We’re getting down to the nitty gritties. Week 14, huge Sunday Night Football matchup against the AFC West LA Chargers. Tua vs Herbert. The Dolphins took a step back last week, while their opponent this week also took one on the chin, losing to the LV Raiders 27-20, and seriously damaging their playoff chances. Realistically, this is a must win for both teams, every game is important now with 5 games to go. This is the reality of the NFL. Every game is a big game, and this stretch of 5 games is the time when you make your push to be a high seed or slide down in the standings and either back into the playoffs or create a scenario where you end up with a string of road games in the playoffs as the 2nd or 3rd wildcard. I think we’re better than that, so hopefully the team plays like it.
Time to purge the bitter taste of last week’s loss to the Niners. Let me preface this by saying I love Tua Tagovailoa, I’m happy he’s my QB, and I have always been a staunch supporter and defender of him. Despite that, he played pretty poorly last week, and played a big part in why we lost. There are many other reasons, but to state it as simply as possible, if he played like he’s played all season long, we win this game easily. To be fair, Tua has set a high bar of performance, so when I say he played poorly, that’s in comparison to what he’s done all season. If you look at stats alone, they tell some of the story, with the 2 INT’s jumping off the page. It was so much more than that though. He missed on so many throws, throws that he’s placed on the money, or close to it all season, but this past Sunday, they were either underthrown, overthrown, thrown behind, or thrown short. It’s clear he wasn’t comfortable out there, he didn’t have his best protection with LT Terron Armstead out. On the other hand, a lot of these throws were not under duress, he was just off. This season, Tua has been near 70% completion in the majority of the games, and he was below 50% for a decent part of this game. He finished just above, 18 for 33 for 295 yards, 2 TD’s, and 2 INT’s. I so wanted Tua to come out and have a statement game, that I’m ready to play in the big games, and the disappointment of him not measuring up is palpable.
The fact that this is a team game, which it clearly is, means that Tua was not the sole reason why we lost. Inexplicably, we ran the ball 8 times. Oddly enough, it was Raheem Mostert who was OUT with an injury the previous week that got 7 of the carries, and our supposed lead rusher, newly acquired Jeff Wilson Jr. saw only one carry. It’s puzzling because it was obvious Tua was off, and not comfortable, throwing at odd angles and not throwing that calm, catchable ball thrown with anticipation and excellent placement, so why give up on the run game? We’ll never know, but it was a strange gameplan, one which led to a very lopsided TOP, 40:34 for the Niners, 19:26 for the Dolphins. Recipe for disaster to have the opposing team have the ball for twice as long as you do, unless of course it’s the Dolphins vs Colts with Peyton Manning at QB on MNF. Our special teams have been lacking all season, and that’s kickoff coverage, punt return coverage, and FG’s as well. We’ve been poor at all of the above. Jason Sanders is at 81% on FG’s, and an absolutely unacceptable 91.4% on extra points. P Thomas Morstead has been fine, he hardly punts anyway with MM wheelbarrowing his balls on the field and going for huge 4th down conversions. If you watch all the games, you understand my angst, we never get the return man down for a loss, and most times we’re allowing big returns. That needs to get fixed.
The defense was up and down. I can give the defense a little pass, only because the ultra talented CMC is so difficult to stop, and I’m sure LB Duke Riley would prefer to never again have to cover CMC on 3rd down, 4th down, or any down. I mean were playing against a 2022 7th RD pick, QB Brock Purdy, and although we harassed him occasionally, he stepped up and made some big throws, which is another reason in my mind that Tua failed us. Purdy seemed more confident and fired up than our own QB.That was tough to swallow. It didn’t hurt Purdy that we had to try and cover CMC and failed miserably almost every time, he’s so good. The Niners are not bereft of talent beyond CMC, Deebo Samuel hurt us, Brandon Aiyuk did as well, but CMC did the most damage, rushing for 66 yards, and catching 10 balls for 80 yards and a TD, and torturing us as he converted what seemed like every big 3rd or 4th down. One of the biggest stand out stats : 3rd Down conversions – MIA 0-7, SF 8-19. We were unable to convert one stinking third down. Pathetic! That’s on everyone, including MM. Add in 4th down conversions, the Dolphins were a total of 1-9 on 3rd and 4th combined.
This week we play a desperate Los Angeles Chargers team in their house, well, sort of their house, they share the stadium with the original owners, the LA Rams. at 6-6, a loss would surely have them out of the playoff picture. Our Dolphins, not as much, although as I mentioned before, this is the time when the contenders stand up and make their push, and the pretenders slip away. In other words, this game is big for us too. We’re 3-3 on the road this season, the Chargers are 2-3 at home. Let me say this, Austin Ekeler is an awful lot like CMC, he is amazing in the passing game, and will torture us just like CMC if we don’t get help and/or pressure on Justin Herbert and maybe slide some help to whomever is covering Ekeler, most likely Duke Riley. Ekeler is the leading receiver in receptions, followed by WR Josh Palmer, who is having a nice season. Mike Williams has missed 4 games, and was inactive the last two, but logged a limited practice Wednesday, and full practice yesterday which leads me to believe he’ll be available Sunday night. For the Dolphins, LT Terron Armstead got in a limited practice yesterday. Chargers All Pro Safety Derwin James is QUESTIONABLE with a quad injury, and has not practiced this week. For the Chargers, the always steady WR Keenan Allen and WR DeAndre Carter are the other receivers we have to deal with. I stress once again, RB Austin Ekeler is the guy that worries me most. He’s tough to bring down, always fights hard for extra yards, is one of the strongest backs pound for pound, he never goes down easily , and he is a nightmare to cover. I hope Josh Boyer and MM are up to the task this week, and more than anything, I hope we see the Tua we all know and love.