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Do defenses really wear out over the course of a game? Do defenses benefit from long drives that give them more time to rest on the sideline? Guest columnist Ben Baldwin investigates.

13 Dec 2005

Any Given Sunday: Dolphins over Chargers

by Ned Macey

The game between San Diego and Miami on Sunday was supposed to contrast a team fighting for its playoff life with a rebuilding team just playing out the string. After a shocking win by the Dolphins, these teams may finish the year within one game of each other in the standings.

The San Diego Chargers finish their season with one of the toughest schedules in football. Going into last week's game, three of their four remaining games were against teams that were a combined 29-7. The one gimme on their schedule was a home game against the mediocre Dolphins, who had previously lost road games to the Jets, Bills, and Browns. With LaDainian Tomlinson banged up, their prolific offense was held in check, leaving the Dolphins close enough to take advantage of their suspect secondary.

The Chargers offense entered the game as the best in the league according to DVOA, which breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent and is explained here. At the center of the attack was the great Tomlinson, the most feared back in football. With teams forced to commit extra defenders to stop Tomlinson, quarterback Drew Brees had opportunities to make big plays to Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates.

A season ago, the Chargers were still among the top offenses in football, eighth in the league, but they were a less dreaded unit than this season. The major difference was the health of Tomlinson, who was limited by nagging leg injuries all season. A week ago, Tomlinson suffered bruised ribs, and he was clearly affected on Sunday. With the Dolphins expending few extra defenders to stop Tomlinson, he was still held to 75 yards on 21 carries.

Tomlinson's injury was not the only reason the Chargers struggled to get the ground game going. The Dolphins excel in rush defense with an active front seven that dominated the Chargers offensive line. The return of Zach Thomas from injury certainly helped, not only for his presence but for allowing rookie Channing Crowder to return to his natural outside linebacker position. Jason Taylor was his usual disruptive self, and even the little-used Manuel Wright was causing trouble for the Chargers offensive line all game. Even the Dolphins' safeties, who rarely were near the line of scrimmage before the snap, factored into containing Tomlinson. They closed on Tomlinson the second he got the ball and prevented him from breaking any long runs.

Aware of Tomlinson's injury and the Dolphins' ability to stop the run, the Chargers came out throwing. Miami's secondary has struggled at times this season with Sam Madison aging, rookie Travis Daniels manning the other side, and nobody really emerging as the nickel cornerback. Against Buffalo in Week 13, the Dolphins gave up two long touchdown passes to Lee Evans in the first quarter. Following those breakdowns, they began to play more conservatively with their safeties and kept receivers in front of them.

The success of this strategy was evident on Sunday, as the Chargers were unable to make big plays despite constantly throwing the ball. Brees completed 35 passes for only 279 yards. Out of 52 attempts, only two were completed for gains over 20 yards. Coming into the game, Brees averaged a 20+ yard completion once every 9.7 attempts.

The Dolphins had no problems making big plays in the passing game against a porous Chargers secondary. Gus Frerotte contributes only one asset to coordinator Scott Linehan's offense: the ability to throw the ball down the field. Frerotte connected on three pass plays over 20 yards in only 22 attempts, including a 35-yard touchdown to Chris Chambers and a 56-yard completion to Marty Booker.

Making big plays helped the Dolphins overcome a massive time of possession imbalance. The Dolphins controlled the ball for less than 20 minutes and ran only 48 plays compared with 82 for the Chargers. Despite this, they gained only 41 fewer yards for the game and had actually outgained San Diego before the Chargers' meaningless last-second touchdown drive.

Much praise has deservedly gone to the explosive Chambers, but Sunday's eruption is as much an indictment of San Diego's secondary as a tribute to Chambers' skills. San Diego's pass defense is among the worst in the league despite a prolific pass rush that is among the leaders in sacks. Even with the constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, receivers have been able to make plays all season long.

The Chargers secondary returned intact as a group that was above average a season ago. Former Green Bay safety, Bhawoh Jue, was brought in to take over for the aging Jerry Wilson at free safety, but the other contributors remain the same. Whether signing any player associated with the 2004 Green Bay pass defense is a wise move is an argument best left for another day, but Jue's presence at safety can hardly explain the entire drop-off. Interestingly, the Chargers left Drayton Florence as the starting cornerback even with last year's early-season starter Sammy Davis healthy again.

When Florence missed three games earlier this season, the Chargers pass defense seemed improved with Davis starting. Florence missed games against Oakland, Philadelphia, and Kansas City, and the Chargers held all three offenses to 20 or fewer points. Kerry Collins and Donovan McNabb both struggled, combining for one touchdown and three interceptions. Against Kansas City, the Chargers jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead before giving up big yardage late in a futile comeback attempt. In the first half of that game, Green's longest completion to a wide receiver was a 5-yard pass to Dante Hall on third-and-13. On Sunday, Florence was beaten badly by Chambers on his 35-yard touchdown reception. one has to wonder if, facing the prospect of lining Florence up against Reggie Wayne next week, Marty Schottenheimer will give the starting job back to Mr. Entertainment.

The Dolphins feature an offensive line comprised of players with limited talent, but they did just enough to keep the Chargers pass rush at bay. Offensive line coach Hudson Houck – the coach that helped transform San Diego's line a year ago – has gotten this no-name bunch to play as well as one could expect. They struggled to create running lanes for Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, but they prevented the San Diego pass rush from registering a sack for the first time this season. Allowed to stay on his feet, Frerotte had just enough time to feast on a weak secondary to post his best game of the season.

