Five-step drop: Jake Long dilemma

With two teams on the bye, the AFC East is shorting its progression.

Here are five notes and observations on Week 9 in the division:

  • The Miami Dolphins (4-4) have a tough decision to make with left tackle Jake Long. It is clear the pending free agent and former No. 1 overall pick is not the player he used to be. Long has battled injuries and played below his usual level for a couple of seasons. He struggled again against defensive end Dwight Freeney in a 23-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts (5-3). Long spent a lot of time on the ground, getting penalized and trying to stay in front of Freeney. Coming off his rookie contract, Long may aim to be the highest-paid lineman in the NFL. But it’s been more than a year since he’s consistently played at an elite level. Miami must decide whether to pay Long for what he’s done in the past or what he will be the next few years. Miami doesn't have a viable replacement unless rookie Jonathan Martin can eventually switch to the left side.

  • Miami’s loss puts the team in a tough spot. They have two games in a five-day stretch against the Tennessee Titans (3-6) and Buffalo Bills (3-5). On paper, both opponents are struggling. But the Dolphins could quickly go from 4-4 to 4-6 if they're not focused. Miami also has the potential to be 6-4. I asked Miami coach Joe Philbin about this quick turnaround in Indianapolis. “We have to be smart,” Philbin said. “We’re going to have to take a look at the injury situation and get through this thing and look at our practice time, how much time we can spend on the field, those types of things. We’ve given it some thought already. ... But it’s a challenge for anybody.”

  • I don’t get what the Bills are doing with tailback C.J. Spiller. He is clearly Buffalo’s best playmaker and doesn’t get nearly enough touches. Six carries? The Bills lost to the Texans, 21-9, and it was a close game until the fourth quarter. I don’t understand why the Bills would have a pass-to-run ratio of 38-16, more than 2-to-1, with Spiller touching the ball sparingly. The Bills had two weeks to figure out what works offensively. Maybe they will never figure out.

  • Buffalo’s season is over if it can’t win next Sunday in Gillette Stadium. The Bills (3-5) will travel to face the New England Patriots (5-3) with their season on the line. The Bills will be huge underdogs in this game but are desperate and need to pull out all the stops.

  • The Patriots (5-3) and New York Jets (3-5) are both coming off their bye weeks. That means each team has two weeks to rest and get healthy. For the Jets, I want to see if they have figured out their identity on offense. Is this a ground-and-pound team, or will they let quarterback Mark Sanchez fling the ball. It’s been a different formula each week. For the Patriots, the pass defense is key. They acquired cornerback Aqib Talib in a trade but can’t get him on the field for another week due to a suspension.