It’s been a long time coming, but the wait is finally over: NFL football is back!
The Miami Dolphins had their first preseason game on Saturday against the Chicago Bears. Miami fell to the Bears 20-13 in their first action since the 2020 season. The end result is largely irrelevant; what matters is the impressions that were made in this first glimpse of the 2021 squad. That impression was a mixed bag.
One of the biggest areas of concern: The run game.
Before we get into any of this, it’s important to remember: This was just the first preseason game. It’s easy to overreact to everything, both good and bad. Most of the starters only played one quarter, so there isn’t much to go on.
The next game against Atlanta will tell us much more about what we can expect going forward. That being said, it’s hard to ignore just how inefficient and, quite frankly, ugly the Miami Dolphins run game was.
Now, the question becomes: Why was the running game so bad against Chicago, and what can be done to improve it before the season starts?
Starting Duty Shuffle
One of the more interesting things to come out of the Dolphins first preseason game was the division of duty when it came to the running game. The Dolphins opened the game with Malcolm Brown as the starter, despite being second on the depth chart.
Both Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin saw time as the game went on, but it was Brown who saw top billing against the Bears.
After the game was over, I had some strong words about Brown starting on Twitter. I reiterated those feelings on this week’s Around the Block – Miami podcast with Hussam and Rishi.
I’ll echo those sentiments again here: Malcolm Brown should not be the starter for the Dolphins. The Miami Dolphins run game was markedly better with Ahmed and Gaskin at the helm.
I do believe that Brown can be an effective situational back. He should be utilized in the team’s short-yardage game. Brown can also be an effective goal-line running back, though we didn’t see that Saturday against the Bears, either. That said, Brown showed no burst on Saturday, and with a porous offensive line, you need a running back with some explosion and wiggle to help mask those shortcomings.
Offensive Line Woes Continue
To perhaps no one’s surprise, the Miami Dolphins offensive line struggled yet again against the Bears in the preseason debut. The offensive line has been bad in Miami for years, and if Saturday was any indication, those woes will follow Miami into 2021. The left side of the line was particularly troublesome against the Bears. Matt Skura, Robert Hunt, and Jesse Davis performed well in their 2021 debut. The same cannot be said for Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley.
Jackson was beaten badly on a few pass rush reps, getting thrown into quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on one rep in particular. However, it was his performance in his run blocking duties where the holes in his game really showed through. As a rookie, one of the big knocks on Jackson was that he needed to get functionally stronger. That issue seems as though it’s going to persist into the 2021 season.
His partner on the inside, Solomon Kindley, didn’t perform any better in the run game. These two struggling with run blocking contributed as much to the Miami Dolphins run game woes as Brown did, if not more. According to PFF grades provided by Ryan Smith, Kindley received a 45.7 run-blocking grade, with Jackson getting an abysmal 31.8 grade. PFF grades aren’t the end-all, be all, but it doesn’t paint a pretty picture going forward.
One thing that may give Dolphins fans hope is that 2021 second-round pick Liam Eichenberg did not play on Saturday due to injury. Training camp has been up-and-down for Eichenberg, but inserting him into the lineup should improve the Miami Dolphins run game. Whether Eichenberg winds up at tackle or guard remains to be seen, as he’s seen work at both positions.
A Veteran to the Rescue?
The Miami Dolphins run game woes should come as no surprise to Dolphins fans. One of the biggest complaints fans had about the 2021 NFL Draft was that the team opted against taking a running back until Gerrid Doaks in the seventh round. Fans were clamoring for Najee Harris, Javonte Williams, and just about every other top-flight running back. The team had other ideas for their running back room, however.
Miami was content to enter the season with Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin as the presumed starters at the position. The team brought in Malcolm Brown in free agency to give the group some diversity with a thumper to Ahmed and Gaskin’s speed and athleticism.
However, after watching the first preseason game, the fans are once again bemoaning the state of the room, leading some to ask the question: Should Miami bring in a veteran running back for competition?
When discussing veteran options at the position, the conversation begins and ends with two names: Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley. Both backs have been upper-echelon backs during their careers, but both are at the tail-end of theirs. Gurley has had myriad knee issues, and Peterson would be entering his 15th season at the age of 36. To complicate matters, both would likely have to agree to a veteran-minimum contract to make it work.
For better or worse, the Miami Dolphins run game is going to hinge on the guys in-house. The offensive line is going to have to get much better, and in a hurry. Ahmed and Gaskin are going to have to take control of the room and command the lion’s share of the touches. If those things don’t happen, Dolphins fans are once again going to be clamoring for a running back early come the 2022 NFL Draft.
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