San Diego presumably was looking ahead to their match-up with undefeated Indianapolis. Having overlooked Miami and fallen to 8-5, a much-anticipated game has turned into a must-win for the Chargers. Offensively, they match up well with Indianapolis as they feature a great running back and dominant tight end, two places where the Colts' solid defense can be exploited.

But after getting their secondary shredded by Gus Frerotte and failing to get pressure against the Miami offensive line, holding the Colts under 30 points in Indianapolis seems a long shot. A loss to Indianapolis effectively ends their playoff dreams; thanks to tiebreakers, the Chargers are likely left out of the playoffs even with a 10-6 record.

Amazingly, people in Miami are considering playoff scenarios this late in the season. The Dolphins have home games with the Jets and Tennessee the next two weeks and could easily enter a Week 17 showdown against New England with an 8-7 record. Unfortunately, this game is unlikely to be for the division crown because the Patriots have a better division record than the Dolphins. Miami would need New England to lose not only to Tampa Bay, a reasonable proposition, but also to the Jets, a ludicrous suggestion.

Still, 8-8 or 9-7 (if the Patriots rest players) is an exceptional record for a team that was 4-12 a year ago and in seeming disarray. Miami fans lamented the consistent run of average to slightly above average seasons that lasted from 1991-2003. With new coach Nick Saban in place, they can finally celebrate mediocrity with the hope that great things are still to come.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the biggest upset of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these upsets as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 13 Dec 2005

65 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2005, 9:54pm by nump


by dedkrikit (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 12:03pm

Good article. I was wondering how Miami was able to upset the Chargers - especially with such a lopsided TOP and with Gus at QB.

by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 12:12pm

Good stuff Ned. I'm amazed at how much Miami's O-line has improved this year. Houck is obviously doing a great job, as the personnel is more or less the same as last year.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:00pm

I forsee Indy scoring less than 30 points next week. Now that they have secured HFA, the Colts are going to revert to the more conserviative offense we saw at the begining of the year to give thier playoff opponents less useful game tape.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:07pm

the Chargers are exhibit A for my rule about preseason predictions: never pick a division champion to repeat if they lost their first playoff game

Green Bay is with the program, but Seattle isn't cooperating

by pawnking (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:16pm

Methinks Peyton Manning is watching game film of this one. Smiling softly to himself. Humming.

by Hector, Paris (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:21pm

Can Houck have worked with Miami's def to tell them where are the Chargers O-line weak links ?
Nice job but I think you suggest the Chargers more lost the game than the Dolphins won it.
It is the second week in a row the passing game is clinking for the Dolphins, and that with two QBs, what's happening there ?

by Ross (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:43pm

I watched the game and still don't understand how SD didn't score a few more points since they were close to 60% on 3rd down conversations.

by JonL (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:54pm

The impression I got from this article was that the Chargers were more responsible for the outcome than Miami. Giving up a 56-yard pass to Marty Booker should be inexcusable.

by Andy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:56pm

Zach Thomas was interviewed on Miami radio this morning. He said Cleo Lemon (the Charger QB the Dolphins traded for during the season) gave him all of San Diego's checkoffs, so he knew all of Brees' audible calls. He was amazed (as am I) that Marty did not change their audible terminology.

Anyone that watched the game certainly saw the chessmatch between Brees and Thomas at the line of scrimmage.

PS- Houck is a miracle-worker. Wait until this line gets some actual talent!

by Richard in San Diego (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:05pm

It goes look like the overall team performance in pass defense during those games in which Florence was out improved. Watching the games, however, I doubt Florence or Davis have been determining factors. Jammer, the default number one corner for the Chargers, is terrible. He's the worst lead corner I've seen this season, and each game seems to highlight his problems.

If Moss and Owens were both out for their respective games against the Chargers, I would note that the quality shared amongst the three opponents against which the Chargers pass defense improved would be the lack of a true #1 receivers. A lead receiver would be able to target Jammer more readily. I believe this effect would be seen throughout the numbers for the other teams receivers, not just for the receiver to whom Jammer is assigned, as Jammer's poor play might effect the assignments of safeties.

Still, I think neither Florence nor Davis are anything great. Though the number (quoted in the article) seem to rate the Charger pass defense fairly well for 2004, I don't remember is as such. In fact, I can't remember the last season in which the Chargers pass defense was that great (though I'm sure it has not been so long).

by Andy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:19pm

So Buffalo choked two weeks ago and the Chargers blew the game last week...maybe Miami is better than we all thought.

And why is it inexcusable to give up a long pass to Marty Booker. Yes, he's not the speediest guy in the league, but he is a 2 time pro-bowler.

by Hector, Paris (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:25pm

I go with you Andy !

by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:26pm

DVOA has had Miami as the top team in that division for most of the season, course, that ain't saying much.

by phins in florida (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:28pm

Chargers are pretenders....miami lined up and smashed them in the mouth toe to toe....chargers would be dumbasses if they overlooked miami. hahaha....so which is it? marty is a horrible coach for overlooking the phins and their team is all morons? or miami lined up and beat their ass.

lol we did the chargers a favor, they don't belong in the playoffs we are saving them from an ass whooping in round 1

by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:31pm

The Chargers were 12th in DVOA against the pass last year. How was that broken down by position?

