Question of the Week: Is there an Easy Fix to Miami’s Problems?

While the Miami Dolphins have a long list of issues in need of fixing, the real key to turning their season around is no great mystery. One simply needs to understand what the team’s statistics are screaming out at us.

When reading the headline to this article, many fans will jump to immediate conclusions. Some will blame quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Others will point the finger at the lack of a running game. There are those who will accuse the defense of being ridiculously porous. While a few may even hold rookie head coach Adam Gase responsible.

The truth is, to a greater or lesser degree, they would all be correct. However, to arrive at a more precise sense of what issue the Dolphins must immediately tackle, we must  delve deeper into the specifics of the 2016 season. To that end, I have laid out a statistical breakdown spanning 27 categories, both offensive and defensive, showing how the Dolphins have performed in each individual game thus far.

At first glance, what these numbers show is that Miami has been woefully inconsistent. To illustrate this point clearly, large statistical variances, be they positive or negative, have been highlighted in bold.

Seahawks Patriots Browns Average
Miami 1st Downs 11 23 23 19
Miami 3rd down efficiency 21% 50% 20% 29%
Miami Total Plays 54 61 65 60
Miami Total Yards 214 457 426 366
Miami Yards per Play 4.0 7.5 6.6 6.1
Miami Passing Yards 150 387 311 282.6
Miami Pass Attempts 29 45 39 37.6
Miami Rushing Yards 64 70 115 83
Miami Rush Attempts 20 16 25 20.3
Miami Red Zone % 33% 66% 66% 56%
Miami Sacks Allowed 5 0 1 2
Miami Penalties 4-40 5-49 8-67 6-52
Miami Turnovers Comm 0 4 3 2.3
Time of Possession
25.28 23:14 26:27 * 25:01
Opp 1st Downs 21 29 21 24
Opp 3rd down eff. 31% 50% 26% 36%
Opp Total Plays
78 75 74 76
Opp Total Yards 352 463 430 415
Opp Yards per Play 4.5 6.2 5.8 5.5
Opp Passing Yards 240 302 261 267
Opp Pass Attempts 43 35 38 38.6
Opp Rushing Yards 112 161 169 147
Opp Rush Attempts 32 38 32 34
Opp Red Zone % 50% 75% 33% 56%
Opp Sacks Allowed
3 2 4 3
Opp Penalties 8-69 7-65 13-91 9-75
Opp Turnovers Comm 2 1 1 1.3

*-26:27 was in regulation time. Overtime total was 29:12.

While this chart presents more information than most can digest after just a quick glance given all of the statistical variations, to the trained eye, the real key to the Dolphins’ troubles is easy to spot. For it is not hidden in the many anomalies, but rather, it lurks in three of the most stable aspects of Miami’s game.

  1. The Dolphins have trailed in time of possession by an average of 9:59 per game.
  2. This, in turn, has allowed opponents to average 76 offensive plays per game, which has resulted in an ever more tired and ineffective Dolphins’ defense as games have worn on.
  3. To make matters worse, Miami isn’t getting opposing offenses off the field by way of interceptions and fumble recoveries, averaging a mere 1.3 turnovers per game.

So, what has set this domino effect into motion? Poor third down production. Simple as that.

Despite some success during the 2nd half of the New England game, overall, the Dolphins have converted on just 29% of their third down opportunities this season, and as the following points will illustrate, that is a recipe for failure.

As a result of Miami’s third down woes, their drives have averaged 4.72 plays and taken 2:00 off the clock. In contrast, their opponents have averaged 6.4 plays per drive and eaten 2:56 worth of time. That creates a huge time of possession differential. Furthermore, as previously stated, the Dolphins have compounded their woes by committing 7 turnovers, while forcing just 4 takeaways.

To further accent the importance of both third down conversions and takeaways, consider that the 3-0 Patriots have experienced exactly the opposite dynamic to this point, converting 48% of their third downs this season. As a result, on average, they have controlled the clock 9:54 longer than their 2016 opponents. Moreover, they have also forced 7 turnovers, while giving the ball away just 3 times.

One factor that has surely hurt the Dolphins’ ability to produce turnovers is fatigue. Yet, their failures cannot be blamed solely on exhaustion brought on by the offense’s inability to sustain drives. For example, in week two, the Patriots sliced through Mami’s defense like a hot knife through butter on their first three possessions, producing an early 21-0 lead. That had nothing to do with being worn down. The defense simply didn’t find ways to get off the field.

Thus, despite all the inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, if the Miami Dolphins want to be successful against Cincinnati Thursday night and take a giant leap towards salvaging their season, the solution is clear. Ryan Tannehill must simply be more efficient on third downs while Ndamukong Suh and company must be equally diligent in finding ways to produce more turnovers. It is a fix that won’t come easily, but it must come. Because, until it does, the Dolphins will remain their own worst enemies and have virtually no chance at the playoffs.

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