This season Jake Long's fallen short of the dominant stature that convinced the left tackle's peers to rate him the best offensive lineman in the NFL Network's top 100 player rankings.
Long, who entered the year voted the NFL's 28th best player overall for 2011, was a beast his first three seasons in the NFL. He was a three-time Pro Bowler. He gave up sacks sparingly, and rarely committed penalties.
But this season, Long leads the team with five sacks. He hasn't been much of a pile mover on running plays, and is coming off a game where he committed four penalties in last Thursday's 20-19 loss to the Cowboys.
"We've been getting better. We just got to keep working," Long said about the offensive line's struggles. "Running the ball and protecting the quarterback are the two things (offensive linemen) take pride in. At times we haven't done it good enough, but we've been getting better, and we'll keep improving on it."
Long has only committed five penalties all season. So, four in one game is a bit high, especially when you consider Long committed eight penalties all of last year, five in 2009 and six in '08 as a rookie.
"Obviously, penalties happen during the course of the game. I'll say this about Jake Long ... we're all going to really be happy down the road here, or you're going to all be really happy down the road here that Jake Long is here and he's a Miami Dolphin," Coach Tony Sparano said.
"We're lucky to have him. He's a tremendous football player. He's been playing really well. He had a couple penalties (Thursday)," added Sparano, who is loyal to his players, especially the offensive linemen. "He'll be hard on himself over that but he made a couple of really big plays too."
Long's performance peaked against the Chiefs and Redskins, where he neutralized two Pro Bowlers in Tambi Hali and Brian Orakpo. But since then it has progressively gotten worse, which makes you wonder if Long is wearing down physically because of his troublesome left knee.
A strong performance against Oakland's Richard Seymour and company could go a long way toward alleviating concerns. Long is presently rated by ProFootballFocus.com as the NFL's 26th best offensive tackle.
The one aspect of Long's ProFootballFocus.com grade that stands out is his negative run blocking grade (-1.1). Last season, when Long was rated by PFF as the second best offensive tackle (behind Andrew Whitworth), he had a plus-8.3 grade.
In 2009, a year Long also finished second (behind Joe Thomas) he had a plus-6.9 grade. His rookie season, when he finished ninth Long had a plus-13.2 grade.
"We're moving on," Long said when asked to address his struggles. "We know that when we play like we can play we can score. We just didn't do it last game. We're moving on, working on it and will get better at it, scoring more touchdowns in the red zone."