The Miami Dolphins have struggled to say committed to the running game this year. The Dolphins, earlier this year, were leading the league with over 73 percent of their offensive plays being passing plays. That number is down to a little over 64 percent, but that is still the third most passing plays, by percentage, in the league. Miami just has not made the running game a priority this year, but when they do run the ball, they usually have success; currently the team ranks second in the league with 4.9 yards per carry, despite having the second fewest carries as a team this year.
"That's certainly not ideally the way we'd like to go," interim head coach Dan Campbell told the media this week when asked about the Dolphins' high percentage of passing plays. "We do what we have to do to win and sometimes you get put in those situations. I don't think that's ideal though."
The Dolphins could be preparing to change from that, however, now that they have a backfield of Lamar Miller and rookie Jay Ajayi. Throughout the week, the Dolphins seem to be saying the right things about getting the running game back on track. "We can certainly be better at it but I like the fact that we seem to be improving and I'm hoping that Jay Ajayi will help with that a little bit," Campbell said. "I feel like Lamar (Miller) has been running well for, here we are, four games now. Damien (Williams) brings an element to us. So I feel good. The offensive line, I feel like they've been doing a good job for us up front."
Miller, who topped 1,000 yards last year, has carried the ball 91 times this season, gaining 478 yards with five touchdowns. Ajayi made his NFL debut last week, having spent the first half of the season on the Injured Reserve (Designated for Return) list with broken ribs, and carried the ball five times for 41 yards. The Dolphins are expected to give the ball to Ajayi more this week as the Dolphins face the Philadelphia Eagles. Campbell was asked about the expected use of the running backs on Sunday, "I think you play it by ear, both of those guys we think bring a certain element to the game, but if you get a back that is hot, you don't want to take him off the field either so, you kind of play it out, but certainly we anticipate Jay (Ajayi) getting more snaps than he had last week."
The Dolphins could rotate Ajayi into the backfield more often this week, potentially even using him in two running back sets with Miller. More likely, the team could turn to Ajayi as a goal-line/short-yardage option, where Miami could use a power back to be able to run between the tackles. Ajayi is the first player in college football history to rush for 1,800 yards and gain 500 yards receiving in a single season, which could open the third-down back role to him as well.
If the Dolphins really are going to get back to running the ball, and getting Ajayi the ball more than last week, they will need to do it early and often against the Eagles. Philadelphia has played the run well at tines this year, but they have also been gouged at times. Miami needs to find a way to get Miller and Ajayi into the open field, and they need to give them the ball early on Sunday.
Adding a run game threat can help open up the passing game for Ryan Tannehill. Miami has had success this year when they actually use Miller like a starting running back. Now they have two running backs who should be capable of that kind of performance, and they need to take advantage of it.