Jun 202013

Mike Wallace12. Miami Dolphins
Head Coach: Joe Philbin
2012 Record: 7-9
2012 Offense: 288 points scored, 27th in points, 27th in yards (26th passing, 17th rushing)
2012 Defense: 317 points allowed, 7th in points, 21st in yards (27th passing, 13th rushing)

Key Additions
WR Mike Wallace, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Philip Wheeler, TE Dustin Keller, WR Brandon Gibson, CB Brent Grimes, T Tyson Clabo, DT Vaughn Martin, DE Dion Jordan, CB Jamal Taylor, OL Dallas Thomas, CB Will Davis

Key Losses
RB Reggie Bush, T Jake Long, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Kevin Burnett, TE Anthony Fasano, CB Sean Smith, WR Davone Bess, DT Tony McDaniel, K Nate Kaeding

Why 2013 will be better
Ryan Tannehill is a promising young quarterback who might well break out this season with weapons like Wallace, Gibson, and Keller added to his arsenal. The offensive line is solid in its depth, though Jonathan Martin has struggled at left tackle. Clabo does offer an upgrade on the right side. Cameron Wake is an elite pass rushing talent, while Dion Jordan has the talent to be a disruptive force on the opposite side. Jordan’s addition to the lineup allows Jared Odrick to move inside along with Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, providing the Dolphins with an excellent defensive line. Brent Grimes was a solid addition to the secondary after returning from a torn ACL in 2012, and will likely start opposite Richard Marshall, though rookie Jamal Taylor looks equipped to push Marshall for the spot. There is little doubt that the Dolphins’ dreadful pass defense will be better in 2013.

Why 2013 will be worse
Tannehill has tons of potential, but was also very inconsistent last season. Lamar Miller enters 2013 as the top running back. While the second year pro has a potential high upside, he saw limited carries in his rookie season and is an untested; at least in the short term he appears to be a downgrade from Reggie Bush. Daniel Thomas can be a good complement to Miller, but only if he can stay healthy. While Ellerbe and Wheeler are touted as an upgrade to the linebacker corps, Ellerbe was a one-trick pony with the Ravens, and the Fins appear to have overpaid for a player who may not have the three down talent that they think he does. Wheeler appears to be the real deal, but doesn’t appear to be an upgrade over Burnett. The Dolphins got younger at linebacker, not necessarily better.

Tannehill was sacked 35 times last season, and needs better play from his offensive line to be able to play with the new toys that he has. Tannehill finished his rookie system ranked 27th in the league, but showed numerous flashes of his potential last season. One thing the Dolphins lack is quality depth at offensive skill positions, so health is going to be critical to the team’s offensive success. On defense, the Dolphins need a pass defense to complement a solid run defense, and the upgrades appear to sufficient to accomplish this. At first blush, the worst case for 2013 would appear to be a repeat seven win performance, and the team appears capable of winning as many ten games as they challenge for a playoff spot and seek to depose the Patriots from the AFC East throne.

Dec 032012

It wasn’t a pretty win. Nor was it a particularly efficient one.

But the New England Patriots, short-handed on both lines, battled through injuries and inefficiency to grind out a 23-16 win at Sun Life Stadium.

The win clinched the AFC East for the Patriots, and gave Tom Brady a record tenth division title, passing Joe Montana. The Patriots also moved at least temporarily into the second seed in the AFC playoff race, courtesy of a superior conference record over both Baltimore and Denver who, like New England, are now 9-3.

The Patriots took advantage of a Miami miscue to get an early lead. Brandon Fields bobbled a punt after Miami’s first drive, and the Patriots forced a change of possession at the Dolphins’ 12 yard line, scoring five plays later on a two yard touchdown run by Stevan Ridley.  After a Miami punt the Patriots drove to the Miami 31, but Stephen Gostkowski missed a 49 yard field goal to the right, continuing his struggles. The Dolphins were not able to take advantage of the field position, but Brady committed a rare miscue on the next Patriots’ drive, trying to force a pass to Aaron Hernandez despite excellent coverage by Reshad Jones, who picked the pass off and gave Miami the ball at the Patriots’ 34 yard line. The Dolphins were forced to settle for a field goal, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 7-3.

New England responded, as it often does, with a classic drive going 13 plays and using 5:40 off the clock to march down the field before Brady connected with Wes Welker on a 7 yard touchdown and increased the lead to 14-3. Then, on the next possession it looked like the Patriots would put the game away early when Trevor Scott sacked Ryan Tannehill and forced the ball out of his hand, which Vince Wilfork promptly recovered at the Dolphins’ 25. But the Patriots could not take advantage of the short field and were forced to settle for a 43 yard field goal to increase the lead to 17-3.

