A porous line: Dolphins can't block, run

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
2:30
AM ET
Lavonte David and Daniel ThomasAP Photo/Brian BlancoLavonte David's Buccaneers stifled Daniel Thomas and the Dolphins' running game.
TAMPA, Fla. -- No Richie Incognito. No Jonathan Martin. No chance for the Miami Dolphins' offensive line.

Incognito and Martin are in the midst of a national media firestorm. Martin left the team Oct. 28 and claimed to have been bullied and harassed by Incognito, who was suspended indefinitely. Their absence on Miami's short-handed offensive line played a key role in a 22-19 loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

Tampa Bay's defensive front pushed the Dolphins around. The Bucs registered two key sacks in the fourth quarter that ended any chance for a comeback. For the game, the Dolphins rushed for a franchise-low 2 yards -- 2 yards -- on 14 carries.

"That's tough, man," said Dolphins guard Nate Garner, who replaced Incognito in starting lineup. "I mean, that's hard to handle as an offensive lineman. We love to run the ball."

Here is the harsh reality for Miami: Incognito and Martin are not coming back.

Fair or not, Incognito has become the poster child for bullying. The Dolphins, in an effort to preserve what remains of their public image, are unlikely to bring him back. ESPN's Lisa Salters reported Monday that Martin doesn't want to return to Miami and would prefer to continue his career elsewhere. The Dolphins are expected to oblige. They would be unwise to try to bring Martin back to the same environment that prompted him to leave the NFL to begin with.

In other words, the Dolphins are stuck with what they have up front. That is not a good sign for Miami with seven games left in the season.

"Those two guys were starters, so when you lose two starters, it will affect you a little bit," Dolphins left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "But the guys who stepped in did a good job. We just have to work with who's here."

It's already ugly for the Dolphins (4-5) and it could get worse. Look for future opponents to continue to expose Miami's biggest weakness.

The offensive line had struggles this season when it was at full strength. But the Dolphins were at least capable of running the ball at times with Incognito and Martin in the lineup. That helped mask some of the line's issues.

With the inability to run, the Dolphins could be a one-dimensional mess for the rest of the season. How many times can they win with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill throwing the ball 42 times, as he did Monday?

The Dolphins entered Monday as a .500 team with a chance at making the playoffs. But with a struggling offensive line getting even worse without two key cogs, those postseason chances look slim.

"I think the psyche of this team is we're right in the middle of the wild-card hunt," Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo said. "We have a good opportunity to win several football games here and make the playoffs."

Not really. Miami cannot be taken seriously as a contender if it can't beat a winless team in November.

The Dolphins' offensive line needs major retooling, but it won't happen until 2014. Incognito, Clabo and starting guard John Jerry will all be free agents.

In the meantime, the Dolphins must accept mediocrity up front. In the complex saga of Incognito and Martin, which will dominate headlines for weeks, Monday's porous performance by the offensive line was an immediate side effect.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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