If they were good defending the pass against TEs and RBs, then their secondary could be mediocre, whist their overall defensive rating against the pass is high. Given the strength of their D was the front seven last year, intuitively that would seem to be the case.

Also, SD were 8th against the run in DVOA in 2004. Wouldn't this mean on average that their opponents were in 3rd & long a relatively large amount of time, and that that would help cover weaknesses in the the secondary?

by 10K (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:45pm

Thanks, Andy, someone said it finally. Ned, this is really bad. Okay, LT was a little dinged up. Thomas Jones and many others can run with a hurting chest. Hell, last week when he was immediately hurt and when the game was already in the bag, Turner, Sproles, and Neal were all successful. Maybe Miami has a better run defense and they knew the Chargers inside and out (Miami and Chargers share a lot of players, coaches, and relationships, but SD didn't switch up, whereas Saban does.)

Crowder doesn't have a "natural position" at outside LB; he's slated to replace Zach in a year or two and could do so now. If the D was without Zach and it didn't all flow to him, Channing would be getting almost as much attention as Odell.

Manny Wright isn't "litte-used"; he's a 21 year old rookie who got walked to classes by his coaches and who almost walked away from the NFL this summer in tears. He replaced Keith Traylor perfectly. Yes, Traylor, who has been his old dominant self, was seamlesslt replaced by an overweight 21 year old and a perennial journeyman lineman, Zgonina. This is great, something to look forward to. No one thought Saban could get Manny into playing shape in under 2-3 years.

You only mention Chambers and neglect the huge pass to Booker and the more significant pass to an unknown but developing younf TE, Lorenzo Diamond. Again, if it weren't for Randy, you might be hearing about this kid now. He pulls off the game turning play and you don't mention it?

And you don't mention that SD went for it on 4th down 4 times? Was it disrespect? Or was SD afraid that they couldn't score agaisn Miami's D? Did these moves kill Schott? Probably, but not mentioned.

How 'bout mentioning that Miami was so fired up and nearly perfect on special teams that their kicker ran from 15 yards back to jump in the pile and grab a fumbled ball?

Or that Sam Madison got his first (not overruled) pick in over 2 years?

Or that just like the offensive line, the young, under-talented secondary is getting the system and playing better and better (I don't see why people don't see Losman going for 3 bombs on the 1st drives and finally hooking up with Evans is as much of a fluke as Miami winning 3 in a row, if not more so...)

But, Miami can only go 9-7 if they rest players? Come on, that's pathetic. They should have lost the first time, and Miami is actually playing for much more than the Pats are playing for this season (respect vs. a Wild Card loss).

by phins in florida (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:53pm

How about how the Refs tried to give the game to the chargers.. real score was 27-14....ronnie brown did not fumble on the goaline it was a TD and if not then it was down by contact because the ground cant cause a fumble.

too bad brees choked and our defense reverted him back to the real QB he is....23-14, we give you a sympathy TD just to trick ur fans into thinking comeback victory...but no AHAHHAH...

by 10K (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:53pm

"But, Miami can only go 9-7 if they rest players?"

THEY being the Pats of course.

Miami has beaten Denver, Carolina, and San Diego. (All flukes apparently). They should have beaten Atlanta and New England.

Had they done so, the Pats would be the ones on the outside, with Miami a game ahead. And they'd be fighting to go 11-5 and the playoffs.

I'm so happy I'm going to see Miami play a meaningless game in Foxboro that will shock and demoralize the Patriots when they win the Division with the same record as the team they lose to in the final game. Most meaningful meaningless victory of the season. (Yes, I'm pulling a Chad now, three games out!)

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 3:12pm


I can tell that you are fired up about Miami getting slighted a bit, but your last bit was a little over the top.

But, Miami can only go 9-7 if they rest players? Come on, that’s pathetic. They should have lost the first time, and Miami is actually playing for much more than the Pats are playing for this season (respect vs. a Wild Card loss).

I admit, it is a little inflammatory to suggest Miami only wins if they rest players, but your point that they almost won the first game is irrelevent. Lest you forget, this is who the Pats played with that game:

LT, RT, C - #2
RG & LG - #1
QB - #1
RB - #4, #5 (neither were even on the team the prior week.)
WR - #1, #4 (#3 was available, but he was playing defense)

DT, LDE - #1
RDE - #2 (but he was actually playing with a neck brace)
LB - all starters were in the game. (Although it was only Bruschi's 3rd game back and Vrabels 3rd game ever at ILB)
CB - #1, #5 & #6
SS - #4
FS - #1

The WRs, RBs and DL are much healthier than they were in that game. The secondary has actually played a few consecutive games with the same people. I don't know how since they lost another LT, but the OL keeps getting better.

Plus the game was in Miami.

The Patriots are a much, much better team than they were going into and in that game.

Regarding what the two teams are playing for, I have to assume that sentence is just a manifestation of your frustration because it couldn't be further from the truth. You don't think the Pats are playing for respect? Plus it is a little hypocritical of you to get upset about an assumed Miami loss and then do the same thing to the Pats.

*end rant*

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 3:17pm

10K (#18 )--

Miami has also lost to the Jets and the Browns. They're the epitome of the "mediocre team that can get frisky."

As far as should-have-beaten, Buffalo, San Diego, and Carolina were all crying that tune after their losses to Miami. Wishful thinking wins no games.

