He breathed life into a team that was all but dead, and now comes interim coach Dan Campbell’s biggest test: Can he lead the Dolphins to stun the Pats on a short week? Plus notes on streams, Tampa and more
Miami interim coach Dan Campbell stood in front of his team three weeks ago, before his first significant team meeting as coach, and said, “Thirty-seven to three. Who knows what that is?” No one raised a hand.
That, Campbell said, is the score of the Miami games in the first quarter this year—37-3 in favor of the opposition. A big reason, obviously, why the Dolphins were 1-3, and why Joe Philbin got fired and why the 39-year-old Campbell was now in charge.
This morning, if he so chose, Campbell could say to his men, “Thirty-one to three. Who knows what that is?” And he could tell them that’s the first-quarter score of the two games since he’s taken over—this time in Miami’s favor. I’ve watched a good deal of Miami’s decisive wins over Tennessee and Houston (Dolphins 82, Foes 36), and Miami has come out on fire for both games, playing smart and with intensity.
That’s going to be a vital part of what they do Thursday night in Foxboro, when the 3-3 Dolphins try to shock the 6-0 Patriots and the world. It’s almost unfair, trying to beat the best team in football with very little practice and very little of what has made Miami so good against two struggling opponents so far. New England might be tired, but the Patriots certainly won’t be struggling.
Preparing for the Patriots in a short week “is going to be a firestorm, to say the least,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill told me. “But we’ve got to find a way. It’s brutal getting ready to play them, physically and mentally. But at least we’ve done it, and we’re familiar with them.”
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald wrote a smart story Tuesday. The physical practices run by Campbell in the past two weeks have been a big part of the Dolphins’ success, and as Salguero wrote: “The only problem with that is this week the Dolphins aren’t going to get very physical at all in practice … That’s bad for a team that has been building its foundation for success on tough, physical practice preparation.”
As Campbell said: “We’re not going to do anything physical this week. When you’re on a short week like this it’s hard and what’s most important is rest, recovery and then the mental work. That to me is what it’s about and that’s where this team, talking about the New England Patriots … is so good. They try to find a weakness. They exploit it and then they will repeat it over and over and over.”
This is a rare week when a midweek preview of the Thursday night game seems appropriate—I think this is going to be very good theater. There aren’t many teams that can give New England problems defensively right now. But watching the Dolphins rush the passer in the past two weeks, and watching the interior line push the pile back into the quarterback, I sense what Miami is going to try to do is press the pocket early and get strong defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Earl Mitchell to work over the interior of the New England front. Of course, that’s what the Jets tried to do too … and Tom Brady just went away from the run, threw for 355 yards and put up 30 points. So there’s no guarantee that even the strength of Miami’s team, the defensive front (past two games: 10 sacks), is going to be enough to challenge New England.
What Campbell will have to rely on is what he’s preached to the team. It’s interesting how, in football, we rarely mention passion, or love of the game, or raw hustle. Campbell’s been talking about those things consistently—in front of the team and in front of the public—since he took the job. You see a different team now, watching Miami play. No telling if that different team can stay with the Patriots for four quarters, and I’m dubious it’ll be a game for 60 minutes. But at least it’ll be motivation to tune in.
I’m reminded of part of my conversation with Campbell when he took the job. At one point, he started talking to me like I was a player. “We gotta change the culture!” he said, voice rising. “We’re not just going through the motions anymore. We’re gonna be fast and we’re gonna be crisp. Hey, running the ball, running backs, you get a little crease and I want to see you put your head down and bull for two or three yards! The hole’s not always huge. No more getting stuffed at the line!”
I’m not a player, though. When he remembered that and lapsed back into person-to-person-speak, he said: “Sorry. Sorry. I’m just so into it.”
Can that be a factor in trying to beat the best team in football, on a short week, on the road? We’ll see.
Now onto your mail for the week.
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NO LOVE FOR LOVIE
How soon before Lovie Smith gets his walking papers in Tampa? They regularly lose at home, and that historic collapse after a 24-point lead in Washington this past week was all on the defense—which he got more involved with earlier this season. Loyal Tampa fans want the team to be relevant again.
—Mark G., Bradenton, Fla.
I seem to remember similar emails to me less than two years ago. They concerned Greg Schiano. Most of Tampa/St.Petersburg wanted Schiano fired. And the region got its wish. He was fired after the 2013 season. I remember specifically Tony Dungy telling me that the guys at his barber shop were extremely happy to see Schiano gone. He said the region as a whole was very happy with Lovie Smith’s hire. So here we are now, seven games into the era of a new quarterback and 23 games into the era of a new coach. And you want to start over. I’m not saying that Lovie Smith is certainly going to be the answer, and I’m not saying that he has had a great run so far in Tampa, but one of the problems I see with teams that make coaching changes every two or three years is that you don’t develop any patience. Tampa was never going to be a quick fix, especially with a new quarterback. So my advice would be, yes, it’s okay to throw things at your TV when your team has a monumental collapse like the Bucs did on Sunday in Washington. But take a deep breath and understand that it is only going to get worse if you continue to jump from one coach to the next.
