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The money down belongs to Miami's offense

Readers of this blog -- and there have been over 180,000 unique visitors so far this month -- know the NFL game consists of first down, second down, the money down, and fourth down.

Third down is where players make their big money because it is the most important down.

If the offense is converting on third down, it is staying on the field and depressing the heck out of the defense. If the defense is winning on third down after third down, it is shutting down the opposition's opportunities to score because the opposition is busy headed to their seats on the bench.

So I think we can all agree, third down is the money down.

Now, let's agree on this. The Dolphins are doing excellent work on third down so far this season.

I wrote earlier this week how the Dolphins are very good at converting third-and-2 or fewer yards. Very good is translated as they are converting 85 percent of the time in those situations and no one in the NFL is doing any better.

Well, today we expand on that a little bit.

Simply said, the Miami offense -- for all its flaws and shortcomings -- leads the NFL in third down conversion. The Dolphins have converted 42 of 75 third down plays into first downs this year. That's a 56 percent conversion rate and, it bears repeating, that is the NFL's best rate.

[Quick aside here: The Dolphins are tied for the NFL lead in fourth down conversion. They've converted 5 of 5 situations this season for a perfect 100 percent rate. Atlanta and the New York Jets also have a 100 percent success rate on fourth down.]

So despite a QB change, despite a receiver corps that begs upgrading, Miami's offense is doing work on third down. The defense?

Good. But not great.

Miami's defense is rated No. 12 in the NFL in stopping third down conversions. Miami's defenders have allowed 21 of 58 third down plays to convert into first downs or touchdowns. That's 36.2 percent.

And that's better than Pittsburgh (42.4) or Minnesota (41.4) or Indianapolis (45.6). But it pales compared to Denver (28.4) or, sure enough, New Orleans (26.8).

By the way, Miami's offense matching up against the Saints defense on third down should be interesting. Both are outstanding on the money down as you see above.

The Saints offense is rated No. 8 in third down efficiency so they seem to have a slight advantage satistically against Miami's defense. But the difference is not as vast as the teams' records suggest.

Anyway, the chart below breaks down Miami in every third down situation it has faced this year on offense and defense. You will note the Dolphins offense is not very good in third-and-nine or more (3 of 16). That speaks to Miami's need to improve its passing game.

The defense is giving up too much success on third-and-10 or more (7 of 16). That is not acceptable because the defense has a built-in advantage in long passing situations and Miami's defense isn't cashing in on that advantage so far this season.

  3RD DOWN AND …

  .........1.......2......3.....4.....5......6.....7.....8.....9....10+  TOT.    %

Miami 11-12..6-8..7-7..2-6..7-11..3-6..2-6..1-3..0-6..3-10..42-75  56.0%

Opps. 3-5.....2-4...3-6..0-4..1-4...1-4...2-4..2-7..0-4..7-16..21-58  36.2%

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