During a two-week stretch against the Raiders and Jets, Miami’s three running backs — Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller — combined for 448 rushing yards.
But ever since that 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets in the third week of the season, the Dolphins’ rushing attack has lost its footing. Over the following seven weeks, it averaged just 69.3 yards per game, not once reaching the 100-yard mark.
Despite a gradual decrease in production, the struggle has been magnified on the current three-game losing skid with an offense unable to score more than one touchdown over its past 10 quarters.
“It’s disappointing,” coach Joe Philbin said Friday. “We’d like to be more productive in the run game. We’d love to have better balance in terms of run to pass. We’d like to be in more second-and-5 [situations] to utilize more of the offense. You have to execute to do that, and we haven’t done that in a consistent enough basis.”
Success running the ball early this season bloated Miami’s conference rushing ranking to second, but after the lopsided loss to Tennessee, it dropped to ninth.
Negative-yardage plays early in drives have put the offense into a hole. First-and-10 has become second-and-15. Third down then requires a long-distance conversion.
“That makes it difficult to function — the negative-yardage plays,” Philbin said. “It’s not just the one lineman. It’s the tight ends involved, the fullbacks involved, the running backs [and] receivers blocking. It’s a unit thing.”
And in turn, that doesn’t help a rookie quarterback forced to make plays beat a team with a one-dimensional offense. In the past two games, Ryan Tannehill has thrown five interceptions and just one touchdown. His passer rating has dipped from 76.5 to 44.7.
Defenses such as the Bills’ have recently brought seven men into the box, clogging the inside and moving players around, putting pressure on Miami’s offensive line. Jake Long said he and his linemates must stay on their blocks up front before turning to the second level to create holes.
“We’ve got to get the running game going,” center Mike Pouncey said. “We have to take some of the pressure off Tannehill. We’ll get it going. We think it’s there at times. It is there at times, but if you don’t have a strong running game, you can’t do much.”
Maybe part of the reason lies in abandoning the run game too early, which often can be a result of a team falling behind and playing catch-up.
A shootout dictated the tempo in Indianapolis, and the Titans capitalized on turnovers to grab a commanding lead in the first half. Against Buffalo, Miami’s offense couldn’t muster much of anything through the air or on the ground.
After collecting season-highs of 172 yards and 26 carries against the Raiders in Week 2, Bush hasn’t rushed for more than 67 yards or 19 carries in a game. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing game in his past six contests dating to last season. He carried the ball just once after fumbling on his fourth rushing attempt against Tennessee.
Thomas, a second-year back out of Kansas State, has 74 rushes for 246 yards and just a 3.32-yard-per-carry average in eight games. On three separate occasions, Miller, a rookie drafted in the fourth round out of Miami, has dressed and not gotten a carry.
Back at work
Less than 24 hours after the loss to Buffalo that badly hurt their playoff chances, the Dolphins were back at practice and ready to plan for next Sunday’s home game against Seattle.
“We’ve got to improve,” Long said. “We have to watch the film, it’s critical. We have to improve up front, run blocking. We’ve got to get a rhythm on offense. We’ve got to get it better. We’ve got 10 days.”
According to Bush, Philbin’s mantra all season — the importance of execution — is what has cost the Dolphins most of late.
“We’re getting extra guys in the box, but still, it’s no excuse for not being able to run the ball,” Bush said. “We have to do a better job at running the ball in general, as a team, as an offense. That’s going to come in time with preparation. We have to do a better job of execution.”