And, while it's far from impossible, I wouldn't bet the rent money on Miami winning in Foxborough in December.

by bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 5:01pm

RE #3 and #5:

I agree with #5 more than #3. The Colts need to rest James before the playoffs to keep his legs from turning to jelly. They can throw a few competent "backup" WRs out there against the the Chargers if they want to protect Harrison and Wayne (plus a slew of pass-catching TEs), but they would be wise to NOT run James 30 times, even if he gets better after 15 touches or so. Rhodes ran for 1,100 in ten games as a rookie; he'll do enough for them to run their game plan.

I think the Colts will open the floodgates on offense-the hell with game film. They only have a dozen plays anyway, so there's not much new for opponents to see. They don't want this to be an ugly slugfest like in Jax where (A) they might lose or (B) might get hurt. If they are up by 14 at halftime or at the end of the 3rd qtr, then in rotate the backups.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 5:13pm

In talking of who the Colts should and shouldn't rest, I never read the names "Saturday" or "Glenn".

by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 5:45pm

I've read a lot about this "respect" things for the Dolphins... And the thing is, it's pretty dumb to ask for any respect when you're a 5-7 team going into a game against an 8-4 team... And you've gotten your behind squarely kicked by the likes of the Browns...

Yes, the Dolphins will get better. Much better. They've shown glimpses of it. But I'm quite comfortable with people looking down at us for the moment - quite frankly, considering last season, we've earned it. Sooner rather than later, we'll earn some "respect" as well - and stop acting like Rodney Harrison's offspring.

FWIW, for those who don't know it, I am a Dolphins fan.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 5:58pm

re: #23

Rodney Harrison's offspring says you're not giving him any respect by not referring to him by name.

by Sean (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 6:23pm

Re 14:

Thank you for bringing your insight to this website. I'm not sure where FO would be without thoughtful, well-reasoned posts like yours. Someplace terrible, I'm sure.

by substantial (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 7:13pm

It is nice to see Miami as an up-and-coming team, but goodness, as a Chargers fan, that was painful to watch this Sunday. And just for the sake of some balance, I think a case has to be made for SD. It is a good team generally, and well-coached. So if they did something wrong, there are reasons.

I was actually pleased with the coaching in the game offensively. I thought SD had to go for it on 4th down to make the offense wake up and actually fight hard for possession. And yes, I wouldn't trust my own special teams at this point, esp. if they've been a let-down all season. The only real grievance I had was with the lack of play fake use; when the safeties are playing the run, one-on-one opportunities abound. Brees was effective in getting the ball to the WR's early on, and I think more play fakes could have given Miami's defense fits.

I also liked the idea of spreading the ball around to a number of different receivers and controlling TP through short passes very much. The offense did wear out Miami's defense, despite the lack of a solid run game. They just didn't do anything with the exhaustion they created.

I don't know how much a coach can fire up his team, and the offense did play with a lack of "energy." I don't know what energy is exactly, but I know what I saw, a team running through the motions, and that angered me. The mantra preached all week by Marty, according to the articles I read, was "take this game seriously." That having been said, a coach has to lead by example, and I'm not sure how to assess the "example" he gave. But I thought the game plan was sound, offensively, and I might have to give the benefit of the doubt to the coach for warning his team about this game.

In terms of defense, they did shut down the run, but (conspiracy theory alert) was that really necessary? The run defense seemed to come at the expense of pass defense. I sometimes wonder if Wade Phillips is padding his resume. Who cares if the Dolphins run against you for a billion yards? Why wasn't there more of a pass rush? Why wasn't Frerotte eating turf? Now that's the conspiracy theory side, and I could be wrong about all of it. I guess the case for the defense is that they did stop the run, and that 23 points isn't a heck of a lot. Certainly not for one of the league's best offense's to overcome. Still, I wish there were more hits in that game against Miami that stung.

And that's all I have to say. Rip away.

by 10K (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 7:33pm

My main point was how bad the writing is: it used to be this piece was about saying, "So it's a cliche that any team can win on any given Sunday, but we think we know why this upset happened, we aren't surprised, here's what our stats say..."

Occassionally FO's stats don't track right so then the article becomes: well, these other stats kind of explain it.

When it gets really bad, the article says, we don't know why but here's what happened in the game.

And now... we have literally descended to: ummm, Any team on Any Given Sunday.

Rather than looking at the real strengths and weaknesses. Rather than even observing 3 or 4 of the major moments or features of the game.

And then to end it by further presuming that Miami still sucks when they are neck and neck with this site's favorite team is sad. That is iced by claiming that that favorite team can sit players when it has a lousy record and will limp into the wild card.

That was my point.

If you want to talk Miami's weaknesses, I'm happy to. I've been doing so for several weeks now. And I can do it without making lame attempts to puff up some other team.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 7:35pm

Any idea how the ref failed to see the "incontrovertible evidence" of the ball, in Brown's hand, being a few inches over the front of the goalline stripe (which means it crossed the plane and was a TD)? It was clear as day in the replays the network was showing (which are the replays the ref sees).

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:15pm

Nice to see some Dolphins fans pop in to give poor Richie and Johonny and a couple others some support. They have been going it alone for a while. :D

neck and neck with this site’s favorite team

To which one of the half-dozen or so different favorite teams of the various writers on the site are you referring? Colts? Bucs? Lions? Giants? Jets? Steelers? Now wait, let me think... If I were a Dolphin fan and I was going to choose a team to claim bias about, which would it be... Ummm... WAIT, I GOT IT, THE PATS! The Pats, yeah, that's the ticket...

