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October 10, 2012

So far, Miami Dolphins are long shot in short-yardage situations

The Dolphins have struggled to convert short-yardage plays the past two games, but coordinator Mike Sherman has a plan.

As an NFL team moves deeper into the season, practices tend to have less contact as the increasingly tired players aim to recover for the next game.

After seeing the Miami Dolphins’ recent failings in short-yardage situations, though, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said he might be forced to reverse this trend, especially when it comes to working on power runs.

“I think it’s a matter of me putting them in those situations in practice, live-contact situations where it’s full-bore,” Sherman said. “It’s a little bit different when it’s full speed and the defense can tackle as opposed to just playing on your feet and reacting to the play on defense.”

In the past two games, Miami has converted just two of its six short-yardage situations on third or fourth downs. In their first three games, the Dolphins were 11 for 16 in those situations.

On Sunday, the Dolphins were approaching field-goal range late in the second quarter — and up 7-6 against the Bengals. But running back Daniel Thomas was stopped on third-and-1, and so too was fullback Jorvorskie Lane on the next play, with both runs going for no gain. Miami went into halftime clinging to that one-point lead.

“The defense gave us great field position and then we go third-and-1, fourth-and-1 and we’re done,” Sherman said. “That’s unacceptable, but we’ll get that fixed, I promise you.”

The little things

The Dolphins converted their only other third-and-short situation that day, with a 3-yard Thomas carry helping Miami take time off the clock in the fourth quarter.

Still, the team’s recent problems in short-yardage situations were clearly a point of concern for Sherman and coach Joe Philbin.

“Like everything in football, we wish it was just one little thing that we could correct that one time and we would be off to the races,” Philbin said. “But … sometimes it’s a little bit here, one time it’s there, one time we didn’t get off on the snap count as a unit collectively very well. It’s a little bit of everything.”

Two weeks ago, the Dolphins’ inability to gain a crucial yard on third down was far more costly.

Leading the Cardinals 13-7 early in the fourth quarter and having mustered minus-7 yards on the previous two drives, the Miami offense looked like it was gaining steam when quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed an 8-yard pass to tight end Anthony Fasano to set up third-and-1.

But Lane could not punch the ball through, forcing the Dolphins to punt. Three plays later, the Cardinals scored a touchdown en route to a 24-21 overtime victory.

UP NEXT: RAMS

“I think there’s no excuse for us not to be able to get a yard,” Sherman said. “The last couple of weeks we’ve been stalled in those positions and they kill drives. We’ve had great opportunities.”

If the Dolphins are to take better advantage of similar opportunities Sunday, it will come against a St. Louis defense that has given up a lot of yards but is eighth in the NFL in limiting opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 32.8 percent. In third- or fourth-down situations of 3 yards or fewer, the Rams’ opponents are 9 for 17 this season.

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