DAVIE, Fla. -- Old-school NFL principles said you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin subscribes to the 21st century NFL principles of stretching the field vertically and horizontally. But he still values the wisdom of the old-school.
"I still think there is still a lot of merit to that," he said. "If you're able to run the football and create very manageable downs and distance situations, I think that certainly helps you as an offense. As I've said before, I think it opens up your playbook considerably.
"If you can't stop the run as a defense, at times (it's) a helpless feeling. So I think there is still a lot of merit in those statements."
The Dolphins (8-7) must effectively run the ball and stop the run when they host the New York Jets (7-8) on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. Their playoff hopes depend on it.
If the Dolphins defeat the Jets, and either Baltimore (8-7) loses or San Diego (8-7) wins, the Dolphins secure the final AFC wildcard berth and make their first playoff appearance since 2008.
A loss ends the Dolphins' season.
Statistically, this is a bad matchup for the Dolphins. They're 26th in rushing offense (89.9 yards per game) while the Jets are third in rushing defense (88.0 yards per game). On the other side of the ball the Dolphins are 25th in rushing defense (122.9 yards per game) while the Jets are fifth in rushing offense (133.6 yards per game).
The Jets would seem to have a huge edge in both areas.
"You could say that," Jets coach Rex Ryan said, "but look at the previous game. They ran the ball well against us and they stopped our run pretty good. So I think each game's different."
In the Dolphins' 23-3 victory at New York on Dec. 1, the Dolphins rushed for 125 yards, led by running back Lamar Miller's 72 yards on 22 carries. Running the ball was crucial to the Dolphins' success that day though it hasn't always been crucial to their success this season.
The Dolphins are 4-4 in games in which they rushed for 100 or more yards.
More than anything, as Philbin said, a productive running game keeps the Dolphins in manageable second- and third-down situations. If the Dolphins are forced into predictable passing situations, protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill becomes an issue. The Dolphins have given up a franchise-record 58 sacks, a total that also leads the NFL.
Defensively, the Dolphins held the Jets to 99 yards rushing in their first meeting. That put most of the game on rookie quarterback Geno Smith and that plan worked to perfection. Smith played so poorly he was benched in the second half.
Overall, however, the Dolphins are 4-5 when teams rush for 100 or more yards against them. There's not a significant margin.
It all goes back to what Ryan said -- each game is different.
And when the Dolphins play the Jets, stopping the run and running the ball seems more important than against most other opponents.
If the Dolphins are forced to pass, Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (10.5 sacks) and linebacker Calvin Pace (10 sacks) become big factors.
If the Dolphins stop running backs Chris Ivory (814 yards rushing) and Bilal Powell (621 yards) the Jets' offense become predictable and one of the NFL's best pass rushes, led by defensive ends Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks) and Cam Wake (8.5 sacks) goes to work in front of one of the league's most productive pass defenses.
Fail in either area and the Dolphins might be forced to rely on big plays to get to the playoffs. They'd rather not have that happen.
"This is truly a one-game season," Philbin said, "and it's going to be Dec. 29th, and we need to put together our best effort in all three phases of the game."
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