The Dolphins then responded with an impressive drive of their own, with Tannehill navigating the Dolphins on a ten play, 80 yard drive that took up almost all of the time remaining before Tannehill ran the ball in from two yards out, cutting the halftime lead to 17-10.

The third quarter saw the game develop into a defensive struggle, as neither team could sustain drives. The Patriots got things moving at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, putting together a 13 play drive, but again needed to settle for a field goal after a sack by Koa Misi ended a Patriots’ threat. The Dolphins struck back with a field goal to make it a one score game, but then the Patriots executed probably their most important drive of the day, using 16 plays and 7:18 while handing the ball off to Stevan Ridley ten times. The Patriots added a field goal with 1:15 left to extend the lead to 23-13. The Dolphins tacked on a late field goal, but Brandon Lloyd recovered the ensuing off-sides kick, effectively ending the game.

When the Patriots ran:
The announcers made a big deal out of the Patriots only rushing for ten yards in the first half, but the Patriots only ran the ball eight times; the run was schemed out in the first half. As the game moved on and it was clear that the game would go down to the wire, the Patriots shortened the game by pounding the ball effectively against the Dolphins. While the 108 yards gained by the Patriots wasn’t overly impressive, the fact that the Patriots ran the ball when they needed to, against one of the top run defenses, tilts this to the Patriots. Ridley ran for 71 yards on 19 carries, and went over 1,000 yards for the season. Danny Woodhead added 24 yards on 6 carries. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:
For as bad a pass defense as the Dolphins have, the Patriots simply could not take control of the game through the air on Sunday. Brady was was not particularly sharp, missing throws while also under regular pressure from the Dolphins’ front seven. Brady was sacked four times but seemingly under pressure all day, as the Dolphins limited Brady to 24/40 for 238 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Wes Welker, the ultimate Dolphin killer, had twelve receptions for 103 yards and a score. Aaron Hernandez added 8 catches for 97 yards, but both Welker and Hernandez dropped balls that should have been caught. Advantage: Dolphins

When the Dolphins ran:
The Dolphins rushed for 101 yards, just seven fewer than the Patriots, but unlike the Patriots could not sustain drives with the run when they needed to. Reggie Bush was routinely stuffed in the second half as the Dolphins’ offense struggled to find any traction. Bush rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries, and both Tannehill and Daniel Thomas rushed five times each for a combined 29 yards. Advantage: Patriots

When the Dolphins passed:
Ryan Tannehill did not look sharp on Sunday, going 13/29 for 186 yards. He was stripped on one sack, though he avoided throwing any interceptions. Tannehill twice missed an open Brian Hartline deep, and was also undone by drops. The Patriots recorded three sacks on the day, two by Trevor Scott, but the pressure sometimes aided Tannehill as he was effective creating plays with his legs. At first blush the Patriots secondary played well, though Tannehill failed to take advantage of the lapses in New England’s coverages. Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams
Ghost missed yet another field goal, his sixth of the season, but connected on three others. His kickoffs resulted in five touchbacks as the Dolphins’ return game was neutralized. Carpenter went 3/3 on field goals, and added three touchbacks. Mesko had a mediocre punting performance, while the game turned in part on the performance of Fields, who was solid in pinning the Patriots deep in their own end twice, but whose early mishandling of a punt turned out to be a key play in the game. Slight edge to the Pats based on that.  Advantage: Patriots

The Patriots showed gutsy determination in putting away a division foe that has historically given them trouble, pounding the ball throughout the fourth quarter to put the game away. For their part, the Dolphins staved off being blown out in the first half, and Ryan Tannehill kept his composure and kept the Dolphins in the context until the end. The turnovers were even, with each team turning the ball over once. Advantage: Even

Key Moment: A Jerod Mayo sack on 3rd and 7 with 8:53 remaining in the game ended a Dolphins’ drive and forced them to settle for a Dan Carpenter field goal.

Game Ball: Wes Welker with 12 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown

Nov 292012

This weekend the New England Patriots have the opportunity to clinch the AFC East with a win over the Miami Dolphins, while the Dolphins have the opportunity to make themselves serious contenders in the hunt for an AFC wildcard spot. So what can we expect to happen in south Florida on Sunday afternoon?

