The Miami Dolphins, after starting 1-7, have managed to win six straight, and are now in the thick of the playoff rates. The most recent win, coming against the New York Jets, showed a different side of the offensive unit.
For the first time this season, Miami had a 100 yard rusher, and while many saw Myles Gaskin filling that role, the one who completed that feat was none other than University of Miami alum Duke Johnson.
In the 93rd game of Johnson’s career, he was able to amass 107 yards and two touchdowns, his first time achieving either in his career.
It was through his rushing prowess that Miami was able to survive a lackluster passing performance and put together yet another win.
However, Johnson’s biggest impact doesn’t come from just his own ability. While important, his impact on other players, specifically other running backs, opens up Miami’s offense in a new way.
The NFL season is widely regarded as a “war of attrition”. Analysts and former players cite the beatdown of the previous weeks as a major struggle. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, for players to get close to the shape they were before the season.
Specifically, the toll of the running back position is grueling. A workhorse back may carry the ball 20+ times a game, with more contact reps in receiving and pass-blocking. In short, running backs are being hit more often than other skill positions, and it sets in late in the season.
Thus, it becomes important to find “fresh legs” in time for the playoffs. Players who are in good enough shape to produce while also helping to keep other players healthy by splitting carries.
Before this game, Duke Johnson had only rushed the ball four times, all of which coming in week 11. When compared to Myles Gaskin’s 154 carries, it’s clear Johnson wasn’t impacted the same way.
This gives Miami more freedom to give Johnson workhorse-like reps, keeping their backfield healthy and fresh. The mix of Johnson, Lindsay, Gaskin, and Ahmed gives four capable runners in a system that thrives in RPO looks.
Going into the season, it was clear Miami wanted versatility in their running back room. With hard, power runners like Malcolm Brown, they hoped to win in short-yardage situations. Backs like Gaskin and Ahmed, on the other hand, would provide explosiveness and pass-catching ability.
Although, it was clear the Brown signing didn’t work out, as he went on IR early and struggled to produce in Miami’s system. Without him, Miami lacked a power back and someone who could thrive between the tackles.
The signing of Johnson, although new, seems to have fixed some of those issues. His ability to keep his legs driving while sustaining contact leads to solid gains, even with an inconsistent offensive line.
Against New York, Johnson broke eight tackles and looked more than capable of being a short-yardage option. This means Gaskin and Ahmed can be used for their proper roles, making big plays on zone runs and passing plays.
The drive to compete, on a team level, is the biggest principle in all of sports. However, the competition for playing time and success within an organization can be just as heated.
NFL coaches, especially Brian Flores, push the idea of bringing guys in to have them compete. Along with potentially getting a new contributor, the threat of fewer snaps can bring the best out of others. This principle is no different with the addition of Duke Johnson.
Coming from Washington as a seventh-round pick, it’s clear that Myles Gaskin, the previous starter, has an underdog mentality. In his three years in the league, he has been able to rise up the depth chart and become a prominent face in Miami’s backfield. Thus, I believe the addition of Johnson will only help him as a player.
The underdog stature is one common in Miami’s running back room, as Johnson, drafted in the third round, is the only one drafted that high. The internal competition on having someone to work with and against will bring the best out of this group.
The Bottom Line
Duke Johnson looked like a legitimate NFL starter in his first game, and it comes at an opportune time. Miami faces three tough defenses to close out the year, likely needing to win out to get into the playoffs. With a competent run game, these strong units can’t hone in on the short passing game, which Miami thrives with.
It’s not only his production, but the other elements that Miami hopes to maximize in order to give this team the late-season surge they need to make the postseason. The addition of Johnson paying dividends now, and Dolphins fans have good reason to believe it may in the foreseeable future.