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Dolphins at Bengals result shows Miami needs improvements at the top

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins fell to 3-2 on the season following their complete collapse in the second half of the team’s Week 5 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals. In a game that the team lead 17-0, the Dolphins found themselves on the wrong side of a 27-17 final and things continuing to look bleak around a team that is still tied for the lead in the AFC East. Things have to be fixed for the Dolphins, and it starts with the key members of the team on game day.

Head coach Adam Gase appeared to realize he has special running backs early on Sunday, with Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake quickly getting involved in the game plan. In the first half, Gore ran the ball seven times, while Drake had three runs with four targets in the passing game. In the second half, Gore ran five times, while Drake saw four runs (including the last play of the game where he picked up 25 yards) and seven targets through the air. He has to keep getting those two the ball, but he also has to trust them when he does decide to get them the ball. It felt like there were times where the play call went away from a rushing attack that averaged 5.8 yards a carry on the day, even in situations where the team needed just a yard. The loss of another offensive lineman - this time left tackle Laremy Tunsil due to the concussion protocol - was part of the issue, with the team turning to the short passing game for most of the end of the game, but Miami has to find a way to continue to run the ball throughout the entire contest, especially when they have a 17-0 lead in the second half.

“We got behind the sticks,” Gase said after the game when asked about the running game dying in the second half. “In the first half, we were second-and-five (a lot), and it’s a lot easier to keep running the ball. When you’re second-and-10, second-and-12, second-and-20, you’re just trying to get to third-and-manageable, because against this group, if you go third-and-forever, that’s not a good formula.”

The loss of Tunsil, whose departure from the game meant Sam Young moved into the left tackle slot and became the third of the five offensive linemen playing who were not opening day starters, joining left guard Ted Larsen who replaced Josh Sitton and Travis Swanson at center in place of Daniel Kilgore. The change was immediately felt, with Ryan Tannehill suddenly under constant pressure and the Dolphins looking to keep extra blockers in to try to assist Young - even moving Ja’Wuan James, the right tackle, over to the left to unbalance the line in some formations. The Dolphins offense changed completely with that loss, but Tannehill also has to play better.

“We lost Laremy, and that kind of shook us up a little bit,” Gase explained. “We didn’t bounce back from that very well, and they started teeing off on us. We have to clean a lot of things up, and we have to figure out how to give him a chance to throw it. We have to make sure the ball is coming out on time. We have to get open. There’s a lot of things we have to get cleaned up.”

Tannehill, who was 20-for-35 for 185 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, giving him a 57.4 passer rating on Sunday, struggled. He made bad throws and he made poor decisions. He had a pick-six when he tried to throw a ball toward tight end Durham Smythe, looking to ground the ball to avoid a sack, only to see the ball bounce off Smythe’s helmet and bounce straight to a defender who was behind the play and all alone.

“We had play-action called,” Tannehill explained of the interception. “They got quick pressure, and I was moved to the right, with the receivers to the left. I was just trying to throw it away and not take the sack there and put us in a long-yardage situation. I had two tight ends there, I tried to just dump it down low to the back of Durham. It ended up going off his helmet and right into somebody else’s hands.”

He continued, “I was trying to throw it low to Durham there, the only player on that side of the field to throw the ball away and not get a grounding call. I was trying to avoid a grounding call. Looking back at it, I wish I would’ve just took the sack and live to fight another day. I was just trying to be smart with the football and not take a sack.”

Tannehill also had a fumble returned for a touchdown when he scrambled, then stepped up and tried to throw a deep ball on 3rd-and-17, only to have Carlos Dunlap strip him of the ball. Tannehill explained, “I had the double-move on the outside with Jakeem (Grant), got a middle safety, what we were looking for. I felt pressure coming from the right, stepped up and moved to the left. Jakeem was in front of his guy downfield. I was just trying to get the ball to him and got hit as I was releasing it.”

Those were not the only bad plays from Tannehill on the day, who, like last week against the New England Patriots, was late with the ball or behind his receivers multiple times during the game. Things seem to not be clicking for Miami’s quarterback right now - in part because of the offensive line, but in large part from just poor decision making - and that has to change quickly.

“We just have to come back and to go work,” Tannehill said of whether they will be ready to play against the Chicago Bears in Week 6. “I felt good about the plan coming in. We left some opportunities early on the field, then we kind of got in a groove a little bit there in the second quarter. Even in the third quarter, we felt good about what we were doing. It all started with the turnover. That’s on me. I can’t let that happen. I have to find a way to take the sack or throw it away to a different spot or something. I can’t turn the ball over in that situation. That really gave them the momentum and put us on our heels a little bit. That’s squarely on me. Regardless of what happens up front, I have to take care of the football.”

He realizes that a large part of what happened with the stagnation of the offense on Sunday is on him. “This is squarely on me, squarely on the offense and that’s my responsibility,” Tannehill said. “It’s my fault.”

Tannehill knows it is his fault. Now, we need to see the quarterback that was among the league’s elite the first three weeks of the season, and we need to see him the rest of the year.