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Last week against the Saints, the Dolphins were not as effective inside the red zone as they had been in their two previous games. While nobody seems to be talking about it, I think that Miami's inability to score a touchdown on every red zone possession was a critical factor in their loss to the Saints.
We all knew that the Dolphins would need to score lots of points if they wanted to win that game. But on their six red zone possessions, the Dolphins only scored three touchdowns. That's not how you beat a team like New Orleans.
Throwing out Miami's final red zone possession, which was the final drive of the game and ended as the clock expired, the Dolphins had to settle for two field goals on possessions in which they had first downs inside the 20, essentially leaving eight points on the field. And I know we could play the "what if" game all day long, but those eight points the Dolphins left on the field might have been the difference between a win and a loss - even with everything else that went wrong during the course of that game.
The first four points that were left on the field occurred with the Dolphins leading 14-3 early in the second quarter. The Dolphins had the chance to make it a three score lead just minutes into the second quarter but were unable to cap a 12 play, 7 and a half minute drive with a touchdown. They stalled at the Saints 14 yard line after running the Wildcat on first down (losing 3 yards) and second down (losing 1 yard) and then completing a short pass to Davone Bess on third down.
But the red zone possession that really hurt was the one that occurred in the middle of the third quarter. The Dolphins began their drive on the Saints' 15 yard line thanks to Jason Taylor's sack and forced fumble that was recovered by Randy Starks. Ricky Williams gained four on first down, setting up a second down and six from the 11. But the next play was a Wildcat play that lost four yards. A third down incompletion then led to a field goal to make it 27-17. But a touchdown could have given Miami a two touchdown lead.
And if the Dolphins had scored two touchdowns on those two red zone possessions that resulted in field goals, we might be talking about a 35-17 lead instead of a 27-17 lead with just a quarter and a half left.
Even after their 3/6 performance in the red zone, the Dolphins are still scoring touchdowns on 61% of their red zone attempts in 2009 - which is a solid number. What's interesting, though, is the discrepancy between their red zone efficiency in wins compared to in losses. In their two victories, the Dolphins are converting 78% of their red zone trips into touchdowns. In losses, the Dolphins are converting only 50%, with 21% of their red zone attempts resulting in no points at all. That can doom even the best teams.