Dolphins' best approach is trying to win ugly rest of season

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- When interim head coach Dan Campbell took over the Miami Dolphins in October, he said he wanted to turn them into a physical, gritty football team that found ways to win.

Campbell's vision finally came to fruition in Sunday's 15-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens that will easily go down as Miami's ugliest victory of the season.

The Dolphins plowed straight ahead and committed to the running game. Starting tailback Lamar Miller received a career-high 20 carries to go with his 113 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry average. Baltimore entered with the NFL's No. 8 run defense, but Miami matched -- and at times surpassed -- its physicality for four quarters.

Campbell and the coaching staff also put the game in the hands of the defense. Led by defensive end Olivier Vernon (2.5 sacks) and safety Reshad Jones (10 tackles, one interception), Miami battered and confused Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub, who made costly mistakes. Schaub threw two interceptions, including a pick-six to defensive end Derrick Shelby that wound up being eight points for the Dolphins after a two-point conversion.

Miami's offense scored seven points, while its defense was responsible for eight. The 15 points were just enough to pick up its fifth win of the season.

"At the end of the day, I felt like we did what we had to do to win against a football team like that," Campbell said. "Every team, every game that you play has got its own unique set of challenges, and we felt like this was the type of game we needed to be able to play. ... I'll tell you what, any time you win with good defense and running the football, I don't have a problem with that."

In fact, playing this style of football is Miami's best chance of being effective in the final month of the season. Campbell knows it, and the players know it.

I asked veteran offensive lineman Branden Albert a straightforward question Sunday night that had a complex answer: Why didn't the Dolphins take this run-first approach a lot of sooner?

"I don't know," Albert said. "I'm just a left tackle."

The answer is Miami's initial coaching staff misjudged its talent at the beginning of the season. Former head coach Joe Philbin and former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who was fired last week, projected Miami to have a high-scoring offense. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was going into his fourth season with a host of new receivers.

However, Tannehill regressed this year and Lazor's pass-heavy system didn't work. Miami simplified the playbook Sunday under interim offensive coordinator Zac Taylor, who called plays for the first time, and it produced a win.

Right now the Dolphins are better when Tannehill doesn't have to win games with his arm. The past two weeks for Tannehill says all you need to know about this year's team: He had 58 attempts and 351 passing yards in last week's 18-point loss to the New York Jets. On Sunday, he had 19 attempts and a season-low 86 passing yards in a two-point win.

The Dolphins have proven they aren't going to win shootouts the rest of the year. It's going to be up to the defense and running game to limit the team's various shortcomings. The Dolphins provided a blueprint of how to approach the final four games of the season.

"Every single game that we go into, the defense wants to go out there and limit some scoring," Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "If teams can't score, they can't win games against us. [The score] could be 0-0 for all I care. We'll have ties or wins."