Moore leading Dolphins' improved red-zone attack

Posted Nov. 21, 2011 @ 10:37 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

The Dolphins are far and away the best 3-7 team in football. That may be no better than the "tallest mountain in Kansas" comparison, but the 'Fins are finally playing up to their potential.

Following back-to-back wins over the Chiefs and Redskins, the Dolphins took it to the Bills in a 35-8 shellacking. The Dolphins have not allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters, and Matt Moore has looked like more than just a stopgap quarterback.

The improved play of Mike Nolan's defense has been noticeable. With Karlos Dansby and Vontae Davis healthy, the unit has been more physical, and it rattled Ryan Fitzpatrick in Sunday's win.

We knew the talent was there on defense, but what may be more noteworthy is the play of Moore and the offense. Coming into the season, it was the offense that needed to improve in various aspects — pass protection, red-zone efficiency and speed. When Miami started out 0-7, the team didn't look any better in any of those categories. Now, Brian Daboll's offense is humming, which is a good sign for 2012 as long as it can keep it up with a big test on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys.

The PFW spin

Owner Stephen Ross wanted this team to score points, and it has in a big way during the current three-game win streak, scoring 86 points. Part of that success can be attributed to the O-line, which has shored up its protection by allowing only three sacks in the span. But the Dolphins' productivity in the red zone, with help from the tight ends, has played a big factor.

In Sunday's win, the Dolphins were a perfect 4-for-4 in scoring touchdowns when in the red zone — a stat unheard of earlier in the season and all of 2010, when they were 30th in scoring and had only 18 touchdowns from the red zone, the third-lowest total in the league, albeit coming on the second-fewest red-zone possessions in the NFL. Miami has already had as many red-zone possessions (34) in 10 games this year as it had in 16 games last season, and it has just one fewer red-zone TD than it had in all of 2010.

In a division with the Patriots, who have shown how effective an offense can be with athletic tight ends, the Dolphins didn't have to look far for proof that they should better utilize Anthony Fasano. After not scoring in the first five games, Fasano has four touchdowns in the last five games.

In addition to getting Fasano more involved near the goal line, the team needed another tight end to complement him, preferably a seam stretcher. Rookie Charles Clay has emerged, making big plays in the passing game during the win streak. Clay, who was lined up at fullback on 2nd-and-10 in the second quarter, went right up the middle uncovered to catch a 12-yard touchdown.

Moore's ability to find the open man near the goal line has been one of the things that has separated him from Chad Henne, who struggled to find the endzone. Moore hit Davone Bess for a four-yard score later in the second quarter.

With the red-zone offense improved and the addition of Clay as another weapon, the next dynamic the offense has shown of late has been speed in the form of Reggie Bush, who rushed for a score on Sunday and had 66 total yards. Moore also hit speedy WR Brian Hartline for a 19-yard catch-and-run.

Dolphins fans may wonder if this means Moore should have been the starter from the get-go, but with the lockout and the team's confidence in and knowledge of Henne, Miami couldn't afford a controversy. It needed to go with its guy — once it couldn't land Kyle Orton, of course.

What does this mean for Moore next season? He certainly has looked good during the win streak, but that has come against three of the league's worst defenses. The way he performs in the Thanksgiving Day spotlight against DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys will be very telling. Moore has avoided mistakes and been accurate, but he has been known to take chances. Rob Ryan's group will be looking to force turnovers.

The Dolphins became the first team ever to win three in a row following an 0-7 start. The Cowboys' offense should test an improved defensive unit, so Moore and the offense will need to continue scoring points when in the red zone to pull off the upset.

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