Yeah, I know, I'm feeding the troll, but the bias accusations directed at "the site" are just really silly. Why not stick to your other points that are at least worth debating?

And BTW, I can't see Miami being neck-and-neck with any of that list of teams. Ahead of a couple, behind most. :D An outside shot at a playoff spot, yeah, but I'm not sure I'd bet on them in Foxboro in winter if the game decides a playoff spot.

by Paul (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:21pm

I, for one, am astonished to learn that the Chargers pass defense is so woeful. Hard to see how they were so high in overall DVOA. Shame on me for not looking deeper at ALL the numbers.
Also, a plea for a game preview of Skins-Boys...

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:24pm

re: #27

Just because you disagree with the author does not mean the article was terribly written. I hate Hemmingway but I couldn't in good faith call him a bad writer or say The Sun Also Rises is poorly written.

Taken from the article's footer:

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the biggest upset of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these upsets as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game..

Talking about Tomlinson's injury, how Miami was playing their safeties, etc., would certainly fit into subtle aspects of each team.

Rather than looking at the real strengths and weaknesses. Rather than even observing 3 or 4 of the major moments or features of the game.

Wouldn't you agree that discussion San Diego's poor pass defense is "looking at the ... weaknesses" of a given team? Regarding only observing 3 or 4 major moments of the game, having watched this game it, sure seemed like it turned on 3 or 4 major moments. A long pass to Chambers, a fumbled kick return, and the resulting touchdown. These were the few stand out moments, turning points, in an otherwise non-descript game.

Ned's footer says he's going to look at the week's biggest upset. When the biggest upset features one team dominating possession through restricted, boring short passes (dump-offs) and the other taking advantage of a few mistakes to get a win, you're going to get an article focused on relatively few events. I'm sure writing such an article wasn't a ton of fun for Ned, and probably led to the meat-building digression into the Dolphins versus Pats.

I think your main point (how bad the writing is) is just completely off-base and the details you provide point to a Dolphins fan who feels slighted after your team had a really nice victory. Why not just enjoy the victory? It shouldn't matter to you whether Ned thinks it was pretty.

by Imari Love (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:27pm

quick question, can anyone tell me if its mathematically possible for Miami to be officially eliminated from the playoffs by the time they play on Sunday (given sat. games of NE/KC)

by seamus (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:35pm

By AFC standards, the Miami Dolphins are still some time away from contending. They need at least three better offensive linemen to open running lanes, a talent upgrade to the defensive secondary. Oh yeah, and a franchise QB at least of Bulger or Trent Green quality. Although the road win was impressive, the team was seriously pushed around for most of the first half, and they relied on a containment strategy that might have gone much worse.

10k, re: Crowder being more a more natural OLB than MLB, I refer you to yesterday's Miami Herald:

"Playing outside so much, I felt more natural out there," Crowder said after the game. "Knowing I have to stay back, knowing I have to play slow -- you know, at [middle linebacker] you can go fly in there"...

Added Crowder: "Our defense is made for Zach. So the [middle linebacker] can go flying around trying to kill people. At [weak-side linebacker] you have to play back, back up everything. I feel better moving outside. But its [Thomas] that goes out and makes all the plays."

by admin :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:35pm

Yes, if the Pats win, the Dolphins are done.

Thanks to 29 for pointing out something that by now should be obvious -- that with the expansion of FO, I am far, far outnumbered by fans of teams other than the Patriots. If folks want to get specific, Ned's from Indianapolis. By the way, I completely slam the Pats in this week's FOXSports.com commentary, so you can toss that bias complaint also.

by dave whorton (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:36pm

can anyone tell me why gus frerotte is not a top qb ? yes he will make some crazy mistakes but favre is the king of stupid plays. it seems like he can make every throw and he is a huge improvement over jay fiedler.being a dolphin fan this is my 1st real look at gus and i kinda of like the guy.i know he isn't a top qb but why?

by Imari Love (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:43pm

i know they are done in the divison if Pats win..but technically, they would still be alive if they win out for a wild card...(depending on KC,SD,Pitt,Jax,etc.)..someone please chime in on that--would Miami be eliminated from WILDCARD contention if KC wins Saturday??

by Comrade Jason (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 8:48pm

#34--But you still hate Atlanta and Seattle, right? Just making sure ...

by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:06pm


If SD goes 9-7 and Miami goes 9-7, they would beat SD on tiebreaker (head to head).

If KC goes 9-7, they'd beat out Miami in a tiebreaker - so if KC wins, Miami is done.

If Pitt goes 9-7, it's a bit harder; you have to look at conference records at that point. Miami is currently 4-5, Pitt is 6-5. If Pitt lost at Cleveland, they'd be 6-6. If Miami wins out, they'd be 7-5, so they'd win that.

So, if KC wins a game, Miami is out.
If Pitt wins two games, Miami is out. Same with SD.

by Richie (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:13pm

I guess it would be fun if Miami made the playoffs somehow, but they would surely get hammered in the first round (by Jacksonville?). I'm not sure if that would be a good or bad experience for the team.

I'm just happy that the team is playing well right now. It looks like this should be a good foundation for 2006. I see no reason to think that Miami will not be a legitimate playoff contender in 2006.

by 10K (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:16pm

'Taken from the article’s footer:

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the biggest upset of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these upsets as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game..

