but was the not the player the Dolphins had hoped. He failed to solidify the guard position and is due $2.75 million next season. That's fairly high for a backup. Miami might cut ties after one season. But, again, this would be a bit of a surprise and definitely not as certain as other names I mentioned.
@JamesWalkerNFL - Who might be a surprise cap causality this offseason?- Jason Harris (@BoomHarris) January 2, 2015
Walker: There are some Dolphins observers in South Florida who have said for years that ownership was the issue in Miami. I was in a wait-and-see mode until Ross at least had the chance to hire one, his own head coach; and two, a general manager. The 2014 season was the first year in Ross' tenure that he had both in place with Joe Philbin and Dennis Hickey. Ross inherited former head coach Tony Sparano and former general manager Jeff Ireland when he took over as majority owner in 2009. Philbin and Hickey are 8-8 together and that's not good enough. I don't fault Ross for his patience. Too often in the NFL, owners do the opposite. But only time will soon tell if Ross hired the right people to begin with. The 2015 season will definitely be a proving ground.
@JamesWalkerNFL is Steven Ross the problem for this team not succeeding?— Larry Rios (@RiosLarry) January 2, 2015
After studying the tape of Sunday's game, here are some additional observations:
- I didn't notice this while at the stadium, but I didn't like the body language of the Dolphins for much of the second half, particularly on defense. The Ravens were energized in the second half with momentum and the Dolphins did not respond with the same intensity. Momentum is real in the NFL and it was clear the Dolphins lost their mojo and never got it back. Some of that blame goes to the leadership.
- The Ravens made a point to wisely pick on Miami backup cornerback RJ Stanford. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco consistently threw at Stanford on big downs. Although Stanford made one interception, he mostly struggled sticking to receivers and coming out of his breaks. The Dolphins miss veteran Cortland Finnegan (ankle) in the secondary.
- Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon had an impressive spin move with a sack late in the third quarter. Vernon spinned inside the left tackle and was quick enough to get to Flacco before the left guard had a chance to help. The sack nearly resulted in a safety. Vernon needs to make more plays like this, but it's hard to establish a rhythm with the amount of rotations.
- The Ravens appeared to have no hesitation on their fourth-and-1 call early in the third quarter at their own 34-yard line. It was a gutsy call that worked after Flacco's quarterback sneak. Although, I disagreed with the decision, it sent a great message to his players that they were going to be aggressive. It provided a spark the Ravens needed to carry through the rest of the game.
- The Dolphins' red zone trip to begin the first quarter was embarrassing. They had first-and-goal from Baltimore's 4-yard line. The first play was a poorly blocked run for minus-2 yards. The second play was a false start by guard Shelley Smith, followed by an incomplete pass to Mike Wallace and a sack. The Dolphins lost 12 yards on the series and settled for a field goal.
- Baltimore did something subtle, but clever, that I really like. The team called blitzes up the middle to make up for the loss of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The Ravens were aware the Dolphins would test them up the middle. Several linebacker blitzes up the middle worked to perfection. One example was rookie middle linebacker C.J. Mosley sack on Tannehill.
- Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler played more snaps than usual in this game. The Ravens took advantage of Wheeler a few times in pass coverage. Baltimore's longest pass of 29 yards came against Wheeler in coverage.
The Dolphins (7-6) will try to clean up their mistakes next week against the New England Patriots (10-3). Miami beat New England, 30-20, in Week 1.
I went back to review the game film, and here are additional observations:
- It’s clear Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's trust has grown in rookie receiver Jarvis Landry. Tannehill looked to Landry in a lot of tight spots against Denver, even when Landry was covered. Landry won many of the battles. But the fourth-quarter interception was an example where Tannehill forced the ball to Landry in tight coverage. Landry had a game-high 11 targets and led the team with seven receptions and two touchdowns.
- I agree with Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's assessment that his group wasn't physical enough. It was clear watching the game live that Miami's front seven was pushed around, and it also showed on tape. Denver's offensive line got stronger as the game wore on. You have to wonder if the altitude played a factor for Miami's defense, particularly in the fourth quarter when the Broncos scored 22 straight points.
- The Dolphins made a big mistake by going away from the running game in the fourth quarter. They gained an early 14-3 lead by running the ball well. Miami had 74 rushing yards in its first three drives. However, Miami ran just three times in the final quarter, which contributed to Denver's comeback. The Dolphins finished with 97 rushing yards on 21 carries, which was a 4.6 yard average. Lamar Miller, in particular, had 59 rushing yards on 12 carries and could have used more opportunities.
- Cornerback Jamar Taylor's play speed has improved from his rookie to Year 2. His first-quarter stop on third-and-5 behind the line of scrimmage was an impressive read-and-react play where Taylor saw the screen quickly and blew up the play. Taylor has two tackles for losses in his two starts, which is impressive for a young cornerback. Taylor will be day-to-day with a shoulder injury he suffered Sunday.
