Barry Jackson

Is Dolphins’ Gase smart to go for it on 4th and short? Here’s what recent history says

Dolphins coach Adam Gase
Dolphins coach Adam Gase ctrainor@miamiherald.com

After Arian Foster was stopped short on a 4th and 1 from the Seattle 17 in the first quarter on Sunday, Dolphins coach Adam Gase made this very clear: This is not going to be the exception. These are your bold, new risk-taking Miami Dolphins.

“We’re going for it on fourth down,” Gase said this week. “What did [Seattle] do, go three-and-out in that next series? We got the ball back. [Dolphins players] know we’re playing to win. That’s what we’re going to do. They’ll just get used to it.”

So historically, is Gase’s philosophy a sound one? Some points to consider, courtesy of Football Outsiders and STATS Inc.:

• Teams last season converted 4th and 1 about two-thirds of the time: 65.6 percent. Over the past seven seasons, that success rate is 64.3 percent.

But here’s what’s alarming: The Dolphins were the worst in the league last season, converting 25 percent of 4th and 1 attempts (1 for 4).

On 4th and 3 or less, they were 1 for 6, that 16.7 percent worst in the league

And among all 3rd and 4th down short-yardage plays, they ranked 28th in the NFL.

• League success percentages predictably decline on 4th and 2. Last season, teams converted 27 of 54 of those attempts (50 percent). Over the past seven seasons, it’s 50.4 percent.

And Miami’s running game appears worse this season than last, which makes going for it an even riskier proposition (though, with that said, I like Gase’s bold approach).

• Of course, there’s no assurance the Dolphins would even make a short field goal if they didn’t go for it. Andrew Franks was 9 for 9 in his career from 40 yards or less before his 27-yarder was blocked Sunday. He’s 5 for 8 from 40 yards or more.

The other layer to this is what play to call on fourth and short. Gase blamed himself for Sunday’s failure.

“I put a lot of that on myself because I had a terrible formation for putting our tight ends in there,” Gase said. “The (defensive) ends were able to crash down. We were just a little bit late off the snap and they got the angles and then Kam (Chancellor) made a good hit on Arian (Foster) to where he didn’t really see him, so instead of being able to go forward he got shot to the side.”

Based on historical precedent (more on that in a second), quarterback sneaks are the most successful calls on 4th and 1. So why did Miami not do that against Seattle? Might they have run a sneak if Mike Pouncey were playing center and not Anthony Steen (who played very well)?

“No reason for that over the sneak,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen responded. “Sometimes we would sneak it, sometimes we wouldn’t there. We just didn’t get it blocked.”

Last season, on 4th and 1, NFL teams converted 54 percent of the time when they passed (27 for 50), 67.1 percent of the time on runs NOT by quarterbacks (53 for 79) and 79.4 percent of the time on quarterback runs (27 for 34).

And this is even more convincing evidence to run quarterback keepers on 4th and 1: Over the past seven seasons, quarterback runs on 4th and 1 were successful 80 percent of the time, compared with 63 percent for non-QB runs.

Most of those quarterback runs were sneaks (successful 81 percent), but bootlegs (something Ryan Tannehill also could do capably) also worked, with a 93 percent conversion rate (13 for 14).

What about fourth and two? Teams mostly passed in that situation last season, converting 48 percent of the time (23 for 48). Quarterback runs and non-QB runs were each successful two out of three times on 4th and 2.

Regardless of the play, Dolphins players love the bold approach.

Gase told his team: “Hey, early in games especially, if we’re inside the 50 and it’s fourth-and-short, we’re probably going to go for it,” Tannehill relayed. “Just that mindset that we’re going to have another shot and four downs to make 10 yards is huge for a quarterback, knowing we can check it down and have another shot at it. Or if we run it on third-and-short and don’t get it, we’re going to have another shot, whether it’s a run or a pass.”

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