Last week, I told you the Miami Dolphins were shifting philosophies with Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore in that the team was going away from a Drake-led rushing attack toward more of a shared situation with Gore getting many more carries than anyone expected.
Well, now we understand to what depth the Dolphins are going to be using this new approach.
As you saw in Sunday’s game against the Bengals, the Dolphins gave Gore the football 12 times. He led the team in rushes for the third consecutive week. Drake, meanwhile, ran the football six times — half as many as Gore.
The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story.
While Drake got fewer carries, he actually got more opportunities to handle the football because the Dolphins used him extensively in the passing game. Ryan Tannehill targeted Drake a team-high 11 times and the running back caught a team-high seven passes.
A couple of those pass plays were highlight type plays in that Drake scored on a 22-yard reception and had a third-down catch for 18 yards to convert a third-and-16 play. (On that play, Drake de-cleated Cincy defensive end Carl Lawson with a chip block and then continued out on his pass pattern).
What we saw in that game was a total shift in philosophy for the Dolphins.
Gore carrying the load running the football. And Drake as more a complementary runner and pass-catching threat.
Fantasy team owners and other fans alike should take note: It’s likely what you’ll be seeing in the coming weeks until either it stops working or personnel issues (injuries) affect availability.
But the most interesting issue here is the why this happening.
It’s happening because the Dolphins believe Drake, the more dynamic back of the two, comes with the high possibility of losing yardage on his run. And Gore, the less explosive back, is more steady in gaining yardage each play.
“That’s the biggest thing,” coach Adam Gase said Thursday. “Frank does a really good job of, ‘We’re second-and-five, third-and-two.’ Or it’s we’re first down, second down, first down. Kenyan is coming along in that area, it’s just that he does give you that element of first-and-10, you get a 60-yard touchdown, where it’s a game changing play.”
So think of Drake as a home run hitter. Who also might strikes out a lot.
Think of Gore as a hitter with less power who will deliver for average.
Drake also takes more gambles than Gore. Gore is typically going to hit his assigned hole. Drake is maybe going to go to his assigned hole and maybe he’ll double back twice before heading upfield — all in search of the big play.
“[Drake] did a really good job last week, I thought, of helping us stay on track,” Gase said. “There were a couple of times he tried to bounce it or do something that wasn’t designed for the play and we got zero yards or minus 1. But he did a good job of cutting [the number of] those back last week to where there was a lot of positive coming out of his touches at running back.”
The Dolphins logic is they’re going to give Gore the ball more knowing they’re not going to get the explosive play because they value the short positive play more. The team, meanwhile, is going to give Drake the ball fewer times because, while he might turn one of those into a 60-yard run, he might also lose three yards gambling on something he wasn’t supposed to do.
You might not agree with this approach. But the strategy is meant to cure Miami’s issues with time of possession. It is done with Miami’s third-down success in mind.
You’ll recall the Dolphins ran only 39 offensive plays against Oakland. And then the Dolphins had only 45 offensive plays against New England.
And the only way to get more is to extend drives, right? And the only way to extend drives is to avoid third-and-long situations because the Dolphins have been more terrible than most NFL teams in such situations.
(The Dolphins are 29th in the NFL in third-down conversions).
Obviously, one way to stay away from third-and-long is to avoid losing two or three yards on one of your running plays, which is what Drake was doing with too much frequency to suit the Dolphins.
I would tell you the solution to this issue is Drake, the more electric back, improving his decision-making. Yes, there are times to gamble and go for that big run. But please keep your head about you and run to your assigned hole and pick up those four-yards more often than not.
Easier said than done. It’s like telling a quarterback to take a sack and play the next down rather than try to throw a pass that might save the play ... or become an interception.
Interestingly, the Dolphins think Drake will get better at his decision-making while picking his spots.
“That’s experience,” Gase said. “I think the more he does it and the more he understands the big picture, which I think it’s coming together for him, we’re going to keep seeing a better player every week.”
Obviously that’s the coach’s positive spin. It’s also possible Drake might decide he’s not going to subjugate his instincts for delivering the big runs simply to decrease his negative runs.
And if that happens you’ll continue to see Frank Gore heading the Dolphins running game.
While Kenyan Drake is used as a complementary back and a threat in the passing game.