NFL Nation: Patrick Cobbs
It could have been a miserable week for both units, but the first-team offense finally showed signs it’s getting on track in Saturday night's 27-14 preseason loss to the Houston Texans. It took until the sixth preseason possession, but the first-team offense scored its first touchdown.
Even before that, the Saints looked good on their first two drives. But the first drive ended with Drew Brees getting hit and fumbling in the red zone. Brees completed 7 of 14 passes for 109 yards and the first offense moved the ball well after struggling in last week’s preseason debut.
The first-team defense didn’t have nearly as much success. The Texans scored 17 points against New Orleans’ starting defense. That was a big switch from last week when the defense was dominant against San Francisco.
Although the humidity in Oxnard should be much lower than Louisiana, fiery defensive coordinator Gregg Williams probably won’t notice the difference. He’s going to be looking to fix a lot of things -- and probably won't be in the best of moods -- after Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson made his defense look bad.
Some other observations on the Saints.
- I liked the way Sean Payton mixed the playing time for running backs Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles with the first-team offense. All three made contributions and Ingram scored the lone touchdown for the first offense on a powerful 1-yard run.
- Zach Strief got the start at right tackle after the Saints released former starter Jon Stinchcomb. But Charles Brown also got some playing time and the Saints will soon have to make a decision on which of the two young tackles they want to start. On the Saints’ television broadcast, general manager Mickey Loomis said the team likes both Brown and Strief and “there’s no bad choice’’ for the starting job.
- Joseph Morgan, an undrafted rookie from Walsh College, continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the preseason. Right after Brees and the starters left, backup quarterback Chase Daniel hit Morgan on a 56-yard touchdown pass. Morgan returned a punt for a touchdown in the preseason opener and is making a strong case for a roster spot.
- With free safety Malcolm Jenkins sitting out, Paul Oliver got the start. Things didn’t go well for him. He was beaten in coverage several times and missed an open-field tackle on Foster.
- Jonathan Casillas got the start over Scott Shanle at weak-side linebacker. Casillas was active, but maybe a little too eager to make a big impression. He got flagged for an unnecessary-roughness penalty for a late hit.
- The Saints have a crowded backfield, but there might be room for Patrick Cobbs, who was signed this week. He looked good as a runner and receiver late in the game. He's also got a track record as a strong special-teams player.
What it means: A great victory is somewhat muted by the fact the New York Jets, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are not losing. The Dolphins are 6-5, but still three games out of the division race. They probably can afford to lose only one of their remaining games to still have a shot at a wild-card berth.
Run attack on track: Ten days after one of the flimsiest rushing performances in Dolphins history, Ricky Williams ran 20 times for 95 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to stamp the victory. Ronnie Brown added 85 yards on 24 carries.
Henne returns: With a big brace on his left knee, quarterback Chad Henne started and played well even though Brandon Marshall (hamstring) could not play. Henne completed 17 of his 30 throws for 307 yards and two touchdowns with one bad interception near the goal line. His touchdowns were to Marlon Moore and running back Patrick Cobbs.
Not-so-special teams: The Dolphins continue to struggle in that phase. Raiders rookie Jacoby Ford returned the opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. Dolphins punt returner Davone Bess did have a 47-yard return though.
Pro Bowl watch: Outside linebacker Cameron Wake added another sack, giving him 10.5 for the season. Dan Carpenter kicked four field goals with a long of 49 yards. Carpenter missed from 51 yards and 49 yards.
What's next: The Cleveland Browns will visit Sun Life Stadium in Week 13.
Tyler Thigpen revealed during the week he hadn't taken a single practice rep since the regular season began, and he had only three days to prepare for his first start in two years.
Whoever would dare think such a thing turned out to be dead wrong. The Dolphins abandoned the run in a 16-0 loss at Sun Life Stadium. It was only the second home shutout in 40 years for Miami.
"You know, that was our game plan," Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long said. "We wanted to come out and establish the run and then protect Tyler. We didn't do either of them."
Three quick nuggets that should disgust Dolfans:
- The Dolphins rushed for only 39 yards, their worst output since Tony Sparano became head coach.
- They have rushed for under 100 yards in each of their past eight home games, the longest current streak by any NFL team and the longest such streak in Dolphins history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
- They tied a franchise record for fewest combined rushes by fullbacks and running backs with seven.
Brown ran three times for 10 yards. Williams ran three times for 1 yard. Patrick Cobbs ran once for 1 yards. Lousaka Polite didn't have any carries.
