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Run game needs more chances to be explosive

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wants more explosive runs out of the running game.

“I would like to see a little more explosiveness. We had one explosive run. They all count. I’ve been around the game long enough to know every single run counts. Both sides of the football, you can play great run defense on 25 snaps, but if you give up a 75-yarder or 70-yarder, you are still giving up five-and-a-half yards a run. They all count, but I would like to have a little more consistency in terms of the explosive (plays)," the coach said this week.

"If we can get two to three a game every single game as opposed to none against Cleveland, two against Indy and one (against Atlanta) ... that would be good."

This also would be good:

Run the ball enough to actually get explosive runs.

The Dolphins last week against Atlanta ran the ball 15 times. And two of those were scrambles by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

So offensive coordinator Mike Sherman called 40 passing plays (five of those turned into sacks) and 13 running plays against the Falcons. That is nearly a 4-1 pass-run ratio. Weeeeee, wide open football time.

The week before, Sherman was a bit more balanced although nowhere near a 60-40 split of pass to run. The Dolphins called 41 pass plays and 22 run plays against the Colts, which is nearly a 2-1 pass-run ratio.

This isn't a critique of the Dolphins offensive balance (or lack of balance) because they pass the football so often. The NFL is, after all, about passing the football. I like that Miami is a passing team. It beats being stuck in the 1970s.

But I also like expectations of the run game to be balanced against the reality of what is happening on the field. One cannot expect more explosive plays when one's offensive coordinator isn't calling very many runs.

If Philbin and the Dolphins are expecting more than one big running play per game and, more specifically, expecting more production from Lamar Miller, the number of opportunities have to go up.

Miller has carried the football 32 times so far this season. He's averaging 4.2 yards per carry. But anyone who watched Miller at the University of Miami knows his typical game would go something like this:

Five-yard gain. Three-yard gain. Four-yard gain. One-yard gain. One-yard loss. Three-yard gain. 55-yard gain. Six-yard gain. And so on.

He would usually deliver a big run in the game and sometimes two. But he needed carries to get there. He needed work and opportunities to break out.

The most Miller has carried the ball for the Dolphins in one game so far? Fourteen times versus Indianapolis. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry that game. His eight carries against Atlanta returned a whopping 7.8 yards per carry average.

Miller averaged more yards per rush (7.8) than the Dolphins averaged passing yards per dropback (5.9). Indeed, he even averaged more yards than quarterback Ryan Tannehill averaged per pass attempt (6.7).

Why does this matter? No, it's not because anyone is pounding on a table demanding Miller carry the ball more often. It's definitely not because anyone wants the Dolphins to become an out-of-step-with-modern-times running team.

It's because running the football often enough to succeed promises so many dividends.

Running the football enough gives you a balanced offense. Suddenly the safeties that cheat toward receivers Mike Wallace or Brian Hartline have to play straight.

"It opens things up for Mike and those guys to stretch the field and make some big plays," offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said.

Running the football enough increases the offense's time of possession. It's hard to win the game when the other team has the football more. The Dolphins did it the past two weeks, but that is tempting fate.

Running the football enough helps your defense. This is particularly important against elite quarterbacks such as Drew Brees. If the Dolphins are able to go into the Superdome Monday night and run the ball effectively enough to keep Brees mostly on the sideline, the chances of giving up more plays to Brees on defense decrease. And that's a good thing for Miami.

Running the football enough helps in cold weather. The running game is not as affected by tough climes as much as the passing game. November and December are coming and teams that can run well have a built-in small advantage. (And when you consider every venue in the AFC East is open to the elements, every little bit helps).

Running the football more helps you to, well, run the football better. The Dolphins need to do it to get better at it.

"I think our run game has gotten better every week," Clabo said. "We were more consistent the week before and last week we had the big run. I think we're working to improve week to week. We just have to do it."

Finally, running the football enough is a weapon in the playoffs. Yes, I said the p-word. The Dolphins are 3-0. Seventy-four percent of teams that start 3-0 make the playoffs. It's not wrong to improve a vital facet of the team now that will be important in the playoffs.

My suggestion on how to maximize the Dolphins running game?

Obviously running it more is a theme here. But splitting the runs more intelligently might be almost as good.

So far this season Miller has carried the ball only nine times more than Daniel Thomas (32-21). The two backs are close to splitting carries. Well, perhaps it's time to not split carries. Thomas is averaging 3.1 yards per gain and his long gain is 12 yards. He's not typically going to come up with a 50- or 60-yard run.

So stop splitting the carries.

Give Miller more carries. Give Thomas fewer carries. Make Thomas the true change-of-pace back rather than a near-equal partner in the backfield. Defer, as the statistics and the eyes suggest, to the better breakaway threat.

"I think we are making some progress," Philbin said. "We certainly have some room to grow.”

Watch the video of Miller below to see what I told you about giving Miller more work: