There’s a long list of reasons the Dolphins are the league’s most improbable playoff contender, but their failures on third downs are second to none.
The Dolphins are so dreadful in that category that when a reporter broached the topic with Adam Gase this week, informing Gase that the Vikings, Sunday’s opponent, are first in third-down defense, all MIami’s head coach/play-caller could muster in response was:
Laugh so you don’t cry.
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The numbers are bad.
Really, really bad.
Like third-worst-in-football bad, with just a 32 percent conversion rate. But the deeper one digs into the numbers, the worse they look.
The Dolphins have picked up just 7 of 29 first downs on third-and-7 to -9 this year. But that’s downright efficient compared to their success on third-and-10 plus: 8 of 48 (16.7 percent).
That means that when the Dolphins face a third-and-7 or longer, they have just a 1 in 6 chance of sustaining their drive.
Seasons are often doomed by far less.
Here’s proof: The other teams in the bottom 10 of the NFL’s third-down offense rankings are a combined 43-72-2. None has a winning record.
“I mean I go through it every week,” Gase said, when discussing what has been done to fix it. “I keep watching the same stuff over and over again, I feel like. If you add that [Patriots] game and go back through it and watch what you’ve done and what other teams do against you, some of it is we don’t execute. Sometimes it’s a bad call. I’ve had a couple of those where I just dialed up the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
One Gase regret: Having Ryan Tannehill drop back and pass on third-and-1 with the Dolphins up a point in the fourth quarter. Patriots defensive end John Simon broke through and dropped Tannehill in the backfield; New England regained the lead on the ensuing possession.
“If I could have one back, that would be it,” Gase said. “We have to keep working it. We have to keep trying to figure out what’s our strength and we have to get the ball to the right guys. We’ve got to get it to the guys that can get us a first down, whether it be running the ball, catching it, whatever it is. Right now I think we’re open for business when it comes to trying some different stuff when we need to and when the right situation calls for it. We need to just get the ball into the guys’ [hands] that can make plays.”
Don’t let the players off the hook, either. It takes a village to be as bad as the Dolphins are on third downs. And it has been an issue for Tannehill his entire career. The Dolphins have not ranked higher than 15th in that category since Tannehill entered the league in 2012.
“It’s been a big emphasis for 17” Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said of Tannehill. “ We keep talking about that stuff. …. Third down is going to be a big key this game because they’re the best in the NFL and they have been for a couple years. We need to do a good job with protection. It’s a tough challenge but Ryan’s up for it, seeing the coverage and making sure you’re getting the ball to the open guy.
“You can’t win or lose this game on third down,” Loggains added. “They do a really good job creating turnovers and doing those things. We need to be smart and win on first and second down because their third-down package is going to create some issues and we need to be prepared for it.”