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Sunday, October 19, 2003
Dolphins offense lacking creativity

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- In the wake of Sunday's overtime defeat here, a 19-13 loss which snapped a four-game winning skein, the Miami Dolphins locker room featured plenty of discussion of the "P"-word.

Ricky Williams
The Patriots held Ricky Williams to 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.
Uh, no, not the "playoffs." But rather the "predictability" of a Miami offense that mustered just one touchdown against a New England defense missing a half-dozen starters and a secondary that included a pair of rookies.

"I don't think you ever look at a team after six games and say, 'Well, this is going to be a Super Bowl team,' you know?" said tailback Ricky Williams. "The way we look at it, we are going to be a different team come December."

At least offensively, Miami had better be a different team in December, or it likely will be a franchise that isn't playing come January. And if the Dolphins miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season, coach Dave Wannstedt could be in trouble, complements of an offense that doesn't appear capable of complementing one of the NFL's top defenses.

More predictable than a Henny Youngman punch-line, the Dolphins offense exhibits little diversity, and the New England defensive game plan clearly revolved around the fact that Miami is so set in its ways. On most early downs, the Patriots deployed a five-man front, covering all three Miami interior blockers, and daring Williams to run outside.

The Patriots defensive brain trust, coach Bill Belichick and coordinator Romeo Crennel, were especially aware of one glaring statistic: On a percentage basis, the Dolphins run the ball more on first down than any other team in the NFL, about a 65 percent ratio. Usually, if Miami is running the ball, it's Williams who has it in tow.

That was, predictably, the case on Sunday afternoon.

In regulation play, Miami had 23 snaps on first-and-10 and 16 of those were runs, all of them by Williams. Seven of the Dolphins first eight plays on first-and-10, and nine of the first 11, were Williams carries. On his 16 first-and-10 carries over the first four quarters, Williams had 53 yards, but 18 of those came on one play.

Of those 16 carries, seven netted one yard, no yards or minus-yardage. Williams did get 23 yards on consecutive first-and-10 rushes in the overtime but, for much of the second half, he looked like a guy who didn't particularly want the ball.

Noted one Patriots coach: "Everybody knows what they're going to do (offensively). We cut off the inside and figured, if Ricky was going to go outside, we'd chase him down. I mean, their offensive line isn't that good, and you have to make (quarterback Jay Fiedler) beat you. But the biggest thing is just keep beating on (Williams)."

I don't think you ever look at a team after six games and say, 'Well, this is going to be a Super Bowl team,' you know? The way we look at it, we are going to be a different team come December.
Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams

Twice late in the game, once in the fourth quarter and then again in overtime, Fiedler led the Dolphins to within field goal range. That kicker Olindo Mare missed a pair of 35-yard attempts, the first blocked and the second wide right, is a failure that can't be heaped on the Dolphins erratic quarterback.

But the truth is, Fiedler is a player of modest skills, and his own physical shortcomings probably play a significant part in limiting the Miami offensive design. There were times, particularly on two throws to tight end Randy McMichael, when Fiedler demonstrated a bit of arm strength and excellent touch. Yet for every on-target toss, Fiedler typically has a spate of passes that are wide of the mark.

Suffice it to say, a marksman he is not, and his Sunday performance was exacerbated by the fact he was facing a makeshift New England secondary that should collectively have made for easy pickings.

For the day, Fiedler was 20 for 35 for 230 yards, with one touchdown pass and a pair of interceptions, good for an efficiency rating of 62.8. Through six games, his passer rating is just 71.8, with more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (six).

McMichael, the second-year tight end who disappeared in the second half of the 2002 season, had an outstanding game, with eight catches for 102 yards, both career bests. But the Dolphins wide receivers didn't do much against single coverage and it seemed that Chris Chambers' preferred move was the one where he griped at officials, trying to draw a pass interference call, every time he missed a pass.

It is difficult, when on the same field as a New England offense that specializes in the sideways pass, to look even more rudimentary by comparison. But the Dolphins offense did and, for yet another season, there are questions about whether the unit is good enough to drive the team deep into the playoffs.

Or, truth be told, into the playoffs at all.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.