A BILLS FAN’S TAKE ON THE YAHOO GAME
Peter, your “Buffalo-Jacksonville” references very snidely implying that no one could possibly care very much about a game involving those two teams were very unprofessional. I’m a Bills fan who lives in Pennsylvania and almost never get to see the Bills on TV anymore due to their ineptitude. So, a Sunday morning game with no other game to bump it off the TV schedule—perfect! But no, the NFL cares more about Singapore, Brazil and Australia than about fans here who have supported the league for years. I couldn’t get the streaming to work on my TV, and the laptop was terrible with constant buffering and frozen screens throughout the entire game. Very frustrating, and not fair. Want to test live streaming? Have Yahoo do it overseas but broadcast the game in the U.S. If this is the planned future of the NFL, they are in trouble.
—Pete B., Lehigh Valley, Pa.
Nothing the NFL does is going to make everyone happy or is going to be fair to everyone. You might be right—maybe the NFL should put the game on the internet only overseas. But the NFL wants to know if in five or eight or 10 years, whether it is a viable alternative to sell its games to internet companies like Yahoo or Google. I’m sure the NFL isn’t happy that people like you are inconvenienced because you are a true Bills fan who wasn’t able to see one of the few games that you could see on TV all year. That is unfortunate. But the league is more concerned about an audience in both the United States and overseas that might develop into the target for one of its broadcast or digital partners. That’s too bad for people like you, but it’s the way the NFL does business.
SUNDAY TICKET SUFFERER
Peter, in all your gushing about the streamed game on Yahoo, you failed to mention the downside, which is that it forced fans to watch a game on their computers. I subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket for the express purpose of being able to watch every NFL game on my TV. Football is a communal viewing experience, and while it is possible to connect a computer to a TV, some of us don't have the capability or inclination to do that. The fact is, the NFL is exploiting this new method of delivering games as a way to sell yet another package to a provider. If it becomes our only choice, it becomes a disservice to fans.
—William S., Mountain Home, Ark.
See? There’s no way to make everyone happy in this case. Whenever the NFL does something different in the TV or digital realm some people are not going to like it. You obviously don’t. But the hand-wringing from people over a marginal NFL game (and I say marginal to be charitable) baffles me. I understand you got your package to be able to see any of the 256 regular-season games. So yes, you’re not getting everything that you paid for. I just can’t find much reason to get totally fired up over missing one game out of 256, and one of the worst draws among those 256.
STREAMING GAMES = REDUCED MARITAL STRESS
If the NFL moves forward with streaming all or most games in the future, it would eliminate marital stress during football season. I was able to watch parts of the game while running errands with my wife Sunday morning without stressing too much about missing part of the game. Do you see the NFL eventually doing away with DirecTV's NFL pay package and eventually moving it towards a free live streaming platform? Moments likes these are when I am truly amazed with the potential capabilities that modern technology allows for us.
—Chris K., Towson, Md.
I think the NFL likes its DirecTV partnership and the multiple millions that this partnership brings to every team every year. The NFL will treat the internet the way it treats every other revenue-generator. It will pit the internet companies against broadcast TV and try to make the most money from that competition and try to expose as many viewers to the games as it can. I doubt DirecTV’s partnership with the NFL is going away. Too lucrative.
Your comments about police pay are a little reckless. There are cities and counties that are virtually bankrupt because of the pension obligations to police service. Police service is an honorable profession. And it entails a higher risk of mortality—that is part of what makes it so honorable. It can’t be measured in dollars. It also is a profession that is prone to corruption. And that can’t be measured in dollars. Most police are paid well in relation to other people who serve the public, with decent pensions. There are police who can retire at 50. Who can do that other than athletes and the super-rich? There are adjunct professors who are paid less than $30K. And you cover a league that often does its best to extract concessions from towns—that is … obscene? Ridiculous? Corrupt?
— D’Arcy, Toronto
I made a comment about a police officer in New York City, who, while chasing a hardened criminal, was shot in the forehead and murdered. That is the fourth New York City police officer in less than a year who was murdered on the job. You may have your opinion about which segments of our society are overpaid and which jobs deserve more money. This is mine: Police officers are underpaid. In every profession, there are going to be some bad people. The officer in New York who was murdered was not a bad person, and in fact, there were multiple stories about his valor on the job and his contribution to the community. So I’m sorry, you can have your opinion in this, but mine is unshakable.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TRAGEDIES
Are you as utterly shocked as I am that, with the death of 17-year-old Andre Smith in Illinois, seven high school football players have died in seven weeks of the season? How is high school football (or any football) continuing without pause? In no other sport in the world would such an appalling death rate be allowed with no appreciable changes to the game. The news trots out the usual lip service that changes are being made in how tackles are executed and helmet safety, but it is meaningless.
—Marty M., Caldwell, N.J.
Seven is a lot. Seven is too many. I do believe that some things can and must be done to limit the possibility of high school football fatalities. The most important thing in my opinion would be to have a certified athletic trainer on the sideline at every high school game in America. I believe that is essential. I don’t know if that would have had anything do with saving the life of Andre Smith, but in my opinion it is irresponsible to have a heavy-contact high school sport without having at least one trained medical professional on site for that game. Aside from that, I believe that each high school should do everything it can to have the latest equipment, specifically the helmet with the most modern technology. I understand that isn't always possible because of budget reasons but it is certainly something that any high school in America should do: Helmets should be changed out every five or six years. In the end, however, I believe that when kids play sports, especially sports with contact like football and hockey and lacrosse, there always will be the potential for serious injury. I don’t know how that is ever going to completely go away.
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