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Miami Dolphins 1st Quarter Woes: The 16 Opening Drives of 2017

I broke down the opening drive of each 2017 game. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying. Shut up. I cut some onions a minute ago.

NFL: International Series-Miami Dolphins Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins 1st Quarter, 2015-2017

Year Points Scored Points Allowed Time of Possession
Year Points Scored Points Allowed Time of Possession
2015 28th (2.9) 29th (6.0) 31st
2016 31st (2.6) 32nd (7.3) 32nd
2017 30th (2.6) 18th (4.4) 15th
*In 2016, the Miami Dolphins scoring defense was almost a full point higher than the 31st ranked defense (Cleveland).

It’s this table above that led me to develop acid reflux and erectile dysfunction study the opening drives of 2017. The fundamental question that drove the research: “Why do we keep getting off to such a bad start, and will we see any trends in the data?”

Opening Drive Raw Data

Jay Ajayi, Opening Drive Rush Totals

Left Middle Right
Left Middle Right
10 att, 39 yds 3 att, 10 yds 4 att, 57 yds

Kenyan Drake, Opening Drive Rush Totals

Left Middle Right
Left Middle Right
6 att, 3 yds 4 att, 6 yds 2 att, 27 yds

Damien Williams, Opening Drive Rush Totals

Left Middle Right
Left Middle Right
3 att, 9 yds 3 att, 2 yds 3 att, 77 yds
*Landry had one run for -7 yards (@ Chargers), Jay Cutler had 1 run of 1 yd (vs. Den)

Opening Drive Passing Stats

Quarterback Short Right Short Mid Short Left Deep Right Deep Mid Deep Left
Quarterback Short Right Short Mid Short Left Deep Right Deep Mid Deep Left
Jay Cutler 13/17 108 yds 1 INT 6/13 77 yds 13/16 104 yds 0/0 0/1 0/1
Matt Moore 3/3 33 yds 0/3 INT 3/4 10 yds 1 TD 1/1 36 yds 0/0 0/0
*Jay Cutler had 1 short pass to the left dropped by Kenyan Drake.

Author correction: Jay Cutler’s short middle stats should read 6/15, 77 yds, 1 INT and Matt Moore’s short middle stats should read 0/1. (H/T Gllmiaspr for catching the error.)

Opening Drive Receiving Totals, Part 1

Player Targets Catches Yards
Player Targets Catches Yards
Jarvis Landry 16 12 96 (1TD)
DeVante Parker 11 8 83 (1 INT)
Kenny Stills 10 5 66
Anthony Fasano 2 2 13
Julius Thomas 12 8 94 (1 INT)
Kenyan Drake 3 2 8
Jay Ajayi 2 1 2
Damien Williams 3 2 8

Data by Grouping

TD’s: 1 (vs. NYJ [Jarvis Landry])

FG’s: 2 (@ Chargers, vs. NE)

Penalties: 7 (False start - 3 [all committed by Laremy Tunsil], Holding - 2, Illegal formation - 2)

Turnovers: 3 (2 INT’s: Jay Cutler vs. NO and vs. TB; 1 Fumble: @KC [Jarvis Landry])

Attempted Deep Passes: 3 (@ Chargers, vs. NYJ, vs. Buff) —> 1 of 3 were completed (vs. NYJ to Kenny Stills)

Sacks Given Up: 0

Opening Play Call Pass/Run Ratio: 10/6

Plays of Negative Yardage: 12 (11 runs: Jay Ajayi - 4, Kenyan Drake - 4, Damien Williams - 2, Jarvis Landry - 1; 1 pass: Julius Thomas)

3 and outs: 3 (vs. Tenn, @ NE, vs. Buff)

10+ play drives: 4 (@ Chargers, vs. NO, vs. Den, vs. NE)

Number of games starting with the ball: 7 (we scored 3 points on these 7 possessions)

General Observations

Please keep in mind here, even though this is every play of every opening drive in 2017, it’s still a smaller sample size. We can begin to formulate theories on what happened, but we must be flexible enough to adapt our stance as new information presents itself.

  • We were poor at both running and throwing in the middle of the field.
  • Julius Thomas had more targets than DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills.
  • Julius Thomas had 24% of his yearly yardage on the opening drive of the game.
  • Even if you remove Damien Williams’ 69 yard on the right side vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we were most effective running to the right.
  • We had a low success rate getting the ball to Kenny Stills early.
  • In nearly half the games, we committed a penalty on the opening drive. The Dolphins had 2 drives extended by penalty (vs. NO, vs. Den). Also, we declined 1 penalty in lieu of the accepted play (Parker @ Chargers, 11 yards), and an opponent declined 1 penalty in lieu of the accepted play (vs. Oak).
  • We gave the defense a lead after the opening drive exactly 2 times all year. We won both games (@ Chargers, vs. NE).
  • Opponents opened the scoring against us 5 times. We responded once (with a TD vs. NYJ).
  • We spread the ball around generally speaking (yay) but did not attack different areas of the field (boo). Almost all opening drive throws were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
  • I was surprised we didn’t give up any sacks. But we can’t have too many nice things, right? We had 3 turnovers: 1 of the INT’s was intercepted in the end zone (vs. NO) and the fumble lost by Jarvis Landry was on a drive that had just reached Chiefs territory.


The Joe Philbin teams struggled in the 1st quarter of games, and that phenomenon has floated in the wind like a candy wrapper, the same litter and germs exposing Adam Gase’s tenure to early game diarrhea. Why are Gase-led offenses better later in the game? Are the “opening scripts” designed by Gase and company simply not working? And how much do you attribute the illegal formation and false start penalties to the player and to the coach?

I know what some of you might be thinking: “This can all be explained very easily: Jay f***ing Cutler.” But I don’t think it’s that easy. Ryan Tannehill’s 1st quarter offenses under Gase have been poor - one could argue even worse - than Jay Cutler’s.

And here’s the thing: I feel like the Dolphins defense has been built to play with a lead for years. Think about the investments and talent we’ve had along the DL. Think about how situations may have differed if afforded the opportunity to “pin our ears back”.

It’s a multi-layered problem, and in the complementary and interdependent world of professional football, weaknesses must be remedied and/or masked at all costs. The 2018 draft class might help in this pursuit, but how much?

How do we fix our 1st quarter woes, Dolphins family?


We fix this 1st quarter tomfoolery by...

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Being more aggressive/attack all parts of the field
    (131 votes)
  • 22%
    Calling better plays/have better "opening scripts"
    (113 votes)
  • 43%
    Having better play execution/fundamentally sound
    (217 votes)
  • 7%
    Shut up, SUTTON. I know you tried to make us think you had something smart to say, but we all know deep down inside you’re stupid and we ain’t fallin’ for it.
    (38 votes)
499 votes total Vote Now