Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reader Mailbag: Running Game Woes

I'd like to share with you today a question I received from a loyal reader:
With the Pats game it seems that the Dolphins don't have much of a running game outside of the wildcat. Why is that? Is the O line wearing down? What do you think of Samson Satele? He didn't have a good day going against Wilfork.
You're right, the Dolphins running game out of conventional formations is anemic.

I haven't updated my weekly Wildcat stats tables yet to take into account the Patriots game, but prior to that game, by my calculations Miami was averaging 3.8 yards per carry from non-Wildcat sets (taking out QB kneeldowns) compared to 6.8 yards per carry from the Wildcat (51 rushes).

There's enough of a sample size in both cases to say definitively that the running game is simply not working except from the Wildcat. And even the Wildcat is a boom or bust proposition, with huge plays mixed in with minimal runs.

It's extremely difficult to pinpoint any one reason why this is happening, but here are some reasons that stick out to me:
  • Samson Satele is not a powerful run-blocker. This was masked somewhat last year playing next to an experienced mauler like Rex Hadnot. This year, however, he's been stuck next to a revolving door of Ikechuku Ndukwe, Evan Mathis, and Andy Alleman. Alleman has the most upside of any of those players, but they are all very raw, and none of them is good enough at this point to hide Satele's run-blocking deficiencies.
  • The lack of continuity at right guard has seemingly affected not only Satele, but also Vernon Carey. Carey had been an absolute beast in run-blocking up to this point in his career, but he seems to have taken a step back this season, despite playing for a new contract. It can't help that every two series there's a new guy playing next to him.
  • Teams don't need to respect Pennington's arm past 20 yards. This means they can jam 8 guys in the box on a regular basis with little fear of giving up a big play.
  • I think I would be remiss not to at least mention that Ronnie Brown is still recovering from major knee surgery. I think his explosive start to the season may have made everyone forget about that, but historically, very few running backs have produced at the same level the year after having major knee surgery. I'm not saying he's hurting or anything like that, but he probably is not back to 100% yet and that could factor into the running game's depressed production.
I don't really think the line is wearing down. They seem to be relatively fresh for this point in the season. Aside from Jake Long's ankle injury against the Pats, I would be most concerned about Justin Smiley's shoulder problems acting up again. If they do, he'll lose a lot of his strength and run-blocking power.

As for Satele, he is what I thought he was. And that's a superb pass protector and screen blocker who lacks the power to open up big holes down the middle or consistently take on huge nose tackles like Kris Jenkins and Vince Wilfork. That's a perfectly acceptable skill set to have, especially in an offense that should be looking to exploit screen plays regularly, but it requires him to be flanked by maulers. He has that on his left side with Smiley, but after Donald Thomas was lost for the season, his flaws were put on full display. He can't get the help he needs now, and as we saw against Wilfork this past Sunday, he will get destroyed without it.

This is still only his second season, so by no means am I suggesting the team give up on him. He's too good in pass protection and getting to the second level, but his flaws necessitate building quality depth at the guard positions to help him out should a starter go down.



As Dolphins fans, we can all be especially thankful this year for a team that has far and away exceeded all reasonable expectations put upon them and is still playing meaningful games into December.

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