Week Four

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Dolphins awash in trouble


For the second time in three weeks, the Miami Dolphins are changing quarterbacks. They're also working with their fifth running back and second left tackle, and it's only Week 4.

Chaos brings more chaos, as the Dolphins are finding out.

They have been beset with injuries, bad personnel decisions and one devastating retirement this season. In disarray at 0-3, they won't be making a playoff run this season.

It'd be easy to blame Miami's disaster on running back Ricky Williams quitting a week before training camp - and it was huge - but it's not the whole story. The Dolphins paved their road to ruin with some decisions that backfired, like giving up a second-round draft pick for quarterback A.J. Feeley and drafting Miami guard Vernon Carey, among others.

Feeley, who went 4-1 in 2002 as Donovan McNabb's injury replacement in Philadelphia, played miserably in two starts for the Dolphins after getting the job at halftime of the opener.

With five interceptions and three fumbles in 10 quarters, he incurred the wrath of his teammates. Veteran cornerback Sam Madison had to be restrained from going after Feeley on the sideline during a loss in Cincinnati.

After last week's loss to Pittsburgh, coach Dave Wannstedt turned the job back to Jay Fiedler, the quarterback he keeps trying to replace, for today's game against the New York Jets.

It hardly matters who plays quarterback for the Dolphins until they get an offensive line that can protect him or open holes for the latest running back. They tried to upgrade the line in the offseason by signing free-agent left tackle Damion McIntosh and drafting Carey in the first round.

In his first start last week, McIntosh had three false starts and gave up a critical sack. Carey didn't dress for last week's game, although he was available. That means the 19th pick in this year's draft isn't good enough to crack what might be the worst line in the NFL.

That can't be good. For the Dolphins, a bad situation figures only to get worse.


Martz has to watch more than scoreboard

Already, it's been a long year for Mike Martz. The St. Louis Rams coach delights in being an offensive mastermind, but he needs to worry a little more about being a good head coach.

Last week's 28-25 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints highlighted Martz's major shortcomings.

Play-calling: Against a team that ranked 31st defending the run, the Rams ran 15 times and passed 54. Martz has an aging Marshall Faulk and a first-round pick in Steve Jackson at running back, so it's not like he doesn't have options.

Strategy: After taking a three-point lead with 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Martz opted to squib a kickoff to keep the ball away from return specialist Michael Lewis. That was foiled when defensive end Will Smith lumbered 17 yards to the Saints' 42 to set up the tying field goal. If you're going to squib, you need to be able to cover it, at least.

Discipline: The Rams had 12 penalties against New Orleans and have a league-high 29 for the season. Of those, 17 have come on offense, where the Rams have six of 11 starters remaining from the team's January 2000 Super Bowl championship. Brutal.

Role reversals

How is this for turnarounds? The Kansas City Chiefs are 4-7, including their playoff loss, since starting the 2003 season with nine straight wins. And the Jacksonville Jaguars are 7-4 since losing at Baltimore last November and falling to 1-7.

The last team with a winning record the Chiefs beat was the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 12 last season, 40-34 in overtime. That was after the Packers blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and Ahman Green lost a fumble in overtime.

McNabb's fireball

In the year since he was criticized on ESPN by Rush Limbaugh (Sept. 28, 2003), Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has been ablaze. The Eagles have won 16 of 19 games and McNabb has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 4,161 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. He's also run for five touchdowns.

Most heartening to McNabb is the shattering of an unwanted image.

"People are seeing that I can sit in the pocket and pass the ball, so I guess we have erased that whole stereotype of me not being a pocket passer," he said.

Bombs away

The Houston Texans allowed 55 pass plays of 20 yards or more in 2003. This year, they've cut down on the big plays (eight of 20-plus yards), but have given up a league-high eight touchdown passes.

That's even more noteworthy because the Texans have faced only 79 passes. It means one in 10 goes into the end zone. And with gunner Kerry Collins making his first start at quarterback for the vertically-minded Oakland Raiders today, that's not good news in Houston.

Down and out

The loss of rookie tight end Kellen Winslow for the year to a broken fibula means the Cleveland Browns' entire 2004 draft has been a virtual washout for this season. Winslow went on injured reserve after having a second surgery to stabilize a sprained high ankle ligament.

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