The Dolphins still rank first in points per game in the NFL but have hit a lull in recent weeks.
Since Week 7, the Dolphins have averaged 20.5 points per game, which ranks 15th in the league. Miami is also 29th in rushing yards per game (84.8), 28th in third-down conversation rate (31.3 percent) and tied for 18th in red zone efficiency (50 percent).
In a 20-13 win against the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday, Miami totaled over 400 yards but struggled in short-yardage situations and turned the ball over three times, which tied a season high.
The Dolphins face a short turnaround to fix the issues that almost cost them in Week 11. And it doesn’t get any easier on Friday against a New York Jets defense that is tied for fourth in the league in yards per play allowed (4.7).
There’s a bit of familiarity in preparing for a divisional opponent but it will be the first time quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has faced the Jets since the 2021 season. He missed both of the matchups last season as he was in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“It is more challenging,” Tagovailoa said Tuesday of preparing on a short week, “only because you play a game, there’s the science behind the 48-hour time window of practicing or not practicing. So it’s a lot of mental reps for all of us. I think we’ll probably have one day of field practice to just run around and make sure everything is on point and on time. But outside of that, what makes these short weeks tough is a lot of these things are mental, more mental than physical.”
Injuries have cut into the continuity of an offense that has been among the league’s best this season. There’s uncertainty along the offensive line with guards Robert Hunt (hamstring) and Rob Jones (knee), and in the backfield, as rookie De’Von Achane aggravated his knee injury in his first game in a month. Salvon Ahmed, who was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, also sustained a season-ending knee injury, a league source told the Miami Herald.
New approaches from defenses have forced the Dolphins’ offense to adjust, too. At times, it’s meant unfamiliar looks like the New England Patriots using three deep safeties. Players and coaches noted that defenses are playing greater rates of coverages with two deep safeties to deter Miami’s explosive passing offense. Although defenses are presenting unique game plans, offensive coordinator Frank Smith said it’s up to the players and coaches to stay true to their fundamentals.
“When you play at home and you have a successful game like we did versus Denver,” Smith said, “you’re not sneaking up on anyone anymore and everyone is going to looking at you going, ‘You ain’t doing that to me.’ So you get everyone’s attention in the league, so now when you roll up in town, they know who you are and they’re not going to let it happen. So it’s great for us to now have to rise to the occasion as we go on the road and grow as a group, and a lot of the times that we’ve been on the road, we’re facing really good opponents and the result might not come, but it’s about the process.”
With few road games remaining on the regular season schedule, the NFL’s first Black Friday game is an opportunity for the Dolphins’ offense to show that it’s learned from some of its issues in the first half of the season in the specter of a raucous crowd at Metlife Stadium.
The Dolphins are averaging almost 17 points fewer on the road than they are at Hard Rock Stadium. Crowd noise has at times disrupted the timing of the offense and the assortment of presnap motions the Dolphins use. Tagovailoa said the offense has prepped for working in a hostile environment, including using silent snap counts at times.
Maybe the easiest way for the Dolphins’ offense to get back on track on Friday is by cutting down on self-inflicted mistakes and reducing its giveaways. The team’s 16 turnovers are tied for the 10th most in the league. Tagovailoa contributed to two of three last Sunday, throwing an interception and then losing a fumble while scrambling.
“Completions,” Tagovailoa said of the solution to turning the ball over. “Get drives extended. Continue to get our playmakers the ball and keep it moving that way.”
As for the issues in short-yardage situations — Miami was 1 for 3 on third- and fourth-and-3 or fewer last Sunday — Smith said the offense continues to search for solutions to something that has been a problem since last season. The Dolphins have elected not to use Tagovailoa in quarterback sneaks and when asked why the team doesn’t use one of the taller backup quarterbacks or a non-quarterback to execute a sneak, Smith said that opens up the possibility of mishaps with the snap.
“We’ve weighed a lot of different things,” Smith said. “If you’re putting someone under center who is not there all the time, it’s another chance for you to put the ball on the ground. There are variables for all things that you can weigh, and we try to make sure everything that we do is for a purpose and for a reason. This last game, we know what our issues were and we’re working on improving it. Friday will be our opportunity to try and improve in that area.”