The Miami Dolphins offense has been criticized for a lot of things this year, but while offensive play-calling has not been among the primary talking points, maybe it should have been. Either way, in the Dolphins' 24-3 win over Jacksonville Sunday, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman took center stage for all the right reasons.
Give credit to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill for trusting his feet more, but Sherman's play calls have allowed for Tannehill to use his feet more, as well.
They put his athleticism to use, with a pair of read-option plays and a lot of bootlegs drawn into the game plan, which helped Tannehill have his finest outing yet as an NFL quarterback with a final stat line of 22-for-28 (78.6 percent), 220 yards (7.86 YPA), two touchdowns and a 123.2 passer rating.
The rookie quarterback finished the game with eight carries for 52 yards. Two of those carries for 15 yards came on read-option runs by the quarterback.
Add in a scramble for 30 yards and Tannehill has really put his legs to work over the past few weeks, far more than earlier this year. He had 21 carries for 30 yards through Week 10 and has 20 carries for 129 yards in the four games since then.
This should have been the case all season—no coach was better equipped to help Tannehill transition to the NFL than Sherman was after working together at Texas A&M.
The play-calling was much improved, but it wasn't all perfect.
The Dolphins got off to a slow start, with just one of their first three drives producing points. From that point on, though, they scored on four of their next five drives (not counting a kneeldown to end the first half) with two touchdowns and two field goals.
Considering the Dolphins rank 27th in the league in yards per drive and points per drive (according to Football Outsiders), their performance following those first three drives was pretty remarkable.
They made it into the red zone on each of their five drives, but stalled out three times. They ran the ball on first down on all three of those drives. It's hard enough to make plays in the red zone, but even harder when the opponent knows what to expect.
The Dolphins have been incredibly predictable on first down this year, running the ball 197 times on first down next to 148 first-down pass attempts (the third fewest in the league through 13 games), and they were stubborn about it once again on Sunday. They picked up 116 yards on 19 first-down running plays (6.1 YPA), due in large part to a 53-yard first-down scamper by Dolphins running back Reggie Bush.
Were it not for that run, the Dolphins would have averaged 3.5 rushing YPA on first down, indicative of their struggles on the season (4.1 rushing YPA on first down in 2012). Their lack of success running the ball early resulted in a three-and-out, and a few drives stalling out in the red zone.
The concern comes from what happens when play-calling isn't enough; it will be up to Tannehill to step up in the areas where he struggles if defenses are able to take away what he is good at—downfield passing and coming off his first read among them. His athleticism helps him to improvise, but we've seen what happens when defenses force him to beat them from the pocket.
No matter how good the play call is, a play call can't catch a pass or throw an on-target ball.
There were a few drops, including one notable failed third-down conversion on a catchable ball by wide receiver Rishard Matthews; were it caught, that could have been a touchdown. Marlon Moore had a nice catch but also had a drop of his own. A better throw on either of those passes could have been caught. Play calls make that easier, but they don't make it certain.
Another weapon in the passing game could go along way, too, but it's not as simple as drafting one or signing one in free agency; one of their own, Brian Hartline, is eligible for free agency this offseason. He led Dolphins wide receivers on Sunday with five catches for 77 yards, and the need for a receiver only gets greater if he leaves in free agency.
Going forward, the Dolphins should continue to be willing to call plays that best take advantage of what Tannehill is good at, until there are players around him that can help with the rest. For now, at least, it's the key to their offense's success.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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