Where did the other 27 rushing yards come from? Thigpen on six scrambles, preventing the Bears from adding to their sack total of six.
The only other times Miami running backs ran seven times were, as you would expect, during the Dan Marino era: in a 42-20 loss to the Washington Redskins in 1990 and in a 34-7 loss to the Bears in 1988.
Don Shula watched Thursday night's game from the Dolphins bench. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning calls plays from the booth. I wonder what Shula might've said to Henning had they been on the sideline together.
Sparano justified the low number of handoffs by pointing to the fact the Bears dominated time of possession at nearly 38 minutes, leaving the Dolphins with only 48 offensive plays.
The Dolphins also went into the game with a banged up offensive line and lost center Cory Procter to a knee injury early. That forced left guard Richie Incognito to handle snaps.
"We didn't get out of our way on offense," Sparano said. "We couldn't help ourselves there and really couldn't get off the field consistently on defense.
"So starting to talk about whether or not you didn't run the ball or throw the ball -- now, at one point you're down 16 points you've got to throw the ball."
What it means: The Dolphins persevered through injuries to starting quarterback Chad Pennington (shoulder) and Chad Henne (knee) to score a crucial victory and remain in the AFC East race.
Injury report: Pennington's turn as starting quarterback lasted two plays. He injured his shoulder again. He was hit while completing a 19-yard pass to Brian Hartline. Henne came in for Pennington and played decently, going 19-of-28 for 240 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Henne was knocked out of the game in the third quarter.
Wildcat returns: The Dolphins went with their Wildcat offense rather than rely on third quarterback Tyler Thigpen right away. Thigpen eventually entered the game and completed four of his six throws for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Touchdown bonanza: The Dolphins' struggling offense received scoring contributions from all sorts of cast members. For the second straight week, the Dolphins scored on their opening possession with a Ronnie Brown run. Third running back Patrick Cobbs caught Henne's touchdown pass. Tight end Anthony Fasano caught Thigpen's.
Quiet day for Moss: In his Titans debut, Randy Moss made one reception for 26 yards. He did draw a 33-yard pass interference penalty on Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis that helped the Titans score a first-quarter touchdown.
What's next: The Dolphins have four days to prepare for the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, but at least the game is in Sun Life Stadium.
The Miami Dolphins fired Bonamego on Tuesday morning. Westhoff, the New York Jets' coordinator, said he reached out to let him know others were thinking of him.
"I'm the guy to do it," said Westhoff, who's in his 28th NFL season. "I've been around the longest. I think I know enough that I can talk from experience on both sides of it, from having good days and bad days. ... I know one thing. I know he appreciated it when we talked."
Westhoff called a play that helped the Jets block a Dolphins punt the week before. As a result, the Dolphins cut linebacker Erik Walden supposedly for not picking up Jets safety Eric Smith on that punt block.
"I helped it happen," Westhoff said of the Bonamego's dismissal, "but it's happened to everybody."
Westhoff coached for the Dolphins from 1986 to 2000. His tenure ended when Dave Wannstedt fired him.
Westhoff said he was disappointed in the Dolphins' decision and sounded bothered Bonamego took the fall alone, with no players getting released, too.
One Dolphins player was at fault for two of the three special teams implosions, Westhoff claimed.
"It's interesting that there was one particular guy that was involved in two of those major breakdowns," Westhoff said. "Frankly, I don't think he could play. I don't want the guy either."
Who could this player be?
"I'm not going to tell you," Westhoff said. "That wouldn't be fair, but there was a common denominator."
Let's try to figure it out.
We can eliminate the blocked field goal as a play Westhoff was referring to for two reasons: 1) It was pretty obvious left wing Lydon Murtha simply let Patriots safety Pat Chung blow right past him; 2) nobody on the field-goal unit was on for punt protection or kickoff coverage.
Only four players were on both the punt and kickoff units: Bobby Carpenter, Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard, Tim Dobbins and Tyrone Culver.
We can eliminate Dobbins and Culver from the discussion because they lined up on the right side for the punt, and Chung's block came through the left. Carpenter was the left tackle. Hilliard was the left wing. Cobbs was the personal protector.
On Brandon Tate's 103-yard kickoff return up the sideline, when he "broke around the edge, he had two unblocked guys," Westhoff said. "Make the tackle."
Carpenter was the first to miss. Nolan Carroll appears to be the other unblocked pursuer Westhoff referred to, and he's not on the other units.
