Dolphins' NFL-worst 63 rush yards per game likely means changes ahead

CLEVELAND -- The Miami Dolphins' leading rusher Sunday in their 41-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns was 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick -- and that is the latest sign of a woeful running game that is hurting an offense trying to find its identity.

As the Dolphins head toward the holiday season, a fortified rushing game should be close to the top of the wish list for the present and the future.

"We couldn't get anything going. We have to do a better job," coach Brian Flores said.

Fitzpatrick added: "It's something that we need to continue to try and figure out."

Miami is averaging 63.2 rushing yards per game, by far the worst in the NFL. It would be the fewest rushing yards per game by any team since the 1946 Detroit Lions (42.5 rushing yards per game), per ESPN Stats & Information research.

It's been more than 70 years since a team had a rushing offense as bad as this one. Let that sink in. So, in December, the Dolphins' historically bad run game is likely headed toward a personnel tweak in hopes of sparking more success.

Kalen Ballage has been the Dolphins' lead back for the past three games, a role that hasn't been particularly fruitful for him. Through 11 games, he is averaging 1.9 yards per carry on 71 rushes. The last back with at least 70 carries to average 2 yards per carry or less was Eddie Price with the New York Giants in 1953, according to ESPN Stats & Info's data.

The Dolphins look at yards per carry as a team stat and have maintained faith in Ballage, but look for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound back to move into more of a rotational role for the rest of the season alongside rookies Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin. Laird and Gaskin, in that order, are gaining more and more trust in the offense -- just look at Sunday's game at Cleveland, when it became more of a running back by committee (RBBC) with the hot hand getting a chance to thrive. Ballage played 38% of the offensive snaps with seven carries for 13 yards and one catch for 13 yards. Laird played 37% of the snaps with three carries for 20 yards. Gaskin played of the 25% snaps with 4 carries for 10 yards and one catch for 7 yards.

The Dolphins' running woes are not just on Ballage. Miami's offensive line has not blocked well against the run much of this season, and the proof is that no Dolphins back has rushed for more than 66 yards in a game this season.

Miami has started eight offensive line combinations through 11 games this season, including a new one Sunday, and that lack of continuity hasn't helped. Look for more tweaks up front as the Dolphins try to find the right combination.

Inside fantasy football

For fantasy football owners headed toward the playoffs, there likely won't be enough volume in a bad rushing attack for any Dolphins to be starter-worthy in a key situation. But Laird, the most immediate beneficiary of a RBBC change, has found some early success as a tough back who has pass-catching ability. He could be worth a flier in PPR leagues if his role increases.

Laird doesn't know much about fantasy football, but he has been noticing a few references on social media that have confused him a bit.

"Recently, there were fantasy people using photoshops with my picture having acronyms on it that I don't know [what they] mean. They are different leagues, I think. H2H is one I remember," Laird said. "It's funny to me, but I don't know what it means."

"When I get the ball, I just want to execute to the best of my ability. I look at a couple things Sunday that if I execute a little better maybe we make a couple more plays."

Offseason need

As the Dolphins continue to focus on 2020 and beyond, a lead running back will be on that wish list.

Miami's top two rushers this season -- Kenyan Drake and Mark Walton are no longer on the team.

Walton (201 rushing yards, 3.8 yards per carry) showed promise on the field before his legal troubles, which moved the Dolphins to cut him. Miami never felt comfortable with Drake (174 rushing yards, 3.7 yards per carry in Miami) in the lead role and shipped him to Arizona for a late-round pick last month. The team's third-leading rusher, Ballage, hasn't fully capitalized on his opportunities, either.

The Dolphins might need to find three or four new starting offensive linemen before they have a strong group ready to contend with the NFL's elite. The run game won't be able to get off the ground until that problem is solved.

With three first-round picks, 14 total projected picks and a projected $100 million or more in salary-cap space after expected roster cuts, the Dolphins are in position to infuse more talent to those rooms in need of more help. Until then, a temporary tweak in the run game looks to be in store.