With their record 1-4, the season sinking, the only victory a lucky one over winless Cleveland, the Miami Dolphins had passed the football on 63.2 percent of all offensive snaps, then the fifth-highest pass-first proclivity in the NFL.
At 2-0 since, the season saved, Miami has reversed field, achieved balance and actually swung toward a 57.5 percent preference for running plays — making the Fins the league’s most grounded team of the past two weeks.
Small sample size? Sure. Coincidence? Doubtful.
It’s as if an epiphany has blessed coach Adam Gase and the Dolphins: Jay Ajayi, unleashed as Ben Hur riding triumphantly behind a team of five chariots. A healthy offensive line and suddenly Ajayi shares the company of O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams as backs with consecutive 200-yard rushing games. In turn Ryan Tannehill, the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL the past 4 1/2 seasons, sees his pummeling noticably reduced. Win, win.
All at once, third-and-2 is a running down again! Imagine.
The frustration for Dolfans should be that successful running does not start with great backs or great blockers, but with a commmitment. It requires a philosophical belief in the clock-eating, defense-resting benefits of ball control.
And no franchise in the NFL more than Miami offers historical perspective on that.
The expansion-era Dolphins were a passing team, albeit a woeful one. Don Shula arrived in 1970 and (snap) the Fins were a running team. You know what Miami team set a franchise record by running 70.3 percent of the time? The 1972 Perfectos. Yes, they had Zonk and Merc and a great wall of blockers. But they had a Hall of Fame quarterback and Paul Warfield, too. What they had first was Shula’s dedication to the run.
Fact: The Dolphins have made the playoffs 12 of 17 seasons (70.6 percent) when they have run more than passed, and 10 of 33 seasons (30.3 percent) when they have not run more than passed.
The perfume of Dan Marino’s greatness intoxicated Shula and made him veer sharply from his run-first mind-set, to the great benefit of Marino’s Canton-attracting résumé but far less so to the team’s ultimate success.
It is no coincidence that when Jimmy Johnson took over in 1996 he identified offensive imbalance as the problem, and those ’96 Fins had the highest run percentage (47.7 percent) of any Miami team since pre-Marino 1980.
The lesson for your bye-week mulling? The Dolphins have rediscovered in just the past two weeks what no franchise more than this one should have known all along: A strong running game works. It is worth having and worth nurturing with commitment.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Patriots remain Super Bowl favorites at 11-4 odds via Bovada, followed by Seahawks at 15-2, then a big dip to Vikings at 9-1. Dolphins are now 150-1 (from 200), still only tied for 27th among 30 teams still on board.
▪ The check-down effect: NFL passing accuracy set season record at 63.0 percent last year. So far this season it’s 63.5 percent.