How concerned are the Miami Dolphins about their run defense?

Sep 10, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30)
Sep 10, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A season ago, the Miami Dolphins made their first postseason appearance since 2016. It did not end successfully as Mike McDaniel’s club fell short in the wild card round at Buffalo, 34-31. McDaniel’s team dealt with a lot of quarterback issues. The Dolphins’ defense also had some problems, most notably vs. the pass.

Some of that was the fact that the team did a pretty good job against opposing running attacks. A year ago, only the Tennessee Titans (76.9), San Francisco 49ers (77.7) and Baltimore Ravens (92.1) gave up fewer yards per game on the ground than then-coordinator Brian Flores’ unit (103.0) in 2022. The numbers show that in 18 overall games (including the playoff loss to the Bills), the Dolphins limited 10 of those opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

A closer look shows that Miami opponent’s biggest output on the ground often came from opposing quarterbacks. In a wild 42-38 win in Week 2 at Baltimore, Miami allowed 155 yards on the ground, but 119 of those came from Lamar Jackson. Seven weeks later at Soldier Field, Justin Fields rolled up 178 of the Bears’ 252 rushing yards. In Week 15 at Buffalo, Josh Allen had more than half (77) of his team’s rushing yardage.

That makes last week’s performance against the Chargers, albeit resulting in a 36-34 win, even more surprising. Led by Austin Ekeler (117) and Joshua Kelley (91), Los Angeles rolled up an impressive 234 yards on the ground on 40 attempts. That’s a brisk 5.9 yards per carry. Both Ekeler and Kelley ran for scores, as did quarterback Justin Herbert.

On Sunday night at Foxborough, you can bet that New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will be testing that Miami front seven. Bill Belichick’s club struggled to run the ball a year ago (24th in the league). In last week’s 25-20 loss to the Eagles, the Pats managed only 76 yards on the ground on 22 attempts. Of course. Belichick’s team dug itself a 16-0 first-quarter hole. Hence 54 pass attempts by quarterback Mac Jones.

So, what about this prime time affair? Is there a flaw with new coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme? Was this just Week 1 rust? More importantly, can this run defense can be had for a second straight week?