Balance On Offense A Key Element For Dolphins

Posted Dec 2, 2013

Success on the ground and through the air was a welcome sight.

December was ushered in emphatically yesterday by the Miami Dolphins offense in its most complete performance of the season, and one that finally depicted the desired blueprint.

While the gaudy yardage total and convincing third-down conversion rate in Miami’s 23-3 rout of the New York Jets might resemble more of an aerial assault, it was the rushing attack that set the stage. Second-year running back Lamar Miller racked up 72 yards on 22 carries to spearhead a 126-yard effort overall, which accounted for a third of the team’s 453 total yards in one of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s best games from a play-calling standpoint.

“I’m delighted. I thought Mike did a great job sticking with the run,” Head Coach Joe Philbin said in his day-after press conference. “I think we called about 30-32 runs in the course of the game, which for us that’s great. I’d love to be above 30 all the time.”

Sherman’s determination to establish the run against the league’s top-ranked run defense was impressive and evident from the opening drive when he alternated between pass plays and runs on a 16-play drive. Even though the Dolphins came up empty on the scoreboard at the end of those nine-plus minutes, the message was sent.

What the ground game did was open things up in the middle of the field and a few times on the boundaries for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to exploit. He managed to do that to the tune of 331 passing yards, the second highest total of his career, and he didn’t zone in on one receiver or one specific area of the field. Wide receivers Brian Hartline (nine catchers for 127 yards) and Mike Wallace (seven for 82) and tight end Charles Clay (seven for 80) were the primary beneficiaries.

“There were certain matchups going into the game that we thought were good and then we got into the game and were able to take advantage of those matchups,” said Sherman, who was Tannehill’s head coach at Texas A&M. “In our offense, it’s a progression read offense so we don’t go into a game saying this guy’s going to specifically get the ball. … At any time anybody can get the ball and we’ve had guys score touchdowns on secondary and third reads. So it doesn’t surprise me that they got all involved because we’ve been able to involve most of our guys in the offense. I think it bodes well for the chemistry on offense when everybody has a role and a chance to make plays.”

Not only were the passes being completed effectively and accurately, as Tannehill’s 65 percent completion percentage proved, but Hartline, Wallace, Clay and the other four players that Tannehill targeted picked up significant yards after the catch. Both touchdowns exemplified that, as Hartline turned a short slant into a 31-yard score by making two defenders miss, one of them being future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed. Wallace’s 28-yard touchdown was actually a 7-yard leaping catch near the right sideline and then he shed the tackle of Jets rookie cornerback Dee Milliner and sprinted into the end zone.

“When your receivers are making plays like that, it makes playing quarterback a lot easier,” Tannehill said. “I think guys were just ready to play. We came out, knew we were going against a good defense, especially against the run and the offensive line really came with the mindset that we were going to rush the ball. The backs did a good job of hitting holes when they were there. I think that really set the tone for the game, and then receivers making plays with the ball once they got it in their hands.”

Philbin credited Tannehill with making things go yesterday both with the caliber of his throws and his command of the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. It was Tannehill’s fourth 300-yard game of the season.

“I thought Ryan did a good job taking what was there. There weren’t a lot of forced balls if you look at the particular coverages,” Philbin said. “The Jets are very multiple in the back end, they do a lot of different things and I thought Ryan was good on his progressions, good on his decision making and he spread the ball around. We were able to attack outside the numbers and we didn’t have as many deep balls completed as we had the week before, but they were kind of playing off a little bit and we got a lot of balls underneath that really helped us out. We got one or two to Charles Clay in the middle of the field. I think we attacked the middle of the field well, so I thought it was a very efficient job by Ryan and the receivers.”

This Sunday doesn’t get any easier as Tannehill and the offense will try to solve Dick LeBeau’s defense with the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road.
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