Stats & Info: Miami Dolphins

Popovich and Duncan: long-term success

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesTim Duncan and Gregg Popovich have set the precedent for long-term player/coach success.

Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich first teamed up for an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. Now, 15 years later, the two Spurs mainstays are back in the NBA Finals together. That is the longest span between the first and last appearance in the championship round by any coach/player duo in the four major North American professional sports leagues.

Here is a breakdown of the top coach/player duos for each sport.

The player/coach combination in the NFL is actually a three-way tie, but the common thread is Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins. After the 1971 season, Shula led the Dolphins to Super Bowl VI. 11 years later, the Dolphins were in Super Bowl XVII. Offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg and defensive lineman Vern Den Herder were each on those teams. Shula also paired with offensive lineman Ed Newman in Super Bowl VIII and XIX for another 11-year span between player and coach.

On the ice, it was Boston Bruins head coach Art Ross teaming with Hall-of-Famer Dit Clapper to win the 1929 Stanley Cup over the New York Rangers. 14 years later, they were back in the Cup Final together, although they lost this one to the Detroit Red Wings in 1943.

Out on the diamond, the longest span between first and last championship round appearances by a duo was an interesting one. In 1970, Milt Wilcox was a rookie pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, who would go on to the World Series under skipper Sparky Anderson. 14 years later, they were together again – this time with the Detroit Tigers, where they went on to win the 1984 World Series together.

But perhaps no duo has had a sustained excellence quite like the Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich tandem. They made the 1999 NBA Finals together and now 15 years later – which in professional sports is an absolute eternity – they’re back in the Finals again. None of the other tandems in any of the other sports bookended their span with a pair of wins, but Duncan and Pop can get that done if they beat the Heat this season.

Keys to victory: Buccaneers 22, Dolphins 19

November, 12, 2013
What were the keys to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 22-19 win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football?

Winning with defense
The Buccaneers held the Dolphins to only two rushing yards, the fewest in a game by the Dolphins in franchise history, and the fourth-fewest in a game by any team since the start of the 1990 season.

The Dolphins were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 12 of their 14 rushes. They only gained one yard before contact on each of their two other runs.

Miami protected quarterback Ryan Tannehill until the final drive of the game when he was sacked twice. Tannehill’s 37 times sacked are the most by any quarterback in the NFL this season.

Spreading the carries around
The Buccaneers garnered 140 rushing yards, split between Brian Leonard, Bobby Rainey and Mike James. Each had at least 20 yards before contact, the only time the Buccaneers have had three such players in a game in the last five seasons.

Did You Know?
Mike Glennon became the sixth rookie quarterback in NFL history to earn his first career win on Monday Night Football. The other five are Scott Bull (1976 San Francisco 49ers), Charlie Batch (1998 Detroit Lions), Jonathan Quinn (1998 Jacksonville Jaguars), Shaun King (1999 Buccaneers) and Blaine Gabbert (2011 Jaguars).

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have lost five straight Monday Night Football games, tied for the longest active losing streak with the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams.

Top stats to know: Dolphins at Buccaneers

November, 11, 2013

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Miami will be playing its 80th game on Monday Night Football, more than any other franchise.

The Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Monday Night Football in a matchup featuring a pair of teams that have struggled at times (or in the case of the Buccaneeers, throughout) 2013.

Let’s take a look at the top things to know for this game related to each team’s on-field performance.

1. These teams are meeting for the 10th time in the regular season (Dolphins lead 5-4). Miami won the last meeting in 2009, snapping a three-game losing streak in the series. Six of the previous nine meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer.

Both teams are coming off OT games in Week 9. The Dolphins defeated the Bengals Halloween night on Cameron Wake’s safety. The winless Buccaneers blew a 21-point lead and lost at Seattle.

2. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two teams have had a worse record than the 0-8 Buccaneers entering a Monday Night Football game. The 1980 New Orleans Saints were 0-11 when they lost to the Rams on MNF and the 2007 Miami Dolphins were 0-7 when they lost at Pittsburgh.

3. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 35 times in 8 games, putting him on pace to be sacked 70 times this season.

Only two quarterbacks have been sacked 70 times in a season since the stat became official in 1982: David Carr (76 for the 2002 Houston Texans) and Randall Cunningham (72 for the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles).

4. Mike Wallace and Vincent Jackson have the ability to make big plays, but their quarterbacks haven’t been able to get them the ball.

Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon has completed only 43.8 percent of his throws to Jackson, the second-worst completion rate by a quarterback to a receiver this season (minimum 50 attempts). The Tannehill-Wallace combo entered this weekend ranked third-worst, 51.4 percent.

5. Ryan Tannehill completed a season-high 71.4 percent of his passes last week against the Bengals. When Tannehill completes at least 60 percent of his attempts, he and the Dolphins are 9-2 in his short career (2-11 when he doesn't).

However, with Tannehill's Dolphins, you can always expect close games.

Keys to victory: Dolphins 22, Bengals 20

November, 1, 2013
What were the keys to the Miami Dolphins' unusual 22-20 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals?

Wake up
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake had only 2.5 sacks in his first six games of the season, but he had three of Andy Dalton in Thursday's game, including the game-ender in overtime.

It was the third overtime safety in NFL history. The others were by the Vikings against the Rams in 1989 and the Bears against the Titans in 2004.

The Bengals had all sorts of trouble against the Dolphins' pass rush, particularly when Miami blitzed a defensive back.

Dalton was 3-for-11 for 20 yards and three interceptions when the Dolphins pressured him with a member of their secondary.

Dalton tied a career high with his four turnovers. One of the picks resulted in a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown by Brent Grimes, the longest returned for a score by a Dolphin since Brock Marion brought one back 100 yards against the Bills during the 2001 season.

Dalton entered the game as one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league. He had the most touchdowns and highest yards per attempt since Week 6.

Fields day
Dolphins punter Brandon Fields won what turned into a battle with Bengals punter Kevin Huber in a matchup of two of the best punters in the NFL.

Fields averaged 48.9 yards on his eight punts, netting 42.8 per kick. His 52-yarder in overtime pushed the Bengals back to their own 8, giving the Dolphins the opportunity for the game-ending sack. Fields entered the day averaging 48.8 gross yards per punt, second-best in the NFL.

The Dolphins also got what they needed from kicker Caleb Sturgis, who atoned for an early miss with a game-tying field goal with 11 seconds left. Sturgis was 2-for-3 in this win after going 1-for-4 in the previous two games.

The ground game
Miami chewed up yards on the ground early, rushing for a season-high 157 yards (one more yard than it had against the Patriots last week). The 142 in the first half were their most in an opening half since Week 17 of the 2002 season against the Patriots.

The Dolphins had 85 rushing yards after contact, the most by any team against the Bengals this season

Lamar Miller’s 105 rushing yards (57 of which came after contact) were a career best.

Can't blame Tannehill for Miami's slump

October, 22, 2013

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins have lost their last three games, including to the Bills on Sunday.
After a 3-0 start and peaking at No. 7 on the NFL Power Rankings, the Miami Dolphins have lost three straight and fallen to 16th in the Week 8 rankings.

With upcoming games at the 5-2 New England Patriots and at home against the 5-2
Cincinnati Bengals, the Dolphins will have to right the ship quickly, but what exactly needs righting?

At first glance it’s easy to put the blame on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. His play has suffered over the last three games, with a near 30-point dip in his Total QBR.

But a deeper look at the Dolphins this season suggests that Tannehill’s supporting cast has been letting him down, including his coaches.

Play calling
After gaining 20 yards on 23 rushes in Week 1, the Dolphins may have been too quick to abandon the running game.

Since Week 1, the Dolphins have averaged 4.6 yards per rush, which is sixth-best in the NFL during that time.

