Through the first three weeks of the 2012 season, it was clear that the Dolphins' major strength on offense was its rushing attack. Miami was averaging well 140 yards per game on the ground at that point, with a top-three position in the on the NFL stat leaders to show for it.
But at the season's midway point, Miami's once vaunted rushing attack has become mediocre. The Dolphins are 13th in the NFL with 112 rushing yards a game, but in the bottom five of the NFL with a 3.8 yard per-carry average.
"It's something we need to improve upon," head coach Joe Philbin told the Miami Herald on Wednesday. "Because if you looked at us after four weeks you say, 'Boy these guys can run and defend the run.' And it's not a 180 from there but it's not what it was."
The Dolphins have shown sparks of brilliance in the meantime, like when Reggie Bush broke an 18-yard run for a touchdown last week against the Colts. But for the most part, the Dolphins have looked ineffectual on the ground.
One factor playing into the Dolphins' struggles may be the decreased rushing load of Bush. He averaged 17 carries a game through the first five games of the season, but just 12 in the past three games.
Philbin said the problem is not Bush, who missed the second half of Miami's week 3 game against the Jets with a knee injury.
"There's nothing wrong with Reggie," Philbin said. "I think Reggie played well. Some of it is dictated by the down and distance and type of game we're in. Score. All those things. Maybe the scheme we're utilizing -- inside or outside. We take into consideration a lot of factors but it's not a reflection of us being disappointed in Reggie in any way, shape or form."
The Dolphins have been using Daniel Thomas, Bush's backup, more in the last few weeks. Thomas is a larger, more bruising back than Bush. But Thomas is faring even worse than Bush, with 3.4 yards per carry (Bush has 4.4). And according to the Palm Beach Post, Bush has only three first downs on six attempts of third-and-two or less yards.
Miami has had some success with rookie third RB Lamar Miller, who averages 5.5 yards per carry. However, his struggles with pass blocking have limited his playing time, so it appears unlikely the Dolphins will give him many more carries in the near term.
What are the Dolphins to do? For starters, giving Bush more carries might be a good idea. He is still the most dynamic player on the Dolphins offense, so minimizing his touches does more to slow him down than anything an opposing defense can do.
But the real antidote may come on Sunday, when Miami faces the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are near the bottom of the NFL in rush defense, giving up 141 rush yards a game. If ever there was an opportunity to revive Miami's running game, it is Sunday.