Talking about Tomlinson’s injury, how Miami was playing their safeties, etc., would certainly fit into subtle aspects of each team.

Rather than looking at the real strengths and weaknesses. Rather than even observing 3 or 4 of the major moments or features of the game.

Wouldn’t you agree that discussion San Diego’s poor pass defense is “looking at the … weaknesses� of a given team? Regarding only observing 3 or 4 major moments of the game, having watched this game it, sure seemed like it turned on 3 or 4 major moments. A long pass to Chambers, a fumbled kick return, and the resulting touchdown. These were the few stand out moments, turning points, in an otherwise non-descript game."

Yet I read the article and it all happened because the Chargers were looking ahead. Miami can't possibly beat a good team that doesn't look ahead. It was clearly because LT is hurting because Turner, Sproles, and Neal can't run. Etc...

As for saying there were only 4 moments that determined the game: that's laughable. Yes, the bulk of the action was compressed into a short sequence in the third, but SD got dominated much of the game. But besides, my point was: there was much more to this game than a weak pass defense. There was much more to this game besides SD not showing up.

I thought it was the hallmark of a piece like this to avoid saying such silly things as: they lost because they looked ahead.

by Jerrod Sieberg (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:30pm

I guess the person who wrote comment #9 did not watch the super bowl between the Bucs and the Raiders. how do you think Gruden won? They did not change a sigle play, audible, short count, or method from the previous year that he was there. that is why he was able to kill the Raiders. anyway, i will get off my soapbox about that now. My main comment is even though LT only had 75 yards that is still pretty good right now. think about it, it all three of its losses I don't think the entire Pittsburgh running game got that many yards out of 1 Hall of Famer (Bettis), and the other two. Both of which were supposed to be able to get through the line quick. We as fans do not have access to the game tape like Coach Saban has and he for all intense and purposes made the right adjustments to his defense to make SD throw the ball many more times than I think they would have liked. And lets face it the SD secondary is not the greatest since they are 27th(I think) in the league in allowing just over 225 yrds per game in the air. so it was bound to happen that some decent quaterback have a very good day aginst them. God help them next week when they face Peyton, Marvin, Wayne, and the Edge. Idni not score 30? I think i will take your bet. I see them scoring over 30 and maybe even 40 against that secondary

by PatsDanFan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:47pm

And the Pats would have to lose to the Jets next week for the Fins-Pats game to have any bearing on the AFC East.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 11:24pm

Ok, first off, I want to apologize... I didn't mean to write "pretty dumb" per se... maybe substitute it with "unfounded"?

Anyway, to the points here.


I don't think it's a bad article, really. I am a little turned off by the assumption that Miami could only win against a team "looking ahead" and with its best player dinged up, but again... it's not like we're 13-0...


I never saw the ball clear the plane, neither on the replays/live game nor on the day-after photos... It's questionable, at best.


That's easily explained. Indy fans will never, ever, like Miami... ;)


You can cover up deficiencies at the line with good coaching - just see what Houck has done with these... mmm... guys. Besides, it's not like we haven't run well lately - this is a bad game, yes, but look at the stats (YPC, DPAR, whatever) of our runners... And yes, the secondary needs urgent help, but mostly on the CB spots. IMO, the safeties are fine. And on the CB front, Madison could squeeze a season or two out of himself, Daniels looks like a progressing rookie, and we have another 4th rounder, Will Poole, who had mostly good reviews about him as a rookie last year but got IR'd this one - knee problem, IIRC. So it's not like we're without help coming. Besides, from what I've been reading, lately the Dolphins have found a patchwork solution for the biggest problem (nickel CB) - take Howard out and put anything - even a tree - out there. Covers guys better...


I agree. This is one nice team for 2006...


What's this "domination" of the Chargers you talk about? Seriously, I'm asking - I watched the game and thought the defense played nicely, the offense played like an actual NFL offense, but that's it...


And that's why I'm rooting for Mr. Bollinger to become an NFL QB overnight. Either that, or have Brady arrested at the airport (or do they take a train? drive?) for suspected possesion of narcotics.

Which reminds me, I have to make a call...

Sorry for the long post.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 11:47pm

Re: #43

Really? The freeze-frame CBS showed from both the sideline and endzone cameras at the moment the ball hit the ground in Brown's hand showed the nose of the ball touching the stripe, which by rule is a TD.

by Andy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 12:26am

Re: #35

Gus Frerotte is not a quality QB. See the KC and ATL games for truly horrible QB play. Oh dear, was he abysmal.

Now, he's been playing good as of late, but he just cannot be counted on.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 1:48am


It also shows the ball beyond Brown's control. One could argue that he wasn't even touching the ball.

Per the rule book, you have to have "undisputable visual evidence" to overturn a call. There was no such thing here.

Look, I know there are many, many, many, [...], many things wrong with Instant Replay, but this call isn't one of them. This is a hard call to make on the field, and there's not enough evidence in any shot to overturn it. Unless you have a shot I haven't seen...

by Sergio (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 1:49am


I'll go as far to say he's Jay Fiedler with a stronger arm. When he's on, he's great, but just too damn unreliable...

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 3:55am

Can I just point out to anyone that thinks that it is "disrespectful" to keep going for it on fourth down that Kaeding has had some sort of mysterious hip ailment for most of the season, and that is why the Chargers were hesitant to try to kick some long field goals last Sunday. He's been kicking off to the 15 yard line all year.

