The Miami Dolphins have reportedly activated defensive end Phillip Merling from the reserve-non-football injury list and have waived quarterback Patrick Ramsey to make room. Merling was initially thought to be out for the season when he tore his Achilles’ tendon shortly before training camp, but has since returned to the practice field ahead of schedule. Merling provides more depth along the defensive line, and the Dolphins are now loaded at defensive end.no comments
The Dolphins’ win Sunday evening over the Oakland Raiders was as encouraging as they come, as the Dolphins pretty handedly dominated on both sides of the ball. Still though, even a win of that caliber is somewhat watered down by the fact that the Dolphins still find themselves basically three games out of a playoff spot.
As a team, the Dolphins have enough on their plate to worry about considering they realistically must win-out in order to make all those playoff scenarios even possible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep a close eye on those teams that stand in the way of a Miami playoff run.
In case you’re late to the party, it’s now going to take either the Jets, Patriots, Steelers, or Ravens to have a fairly significant late season collapse by finishing no better than 2-3 for the Dolphins to sneak into the playoffs, provided that they indeed do win the remainder of their games and get a little luck with the various tie-breaker procedures.
So let’s take a look at each of those four teams’ final five games.
Week 13: @ Patriots
Week 14: vs. Dolphins
Week 15: @ Steelers
Week 16: @ Bears
Week 17: vs. Bills
Week 13: vs. Jets
Week 14: @ Bears
Week 15: vs. Packers
Week 16: @ Bills
Week 17: vs. Dolphins
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The roller coaster that is the 2010 Miami Dolphins continues. Ten days after putting together an inept offensive performance that drew parallels to the John Beck led 07’ squad, the Dolphins had their best offensive outing of the season without the receiver who they dished out a $50 million contract to in the offseason.
Chad Henne quieted all the doubters with arguably his best performance of the season by topping 300 yards and adding two touchdowns, although he did make one ugly mistake in the red zone. And with no Brandon Marshall, guys like Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Patrick Cobbs, and Marlon Moore all stepped up and answered the call.
The attention Brandon Marshall constantly attracts has done wonders for Bess and Hartline in particular this season, but I think it’s fair to say that both proved to be solid NFL starters who are capable of getting the job done on their own.
Maybe this offense doesn’t need Marshall’s services as much as we once thought, but before you go bashing him, let’s give credit to where credit is due for the offense finally putting over 30 points on the board. The coaching staff’s commitment to the running game, and patience not to abandon it when it struggled to produce early on was clearly the difference yesterday.
Balanced offenses will always trump what one-dimensional ones can accomplish. And it just goes to show how true that is when Chad Henne goes for over 300 yards through the air on a day when the Dolphins put the ball on the ground 46 times for nearly 200 yards.
What happened up in Oakland yesterday has to be the blueprint offensively from here on out, even when #19 returns. Obviously, the Dolphins won’t have that type of success every game, as the Raiders do possess one of the league’s worst run defenses, but if the coaching staff can just have the same commitment level to establishing at least some mild success on the ground, this offense will be much better off.
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It’s no secret that the Dolphins’ season will be on the line this Sunday. It will be for every week from here until they lose a game. With how this AFC playoff picture is shaping out, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose another game. A loss this Sunday won’t mathematically eliminate them, but it will realistically end their already slim chances of playing postseason football this season.
At the beginning of the year, I’m sure many fans circled this game as a likely Dolphins’ win. But what a difference a year makes. The Raiders are far from the league’s punching bag nowadays, and the Dolphins are far from the playoff caliber team that took the field just two weeks ago.
Dolphins running game (21st) vs. Raiders run defense (25th)
If the Dolphins can’t get their running game going against this subpar Raider run defense, there really is no hope for this offense. With a depleted pass protection, likely no Brandon Marshall, and an immobile Chad Henne likely being under center, this offense really doesn’t have the luxury of being one-dimensional.
If they can’t get Ronnie and Ricky going on the ground, this offense will continue to sputter out down the stretch. Getting center Joe Berger back in the starting lineup this week should help, but even when he was in there the Dolphins were very pedestrian on the ground. But against the Raiders front seven that is surrendering 4.6 yards per carry, we better see a commitment to the ground game on Sunday. Meaning, we shouldn’t see Dan Henning completely abandon Ronnie and Ricky if there are a few negative plays earlier on.
I would hope the Dolphins could have consistent success out of base formations, but if not, why not unleash the wildcat once again after seeing it’s rebirth a couple weeks ago against the Titans? Either way, if the Dolphins can’t prevent becoming pass happy against the dominate Raiders’ secondary they really don’t have much of a chance to get back over .500.
