This Saturday night will be the third leg of a difficult 3 game road trip for our Miami Dolphins. We’re all acutely aware of how the first 2 legs went, and those 2 losses have significantly changed our fortune and chances of a playoff berth. If the West Coast trip was a challenge, the difficulty of the challenge goes way up now, because the Bills are clearly the more complete team, playing at home, and as of now, the forecast is 3″- 7″ of snow and temperatures around 20 degrees. I don’t know what the gameplan was to this point, but if it didn’t include a whole lot of running, it will likely need to be revised.
OK, let’s get to the straight talk. I’m a huge fan and supporter of our QB Tua Tagovailoa. He has gone through some difficult times here as a Miami Dolphin. Having a HC that clearly didn’t support him, pulled him out of games when he was struggling, and a front office that seemed to be looking in any and every direction to find a different QB to bring here to Miami, from the courting of Deshaun Watson, to even bringing in Tom Brady. It’s hard to maintain confidence when the team, and organization isn’t behind you, and even if he said he didn’t pay attention to, or worry about such things, we know it’s impossible for him not to know these things, and in turn, to feel somewhat inadequate.
Two big games on a West Coast trip, back to back against the surging NFC West San Francisco 49ers, and then to the LA Chargers, who have been up and down all season. Our 8-4 Dolphins arrived in California sporting one of the top offense in the league, mostly due to the prolific passing game of QB Tua Tagovailoa, and his speedy WR tandem, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, along with a sprinkling of Trent Sherfield, TE Mike Gesicki and to a very small part, the run game with RB Raheem Mostert and the newly added former SF 49er RB Jeff Wilson Jr. Well, you saw what happened, in 2 straight games, our high flying offense was shut down, completely ineffective and unable to function. Both defenses studied Tua Tagovailoa and our offense and came away with the same conclusion, Tua likes throwing the ball to the middle of the field with a myriad of crossing routes that usually find either Hill, Waddle or Sherfield open in the 10-20 yard area downfield from the line of scrimmage. Kyle Shanahan chose to clog the middle with his athletic linebackers, Dre Greenlaw, Fred Warner and Aziz Al-Shaair. With the passing lanes that Tua and HC Mike McDaniel loves shut down, in turn, our offense was shut down.
The second leg of the West Coast trip had us playing, and the team decided to stay in LA for our matchup against the Chargers. The team appeared loose and ready to get back in the win column. Things were stacked in our favor, DE Joey Bosa was OUT, All Pro safety Derwin James was also OUT, as well as CB Bryce Callahan, all boons for our offense. With the Chargers without their best pass rusher and with 2 new faces, rookies in the secondary, the Chargers executed much of the same gameplan, disrupt the passing lanes over the middle in the 10-20 yard territory where Tua has made his living, putting up record breaking numbers, not just thriving. The Chargers employed thee new young CB’s and safeties and yet they actually did an even better job against our offense than the 49ers. Our offense, now in the second game in a row was not only held to less than 20 points but once again, in a very disturbing trend, having the ball on offense for a measly 1/3 of the game, about 20 minutes of the 60.
This takes us to the “now” of the situation. The blueprint on how to stop our offense as it was is out there and as we’ve witnessed, it doesn’t take the top personnel to employ it well. Besides that fact, the weather on Saturday night expected to be wet, with the forecast showing 3-7 inches of snow possible, and temps hovering at or below 20 degrees, we’re going to have to do something to counter this new blueprint. Being in the AFC East, we’ve witnessed Bill Belichick teams that can morph from from a heavy passing team to a grind it out run heavy scheme, and have success doing either when the opponent dictates one or the other. So far this season, we’ve been only one dimensional, we’re the high flying San Diego Chargers with Dan Fouts at the helm of the Air Coryell offense. We’ll sprinkle in a rush here and there, but the opposing defenses are only worried about #10 and #17. Stopping #23 RB Jeff Wilson Jr. and #31 RB Raheem Mostert is not a part of the gameplan, because they haven’t been a part of our gameplan. We have about 1000 yards rushing so far this season, split among Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Chase Edmonds and Myles Gaskin. Now I don’t think of the Bills a rushing team either, but they have close to 1700 yards from their run game, but that includes Josh Allen, who is so dangerous as a rusher, but it doesn’t matter, it’s a mentality, a physicality, that we’re going to move the football on you and you have to try and stop it. Not all Allen’s yardage is on scrambles, it’s mostly from designed run plays.
