Which Dolphins offense line shows up Sunday could determine whether the Dolphins will have a place to show up on the first playoff weekend.
There’s the offensive line that muscled the then-No. 1 rush defense of the Jets for 126 yards on 35 carries (taking out the game-ending kneel down) on Dec. 1, getting the run game going everywhere except on the goal line. Also, quarterback Ryan Tannehill got sacked only once.
Then, there’s the line that Buffalo humiliated Sunday — 12 carries for 14 yards rushing and seven sacks allowed. Left guard Sam Brenner got benched. Nate Garner saw some work at left guard this week.
Explaining what went right against the Jets, Garner said: “We just went in with the mind-set that we were going to run the ball, kind of stuck to that game plan and tried to pound it. It wasn’t anything special. We got in a rhythm and got on a roll.”
In contrast, last Sunday: “We didn’t get any rhythm. We didn’t get anything rolling,” Garner said. “It makes it harder for Coach to call plays and makes it harder for us to run them when we can’t get that rhythm established and run for first downs.”
The coach to whom Garner referred, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, concurred.
“A lack of productivity in the run game caused me to veer off into another direction,” Sherman said in reference to the few rushing attempts.
It would be appropriate if the Dolphins line played a pivotal role in this season finale. No unit came into the season with more uncertainty. No unit saw as many changes. And, of course, the line starred in two of the Dolphins’ off-the-field controversies — the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying-or-not-bullying affair and center Mike Pouncey wearing a “Free Hernandez” hat after former University of Florida teammate Aaron Hernandez was arrested on murder charges, then Pouncey being served with a subpeona in connection with another investigation of Hernandez.
Nobody has given up more sacks per pass play than the Dolphins. They’re 26th in rushing and 18th in yards per carry. Sherman lamented the Dolphins’ lack of big runs earlier this week.
The Jets still rank third in run defense and allow the fewest yards per carry in the NFL. By the way, Buffalo ranks 23rd and 20th, respectively, in those categories, rankings that indicate perhaps the Bills defensive line is just a bad matchup for the Dolphins offensive line.
Also, in the Dolphins’ 23-3 victory at the Meadowlands, the Jets’ offensive ineptitude eased the path of the Dolphins offense. New York went into halftime with only two first downs and 5 minutes 48 seconds of time of possession.
“This is definitely not the same Jets team. They are playing really well on offense,” Pouncey said in a conference call with New York-area media. “The first time we played them they didn’t play really well on offense, so they kept their defense on the field a lot in the first game. That’s something we’ve really got to focus on is getting them off the field and running the football so they don’t set us up for the pass rush.”
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said he thought “the elimination of penetration” was the key factor in the Dolphins running the ball well on Dec. 1.
“We struggled early though,” Sherman said. “In the first half, we were kind of back and forth, back and forth and didn’t put up the points, or capitalize on some situations. They’re a good run defense, they’re a very good defense. We left that game, and we still felt like they were a good defense and looking at the tape again and they are a good defense. We have to go into this week and fix what was broke [Sunday] and come out snorting and ready to go against the Jets.”