We all know the story by now, Miami leads the league in sacks allowed at this point. Everyone is quick to point a finger at the offensive line, “I mean, hey, who allows the sacks, right?” That, fortunately, is not always right, and I think it is a deeper issue than that. Don’t believe the statistics, as the statistics don’t always tell the truth. The good news is, the issues are more easily correctable than not having personnel that can block on the offensive line.
So where are these all these sacks coming from?
- Ryan Tannehill: As good as Tannehill has been, there is an area of his game that needs improvement. As Omar Kelly pointed out earlier today, of the 18 sacks that Miami has allowed as a team, five or six of these sacks have been on Tannehill. This is one of the issues with Tannehill’s development that he needs to work on. The good news is that this is easily correctable. He needs to learn to make a judgement call when the play and/or receivers aren’t open enough to throw to. In those situations, Tannehill needs to either throw the ball away, or tuck it in and run (and for heaven’s sake, SLIDE at the end of that run if at all possible!). If the situation calls for it, help keep the play alive and either roll out of the pocket or step up into the pocket. (Sacks allowed: 5-6) (Fixable? Very)
- Running backs: Now, there are designed plays where defenders are allowed to run free and are designed to be picked up or assisted by the running backs. In those situations, the running back HAS to pick up the defensive player or assist with blocking him. These plays have also allowed roughly three sacks attributable to a missed block by a running back. If Daniel Thomas is our best blocking back, this remains to be seen. Miami cut ties with fullback Tyler Clutts this week, and Miami does not have a running back that truly excels at blocking on the roster. (Sacks allowed: 3) (Fixable? TBD)
- Tight Ends: Miami has had to use a patchwork unit at tight end this season following the injury to Dustin Keller, as you all are aware. The tight end position is called upon situationally to stay in and pass protect, rather than running a pattern downfield. In this case, the tight end becomes an extension of the offensive line. The most glaring sack allowed by a tight end can be attributed to Dion Sims in the Atlanta game, where Sims completely whiffed on a block and allowed the defender to get in a strip sack on Tannehill. While Sims was in position to recover the ball, he failed to do so resulting in one of the bigger sacks of the year against Tannehill (Sacks allowed: 2) (Fixable: Yes)
- Mike Sherman: No sack total would be complete without examining the playcalling, and this points the finger back at Mike Sherman. Excluding against what is proving to be a very tough defense in Cleveland, Miami has actually rushed the ball very well in limited attempts. Since the Cleveland game, Miami’s running backs have averaged 4.3, 6.1 and 6.3 ypc. Miami is not running a very balanced offense at the moment, however, as they are only 26th in the NFL in rushing attempts through 4 games – nearly 50 attempts behind 1st place, Buffalo. Bringing balance to the offense is HUGE in relation to pass protection. Not committing to the running game allows the defense to not only not have to think about the run, but also to “pin their ears back” and go all out at the passer. In those particular cases, incorporating more screen passes and short routes would also force the defense to remain “honest” even in those scenarios(Estimated Sacks Allowed: 4) (Fixable? Yes)
- Tyson Clabo: Tyson got off to a rough start this season, but has improved over the past two games. He is protecting 1-on-1 on his side, and still holding up well since week 2. I can understand the frustration, but people need to stop blaming Clabo, look at his improvement, and realize that not all sacks are on the offensive line. Tyson may or may not be the long term answer at the right tackle spot, but he is by no means as atrocious as people seem to be saying as they attempt to martyr him and the other linemen on the field (Fixable? Already fixed)
Now, in addition to this, people point the finger at the offensive line in relation to the running game. Miami, for the most part, has been opening holes for the running backs to run through. We’re a quarter of the way through the NFL regular season, and quite frankly the line has done a pretty damn good job opening holes for the running backs when called upon. Three major factors have skewed the “appearance of inferiority” in regards to the Dolphins rushing attack and the offensive line:
- Mike Sherman: I’m not trying to pick on the guy here, but he’s the one who calls the plays. While it isn’t all his fault, the Dolphins need to utilize the running game to set up the pass, and vice versa. Miami has been very effective running the ball, but has abandoned it early and often in many games this season. Miami is 26th in the NFL in rushing attempts (as mentioned earlier) and this needs to change in a hurry. This will help keep Tannehill off his back, help keep defenses on their heels, and help the entier offense get better. (Fixable? Yes)
- The Browns: I understimated the Browns defense drastically going into week 1, as did many folks. For the first time in what seems like forever – you don’t run on the Browns. They are the fourth ranked rushing defense in the league in yards per game, and that’s not attributable to getting a huge lead and forcing teams to throw - as Denver’s rating can be attributed to in part – or of playing against terrible rushing teams. They ARE that good, and in the small segment of data available in this young season, their defense skews the numbers in Miami’s rushing game drastically. (Fixable? Already fixed, unless both teams go to and meet in the playoffs)
- Playing from behind: I’m not rating this as highly as the other two items, as Miami has only had to attempt to overcome a tremendous deficit once this season. In that particular case, I would argue that if Miami hadn’t abandoned the run so early, when it was working effectively, they wouldn’t have been in nearly so much trouble which forced them to throw the ball nearly exclusively. (Fixable? Yes)
Miami’s offensive line has been doing far better than the statistics show, and the above items are ones that contribute to the Dolphins line getting an unfair reputation. They’re doing a good job, don’t let the statistics fool you. Sacks allowed is a TEAM stat, and there are a massive number of factors to be considered. The Dolphins can’t be a top rushing team if rushing plays aren’t called. The whole situation needs to be taken into consideration, and when it is, this line ain’t bad at all.