Despite a successful rush attack, the Dolphins have dropped back to pass at the third-highest rate this season (69 percent of plays).

All of the dropbacks for Tannehill have been a problem, especially with the issues the Dolphins have had with pass blocking.

The offensive line

The Dolphins traded for tackle Bryant McKinnie this week to help shore up the line. McKinnie, however, lost his starting job with the Baltimore Ravens earlier this season and was an inactive for the first time in his career since.

The Dolphins’ current offensive line has yielded a league-worst 26 sacks this season and most of the burden falls on the line.

Tannehill has only averaged 3.3 seconds before passing, scrambling or taking a sack this season, sixth-lowest in the NFL. Despite this, Tannehill has the second-highest sack rate.

Even when given time to throw, Tannehill has been let down by the Dolphins’ big offseason acquisition.

Mike Wallace
Tannehill and Wallace have yet to find a connection this season, as the duo has completed 50.9 percent of their attempts. Only four quarterback-receiver combinations with at least 40 attempts have been worse this season.

Wallace is frequently used to stretch the field for the Dolphins, as his average target depth has been a team-high 14.3 yards downfield. This will certainly contribute to a lower completion percentage, but Wallace and Tannehill have struggled all over the field.

Also contributing to the low completion percentage are drops. Wallace has dropped nearly eight percent of his targets this season, highest among Dolphins wide receivers.

Wallace is still new to the team so chemistry may develop, but Brandon Gibson is new to the team as well and Tannehill has completed 70.7 percent of his attempts to him this season.

Brees rolls over records, Dolphins

October, 1, 2013

Drew Brees had another dominant Monday Night Football game for the New Orleans Saints.

Let’s run through all the accolades of his ninth straight Monday Night win, a rout of the Miami Dolphins.

Brees had his 21st game with at least four touchdown passes, tying Dan Marino for the third-most all-time. Only Peyton Manning (24) and Brett Favre (23) have more.

Brees had his 10th game with at least 400 passing yards. The only quarterback with more is Marino, who has 13. All 10 of those games came since joining the Saints in 2006. No other quarterback has more than five 400-yard games in that span.

It was also Brees’ ninth straight game with at least 300 passing yards. That ties the NFL record for the longest such streak, a mark he set in 2011 and 2012. No other NFL quarterback has had more than six straight.

Brees has five games on Monday Night Football with at least four touchdown passes, tied with Marino for the most all-time.

The 400-yard, four-touchdown combo on Monday Night Football is a special one. It’s been done by five quarterbacks: Marino in 1983, Randall Cunningham in 1998, Manning in 2000, Tom Brady in 2011 and now Brees.

Lastly, the nine-game winning streak on Monday nights is impressive too. It’s tied with Joe Montana for the third-best ever, trailing only Ken Stabler (11 straight) and Steve Young (10).

How he dominated
Brees won this game with long and mid-range throws. He was 8-for-10 for 201 yards and two touchdowns on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield.

The supporting cast
Darren Sproles had both his first rushing and receiving touchdowns of the season and cleared 100 yards receiving by the end of the first half. He’s the fourth player to have at least 100 receiving yards, a touchdown catch and touchdown run in a Monday Night Football game. The other three are Tony Galbreath (1979), Jerry Rice (1994) and Marshall Faulk (2000).

Jimmy Graham caught two touchdown passes and now has a touchdown catch in five straight games dating back to last season (only Wes Welker, with six straight, has a longer active streak).

Graham joined Antonio Gates (2010) as the only tight ends with six touchdown catches in his first four games of a season.

Top things to know: Dolphins at Saints

September, 30, 2013

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSean Payton (left) and Drew Brees (right) look to start 4-0 for the 1st time since 2009.
The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints meet tonight on Monday Night Football (8:25 ET/ESPN). This will be the Dolphins' 79th appearance on Monday Night Football, the most all-time since the series began in 1970 (the Dallas Cowboys are next with 74 appearances). The Dolphins are 40-38 on Monday Night Football.

