The Dolphins’ first-team offense moved the ball up and down the field in Saturday night’s dress rehearsal, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill picked apart the Buccaneers’ secondary with quick, confident strikes to his receivers.
It was a promising performance from Tannehill, who appears more poised than ever to take the next step as a quarterback and lead the Dolphins to a potential playoff berth.
But the offense sputtered on their first two trips inside the Tampa Bay 10-yard line, coming away with two field goals instead of two touchdowns.
You can’t blame Tannehill, who had two would-be touchdown passes dropped by receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. But whether or not the Dolphins have the personnel to be an efficient red-zone offense in 2013 is becoming a concern.
Miami actually finished 11th in the entire league in percentage of red-zone trips resulting in six points last season. But their leading touchdown receiver from a year ago — tight end Anthony Fasano, who had five touchdown catches — is gone, and no other Dolphin had more than two.
The Dolphins have improved a wide receiver corps that managed a mere three touchdowns collectively in 2012, with the additions of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson.
Gibson, who is 6’0”, is a bigger target for Tannehill than last year’s starting slot Davone Bess was, but he’s far from a big body who can consistently be relied on for touchdowns in a short field. Mike Wallace was exactly what Miami’s offense needed for so many reasons, but of the eight touchdowns he scored last season in Pittsburgh, five came from at least 22 yards and out.
So, who else is capable of stepping up for the Dolphins this season inside the red zone? Let’s break down a few possibilities.
The Dolphins won’t show it in a meaningless exhibition game, but the read option is expected to become a wrinkle in their offensive attack once again this season. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman utilized the play down the stretch of Tannehill’s rookie season with favorable results.
Most notably, the Dolphins racked up 97 yards on 10 read-option plays against the Buffalo Bills in Week 16. Tannehill carried the ball three times for 33 yards, and running backs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas combined for 64 yards on only seven carries.
A heavy dose of read option inside the red zone isn’t exactly ideal, as Tannehill would undoubtedly take some shots on plays he keeps the football, especially as it pertains to the close quarters of the red zone. But it could be a potential fix to the team’s potential red-area issues.
Play-action and bootlegs
Six of Tannehill’s 12 touchdown passes came via play action in 2012, and his 121.2 quarterback rating off play action was good for second in the entire league.
Throwing on the run is also one of Tannehill’s strong suits, and employing some bootlegs near the goal line plays to his strengths as an athlete and a passer.
To make such plays as effective as possible, though, a strong running threat in short-yardage situations will be essential. I’m not sure the Dolphins will have that. At least not if what we saw on Saturday night against the Buccaneers was a sign of things to come.
Keeping Jonas Gray or finding another short-yardage back
Yes, Jonas Gray had fumble in the fourth quarter that cost the Dolphins the game. Yes, that mistake will likely lead to Miami waiving him this week if that wasn’t bound to become his fate already.
But truth be told, I would still prefer to see Gray as the short-yardage back as opposed to Daniel Thomas. Sorry, Thomas supporters, I still see a runner who shies away from the opportunity to run over someone.
He has the size to be exactly what Mike Sherman’s offense needs near the goal line. At 235 pounds, he should be a touchdown machine. Instead, Thomas has fumbled the ball (5) more than he’s crossed the goal line (4) as a Dolphin.
Maybe he’ll be a decent complement to starter Lamar Miller with good health this season. But can he punch it in consistently inside the five-yard line? He’s given me no reason to think so.
Maybe Gray isn’t the answer, either. If not, I’m looking to poach a power runner from the waiver wire if I’m Jeff Ireland.
Emergence of rookie tight end Dion Sims
When tight end Dustin Keller went down for the season, the Dolphins lost a seam threat and a player I projected to be Tannehill’s favorite red-zone target. While Charles Clay has attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to fill the void stretching the seam, it’s rookie Dion Sims who could step up in the red zone.
Sims wasn’t lauded for his pass-catching ability coming out of the draft, but he’s a sneaky good athlete and a big target. At 6’5”, he’s taller than any of Tannehill’s weapons save Michael Egnew, and recorded a very solid 35-inch vertical at the combine.
Sims’ emergence as a reliable receiving option in the red zone could be key to more touchdowns and less field goals for the Dolphins in 2013.