To run the football ... or to not run the football. That is the question facing every team that plays the Minnesota Vikings. That is the question facing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
The Vikings pride themselves, among other things, on being one of the NFL's best run-stopping defenses. They were No. 2 against the run in 2009 and folks in Minnesota were upset about because they were No. 1 against the run in 2008.
And in 2007.
And in 2006.
No. 1 against the run.
The Vikes boast the Burly Wall of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams inside and have an athletic set of linebackers. Perhaps that is the reason the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints basically decided not to try running the ball against the Vikings in the NFL season-opener -- at least not in the first half.
The Saints decided it was best to soften up the Vikings in the first half by throwing 21 times and running just three times. It wasn't until the second half when the Vikings were seemingly expecting the pass that New Orleans began to run. The Saints finished with 36 passes and 25 runs.
The Dolphins, however, aren't that type of team.
They are a run-first team. If you have any doubt about that consider that offensive coordinator Dan Henning said this week his dream would be to never pass the football.
"You want the honest-to-God's truth?" he said to me. "I'd like to line up and run the ball every down and get in the end zone on every drive. We'd go to the Super Bowl and we'd win. Without ever throwing!"
He added, "of course it doesn't happen that way," but that is what he'd love to do.
So what do the run-first Dolphins do when they run headlong into the best run-stopping team in the NFL the last four seasons?
I spoke to one offensive player this week who told me the answer is simple. The Dolphins will run.
"They're a physical defense. We're a physical offense," the player told me. "Let's see who is more physical. We're going to do what we do."
This should not come as a surprise. Last year the Dolphins faced a couple of Top 10 run-stopping teams -- the Jets and Steelers. And they tried to run the football. The results were mixed.
In the first meeting with New York, Miami rushed 36 times for 151 yards and a 4.2 yard per carry average. In the second meeting, the Jets obviously adjusted. Miami rushed 23 times for 52 yards and a 2.3 yard average. The Jets were the No. 8 rush defense in 2009.
The Dolphins rushed 25 times for 99 yards against the Steelers for a 4.0 average per rush. The Steelers were the No. 3 defense against the run in 2009.
I recognized this is a new year. The Dolphins have two new guards and Joe Berger is settling in at center. I recognize Ronnie Brown is healthy. I recognize Ricky Williams is a year older. Miami also has a star wide receiver option outside in Brandon Marshall that it didn't have a year ago. So yes, the dynamics have changed.
But has the philosophy changed in Miami? Are the Dolphins going to abandon running the ball just because Minnesota is perhaps the NFL's best run defense?
Um, I wouldn't count on that.