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On Thursday against the Panthers, the Dolphins continued their outstanding red zone play - converting red zone trips into touchdowns on two of their three opportunities. And their one failed opportunity - which resulted in a Dan Carpenter field goal - really wasn't much of an opportunity. But we'll get to that in a second.
The Dolphins' two successful red zone trips both came in the second quarter. Lex Hilliard's outstanding 18 yard run on 3rd & 15 set Miami up at Carolina's 15 yard line for their first opportunity. Three plays later, on 3rd & 9, Chad Henne found Ricky Williams out of the backfield on a "Texas" route - when the back runs out to the left of the left tackle and then slants back in over the middle once he reaches the line of scrimmage - for what would have been a first down. Ricky, though, breaks a couple of tackles and gets into the endzone for the touchdown.
Miami's next possession began deep in Carolina territory following a short punt and a 22 yard punt return by Davone Bess. Needing only three plays, the Dolphins were suddenly in the red zone once again. A short completion to Bess and a 3rd & 1 run by Ricky set the Dolphins up at Carolina's one yard line. Following a failed play-action bootleg, Ricky took the direct snap out of the Wildcat, ran right, and dove at the pylon for Miami's second touchdown of the game.
That third trip into the red zone - officially, anyway - was really not a red zone opportunity at all. Midway through the fourth quarter, on a 3rd & 10 from Carolina's 26, Ricky ran up the middle for 7 yards - putting the ball at Carolina's 19 yard line. But it was fourth down and the Dolphins brought on DC$ for the field goal. So the only snap actually taken from inside the red zone was Carpenter's field goal attempt. To me, that's not a red zone opportunity. But in terms of official NFL stats, it is considered one. Hence the Dolphins 66% red zone efficiency on Thursday night.
For the season, the Dolphins are now converting 64% of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns (21/33).
I think it's time to give the coaching staff some credit for how well they have performed in the red zone this season. After a couple of early hiccups in the first three weeks, the Dolphins have executed outstanding inside their opponents 20 yard line. That's a credit to this coaching staff for how well they have their players prepared and how much they practice their red zone packages. Credit to the players as well - they are executing these plays exceptionally well. But let's not forget Tony Sparano and his coaches. For all of their "questionable" gameday decisions sometimes, they have done a wonderful job at preparing their players to execute inside the 20 - where games can be won or lost.