MIAMI GARDENS — The Dolphins began the week able to look down on only two teams with a worse running attack than theirs.
They came out of it with reasons to feel better about the direction their run game is headed. Namely, they’re beginning to turn Mike McDaniel’s vision with his wide-zone scheme into reality. In Sunday night’s 16-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins ran often, ran well and came away leaving no doubt who is this team’s featured back.
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Raheem Mostert carried 16 times for 79 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, as Miami ran a season-high 27 times — about the target number McDaniel wants. Miami finished with 111 rushing yards, second only to the 137 against the Jets. That means two of the team’s best rushing performances have come in the past three weeks.
“Raheem is really fast and this scheme is to stretch the field for fast guys,” guard Rob Hunt said. “And I mean he fits in well. He’s been running it a long time, so he knows how to do it. And he did a really good job tonight.”
The offensive line was buoyed by the return of left tackle Terron Armstead from a lingering toe injury.
“I’ll probably have to deal with it for a while,” he said. “But I was able to do my job.”
Not only was Armstead back, but so was quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, giving the offense two of its leaders who missed the Minnesota game. So it was no coincidence Miami’s offense was firing on all cylinders in the first quarter, taking a 13-0 lead before getting bogged down.
“That’s where we want to get,” Armstead said of that start. “A well-oiled machine. The crazy part is we just haven’t had much time on task with the starting group. We’re, what, seven games in, still relatively early. We’re starting to get to that midway point now where you would like to start to gel. We just missed time, got different guys out of the lineup, starting quarterback out of the lineup. We can get that time in and get better cohesiveness and chemistry and I think you’ll start to see that machine we want to be.”
Mostert, who scored the Dolphins' only touchdown on a pass, said just seeing Tagovailoa in uniform gave the team a jolt.
“When Tua came out there, I mean you can just feel the energy,” Mostert said. “And that’s something that we need on this team, especially having three losses.”
It wasn’t just Tagovailoa. Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson also suffered injuries.
“It’s been almost a curse, a little bit, with our quarterback situation,” Mostert said.
Having an effective running attack is one way to make the QB’s job easier.
“It definitely worked,” Mostert said.
But, he added, it should work better.
“I left a lot of yards out there just by poor decisions I made,” Mostert said.
Despite any missed opportunities, the run game is starting to come around. Starting to look the way McDaniel drew it up.
“You could say that,” Hunt said. “And I can say we left a lot of meat out there. That’s what we want, to stretch them out. And then we’re going to come in and you know, pound them inside on a couple of different runs. So I thought we did a solid job tonight.”
The linemen could be positive about their performance because Tagovailoa also wasn’t sacked. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t hit. On at least one scramble, Tagovailoa lowered his shoulder trying to reach the line to gain. That part wasn’t what McDaniel had in mind when he talked to Tagovailoa this past week about personal safety out there.
“He’s a tough dude,” Hunt said of Tagovailoa. “He’s a tough guy. He’s a leader. He wants to win. So you’ve got to go to bat for a guy like that, a man that wants to win and does put his body on the line like everybody else.”
But Tagovailoa isn't just anyone else. He's the starting quarterback, and McDaniel reminded him the joys of ending a scramble by sliding rather than plowing into a defender.
"Was I advising him to do that? I think no," McDaniel said. "I think he immediately the next series after the first time he did it, he was like, ‘Coach, I’m sorry. I needed that.’ I was like, all right. ... I’m probably going to advise him to slide every time, but when push comes to shove and a guy has the ball in his hands, it’s going to be tough to get him to completely turn it down, although I will try."
On this night, Tagovailoa came out firing, hitting Jaylen Waddle for 20 yards, Tyreek Hill for 17, Mike Gesicki for 18 and Mostert for an 8-yard touchdown on Miami’s first possession. It was an ideal drive in Armstead’s mind.
“We’re dangerous,” Armstead said. “We’ve just got to get to where we’re more consistent.”
Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami Dolphins' rushing attack starts to come alive with Raheem Mostert