It happens in every NFL game: The second-quarter clock ticks down to zeroes, the referee grabs the ball and the teams head to the locker rooms. What occurs in the ensuing 15 minutes could determine the outcome.
“You don’t have much time, but at the end of the day you make the most of the time that’s given,” Dolphins cornerback Dimitri Patterson said. “(Because) the team that adjusts best in the second half is the team that comes out victorious.”
Over the first two weeks of the season, that team has been the Dolphins. Outscored 24-23 and outgained in yards by a combined 460-330 in the first halves, Miami twice has rebounded after intermission, holding its opponents to a pair of field goals and outgaining them 343-279 in winning at Cleveland and Indianapolis.
The first thing to know about intermission is that it’s remarkably brief. The time between when the teams disappear down the tunnel and return is about 12 minutes, and coaches coming down from their booths near the press box typically reach the locker room late, giving them only four or five minutes to map out strategy for the second half.
Cornerback Nolan Carroll described the routine for the defense.
“The first thing we do is break into position groups for a little bit, to go over plays (the opposition) might not have run yet,” he said.
Those huddles last less than a minute. Next up are the coordinators, once they arrive, for a few precious moments.
“It’s mostly an overview of what’s hurt us so far,” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said, also speaking for the defense. “By halftime we’ve pretty much seen everything we’re going to see, so now a lot of that is going to be repeated and that’s the time we make corrections, so we don’t get beat by the same play twice.”
Backup quarterback Matt Moore agreed that while most plays have been run at least once by that point, it isn’t always the case.
“Maybe you’re saving something for a certain situation or a crucial point in the game,” he said. “But nothing is reinvented during halftime.
“It’s a lot of reminders: ‘Hey, heads up for this.’ Or, ‘Hey, we’re doing this well, we’re going to continue to do this.’ ”
Patterson said offenses typically come into a game with 15 to 20 plays designed to run against the defense they’ll be facing. On defense, Carroll said, coaches will typically watch that opponent’s seven or eight previous game tapes, trying to figure out what plays will be used and how to defend them.
“So it becomes a guessing game between coordinators, and we just go out there and play,” Carroll said.
Players from both sides of the ball said at least as important as halftime adjustments are those that take place during the game on the sideline.
“We get the pictures (of formations) that everyone looks at,” Moore said. “Our line coach, Jim Turner, will look at (them) and say, ‘We get this (look), you’re going there.’ And it happens right then and there. Our offense is good in that it’s easy to do that.”
Former Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison, who spent training camp this year working with the New York Giants secondary, said the photos “work better than me trying to tell them how to do it.
“We talk every series (during a game). You can draw the routes, see the concepts they’re running. So by the time you sit down at halftime, all you have time to do is tell them what the adjustments are going to be, then go play.”
In the final minute or two before the door opens and players head back out, coach Joe Philbin gets up to speak.
“It’s more reinforcement than a rah-rah thing,” Moore said. “If you’re pounding a team you want to keep the engines revved. But usually there’s two guys talking — while he’s talking you’re also finishing up with your position coach, so you’ve got ears going both ways. Then it’s, ‘All right, here we go.’ ”
Moore, who returned to Miami as a backup when he might have had the chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere, said the familiarity he and starter Ryan Tannehill have with their coaches has made halftime adjustments something he has come to enjoy.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Moore said. “I love it because it’s just a refresher, a confidence builder. Hey, we’ve got ‘em where we want ‘em, keep doing this. And it gives you that confidence to go out and finish the game.”
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