Tavern talk: Dolphins must control the clock

The best game of the past weekend was the Saints’ amazing come-from-behind win against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have played two of the best teams in the NFL (Colts and Saints) head to head, and they were in control and actually appeared like the better team at times during each game.

On Sunday, the Dolphins built a 24-3 lead in the first half by only throwing the ball ten times. But in the second half with the lead, when the number one running team in the NFL should take over, they actually threw the ball 26 times. Does it make sense that the team that prides itself on being able to run the ball on eight and nine-man fronts gets a commanding three-touchdown lead (then a two-touchdown lead before the start of the second quarter) and actually throws the ball more with the lead? Was it the lack of the running game or was it the fact they scored too quick? Let’s take a look:

Miami Dolphins at 15:00, (1st play from scrimmage 14:54)

1-10-MIA 17 (14:54) R.Williams right tackle to MIA 16 for -1 yards (R.Harper, R.Ayodele).

2-11-MIA 16 (14:17) C.Henne pass incomplete short right to J.Haynos.

3-11-MIA 16 (14:10) C.Henne pass deep left intended for T.Ginn INTERCEPTED by D.Sharper (T.Porter) at MIA 42. D.Sharper for 42 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Miami challenged the ruling and the play was upheld. (Timeout #1 at 13:56.)

Miami Dolphins at 13:56, (1st play from scrimmage 13:50)

1-10-MIA 23 (13:50) C.Henne sacked at MIA 16 for -7 yards (T.Hargrove).

2-17-MIA 16 (13:21) C.Henne pass short right to B.Hartline pushed ob at MIA 25 for 9 yards (J.Greer).

3-8-MIA 25 (12:46) (Shotgun) C.Henne pass incomplete deep right to B.Hartline (R.Harper).

4-8-MIA 25 (12:40) (Punt formation) B.Fields punts 46 yards to NO 29, Center-J.Denney. R.Bush to NO 35 for 6 yards (R.Torbor).

Miami Dolphins at 10:02

1-10-MIA 20 (10:02) R.Brown left end pushed ob at MIA 26 for 6 yards (D.Sharper).

2-4-MIA 26 (9:36) Direct Snap to #23 R. Brown (Shotgun) R.Brown right tackle to MIA 28 for 2 yards (D.Sharper, J.Dunbar).

3-2-MIA 28 (8:55) Direct Snap to #23 R. Brown (Shotgun) R.Brown right tackle to MIA 29 for 1 yard (J.Vilma).

4-1-MIA 29 (8:23) (Punt formation) B.Fields punts 51 yards to NO 20, Center-J.Denney. R.Bush to NO 21 for 1 yard (V.Davis).

Miami Dolphins at 7:17

1-10-NO 15 (7:17) R.Williams left end to NO 11 for 4 yards (S.Shanle).

2-6-NO 11 (6:42) Direct Snap to #23 R. Brown (Shotgun) R.Brown right end pushed ob at NO 15 for -4 yards (T.Hargrove).

3-10-NO 15 (6:09) C.Henne pass incomplete short right to R.Williams.

4-10-NO 15 (6:04) (Field Goal formation) D.Carpenter 33 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-J.Denney, Holder-B.Fields.

NO 17 MIA 27, 4 plays, 0 yards, 1:18 drive, 9:01 elapsed

D.Carpenter kicks 60 yards from MIA 30 to NO 10. C.Roby to NO 18 for 8 yards (E.Walden).

Miami Dolphins at 1:09, (1st play from scrimmage 1:04)

1-10-MIA 29 (1:04) C.Henne pass incomplete short left to J.Haynos [W.Smith].

2-10-MIA 29 (:59) C.Henne pass short left to B.Hartline to NO 4 for 67 yards (T.Porter). P11

1-4-NO 4 (:07) Direct Snap to #34 R. Williams (Shotgun) R.Williams left end for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN. R12

(Kick formation) D.Carpenter extra point is GOOD, Center-J.Denney, Holder-B.Fields.

NO 24 MIA 34, 3 plays, 71 yards, 1:06 drive, 14:57 elapsed

Miami Dolphins at 13:23

1-10-MIA 20 (13:23) C.Henne pass incomplete deep right to D.Bess (J.Greer).

2-10-MIA 20 (13:17) C.Henne pass incomplete short right to D.Bess (J.Greer).

3-10-MIA 20 (13:12) (Shotgun) C.Henne pass incomplete deep middle to T.Ginn.

4-10-MIA 20 (13:05) (Punt formation) B.Fields punts 44 yards to NO 36, Center-J.Denney. R.Bush to NO 40 for 4 yards (N.Jones).

Miami Dolphins at 8:35

1-10-MIA 20 (8:35) C.Henne pass incomplete short middle to J.Haynos (W.Smith) [W.Smith].

2-10-MIA 20 (8:30) Direct Snap to #23 R. Brown (Shotgun) R.Brown pass incomplete deep left to A.Fasano.

3-10-MIA 20 (8:21) (Shotgun) C.Henne pass incomplete short left to B.Hartline.

4-10-MIA 20 (8:15) (Punt formation) B.Fields punts 55 yards to NO 25, Center-J.Denney. R.Bush to NO 34 for 9 yards (C.Wake).

With the lead to start the second half, the Dolphins come right out and throw the ball, thus resulting in a sack which puts them behind in the down and distance, and then forces them to make more throws. Keep in mind had Ted Ginn actually caught the third down pass, or even put his hands in the correct position to make the play, the Dolphins would not have turned the ball over.

Playing the Saints is like golfing with Tiger Woods. You watch him tee off and hit the ball 1000 miles down the middle and all of a sudden, you get the urge to try and kill the ball. With the Saints, watching them execute the passing game is fun to watch, but you can never lose sight of what is the strength of your own team. Clearly the Dolphins got away from their running game and put too much burden on a young quarterback and wide receivers that are not consistent catching the ball.

Of the six first down calls before they fell behind, the Dolphins ran the ball three times gaining nine yards and threw the ball three times gaining a minus-seven yards. So what happened?

Well, the Saints have some very smart coaches on their side of the field and Gregg Williams and the defensive staff attacked the edges of the Dolphins offense with their secondary, forcing the Dolphins to be an inside run team. They did a very good job of not allowing their defense to be stretched horizontally, which then creates the lanes for the Wildcat to best function.

Think of the old video we all have seen of former Packers coach Vince Lombardi teaching where he wants to run his famous power sweep. His words: “We want to create a lane here and a lane there for the back to operate”. The Wildcat is the offense before the power sweep. Instead of the quarterback running the ball on the edge with a lead blocker, the sweep was put in place to remove the quarterback, and pull the guard to create the same kind of run.

The lesson the Dolphins have to learn from this loss is their offense must always protect their defense—and they must control the clock. Building a lead without consuming the time of possession may have put the Dolphins in front by a large margin, but it never put them in position to win the game in the style they need. The Dolphins scored 28 points using nine plays—which for them might be great on paper, and it’s hard to not take the points, but it put their defense in a dangerous spot to have to consistently defend the Saints’ offense.

Miami must win on first down and be in a very manageable down and distance on third down, which allows their running game to be a factor. Their run game is a huge factor on third down especially when they are in 3rd and five or less. When the Fins cannot control the clock and win on third down—and most importantly play their signature style—they will struggle to beat any team, let alone the great teams of the 2009 NFL.

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