The Dolphins running game had it all together the first month of the season.
Miami plowed Oakland for 263 rush yards the second week of the season.
Then came 185 yards against Jets the following week.
Then a hard-earned 86 yards against Arizona.
And then the attack fell off the table.
The Bengals game was the low-point in which the Dolphins averaged only 1.9 yards per carry and that was one of four consecutive games in which the team rushing average was 2.9 or lower.
The Dolphins rebounded last week against the struggling Indianapolis rush defense, but even then the damage was modest -- 84 yards on 18 attempts.
So the question the Dolphins are asking themselves is how good they really are running the ball.
"Early on in the season if you looked at us and got a profile of us, I'd tell you we're a team that can run the football and defend the run extremely well," Coach Joe Philbin said. "Frankly the second part of the season, that hasn't stayed true to form necessarily. It's an area we have to solidify again and get back to basics on both sides of the ball. It's something we need to improve upon because if you looked at us after four weeks you say, 'Boy these guys can run and defend the run.' And it's not a 180 from there but it's not what it was."
Obviously the old adage about the other guys getting paid factors here. Other teams have decided they will gameplan against the Miami running game and take their chances with rookie Ryan Tannehill and his receivers. So the Dolphins are seeing a lot of run blitzes, stacked tackle boxes, everything.
"You don't want to over-react because there's a lot of factors," Philbin said. "You look at the stat sheet and at one point see we're averaging 150 yards rushing and now we're averaging 110. So you look deeper and whats the tape telling you. But the tape is telling you you got to get better, too."
The tape says the Dolphins are searching for an identity in the run game. There's nothing about their running attack that is consistent. They don't have a play that is their signature play. They don't run mostly to one side with tons of success. They are not predictable on when Reggie Bush is used or not and when Daniel Thomas gets work or does not. And Lamar Miller is a huge wild card because of the team's concerns about his pass blocking.
Bush averaged 17 rushes per game the first five games. He's averaging 12 rushes per game the past three weeks and, again, remember that last week the Colts came into the game with a struggling run defense. The Colts are currently No. 25 in the NFL against the run.
And yet Bush got only 10 carries.
Thomas, meanwhile, got six carries after he got 15 the week before.
Is Bush hurt?
"There's nothing wrong with Reggie," Philbin said. "I think Reggie played well. Some of it is dictated by the down and distance and type of game we're in. Score. All those things. Maybe the scheme we're utilizing -- inside or outside. We take into consideration a lot of factors but it's not a reflection of us being disappointed in Reggie in any way, shape or form."
Something the Dolphins need to consider:
The Colts wrote a book on how to attack their defense. It's called go after the secondary that gave up 433 passing yards.
One way to combat this approach is shorten the game and thus shorten the opportunities for the other team to expose your defense. The Dolphins (can't believe I'm saying this) have to run the ball more. (I'm a big fan of throwing the football).
Running the ball more often increases time of possession. It keeps your defense off the field. It is a great way to protect the secondary.
This week, for example, that should be the approach. The Tennessee defense is a slice of Swiss cheese and it is particularly weak against the run. The Titans are 30th in the NFL, yielding 141.6 rushing yards per game. They are 25th in the NFL, allowing 4.4 yards per rush.
Run the ball, Dolphins!
Get back to your identity.