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Diverse Running Game Paying Dividends On The Scoreboard

Posted Sep 26, 2012

Strength in numbers on the ground confusing defenses.

Five different ball carriers have found the end zone through three games for the Miami Dolphins, making life extremely difficult for opposing defensive coordinators.

Most defensive game plans take into account the primary running back and maybe one backup when preparing to stop the run, but thanks to rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s mobility and a deep stable of backs behind Reggie Bush, Miami has a big luxury.

“That’s a new one that I wasn’t really aware of but yeah, that’s a deep position and I think we have some guys that are capable of running the football, there’s no doubt about it,” Head Coach Joe Philbin said. “I like the guys that we have. Hopefully they can continue to get better and develop and make some big plays.”

Bush has carried the bulk of the load, rushing the ball 50 times for 302 yards and two touchdowns through two-and-a-half games. He missed the second half of last Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets at home with a knee injury, which forced second-year running back Daniel Thomas and rookie Lamar Miller into more prominent roles in the second half.

Rookie fullback Jorvorskie Lane, who went into the end zone standing up from a yard out for his first career touchdown to give the Dolphins a 17-0 lead, has made a big impact as a lead blocker as well. Bush appreciates that depth because in situations like the Oakland Raiders game two weeks ago, when he had 26 carries for 172 yards and two touchdowns, he was able to catch his breath and keep his legs fresh thanks to Miller’s readiness. He also likes having a big, powerful fullback like Lane leading him through holes.

“I think Jorvorskie is doing a great job as a rookie going in there and making some huge plays for us, things that kind of go unseen to a regular fan,” said Bush, who had the first 1,000-yard season of his career last year with the Dolphins. “But he’s in there and he’s making some key blocks that are really springing me and Daniel and everybody else. He’s just creating big holes for us and making it really easy for us to go out there and make plays.”

Even though each running back has a distinct style when rushing the ball, the offensive line maintains the same level of confidence up front. Miami’s zone blocking scheme allows for the linemen, quarterback, running backs and receivers to know before the snap which direction the play is being run, making it easier for the player carrying the ball to make his reads.

Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long credits the entire offensive unit for the success the Dolphins are having on the ground, as they rank fourth in the National Football League in rushing with an average of 175.7 yards per game. He also enjoys being able to block for more than just one running back, especially a bruiser like Lane.

“He’s a big boy and he can run. When he puts his shoulder down he can run over anybody,” Long said. “But all four of those guys are really fun to block for and I think are really thriving in this offense and we’ve just got to keep getting better and getting them a lot of carries.”

Thomas bounced back after missing the Raiders game with a concussion to rack up 69 yards and his first career rushing touchdown on 19 carries against the Jets. He is third on the team behind Bush and Miller (113 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries) and is seen by most opposing defenses as more of an in-between-the-tackles runner. But he is not afraid to bounce it outside either and has been used on screen passes and as a receiver out of the backfield.

The size of the holes that are being opened up by the offensive line have been impressive, especially from the running backs’ perspective after they take the ball from Tannehill. Thomas has been able to run with more conviction knowing that he’s getting a high caliber of blocking.

“They’re definitely opening up a lot of holes and making it easier for us to get through there because they’re getting a lot of push,” Thomas said. “Reggie and Lamar can do it all and they’re very similar and real shifty, while Jorvorskie and I are the two bigger and physical running backs. We can sense when the defense is back on their heels after we soften them up a little. As long as we continue to run the ball effectively I think we’ll be good on offense because it opens up the passing game.”

Long, left guard Richie Incognito, center Mike Pouncey, right guard John Jerry and rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin are well aware of how these four running backs are impacting their job. Once they are able to establish early on some dominance on the ground, the front five can transition into pass protection easier.

Pouncey has the unique perspective of making the line calls before the snap and seeing precisely what Tannehill sees at the same time or even a little bit before, so he is essentially the spark plug that ignites the engine. The more success Bush, Thomas, Miller and Lane are having running the ball – in addition to Tannehill’s threat to run – the more effective the line can be up front.

“Obviously we know when Reggie’s in the backfield everything’s going to be a lot easier,” said Pouncey, who has made 19 consecutive starts at center since being taken in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft. “But when we’re out there we have our set targets and our set IDs and so we have no time to look and see who’s in the backfield. We’re just out there blocking, trying to keep those guys on their feet and letting them make the plays they can make.”

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