Steve Mitchell: USA Today

The Rundown: A Closer Look at Houston Texans Running Back Lamar Miller

A comprehensive look at new Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller.

The Houston Texans took a chance on the most dynamic running back available on the free agent market in Lamar Miller. The Texans found out first hand what Miller can do if he gets any space to work with when the Texans got blown out by the Miami Dolphins in week 7 of 2015 and Miller ripped the Texans for 175 yards. A closer look at Miller’s 2015 season feels almost incomplete to the point there should be more to what was seen from him. 

In 2015, it was almost a tale of two seasons for Miller, the Philbin version and the Campbell version. Each coach had different visions on what exactly to do with Miller.  

Miller was grossly underused and underutilized by the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins made it clear that they had little clue on how to use the speedy back. Joe Philbin and then offensive coordinator Bill Lazor thought Miller was no more than just a back who primarily worked out of the gun, with a small package of plays, while Dan Campbell and his offensive coordinator Zac Taylor almost stubbornly made Miller learn how to operate in-between the tackles when he took over as the head coach. Campbell lined Miller up in single back sets and gave him the ball to run inside the tackles.  

Here are some of the more interesting notes from last season in regard to Lamar Miller.

The Dolphins took 1,031 offensive snaps. 

Miller was in for 629 offensive snaps (61.0%) and had 241 total touches (38%) during those snaps. For comparison, Alfred Blue, the Texans leading rusher, was in for 368 offensive snaps (31.1%) and he had 198 total touches. Blue touched the ball 54% of the times he was in the game for the Texans. 

Comparatively speaking, Miller was getting less touches than Blue, which makes it hard to understand what the Dolphins were thinking with their utilization of a talent like Miller. 

Formations Miller Was Featured In

Formation Total Touches Total Yards
1-Back Gun 133 631 
2-Back Gun 1 3
Pistol  2 32
1-Back Under Center  92 510 
2-Back Under Center 7 40 
Slot 4 17
Split Out Wide 2 35

Miller In A Single Back Set

Miller In Gun


Miller In the Slot


Miller Lined Up Wide


Positives About Miller

  • We know about his speed and, if he gets to the offensive tackles outside hip, you can go ahead an expect some yards to be gained. The way that Miller ran the ball out of the gun, if he could get to the edge, Miller was flipping the field in a hurry. 

  • A plus red zone runner, Miller has a knack to get into the end zone and, when the Dolphins on the goal line, his number was called often. In 10 chances (7 yards or less), Miller had five rushing touchdowns. In situations where it was three yards or less to score, Miller scored four touchdowns on six attempts. The majority of those attempts came out of the shotgun. 

  • A plus screen player, when Miller is able to get into that passing game, the screen pass is one of his best weapons. He has a good feel to disguise the play and then get north and south quickly. This element of his game complements his pass catching ability, which gives the offense multiple threats with a single player.

  • Ball security. In 241 total touches, Miller fumbled once (recovered by his own teammate) and dropped one pass on a route in the flats. Miller has shown he can run swing, out routes in the flats, drag routes when releasing to the middle of the field and the ability to run go routes like a wide receiver. 

Screen Game

Miller has a knack for making big plays out of the screen game and it has to do with how well he sells the pass blocking look. He is able to step up, making it appear he is ready for pass pro then he works in unison with his blockers to get them in front while he receives the pass. In this play, Miller is able to set up his block and cut back against the grain when it is clear the Jaguars have him boxed in. He uses the defense's flow against them and cuts back across field to turn a negative play into a 12 yard gain.

Last season Miller caught screen passes for 54, 26,  22, 16, 12, 7 and 6 yards. 

To The Edge

If there is one thing that Miller has a feel for is finding his way to the edges of the defense. Miller struggles inside the tackles and we discuss that further in Miller's negatives. Miller has a knack for finding his way to the edges and using his offensive tackles as his landmark. He finds ways to get to the edge and if he does expect good things to happen.

