November 28, 2012

Miami improves from the ground up

Potent early in the season, the Dolphins' running game slumped for a few weeks but was revived against Seattle.

By STEVEN WINE / The Associated Press

DAVIE, Fla. — Reggie Bush's vantage point was from behind. Carrying the ball on a sweep, he happily followed 303-pound pulling center Mike Pouncey, who led the way like a runaway bulldozer.

Reggie Bush, Earl Thomas
click image to enlarge

Reggie Bush, Miami running back, stretches into the end zone despite the efforts of Seattle safety Earl Thomas (29) during Sunday’s victory that leaves Miami at 5-6 and still in contention for an AFC wild-card berth as the season enters the homestretch.

The Associated Press

"I knew it was going to be a big play," Bush said.

It ended in the end zone. The 21-yard touchdown run showed that when the Miami Dolphins get their ground game going, they can be hard to stop.

For the first time since Week 3, the Dolphins topped 100 yards rushing Sunday in their 24-21 victory over Seattle. While Ryan Tannehill led a fourth-quarter comeback and Dan Carpenter kicked the winning field goal on the final play, the resurgent running attack was an unsung hero – and cause for encouragement heading into December.

"All week we talked about getting back to Miami Dolphin football – running the ball well, getting 4 or 5 yards, and the big runs will come," Bush said. "We really talked about controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."

That they did. Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks' 1,000-yard rusher, netted only 46 yards in 19 carries for a season-low 2.4 per attempt. Miami outrushed Seattle 189 yards to 96.

That's the sort of differential Coach Joe Philbin envisions as a winning formula for the Dolphins. With a rookie quarterback and so-so secondary, he figures the ground game and rushing defense should be Miami's strengths.

"It's important for us to be a good running football team, and a good defend-the-run team," Philbin said.

Running the ball might be mandatory for Miami to keep up with high-scoring New England on Sunday. The Dolphins (5-6) are unlikely to catch the Patriots (8-3) in the AFC East, but they're only a game out in the race for the conference's final wild-card spot.

"Every game is a playoff game from now on out," linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "Now is the time."

The Dolphins are ready to make a run at it, with a ground game that has become a two-back attack. Bush and Daniel Thomas have been alternating series in recent weeks, and against Seattle the tandem clicked.

Bush, who had just 82 yards in the previous three games, did his best work on the flanks. He made the most of Pouncey's uncommon agility on the touchdown run and finished with 87 yards in 14 carries. Thomas, working mostly between the tackles, added 60 in nine carries.Combined they averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

"We definitely wanted to set a tone," Thomas said. "We haven't been running the ball too well lately."

The Dolphins' ground attack was potent at the start of the season but then stalled, a major reason they took a three-game losing streak into the Seahawks game.

Blocking was much improved Sunday, and the backs were tough to bring down, Philbin said after reviewing videotape of the game.

Even so, Philbin said, there's room for improvement across the board – the spin expected from a coach about to face Tom Brady and the Patriots. Against a team averaging an NFL-best 37 points per game, Miami will need stingy run defense, a clock-eating ground game and more.

"We've got an excellent team coming to town," Philbin said. "We're going to have to play our best game of the year to win. We're going to have to improve. We're not inventing a brand- new offense, defense or special teams to win this game. We have to get better from within, and we've got to do it quickly."

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