Who are the 2010-11 Miami Dolphins?
After a 26-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens this sunday, I have no idea.
With Miami’s current roster structure they should have a run-first mentality, right? Their tight end is a better blocker than he is receiver. They don’t have, or don’t utilize, a receiver who continually stretches the field deep. And their quarterback is clearly still in the developmental stages.
Upper-echelon NFL quarterbacks convert that goal-line touchdown pass late in the second quarter nine out of ten times. Little passes like that impact an entire game.
The Dolphins came into the season with the identity of a run-first, smash-mouth football team. It was no secret they were going to run the ball consistently, but the defense still had to stop it.
Now it seems as if they don’t know what their strengths or weaknesses are, especially on offense.
By The Numbers
Last season, Miami ranked fourth in rushing yards per game (139.4) and ninth in yards-per-carry (4.4). Midway through this season, Miami ranks 16th in rushing yards per game (106.5) and 21st in yards-per-carry (3.9).
That 0.5 yards per attempt might not seem like much, but in reality it’s huge. The biggest difference comes on third down. It can be the difference between third and long versus third and medium to short yardage situations. When you keep adding that 0.5 over the long haul it’s astronomical. You can start to see it when you make comparisons among teams.
For instance Seattle averages 3.6 yards per rush (Just .03 less than Miami’s 3.9), yet ranks nine spots lower at 30th. Wasn’t the addition of Brandon Marshall supposed to improve the running game?
No, not with the inability to get him the ball where he can make plays.
Let’s take a look at Sunday's loss in Baltimore. Ronnie Brown found success on the ground early, rushing nine times for 59 yards (6.6 YPC) and a touchdown. Six carries and 49 of those yards came on the Dolphins’ first possession.
So what happened?
Well, first Miami went with Ricky Williams in the second series, a puzzling move considering how dominant Brown was.
They got behind early and put themselves in some holes. Chad Henne threw an early interception, as receiver Brian Hartline fell down on a comeback route. Early in the second quarter Henne threw a screen pass to Brandon Marshall resulting in a four yard loss on first down. That can’t happen, as second-and-long hampers a team’s ability to pound the football.
Then Miami had three false starts, two on Jake Long and one on Pat McQuistan. It was the little things adding up that derailed the Miami offense. It’s very difficult to move the ball against a solid defense when the offense consistently hurts themselves.
This year’s offensive line also hasn’t been as effective in run blocking as they were last year. However, they are a better unit on the whole. They have been great in pass protection, for the most part, and showed yesterday they can plow big holes when Miami commits to the run.
It’s evident rookie John Jerry at right guard makes this a better run blocking unit. Mcquistan might be more polished as a pass blocker but it’s night and day when Jerry is in there in run-blocking situations. He received a decent amount of playing time yesterday.
The running game this year is capable of being as effective as last year. They just have to work some things out in the passing game to better compliment the run.
Steal Baltimore’s Offensive Blueprint
Although Baltimore is more polished in areas like quarterback and tight end, they hold the blueprint for Miami’s success on offense. They have a versatile back in Ray Rice who creates matchup problems in the passing game. Ronnie Brown, although not as agile, has great hands and can be similarly effective.
When they aren’t running the ball well, they effectively swap out traditional runs for screens and swing passes out of the backfield. And they do it well, as we all witnessed yesterday. Those types of passes are essentially runs. Ask the Eagles’ Andy Reid.
The difference between Baltimore’s short passing game and Miami’s is simple: They get the ball to their playmakers in space on the run, where they can gain yardage after the catch.
Miami’s short passing game involves quick comebacks and screens to the receivers out wide. Everything is wide and when a pass takes longer to get to its destination, the defense has more time to react.
When Baltimore shifted to quicker passes, Miami’s defensive pressure couldn’t get there in time. It’s hard to get to the quarterback on a three-step drop no matter how many players are rushing the passer.
The Dolphins have receivers who can make an impact via crossing patterns and slants in Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess. Getting them the ball on the run, and in space, will make the passing game more efficient, which will lead to more productive running situations.
When Miami sagged off on blitzes and dropped seven and eight in coverage, the Ravens took advantage of the extra time and took shots deep. It’s not to say the Dolphin's were out-coached. I think it was more of the Ravens coaches having better knowledge of their team’s identity and adjusting their gameplan accordingly.
Cam Cameron, as unsuccessful as he was as Miami’s head coach a few years back, is a very smart offensive coordinator.
It’s tough to call plays for a Dolphins offense that has yet to establish themselves consistently in any area. There are different issues each game.
Get back to smash-mouth football and employ a quicker passing attack that involves screens and swing passes to the backs. If they can establish the run consistently, something I think this group is fully capable of, the big plays will be there in play-action situations. If Henne cannot execute an offense like that, an offense revolving heavily on quick reads and timing, then it’s time to consider a change at quarterback.
I say give him more time. Once you make a switch you have to live with it, and any potential he would have of becoming the long-term answer at quarterback would be shattered. Let’s see what this guy is all about. He still is relatively inexperienced.
He has 21 starts and if he finishes out the season as starter that puts him close to 30 for his career. By then we will have a very good idea of who he is.
Let’s not have a team try to be something they’re not. This is not Peyton Manning and the Colts who use the deep ball to open up the run. This is the Dolphins, a team that was supposedly built in the trenches.
They also have to capitalize off big-play opportunities on the defensive side of the ball. Sean Smith’s dropped interception in the second half would and should have been for a touchdown. Plays like that are the difference between good teams and great ones.
Offensively, it’s time to revert back to their roots and play physical, 09′ Dolphin football. They have it in them to make a push in the second half and are still not so far out of it that the playoffs seem impossible.
They are currently just two games back in the ultra competitive AFC East. Historically, a ten-win season is usually enough to sneak in the playoffs, meaning Miami would have to finish 6-2 in the second half.
This is a mediocre football team right now. They have eight games left to prove otherwise.