In the play below Miller is running outside zone waiting to plant and get upfield. He has shown two distinct attributes when he runs the outside zone, he is looking for both of his tackles to make his cuts. If he can find a crease to the play side, he can get north and south in a hurry. He is not like Arian Foster when he runs the zone, Foster had the ability to sift through the line with his eyes and pick a crease anywhere within the defense. Miller is a different type of zone runner, out the front door behind the play side tackle or looking to cut off the backside tackle. He lacks the feel and patience in this zone scheme to make big plays up the middle. 

If the defense does not slow down Miller or make him chop his feet, get ready for good things to happen. The play below is an example of when Miller takes his approach into the line of scrimmage and gets into the second level. Like most NFL backs, if they can get into the second level, an offense can move the ball. Miller just has the home run hitting speed if you miss tackles on him. 

Negatives About Miller

  • Miller has so much untapped potential and more to learn as a running back, especially how to display patience and read his blocks to maximize himself as a runner. The Dolphins have almost done Miller an injustice by working him mainly out of the gun. Despite his small role in the Dolphins offense, he was still able to be quite productive as a player. 

  • Miller was primarily a gun back that ran outside zone, one cut and go, and he will have to learn to run out of single back sets. At the beginning of the season, Miller would chop his steps prior to getting to the line of scrimmage, slowing him down. He looked uncomfortable in single back sets and it was clear with his lack of production in these offensive sets. The Dolphins did not really put Miller in single back sets, consistently, until week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens. It was one of the games where Miller actually looked like a running back reading and reacting to blocks. He has to prove he can do that for more that a two-game stretch. It is still a work in progress. 

  • Miller was pegged early by the Dolphins that he was a back with a specific role, so the question remains whether he can handle a full workload. The reasoning the Dolphins had for this move was never revealed but it is something to watch when he hits the field for the Texans. If he came to Houston to be the lead back, is he going to be able to handle an increase of snaps, the expectations of learning a new playbook and potential hits on his frame? This is yet to be seen but that will be something to watch in his first season with the Texans. 

Needs To Clean Up His Pass Pro

This is the part where Miller needs polishing, pass protection. If he can pass protect at a good level, he will get all the work he wants on game days. 

In the example below, Miller has a habit of letting the rusher to come to him instead of going to meet the rusher at the line of scrimmage. This allows the quarterback to have a nice pocket. Miller needs to keep his shoulder square to the line of scrimmage but taking on a big defensive lineman, he is holding his ground. 

Outside Perspective 

The Dolphins definitely thought Miller could be an every down back; the only problem was that we never gave him the ball. Each game he had 13 or more carries, the Dolphins won. I was a huge fan of Lamar, but I also did not like the way he would dance behind the line of scrimmage instead of hitting his first open hole. I think he was a product of the offensive system we ran, which was a lot of sideline-to-sideline running instead of down hill running. The Texans got a great workhorse and every down back with Miller. I was sad to see him go. He's going to be a beast if given the ball and blocked for.

Absolutely. He did that some while at the university of Miami. He's a complete back in my opinion. The only thing he struggles with is picking up blitzes as a blocker but he got a lot better in that aspect last season. I think he's going to explode in the Texans offense, especially in the passing game. He's so dynamic in the open field. He'll need to learn to run between the tackles a little more, but if he gets even a foot of room he can break a run on any play. (Eric Roddy, Dolphins Report) Lamar Miller is a known quantity. He speedy, a solid receiver and beats defenders with given ability. There is so much more to Miller that has not been touched with the skills set he has. He has shows that he can split out as the slot or wide, taking advantage of slower linebackers. The Dolphins showed bits and pieces of what Miller could do as an offensive threat, but never stuck with it long enough. If anything, they gave a glimpse to the Texans on what Miller can do and how he can maximize an offense. 

The Texans are banking on a player who has not been used to his maximum potential and the team is ready to open the door for Miller to create issues for defenses. 

The Texans’ offense wants running backs to be focal points of the offense; the ability to turn a two-yard check down into a big gain plus the presence of speed to get defenders to respect what is on the field. 

The time is now for Miller and it is up to the Texans to polish off the raw football player Miller still is. 

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