Remember 2016? Those were the good ‘ol days for the Miami Dolphins.
There was all that winning. There were all those big plays. It was fun.
Remember that 74-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills against Cincinnati? And the 71-yard pass from Tannehill to Jarvis Landry against Arizona? And the two 66-yard TD passes and the 58-yard pass and two 56-yard passes?
Remember that 62-yard touchdown run by Jay Ajayi against Pittsburgh? And the 57-yard run and 53-yard runs against Buffalo? And Jakeem Grant’s punt return touchdown? And Kenyan Drake’s kickoff return touchdown?
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And Kiko Alonso’s interception return touchdown? And Cameron Wake’s five forced fumbles and those other four forced fubmles by Byron Maxwell?
Dolphins playmakers made big plays then. And a big reason that 2016 team was playoff good was because that team made those big plays.
This 2017 Dolphins team that is languishing with a 1-2 record and coming off a shutout and still has no clue what its identity isn’t making a lot of a big plays.
To quantify the problem exactly, this Dolphins team has made about as many big plays as we’ve seen wild Yaks using 1-95 during rush hour last week.
The Dolphins big plays so far in three games comprise a modest (pathetic) list almost unworthy of publishing.
There was the 23-yard completion from Jay Cutler to tight end Julius Thomas last week.
There was a 31-yard connection between Cutler and Kenny Still the previous week against New York.
There was also a Matt Haack punt that hung in the air 5.45 seconds against New Orleans!
In truth the biggest play to benefit the Dolphins so far this year is when Los Angeles Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo missed 44-yard field goal in the season-opener. That miss is what separates these Dolphins from an 0-3 record.
So are you getting the idea the Dolphins are not making enough big plays so far this season?
“We need someone to make a big run, a big catch, a big throw, a big block, something to just get us going,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said.
No truer words have been spoken, The Dolphins’ longest run this season was 20 yards by Jay Ajayi. That was two games ago.
Cutler’s longest touchdown pass of the year -- a 29-yarder to Stills -- was also two games ago.
So it shouldn’t surprise the Dolphins are last in the NFL in points per game because it’s hard to drive 70 or 80 yards for touchdowns time after time without getting a 50-yard pass or run in there somewhere.
And the frustrating thing for the Dolphins is the defenses are lately daring Miami to hit a big play.
“We feel like we’ve got [defenders] up in the box,” Christensen said. “So we’ve got to throw the ball downfield and we’ve got a couple of guys that we think are big-play guys.”
The problem isn’t exclusive to the offense.
The Miami defense still has not come up with an interception this year. There has been only one fumble recovery.
Plays like the strip sack fumble recovery that change the direction of games has been a stranger. And that’s why defensive coordinator Matt Burke disagrees when I tell him his defense has played well enough to win every game this year.
“I told the guys this, this past game for example: To me, we had five opportunities that I thought we let go,” Burke said. “We had two fumbles on the ground that we didn’t get -- one of them which was in our hands. We had two interceptions that we had our hands on that we dropped.
“We had multiple opportunities to shorten the field for the offense, to flip things, get a turnover, whatever it may be, and I didn’t think we took advantage of those opportunities. We have one takeaway in three games and that’s something that we emphasize, so there’s plenty of work to be done.”
And now comes the hard part. The work to be done has to feel natural. Big plays have to feel organic because coaches don’t want players to feel pressed and they don’t want to start getting “puckered,” as Christensen said.
“...That’s when we start getting in trouble,” Burke said. “There are certain guys that we have to caution against (thinking), ‘Oh man, I need to take make a big play here,’ and getting out of his lane and not doing his responsibility, and then we’re giving up a bigger play.
“I don’t want the players pressing, feeling like, ˜Man, we have to make plays.’”
Of course, that’s exactly what they must start doing. Soon.