Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller appeared on The Joe Rose Show this week and told Rose that he wants to be a featured back because he wants the recognition he deserves. As Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote in his column, when Rose pressed him further about how many touches he wants per game, Miller said 20. Although Miller said that he believes the Dolphins have the right guy in head coach Adam Gase, he also noted that the NFL was a business and he will do what he has to do.
With that in mind, I started to think that if 20 touches per game is even possible in the offense that Gase employs. To get a better look, I went back to 2013 when Gase first became an offensive coordinator and looked at every game over the past three seasons when he was running the offense. The results are mixed, but I try to break it down for you to make it as clear as I possibly can.
During the 2013 season, the Denver Broncos were led by quarterback Peyton Manning and reached the Super Bowl, before losing to the Seattle Seahawks 43-8. Manning was in his second season with the Broncos and the first year under Gase, who had been promoted from quarterbacks coach after Mike McCoy became the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. That year, Manning passed for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, while averaging 41 attempts per game during the regular season. When looking at the statistics for that season for the Broncos running backs, we must take that into account.
That season, the Broncos relied on three players, with Knowshon Moreno being the lead guy. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman spelled him from time to time, with Ball being the primary backup. Throughout the course of the season, Moreno averaged 15 attempts and 4 receptions per game for a total of 19 touches, Ball averaged 8 attempts and 1 reception per game for a total of 9 and Hillman averaged 6 attempts and 1 reception per game for a total of 7.
During the 2014 season, the Broncos were once again led by Manning but this time, were eliminated in the Divisional Playoff Round by Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Gase was in his second year as coordinator and the Broncos let Moreno go in free agency. Thus, their three running backs were CJ Anderson, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. That year, Manning passed for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns, while averaging 37 attempts per game during the regular season.
Breaking down the running backs over the course of the season, we see that Hillman averaged 13 carries and 3 receptions per game for a total of 16 touches, Anderson averaged 12 carries and 2 receptions per game for a total of 14 and Ball averaged 11 carries and 2 receptions per game for a total of 13.
During the 2014 season for the Dolphins, Miller averaged 14 carries and 2 receptions per game for a total of 16 touches. Tannehill threw for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns, while averaging 37 attempts per game, the same number of attempts as 2013. Compared to 2013, Miller averaged just 3 more touches per game, which isn't a ton.
With 2013 and 2014 out of the way, the true test is 2015, as Gase went to the Chicago Bears with John Fox and he had a quarterback in Jay Cutler who wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. Did he rely on his running backs more or did he still employ the same philosophy of splitting touches and not sticking to one concrete plan from week to week?
The 2015 Bears were led by Cutler, who is a far cry from being on the same level as Manning. Thus, Gase had to rely on other parts of the offense to make things click and keep the Bears defense on the sideline. The Bears finished 6-10 in their first year under Fox. The featured running back was Matt Forte but we all saw Jeremy Langford take on a bigger role when Forte got injured. Thus, that must be taken somewhat into account when analyzing their offense.
Last season, Cutler threw for 3,659 yards and 21 touchdowns, while averaging 32 attempts per game. Over the course of the season, Forte averaged 17 carries and 3 receptions per game for a total of 20 while Langford averaged 9 carries and 1 reception per game for a total of 10. The kicker is though that when Forte was out of the lineup for three games, Langford had 21, 27 and 16 touches per game, respectively. That is an average of 21 touches per game! Add that to Forte, and we are looking at 21 touches per game over the course of 16 games.
Tannehill threw for 4,208 yards and 24 touchdowns while averaging 37 attempts per game, the same number of attempts he had per game the past two seasons. For Miller and the Dolphins, he averaged 12 carries and 3 receptions per game for a total of 15, which was lower than the 2014 season! Of course, some of that had to with the fact that interim head coach Dan Campbell limited his touches the second half of the season.
So, what can we take from this? With the Broncos, no running back averaged 20 touches per game, although Moreno was close in 2013 with 19 touches per game. When Gase went to the Bears and had a middle of the road quarterback, we saw Forte average 20 touches per game, which is what Miller is looking for. Keep in mind that Forte missed three games and if he had not been injured, we would likely be looking at 21-22 touches per game.
To put things into even more perspective, I looked at every team in the NFL and the average amount of touches their running backs had per game in 2015 and this is what I found in comparison to Forte and the Bears.
18 touches per game: Justin Forsett (Ravens), TJ Yeldon (Jaguars), Frank Gore (Colts), Mark Ingram (Saints), Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks), Carlos Hyde (49ers).
19 touches per game: Chris Ivory (Jets), Latavius Murray (Raiders), Chris Johnson (Cardinals)
20 touches per game: Matt Forte (Bears), LeSean McCoy (Bills), Jonathan Stewart (Panthers), Doug Martin (Buccaneers), Todd Gurley (Rams)
22 touches per game: Arian Foster (Texans), Adrian Peterson (Vikings)
23 touches per game: Devonta Freeman (Falcons)
That means that for the magic number of 20 or more that Miller is looking for, eight NFL teams averaged that for one running back. This also includes the Bears, where Gase ran the offense. As I mentioned before, Forte only played 13 games so that number should be a bit higher. Looking at hard numbers though, only three players in the NFL averaged more touches per game than him.
The bottom line is that Miller wants 20 touches per game but there aren't many teams in the NFL who give one running back that kind of number. The good news for the Dolphins and fans who want him back is that Gase ran the offense on one of the eight teams that averaged 20 or more touches per game for one back. If Gase wants Miller back in Miami, he has shown enough flexibility to change depending on the players that he has to work with.
That makes the possibility of keeping Miller in a Miami a real one, as long as the money matches what Miller is seeking. By staying in Miami, the chance of him averaging 20 touches per game is one that can easily be accomplished.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter! Follow @FinsInsider