Dolphins Find Recipe for Success with Renewed Rushing Attack
The Miami Dolphins upset the Cincinnati Bengals on national television with an exciting walk-off safety in overtime on Thursday Night Football. The win staved off the premature end to the team's season that would have come with a 3-5 record and a fifth-consecutive loss. Instead, the Dolphins enter the halfway point at 4-4, with a chance to begin the second half of the season anew.
The team had every reason to lose this football game. As outlined by Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald, the Dolphins suffered a string of embarrassments that began a week ago when standout center Mike Pouncey was served a subpoena for possible involvement with accused murderer Aaron Hernandez in interstate gun trafficking.
Any assessment of the game should primarily attribute the victory to the team's stout defense, especially star defensive end Cameron Wake, who should be in line for "too good to fail" status with the United States government.
However, here we will focus on an underrated yet integral part of the formula: the Dolphins renewed rushing attack.
We should keep in mind that the Dolphins have not necessarily found any alchemical solutions to their offensive woes. Miami's offense only scored 13 points during the game, and nine times out of 10, that will not get the job done against a team as talented as the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, what the Dolphins did was find a way to minimize their own potential for offensive mistakes by running the football effectively and consistently, taking pressure off a mistake-prone passing attack that had been finding ways to give the game away in the second half of several previous contests.
This gave quarterback Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals enough rope to hang himself—and hang himself he did, with four total turnovers plus a game-losing sack-safety in overtime.
Dolphins tailbacks Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas combined for 28 carries and 143 rushing yards during the game. Miller was particularly effective with 16 carries for 108 yards. Tight end Charles Clay, who rushed for 1,205 yards and eight touchdowns as a hybrid fullback/tight end at Tulsa, contributed a 13-yard run to the mix as well. The Dolphins also called a run play for quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the Bengals' goal line, producing a 1-yard touchdown.
However, the stat sheet may give the impression that the Dolphins abandoned the run in the second half once again. The team had 22 running plays in the first half and only eight running plays during the remainder of the game. Miami also ran 17 pass plays after halftime. However, this lack of balance is deceiving for a number of reasons.
The Bengals started out the third quarter with a time-consuming drive that ended with a 94-yard interception that was returned for a touchdown by Dolphins corner Brent Grimes. The fact that Grimes returned the turnover for a score put the Dolphins defense back on the field immediately.
The Bengals produced another long drive immediately afterward, which gassed the Dolphins defense for the remainder of the game, making it difficult for them to make stands on third down.
The net effect of this was the fact that the Bengals ran 93 plays during the game, while the Dolphins only ran 61. Therefore, part of the reason for a lack of rushing attempts after halftime was the fact that the Dolphins did not get the chance to run very many plays at all.
As for the Dolphins calling pass plays on approximately 68 percent of their post-halftime plays, the primary reason for this was situational in nature. The Dolphins found themselves down by a field goal with a little over one minute remaining in the game and zero timeouts. From this point on, Tannehill dropped back to pass eight-straight times, bringing the team from its own 24-yard line to the Bengals' 26-yard line, where rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis was able to hit a game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime.
In other words, during situations after halftime in which the Dolphins were allowed to be balanced, they were. They ran the football eight times and dropped back to pass nine times.
By no means did the Dolphins call a perfect game on offense though. One particularly controversial play-call came in overtime with the team facing a 3rd-and-1 on its own 29-yard line. Rather than running the football, the Dolphins came out of a timeout in a shotgun formation and were looking to pass the ball for a conversion. The timing of the play was disrupted, as Tannehill waited to make sure the player covering Charles Clay on his flat route was not reading the play and jumping into the passing lane for the quick slant.
This play-call may be an example of the "101 stuff" that Armando Salguero cited a high-ranking Dolphins source questioning in regards to offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's play-calling in the piece linked above.
However, it should be noted that later in overtime, the Dolphins got into another 3rd-and-1 situation in which the Dolphins lost a yard by trying to run tailback Daniel Thomas up the middle.
Overall, while the Dolphins offense was by no means potent, the strategy of emphasizing a strong running game took a tremendous amount of pressure off of a mistake-prone Dolphins passing offense which has shown a tendency to lose football games in the second half due to a combination of poor pass protection, miscommunication, drops and poor decision-making by the quarterback.
This allowed the Bengals to give the game away with their own offensive miscues, and it put the game's outcome in the hands of Miami's defense.
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