LOS ANGELES − It was the heart of the 2016 season. Things were going well for the Dolphins – so well, in fact, that they were accomplishing rarities for this organization.
They were on track to win double-digit games.
They were on track to make the playoffs.
And they were on track to finish in the top 10 in rushing – something unheard of in more ways than one.
“He gets that rash from calling too many run plays,” then-offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said of coach Adam Gase. That was about all we needed to hear about that.
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This brings us to the present-day Dolphins, coach/play-caller Mike McDaniel and whether it’s time for rash measures when it comes to the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t operation the Dolphins call a run game.
Three weeks ago, the Dolphins piled up 195 yards on the ground vs. the Browns. Newcomer Jeff Wilson was settling in faster than anyone could have expected.
Problem solved. Until it wasn’t. Which is why there was Raheem Mostert telling the other running backs to be prepared for extended meetings this week following Sunday’s loss to the 49ers.
Eight carries, 33 yards. Those weren’t Mostert’s stats. They were the entire team’s as a franchise known for abandoning the run game stayed true to form.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not under McDaniel and a wide-zone scheme designed to force defenses to cover from sideline to sideline while allowing running backs to pick and chose running lanes.
McDaniel’s running game ahead of Gase’s Dolphins
This is not to say the run game today is a carbon copy of where it was under Gase.
Gase talked about being committed to the run but never really was. McDaniel still gets the benefit of the doubt, as evidenced by the self-reflection taking place following the 49ers game.
“When you only have eight rushing attempts, you for sure look back and understand why you made those decisions and then how you’re going to adjust that in future,” McDaniel said Wednesday.
As for his backs, McDaniel added, “It’s a shame that they didn’t get more opportunities to make plays. So I look at that as 100 percent on me to find more ways to involve them in the game.”
Here’s a hot tip: The Dolphins will adjust this Sunday by running on the Los Angeles Chargers. “Running” in the sense of attempts. “Running” in the sense of getting somewhere when they try to.
Any success in that department this week might say something about the direction the Dolphins’ offense is headed. But it might say more about the Chargers ranking 29th against the run and being without top run stopper Sebastian Joseph-Day, who has an MCL sprain.
Strong running game benefits Tua Tagovailoa
We all know an effective run game can be as much of a friend to Tua Tagovailoa as a healthy offensive line. (Well, we know it even though we haven’t experienced either one.) These Dolphins obviously will remain a passing team, but there’s no reason they can’t rush for 100 yards. They’ve done it four times this season, with a 3-1 record when they do.
That 2016 season may have given Gase rashes, but it marked the only time since 2010 Miami finished in the top 10 in rushing. The Dolphins finished 30th last year and are 28th this season (compared to No. 2 passing).
The 49ers game had to sting Wilson, who had just one carry and like Mostert is a former 49er.
“I’ve talked to the running backs already and told them that we’re going to do a little bit extra meeting time,” Mostert said after the game. “Just to know our opponent, know what the game plan is and be more detailed.”
Gase often pointed to the score as an excuse for getting pass happy. The 49ers carried a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins quickly cut it to six on Tagovailoa’s 45-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill. When the Dolphins got the ball back with 11:10 left, they held it for 11 plays. Only three were runs, all by Mostert, who gained 7, 8 and 5 yards. Once the drive stalled, the 49ers put away the game.
“When you did hand the ball off, we did have some successful gains and we were doing some solid things,” McDaniel said. “But you have to get in a rhythm in the run game. And whether that’s the amount of play calls or every play is tied to another. So you convert on some of those third downs and (you’re) probably not talking about as drastic a ratio as well. So we’ll get better from it.”
There’s no choice. Not if this team wants to experience, and survive, upcoming trips to Buffalo and New England. And January football.