Armando Salguero

There’s good news for the Dolphins offense, but also some issues left to resolve

Damien Williams took over the third-down back duties on Sunday after Kenyan Drake was in for only one play.
Damien Williams took over the third-down back duties on Sunday after Kenyan Drake was in for only one play. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The good news first: I’m told the Miami Dolphins offense that seemed to hate itself the first four games this season because players constantly made mental mistakes -- with offensive linemen blocking the wrong guys or receivers running the wrong routes or Jay Cutler throwing to the wrong place -- made fewer such mistakes last Sunday against Atlanta.

That’s important. That’s good news.

Because everything I just outlined in the first paragraph of this post that was going wrong basically doomed plays before they could be completed. And the frustrating thing about that constant busting of assignments was that it was different guys on different plays and it was plays the team has been practicing since the spring of 2016.

And this: Those many mental mistakes were not happening in practice so it was impossible to correct them before they happened.

Anyway, the number of mental busts went down last week. I cannot tell you exactly how many fewer mental mistakes the Dolphins made. (I’m good but not that good.) But I’m told it was fewer.

So all hail fewer mental mistakes!

Dilly-Dilly.

Now the bad news: The Dolphins still had five dropped passes, as I told you Tuesday in this post and that hurt efficiency and productivity.

To be clear for everyone, every team has drops during games. That’s a given. But the Dolphins are among the league leaders in dropped catchable balls. And when you’re among the league leaders of dropped catchable balls, you are costing yourself yards on the catch and yards after the catch. You are also costing yourself first downs.

So dropped passes is a thing for the Dolphins lately. It is a focus.

(It’s probably been a focus for a while, best I can guess, but I didn’t know it until lately.)

Once the Dolphins improve their pass-catching and assuming they continue to get better in carrying out their assignments, then the offense will begin to hum at a much more productive pace.

And that’s important because although 20 points felt like an epiphany for the Dolphins on Sunday, it still is not good enough for a team hoping to be playoff relevant.

Think 24 points per game as a more acceptable scoring average for lower playoff seeds. High playoff seeds are typically in the 27 to 30 points per game range.

Anyway, I make a point of the dropped passes (again) because it will be important for the Dolphins if they hope to beat the New York Jets on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The formula for beating the Jets is pretty simple: Keep them from hitting the quarterback. Frustrate them that they’re not getting to the QB because they are a younger team on defense. And voila ... points.

If you watch the New England Patriots tape against the Jets from last Sunday you saw quarterback Tom Brady take 38 dropbacks. And he was sacked zero times. And he was hurried once. That’s it.

The Patriots, you see, have an older quarterback they don’t want people hitting. So do the Dolphins. And the Patriots use the quick passing game to frustrate teams like the Jets because they can’t get to the quarterback before the ball is out.

The Patriots used a lot of flares and hitches and slants. They get rid of the football quickly. It’s the reason running back James White was targeted seven times.

Yes, the Patriots had a 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks but that was their lone long pass of the day that actually traveled a long distance in the air.

The 33-yard touchdown pass from Brady to tight end Rob Gronkowski? Safety Jamal Adams fell down and Gronk was basically left to run to the end zone.

My point is the Patriots didn’t allow the New York front seven to become a factor in the passing game other than to cause linebackers to defend passes. They kept the pocket clean for Brady.

That is what the Dolphins need to do for Cutler.

And this is where I point out the Dolphins do not have a James White type player. Or a Dion Lewis for that matter.

It would be good if Kenyan Drake could develop into that guy but he had one play on Sunday against Atlanta on offense. He made mistake on that play and that was it for him. Damien Williams got the rest of the third-down back action, catching all three of his targets for 14 yards.

The point is if the Dolphins want to avoid another disastrous loss to the Jets -- can you imagine getting swept by the Jets? -- they have to keep the pocket clean for Cutler. They yielded three sacks the first meeting between the teams and Cutler was hit too many times to be comfortable.

Yes, they’ll throw quick passes. Yes, that was the prescription the Patriots put on tape.

But they must protect the passer long enough to throw them and, you know, catch those passes as well.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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