The Miami Dolphins’ new offense under co-coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville worked as well as one could have imagined — on the opening drives of the two halves.
Beyond that, there wasn’t much going offensively in what was still enough to pull off a 17-16 win on Sunday against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium to start 1-0 in the AFC East.
With the division-favorite Buffalo Bills coming to Miami for the Dolphins’ home opener in Week 2 — and coming in looking to prove they’re not the team that struggled in a 23-16 defeat against the Pittsburgh Steelers — the Dolphins will have to get more consistent production.
“We try to execute on every drive,” said coach Brian Flores. “It just so happens, in this particular game, it happened on our first drive of the game and to open the second half. I think we need to do a better job executing in between. I know we are going through those corrections right now. I don’t think there’s any real correlation. We try to move the ball and be productive on every drive.”
When a team comes out of the locker with a successful initial drive and then sputters in ensuing series, the thought is the first drive was scripted and then adjustments were made by the opposing defense.
“I think we just came out, knew what we wanted to do, knew the plays that were going to be called, and we just executed,” said running back Myles Gaskin, who ran for 28 yards on five carries in the opening drive and finished with 49 on nine attempts Sunday. “We prepared all week for it, and I think we were really hyped to be out there and ready to get this ball rolling.”
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa denies there being a script, though.
“I wouldn’t say our opening plays are scripted,” Tagovailoa, a Saint Louis graduate, said postgame in Foxborough, “but it’s more so we kind of know and understand how the game is going to be as far as our personnel being in there and what to expect as far as their defensive personnel being out there, and you can kind of gauge what plays are about to come into the headset.”
Whatever it was, Miami’s offense clicked best on the drive that it had all offseason to prepare for ahead of Sunday. The Dolphins got rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle involved early; they ran Gaskin effectively; Tagovailoa got a quick pass out to running back Salvon Ahmed in space that went for 18 yards, and Tagovailoa pulled the ball on a fake handoff to Gaskin to run in the touchdown himself. Beautifully orchestrated.
“And then New England made a couple of adjustments that kept us from moving the ball on another drive,” said Godsey today. “I think there’s a lot of factors in that. Both sides are playing this game behind the game. They did a good job of adjusting, and then it took us a little bit to get adjusted from there.”
The Dolphins didn’t score again until coming away with a field goal to finish the first half. Then, they started the second half with the ball and had their other touchdown drive.
Gaskin was involved again. Tagovailoa hit DeVante Parker deep down the sideline for a 30-yard gain on third-and-8. Ahmed and Malcolm Brown got in on the act, and the series was capped by the short 3-yard touchdown to Waddle in the flat.
Seven of Gaskin’s nine carries came on the two touchdown drives. The Dolphins didn’t hand him the ball much outside of that, but the lack of sustained drives had affected that. Miami had three three-and-outs and two other possessions that resulted in just one first down on Sunday.
“We feel like, that group, we’ve got a lot of depth at the running back position,” Godsey said. “It’s only one ball out there. We know that. There’s a point where we want to make sure that those guys all get their opportunities. At the end of the game, some good running by Malcolm. Early in the game by Myles, we had some critical runs there, plays by Salvon. That group knows that it’s, if you will, by committee.
“There is no ego, which as a coach, we love that about those guys. We love coaching them. They know that, when their number’s called on, their job is to perform and continue to do that, regardless of which guys are getting the ball.”
The opponent dominating time of possession — like New England did, 36:43 to 26:17 — also leads the offensive coaching staff to question how much they should pick up the pace.
“There’s some situations where we will go up-tempo whether it’s a positive or a negative play,” Godsey said. “The three-and-outs are some of the things that we talk to the group about eliminating those. … There’s some self-inflicting plays, and there’s some things that we can do from a coaching staff to get them in a better position. We really want to keep moving those chains, and when we can get in third-and-manageable, convert those. The more opportunities we have on normal downs, the more opportunities we have to either use or not use tempo.”
The offense will also get a boost with offseason acquisition Will Fuller, the speedy wide receiver with deep-threat abilities, debuting for the Dolphins coming off the final game of his six-game suspension he got with the Houston Texans last season. Left tackle Austin Jackson is also available after spending the past week of practice on the reserve/COVID-19, but tight end Adam Shaheen remains out, as of today.