There have been times during the past few seasons that it seems the Miami Dolphins forget that there are actually two ways to gain yards on offense. There's the preferred method of passing the ball, which is a method that has improved over time thanks to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's offense and the steady improvement of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, not to mention the up and coming rookie wide receiver Jarvis Landry having an incredible first season.
Then there's the less glamorous way of gaining yards and scoring touchdowns. A way that many have tried to pass off as archaic in favor of a more flashy, more highly-regarded passing game. We've heard all of the excuses. "It's a passing league," "Running backs are a dime a dozen," etc etc.
But the importance of having a good running game cannot be denied, as history as shown that the ability to run with the football makes things easier for teams to do everything else, and we're not even talking about ancient history like so many people try to make it seem like. Players like Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch have all shown the importance of having a good running game.
For the Miami Dolphins, the player in charge of giving their running game the push it needs to get going is running back Lamar Miller, who - when given the opportunity - is averaging 4.8 yards a carry, a number no one expected to be produced considering the struggles of the offensive line. While the rest of the world may not think the running game is that important, the Dolphins are well aware of it.
“The running game is huge. It always is when you are facing a good team especially." said quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "You want to have ball control, be able to move the ball, eat up some clock and keep the ball out of their hands. When we were able to run the ball effectively, it opens up a lot more things for us.”
Which brings up the question: Why do the Dolphins not use Lamar Miller more often? Despite averaging 4.8 yards a carry, Miller has only averaged 12 carries a game. Well, there are two other running backs on the team: veteran Daniel Thomas and undrafted free agent Damien Williams. Williams, for his part, has proven to be a very talented young running back who has made things happen the majority of the times he's had opportunities. Yet for some reason, the Dolphins seem determined to give more snaps to Daniel Thomas, who has disappointed during his career. So how do they choose who gets to play more?
"It’s matchups against a particular team. It might be our particular scheme that we are emphasizing in that player for that particular week." said head coach Joe Philbin. "Certainly, it’s performance during the week. I think they all play a part of it.”
It's somewhat understandable that Philbin wants to use practice as a way to see how players will do in games, but there have been cases where players actually function better in actual game situations than in practice sessions. But regardless of who gets to run with it, Philbin has made it clear he believes that the team is at its best when a balanced offense is utilized.
"Obviously, I think we’re best when we can have balance on normal down and distance, and run the ball effectively and also throw it." he said. "Certainly, it’s going to be important for us to eliminate negative yardage plays, be it the ones that our opponents creates or ourselves, kind of shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Despite that however, the Dolphins have passed the ball 60% of the time, which takes a lot of snaps away from successful rushes by Miller, Williams, and (admittedly) Thomas. It's something of a conundrum to say the least. While the team recognizes the need for a running game, they don't give it a chance to develop during games very often.
Is it because they believe Miller is fragile? Is it because they were counting on veteran Knowshon Moreno to provide the rushing attack over Miller? Whatever the case, the team will need to be able to run with the ball against the New England Patriots if they have any hope at all of keeping their playoff hopes alive.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater