DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Even in Dan Marino’s heyday, when his infrequent handoffs were tantamount to a trick play, the Miami Dolphins had a more prolific ground game than this year’s team.
The Dolphins are on pace to break the 25-year-old franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a season. With 22 yards in Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, the Dolphins increased their season total to 348, or 69.6 per game.
That’s not a recipe for success, even in the pass-happy NFL, and the Dolphins (3-2) take a two-game losing streak into this week’s bye. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked an NFL-high 24 times, in part because opposing pass rushers aren’t worried about Miami’s rushing attack.
“We want to be able to run the ball,” Tannehill said. “We don’t want to be one-dimensional. It’s something that we’ll keep working at, and hopefully be better next week.”
So far the Dolphins are less productive on the ground than even their 1988 team, which went 6-10 for the only sub-.500 finish in the Marino era.
The current Dolphins might challenge even older franchise records. Rushing yardage is skimpy in part because at the current rate, the Dolphins will break the 1967 team record for fewest carries in a season.
In the past three games they’ve run the ball a total of 45 times — 15 per game. They had 11 rushing attempts against Baltimore, three more than the franchise low. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has opted for a pass plays 68 percent of time, fourth-highest in the league.
Those numbers suggest productivity on the ground is poor because the Dolphins seldom run the ball. But they seldom run the ball because their productivity on the ground is so poor.
“We certainly have to block better and break some tackles,” coach Joe Philbin said.
Although the running game is stalled, the Dolphins believe they’re headed in the right direction. This is only the second time in the past decade they’ve won three of their first five games, and the most daunting part of the schedule is behind them. All six games remain against their division rivals in the weak AFC East, and the Dolphins won effusive praise from the Ravens.
“That’s a good team,” running back Ray Rice said. “They are going to be in the hunt toward the end of the year. They are going to make a run for it.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them again,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
To reach the playoffs, Miami must improve its blocking, whether running or throwing. Pass protection has been woeful, and both Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have struggled to find room to run.
“Coming up on a bye week is a chance for us to come up for some air,” guard Richie Incognito said. “Evaluate what’s working and what’s not working, and just come back and hit the ground running. I can’t tell you what’s wrong, but we just have to figure out what is working and build on those things we are doing right.”
The bye also gives Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland a chance to assess the situation and consider possible changes in personnel. Miami has gone with the same five starters in the line in every game, and stability has brought little reward.
On Monday, however, Philbin downplayed the possibility of a lineup change.
“We believe in the guys that we have,” he said. “We have confidence in them. We’re going to continue to work with them.”
The situation is fodder for second-guessers who wonder why the Dolphins didn’t try to keep Reggie Bush. After rushing for 2,072 yards in two years with Miami, he signed a free-agent deal with Detroit and has totaled 502 yards rushing and receiving this season.
The Dolphins are also without left tackle Jake Long, who signed a free-agent deal with the St. Louis Rams.
His replacement, Jonathan Martin, and right tackle Tyson Clabo have struggled in pass protection. But the ground game has been least effective up the middle, a surprise because center Mike Pouncey is considered the line’s best player.
The Dolphins average 1.7 yards per carry up the middle. Their overall average is 3.7. Miller has totaled 211 yards while averaging 4.2 per carry, and Thomas has totaled 72 while averaging a dismal 2.6.
Aside from a 49-yard run by Miller in Week 3, neither running back has displayed much elusiveness or tackle-breaking ability. Miami has run the ball five times on third- or fourth-and-1, converting only two of those situations. The Dolphins’ 16 rushing first downs are tied for second-worst in the league, and they had none Sunday.
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