The Patriots ride a five game winning streak into the contest and are fresh off of a Thanksgiving blowout win over the New York Jets. The Dolphins are coming off of a solid performance in beating the Seahawks, after previously dropping three straight games. Yet the Dolphins find themselves at 5-6, just a game out of the second wildcard spot. And with this being a divisional contest, we can expect that the two team’s familiarity with one anther will help offset what is a noticeable difference in talent level between the two teams. The Dolphins enter the contest much healthier than the Patriots, who are looking like the walking wounded on offensive line and on the defensive line, and Jermaine Cunningham’s four game suspension for performance enhancers thins the depth at defensive line even more.

When the Patriots run
The Patriots have the sixth ranked rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 143.7 yards per game, but the Dolphins have a solid run defense, giving up just 96.7 yards over game, seventh in the NFL. Miami only gave up 96 yards on the ground to the Seahawks, so don’t look for the Patriots to line up and try to run the ball down the defense’s throat. Instead, look for the Patriots to utilize the spread formation to run, and to find opportunities to run Stevan Ridley (939 yards) and Shane Vereen (159 yards) off of passing situations. The biggest damage that the Patriots’ backs may do is by taking short passes out of the backfield, but the Patriots should end up with somewhere near 130 yards on the ground Sunday.

When the Patriots pass
This is where the game may well be determined. The Patriots possess the league’s top passing attack, averaging over 292 yards per game, while the porous pass defense (26th in NFL) is giving up over 261 yards per game. Even worse for the Dolphins, while Cameron Wake is having a great year with 9.5 sacks, the Dolphins generally have to blitz to apply pressure to the quarterback. This creates mismatches that will favor the Patriots’ short passing attack, and you can expect New England to carve up the field. The Patriots, even with a banged up offensive line, have done an excellent job of protecting Brady and making pass rushes disappear, and the Dolphins cannot win this game without applying consistent pressure to Brady and taking him out of his rhythm. Look for Brady to pass the 300 yard mark on Sunday, and for the Patriots receiving group to have a big day. The Dolphins’ secondary, depleted by injuries all season, is simply not up to the task of containing the Patriots’ attack.

When the Dolphins run
The Dolphins ran for 189 yards last week against the Seahawks, and rank 16th in the league with an average of 108.9 yards per game this season. The strength of the Patriots’ defense however, is against the run, where the Patriots rank 10th, giving up 100.8 yards per game. Reggie Bush has been a feast or famine back this year (mostly famine), while Daniel Thomas has emerged as a solid companion back. The Patriots are vulnerable on the defensive front, but still have Vince Wilfork stuffing the middle of the line, forcing backs into the waiting arms of Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont’a Hightower. The Dolphins are likely to run for 110-120 yards, but not necessarily be able to run consistently to maintain drives.

When the Dolphins pass
Miami has only the league’s 22nd ranked pass offense (212.4 ypg) and the Dolphins have been prone to turning the ball over this season, while the Patriots are masters at baiting quarterbacks to make unwise throws. Ryan Tannnehill is having a good rookie year as the ‘Fins signal caller, with a 59% completion rating and a 72.9 passer rating, seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but it’s the last number that creates a problem for the Dolphins. For all of the yards the Patriots may give up through the air (29th, 289.4 ypg), those yards don’t always convert to points, and the Patriots have a knack for forcing turnovers. While I expect Tannehill to throw for 300 yards in this game, turnovers will offset some of this production, and some of it is likely to come after the game is already decided. Davone Bess has emerged as a solid if not spectacular receiver for the Dolphins (55 receptions). Brian Hartline also has 55 receptions. Anthony Fasano is the Dolphins next option, but he is dealing with an injury and may or may not see much action in this game. Fullback Charles Clay had a big receiving day against the Seahawks, and needs to be accounted for. Meanwhile, the Patriots are getting healthier in their secondary, and the move of Devin McCourty seems to be paying dividends. With Steve Gregory now emerging as a play-maker and with a pass rush that is improving in step with the secondary, Tannehill could see his day undone with a handful of big defensive plays.

Special Teams
Both Dan Carpenter and Stephen Gostkowski are solid kickers for their squads. Brandon Fields gets the edge in the punting game over Zoltan Mesko, though both are effective in pinning teams deep in their own end. Marcus Thigpen is a dangerous kick and punt returner who is capable of returning a kick for a touchdown at any time, but the Patriots also possess dangerous returners in McCourty and Edelman.

The Patriots lead the league with a +24 turnover differential (32 takeaways and 8 giveaways), far better than any other team. The Dolphins are sitting at -10 with only 11 takeaways and 21 giveaways. So many games are decided on turnovers in the league, and the Patriots excel at protecting the ball and taking it away from the other team. Combined with the Patriots’ deadly passing attack, these two factors should be the difference in the game.

