Part of the Miami Dolphins’ strategy during the 2014 NFL Offseason was to drastically improved their running game, an improvement that will benefit the Dolphins greatly in all other aspects of the game.
The Dolphins did this by adding running back Knowshown Moreno, who will compete with (and more than likely beat out) incumbent starter Lamar Miller, while fortifying their offensive line by signing left tackle Branden Albert, guard Shelley Smith, and tackle Jason Fox.
On top of those moves, Miami fired offensive line coach Jim Turner, replacing him with former Texans offensive line coach John Benton while relieving Mike Sherman of his duties as offensive coordinator and replacing him with Eagles quarterback coach Bill Lazor.
Each move is big in terms of improving the running game. Albert has graded out well in run blocking in the past (despite struggling more recently), per Pro Football Focus (h/t Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald), while Shelley Smith was described by Pro Football Focus as being “one of the most dominant run-blocking guards last season.”
Moreno ran for 1,038 yards on 279 attempts, while Lazor’s Philadelphia Eagles team was the best rushing team in the NFL running for a total of 2,566 yards on 500 carries. Traditionally, Benton’s offensive line with the Texans cleared the way for a great running game in Houston as well.
This means the Dolphins running game will likely be an improvement from 2013, a season where the Dolphins finished 26th in the league in rushing with 1,440 yards on 349 attempts, averaging only 90 yards per game. There were also five games last season where Miami ran for under 60 yards, with Miami going 1-4 in those games.
The impact of an improved running game means Miami likely won’t lose so many games in the fourth quarter when holding the lead, something that they did five times last season. A good running game will gain yardage while allowing the clock to continue to run, forcing teams to use up their timeouts and making it easier on the defense to stop the opposing teams at the end of the game.
It also keeps the defense off the field, last season exhaustion at the end of the game would turn out to be one of the downfalls of an otherwise solid Dolphins defense.
An improved running game also helps out Ryan Tannehill, who has proven himself to be quite proficient in play-action. James Walker of ESPN.com points out that in 2012 (when the Dolphins ran for 1,802 yards and had the 17th best run game in the league), Tannehill was among the top quarterbacks in play-action, throwing six touchdowns to only one interception and completing 67.1 percent of his passes with an average pass of 10.33 yards per pass.
An effective running game leads to better play-action opportunities, which bodes well for Tannehill as in 2013 despite only being used in play-action 15 percent of the time, Tannehill’s quarterback rating in play-action was a stout 118.4 (per Pro Football Focus).
The more opposing teams have to pay attention to the run game, the better play-action works, which means more time in the pocket, and a better chance at Tannehill connecting with his receivers, specifically Mike Wallace.
An improved running game would be a godsend for the Dolphins, and could be the answered prayer they need in terms of improving their offense and putting more points on the board while keeping the defense fresh. More improvements are needed here, but so far, the trend of improvement is moving upward.