In the breakdown of the coaches’ tape of last weeks’ Colts-Dolphins game, two Miami drives stand out in stark contrast. One is the drive in the middle of the 2nd quarter which Miami capped off with a rushing touchdown. The other is the drive at the end of the 4th quarter, which stalled after 4 pass attempts inside the Colts’ 5 yard-line. These two drives exemplify the Dolphins’ somewhat baffling 2015 struggles, after they entered the season with high hopes and expectations.
The media has been flooded this week with talk of Miami’s quarterback struggles: Should the Dolphins trade Tannehill? Should they use their steadily climbing draft position to draft Paxton Lynch? Does Tannehill need a better supporting cast before he can be accurately assessed? This is not to mention the media frenzy stirred by vulgar criticisms of Tannehill tweeted by cornerback Brent Grime’s wife, Miko Grimes. In the midst of all this the Dolphins’ game-tape is screaming that there is a more pressing issue regarding the Dolphins’ struggles: Why does the team refuse to run the ball?
The evidence that run leads to more success for the Dolphins than pass is overwhelming. Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi are averaging a more than solid 4.6 and 4.4 yards-per-carry respectively. In the Dolphins’ 5 wins the team averages 27.4 rushing attempts, while in their 10 losses they average 19.7. How frustrating it must be for Dolphin fans that a huge improvement would not take a big splash coaching hire, a flashy quarterback taken in the draft, expensive free agents, or any other bold off-season move weighted with risky long-term commitment. Instead, the evidence suggests, that a simple commitment to 8 more carries a game would bring the Dolphins astronomical progress. If divided evenly, that’s a mere 4 more carries for each starting back.
In last weeks’ loss to the Colts, the team actually made 25 rushing attempts, which is higher than the losing average, but still almost 3 attempts short of the winning average. Where might the Dolphins have found an extra 3 or 4 carries? This brings me back to the two drives mentioned earlier. How about in place of the four pass attempts that stalled an otherwise game winning drive?
The most confusing part of all this is that the Dolphins within the same game ran a perfect demonstration of how they are capable of scoring on run-fueled drives. The final five plays of the Dolphins’ first and only touchdown drive were runs.
The streak of runs begins with 10:54 in the first quarter. On the first attempt, the offensive line pushes the formation hard left, hoping to mislead the Colts’ Defense, which doesn’t budge. At this point the play could be considered blown, but Ajayi uses patience to wait for space to develop, vision to find that space, and talent to get there. The play ends in a 3 yard gain, which is not ideal but certainly makes 2nd and 3rd down more manageable than a clock-stopping incompletion for no gain.
The second attempt results in a 10 yard gain to the goal line, primarily due to a pair of hard hits from Ajayi to shed head-on tacklers. In the development of the play Jason Fox is in “La-La Land” miles away from the play, Albert and Turner allow their assignments to get off their blocks, while Thomas and Douglas do a respectable job opening a hole in the middle. The takeaway here is that it only takes 2 of 5 lineman succeeding along with the talent of the back to make a momentum building play that puts the team right at the goal line. If 3 of 5 lineman miss their assignment on a pass attempt, it spells disaster.
On the 3rd and 4th attempts, Ajayi fails to punch in the score (without much O-line help as usual), but the hidden benefit behind even failed rushing attempts is that they keep the clock running. This time of possession keeps the game closer later into the game as the Dolphins look to even the score. On the final attempt, the Dolphins bring in Lamar Miller with fresh legs to cap off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, with 8:07 on the clock. When all is said and done the Dolphins have secured their biggest score of the day and eaten up almost 3 minutes of clock in just 5 plays.
Note that picking up 1 yard on the goal-line off a run has an extremely higher success rate than attempting a 4 yard pass with goal to go, league-wide, which brings me to the contrasting Dolphins drive. The four plays with goal to go begin with 40 seconds left in the 4th quarter. The Dolphins had no timeouts which might be part of the justification for going all pass as incompletions would stop the clock. One could also argue that this would be a reason the Colts would not be expecting run.
The first play is designed for Tannehill to move outside the pocket. He makes a poor decision on the run.
On the second attempt it appears that Tannehill is trying to hit Landry in double coverage, but he is actually trying to get to Parker wide open at the back of the endzone. This is deceptive because Landry’s defender deflects the ball high in the air.
The third attempt is a hard key in on Landry in which the ball comes out almost immediately. The defensive coverage from Malcom Butler is excellent. Also, despite the rapid delivery of the ball, Brandon Albert misses an assignment, permitting unblocked pressure, forcing Tannehill to backpedal on the throw.
The final attempt is the infamous game-ending center miscommunication leading to a sack. This is something that happens far less often when the quarterback is under center than it does from shotgun, which is a dead giveaway for pass.
To make a long story short. Whoever takes the reigns as head coach for the Dolphins next season. It will be nice for fans if that coach has less aversion to running the football.