It's time for more Dolphins touchdowns and smoother operation

It's time for more Dolphins touchdowns and smoother operation

Updated: 1 month, 10 days, 3 hours, 45 minutes, 32 seconds ago

It's time for more Dolphins touchdowns and smoother operation

MIAMI GARDENS — Dan Marino was speaking with some current Dolphins about an offseason conversation he once had with long-time receiver teammate Mark Duper.

Miami receiver Trent Sherfield told the story.

"Hey, I'll bet you're in your car right now," Marino said to Duper. "And I'll bet you're making a right turn."

Added Sherfield: "And he was."

Marino's point is that there comes a point when offensive players have a sense for when their teammates are turning and where they're headed. To maximize the potential of an offense, things like rhythm and timing and anticipation take time to develop. As does the mastery of new assignments.

It's time for the 2022 Dolphins' offense to take off.

This is the moment.

"You need more reps to get everybody on one page," Sherfield said this week in the Dolphins' locker room. "In the second half of the season, I think you're just gonna see the numbers, you know, including in the running game, just skyrocket through the roof."

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Sherfield played for the 49ers, where Miami coach Mike McDaniel previously coached. So he knows about the numerous complexities of this particular outside zone scheme that need to click into place. 

And we'll get to all the reasons why the Dolphins should be optimistic about what the offense can accomplish over the final 10 games of the season. But in a week in which players and coaches are praising Detroit and following the script of not overlooking any opponent, we should point out a fact.

The Lions, Miami's opponent on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS) have the worst defense in the NFL.

The Dolphins then face the not-so-scary Bears and Browns and after a bye will encounter the second-worst defense in the league, the Texans.

Miami's next four opponents are 7-18-1

This is the perfect confluence of bad opponents and an offense that should be coalescing.

"You’d like to see more consistent production, more smooth operation," Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith said. "And I think that’s what we’ll hopefully start seeing here in the next couple of weeks.”

Smith explained that, like most teams, the coaching staff evaluates each of the four quarters of the season as a block. With 17-regular season games it's a bit imbalanced, but we'll suggest Miami is about to wrap up the second block of its season.

By the end of this month, Smith expects this offense to be running on more cylinders.

To be clear, this is about scoring more touchdowns and scoring more points.

The Dolphins are 19th in the league in scoring, at 21.0 points per game. There are reasons, and we'll get into them shortly. But Miami has fared very well in yards per play and yards per game.

"At the end of the day, we’ve got to finish drives," quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said this week.

The objective is quite clearly outlined in the Dolphins' excellent fight song: "We take the ball from goal to goal, like no one's ever seen."

Here are some of the factors for Miami's less-than-ideal current scoring average:

Health. Every team has injuries and the Dolphins are no different. Losing left tackle Terron Armstead for a loss to the Vikings was impactful. Obviously the Dolphins felt the absence of Tagovailoa, losing three consecutive games after he was concussed at Cincinnati. And Tua conceded some rust after returning for a defeat of the Steelers. 

Penalties. This can be an overblown statistic. But Miami is averaging 30 penalty yards in four victories and 80 penalty yards per game in three losses. Connor Williams and Liam Eichenberg have four penalties apiece and Robert Hunt has three. Numerous motions and shifts can lead to pre-snap penalties, in particular.

Chase Edmonds, Miami lead NFL in drops

Drops. Miami leads the NFL in dropped passes with 16, according to STATS.  Running back Chase Edmonds is credited with five, Jaylen Waddle four and Tyreek Hill three. Tagovailoa has been mostly on-target, with 67 percent completions and only three interceptions. But he will need to be a bit more cautious. According to Pro Football Focus, Tagovailoa has 10 turnover-worthy plays, which trails only Matt Ryan, Justin Fields, Jared Goff and Jacoby Brissett. And only Field has fewer pass attempts.

Turnovers. The Dolphins are -2 in turnover margin this season, which ranks tied for 21st. The Dolphins had three interceptions in a win against the Steelers, but only seven NFL teams have fewer takeaways this season. This is a good time for players like Xavien Howard, Emmanuel Ogbah and Andrew Van Ginkel to turnover upcoming opponents Goff, Fields, Brissett and Davis Mills.

Field position. The Dolphins have the worst starting field position in the NFL, beginning the average drive at their own 24.7 yard line. Yes, that means they would need more than 75 yards, on average, to score a touchdown. A lack of forced turnovers are a factor here. But so are special teams. Though Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Jevon Holland and Raheem Mostert are on Miami's roster, the Dolphins rank last in the NFL with only 2.4 yards per punt return and 30th with 17.7 yards per kickoff return.

Third downs. Miami is 22nd in the NFL in third-down offense and should and will likely be much better with Tagovailoa healthy. In Miami's first two games, the Dolphins were 16-for-28 on third- and fourth downs, which is a whopping 57 percent, but it's been a struggle since. Tyreek Hill has seven third-down catches for first downs and Waddle has six. Perhaps bigger targets like Mike Gesicki and even, at some point, rookie Erik Ezukanma, will make third-down and red zone impacts.

Rushing attack. Miami's offense cannot reach its potential without more production in the run game. In two of the last three games, the team has topped 100 yards. The emergence of Mostert should be beneficial. Miami's offensive linemen are working to refine entirely new responsibilities. Only seven NFL teams have fewer rushing touchdowns than Miami. Only four teams are averaging fewer rushing yards per game. That must change dramatically.

McDaniel, the Dolphins' coach, is very transparent and is not afraid to explain that this offense asks a lot of its players.

This week, McDaniel specifically cited focus, eliminating distractions and improvement in fundamental execution as factors required to bring Miami's offense to another level.

"If you guys haven’t noticed, we motion a ton," McDaniel said. "We have a ton of different formations that can give defenses – the intent is, (the opponent) would have to speak on if they actually do, but the intent is to give trouble to the defense. Well, that can be trouble for an offense if you let it."

As he has before, McDaniel cited the importance of commitment to the scheme.

Tua Tagovailoa's health a key factor

Tagovailoa has shown encouraging improvement from the player he was his first two seasons. The additions of players like Hill and Armstead should lead to not only explosive plays, but more consistent touchdown production.

More than anything, those involved believe full-speed repetitions in the scheme will invariably lead to a successful leap. It takes time to master exactly where to go and to know where your teammates are headed, too.

"Definitely a learning curve," Armstead said.

"One guy out of position could almost ruin a whole play," said Mostert, once featured in this offense with the 49ers. "But one guy could actually help the play, too."

"Most of the guys, this is all new to," Sherfield, the receiver, said. "Certain blocks. Certain techniques. Last week was a big step in the right direction. We're going to be able to make that jump. You'll see."

Joe Schad is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at jschad@pbpost.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.