Raiders running game (2nd) vs. Dolphins run defense (20th)
Wondering how the Raiders have finally emerged as a quality team after years of obscurity? Look no further than this rejuvenated running game, which has only been outdone by the Kansas City Chiefs. Darren McFadden is in the midst of his breakout season, putting up a gaudy 5.2 yards per carry. Michael Bush is the power back in the dynamic duo, contributing nearly 400 yards and 4 touchdowns of his own.
That means the Dolphins will likely sellout to stop this dangerous ground attack, and try to force Jason Campbell to make plays in order for the Raiders to move the football. If the Dolphins can successfully shut down McFadden and Bush, this game has the makings of a low scoring defensive struggle. In not, I just don’t see this Miami offense putting enough points on the board to compete with this explosive Raiders’ running game.
To do so, the Dolphins must tackle well all game long. They have done a much better job at setting the edge and avoiding over-pursuing lately, but missed tackles have allowed opposing backs to get into space too often. This will especially be important against a speedster like McFadden, who is always a threat to take it the distance.
Dolphins passing attack (16th) vs. Raiders pass defense (3rd)
It doesn’t look very promising for this pass first attack against a Raiders’ secondary that has been so dominate. Maybe the Raiders wouldn’t rank quite as high if they weren’t so easy to run on, but there’s really no doubt that Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the league’s top two or three corners.
Maybe it’s not so detrimental that Brandon Marshall will likely miss this game, because being matched up against Nnamdi, he probably wasn’t going to have much of an impact anyway. But this Dolphins’ offense will desperately need either Marlon Moore or the banged up Roberto Wallace to step up in a big way. Moore has the speed to be a real vertical threat for an offense that could use more chunk yardage, while Wallace has Marshall type size but has yet to make much of an impact.
Neither will have much of a chance, though, if the offensive line doesn’t give the immobile Chad Henne sufficient time to scan the field. The line is expected to return to its normal starting five, but Long, Carey, and Berger will all be playing hurt. The Raiders rank 4th in the league with 29 sacks so far. A scary thought considering the Bears got to the mobile Thigpen six times last week despite only registering 13 sacks heading into Thursday night’s game.
Raiders passing attack (29th) vs. Dolphins pass defense (4th)
Those Dolphin fans who have already moved on to next year, can take solace in the fact that the Dolphins have finally solidified their secondary. Vontae Davis hasn’t quite emerged as a top five corner yet, but he’s well on his way. His counterpart, Sean Smith, has played great coverage since recapturing his starting position against the Bengals, but needs to capitalize more when given the opportunity to make a play on the football. Nickel corner Benny Sapp has been hot and cold, but has the tools to develop into a quality player.
Safety wise, Chris Clemons returns from injury after missing last week. Reshad Jones made a few plays as his replacement, but most would agree that he is better suited to be Yeremiah Bell’s eventual successor at strong safety.
If I have one complaint about this unit, though, it’s their ability to get off the field on third down. They were in the midst of a decent outing against the Bears, but couldn’t get Cutler and company on the sideline on some key third downs and consequently the whole defense wore down in the second-half.
I’m expecting a great game against the Raiders anemic passing game this week, though. If there is one thing to fear, it’s the speed of the Oakland receiving core, but I think this Miami secondary will do a solid job of preventing them from getting the football in space.
Also, the Dolphins’ pass rush should have a field day against the struggling Raider pass protection. So far the Raiders have conceded the third most sacks in the league with 32. Lookout for another big game from Cameron Wake. He should face the double team all evening, though, so it would be nice if someone else could pick up some of the slack. I’m looking at you Koa Misi.
The Dolphins flirted with a couple big Devin Hester returns last week, but overall, they have been a much improved unit since the beginning of the season. They face a very dangerous Raider special-teams this Sunday, however. They’ve already blocked two punts this season, which could be problematic for a Dolphins team that has already had two of Brandon Fields’ boots blocked.
The Raiders also possess a few dangerous return men. Jacoby Ford averages 23.4 yards per kick return and has returned a kick for a 94-yard touchdown. Nick Miller and Johnnie Lee Higgins have shared punt return duties, with both averaging over seven yards per return. Johnnie Lee Higgins has a 53-yard punt return under his belt, while Miller’s long is 46.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, a source close the team has confirmed that Chad Henne will likely start Sunday against the Raiders. While this offense may miss Thigpen’s mobility given the struggles and health of the offensive line, let’s not forget that Henne was in the midst of one of his better performances of the season before he went down against the Titans. If these reports are indeed accurate, Henne will have a lot on his plate in Oakland facing one of the league’s top rated pass defenses with no Brandon Marshall, but his elite arm strength alone should give the Dolphins a better chance to consistently move the football.no comments
Doubtful: WR Brandon Marshall (hamstring)
Questionable: C Joe Berger (knee), QB Chad Henne (knee), LB Karlos Dansby (toe), WR Roberto Wallace (knee)
Probable: LT Jake Long (shoulder), RT Vernon Carey (knee), FS Chris Clemons (groin), S Reshad Jones (shin), S Tyrone Culver (ankle) no comments
Once you realize how unlikely a Dolphins’ playoff run truly is, it’s pretty obvious that the only hope fans can be clinging to is the idea of the Dolphins winning their final six games of the season. A long shot to say the least for a reeling team that appears closer to completely falling apart than coming together for a miraculous late season push.
