DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Even in the Dan Marino era, when running backs were mostly decoys, the Miami Dolphins relied on their ground game more than this year's team.
The Dolphins have run the ball less than 22 times per game, their lowest average since 1988, and the third-lowest average in the NFL. They had only 12 rushing attempts in Sunday's 19-0 loss at Buffalo, renewing debate about the team's run-pass balance — or imbalance.
Rediscovering an effective ratio this week will be essential if the Dolphins (8-7) are to make the playoffs. To clinch the final AFC wild-card spot, they need a victory Sunday over the Jets, along with a loss by the Ravens or a win by the Chargers.
The Dolphins are in the postseason hunt despite a running attack that has been almost nonexistent at times, including at Buffalo. They rushed for 2 yards against Tampa Bay, 14 against the Bills, 20 against Cleveland and 22 against Baltimore.
"It comes down to our ability or our inability to execute," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.
A patchwork line, thinned by the team's bullying scandal, finds it difficult to create holes. The backs seldom break tackles, and the coaches often seem reluctant to run.
At Buffalo, the Dolphins ran the ball nine times in the first half and three in the second. They tried 40 pass plays, and Miami never advanced inside the Bills 30-yard line.
When the plays don't work, the play-caller gets grief. Sherman acknowledged he lost faith in the run game.
"Of those 12 carries, our longest run was 3 yards," he said. "A lack of productivity in the run game caused me to veer off into another direction."
Coach Joe Philbin said he would prefer to see more handoffs.
"I'd like to have run the ball more than 12 times the other day," he said. "I'd also like to have a longer run than 3 yards."
The absence of a run threat has allowed defenses to tee off with their pass rush, and Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 58 times, a franchise record and the NFL high. At Buffalo he endured seven sacks, including one that sent him briefly to the sideline with a left knee injury. Afterward Tannehill said he was fine, and he took part in practice Tuesday.