20 yards on 23 carries.
It’s no secret that the Dolphins’ dismal running game in Cleveland contributed to the third-lowest rushing total in franchise history and that Mike Sherman’s offense currently has the fewest rushing yards in the entire NFL.
Yet, Mami came away with a double-digit victory despite being so one-dimensional on offense, which either speaks volumes about quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s play or the ineptitude of the Cleveland Browns. I was very impressed with Tannehill’s sophomore debut, in which he threw for 272 yards and a touchdown with unreliable pass protection and zero help from his running game.
But against better teams — like the Indianapolis Colts this coming Sunday — a non-existent running game won’t get to get the job done. It just puts too much pressure on the quarterback and the offensive line in pass protection.
Defenses must begin to respect Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas’ ability to run the football, or the opposition will have the freedom to tee off on Tannehill with an uninhibited pass rush.
Also, play-action passes will be much less effective for Tannehill, who had a 121.2 quarterback rating in 2012 after play action — the second-highest rating in the NFL, behind only Matt Ryan. And without play action, a speedster at receiver like Mike Wallace becomes immensely less valuable.
So, clearly, the Dolphins must begin to run the football better in Week 2. But how exactly will they go about doing so? Here are three potential fixes to their running game woes:
1. More read option
Like it or not, the read option is here to stay in pro football. And it’s a play Miami ran with success down the stretch of Tannehill’s rookie season.
Tannehill averaged 11.0 yards per carry in a matchup with Buffalo last December on read-option plays in which he elected to keep the football and running backs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas benefited from a hesitant defense on plays he didn’t.
The Dolphins’ offensive line isn’t getting the job done in the trenches right now. There’s no hiding that. But freezing an opposing defense — if even for a fraction of a second — could give Miller and Thomas a little more wiggle room to make something happen.
Of course, the risk is exposing your franchise quarterback to more hits than he needs to take. But if the read option can produce a more effective running game, Tannehill would be less open to defenses having the luxury of rushing the passer without vacillation.
2. Replace John Jerry at right guard
The offensive line’s poor performance in the opener was far from just John Jerry’s fault. Both tackles — Jonathan Martin and Tyson Clabo — had difficulty sealing the edge and even center Mike Pouncey, who was arguably Pro-Bowl caliber during his first two seasons in the league, struggled.
But Jerry has been a historically bad run blocker, and Miami will never have the ability to run an ideal zone-blocking scheme with a glacier like him manning the right guard spot.
The Dolphins recently signed former first-round pick Danny Watkins, who played Jerry’s position in two seasons with the Eagles. While Watkins struggled in Philadelphia, there’s hope a change of scenery will help tap some of his potential.
If Watkins proves he’s not much of an upgrade, Nate Garner could be given a shot. But the Dolphins like what Garner brings to the table as a versatile backup, who can fill in at just about any position along the line if someone goes down with an injury. Giving him the starting role at right guard would likely be a last resort.
3. Sign a free-agent running back
Miami’s offensive line was dreadful in Cleveland, but it certainly didn’t get any help from running backs Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas, who went down rather easily and lacked the urgency and burst to hit the hole when there actually was one.
I don’t expect this to be an option this week or probably next week either, but if Miller and Thomas continue to struggle, the Dolphins might not have a choice but to look at adding a veteran back. There are some big-name runners on the open market, including Willis McGahee, Michael Turner, Kevin Smith and Cedric Benson.
Unfortunately, name recognition and track record mean much less at running back than other positions. Fielding fresh legs is arguably more important than experience.
And I still like Lamar Miller’s potential. I saw some good vision and acceleration from him on a few carries in the preseason, and if the Dolphins can somehow find a way to get more push up front from the offensive line, Miller should have a bounce-back performance in Indianapolis.