The Dolphins sputtered once again in the red zone Saturday night, and it’s no great secret why:
When they ran the ball, they actually lost yards. And Brandon Gibson dropped a eminently catchable touchdown pass.
“It’s not good enough,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said afterward.
Added Gibson, who had two drops against the Buccaneers: “I played a [lousy] half.”
Gibson did redeem himself in the second quarter’s waning seconds, pulling in a 4-yard touchdown on the type of play that might be the team’s best shot at success in a post-Dustin Keller world.
On third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, the Dolphins spread out Tampa Bay, with Gibson operating from the right slot. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill first looked left, then came back across the field to find Gibson, who had carved out a nook in the seven-man zone with a slant route.
The Dolphins operated almost exclusively out of a three-wide receiver set Saturday. The alignment creates matchup problems when the field is wide open, but has its own limitations near the goal line.
Namely, the Dolphins aren’t tall enough to simply throw a fade over the secondary. Brian Hartline and Charles Clay are 6-3. Gibson and Mike Wallace are 6-feet even.
“I think we’ll score in a lot of different ways,” said Tannehill, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 150 yards and the touchdown. “You have to find the best way to get each of them involved down in the red zone.
“We don’t have a 6-5 guy we can just throw the ball up to, but we have good receivers who can do a lot of good things for us. I don’t think you have to have that guy.”
As far as Gibson’s trouble hanging on to the football, that bears watching. He had as many drops (five) as Hartline did in 2012 despite being targeted 43 fewer times.
Plus, he’s learning a new position in Miami, playing primarily in the slot, where there are more bodies to get in his way.
“One thing I have to get used to is working through all that trash and finding my way and getting my eyes back to the quarterback when I clear all the trash,” Gibson said. “It’s an example [Saturday night]. I’ve got to make sure I get my eyes back. The ball’s a little inside, but I’ve got to be able to make that play.”
Added Wallace: “You can clean up drops. You just have to focus more. Concentrate.”
But as inefficient as the passing game was inside the 20, it was light years ahead of the Dolphins’ ground attack.
The Dolphins ran the ball six times in the red zone for minus-5 yards. Five of those carries went for no gain or lost yardage.
By the looks of things Saturday, the Dolphins want Daniel Thomas to be their goal-line back.
But he was no more effective than Lamar Miller was in that role Saturday. On the night, Thomas had a whopping 3 yards on seven carries.
Yet afterward, Philbin seemed more irked with the offensive line than with Thomas.
“They had some penetration,” Philbin said. “That was the No. 1 thing I noticed that really hurt a couple of runs.”
The Dolphins were off Sunday but return to practice Monday. They must pare their roster down to 75 players by Tuesday.