Miami ground game shaky, but unswayed

L. Smith & Co. face biggest challenge vs. heart of Ravens' game

Dolphins' run offense vs. Ravens' run defense

January 10, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Last season's playoff masterpiece for Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Smith is a distant memory.

Smith rushed for 209 yards on 40 attempts and a game-winning touchdown in overtime in Miami's first-round win over the Indianapolis Colts.

However, he failed to carry momentum from that game into this season, one in which his tentative running style has been the subject of much criticism in South Florida.

Now, Smith and the Dolphins face a Ravens defense that finished the season fourth in the NFL against the run and second overall. The Ravens have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in the past 52 games (the Cincinnati Bengals' Corey Dillon on Dec. 23).

"Each week, we show glimpses of playing great," safety Rod Woodson said. "Then we show glimpses of playing not so great. But I think the last couple of weeks, we've played some good football on defense."

Especially against the run, an area in which, for the past few years, the Ravens have been the stingiest team in the league.

In 12 of their 16 games this season, the Ravens did not allow the opposition to break the 100-yard mark on the ground, despite losing end Michael McCrary to a season-ending knee injury and having end Rob Burnett battle calf and groin injuries much of the year.

They will likely face a Dolphins team determined to run, though it's had trouble doing so this year.

Smith is averaging just 3.1 yards a carry and was held to 968 yards for the season despite starting every game. Miami is 23rd in the league in rushing, due in part to Smith's off year and injuries to the offensive line.

The line has lost three starters and has third-string tackle and former Raven Spencer Folau in the lineup. Miami lost its best lineman, left guard Mark Dixon, midway through the season.

"We're not running the ball as well as we did last year," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "So we've had to put more pressure on [quarterback] Jay Fiedler."

Rookie Travis Minor could be a key against the Ravens. Minor has pushed Smith for playing time in recent weeks after spending much of the year as the third-down back.

With Smith struggling (although he had 158 yards Sunday against the 3-13 Buffalo Bills), Minor, who has more speed and elusiveness than Smith, may get a number of carries Sunday.

Either way, the Ravens are expecting a team whose will to run the ball is as great as any team in the AFC.

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