Here are five stats Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden might touch on tonight during the telecast.

1. This is the first time that two teams will meet on Monday Night Football with records of 3-0 or better since Oct. 5, 1998, when the 4-0 Vikings defeated the 4-0 Packers, 37-24, at Lambeau Field, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Dolphins are looking to become the fifth franchise to have at least seven 4-0 starts since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, joining the Rams (nine), Vikings (eight), Colts (seven) and Cowboys (seven).

The Saints are looking to start 4-0 for the fourth time in franchise history and first since starting 13-0 in 2009 when they went on to win the Super Bowl.

2. Drew Brees has won eight straight starts on Monday Night Football, with 24 touchdown passes and five interceptions. Brees is 10-2 on Monday night since joining the Saints in 2006.

Ken Stabler (11 from 1975-80), Steve Young (10 from 1995-99) and Joe Montana (nine from 1988-94) are the only starting quarterbacks with longer win streaks on Monday Night Football.

3. The Saints' defense has made remarkable strides under new coordinator Rob Ryan. They rank fourth this season with 295.7 yards allowed per game after allowing a league-record 7,042 yards (440.1 per game) in 2012.

In addition, the defense has surrendered 17 points or fewer in all three games after allowing just over 28 points per game in 2012.

4. The Dolphins will be without pass rusher Cameron Wake, who's expected to miss two to three weeks with a sprained left MCL. Since the start of 2010, Wake has 40 sacks, third in the NFL behind DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen.

As a team, Miami has sacked or put the opposing quarterback under duress on 35 percent of dropbacks this season, the best mark in the league.

5. Jimmy Graham caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints' win against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, combined with his 179-yard performance in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Graham has recorded the highest yardage total (313) by a tight end in two consecutive games since 1996, when Shannon Sharpe posted games of 153 and 161 yards for the Denver Broncos (314 total).

Stat your case: Chiefs/Dolphins, playoffs?

September, 19, 2013
Each week, the Stats & Information Group will look at a noteworthy discussion topic and debate the possibilities that come from it, using data to back up their points.

This week’s topic is “Which surprise 2-0 AFC team is more likely to make the playoffs: The Chiefs or Dolphins?”

The case for the Chiefs
The last time the Chiefs started a season 2-0, they finished with a 10-6 record and playoff berth.

That was in 2010 and through two weeks that season the Chiefs scored 37 points and allowed 29. So far this season, the Chiefs have fared better. They’ve scored 45 and allowed 18.

Their 27-point scoring margin is currently the third-highest in the league (trailing only the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks) and is the team’s highest through the first two weeks of a season since 2003, the last time they made it as far as the AFC Divisional playoffs.

The Chiefs defense has been a big part of that. Through two games, they've contributed the most Expected Points Added of any defense in the NFL. They ranked second-to-last in that stat last season.

In addition, Kansas City is holding opponents to 248.0 yards per game this season, the third-fewest in the league.

They are also holding opposing quarterbacks to a league-best 20.7 QBR through two games.

Last season, opposing quarterbacks had a 68.9 QBR against the Chiefs, which ranked them 30th in the league.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Alex Smith has been a valuable addition.

Kansas City is one of two teams, along with Houston, that has a perfect red zone efficiency through two games.

Smith has helped the Chiefs score a touchdown on all five of their red zone drives this season. Last season, the Chiefs scored a touchdown on a league-worst 27 percent of their red zone drives.

Also of note on Smith is that he currently has more rushing yards (82) than the Dolphins’ leading rusher, Lamar Miller (72).
--John Carr

The case for the Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are showing signs of a squad that knows how to win. The offense, led by second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is scoring touchdowns rather than settling for field goals, and the defense has been getting after opposing quarterbacks, forcing turnovers and making timely stops.

