W2W4: Miami Dolphins

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
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The Miami Dolphins (7-7), who lost three of their past four games, will host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

Here are three things to watch from Miami’s perspective:

Quarterback homecoming? Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a South Florida native, will try to perform well in his homecoming game. Bridgewater was a prep star at Northwester High School before going to the University of Louisville and becoming a first-round pick. He will try to become the first rookie quarterback to beat the Dolphins this season. Miami handily beat Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders) and Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars) earlier this season.

Sackless: If the Dolphins aim to spoil Bridgewater’s homecoming, the defense must pressure the rookie. Miami’s pass rush has disappeared in recent weeks. The team failed to sack New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week, and starting defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon have just two combined sacks in four games. The decline of Miami’s defensive line play has been one of the big mysteries this season. The front four must step up for the team to win the final two games.

Deep passing game: The Dolphins surprised many last week by throwing a variety of deep balls in last week’s loss to the Patriots. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill successfully threw five passes of 30 yards or more in the 41-13 loss. Tannehill connected on a pair of deep balls to receiver Mike Wallace for 50 and 35 yards, and he had another potential touchdown throw dropped by backup running back Damien Williams. Tannehill made another solid deep throw to receiver Brian Hartline that was lost in the sun and drew a pass interference on a fifth deep pass. The Dolphins should test the Vikings’ defense deep to keep opponents honest. They also need to know if Tannehill is capable of consistently making the long throw.
The Miami Dolphins (7-7) will host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) Sunday in a battle of inconsistent teams.

Here is the final injury report for Miami:

Out: OL Nate Garner (illness)

Doubtful: RT Dallas Thomas (foot), RB Daniel Thomas (knee)

Questionable: LB Jelani Jenkins (foot), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder), S Don Jones (shoulder)

Probable: TE Charles Clay (hamstring, knee), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), LB Chris McCain (ankle), LB Koa Misi (hamstring, knee), LB Jordan Tripp (foot)

The Dolphins are getting healthy down the stretch. Last week, their linebackers were decimated with injuries. However, at least two linebackers -- Misi and Freeny -- are expected to return. Jenkins is listed as questionable but practiced all week and has a solid chance of returning to the lineup. The biggest injury on this list is Thomas, Miami’s starting right tackle. He missed practice all week and is not expected to play. Backup Jason Fox is projected to be his replacement. Rookie Billy Turner also could get some reps.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Tight end Charles Clay has two more games under contract with the Miami Dolphins. The four-year veteran is aware anything can happen next offseason. But if Clay had his choice, he wants to sign an extension to stay in Miami.

Clay
 "Just being here and knowing the guys, knowing the coaches, the city, this is definitely somewhere I want to spend the rest of my career," Clay said on Friday. "I was saying that the second I got drafted. Yeah, I definitely want to [re-sign]."

Clay, who will become an unrestricted free agent in March, is in the final year of the rookie contract that pays him $1.431 million this season. He was a sixth rounder for the Dolphins in 2011 and turned out to be one of their best value picks in recent years. Clay played in 56 career games, including 45 starts, and has 150 receptions for 1,650 yards and 13 touchdowns.

This year Clay battled through knee and hamstring injuries that hurt his production -- and potentially his value on the open market. He has 47 receptions for 446 yards and two touchdowns this season. Clay's value was at its highest last year when he set career highs in catches (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (six).

Clay said he hasn't thought about his looming contract situation much this year. His goal is getting healthy.

"It's not hard at the end of the day," Clay said. "If you don't play well, then you don’t get any kind of money. Your main focus has to be on playing well."

Clay can do himself a favor by finishing the year strong. He's been in and out of the lineup -- missing two games this season -- while also playing hurt at times.

It remains to be seen if the Dolphins (7-7) keep their current regime or make changes after the season. Either way, Clay will be one of the team's biggest free agents this offseason.

"It will all take care of itself," Clay explained. "I don't got too much control over it anyway. ... I'm just going out and trying to play the best two games I can."
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It's hard to figure out the mood with the Miami Dolphins this week. Players and coaches are saying the right things. The team claims it wants to finish strong despite essentially ruining its playoff chances by losing three of their past four games. But we won’t truly know how much fight the Dolphins (7-7) have left until they get on the field Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

The Dolphins are springing leaks in every phase. Their defense has allowed 30.25 points per game in the past four weeks. The offense isn't doing much better, averaging just 19.5 points in that same stretch. The special teams, which have been inconsistent all season, allowed a blocked field goal for a touchdown in last week’s 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots.

