Miami Dolphins

Differences between Gase and Philbin are too many to count, but here’s a big one

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is sacked during the fourth quarter of the loss against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is sacked during the fourth quarter of the loss against the Cincinnati Bengals. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

In September of last year, the Dolphins’ quarterback chastised Miami’s scout-team defenders for intercepting his passes in practice.

Now, their new coach is challenging them to do just that.

“We encourage the scout team to try to pick balls off,” Adam Gase said. “Encouraging them to compete with the wideouts to make sure we make things as tough as possible. I think the scout-team defense did a great job this week, as far as challenging those guys. Those guys have responded, as far as practicing fast.”

Perhaps Gase has identified the problem with a Dolphins offense that has looked all-too-similar to Joe Philbin’s last stand.

This week, as the Dolphins try to salvage their season against the Tennessee Titans, the coaching staff has stressed energetic competition and unvarnished accountability.

Ryan Tannehill — who famously told teammates he’d build them a scout-team trophy case after intercepting a couple of passes during a walk-through practice — got no free pass. Gase wouldn’t allow it.

As for accountability? Gase’s offensive coordinator, Clyde Christensen, took care of that Friday while speaking with reporters.

How has Tannehill played this season?

“Not as well as he would hope, not as well as we would hope — the same as the unit. … At times he’s done things really, really well,” Christensen said. “At times I think he’d love to have a do-over, if you will.”

We’ve reached the tough-love stage of the season for Tannehill and an offense that ranks 26th in yards (329.8 per game) and 28th in points (17.8).

Christensen ticked off a list of areas where Tannehill needs to show improvement for the offense to snap out of its funk.

Two-minute drill.

The red zone.

And Miami’s biggest bugaboo: third downs.

The Dolphins rank last in third-down conversions, doing so just 27.3 percent of the time.

“I don’t know who, but somebody has to make that play,” Christensen said. “It has to be a better throw, it has to be a better catch. Somehow, we get in the situation, we have to make those third downs. That’s what we haven’t been able to do.”

Christensen is one of the most candid coaches the Dolphins have had in years. He knows he can’t hide his emotions, so he doesn’t even try.

And Christensen was characteristically honest (not to mention exhaustive) when asked how he has held up in the first month of the season:

“Frustrating. Frustrating. I talked to the team, you contract for 16 weeks, so I don’t let myself get too high or too low,” he said. “But you want to see it go well. You want to see it go well for the guys. I want to see one of the backs have 450 yards right now. You want more snaps. You want more balls. You want all of those things.”

Christensen said it has gone beyond simple frustration. He has been personally hurt by the way his unit has played.

He wants the Dolphins to play well for each other, for the city of Miami and for owner Stephen Ross. But he knows they have not. The Dolphins have put themselves in a 1-3 hole.

And yet …

“It is only the end of the first quarter and we’ve got 12 to play and a lot can still be written different,” Christensen said. “We’re not anywhere near through with this chapter of the book, if you will, the story.”

That’s the sugar Christensen has fed his offense to help take down this medicine:

“We’re not playing very good football on offense and we have to play better. … We are only at the end of the first quarter, but there is no guarantee it just turns around just because you want it to, either. You’ve got to play better football. … One and three certainly is not fatal by any stretch of the imagination in this league, which we all know. Playing bad football is fatal. It doesn’t turn around when you play bad football. We have to play better football.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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