Tannehill has outdueled fellow 2012 first-round picks Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck in the first two games. He’s made good decisions and distributed the ball efficiently (three players with 10-plus receptions).

Tannehill has completed 71 percent of his throws against standard pressure so far this season, something he did at a 58 percent rate in 2012.

His 63.5 Total QBR since the start of Week 15 last season rates second-best in the NFL in that span, trailing only Russell Wilson.

New additions Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson have teamed with Brian Hartline to form a formidable receiving corp. Wallace had a career-high nine catches against the Colts, Gibson has converted third downs on six of his eight grabs and Hartline already has as many touchdowns (one) as he did all of last season.

The defense has accounted for nine sacks (22 quarterback hits) and four interceptions, and has not allowed a touchdown to a wide receiver through two games.

Miami stymied Luck’s late-game comeback attempt with an interception in the end zone and a game-ending fourth-down sack. Miami, which has not allowed a second-half touchdown, limited Luck to 79 yards in the second half.

Both the Chiefs and Dolphins could claim Wild Card berths; however, Miami is better poised to take the AFC East from the weakened New England Patriots, while the Chiefs must contend with Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
--Jeff Yusem

Newton's legs are key in grounding Falcons

December, 10, 2012

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton posted one of the highest QBRs this season in the Panthers win over the Falcons.
As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a QB’s significant contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average. Since 2008, the team with the higher QBR has won 86 percent of the time.

Cam Newton posted a 97.0 Total QBR in the Panthers win over the Falcons, the second-highest by any player with at least 40 action plays in a single game this season and the highest by any Panther over the last five seasons.

The difference between Newton and the other players on the list on the right is that he did much of his damage with his legs.

Newton rushed for a career-high 116 yards and a touchdown and was the only player on that list to post a perfect 100.0 QBR on his rushing plays in their given game.

According to NFL passer rating, Newton’s game Sunday (119.3) was the 15th-best performance by a QB this season because that metric does not account for rushing contributions (min. 40 action plays).

• Jay Cutler had a 20.8 Total QBR in Sunday's loss to the Vikings, his lowest against Minnesota since joining the Bears in 2009. Cutler had posted a QBR of at least 65.0 in each of the previous five games against the Vikings including four of at least 75.0.

• Colin Kaepernick had a 64.1 Total QBR in Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins, including a perfect 100.0 in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick has a 99.2 fourth-quarter QBR since his first start in Week 11, best in the NFL over that span.

• Andrew Luck had a season-low 18.4 Total QBR on 44 action plays against the Tennessee Titans, the lowest for any player with at least 40 action plays in a win this season.

• Aaron Rodgers posted an 82.7 Total QBR in Sunday night’s win over the Detroit Lions. It was his 17th game with a QBR over 80 in the last two seasons, tied with Drew Brees for the most in the NFL over that span.

• Matthew Stafford’s fourth-quarter Total QBR was 84.5 from Weeks 1-8, the fourth-highest in the NFL over that span. Since Week 9 his fourth-quarter Total QBR is 18.4, the fourth-lowest in the NFL, including a 14.1 on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

Total QBR can be used to quantify just how important the quarterback position has become to winning in the NFL. Looking back to previous years, the team with the higher Total QBR has won 86% of regular season games since 2008 (as far back as Total QBR goes). That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential, and NFL passer rating.

Rookie QBs boost accuracy in Week 2

September, 17, 2012

Stephen Brashear/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks' Russell Wilson was one of three rookie passers to win for the first time in Week 2.
Week 1 was not a banner week for the majority of the five rookie starting quarterbacks, the most to start in a week since 1950. But the handful of first-year starters showed on Sunday that one game of experience can make a difference.

In the opener, the five passers combined to throw four touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. Among them, only Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins won his debut. Week 2 was a different story, though, with the rookies combining to toss seven touchdowns and just one pick. They also raised their collective completion percentage from 52.3 to 67.3. And maybe most importantly, three of them picked up their first career win. Here is a closer look:

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, threw for 224 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 23-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It took former Colt Peyton Manning until the seventh game of his rookie season to have an interception-free game.

