The Dolphins’ starting running back and overall running game are both ailing.
And though rest figures to heal Arian Foster’s strained groin, there’s no clear-cut panacea for Miami’s inability to generate a consistent ground game.
Foster’s groin strain puts his status in question for Sunday’s game against Cleveland, but coach Adam Gase said the injury isn’t serious and listed him as day-to-day.
“At least that looks good for us,” Gase said. “We’ll see how he does this week. We haven’t made any decisions on whether we will try to get him out at practice on Wednesday.”
If Foster cannot play, would Gase stick with Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake or might he give preseason standout Isaiah Pead a fresh look?
“All options are going to be open,” Gase said, going on to praise Ajayi but not mentioning Pead by name.
Even with Foster, the Dolphins’ running game has stumbled.
Before his injury Sunday, Foster was averaging just 2.9 per carry (16 for 47) this season after averaging 2.4 in four games for Houston last season and rushing for five yards on seven preseason carries.
On Sunday, Foster had 10 snaps before leaving with the injury. Ajayi had 37 and Drake 18.
“It’s on everyone, excluding the quarterback, to play their part in the running game,” right guard Jermon Bushrod said. “One individual breakdown is not that bad. But if it’s two, three guys…”
Entering the Monday night game, 27 NFL running backs have accounted for more rushing yards than the 82 yards, on 25 carries, that Dolphins backs have produced.
That includes Lamar Miller, who is averaging only 3.6 per carry for Houston but has 189 rushing yards, fifth most in the league and more than twice the rushing yards generated by all of Miami’s backs.
Despite Gase’s desire to re-sign Miller, the Dolphins front office felt no inclination to match or top the Houston Texans’ four-year, $26 million offer.
In each of his first two games, the Texans gave Miller more carries than he ever had in a game in Miami (28 and 25). The Dolphins felt he wouldn’t be as effective, or would wear down physically, if they gave him that big a workload.
The Dolphins also could have signed ex-Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, but weren’t inclined to top the three-year, $12 million offer that the Jets gave him. Forte’s 196 rushing yards (on 3.8 per carry) rank second in the league through two games.
They also failed to land C.J. Anderson, with Denver matching the offer to the restricted free agent. He’s sixth in the league in rushing with 166 yards, on 4.2 per carry.
The made an offer to Chris Johnson, who instead opted to stay in Arizona, where his numbers so far have been unimpressive this season: 56 yards on 3.3 per carry.
Meanwhile, Dolphins running backs are slogging along at a meager 3.3 per carry.
The Dolphins are 25th in rushing yards (with 134) and 17th in per carry average (at 3.7) but both of those figures are inflated by the rushing totals for quarterback Ryan Tannehill (11 for 52).
Among Miami’s backs, none have particularly distinguished themselves since early August, with the exception of Pead, who ran for 99 yards (on 6.6 per carry) in preseason but then injured his hamstring and was a healthy scratch against New England.
Ajayi averaged a mediocre 3.8 per carry last season, just 2.7 in preseason and 2.8 in his first game of the season on Sunday (5 for 14). What’s more, he fumbled in each of his last two games --- the preseason finale and Sunday.
But Gase said Monday of Ajayi: “For a guy that didn’t get many reps in the walk throughs, he did a really good job.”
Drake ran twice for 12 yards and a touchdown on Sunday and averaged 6.4 per carry at Alabama.
“He gives us an element of speed on the edge,” Gase said. “He’s a very physical guy. We want to see how far we can take him, how much he can grow this season. We want him to start understanding the whys of what we’re doing on some things, but that will come with time.”
Williams, who wasn’t active Sunday, has a career 3.5 average on 54 attempts.
Pead has just 19 regular-season NFL carries and averaged 4.1 on those attempts, all for the Rams between 2012 and 2015.
Regardless of which of the five running backs is on the field, something needs to change for the offense to become more balanced for a team that has thrown 70 passes (many while trailing Sunday) and run just 36 times.