Back to the “now”. If you read this blog, you know where my thinking is at. I’m very concerned about our starting QB. The story of him doubting himself and even questioning himself with “Do I suck?” during and after last season is out there. Then comes in the great savior HC Mike McDaniel and he is 100% behind his new QB, and then the Dolphins front office got to work for real and acquired one of, if not the most dynamic wide receivers in the NFL, Tyreek Hill. They also brought in some familiar faces to new HC MM, WR’s Trent Sherfield and River Cracraft. Our offense has been the best Miami Dolphins in decades, scoring 29.2 points per game with Tua Tagovailoa as the QB in games where he started and finished. 270 pass attempts, 190 completions, 2454 yards, 70.3 completion %, 22 TD’s, 4 INT’s. Efficient, explosive, prolific, choose the adjective, and a 119.5 passer rating, far beyond any of us Dolphins could have hoped for. The last 2 games, however are just downright ugly. 61 pass attempts, 28 completions, 440 yards, 45 completion %, and a 73.12 passer rating. I’m truly worried that these 2 games have thrown a veil of doubt over our young QB. The fact that he struggled even more against the Chargers makes me feel like his confidence is waning, or perhaps even quite shot. I don’t expect this game to offer any help, unless we have an entirely different gameplan for the Bills. I believe the weather will dictate that we do.
Just another commentary on our team. Our identity is that we are a passing team, and if you have to classify our defense, we’re below average. We don’t do any one thing particularly well. I think we have talent on our defense, Christian Wilkins, Jaelan Phillips, Bradley Chubb, Xavien Howard, Jerome Baker. We’ve seen that CB Xavien Howard is not and hasn’t been right since suffering with groin injuries early in the season. UDFA rookie Kader Kohou has been a pleasant surprise but is still a downgrade from Byron Jones from a year ago. We lost CB Nik Needham early this season, and even more damaging, Safety Brandon Jones. Our ST’s coverage has been abysmal. Just about the worst I’ve seen in recent memory, we can’t cover a kickoff or a punt return without allowing the returner a bounty of yardage. Our placekicker Jason Sanders is having a poor year as well, making only 81% of his FG attempts while missing 3 extra points. If our offense fails, the team fails, it’s as simple as that. No matter what any of us want to think about our defense, it NEVER CARRIES THE DAY. NEVER! Yes, plus points for allowing only 23 points to the Chargers while being on the field 2/3 of the game. So we gambled big on Bradley Chubb this season, traded away draft capital (2023 1st RD pick, 2024 4th RD pick and RB Chase Edmonds) in exchange for Bradley Chubb and a 2025 5th RD pick. At the moment, the trade is looking like sour lemons, but maybe next year, potentially with a different scheme and DC, Chubb will thrive. In general, this defense has been underwhelming, and if the offense doesn’t do the heavy lifting, don’t expect the defense to do it either.
So, can our QB, and HC Mike McDaniel concoct a plan to defeat the AFC East leading, AFC #1 seed Buffalo Bills in their house under optimal conditions (cold and wet) for the home team? We’ll have to wait and see on that. I’m hearing lots of murmuring now about how Mike McDaniel is a young coach and yada yada yada. He didn’t have any problems the first 12 weeks of the season! He has to adjust now, I’m sure he’s capable. We’ve seen other young coaches burst on to the season and bust up the NFL purdy good. Rams HC Sean McVay did it. They don’t necessarily have to hit a wall and combust into flames. Mike McDaniel is a smart man, and hopefully he can figure out how to get us back on track. That will in my humble opinion, include a nice sit down with his young QB to try and right his psyche and get his confidence back. Nothing can do that more than to come up with a gameplan that will help Tua Tagovailoa topple the 1st place Bills in their house. Nothing! I’m looking forward to watching that happen on Saturday night, in the company of quite a few Jets fans. Please Mike McDaniel, make it happen!