- The rotation at left guard worked between Daryn Colledge and Shelley Smith. Colledge returned from a back injury and rotated with Smith approximately every two series. Both players held their own with reduced playing time. The offensive line continued to play well even after an injury to starting left tackle Ja'Wuan James.
- Miami’s defense continues to struggle with pick plays and crossing routes. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was surgical on short passes. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Manning was 22-of-22 on passes of 5 yards or more. Most of those throws came across the middle of the field against the Dolphins’ linebackers and safety, which struggled in coverage.
- The Dolphins got surprise contributions from backup receiver Brandon Gibson (five receptions, 42 yards) and backup tight end Dion Sims (four receptions, 31 yards). Both players stepped up with increased roles.
Here are some notes from Thursday’s sessions:
- Miami starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan was not present during the media portion of practice and missed his third consecutive session with an ankle injury. Finnegan most likely will sit on Sunday. That means second-year cornerback Jamar Taylor is expected to start his second straight game. Taylor had seven tackles last week in a victory over the Buffalo Bills.
- Guard Daryn Colledge practiced for the third straight time and looks poised to return from a back injury after missing the past two games. Colledge said Wednesday that he’s feeling good and believes he will play. Colledge, if healthy, could start against Denver over backup left guard Shelley Smith.
- Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi, as expected, was present for his second straight practice. Misi missed Tuesday’s game after the birth of his child.
- The Dolphins will not travel to Denver early to get used to the altitude. The team will follow their usual road schedule by leaving on Saturday. Head coach Joe Philbin said he looked into it and was told one extra day isn't enough to help get acclimated to the thin air.
Colledge practiced for the second straight day on Wednesday, which is an indication he could be available after a three-game absence. The Dolphins can certainly use Colledge's veteran presence. They lost Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert to a season-ending knee injury in Week 10 against the Detroit Lions and have two young offensive tackles starting in Ja'Wuan James and Dallas Thomas.
Colledge, who has nine years of experience, could help add stability to the offensive line down the stretch. Miami has allowed 15 sacks in the past five games. Colledge is still disappointed he had a streak of 135 career starts broken this season. But he does see a benefit of fresh legs upon his return.
"We have six games left and I better be the freshest offensive lineman out there," Colledge said. "I better be the guy covering the field and helping running backs and wide receivers off the ground."
Former backup Shelley Smith has been up and down as Colledge's replacement at left guard. Smith made good blocks but also had bad plays and penalties in last week's win over the Bills.
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said he hasn't made a decision on who would start at left guard if Colledge is healthy. But there is a good chance the trust and dependability Colledge has shown would give him an edge.
"I was playing good football before I got injured," Colledge said. "So I want to get back to that level. To be a part of what I think this offense is capable of, I need to be at 100 percent."
Here are several notes and observations from Wednesday’s session:
- Dolphins starting linebacker Koa Misi returned to practice Wednesday. He missed Tuesday’s session following the birth of his child. Misi is a key cog on defense and missed four games this year due to an ankle injury. But he is expected to play against Denver.
- Miami may be without starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan. He did not practice in the portion open to the media. Backup Jamar Taylor will start this weekend if Finnegan cannot play.
- Guard Daryn Colledge practiced for the second straight day and could be inserted into the starting lineup over Shelley Smith. Colledge missed the past two games with a back injury.
- Overall, the Dolphins appear pretty loose. Starting safety Louis Delmas showed off some good dance moves for teammates and there was good energy in the early portion open to the media. General manager Dennis Hickey also watched practiced.
Here are several notes and observations from Tuesday’s session:
- Miami backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny, as expected, also did not practice. Freeny suffered a hamstring against the Bills, and multiple sources tell ESPN.com Freeny is expected to miss approximately four weeks. Freeny is one of the team’s better special-teams players. The Dolphins also lost backup corner Will Davis and backup safety Michael Thomas in recent weeks, which also hurts their special teams.
- Miami’s practice bubble was purposely made colder by head coach Joe Philbin. His team hasn’t played in a game below 50 degrees all season. It’s expected to be around 30-35 degrees in Denver on Sunday.
- The Dolphins received some good injury news. Starting guard Daryn Colledge practiced, which is a good sign he could return Sunday. Colledge missed the past two games with a back injury. If healthy, Colledge would start over Shelley Smith at left guard.
After reviewing the game, here is what went wrong on those five sacks:
Sack No. 1: At 10:30 mark of the first quarter. First-and-10 at Buffalo 33
Fault: Clay and Smith
Sack No. 2: At 1:48 mark of the second quarter. Second-and-10 at the 50
Sack No. 3: At 11:36 mark of the third quarter. First-and-15 at Miami 34
Analysis: Williams lines up very wide, which was perfect for Miami's play call. Williams doesn't bite on Tannehill's play-action fake. Dolphins tight end Dion Sims fails to get to Williams fast enough and Tannehill doesn’t have a chance. Sims misses his block, but that is a poor scheme to expect a backup tight end to block Williams one-on-one.
