Amid a firestorm of second-guessing, the Dolphins coaching staff explained its decision to call a pass play on the second-and-8 play with 2:56 remaining that resulted in Mario Williams’ fatal sack and forced fumble against quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman both said that they anticipated Buffalo putting eight defenders near the line of scrimmage to stop the run, the same strategy the Bills used to stuff the Dolphins’ first-down run.
“They played that exact front we thought they were going to play,” Sherman said.
With Philbin aware and supportive of the strategy, Sherman called a pass play with a built-in run option. Had the Bills aligned their defense with a seven-man front, Tannehill was instructed to audible to the handoff.
Sherman said that the offense wasn’t in clock-burning mode and was trying to pick up a first down to win the game.
“I think you have to be fairly aggressive,” Sherman said. “I’ve been in situations, myself, trying to protect a 21-20 lead and I’ve lost those games 27-21, so we’re going to be aggressive with a one-point lead in the fourth quarter. We’re not going to sit on it.”
Sherman continued: “With a one-point lead, our philosophy has been to be aggressive. If we got the first down, the game would have been won, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion at this point.”
Receiver Brian Hartline emphatically supported the strategy.
“You can only chew up the clock when you have the football,” Hartline said. “So it’s second-and-8 and you call a pass play with a check to a run if they go two-high.
“That’s completely the right call. Absolutely.”
Neither Philbin nor Sherman thought the play call was particularly risky, and both said they were disappointed with how the play was executed. But the question stilled remained why right tackle Tyson Clabo, who allowed a sack to Williams the previous drive, wasn’t given any help — a chip from a running back or tight end — in blocking the talented pass rusher.
Sherman explained that Clabo had help against Williams at certain points during the game, but doing so disrupted the offense.
“There are different variables,” Sherman said. “[Helping on Williams] would have made things complicated, but in an ideal world that would have been possible. You negate the structure of your pass offense in some ways because your route distribution is a little off. Can you do it? Yes. You’re limited a little bit by what you can do.”
Run game in gear
In their previous game before losing Sunday to the Bills, the Dolphins offense ran for just 22 yards on 11 carries in a competitive game against the Ravens.
After a bye week to reconsider its tendencies, the offense gained a season-high 120 rushing yards Sunday against the Bills and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
Despite Lamar Miller being listed as the starter at running back before the game, Daniel Thomas took the field for the first drive.
“It was more of a function of the types of plays we were running, rather than Lamar hasn’t done this and Daniel has done that,” Philbin explained. “We like both those guys.”
Thomas finished with 60 yards on 12 carries and Miller totaled 43 yards on nine carries. Philbin said he expects the two backs to split time relatively equally for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of who is playing, however, Philbin knew his backs had to be better than they were before the bye.
“One of the things we talked to our guys about this week is getting some more yards on their own, breaking some tackles,” Philbin said. “I thought they did a better job of that [Sunday]. There are some pictures in the film where you turn it on and there are some yards after contact, they’re falling forward, they’re breaking some tackles, which is always a positive.”