The overriding goal of teams who play the Miami Dolphins this year has become stopping the run and forcing Dan Marino to throw.
Forcing Dan Marino to throw?Yes, it sounds strange and it probably will until the NFL's all-time leading passer retires a year or two from now.
But the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-0), who face Marino and the Dolphins (3-1) on Monday night, know it probably is the best way to win against an offense that Jimmy Johnson has revamped to focus on the ground game.
"Yeah, yeah, it's kind of weird," said rookie safety Donovin Darius, one of at least a dozen Jacksonville players who watched Marino set records while he was in elementary school.
"But Jimmy Johnson made a statement that they're going to be a very physical, running football team. Even though they have a Pro-Bowl, Hall of Fame quarterback, they're not putting everything on him. He'll hand the ball off and get it into a receiver's hands when he has to."
The formula seemed to be working through three Miami wins. But a 20-9 loss to the New York Jets last weekend brought some of the discontent over the new offense to the surface.
Marino was cranky in a midweek telephone interview with reporters, especially when asked whether he felt restricted about not being able to call as many audibles in the new offense.
"You know, that's a pretty easy answer, isn't it?" he said. "It really comes down to, we've done that in the past and I've been doing it my whole life and I could continue to do it. That's just not the approach that we're taking in this offense right now."
Marino has just 528 yards passing this year and a quarterback rating of 72.0. The guy who set the NFL record with 48 touchdown passes in 1984 is on pace to throw 16 this season, the same as he had last year.
Some blame the decreased freedom for his decreased production. Others see deteriorating skills as the quarterback gets older.
But the most popular excuse this week was the Dolphins' struggling receiving corps. Starters O.J. McDuffie and Oronde Gadsden have 20 catches and 268 yards receiving between them. They have had trouble separating from defensive backs in one-on-one coverage, giving Marino few options on the 25 passing attempts he averages each game.