MADE IN WASHINGTON,
HAVE THE DOLPHINS FOUND THER BACKFIELD
Article by Andrew Moore
It’s the most debated position in football at the moment. No, not the Dolphins’ position on making the throwback jersey a permanent fixture, but the running back. Do you pay them big bucks? Can you justify a first round pick on one? Do you feature one back or ride with a committee approach?
Barely a week goes by where one of these questions isn’t amongst the NFL’s main talking points. By and large the Dolphins have stayed away from these debates, potentially because those players that have turned out in aqua and orange over the last few years haven’t exactly set the world on fire.
The Fins’ recent history at the position isn’t exactly a list of household names, indeed we’re all aware that last year’s leading rusher was aging quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. But before Fitz rumbled for 243 yards in 2019, the Dolphins listed Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, Mark Walton, Frank Gore, Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams as their starting back at some point. That’s not to say that some of those players aren’t/weren’t good, clearly Drake, Gore and Williams have all had/are having success elsewhere in the league, but they certainly didn’t set the world on fire during their time in South Florida.
Which brings us forward to today, an ascending Miami team seems to have found the answer at the game’s key position. On the flip side of the ball, the defense is clicking and is fast becoming the talk of the town, led by an outstanding tandem of cornerbacks. However, there is still a significant question at running back.
Going into the season, the fanbase had high hopes that Dolphins had found a thunder and lightning tandem in Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. Now, ten weeks into the campaign, Howard has been released and Breida has only played a bit part role, spending several weeks watching from the stands with an injury designation. In a year in which the team enjoyed a particularly large salary gap advantage over other teams, it’s fair to say that the failure to hit on Howard in particular could be seen as a bit of a failure by the front office.
Hold your horses though, a small failure isn’t a big deal at all, every front office in the league misses on players every year and in a lot more drastic fashion. In fact, this failure may have flipped into a good thing for Miami.
At the start of the season many were surprised to see Myles Gaskin lineup as the starter in the Dolphins’ backfield. The former Washington Huskies back had an unbelievable college career, rushing for more than 1000 yards in each of his four seasons as the starter and racking up a total of 57 touchdowns. That didn’t translate into production in his first season in the NFL as he sat behind the likes of Walton, Drake and even Patrick Laird all season.
But with the limited off-season and Gaskin’s drive and determination, Chan Gailey and co clearly saw something in the second year pro and handed him the opening carry of the season. Until he picked up an injury several weeks back, Gaskin hardly looked back, averaging around 18 carries per game, 3.9 yards per carry and bagging himself a pair of touchdowns in the process. But after Tua Tagovailoa’s first start and his first fumble of the season, he picked up an injury and was put on the temporary three week injured reserve. It remains to be seen if the former Huskie will return after the Broncos game, with the severity of the injury unknown at present. However, if he does return soon then he might just team up with someone he’s familiar with.
Step forward Salvon Ahmed, Gaskin’s backup in Washington in 2017 and 2018, and the bell cow for the Dolphins in their 29-21 victory over the Chargers. In that game Ahmed carried the ball 21 times for 85 yards and a score, interestingly as the game went on the Chargers started stacking the box more and more to counter the threat he posed. And, as the Next Gen Stats chart below shows, Ahmed had particular success on inside zone runs behind Austin Jackson and Ereck Flowers on what is clearly the stronger side of the Dolphins offensive line.
With a solid performance under his belt, what does the future hold for Ahmed in the Fins backfield? At this point it’s clearly difficult to say, but the rookie clearly has something that the rest of the backfield has been missing until this point (including Gaskin). His acceleration is evident, especially as he logged an average of just 2.57 seconds behind the line of scrimmage in the Chargers game. In an era where it’s fashionable to hold your run until a gap appears, it’s refreshing to see a back that isn’t afraid to step on the gas and hit the hole straight off the bat. He’s also got the ability to put his foot in the ground and bounce to the outside, something we saw on his longest run of the game, a 19 yard carry at a vital point in the third quarter.
With Gaskin churning out the short yardage and keeping the chains moving late in games, and Ahmed providing the speed and burst that has been missing from the ground game this season, might we actually have a thunder and lightning combo after all? One thing is for sure, we should be tipping our hat to Chris Peterson and his Washington offense for producing a couple of mini Miami miracles.