Saban Bothered By Third Down Conversions

The Miami Dolphins have plenty of talent and reasons why they should be winning games. It's the few weak areas that continue to hold them back, and Sunday could be another day where those weaknesses are exposed. Stopping opponents has been an Achilles heel for the Dolphins' defense. The Patriots, seem to be getting on a roll with their offense, which can't be a good thing for Saban's defense.

Most of the heat has been focused on the struggles of quarterback Daunte Culpepper and the league's 26th-ranked offense, and rightly so. However, despite the Dolphins boasting the seventh-ranked defense, it's been that unit's inability to get off the field on third down in the third quarters of their three losses that have been just as integral to the 1-3 start.

In the three defeats to the Steelers, Bills and Texans, the Dolphins have been on the field a total of 12:46, compared to their opponents' 32:14 in those third quarters. The Dolphins have converted 2-of-6 on third downs, compared to their opponents' 8-of-12.

The Texans converted 9 of 16 on third down overall, including 6 of 10 with passes, a 56 percent success rate, the best by a Dolphins opponent since Dec. 11 of last season when the Chargers hit on 57.9 percent (11 of 19) in a Dolphins' 23-21 loss.

The Dolphins are ranked 26th in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 26 of 58 (44.8 percent).

"Defensively, we did not get off the field on third down," coach Nick Saban said. "We did a great job of stopping the run. We did a great job for three quarters. They only had three points, but in the end, not getting off the field on third down continued their drives and allowed them to score points.

"When it was third-and-6 they got six. When it was third-and-10, they got 10. A couple of times, they made big plays when we had opportunities to make plays, and we didn't do it. (There were) too many opportunities where we moved the ball on offense and stopped ourselves, whether it's a penalty, a sack, or a negative play of some sort. That's something that needs to change."

The Dolphins converted just three of 12 third downs against the Texans defense, which entered the game last in the league.

In the last 15 games of the Dolphins-Patriots' series, Miami's opponent on Sunday in Foxborough, the team that has converted more third downs has won 12 times. The Patriots are ranked 10th in the league (23 of 56) with a 41.1 third-down conversion percentage and fourth in yards gained on third down with 367.8. They made six of 13 in last week's stunning 38-13 win over the Bengals.

The Patriots' third-down defense is ranked just 23rd, allowing opponents 23 of 56 conversions (41.1 percent).

"If we did a statistical analysis of what your chances or percentages of converting on third down-and-3 and a third down-and-4, (it'd be) a whole lot better than third-and-15," Saban said. "All the plays contribute to that, in terms of what you create for yourself on third down."


-- QB Daunte Culpepper had his best game of the season, actually eluding pass rushers and hitting receivers on the run for the first time. He seemed to be in synch with his receivers in the final frantic minutes of the fourth quarter, completing 11 of 17 for 134 yards before offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey decided to let RB Ronnie Brown try an option pass on the desperately needed two-point conversion.

-- RB Ronnie Brown had an outstanding game, other than the aforementioned ill-advised option pass that was tipped at the line by rookie DE Mario Williams. Saban frequently used the short pass as his running attack, as Brown set career highs with eight catches for 62 yards. He gained 49 yards on 12 attempts for a respectable 4.1 average, however, against the league's 29th-ranked run defense he should've had far more carries than 12.

-- WR Chris Chambers finally showed frustration on the sidelines of Sunday's 17-15 loss to the Texans because he wasn't getting enough plays called for him. Chambers had just one catch for 11 yards with 1:57 to play in the fourth quarter before finishing with three catches for 28 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown. In the first four games, Chambers has a total of just four catches for 33 yards in the first halves.

-- TE Randy McMichael showed why he is more valuable catching passes then pass-blocking by catching four balls for 54 yards in the second half Sunday nearly doubling his season output (6 for 59). However, until the offensive line stops getting Culpepper sacked a league-leading 21 times, McMichael will continue to be a glorified lineman.

-- WR Marty Booker dropped a slant across the middle that looked like it would've gone for a 73-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. No one was tougher on Booker than himself after the game. Although the Dolphins did score a touchdown on that drive, Booker's drop might've cost them about 1:30, time they desperately needed as the Texans ran out the clock.

-- CB Travis Daniels received his first start of the season after recovering from a lingering ankle injury and continues to show rust. There's no way he should've been outjumped by WR Andre Johnson on that 30-yard lob in the fourth quarter which set up a game-winning 3-yard TD pass to Johnson.

-- CB Will Allen might've got beaten on a key 28-yard connection to Eric Moulds, but it was a perfect pass by David Carr. Allen was beaten on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but he also was all over the field Sunday, making eight tackles, a quarterback hurry, three pass defenses and a dynamic theft of what looked like a completion and fumble by Johnson. It was called an interception, his first in 29 games. Saban singled Allen out as one of his best defensive players of the game.

-- DE Vonnie Holliday may have been overlooked by the more flamboyant Jason Taylor Sunday. Both had two sacks, but Holliday added seven tackles and four quarterback hurries. It's the ninth time in his career that he has had two or more sacks in a game.

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