Looks like a potential playoff preview this week as the Miami Dolphins, a potential wild-card team, travel to Baltimore, a potential AFC North champion.
Man, does that ever sound wishy-washy. Let’s get down to some details instead.
If the Dolphins come down to another fourth-quarter frenzy of a finish, with every play important and every point essential, the Ravens have a sophisticated weapon on their roster that Adam Gase does not.
Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker made field goals from 57, 54 and 52 yards in Sunday’s 19-14 win over Cincinnati. Obviously, the Ravens don’t win that game without him. Oh, and don’t forget the 54-yarder that Tucker made to pull out a 19-17 win over Jacksonville in September.
Overall, Tucker is perfect in 27 tries this season, and seven of those have come from 50-plus.
Compare that to Miami’s Andrew Franks, who has been just fine at 13-of-16 successful kicks but has yet to make a long one. His only try was a 50-yard miss against Pittsburgh in Week 6.
In his two-year Dolphins career, Franks is 1-for-3 from 50-plus. I’m starting to think that Gase is wary to send him out there unless there’s an easy opportunity to get the ball up quickly and through. Twice this season Franks has had kicks blocked from inside 30 yards, which is closer even than an extra point. That’s a fundamental problem and one that is accentuated when a kicker is trying to get extra oomph on a distant try.
In Sunday’s 31-24 win over San Francisco, Gase passed on a 52-yard try for Franks in the third quarter when the Dolphins’ lead was only 17-14. He opted for the punt team, which resulted in a touchback, and explain his decision by saying “we had a chance to pin them back there” and “I have a lot of confidence in (Matt Darr) to put that thing inside the 5.”
If he had the same confidence that Franks could nail one from 50-plus, the way that Tucker always does, Gase would have looked at that as a scoring opportunity instead.
Former Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis wasn’t automatic from any range but he had the leg for home-run shots. He made 6-of-13 from 50-plus in two years with Miami and he’s made 5-of-8 from long range since going to the Eagles in 2015.
With all of the issues that Gase had in his first year with the Dolphins, the place-kicking game probably didn’t get as much attention as it will this offseason.
Wouldn’t be a surprise if the rookie head coach, pushing for bonus points wherever he can find them, makes a change at this position in search of another true weapon and not just an adequate performer like Franks.