Miami Dolphins: Late Game Play Calling Adding Unnecessary Pressure

By Jeff Everette
Mike Sherman
Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Dolphins finally held an opponent off in the 4th quarter and secured a tough win against a solid opponent on Sunday, despite another bout of questionable play calls.

The win itself is great for the team, and the Cincinnati Bengals did not make it easy for them, scoring in the 4th to come within 4 points.  This is just what the Dolphins needed after blowing 4th quarter leads and losing in overtime in their last two outings.

The overall play calling was decent, mixing the pass and the run for positive results, but as in the two previous games, the late game play selection saw a slight edge go to the passing game.  This would be fine if we were talking about the middle of the game, but we are talking about with the lead, in the 4th.  The run needs to be the focus, and there should be no comparison to the two.  Instead, the near equal measures have led to the defense being called on to ward off a desperate enemy.

An interception in the waning moments of the Bengals game allowed the defense to secure the win, but that puts the defensive record at 1-2 in high pressure situations with the game on the line.  With an incredibly thin secondary, the odds for success could not possibly be in favor of the Dolphins.  Maybe if the personnel were there, and the offense had no firepower, this strategy would make sense, but that is just not the case.

With a lead late in the game, it is common practice to keep the ball on the ground and let the clock run.  With a stable of backs like the Dolphins have, this should be a no-brainer.  Instead, Miami has continually put the ball in rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s hands, hoping to move the ball through the air.  So instead of Reggie Bush trucking ahead for four or five yards on first and second down, the Dolphins are passing and watching the clock stop on every incompletion.

I understand the desire to get yardage in chunks, or maybe, wanting to put the enemy down for good with another score, but in the fourth quarter, the best play in the team’s arsenal is the run.  It is the end of the game and the defenses are tired.  Continually pounding the rock wears them out even further, and Bush’s 4 yard gains soon become 8 yard gains, and the clock continues to tick.

Even if the opponent’s defense holds strong, a run on first and second eats up the clock, and depending on the distance could warrant a third clock killing run, or a pass to attempt the first down.  If it is a three and out with 3 runs, or 2 and a short completion, the clock has just ran for nearly two and a half minutes, putting the pressure on the opposing team to burn their timeouts to manage the clock.

Add to it the extra rest the Dolphins defense gets on the sideline and it becomes a win, win situation for Miami.

So why are Mike Sherman and Joe Philbin forgoing the ground game in favor of a time preserving 3 and out through the air?  What is it they see that the rest of us don’t?  Whatever it is, it hasn’t been panning out, and an undermanned, out-talented defense is being asked to make up for their mistakes.

Ryan Tannehill truly looks to be the real deal, and he has an opportunity to move the franchise beyond the shadow of Dan Marino, but his time to shine in the 4th quarter and the lead is on 3rd and short.  All he should need to do is keep the drive alive and let Bush, Daniel Thomas, or Lamar Miller keep the offense rolling.  He has already done his part throughout the rest of the game.  All he should be called upon to do in the end is the victory kneel.

Philbin may be a first time head coach, and Sherman may be getting used to calling plays in the pros, but this is basic football, and they are going to need to start making better decisions.  Otherwise, the defense will continue to find themselves in these critical late game situations, and they will fail more often than not.  It is an unnecessary risk put on a team playing beyond expectations, and with the lead in the 4th quarter, you have to let Reggie bring it home.

Jeff Everette is a Featured Columnist for, covering the NFL and NBA.  Follow Jeff on twitter @jeverettesports, like his page on FaceBook, or add his Google + to your circles for all of his latest articles, thoughts, and rants.

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