Even more discouraging is the fact that the Dolphins have already lost control of their own destiny. Winning out doesn’t even guarantee them a playoff berth because if the Jets, Pats, Steelers, and Ravens all finish out 4-2 or better the Dolphins will be eliminated regardless of how they finish the year. In the event the Dolphins do improbably run the table, though, either the Jets or Patriots will have at least two loses considering the Dolphins still play both and both still play each other.
So if the Dolphins can indeed do the unthinkable, I’m confident they will find a spot in the playoffs. I’m just not so confident that they are even capable of pulling off that type of feat at this point, though.
But there are some winnable games on the schedule. They may be injury depleted and incapable of running the football, but their defense is playing well enough to beat the inconsistent Raiders and Browns these next two games and the bottom feeding Bills and Lions in Weeks 15 and 16.
That still leaves the two road hurdles in New York and New England. They may be arguably the two best teams in the league, but both appear as beatable as 8-2 teams can be, with the Jets getting lucky last minute wins against non-playoff caliber teams and the Patriots fielding one of the league’s worst defenses statistically.
But then again, we are just looking at these games individually. All are winnable, but on the same token, all are losable. And that’s asking an awful lot to have every single one of those games go the Dolphins way. They have nobody to blame but themselves for being in this situation, though. And we really have no choice at this point, but to try to conceive how exactly they are going to get themselves out of it and into the playoffs.
1. Find a way to become an average running team: The good ol’ days of Ronnie and Ricky being one of the league’s most dynamic running back duo’s is over, and there’s no way they’re coming back. The currently assembled offensive line just isn’t good enough, and honestly, Ronnie and Ricky just don’t have the same spring in their step as they did just a short year ago. With that said, this Dolphins’ offense desperately needs to find a way to run the football averagely. Like those offenses that don’t run it particularly well, but have enough success here and there to prevent becoming completely one-dimensional. Getting pass happy is especially risky when a third-string quarterback is under center. Hopefully Chad Henne returns this Sunday, but with no Brandon Marshall this pass-first attack isn’t capable of much without a go-to threat.
2. Get out of their own way: Even when it looked like the Dolphins were beginning to get a little momentum going offensively last Thursday night, they quickly put a halt to it with stupid mistakes. Brandon Marshall’s fifteen yard penalty for flipping the ball to Jay Cutler on the sideline and his two drops immediately comes to mind. But Tyler Thigpen fumbling the attempted handoff to Brian Hartline on the would-be end around on the game’s opening drive was surely a game-altering momentum killer. In a season hanging by a thread, one dumb mistake is all it could take to end the Dolphins already slim playoff hopes.
3. Create more turnovers: The Dolphins’ defense is quietly putting together a very solid season. Statistically, they have surpassed expectations as they currently rank 6th in total defense and 5th against the pass. In the likely event that the offense continues to struggle, though, the defense is going to have to manufacture some points. The best way to do that is create turnovers that either put the offense in great position to score, or get returned for touchdowns themselves. Currently, the Dolphin’ defense only ranks 25th in interceptions and are tied for the second fewest fumble recoveries.
4. Live up to their potential against the run: Perhaps the only thing standing in the way of the Dolphins’ defense taking the next step and emerging as one of the league’s elite units is their ability to stop the run. They currently rank 20th in that category, even though that ranking slightly blows things out of proportion. They actually rank 8th in yards surrendered per carry, giving up only 3.9 yards per rush. In my opinion, though, they have the potential to completely shut down most opposing running games. They have flashed brief spurts of dominating against the run, but usually are a few missed tackles and over-pursued angles away from doing so consistently throughout the game.
5. Get a little luck: The Dolphins obviously don’t have much control over this one, but getting some luck is probably essential if they aren’t going to lose another game. Luck is something they haven’t had much of lately with all the injuries that have plagued this team. Either the injury bug truly is contagious, or the Dolphins are the league’s most unlucky team this season. Either way, the Dolphins need to get healthy and stay healthy. They just don’t have enough depth on the offensive side of the ball to hold up when so many guys have gone down. Outside of injuries, the Dolphins need to catch on to whatever the Jets have been doing lately. And what I mean by that is have the ball bounce their way every time late in games and benefit from opponents just refusing to close them out. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little bit, but seriously.
On that note, have a Happy Thanksgiving! I know one thing, that turkey would sure taste a lot better if the Lions and Bengals can find a way to upset the Pats and Jets.no comments