Luck, who tossed three picks in his debut against the Chicago Bears, showed marked improvement when facing four or fewer pass rushers. In fact, rookies across the board proved to be better against four or fewer rushers than they were in the opener.

Griffin’s Redskins lost 31-28 to the St. Louis Rams, but it was not because of a poor effort on his part. He became the first Redskins player since Mark Rypien in 1992 to have at least one passing touchdown and two rushing scores in a game, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, his 82 rushing yards were the most by a Washington quarterback since Harry Gilmer in 1952.

In addition to excelling with his legs, Griffin has been deadly early on when throwing the ball downfield.

Seattle Seahawks third-round pick Russell Wilson didn’t post extraordinary numbers in a 27-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys, throwing for 150 yards and a score, but he had the highest completion percentage (75.0) by a Seahawks rookie in franchise history (minimum 20 attempts). After completing just 40.9 percent of his passes against five or more rushers in Week 1, Wilson only saw that type of pressure on five attempts against the Cowboys.

The Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill was also much better in Week 2. After throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns in his debut and earning himself a Total QBR of 3.1, Tannehill went 18-for-30 with one passing touchdown and one rushing score for a 76.2 QBR in a 35-13 triumph over the Oakland Raiders.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden bounced back from a dismal Week 1 performance in which he threw four interceptions and no touchdowns for a QBR of 1.2, the worst of any passer in the opening week. Sunday in a 34-27 loss to the Bengals, however, Weeden threw two scores with no picks for a QBR of 56.0.

Teams atop AFC East have pass-rush need

April, 18, 2012
Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft at the end of the month with a look at the biggest need for each team. Today, we take a look at the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills
Needs: Offensive line, wide receiver

The Bills had five different offensive line combinations play at least 100 snaps last season, tied for most among any NFL team. Their most-used group played 184 plays together, the fewest of any team’s most-used unit. They also lost tackle Demetress Bell via free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles

The Bills could also look for a wide receiver. They used sets with at least three wide receivers 81 percent of the time, the highest rate in the NFL, but their 6.5 yards per pass attempt in three-wide formations ranked only 19th-best.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Miami Dolphins
Need: Offense

The Dolphins missed out on Peyton Manning, and also traded away wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears. They also have an aging right tackle in Marc Colombo. The Dolphins averaged 5.3 yards running to the left last season, but only 3.9 when running to Colombo’s side.

In terms of quarterback, Miami’s weakness last season was that it threw 10 touchdowns and completed 56 percent of passes when the opponent used at least five defensive backs. Those ranked 21st and 25th in the NFL respectively.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

New York Jets
Need: Pass rush

The Jets used five-or-more pass rushers 43 percent of the time under Rex Ryan, the second-highest rate over the last three seasons. But they recorded only 7.5 sacks from players lined up as outside linebackers (standing off the line of scrimmage), fifth-worst among the 15 teams that play a 3-4 defense.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

New England Patriots
Need: Pass rush/defensive line

The Patriots picked up 23.5 sacks from defensive ends last season, 20 of which came from Mark Anderson (signed with Bills) and Andre Carter (free agent).

They sacked or put opponents under duress on 20 percent of their drop-backs last season, the fifth-worst rate in the NFL. They also allowed 2.9 yards per rush prior to contact, the fourth-worst rate in the league.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State (27th) and Derek Wolfe, DL, Cincinnati (31st)
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse (27th) and Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut (31st)
Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams announced his retirement from the NFL, and while he finished his career with the Baltimore Ravens, he's better known for his years with the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints.

He holds Miami's single-season and single-game rushing records, and trails only Hall-of-Famer Larry Csonka on the team's career rushing list. He finished his career with 10,009 rushing yards, one of just 26 players in NFL history to eclipse the 10,000-yard mark.

