Time of possession is not a sexy stat.
But it is an important one.
Of the 12 teams to reach the playoffs in 2017, all but two (the Rams and Bills) ranked in the top half of the league.
One through five on that statistic’s rankings made the playoffs, including the Super Bowl champion Eagles, who controlled the ball for longer per game (32:48) than any other club.
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The Dolphins have so far defied the laws of football gravity thanks to their explosive offense. They are 3-0 despite losing the time of possession battle by six and a half minutes per game.
That’s third-worst in football.
And it needs to get better. If it doesn’t, their defense will wear down. The question is not if, but when.
We saw glimpses of that in Sunday’s 28-20 victory against the Raiders. Oakland had 76 offensive snaps. The Dolphins had just 44. As a result, the Raiders possessed the ball for more than 38 minutes.
“It has to be complementary football,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “We need to do a better job of not having any three-and-outs and holding onto the ball longer. When you score, it’s not as painful for the defense. When we go three-and-out, that’s a little different. I think our defense can help themselves out sometimes with the third down and getting off the field. We had a couple of opportunities last week and kind of hurt ourselves. Both sides of the ball can help each other in that aspect, that’s how you can kind of get that time of possession flipped.”
The boxscore backs up Gase’s argument. The Dolphins converted just 2 of 8 third-down chances in Week 3. The Raiders converted 7 of 13 of theirs.
Matt Burke’s job is to improve that second stat.
“We stink right now,” said Burke, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, about Miami’s third-down D. “We do.”
Then Burke explained why:
“We had, I think, 15 third downs last week and like 10 of them were less than five yards. Third-and-4 or less or something. And there was a couple of drives where we didn’t even get to third down. We’re not — and that’s a good offensive team that we played last week — but we’re giving up leaky yardage in the run game. Our stats aren’t horrible. But we’re side-tackling guys, we’re giving up four or five yards on a rush and then it’s three yards on the next rush and it’s third-and-2. It’s hard living. It’s hard living.”
Burke added: “We haven’t been good on third downs, but we haven’t put ourselves in spots to have success on most third downs.”
That has prevented Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn from doing what they do best: attack the quarterback. The Dolphins are tied for 24th with just six sacks, and a third of those have been by a guy who is out for the season: William Hayes.
“We have to be better on third downs. It’s definitely an area of emphasis this week. But we have to help ourselves by putting us in better spots earlier in the chains,” Burke said.
On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins have been nearly as inefficient on the game’s most important down. Miami has converted just 32.3 percent of its offensive third-down chances this year.
And here’s the thin line between undefeated and win-less: Nearly a third of the Dolphins’ yards from scrimmage this season have come on their nine offensive touchdowns.
“The most important thing is we score one more point than those guys,” said Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “To this point, we’ve scored more points than our opponent. It’s so early in the season. I don’t think stats are relevant. You start to figure out more as you go along. But it’s just too early to talk about stuff like that right now.”
Added receiver Kenny Stills, when asked about needing to hang onto the ball longer: “We understand that, but we also realize that if we put points on the board, then the defense can get out there and play to their advantage.”