Even while maintaining a per-carry average that ranks in the top 12 in the league, Kenyan Drake has somehow gone from leading the NFL in rushing last December to taking a backseat role in the Dolphins’ running game this season.
After receiving 14 and 11 carries in the first two games, Drake has reached double digits in rushing attempts only twice in seven games since (13 against Chicago, 12 against Houston).
Frank Gore has had at least six more carries than Drake in three of Miami’s nine games, and the Dolphins have gone 1-2 in those games.
The disparity was never greater than Sunday against the Jets, when Gore rushed 20 times for 53 yards and Drake three times for nine yards.
Drake also caught four passes for 26 yards on Sunday, whereas Gore one or six. For the season, Drake has 31 receptions, Gore seven.
Coach Adam Gase said he wants their number of rushing attempts to be much closer than was the case Sunday.
“We don’t want to be that far apart,” Gase said.
“There were a few opportunities where we were trying to do certain things with Kenyan that didn’t work out the way we wanted to where we were trying to get him the ball. I felt like we had some chances for some matchups with linebackers. The way they were covering with the safeties on the tight ends, we thought [linebackers on Drake] was going to be a healthy matchup for us.
“We got caught in a couple of coverages that were not ideal when we were trying to do that. Some of the runs that we ended up calling when Kenyan was in there, they weren’t ideal looks for us. We got thrown out of a couple of them. We always want to try to have more of a balance with the rushing attempts between those guys. Usually it should be with Kenyan probably more targets. Frank, it’s probably with a couple of more rushes.”
Gore now has 104 rushing attempts this season, compared with 73 for Drake. Drake is averaging 4.8 yard on those attempts, 11th in the league, while Gore’s 4.2 average ranks 31st.
The Dolphins decided early in the season to give more carries to Gore because they believed even though there is a better chance of an explosive play with Drake, there’s also a greater chance of a negative play with Drake.
Gore typically hits the hole hard, while Drake sometimes dances with the hope that he can break a big run. The Dolphins take comfort in Gore’s steadiness.
Drake is averaging only 8.1 carries per game, compared with 18.4 over the final five games last season, when he averaged 88.8 yards per game on the ground and led the league in rushing over that time span.
Drake wasn’t happy how he played Sunday - he was kicking himself for allowing a sack - but voiced no displeasure about his limited number of rushing attempts in the game. He told The Miami Herald last Thursday that his reduced carries frustrated him earlier in the season but that he trusts Gase’s decisions.
He said Gase reached out to him earlier this season to explain his thinking after a game in which Drake received only a few carries.
“He came to me personally and that’s why I have respect for him,” Drake said. “He has that type of relationship with us, not just me personally, where he’s a very hands-on coach. A couple games, I didn’t get a lot of touches in general and that was frustrating. But the most frustrating part was not the touches but helping the team win and that’s the most important thing in my mind.
“Whether that’s getting touches or being a decoy or lining up out wide, as long as I am on the field to help the team win, that’s all that matters.”
Drake emerged from that meeting with Gase believing “he was going to try to get me touches because that’s what’s going to help the team win, me getting the ball in my hand and being dynamic. I put all my trust in him understanding he’s going to put everybody in the best position to make plays.”
Gore has started all nine games. Drake started the first five - alongside Gore – but hasn’t started any of the past four.
The thinking with that, Drake said, is “Gase wanted to get [Gore] started early, get him carries early in the game to get warmed up. And I can come in and make plays from any role on the field. I felt like that was the best situation for this team and both of us in general. Adam gets paid big bucks to make that type of decision.”
Drake has played far more snaps than Gore this season (324 to 223), according to Pro Football Focus. Gore played 29 on Sunday, one more than Drake.
Drake makes clear how much he respects Gore and how he values their relationship.
“I’ve learned a lot from Frank,” Drake said. “If there’s anyone to emulate in this league, especially in my position, it would be him.”