In 2002 he had an All-Pro and Pro-Bowl season when he led the NFL with 1,853 rushing yards, a Dolphins record. He led the league in rushing attempts that year and again in 2003.

He started with New Orleans where Mike Ditka famously gave up eight Saints draft picks to take the Heisman Trophy winner fifth overall in 1999 (all six 1999 picks plus first- and third-round picks in 2000). Despite spending just three seasons in New Orleans, Williams is sixth on the Saints all-time rushing list.

At the University of Texas, Williams rewrote the record books. He broke Tony Dorsett's career rushing record on November 27, 1998 against rival Texas A&M.

He finished his career as the all-time FBS leader in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns (he has since been passed in both categories).

Williams had 11 games with 200 yards rushing (tied with Marcus Allen and Ron Dayne for most in FBS history) and is the only player in FBS history to run for 300 yards in back-to-back games.

There's no doubt he's the best runner to play at Texas; he recorded 11 of the 28 200-yard rushing games in school history.
Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin accepted an offer on Friday to become the next head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Philbin initially joined Green Bay’s coaching staff in 2003 and spent the last five seasons as offensive coordinator.

He becomes the latest to take on the challenge of replacing the legendary Don Shula, becoming the eighth different Dolphins coach since Shula’s retirement following the 1995 season (includes interim coaches). The team has not enjoyed the success or stability it sustained in 26 seasons under Shula (see chart).

Philbin follows in the footsteps of Tony Sparano, Cam Cameron and Nick Saban, becoming the fourth straight coach hired by the Dolphins who did not previously have any NFL head-coaching experience. Since Saban’s first season in 2005, the Dolphins are 47-65 which is tied for the seventh-worst record in the NFL.

So what kind of immediate impact might he have?

The year before Philbin took over as Packers offensive coordinator, Green Bay ranked 22nd in scoring offense and ninth in total offense. In his first season in charge of the offense the team ranked in the top four in both categories.

After overseeing the transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, Philbin is now tasked with resolving the ongoing quarterback dilemma that has plagued Miami since the retirement of Dan Marino. According to Elias, the Dolphins have had 19 different starting quarterbacks since 1999, the most in the NFL.

With Rodgers at the helm, Philbin directed a Packers offense heavily reliant on the passing game. Since the start of 2008, Green Bay has called for designed passes (includes sacks and scrambles) on 61.6 percent of its plays, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL. His play-calling remained aggressive even with the lead, as only the Eagles called for more passes when out in front.

He inherits an offense that has been in steady decline each of the last four seasons, dropping from 12th in total offense in 2008 to 22nd last season. Of particular concern last season was the Dolphins penchant for collapsing late in games.

Miami lost four games last season in which it led entering the fourth quarter, tied for the second-most in the NFL. Only the Philadelphia Eagles, which lost five such games, had more.

The Dolphins managed just 68 points in the fourth quarter in 2011, tied for the fourth-worst mark in the NFL. That same offense ranked a respectable 13th in the first three quarters.
Last year at this time, Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey was still at Oklahoma State, and coming off a game at Kansas in which he missed two of his four field goal attempts.

The next week, Bailey made both of his field goal attempts in a loss to Oklahoma and polished off his collegiate career by making all three field goal attempts in a win over Arizona in the Alamo Bowl.

Flash forward to the present, where Bailey hit a pair of field goals, including the game winner with no time remaining, to help the Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins in a Thanksgiving nail biter.

Bailey has made 27 of 28 field goal attempts in his rookie NFL season, including 26 in a row, one shy of the Cowboys team record by any player, set by Chris Boniol in 1996.

The Cowboys now have seven wins this season, and four of them have come via Bailey game-winning field goals.

Another rookie from the Big 12 has also played a major role in the Cowboys success this season, running back DeMarco Murray.

