Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins make third-down efficiency their first priority

Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, left, talks to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins are the second-worst team in the NFL at convering third downs.
Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, left, talks to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins are the second-worst team in the NFL at convering third downs. AP

The light in Bill Lazor’s office burned bright late Wednesday night. Very late.

The Dolphins’ offensive coordinator was determined to solve the team’s third-down woes, no matter the hour.

Miami is the league’s second-worst third-down team, succeeding on just 27.2 of their attempts. Should that rate hold for the rest of the season, the Dolphins would have their lowest conversion percentage since they began tracking the statistic in 1977.

And the issue is only getting worse. The Dolphins have failed on 17 of their past 20 attempts — a clunky stretch that even includes their 44-point explosion against the Texans.

“We had a lot of work to do last night,” Lazor said with self deprecation Thursday. “I’m just telling you the truth, we’ve got to get it right.”

The Dolphins’ season probably depends on it.

If they don’t have a winning game plan on third downs Sunday against the Bills, the Dolphins have very little chance to win the game.

Even though Buffalo will likely be without defensive tackle Kyle Williams, and Rex Ryan’s defense surprisingly has just 11 sacks in seven games, the Bills’ defensive line still Miami’s full attention.

There’s history there. In seven meetings between the teams since 2012, the Bills have allowed just 13 points per game and sacked Ryan Tannehill 25 times.

“Don’t look at that stat line,” left tackle Branden Albert said of Buffalo’s modest output this year. “Teams are going to get the ball out as fast as they can [against the Bills], because of the animals they have on their defense, their D-line. We’ve got to get the ball out fast. You’ve got to fight. When you go against that defensive line, you have to fight.”

Albert didn’t play the first time these teams met, a 41-14 Dolphins beatdown that hastened Joe Philbin’s exit as head coach.

But the hamstring issue that cost Albert two games has been resolved, and his reconstructed right knee is “feeling good.”

That will certainly help against defensive end Jerry Hughes. As for standout pass-rusher Mario Williams? That’ll be up to Jason Fox, who will start at right tackle in place of the injured Ja’Wuan James.

“The offensive line is ready,” Fox said. “Playing up there is a tough place to play and we have to be clicking. We’re more than capable. We have the talent here to do it. We just have to do what we do best.”

The fastest way for the Dolphins to improve on third downs is by winning on first and second. The were in third-and-long far too often against the Patriots, and ran the ball just 13 times for a measly 15 yards.

A possible reason: They got away from the two-tight end formation that was so successful against the Texans and Titans — including an 85-yard touchdown run by Lamar Miller. Instead, the Dolphins went three-wide almost exclusively.

Still, Lazor believes the team can be more efficient on the ground in each formation.

“When know we’re at our best when we can run and pass both on first and second down,” Lazor said, before adding facetiously, “and our best third-down games have been when we haven’t been in them.”

▪ Even after the Dolphins surrendered 36 points to the Patriots, interim coach Dan Campbell praised the work done by fill-in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo: “He’s done an amazing job.”

▪ Miami ranks 24th in yards allowed (379.4 per game), 18th in scoring defense (24.7) and 18th in yards per play allowed (5.5). Now defensive end Cameron Wake is out for the season. Yet Anarumo said he believes this can still be a top 10 defense. “We’ve got a group of guys that are going to fight every second of the game.”

▪  It was a bad day for Dolphins named Jordan on the team’s injury report. S Jordan Kovacs (knee) missed practice for the second straight day, while TE Jordan Cameron (hamstring) and DT Jordan Phillips (knee) were limited in their participation. Meanwhile, DeVante Parker’s availability for Sunday is in serious doubt. The wide receiver again did not practice with a recurring foot injury.

▪ Hall of Famer Dan Marino remains a fixture at Dolphins headquarters this year — and Campbell loves it. “Can’t really have him around here enough,” Campbell said.

Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.

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