What's the problem with the Dolphins running attack?

Since Tony Sparano took over in 2008, the Dolphins have emphasized running the football. Dan Henning's offense is a power running offense. Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland have attempted to build a power running team. And yet the Dolphins enter Sunday's game against the Packers as just the 15th ranked rushing offense in the league, averaging only 107 yards per game and just 3.9 yards per carry - the lowest figures of Sparano's tenure in Miami.

They are also only averaging 27 rush attempts per game - again the lowest figure since Sparano took over.

Not surprisingly, that's going to change.

Sparano mentioned this week that he is aware his team has "deviated from the norm." He also shared this key statistic about his 20 wins and 17 losses as head coach of the Dolphins:

"In 20 of those wins, 15 times the number of rushes was greater than the number of throws. In the 17 losses, 15 times the number of throws was greater than the number of rushes."

Expect the Dolphins to get back to running the football from this point on.

What's interesting to note is that while the team rushing totals and average yards per carry are the lowest so far this season since Sparano arrived, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have been relatively effective when given the opportunity to run the football. Ronnie and Ricky have combined to average 4.42 yards per carry - that's just under their most productive average last year of 4.56. Back in 2008, the two combined to average only 4.21 yards per carry - a major reason why they turned to the Wildcat that season.

So why have the Dolphins strayed from the run so much - particularly in their last two games? The obvious reason, of course, is that their opponents have made it a point to stop the run and force Chad Henne to beat them. The other major factor? The offensive line's struggles.

According to the fine people at Football Outsiders, the Dolphins actually rank 9th in the league in "adjusted line yards" - meaning, in a nut shell, that their offensive line has actually performed well. But this is where there's somewhat of a disconnect between statistics and reality.

If you have been watching this team, you'd know that the offensive line - particularly the interior line - has struggled to get consistent push at the point of attack and have given Ricky and Ronnie little room to operate. In my opinion, I'm looking at two positions where the team has seen a noticeable decline in productivity: center and right guard.

We can give the right guard spot a bit of a pass, though, as rookie John Jerry has missed the past two games due to some kind of illness. Pat McQuistan, who has been Jerry's primary replacement these past two games, has been a disaster at the position. To Jerry's credit, the Dolphins had their two best rushing performances back when he was in the lineup. Since he went out, Miami has failed to crack the century mark on the ground.

At center, though, Joe Berger has been a disappointment thus far. He really gets little to no push at all. And he is the big reason the Dolphins have found it more difficult to run the ball this year than last year. Jake Grove, when healthy, was outstanding last year. The drop-off in performance has been quite obvious this year.

Oddly enough, though, the Dolphins have actually had their biggest struggles running the football behind right tackle Vernon Carey, according to Football Outsiders. The Dolphins rank 18th in the league according to the statistics website when running off of right tackle. Where do the Dolphins rank when running behind Jake Long? Third.

What does that tell you?

What I've been pondering is why the Dolphins don't run left behind Jake more often. Only 4% of their runs have been behind Long. Meanwhile, 65% of their runs have been behind the interior linemen. In fact, only two teams have run a higher percentage of their rushing attempts up the middle than the Dolphins.

Oddly enough, that's a higher percentage of runs up the middle than the Dolphins ran last year (60% in '09) - odd because of how much more effective the interior line was a year ago than this year. And yet, the Dolphins are actually running more behind the guards and center.

Clearly, play-calling is part of the problem. A struggling offensive line is another problem. And I'm sure there are other issues that I haven't even addressed.

But the more important question right now is if the bye week gave this team enough time to find solutions to these problems.

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