The Dolphins are the No. 11 rushing team in the NFL, which is a pretty good place to be. But the ranking is deceiving.
The Dolphins got off to a magnificent start running the football the first few weeks of the season, ranking as high as No. 2 after the second game of the season. But the last three weeks?
Eighty-six yards against Arizona.
Sixty-eight yards against Cincinnati.
Thirty-six yards against St. Louis. The season's worst mark.
The Dolphins averaged a paltry 1.1 yards per rush against the Rams. The trend is a concern to Miami coaches and players.
"As you guys know, we haven’t been very effective running the ball the last couple of weeks and we’ve got to get our running game back on track," coach Joe Philbin said. "It’s an important part of what we are and what we do. Our run defense and our ability to run the ball on offense, those are kind of core principles of the program. Frankly, we’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks. We’ve got to get ourselves back on track in the running game. You would think that with the success we had the first three weeks that we’d be able to sustain some level of it. But we’ve struggled as of late."
It has been a struggle and it has been a disappointment because one thing the Dolphins strive to be on offense is balanced. Frankly, the passing game isn't effective enough to carry them. And they know it.
“We want to be balanced," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I think the last couple games have been tough. We haven’t been able to run the ball like we want to. Last time we played the Jets, we were fortunate to get some good runs and establish a run game. Since then, we’ve had some tough games on the ground. That’s kind of our identity. We want to be a balanced team. We want to be able to run the ball and we expect them to do things to try to stop the run. It’s just a battle of who can execute better."
The good news is indeed that Miami plays the New York Jets on Sunday. The last time the teams met, the Dolphins rushed for 185 yards and, as New York coach Rex Ryan notes, "that was with Reggie Bush not playing the second half."
So it stands to reason this is the week the Dolphins hope to regain their ground game mojo.
The reason the ground game has sputtered is, in part, that teams are basically loading up against the run. They are challenging the Dolphins to throw the ball while stacking the tackle box against runs.
That's not good for anybody, except for Tannehill. Indeed as teams have loaded up on Miami's run game, Tannehill has benefitted. He's been able to deliver his three best games in that his completion percentage went from 63 against Arizona to 65 against Cincinnati to 72 against St. Louis.
Tannehill's quarterback rating has similarly improved going from 86.5 to 92.3 to 112 in the last game.
And, ironically, while the Dolphins have been unable to run with much effectiveness, they've won two of the three games in which they struggled.
Still, despite the success, the team wants the problem resolved.“I think it’s important for us, just we want to be balanced," Tannehill said. "I think that, if you’re able to run the ball, then you’re going to open up some passing lanes, open up play action and things down the field. Like you said, we haven’t had the run game we wanted to the past few weeks, (but) we want to build and get better there."