However, there are two strong trends favoring the Dolphins that should put them over the top against Minnesota. First, they have feasted on rookie quarterbacks this season. Miami is 2-0 against rookies, having Derek Carr and Blake Bortles -- and neither game was close. Carr and Bortles had QBRs of 45.5 and 2.8, respectively, against Miami’s defense, which doesn’t bode well for Vikings rookie Teddy Bridgewater.

Second, the inconsistent Dolphins have been consistent in beating bad times. They are 4-0 this season against teams currently with losing records. Miami should improve that mark to 5-0 by doing just enough at home to beat the Vikings.

Prediction: Dolphins 20, Vikings 17
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Friday from around the Web:
  • Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel writes Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also wouldn't mind Jim Harbaugh at the University of Michigan, his alma mater.
Morning take: This is an interesting spot for Ross. He’s one of Michigan’s biggest boosters. At the same time, Harbaugh can help turn around the Dolphins. Will Ross land Harbaugh in either spot?
Morning take: This pair has combined for two sacks in the past four games. This was the backbone of Miami’s defense until a few weeks ago.
  • Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post offers five suggestions for the Dolphins this offseason.
Morning take: Miami has a lot of decisions to make, especially with high-priced veterans. Much of it depends on who will be calling the shots next year.
Morning take: Gibson came back from a season-ending knee injury last year and contributed for Miami. He’s made 24 receptions for 281 yards and a touchdown off the bench.
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Matthew Berry discusses the quarterbacks he loves and hates for Week 16.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (7-7) are on a path towards their sixth consecutive non-playoff season. But one player who is having a consistent season is starting tailback Lamar Miller.

Miller
 Miami’s third-year tailback already set new career highs for rushing yards (829) and touchdowns (six) this season. Miller is just 171 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season, and that goal is within reach with two games remaining against the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) and New York Jets (3-11).

“You know, it would be great just to reach 1,000 yards,” Miller said. “I just have to continue to do what I do, come to work every day and try to get better.”

Miller has thrived in first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's new scheme. Miami’s spread, quick-hitting offense has allowed Miller to find more creases in the defense and make plays in open space, which are strengths.

This season Miller is doing a much better job of getting to the second level. He's run for a career-high 45 first downs, nearly doubling his previous career best of 26 first downs in 2013. Miller also increased his yards per carry from 4.0 last season to 4.7 this season.

“I think he’s made better decisions running the ball,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “It’s not always perfect, like the quarterback is not perfect every single time in decision-making. He does a good job, and I think he's done a better job. Less shuffling, less dancing, more running.”

Although Miller has improved in several areas, he mentioned there are still things he must work on to become a complete running back. For example, Miller citied pass protection and catching out of the backfield. Taking on blockers has been a struggle for Miller throughout his career, and he's dropped a few passes this season.

But running is Miller's biggest priority and he's done it well. Perhaps what is most impressive is Miller is approaching 1,000 yards rushing without getting nearly as many carries as other feature tailbacks around the NFL. Miller only received more than 16 carries once in a game this season while constantly rotating with backups Damien Williams and Daniel Thomas. But Miller is making the most of his opportunities.

Miller needs to average 85.5 rushing yards in the final two weeks to reach the 1,000-yard milestone.

“Every time I get the ball, I try to make a big play for this team,” Miller said. “Once I get it, I just try to be decisive, make the right reads and use my vision.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (7-7) continue their preparation for the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

Here are some Dolphins' notes from Thursday's practice:
    Thomas
  • The status of starting right tackle Dallas Thomas remains up in the air. He missed his second consecutive practice because of a foot injury suffered in Sunday’s 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Thomas has been inconsistent at right tackle since getting a chance to start late in the season. If he can't go, backup Jason Fox is expected to start.
  • Backup running back Daniel Thomas also missed his second straight practice because of a knee injury. This could open the door for backups Damien Williams and seldom-used LaMichael James to get more opportunities against the Vikings.
  • The Dolphins continue to get healthy at linebacker. Starters Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins both practiced for the second straight day. This is a good sign that both could be available.

