Keeping Composure: Why Discipline Remains a Major Issue for Adam Gase and the Dolphins
Most would think it would take a crazy person to complain about the current state of the Miami Dolphins. The team is coming off of a stretch in which they have taken down two opponents they were considered by many to be underdogs against, thoroughly demonstrating consistent improvement in each game.
Yet, here we are.
It’s easy to look at the Dolphins’ recent success, including improved defensive play and the sudden development of a formidable running attack, and say that the Dolphins need to just keep doing what they’re doing. In all honesty, they could end up in a pretty good spot if they keep on their current course.
Against Pittsburgh, the Dolphins thoroughly dominated. They won at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and were free of the self-inflicted wounds that defined the franchise’s play in recent memory.
When the Bills entered Hard Rock Stadium, things weren’t quite as pretty. The flashy numbers put up on offense blinds fans to a glaring error that has developed with the current style of play in Miami.
Adam Gase’s group is drawing far too many penalties, most of which could be avoided.
Notice that I mentioned Adam Gase’s group specifically. Currently, Vance Joseph has the Dolphins in a good place regarding penalties. Joseph’s area of expertise is the secondary, and it shows in this regard; his unit hasn’t drawn a single defensive pass interference penalty this season (the NFL’s only team yet to be called for the infraction). Joseph’s unit is in the middle of the pack for defensive offsides and defensive holding.
While there are still lapses on that side of the ball, the larger issue remains on offense.
No team in the NFL has drawn more unsportsmanlike conduct penalties at this point in the season than the Miami Dolphins with five calls through Week 8. One remarkable part of this stat: the Dolphins are two calls ahead of a three-way tie for 2nd place, and they have drawn those two additional calls despite having been on a bye this week.
Now is the part where most readers drift to NFL policy, which is stringent regarding the celebrations that are and are not allowed by players after they score. Many would also point out the strict restraints on where a player can be tackled, or what truly makes calls consistent.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter.
If any NFL team knows that a certain type of celebration will draw a penalty, then what is the point in engaging in that celebration?
Some things cannot be changed by coaches. For example, Jarvis Landry’s hit on Aaron Williams probably can’t be corrected; he is a player who laid a block in the path of a play, and even if it was a cheap shot, you can’t try to diminish his fire during the confines of any given snap.
However, Jarvis Landry is the perfect example of a player who desperately needs to be contained following the conclusion of a play.
During the Dolphins’ showdown with the Bills, Jarvis Landry elected to spin the ball to celebrate following a catch.
Honestly, I don’t care whether or not you think this should be considered a penalty. All that matters is that it is. The job of a coach is to make sure that his players are aware of what can and cannot be done in that situation.
Even if Jarvis Landry, Adam Gase, Stephen Ross or President Barack Obama disagree with the reasoning, Landry must stay within the confines of legality on the play for the sake of his teammates.
While this was a frustrating lapse in judgment for Landry, an even worse play occurred later in the drive.
After picking up a big first down, Jarvis Landry stepped over to the Bills’ sideline. The issue is not that he starts jawing with players on the bench, flexing as he stands in front of them.
Everyone is frustrated by the rules at times. However, that is not the way to express frustration. Even after a frustrating penalty is called, it is important to maintain composure and focus on what is at stake for the team.
Adam Gase doesn’t want to reduce Landry’s competitive fire. I understand that. However, he needs to teach a better level of containment for moments like this when anger mounts for Landry. The right thing to do here is to hand the ball back to the ref and head back to the huddle without jawing at the other team as an official stands right beside you.
We have seen instances this season in which just flexing at an opponent’s bench draws a penalty. No, it might not make sense, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the rule and potential consequence.
At best, Landry’s decision is going to end up as a neutral decision, which still had the chance to be a negative situation for the team.
There have been several occasions this season in which Jarvis Landry’s post-play scuffles with opponents have toed the line of potential penalties. Between getting tangled up standing up from a play, or getting in a cornerback’s face after a catch, Landry often cuts it very close with the officials. At the end of the day, Landry should be working with the coaching staff to make sure that those moments become much, much less frequent.
Discipline does not just refer to control and composure once a play ends – it also plays a key role on any snap. While the defense has not committed many problematic penalties, they still have faced issues at times this season with general discipline within the confines of a play.
Take this missed opportunity from Miami’s game against Tennessee as an example:
Everyone knows the right thing to do here…fall on the football. They teach it in Pop Warner. In that situation, just make sure that you get the ball, and the best way to do that is to hit the deck.
So yes, I am being incredibly specific by singling this out as an issue for the Dolphins to improve upon. However, the league’s best teams focus on those minute details. How often does a holding call kill a drive by the Patriots? When do you see one of Belichick’s players called for unsportsmanlike conduct after a play because they spun the ball on the opponent’s sideline?
At the end of the day, Jarvis Landry needs to learn to avoid these mistakes. None of them have cost the team dearly yet. The goal should be to reduce the odds of it happening in a key moment (or any moment) this season.
The Dolphins could keep winning with their current formula – their attitude and drive have been incredibly impressive in recent weeks, showing a complete shift in their ability to execute a strong gameplan.
However, if the team wants to truly push for a wildcard spot this season and fight through the second half of the schedule with a chip on their shoulders, then they will need to pay attention to detail and do everything right.
That means cleaning up on avoidable, potentially drive-killing errors like penalties earned after the play.