The Miami Dolphins (3-2) have been an up-and-down team this season. They started 3-0 and looked headed for the playoffs. Then, two losses in a row raised more questions than answers about this group.
We reached out to an NFL scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to get his take on the Dolphins.
Question: The Dolphins rank 29th in rushing, averaging just 69.6 yards per game. What do you see from their struggling running game?
NFL scout: It's odd. They can run the football. They just don't. I also know that if you're going to be a running team, you have to want to be a running team. [Lamar] Miller is averaging 4.2 [yards] a pop. When you watch the offensive line, they can have some issues pass-protecting, particularly at the tackle position. With that issue, you would think they'd run the ball a little more. But they don't. Maybe that's their philosophy.
One thing I always say about Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman, those guys know quarterbacks and quarterback play. So I think they're getting good quarterback play, for the most part. But if they ran the ball more, I think it would help them, as well. Go back and look at [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers. He just talked about that this week. Now that Green Bay decided to run the ball a little more, it's actually opened up their offense. With running the ball, it's about wanting to run.
Question: Miami's defense also hasn't played up to its potential. What have you seen from that side of the football?
NFL scout: Defensively, I thought up front those guys were pretty good. [Paul] Soliai. [Randy] Starks. [Olivier] Vernon shows up. I think all those guys can hold the line of scrimmage and play the run. But the more you watch them, the more worn out they get. As the game wears on, those guys don't play the run as well. All of a sudden, you're not getting as much pressure on the quarterback.
It all goes back to the offense, because at the end of the day, the offense can protect the defense that way. When I looked at it, the Dolphins were 28th in the NFL in time of possession. They're holding the ball about 27 minutes a game. That's OK if you're really explosive and scoring a lot of points so teams can't catch you. But if you're not doing that, it gets really difficult for the defense.
Question: Pass protection has probably been the biggest topic of discussion with the Dolphins over the past two weeks. They're allowing about five sacks per game. What's your analysis of the offensive line?
NFL scout: The downside to not having some offensive balance is pass-rushers can pin their ears back and just go. If you have to get in that pass set 45 times a game, you're going to get beat once or twice. It's going to happen. We're talking about pros here. We're not talking about high school kids. To me, it's just they're not balanced. Not being balanced affects them on defense, in terms of not being able to hold up over the full 60 minutes. Also, I think it affects those offensive tackles. The Dolphins are not running the ISO [running play] in the fourth quarter when they're down by 10 points. That's not happening. It's all interconnected, from what I see.
Question: Finally, if you're preparing to play against the Dolphins, how would you attack them?
NFL scout: For my defense, I would absolutely stop the run. Just discourage the run early. I would wipe out the run early and put them in second-and-long and third-and-long situations, because they are not running the draw. For me, that's what you have to do. In the passing game, [WR Mike] Wallace can beat you over the top. But you can do some things in coverage to make sure he doesn't beat you over the top. My main thing would be to stop the run, discourage it early, make them one-dimensional and get after [quarterback Ryan] Tannehill.
How would I attack the [Dolphins'] defense? The first thing I would probably do is test [cornerback] Nolan Carroll early. I would also want to work my tight ends early, just to loosen up the linebackers. [Philip] Wheeler and [Dannell] Ellerbe, those guys are aggressive toward the line of scrimmage. I would want to make sure early that I slow them down -- either throwing to the tight end in the middle of the field, or if I have to I would work on Carroll on the outside. Once you loosen them up, you can run some draws and run some screens to take advantage of their aggressiveness.
You have to run the ball some, but it's going to be tough early. That Soliai, whew! That is a grown man. There are a lot of teams who would want one of those. You can't just go in there and say, "We're going to run it at them." So I would start passing to slow them down. But my plan would be to run it eventually.