Winning formula: Dolphins discover simple stat

August, 12, 2009
8/12/09
1:28
PM ET
DAVIE, Fla. -- If the Miami Dolphins want to know one of the stats head coach Tony Sparano will harp on this year, they can read about it right here.

"My team doesn't know this yet," Sparano said after Wednesday morning's training camp session.
Joel Auerbach/US Presswire.
Miami coach Tony Sparano is analyzing the Dolphins stats from 2008.

Sparano was on the hunt for data to help drive home the importance of converting third downs. Assistant director of player personnel Brian Gaine crunched some numbers and found an interesting trend.

When the Dolphins had more rushing attempts and pass completions than the other team, they went 10-1 last year. When they did not, they were 1-4.

"We won 93 percent of the time [actually 91 percent] when that number equaled more for our offense and less for our defense," Sparano said. "The point I'm making is, that all ties into third down. If the defense can get off the field on third down and get our offense back out there, the attempts go up, time of possession goes up, all those things that shorten the game a little bit and help in the hidden yardage battle."

The Dolphins tied an NFL record last year by committing only 13 turnovers and finished atop the league in turnover margin with a plus-17.

But they ranked 23rd in third-down conversions, extending their possessions 37 percent of the time.

Sparano first looked at negative plays as a way to emphasize the value of converting third downs. Negative plays are rushing attempts for minus yards, sacks allowed, turnovers and penalties.

"The negative play thing, we finished fifth in the league," Sparano said. "The problem is, the Super Bowl winner was down at the bottom, so that didn't give me what I was kind of looking for. So I needed to find something else from that standpoint."

The only game where the opponent had more combined rushes and completions but the Dolphins won occurred at home against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15.

Miami had 22 rushing attempts and 19 completions for a "score" of 41. San Francisco had 27 rushes and 30 completions for a "score" of 57. Miami won 14-9 despite converting only 14 percent of their third downs.

"If there's one thing I want to really make sure that we get better at it would be the third-down stuff," Sparano said. "I think third-down stuff in this league is pretty telling. I think that the teams that get off the field [defensively] in this league and stay on the field [offensively] have a greater chance to succeed at the end of this whole thing."

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