Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ red-zone offense ‘hasn’t been good.’ Two reasons why it might improve soon

Miami Dolphins running back Frank Gore says he’s nervous for the first game

Miami Dolphins running back Frank Gore talks in locker room about his feelings for the upcoming first game at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University on Sunday, August. 19, 2018, in Davie.
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Miami Dolphins running back Frank Gore talks in locker room about his feelings for the upcoming first game at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University on Sunday, August. 19, 2018, in Davie.

As the Dolphins were packing up their gear and making their way to the bus late Friday night, one team official aptly summed up what we all just saw the team do on offense:

“Sloppy,” he said.

Not overpowered.

Not out-schemed.

But sloppy.

And that was spot on, what with the missed assignments and eight penalties — many coming at a drive’s worst possible time.

But time is starting to run out to get it fixed.

The “dress rehearsal” preseason game is Saturday against the Ravens.

And Miami’s starting offense is still looking for its first touchdown.

The Dolphins have nine points to show for their first-string’s six possessions this summer. And that is largely because of execution issues near the goal line.

“It hasn’t been good,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase acknowledged Sunday, as the team returned to work.

They have had their chances.

Xavien Howard gave Miami the ball on Carolina’s 9-yard line thanks to an interception, but the Dolphins’ drive actually lost yards.

Put it all together and you have a team that ranks 28th in red-zone offense through Saturday’s games, scoring a touchdown on just a third of their trips inside the 20.

Sloppiness aside, there are two perfectly plausible explanations why it’s been so bad — and those issues should disappear when the regular season begins.

1. The Dolphins are ignoring entire chapters of their playbook so that 2018 regular-season opponents don’t get an early look at some of their best plays.

2. Frank Gore might be their most effective red-zone weapon, and he has not seen a single snap of preseason action.

Gore has 77 rushing touchdowns in his career — tied with Tony Dorsett for 22nd most in NFL history — and, not surprisingly, the vast majority of those have come on plays beginning inside the 20.

Gore, in Year 14, has been held out not because he’s hurt, but to protect him from getting hurt (or worn down).

“Do I need to see him? I don’t,” Gase said. “[But] he’s driving me insane.”

Will he suit up Saturday against the Ravens?

Gore responded: “I don’t got to bug him. The game plan was for me to be ready for the third game. I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

“We’ll see how the goes,” Gase countered. “If I say right no, he’ll be in my office in five minutes. I know that he wants to go out there and do something. I think he’s tired of standing on the sideline.”

That won’t be the case come Sept. 9, when the season begins. The Dolphins have given every indication that Gore and Kenyan Drake will be their two-headed monster at running back. And if Gore is anything close to the player he’s been during what will assuredly go down as a Hall of Fame career, he will help.

The Dolphins have not had a consistently effective red-zone running back in years.

They ranked tied for last with just four rushing touchdowns last year, a big reason why they were middle of the pack in red zone efficiency.

Another reason: They have gotten very little out of the tight position since Charles Clay moved to Buffalo.

The hope (if not the plan) is that rookie Mike Gesicki will change that. But in 44 preseason snaps, Gesicki has been targeted just twice without a single catch.

“He had his ups and downs,” Gase said. “I’m always probably going to be a little hard on him because we’re putting him in a lot of situations to pass protect and run blocking, those type of things. We’ll get to the passing game when we need to get to the passing game.”

And presumably, the Dolphins will get to Gore when they need to get to Gore. He acknowledged Sunday that it has been “tough” not getting the reps in practice and in games to which he is accustomed. But added that he trusts his coaches are doing it because those decisions are in his best interests.

As for Saturday night, which the homegrown star expects to represent Miami in a game for the first time since his days as a Hurricane?

“I’m going to be nervous, I’m going to be happy to be out there with my teammates to be home, first time, live in a Dolphins uniform,” Gore said. “That’s just me period. I think that I respect the game, care for the game. I feel like if you don’t get nervous, it really don’t mean anything to you.”

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