The Miami Dolphins' offense has stalled, and the long list of reasons includes too many turnovers, not enough big plays and too many rookie moments by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
So what bugs offensive coordinator Mike Sherman the most? None of the above.
"Aw, just the run game," Sherman said Monday. "Everything jells around the run game. If you can run the ball, you can throw the ball. It just makes life a lot easier."
The Dolphins haven't rushed for 100 yards since September, which helps explain why the offense has scored one touchdown in the past 10 quarters. As a result, Miami (4-6) takes a three-game losing streak into Sunday's game against Seattle (6-4).
"The running game hasn't been effective lately," guard Richie Incognito said. "That puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the offense. We know we have to get the running game going and execute better. It comes down to guys winning one-on-one blocks."
It also comes down to Sherman jump-starting an offense that showed promising signs before the recent lull. He's among the newcomers to Miami under first-year head coach Joe Philbin, and the recent lack of productivity has made Sherman's game plans and play calling targets for criticism.
Philbin defended Sherman's scheme and said the problem has been execution.
"Collectively we have a good bit of experience in the league as a staff," Philbin said. "I think we know things that can work in this league, and things that aren't real sound and don't work."
Miami's lack of a deep threat at receiver has allowed opposing defenses to gear for the run, but Sherman said predictability hasn't been a problem. The offense varied its personnel packages in the past two games and lost both — against Tennessee and Buffalo, two of the league's worst defenses.
The Dolphins had seven turnovers in the two defeats, including five interceptions by Tannehill. Their longest gain was 19 yards, and they went 5 for 23 converting third-down situations.
"My goal is obviously for us to be better than we are right now, which isn't very good," Sherman said. "We need to function better as an offense."
During one stretch Miami went 27 consecutive offensive possessions without a touchdown.
"It's really frustrating," Tannehill said, "especially with some of the success we had earlier in the year being able to move the ball."
Early in the year, Miami ran the ball well. Reggie Bush ranked second in the league in rushing after two weeks, but he has netted only 82 yards during the losing streak.
Against Buffalo last Thursday, Miami's running backs managed only 53 yards in 23 carries, an average of 2.3 per play. Bush lost 5 yards on one carry and 4 on another, creating long-yardage situations that have been part of Miami's third-down problem.
"You want your run game to get you into manageable third downs," Sherman said.
Fits and starts are to be expected when players are still learning an offense, Sherman said. He predicted they'll become more comfortable with his system in his second or third year with Miami.
But the schedule won't wait, and the Dolphins must find a way now to shake their scoring slump.
"I've been in situations where you hit a wall, and you fight your way through it," Sherman said. "This wall has been extended a little bit too long for my liking. We have to go out and play better and coach better and try to break through this thing."
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