The Dolphins are 28th in the NFL in offense, which is quite galling considering the Dolphins spoke all offseason about being more explosive after spending more than $80 million on offensive player contracts in free agency.
The Dolphins, in fact, are the only team that hasn’t scored at least 28 points in a game.
But look closely at what this offense has done in the fourth quarter – or more specifically, what it hasn’t done – and it’s clear something is terribly wrong.
The Dolphins have had the ball for 23 offensive possessions in the fourth quarter of the past seven games. They haven’t scored a touchdown on any of them and have as many missed field goals during those possessions (three) as successful field goals (three).
How have the other drives ended? With 11 punts, three interceptions, a fumble and the clock expiring twice.
The Dolphins have scored only 40 points in the fourth quarter, a pace that leaves them in danger of setting the club record in that category, while allowing 56 points in the fourth. The franchise low for fourth-quarter points in a 16-game season is 57, set in 2001.
And consider this: The Dolphins have just four fourth-quarter touchdowns all season, and one of those was on defense (Reshad Jones’ interception return against Baltimore) and another happened in the Saints game long after the outcome had been decided.
That means the Dolphins offense has scored only two meaningful fourth-quarter touchdowns all season: one in the Cleveland opener to extend its lead to 20-10 and another to win the Falcons game in the final minute.
So why is the offense unraveling late?
### Leaky pass protection. In the past seven games, the Dolphins have allowed 17 sacks in the fourth quarter. Those plays have resulted in losses of 119 yards, but that doesn’t even begin to quantify the corrosive impact. Nearly all have been drive killers. One resulted in a Ryan Tannehill fumble that doomed the Dolphins in the Buffalo game.
During this seven-game stretch (during which Miami is 2-5), the Dolphins haven’t had a single game without allowing a fourth-quarter sack. There were two more in the Carolina game, resulting in 8- and 10-yard losses.
### Not running the ball enough. Factoring in sacks and scrambles by Tannehill, the Dolphins have gone into 98 fourth-quarter plays with the intention of passing during the past seven games. Conversely, they have intended to run the ball only 20 times.
Those 20 runs have resulted in 82 yards, a decent 4.1 average. In many cases, the Dolphins needed to throw because they were trailing and didn’t have a lot of time to score. But in several other instances, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman eschewed the run when it was a viable option.
During the fourth quarter Sunday, the Dolphins threw 12 times and called three running plays for backs, which resulted in gains of 2, 4 and 3 yards. But Tannehill accounted for runs of 19 and 11 yards by scrambling.
Perhaps Tannehill should run more in the fourth. During this seven-game stretch, his five fourth-quarter runs have yielded 57 yards.
### Problems with the passing game. Aside from his brilliant game-winning drive against Atlanta, Tannehill’s fourth-quarter work has been subpar statistically. Poor pass protection certainly has been a factor.
In the past seven games, Tannehill has completed only 48 percent of his fourth quarter passes (37 for 76) for 430 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions (two on long heaves to end the game).
Last season, he had an acceptable 83 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter, including six touchdowns and three picks. That ranked 23rd in the league.
This season, the rating is 61.7, with two touchdowns and five picks. The rating is 33rd among 44 quarterbacks who have played a snap this season.
### One positive for the Dolphins heading into Sunday’s Jets game: They’re playing against the quarterback who has been the league’s worst, statistically, over the past month.
Jets coach Rex Ryan said today that he will start Geno Smith against the Dolphins, even though he has five interceptions and a 16.2 rating in his past two games and has thrown has one touchdown and 10 picks in his last six.
Matt Simms is his backup.
### The Dolphins’ run defense continues to underwhelm. Carolina ran for 105 yards on 19 carries in the second half to close with 136 yards. In 11 games, eight teams have run for at least 130 yards against the Dolphins.
The Dolphins have allowed more than five yards per carry in the fourth quarter on average this season, and Mike Tolbert’s 15- and 5-yard runs were very damaging on Carolina’s final drive.
### Ted Wells, who is investigating Jonathan Martin’s allegations of bullying, plans to meet with Martin for a second interview sometime in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, ProFootballTalk.com reported that Wells also plans to interview Rams and former Dolphins offensive lineman Jake Long.