Sack No. 4: At 7:21 mark of the fourth quarter. Second-and-2 at Buffalo 49
Analysis: Williams lines up wide again, which puts him in a one-on-one matchup against Clay. Williams’ initial effort was stuffed, but he proves to be too strong for Clay on the second push. Thomas also fails to hold his block and allows Corbin Bryant to team with Williams to sandwich Tannehill.
Fault: Clay and Thomas
Sack No. 5: At 5:34 mark of the fourth quarter. Third-and-3 at Buffalo 32
Analysis: The Dolphins are trying to eat up clock and close out the Bills. But Williams gets one more surge with a bull-rush through Thomas to sack Tannehill. It's questionable that Miami's coaching staff continually blocked Williams one-on-one. That made it easy for Williams, who finished with 3.5 sacks in the game.
Sack fault tally: Thomas 2.5, Clay 1.0, Sims 1.0, Smith 0.5
Davis on crutches: Miami backup cornerback Will Davis was on crutches and had his left knee wrapped in a brace after suffering a second-half injury. He did not return. Davis will have further tests on his knee Monday to determine if the injury is long-term.
Rest ahead: After playing two games in five days, several Dolphins players said they were looking forward to some rest. Miami head coach Joe Philbin said he will give his team the weekend off to heal before returning to the practice field in preparation for its next game against the Denver Broncos.
After a solid start, the Dolphins' pass protection has suddenly dropped to 2013 levels the past two games. That is a major concern as the Dolphins (4-3) prepare to face the San Diego Chargers (5-3) on Sunday in a big game for both teams.
The Dolphins' offensive line allowed seven sacks in victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. Miami's offensive line allowed only 10 quarterback sacks on Ryan Tannehill in the first five games.
Miami is having trouble with its interior offensive line. Guard Daryn Colledge has struggled. Fellow guard Mike Pouncey, who missed the first five games with a hip injury, is still shaking off the rust and making uncharacteristic mistakes. The Jaguars and Bears brought pressure up the middle with a lot of success.
The best solution is for Miami to put Pouncey back at center, his natural position. I've said from the start Miami was making a mistake by making an elite, top-five center into an average or slightly above-average right guard. The Dolphins need that strength and athleticism in the middle and can find someone else (Samson Satele? Nate Garner? Shelley Smith? Dallas Thomas?) to fill in at right guard.
The Dolphins probably won't make any drastic changes on their offensive line this week, especially if they continue winning. But things could change if pass protection remains an issue.
- Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel writes about safety Reshad Jones, who believes he’s playing like one of the top safeties in the NFL.
- Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald writes guards Billy Turner and Shelley Smith can’t crack the starting lineup.
- Alain Poupart of the Dolphins team site writes defensive end Dion Jordan is happy to be back.
- Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post writes the Dolphins must improve on special teams.
- Miami’s defense received some good news. Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi returned to practice from an ankle injury. Misi was injured in Week 1 against the New England Patriots and missed the past two games. Backup linebacker Jason Trusnik has filled in.
- Dolphins starting defensive lineman Randy Starks was not practicing Wednesday in the portion open to the media. He also left practice early on Tuesday. Miami will release the nature of Starks’ absence later this afternoon. Also, guard Shelley Smith didn’t practice for the second day in a row. Smith missed last week’s game with a knee injury.
- Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is on the hot seat, is making an emphasis on improving his footwork this week. Tannehill went through individual and position drills Wednesday concentrating on footwork to improve his accuracy. Tannehill currently has a career-low 56.5 completion percentage.
Here are some notes and observations:
- All eyes were on Miami’s quarterbacks in practice. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin would not confirm quarterback Ryan Tannehill would start on Sunday, which left open to interpretation that his leash is getting shorter for the third-year quarterback. Interestingly, Philbin closely watched both Tannehill and backup quarterback Matt Moore during individual drills in practice. Teams drills are not open to the media during the regular season.
- Dolphins Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey practiced again on Tuesday. He also practiced last week and appears closer to returning. Pouncey has targeted this game since training camp. But it’s also possible Pouncey could take advantage of the bye and take another two weeks off.
- Miami starting middle linebacker Koa Misi and starting guard Shelley Smith did not practice in the portion open to the media. Misi missed last week’s game with an ankle injury and Smith missed it with a knee injury.
Here are the Dolphins who could miss the Week 3 matchup:
RB Knowshon Moreno: Miami’s leading rusher injured his elbow in Week 2 and won’t be back any time soon.
LB Koa Misi: He missed every practice this week and already is ruled out.
G Shelley Smith: Miami’s starting guard also missed every practice and is ruled out.
DL Terrence Fede: The rookie seventh-round pick is making progress. But he still appears to be at least a game or two away.
LB Jordan Tripp: Miami’s rookie linebacker returned to practice, and there was some optimism he could play against Kansas City. But the Dolphins listed Tripp as "doubtful" and will play it safe for another week.
OT Jason Fox: He’s the final offensive lineman on Miami’s active roster.
DL Bruce Gaston: The Dolphins made him inactive the first two games, and that probably won’t change Sunday.