Murray played sparingly in the first five games of the season, totaling only 73 rushing yards on 25 carries, but has averaged 126.8 rush yards per game in the six games since, in which the Cowboys have gone 5-1.

Through 11 games, Murray has 834 rushing yards, already fourth on the Cowboys single-season rookie rushing list, behind only Tony Dorsett, Calvin Hill and Emmitt Smith. Dorsett is the only Cowboy to rush for 1,000 yards in his rookie season, totaling 1,007 in 1977.

It was Bailey and Murray’s first Thanksgiving games in the NFL, but that wasn’t the case for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who is now a perfect 5-0 in his NFL career on Thanksgiving as a starter, the best record for any quarterback with at least five Thanksgiving Day starts.

Romo threw a pair of first-quarter interceptions, something he’s now done just twice in his NFL career, but rebounded with a pair of touchdown passes, both to Laurent Robinson.

Robinson was targeted twice in the end zone on Thursday, and both throws resulted in touchdowns. Robinson has five receptions this season in the five times he’s been targeted in the end zone.

Romo is now 19-2 as a starting quarterback in the NFL in November, the best record of any starting quarterback in November in the Super Bowl era (minimum 15 starts in the month).

He did struggle throwing down the field in the victory, going just 5-14 on throws of 11 or more yards, with both of his interceptions coming on throws of that distance. Entering the game Romo had only thrown four interceptions on passes of 11 or more yards for the entire season.

Those three players helped the Cowboys to improve to 7-4 this season, one more win they had all of last season, when Dallas went 6-10 for its first losing season since 2004. Dallas has also won five of its last six Thanksgiving Day games.

Rodgers again dominates in Total QBR

November, 7, 2011
Another week, another Aaron Rodgers sighting near the top of the Total QBR list. But Rodgers came in second this week behind the Dolphins' Matt Moore who led the way with a 97.7 QBR. Meanwhile, Eli Manning had the sixth-highest rating of the week (81.3) outdueling Tom Brady who finished with a 56.3 rating which ranked right in the middle of the 26 quarterbacks who had at least 10 action plays on Sunday.

Eli Manning
Eli Manning

In an ending that was very similar to the teams’ meeting back in Super Bowl XLII, Manning led the Giants on a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to defeat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. In fact, Manning led the team on two go-ahead touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter, going 7-11 (six first downs) for 85 yards (69 air yards) on those drives. He also had a 12-yard scramble and played a part in drawing two key pass interference penalties – one for 35 yards, the other for 20 yards to set up 1st-and-goal at the 1 – in that span.

Eli’s Total QBR went from 21.5 prior to the last four drives to 81.3 after the game-winning touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. This was Eli’s fifth game of 75+ Total QBR this season, with all of those coming since Week 3.

Manning has really stepped up since a rough performance at home against Seattle in Week 5. His Total QBR over the Giants’ three-game win streak is 83.1. Meanwhile, Tom Brady has struggled in the same span, going from a Total QBR of 84.2 in his first five games to a mediocre 55.4 in the Patriots’ last three games (in which they have gone 1-2), including a 56.3 on Sunday.

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers ramped up his torrid pace on Sunday in San Diego, going 21-26 for 247 yards – 193 through the air – and four touchdowns. Rodgers also made a couple big plays with his legs, with two key 3rd-down scrambles to pick up first downs (one for 11 yards, another for 25 yards). He led the Packers to four TD and a FG on their first six offensive drives finishing with a 94.5 Total QBR, the fourth-highest single-game score of the season (minimum 30 action plays).

Rodgers now has a Total QBR of 90.0 or above in five of his eight games so far this season. No other QB has more than two such games this year!

Looking back to 2008 shows that Rodgers may be in a class by himself, as his Total QBR of 88.0 through nine weeks is much higher than the leader through the same point of the season in each of the previous three years. He’s also ahead of second-place Drew Brees by a much larger margin than the leader has been at this point in the season going back to 2008.

For more information about how Total QBR is calculated, go here.