Carpenter, a backup linebacker, was the first-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, when Dolphins consultant Bill Parcells and general manager Jeff Ireland were there.
"If they had included some personnel with [Bonamego's dismissal], I might have not felt so bad," Westhoff said. "That bothers me. I know the guy worked hard. It's their business. It's not mine. They have the right to decide their own. I respect that, but I'm disappointed when those things happen."
The Dolphins called eight Wildcat plays in Sunday night's 31-23 loss to the New York Jets in Sun Life Stadium. The plays were not only ineffective, but also seemed to disrupt the rhythm of the Dolphins' offense when they were driving.
Chad Henne threw for a career-high 363 yards, but the Wildcat essentially removes the quarterback from the equation because the ball is snapped directly to a running back.
The Dolphins gained only 6 yards with the Wildcat. One play was a Brandon Marshall run for minus-1 yard. Ronnie Brown threw an incomplete pass intended for Marshall. A 1-yard run was nullified by a holding penalty.
In the fourth quarter and trailing by four points, the Dolphins had a first-and-10 situation on the Jets' 36-yard line. They called a cute Wildcat reverse to Patrick Cobbs, who linebacker David Harris dropped for a 6-yard loss. The Dolphins eventually kicked a 50-yard field goal.
"We probably ran two or three others that were 4-yard plays, which is really what we're looking for," Sparano said at his Monday news conference. "We're not looking for 40-yard plays out of the thing. It's an efficient run.
"Ronnie had two or three efficient runs out of the thing. And then we threw a pass on one of them that, to be quite honest with you, we threw the ball down the field to Brandon, but if we threw the wheel route, it might've been a 30-yard gain.
"So I ain't all stuck on that. Not at all."
Buffalo Bills (player vote)
- Trent Edwards, quarterback
- Lee Evans, receiver
- Marcus Stroud, defensive end
- Chris Kelsay, outside linebacker
- George Wilson, safety
- Brian Moorman, punter
- Patrick Cobbs, running back
- Jake Long, left tackle
- Karlos Dansby, inside linebacker
- Yeremiah Bell, safety
- Tom Brady, quarterback
- Kevin Faulk, running back
- Vince Wilfork, nose tackle
- Jerod Mayo, inside linebacker
- Selected on game-by-game basis by head coach Rex Ryan.
Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey let down his guard this week at the owners meetings and sketched out the style of running back he has his eye on. He wants a smallish, change-of-pace "water bug" to complement Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Gailey even provided the ideal dimensions: about 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds.
I took that information to Scouts Inc. draft analyst Steve Muench for his thoughts.
The Bills are missing that player.
"Buffalo is interesting because they have two backs in Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch who can carry the heavy workload and catch the ball fairly well," Muench said. "However, they are the only backs on the roster, and Lynch has yet to play in all 16 games of a season. So adding a third-down back to bolster depth and help keep the top two fresh makes sense."
Muench views Mississippi's Dexter McCluster (5-8, 172) as the best option in this year's draft class.
"McCluster would be a great fit," Muench said. "He can turn the corner in a flash as a runner, and he's an effective receiver who can produce after the catch. He's also versatile enough to line up in the slot, and the Bills need some help at receiver."
Scouts Inc. forecasts McCluster as a second-round draft pick, and Muench can't envision the Bills going after a running back that soon. The Bills have more pressing needs to address.
Another name to remember is Southern Methodist's Shawnbrey McNeal (5-10, 190).
"He appears to lose focus and drop passes he should catch at times, but he has the big hands and agility to develop into a productive receiver," Muench said. "He should be available in the fifth round and could last into the sixth."
A foot injury landed Pro Bowl running back Ronnie Brown on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday.
The Dolphins previously announced Brown would miss Thursday night's game against the Carolina Panthers, but Dolfans held out hope he would be back for part of the homestretch.
Miami ranks fourth on the ground at 156 yards a game. Brown had a team-high 648 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, tied for fourth in the league.
Brown's absence leaves the rushing duties almost exclusively to Ricky Williams and probably snuffs the Wildcat offense.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano expressed confidence Williams could handle the Wildcat's direct snaps, but didn't say who would handle Williams' motion-man role that makes the play so tricky to defend.
"Ricky has been back handling the snaps," Sparano told reporters Monday. "There is going to be some other people if Ronnie isn't able to be out there that would come into play."
Miami chose to fill Brown's roster spot with safety Nate Ness and not another running back.
The only other available running back with a carry this year is fullback Lousaka Polite, a fine third-and-short runner, but probably not a legitimate complement for Williams. Polite is averaging 2.9 yards on 18 attempts.
