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Dolphins looking to correct slow game day starts

The Miami Dolphins have struggled offensively early in their first two games. Can they stop the three-and-outs?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins have struggled offensively at the beginning of both of their first two games of the 2016 season. The offense eventually will find their rhythm, but it has been late enough in the game that the team is in catch-up mode, rather than either keeping up with a high-powered offense (like in Week 2 against the New England Patriots) or jumping out to a commanding lead (like they could have done against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1). It has been frustrating for the players, the coaches, and the fans.

It is an issue that has to be corrected, and one that the players and coaches discussed this week, heading into the team’s first home game when they welcome the Cleveland Browns into Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.

“The start of practices have been good,” head coach Adam Gase said of how the team is addressing the slow starts in games. “Guys are executing the way we want them to as far as practice goes. Now we have to translate it to the game. We’ve got to be on our assignments. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t have any kind of mental errors or any kind of hiccups going on across the board. We need 11 guys doing their job together, and that’ll give us our best chance to get that first, first down and get going.”

Yes, we were rolling,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Wednesday according to the Palm Beach Post’s Joe Schad. “I don’t know if momentum carries over, but that feeling we had, just the confidence that we gained throughout that second half of this is how it’s supposed to be, this is how we can play when things are clicking. So it’s just a matter of practicing at that level and consistently playing at that level.”

The Dolphins offense seemed to find their rhythm in the second half against the Patriots. The first half, however, featured seven Miami possessions which ended in a punt (3-and-out), punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out), punt (four plays), fumble (two plays), interception (four plays), and a field goal (nine plays, end of half).

“Offensively, we cannot go three-and-out,” Gase explained of where the offense needs to improve. “We’ve done it so many times already that it’s ridiculous. The defense has no chance in the fourth quarter of having any opportunity to be somewhat fresh if we’re three-and-out the entire first half. And then we get back into the game and we’re like, ‘C’mon defense, stop them now.’ Well, on play 75, you’re a little fatigued.”

“The last two weeks, as an offense,” Tannehill stated, “we’ve hurt our defense by not getting them off the field early in games and it’s come back to bite us at the end of the games,” he said. “So we need to move the ball early, get points on the board and give our defense a break.”

“We just got into a good rhythm,” Gase said about why the team seems to play better in the second half compared to the first half. “Guys made plays [against the Patriots]. The play calls were the same, just we executed a little bit better, made some good throws (and) made some plays. There were a couple of throws that were tough catches to make. DeVante (Parker) got us going. He made that one catch and that got us rolling. For whatever reason, it takes that first, first down for us, and then everyone feels good and we get rolling. We just have to figure out a way to get that first one. We had that first series where Ryan (Tannehill) throws a ball just a little bit behind Jordan (Cameron). If we get that ball in front, what happens on that series? I make a bad call as far as the quarterback sneak trying to hurry up to the line of scrimmage, they just kind of put us in a hole there and all of a sudden you look up and it’s 14-0. We just need to do a little bit better job of figuring out a way to get that first, first down and then see what happens after that.”

Miami will be looking to do exactly that this week against the Browns, rather than finding themselves in a hole and trying to climb back into the contest.

“You’re never out of it because that’s what you do – two-minute offense, getting up-tempo – that you can make that transition pretty darn smoothly,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said of the team’s ability to make those comebacks. “When you’re humming, there are periods of time in the first half that feel that way. That’s the ideal thing. All of a sudden you get into a rhythm in that first half and you play with a lead and give our defense a chance to play with a lead, which would be a pleasant change to be up 17-0, to be up 14-3. There is a rhythm with this no huddle that makes it easy to jump out on someone, and if you’re functioning like we were in the second half, it also makes it so that you’re never out of a game.”

Miami has lost the time of possession battle so far this year 71:18 to 48:42. It’s a correction that goes back to the Dolphins not being able to find their rhythm early in games and giving up possession after short drives.

“When you’re going three-and-out, three-and-out, four-and-out, three-and-out, that’s going to happen,” Gase responded when asked about the time of possession difference. “We have to figure something out. We have to stay on the field. We did something different this last game; we were huddling the whole first half. Obviously time of possession was worse than it was the first game. We have to figure out something there as far as just making sure we get that first, first down, and then trying to get something going.”

The problem, to which Gase alludes, is the team seems to find a rhythm with the no-huddle, but if they do not get into a rhythm with the no-huddle, they are giving up the ball fairly quickly. Against the Patriots, the team did huddle much of the first half, as Gase stated, but then went to a no-huddle approach for the second half and found success. Could the team use the no-huddle in the first half against the Browns?

“For the most part, that’s kind of what we’ve been but if you’re not in rhythm, if you don’t get it going really quick, then all of a sudden you start having three-and-outs and you’re looking up and you’re like, ‘Well, we burned 30 seconds off the clock,’ and now you’re putting the other side of the ball in jeopardy,” Gase said of the no-huddle offense. “You just want to find a way to get that first, first down. You want to make sure you’re getting completions. I think the one thing with us is a lot of those plays that we had in the second half were down the field throws and intermediate throws. It shortens up the drive quite a bit; but at the same time, you just better make sure you’re executing, you’re getting the first down and then you’re getting points on the board. If you’re getting points on the board, the time of possession really is irrelevant because it’s going to be tough for the other team to keep up with you. We just have to find a way to, when we do huddle, when we do slow it down a little bit, just clean up a few of our details (and) keep the mentality of playing fast when the play starts. That’s going to be the biggest key for us.”

Miami will kickoff against the Browns at 1pm ET on Sunday. Will they be able to control the ball in those first few possession after the kickoff, or will they again start slowly and have to find a way to come back against the Browns?