Lamar Miller, the Miami Dolphins starting and most effective running back, last season averaged 13.5 carries per game. And that was not enough. Miller privately told friends and others he'd like more opportunities in 2015 because he wanted to have a better season and he was convinced more carries would result in, well, more.
And, not coincidently, more money after the season because he is in the final year of his contract.
Except the first two games of 2015 have so far offered less.
Miller has 23 carries the first two games. That's 11.5 carries a game. And with fewer opportunities, Miller has understandably delivered less. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry last season. He's averaging 2.9 yards a carry so far this year.
And, yes, it is a very small sample size. Two games is nothing. But for the past few days since their upset loss at Jacksonville, the Dolphins coaching staff has been concerned about the running game and trying to figure out how to get it right.
“We’ve got to get more attempts," coach Joe Philbin said. "One of the big thing we’ve talked about as a staff is that we haven’t had great rhythm offensively. We’ve been behind in games. We haven’t run enough plays really. I think that’s all a part of it. You’ve got to eliminate penetration, got to break some tackles; all the things that contribute to a good run game. We haven’t had enough of that and we need to get more."
More is good. Miller likes more.
"As a running back you got to get a feel for the game," Miller said. "You got to get the feel for the defense and once you get that going you should be good."
The only way to get that feel is getting the football, yes, more.
"We have to be more consistent," Miller said. "Once we call run plays, we have to get positive yards. We have to get tough yards."
The problem here? The Dolphins have a multi-faceted problem. They haven't had the football enough to call more run plays. The run plays they have called haven't been consistently successful. And when offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has to decide between running it (which has been failing) and passing (which has been mostly succeeding) he has decided to pick what has been working because winning the game is more important than balancing run and pass.
Except this is a chicken and egg situation.
A significant way to make the passing game better is to, you guessed it, run the ball more and better and be balanced.
"I think the run game is something that we’re working on right now," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We haven’t been up to our standards in the first two games and it’s something that we’re putting a lot of time and effort into and want to get going.
"I don’t know exactly what our average was per rush, but it needs to be better. We need to be able to get four or five yards whenever we run the football, balance it out. We have good running backs. I think we have the ability to get that kind of yardage per run, but we aren’t doing it right now so we have to clean that up and be able to run the football effectively.”
"When [defenses] honor the run game, then it opens up a lot more play-action stuff for us and passes down the field. It’s definitely key."
This is kind of like a puzzle, isn't it? And here's a couple of more pieces:
The Dolphins offensive line hasn't been great at run blocking and it is physically beat up with left tackle Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey nursing injuries.
And this week's opponent, the Buffalo Bills, are a more than solid run defense. The Bills were No. 11 against the run in 2014. And in this season's small sample size they have improved on that front. The Bills are No. 2 against the run right now.
(Of course, that has something to do with the fact the New England Patriots last week decided to pass almost exclusively and lit up the Bills that way).
So the question becomes do the Dolphins, really wanting to establish their running game, get stubborn with the Bills and force the run? Or do they decide the best way to move the football against Buffalo is do what New England did and throw and thereby go another week with a poor run attack?
I don't know what they will do. It is an interesting dilemma.
Here's my suggestion:
Do what gives you the best chance to win.