Second-year pro Lex Hilliard wowed Dolfans in exhibitions, but hasn't touched the ball in the regular season. A knee injury ended utility back Patrick Cobbs' season in Week 5.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I'll bet Ted Ginn will be happy to speak after this game.
But I have a feeling he'll be downright chatty after returning two kickoffs for touchdowns in the third quarter against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands. His second score put the Dolphins ahead 24-13.
Ginn brought both back up the right sideline, in front of his Dolphins teammates. The first was for 100 yards, the second for 101.
Ginn has struggled to catch the ball lately and lost his spot in the Dolphins' starting lineup Sunday. He was replaced by Brian Hartline.
And here's another thing to keep in mind: Had original kick returner Patrick Cobbs not suffered a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago, Ginn probably wouldn't have been returning kicks, either.
|AP Photo/Steve Cannon; Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE|
|The New York Jets landed Braylon Edwards in a deal last week; will the Bills ship Terrell Owens out of Buffalo before the trade deadline?|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Unlike trade deadlines in the other major sports, the NFL's closing date doesn't elicit an entertaining barrage of player movement.
Blockbuster deadline deals are rare, but they do happen. Eric Dickerson, Hershel Walker and Jerry Rice were traded at the deadline. Lesser stars such as Roy Williams, Chris Chambers and Keenan McCardell were bartered, too.
This year's trade deadline is Tuesday.
The biggest name being bandied about lately is Terrell Owens. The Buffalo Bills haven't been able to figure out how to use the future Hall of Famer, who likely will be gone when his contract is up after the season.
With that in mind, here's a deadline preview for all four AFC East clubs.
The Wildcat was called, but the plays were reruns. The Dolphins ran five Wildcat plays, but none revealed anything new. They were the same plays we watched last year, including a long flea-flicker pass from Chad Pennington to Patrick Cobbs. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano probably won't show off any new wrinkles. We didn't see rookie quarterback Pat White try it out.
Davis was called for three penalties in the preseason opener, but was effectively aggressive Saturday. He snuffed running back Mike Goodson for a 4-yard loss on a dump pass at the end of the first quarter and was all over receiver Jason Carter for a 2-yard loss in the third quarter.
"It just was a blessing to bounce back from penalties and stuff like that," Davis said. "I just feel great about my play today."
Ronnie Brown looked terrific. On Miami's six-play opening drive, Brown ran for 3, 10 and 12 yards and finished it off with a 28-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He caught the ball around the 15-yard line and made a sweet move that made safety Chris Harris look foolish. Brown didn't do much while handling all five Wildcat plays, but all in all he was in mid-season form.
After a sensational game last week, Miami's most talented receiver was Ginnvisible. In the preseason opener, the Dolphins made sure Ted Ginn was involved heavily. Pennington threw at Ginn five times in the first quarter. Ginn was responsible for four first downs, including one on a 14-yard reverse.
On Saturday, Pennington threw to Ginn once for an incompletion. That was all. Ginn didn't have a catch or a yard all night.
Dan Carpenter got the juicier opportunity in the kicking battle. Carpenter, the second-year incumbent, made a 41-yard attempt. Free-agent contender Connor Barth made a 21-yard attempt but was used on two extra points.
Donald Thomas probably has sewn up the right guard job. Thomas appears to have regained his position after the Dolphins gave Shawn Murphy a shot at it. Thomas, fully recovered from a torn pectoral muscle, started against the Panthers and played well.
|AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan|
|Chad Pennington faced constant pressure from Baltimore's defense and threw four interceptions.|
MIAMI -- Halftime couldn't have arrived soon enough for Chad Pennington. He'd just made it through his worst first half of the season, probably of his career, considering the stakes.
Pennington had a few moments to regroup, to shake off those two second-quarter interceptions, especially the one that was brought back for a touchdown, and lead the Miami Dolphins to another victory Sunday.
The Baltimore Ravens led by only 10 points, and with plenty of recent examples to draw from, the Dolphins had no reason to resign themselves to defeat.
The Dolphins knew they had the ball to start the second half. The mission, of course, was to score, but at the very least it was essential -- mandatory -- for Miami to flip the field.
Pennington awaited his first opportunity to take back the game. The first two plays were Ronnie Brown rushes for 1-yard gains. Then it was Pennington's turn to throw.
The runner-up for league MVP dropped back and lofted a long spiral to Davone Bess. The Ravens intercepted that one too, and returned it to the Dolphins' 39-yard line.