This game has the potential to drive Patriots’ fan nuts on Sunday, but I am not expecting that to last very long. The Patriots’ ability to create turnovers, and their history of taking advantage of young quarterbacks suggests that the Patriots will be able to turn the tide of the game through forcing the Dolphins into mistakes. Further, the Patriots surgical passing attack will be able to take advantage of a weak Dolphins’ secondary. The pass will set up the run in this contest, and the Patriots should be able to sustain long drives without needing to take on the Dolphins’ stout run defense in a direct way. Look for match-up advantages to favor Welker, Edelman (if he plays), and Hernandez, and thus set up Ridley and Vereen for runs and screens when the safeties are caught defending the pass. Expect Miami to get some early points in this contest, as has so often been the case in Patriots’ contests so far this season. New England will assert itself in the second quarter through a long scoring drive and, if a turnover or two is forced, look for a lead by half. Expect the second half to be a gutting of the Dolphins’ secondary by Brady and company, with the Patriots pulling away in the fourth quarter. Predicted Score: Patriots 38 Dolphins 20.

Jun 122012

I should have seen it coming.

Last week I posted the Rat’s Tale with the joke that Chad Ochocinco would end up playing for the New York Jets. I should have known it would be the Miami Dolphins. Why does this move make perfect sense? Several reasons.

1. Ocho gets to be on Hard Knocks this season. Is that perfect, or what?

2. Miami is Ocho’s hometown.

3. Ocho will get to visit both New England and Cincinnati this season as a member of the Dolphins. If he makes the roster.

4. The Dolphins agreed to Ocho’s demand that, since he had such a hard time learning the playbook in New England, they will give him all of his route assignments on an Etch-a-Sketch in the huddle.

OK, so I made the last one up… maybe. But it seems like a match made in heaven for Ocho and Stephen Ross, who has to rank among the top three in the clueless owners category. As an added bonus for Chad, he will even get to wear the number “85.”

To Chad’s credit, he worked hard and kept his mouth shut (for the most part) in New England, but I rather suspect that being on Hard Knocks is going to be like putting a candy bar in front of an 8 year old; it will be just too good to refuse, and Chad’s natural personality will come out. I have already decried having the Dolphins on HBO this season, and said I am not likely to watch. Sending Chad to Miami either makes me want to rubber-neck an accident scene, or get rid of HBO altogether. But since HBO carries Game of Thrones, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

On a side note, the move is going well, though I am sore. Tomorrow is a cleaning and packing day at the old place and Thursday is the actual move, so I will be (mostly) without internet the next two days. But we’ll be back with a passion this weekend. I have two pieces under development that I want to get posted, and I know other writers have material on the way as well. Stay tuned!

Update: If you haven’t yet done so, please read Flip Stricland’s inaugural article dealing with NFL players and child support. Great piece, and indicative of what we hope to bring to our readers.

Update (6/13/12): WE HAVE THE INTERWEBS!! Amazingly, Comcast showed up early to do the internet install and we are good to go. What I lack however, is time. Oh well… one step closer to having this move be done. On a related note, the DirecTV installer is here… Sunday Ticket, baby!!

May 292012

So the Miami Dolphins are going to be the 2012 “stars” on HBO’s Hard Knocks series.

Even as a fan of an AFC East team, I have to admit that this is an uninspiring choice. Karlos Dansby’s assertions aside, the Dolphins are not a serious Super Bowl threat this season. While they may be able to compete with the Jets to stay out of the basement of the AFC East, they are not as good as the improving Buffalo Bills and certainly nowhere near as good as the Patriots.

Still there is some entertainment value, mostly deriving from a publicity-seeking yet seemingly incompetent owner who knows that his team can’t fill seats in the stadium, so he will seek his attention elsewhere. Meanwhile, the single best source of team news is a quarterback battle that could best be described as a  “who cares battle royale” featuring Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill, and David Gerard. Yawn.

It seems that HBO drew the short straw this season as other, potentially more entertaining teams were not willing to take part. Even the Jets would have been a far better choice given the off-season drama that has unfolded, and the fact that the Jets have at least had a winning season (two in fact) since 2008. While I normally am willing to watch anything football related, I think I am going to be taking a pass on Hard Knocks this season.

May 222012


Miami Dolphins

Head Coach: Joe Philbin


Projected Starting Quarterback: Matt Moore

2011 Record:  6 wins, 10 losses (3rd in AFC East)

No postseason appearance

22nd in Total Offense, 15th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 70 wins, 90 losses (23rd in NFL)

0 wins, 1 loss in postseason

No Super Bowl appearances

2-3 All-time in Super Bowl