I'm surprised that TMQ didn't talk about it, since he thinks that it is cowardly not to go for it in those situations (the "maroon" zone).

If the Chargers really didn't change their audible calls ... that's just inexcusable. I can't believe that they would be that dumb. Especially since they were no doubt asking Feeley questions about the Dolphins. That would make two losses that you could assign a great deal of responsibility for to the coaches/management (the other being the Gates' suspension for the Dallas game).

As for Miami dominating ... please. Miami won for two reasons: their d-line dominated the Chargers o-line, and a Darren Sproles fumble.

by big_adventure (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 5:09am

47 -

You used "Jay Fiedler" and "great" in a metaphor for Gus Frerotte? OK, Jay Fiedler != great (ever). Gus Frerotte != great (ever). Whether Jay == Gus is a matter of perspective. I will live 10 fewer years thanks to the damage Fiedler did to my heart during his tenure as 'fins starter:

(my friend Jason, non-fins-fan, and I on the phone, during the last 5 minutes of a 'fins game with Jay starting and Wanny coaching):

J: (hesitantly) Dude, it looks pretty good, 'fins up by 11 with less than 6 minutes to play. Good bet on the under, good bet on the points.

S: Oh, I dunno. I'd love to have Selig-inspired "Hope and Faith(tm)", but I like team X's chances here. Look, first down and Wanny ordered a pass!

J: Damn that was close. Was he aiming for the safety on that one?

S: Probably. He got lucky there. Second down, run directly into an over-protected center behind a sad line. I saw it coming, you saw it coming, the dude selling hot dogs at a basketball game saw it coming, and it gains 3 yards.

J: Uh-oh. He isn't really going to pass, is he?

S: You know it. Plus, it will be an out to the flanker, for less than first-down yardage in any event.

J: Doesn't he watch his own game film?

S: Don't think so. I think he needs a kid to work the VCR for him, and he is missing the season with mono. Yep, there it is, eyes glued to the receiver, 5 step drop, fires the out, picked off by the CB at a dead run!

J: No!

S: Yep, pick-6 AGAIN.

J: Kickoff, deep or onsides?

S: Why kick onsides here? There are still more than 5 minutes.

...fins march to midfield, it is now third and 2 after a 9 yard run on first and a loss of 1 on second...

S: Here we go again.

J: It's coming, isn't it?

S: Quick out! Intercepted! Fortunately, the guy fell down, so it wasn't run back...

J: Well, there was a nice completion for field-goal range, did you see that catch?

(at this point, I'm jumping off my balcony, for the third or fourth time that year...)

Never mention the F-word (Fiedler) again.


by Gatts (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 5:50am

Yes, the Chargers went for it on fourth 4 times. One came with 4 minutes left in the game and the other came with 30 seconds left. The other two came from Miami’s 33 and 32. Obviously these aren’t typical attempts, but with a questionable kicker, it’s the best option.

by Flux (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 10:56am

Surprising number of dumb comments thus far. Who know Miami even had fans left, after last year's debacle? Also, can we save the fairy tales about Miami having playoff hopes? There are 4 teams ahead of them for the wildcard, and none of those 4 teams lost 22-0 to Cleveland in week 11. Even if Miami wins out, which they will not, 9-7 isn't going to do it this year.

My take on the Mia@SD game, which you can read in longer form here, is that SD played with an inexplicably-conservative passing attack, and lost because of it. I have never seen a game with so short passes to tightly-covered receivers and dump off passes to full backs.

FB Lorenzo Neal caught 5 passes for 21 yards after catching 16 in the first 12 games, and none of them were designed screens. They were all Brees dumping it off while under pressure after seeing nothing open downfield, and on all of them Neal got as many yards as he could have; he had no open field to work with since 8 or 9 of Miami's defenders always seemed to be within 10 yards of the LoS.

Miami's first four possessions resulted in 10 plays for 10 yards with 3 punts and a fumble. Despite that, SD led just 7-3 at the half, when they shoulda/coulda easily had 21 or more, if they'd thrown anything downfield. I remember seeing 1 pass all day that went more than about 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, and it came on about the 4th play of the game, and Brees overthrew an open guy by 5 yards and put the ball out of bounds. At the half Brees was 20/30 for 138 yards and an INT, and despite that woeful average, they actually had decent YAC, thanks to Gates taking a few 5 yard passes and running for 15 yard gains. Everything else seemed to be a screen that didn't fool anyone, or a 6 or 8 or 10 yard pass to a WR on some sort of curl or turn-in route. Miami played their safeties and LBs close to the line, with their eyes in the backfield, and never got punished for it since SD never threw vertical.

I'm not much on the "overlooked an opponent" stuff, but I could be convinced of that argument about this game. It looked like SD wanted to throw a lot, and thought they could pick Miami apart with short precision stuff while saving their more effective downfield passes for Indy next week. Good plan, guys. Better hope that "we won't let them scout our full offense" theory works out in Indy, or you'll watch the first round on TV.

by Andy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 11:20am

Flux, thank you for shedding your brilliant light on this dumb discussion. Your arrogance is astounding. And your blog is...well, I'll keep this discussion relatively civil.

by Richard (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 12:53pm

re: #52

I thought Flux's post was good. I don't know that I agree with what he said, but he said it well, and it's certainly a reasonable proposition.

Again, I apologize to the board in general. I just now saw the sign at the entrance saying "Don't Feed the Trolls."