"I'd like to have that one back," Pennington said after the game.
All Pennington could do was swallow hard, but Baltimore's cleat never came off Miami's throat. He would throw a fourth interception as well.
The improbable run from league doormats to AFC East champions came to an end Sunday at Dolphin Stadium with a resounding 27-9 loss.
The Dolphins committed 13 turnovers all season, tying the NFL record for a 16-game season. They led the NFL with a plus-17 turnover differential. They had a record streak of 17 straight games with one or fewer giveaways.
On Sunday, they collapsed. Pennington's four interceptions set a Dolphins playoff record and surpassed his total from the final eight regular-season games. Patrick Cobbs also lost a fumble. The Ravens' five takeaways tied a playoff record they set in the 2000 AFC championship and matched in the Super Bowl.
"Everything that we prided ourselves on doing, we didn't do today," Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said. "In the playoff games, you just can't do some of the things we did. We pride ourselves on no penalties and taking care of the ball and playing good defense and that that type of stuff that got us to this point, and today, in all phases, we didn't hold up to the end of our bargain."
Most surprising was Pennington's awful performance.
The NFL's comeback player of the year, who quarterbacked the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and helped an organization believe again, had one of the worst games of his life when it mattered most.
Pennington completed 25 of 38 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown, but his four interceptions left him with a 53.7 passer rating. The Ravens sacked him three times.
But what can you say to the guy who made the single-biggest difference to the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history?
"I told Chad Pennington that he's my guy, and that we believe in the guy wholeheartedly," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "I couldn't thank him enough for what he's done for us. The guy's a real trooper."
Nobody in the Dolphins' locker room was going to blame Pennington for this one, even though the quarterback position is the most important and he clearly was a liability Sunday.
Earlier in the week, New York Jets running back Thomas Jones criticized his coaching staff for not pulling Brett Favre from a Week 17 loss to the Dolphins. Favre threw three interceptions while Pennington, cast aside by the Jets to make room for Favre, efficiently outworked his former team.
"I love Chad," Dolphins linebacker Akin Ayodele said. "It's not Chad's fault we lost this game. It's our fault as a team. Chad is the reason we're at this point. He's the reason we made it."
Pennington gained a reputation among Jets fans as a quality quarterback who was good enough to win games and maybe get them into the playoffs -- but nothing more.
They'll be saying "I told you so" for the next several months, but deep down inside they wish they had him back in green and white.
After the game, Pennington's teammates came at him in waves. They told him they had his back. They suggested he forget about one bad afternoon. They thanked him for bringing them back from the dead.
Defensive end Vonnie Holliday called Pennington "the backbone of our team."
"I can't say enough about these guys," Pennington said. "They've been unbelievable. They've supported me since the first day I walked into this locker room.
"It's been magical. That's why it hurts even worse. I really wanted to keep this thing going and to really do some great things."
MIAMI -- The calendar flipped over to 2009 this week, but it looked an awful lot like 2007 at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday.
After a magical season in which anything seemed possible for the Miami Dolphins, they reverted Sunday into the version fans endured in that mistake-filled 1-15 campaign.
The Dolphins committed only 13 turnovers all season, tying the NFL record for a 16-game season. At one point they had gone a record 17 straight games with one or fewer giveaways.
When the Ravens visited Dolphin Stadium in Week 7, the Wildcat was the hip story in the NFL. The Dolphins unleashed it three games prior and enjoyed tremendous success. They were averaging 10 yards a pop and had scored six touchdowns.
Then the Ravens' frightening defense throttled the Wildcat. Five plays for 4 yards and zero touchdowns.
"Oh, there's a good amount that's still out there one way or the other," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "Each week we try to add another wrinkle.
"Obviously, Ray is tremendous [when it comes to studying film]. Everybody knows that. When you watch him on film sometimes, it's almost like he's in your huddle the way he gets the plays. He's going to study it."
Then again, maybe the Dolphins won't run much Wildcat at all. They've used it every week since they introduced it, but in Week 15 against the San Francisco 49ers they called only one Wildcat play.
Of course, the Dolphins ran it 10 times against the New York Jets last week and should have scored on a long Chad Pennington pass if a) Pennington had spotted wide-open tight end Joey Haynos, or b) Williams hadn't dropped the ball.
"We feel like right now, with what's out there on film, there's an awful lot to study," Sparano said. "And the more time you're studying some of those things, maybe you're not spending some time studying some other things."