Miami will continue its preparation for Minnesota on Friday.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Thursday from around the Web:
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes reports of Jim Harbaugh getting offered $48 million by the University of Michigan could be good news for Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.
Morning take: Harbaugh reportedly has a very strong contract on the table from Michigan. If he goes to the college ranks, Philbin’s chances of staying increases as long as the team finishes strong.
  • Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel writes Dolphins wide receivers want the football.
Morning take: The Dolphins aired it out against the New England Patriots, but it resulted in a 41-13 defeat. Miami has depth at the position but needs to play smarter on both sides of the ball.
  • Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post analyzes the Dolphins' slim playoff chances.
Morning take: Too many things must happen for Miami. It probably won’t, but the Dolphins should still try to win both games and finish with a 9-7 record.
  • Jameson Olive of Fox Sports Florida writes the Dolphins still have something to play for.
Morning take: Miami hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2008. That would be an accomplishment. It would also increase Philbin’s chances of returning.

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

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DAVIE, Fla. – To get a sense of the Miami Dolphins' ideal mindset in the final two games, look no further than the credo written on the wall inside the team's locker room.

“I will never accept defeat,” the Dolphins’ credo states in bold letters. “I will never quit.”

We will find out Sunday if the Dolphins (7-7) live up to their year-long motto when they host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) in a battle of mediocre teams. This game essentially has nothing at stake. Miami still has a small chance for the postseason but was virtually eliminated following back-to-back losses to the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

However, Dolphins players insisted that they will fight to the end. They still have a shot to finish with a winning season for the first time since 2008.

“The thing is that winning two games means something, so we take things one game at a time,” Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. “So beating Minnesota means something. Beating New York means something. But finishing 9-7 and not getting into the playoffs really doesn't mean anything.”

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill even cited a famous football line from former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards.

“You play to win the game,” Tannehill said Wednesday.

Joe Philbin, who is 22-24 as Miami’s head coach, finds himself in a challenging spot the next two weeks. Rumors are swirling that Philbin could be coaching his final two games with the Dolphins after potentially missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Philbin is doing his best to block out the noise, but he still must motivate his players to perform well in the final two games.

For players, this serves as an audition. Change is inevitable on a roster when teams are not successful, and Miami will have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason with high-priced veterans and prospective free agents.

Last year, Miami was in the playoff hunt until the final game. This season feels much different because the season essentially ended in Gillette Stadium in Week 15, leaving the team to deal with two uneventful games before wrapping up another disappointing season.

It will be up to leaders such as defensive end Cameron Wake and Tannehill to keep the team focused.

“You play for each other, you play for your team and you play to represent yourself and what you stand for as a person and as a player,” Tannehill said. “I don’t have any problem getting motivation. I love to compete, regardless of if the playoffs are on the line or not.”
The NFL draft is several months away and there are still two weeks of football left to play.

However, it’s not too early to look ahead to the offseason. Earlier this week, we previewed the offensive and defensive free agents. On Wednesday, ESPN's Todd McShay offered his first mock draft.

Here are some thoughts on McShay's selection for Miami:

Selection: No. 16

McShay's pick: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

McShay's quote: “Thompson is a unique talent with an outstanding combination of size, speed and athleticism, and he could help upgrade Miami at linebacker.”

Analysis: It’s hard to pinpoint Miami’s biggest need at this early stage. But linebacker could be near the top of the list. The Dolphins have decisions to make with high-priced linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Both underachieved and are candidates to become salary-cap casualties. If that’s the case, Thompson could be a possibility. Miami had a nice find in second-year outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins. But the other two positions are open for next season.
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins began their practice week in preparation for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here are some notes from Wednesday’s session:
  • Both starting linebackers Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) returned to practice. The Dolphins definitely missed their starters in Sunday’s 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Misi and Jenkins practicing on Wednesday is a good early sign for Miami. Backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) also is practicing for the first time in four weeks.
  • Dolphins starting right tackle Dallas Thomas did not practice during the portion open to the media. Thomas injured his foot in Sunday’s game against New England. Backup right tackle Jason Fox would be first in line if Thomas cannot play. Rookie Billy Turner also will get reps during the practice week.
  • Backup running back Daniel Thomas (knee) also did not practice in portion open to the media. Backup offensive lineman Nate Garner (illness) was not present.

The Dolphins changed their practice schedule this week. They will hold Thursday and Friday sessions partially open to the media.

Dolphins' Joe Philbin has something to prove

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker says Miami coach Joe Philbin, whose team is essentially out of playoff contention, needs to keep his players motivated in the final two games if he stands any chance of keeping his job.

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