BTW, nice picture on the sign.

by Andy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 1:43pm

"Who know Miami even had fans left, after last year’s debacle?"

How could I leave that comment alone? Its one thing to have a rational discussion about football, and its another thing to be a dick.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 1:49pm


Really? I'm completely against that opinion... I might say that while I could agree with WHAT he is saying, HOW he said it completely pisses me off.

Ah, well... whatcha gonna do. At least my phins won!

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 2:11pm

Good news, fins fans, Congress is investigating whether or not it is really a fumble: http://www.sportspickle.com/features/volume5/2005-1214-congress.html

by Jerrod Sieberg (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 2:18pm


That was too funny, but unfortunately in our day and age completly beliveable. I have a feeling that congress would if they could pass a law that would give them exclusive rights and control over every sport. Give them more money to run for re-election

by Richard (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 3:46pm

re: #55

I reread the post, and I can see you view on it. Somethings I may have interpreted as sarcasm might have been taken differently (and for good reason) by others.

by Flux (not verified) :: Thu, 12/15/2005 - 7:20am

Well yeah, my Miami shot was some cheap sarcasm, but isn't that pretty much what the internet's for? I liked reading the ones by fins fans earlier in the thread, baseless though they were. And at least I wasn't screed-y, and really, people who post stupid comments based on their team's one respectible win all year deserve to be insulted, don't they? (Almost as much as disappointed semi-fans of superior teams who lay eggs in week 14 must win home games. *cough*)

by Sergio (not verified) :: Thu, 12/15/2005 - 1:01pm


See, this is why I like FO. I could mention that you neglect to acknowledge the Week 1 pasting of the Broncos, or the (barely-got-out-of-there, even though was home) win over Carolina...

But you already admit that the rant is mostly about being pissed that your team came flat to the game. No biggie, once again - besides, as a Dolphins fan, I know the drill...

At least you can argue to be playoff contenders, I guess.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 12/15/2005 - 10:35pm

Re 19 (sorry to get to this thread so late)--Guys get hurt in football. Happens all the time. It is not necessary for New England fans to rush to the defense of the Patriots every time someone suggests that another team is better by citing all the Pats injuries. The Patriots seem to be able to take care of demonstrating their ability (and in the last few years, superiority) pretty well themselves. As a Steelers fan, I get tired of other Steelers fans harping on the losses when Roethlisberger was injured--we get absolutely no slack because of an injury. They don't publish the standings with an asterisk next to the "L"--it's a team game, and the team as it was on the field that day won or lost. Similarly, I got tired last year when NE fans constantly denigrated the Pittsburgh victory in the regular season by harping on "all" the players that were injured. They had a right to react badly to Pittsburgh loudmouths proclaiming that this "proved" that the Steelers would also win the playoff game, but it got to the point where it sounded as if some of them thought the game shouldn't have counted at all (I have no recollection of Owslek being one of these--it's just his comment here that set me off.) If you show up and play the game, it counts. If Tommy Maddox is your QB and he turns in a poor performance, or if Corey Dillon is your RB and he pulls up lame, that might be part of the reason why you lost, but you still lost.

If, every time you lose (or in this case, win less decisively than someone thinks you should), you trot out the "our starters were all hurt" meme, it starts to sound like special pleading. New England has won three Super Bowls and is highly likely to be going to the playoffs to try for still another one. Pleas for sympathy are unlikely to find a receptive audience.

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 12/15/2005 - 11:24pm

I am a Patriots fan but I found the comment 61 to be sort of interesting. There is an element of truth to what you say, but you are saying that if the Patriots all died in a plane crash before the Pittsburgh game then we should not take that into account. The fact is that some teams really suffer greatly from injuries, with it being a miracle that the pats have been competitive in recent years with so many injuries. But your comment seemed kind of thought provoking, which is so very rare at this 'let me defend my team' website!

by Sergio (not verified) :: Fri, 12/16/2005 - 3:20am


I recall a time when this site was anything but a "let me defend my team" place... Oh well...

Anyway, he's not implying that "if the Patriots all died in a plane crash before the Pittsburgh game then we should not take that into account". He's simply putting it the way it is - every single team has injuries, and you either put up or shut up. It's no "miracle" that the Patriots have been competitive while injured - it's a smart front office.

It's just the way it is. And he's right in another thing - I won't be crying a river if the Pats miss the playoffs or something because of injuries. I'm sure most of the league won't either.

by Jerrod Sieberg (not verified) :: Fri, 12/16/2005 - 7:09pm

RE 63
Unfortunantly, and this is taking nothing away from the pats, heck I am a grren bay fan and I am hoping for us to still be somewhere up towrads the top of the draft order so we can get some decent O-Line guys, but the Pats this year are in a very weak division, and should and probably will win out for the division title (minus Pittsburgh) and that will put them in as the fourth seed. The Pats probably have the best of wizzards in the front office and this has enabled them to put out a quality football team for the past 4-5 years. However I don't see them making it past the first round of playoffs this year, not the way indi is playing and the way cinci is playing. anyway that is my 2 cents from a pesron who is hoping for a decent showing next year from his beloved Green Bay Packers.

by nump (not verified) :: Fri, 12/16/2005 - 9:54pm

Re #51
That's it man, you got it. I can't remember the last time an offensive gameplan pissed me off so much. Cam Cameron generally calls a good game, but this was pathetic. But, hey, if Zach Thomas knew what was coming before it came even half the time... Fire Marty!