Come on, man. Come on.
The Dolphins are narrowing in on their deficiencies
The phrasing of that headline sounds more complimentary than I mean it to be. It’s a positive in the same way that it’s a positive to discover the electric chair was just sanitized before your appointment: not the most important thing. For most of this season, the Dolphins have been bad at basically everything football related. No run game, no run defense, poor offensive line play, shaky quarterback play, injuries galore: you name it; we failed at it.
In this game against the Falcons, the Dolphins stopped being completely terrible at everything. Yet as the problems became fewer, they started to look eerily familiar. Let’s see who those deficiencies really are! I know you. You’re the same things that Miami has been bad at for my entire conscious lifetime. Great to see you again.
- The offensive line wasn’t unusable, but still wasn’t acceptable. Maybe, just maybe the team will settle on a permanent five who are able to grow together and become a productive unit. A good Fins offensive line comes as often as Halley’s Comet (that’s 75 years, if anyone’s keeping count), so forgive me for not being overly optimistic on this one.
- The defense can’t cover tight ends. Remember when Eric Rowe was the Tight End Duster, just last year? Pepperidge Farm remembers. On Sunday, Kyle Pitts had 163 yards receiving. That’s not a typo. That’s two games worth of production in one. What happened? Did Eric Rowe becomes awful at his job in one offseason? I doubt it. This seems to me like another case of coaches getting in the way of a good thing. I don’t know who changed what, but just change it back already. I’ve watched us get burned by tight ends as long as I’ve had eyeballs. I can’t go back to that.
- The pass rush is nonexistent. The Dolphins are able to generate sacks here and there by bringing extra rushers and, of course, there’s some value to that. There’s more value to getting pressure on the opposing quarterback when just rushing four. I’m not asking for Jason Taylor or Cam Wake, as much as I’d love them back. I’d take an Olivier Vernon or Jared Odrick on the line alongside Emmanuel Ogbah. You want a depressing stat sheet? Check this out. That’s the Dolphins’ all time sack leader list. It burns us.
It’s deja vu all over again. These same problems have plagued Miami since time immemorial. Even when other components of the game take a turn for the better, however slight, the same classic monsters keep rearing their ugly heads. As bad as the Ghosts of Dolphins’ Past are, even worse is that they’re now also failing to take advantage of opportunities. When your opponent offers you a win, you take it. Instead:
The team has forgotten how to win games
There were positives in certain areas against Atlanta. The offense moved the ball consistently on nearly every drive. Gesicki and Waddle both had big games again. The team even managed to move the ball on the ground, gaining 132 yards rushing. (Coming into the game we ran the highest percentage of pass plays in the NFL and totaled the lowest rush yards per game. Crazy how that works.) We might have found an extra viable lineman in center Austin Reiter, who was pressed into service thanks to the injured Michael Dieter being joined by an injured Greg Mancz.
The defense generated two excellent turnovers. They held the Falcons to 72 total yards rushing. Young defenders are getting valuable experience. The officials called a reasonably balanced game. The players never gave up and fought the full 60 minutes.
Yet, we still lost.
I’m a broken record on the fact that bad teams need to play well in all facets of the game. Typically that’s defined as offense, defense, and special teams but, of course, it can be more nuanced than that. Against Atlanta, Miami showed that they’re forgetting how to win. Opportunities were there all game long. They weren’t fighting uphill against home field advantage, poor officiating, an unstoppable opponent, or anything like that. All they had to do was play mistake free football and take the opportunities as they came.
7-3 in the 2nd quarter (Miami’s arch nemesis), ball on the Atlanta 32 yard line. Ever reliable Jason Sanders comes out to give the Dolphins a 10-3 lead. His kick is blocked by a rusher coming straight up the gut. No bueno.
Atlanta leads 10-7 with 47 seconds left in the same dreaded 2nd quarter. The Fins are driving, sitting pretty in the red zone at the Falcons’ 15 yard line. Tua takes the snap out of the shotgun, stares down Durham Smythe, and throws into double coverage, where the ball is intercepted. It’s possible that with Gesicki (or Hollins, etc.) in that spot, the pass is caught or at least broken up. That sadly doesn’t make it a good decision or pass, given that Smythe was the guy on the route and the team was knocking on the door on 2nd down. In that situation, good teams score a touchdown blindfolded. Average teams reach the end zone with some effort. Bad teams settle for a field goal. The Dolphins turn the ball over. So far, that’s a minimum of 6 and, realistically, 10 points the team has left on the field.
Now we’re to the critical 4th quarter, Dolphins trailing 20-14 with 14:09 remaining. Xavien Howard intercepts a Matt Ryan pass, pulling it from Calvin Ridley’s hands. The play sets up the Dolphins’ offense at the Atlanta 32 yard line (maybe we stop putting the ball on the opponents’ 32?). First snap of the ensuing offensive drive, Tua is pressured, panics, and tosses a duck to Atlanta linebacker Foye Oluokun, who returns it all the way back to the Miami 14 yard line. Momentum destroyed. That’s now anywhere from 9 to 17 points stranded on base.
Any loss is a team loss in my book, but Tua didn’t do himself any favors in the eyes of detractors with his decision making on the two interceptions. He was so very very close.
Tua was THIS CLOSE to being a zero
Before you assume that’s some kind of dig at Tua, read on:
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield spent 25 years in the Canadian Forces as an Air Command fighter pilot, 21 years as an astronaut, and 166 days in space. He wrote a book called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth in 2013. Chapter 9 is titled ‘Aim To Be A Zero’. In Hadfield’s words, the premise is: “Over the years, I’ve realized that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance on way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value. ... When you have some skills but don’t fully understand your environment, there is no way you can be a plus one. At best, you can be a zero. But a zero isn’t a bad thing to be. You’re competent enough not to create problems or make more work for everyone else. And you have to be competent, and prove to others that you are, before you can be extraordinary. There are no shortcuts, unfortunately.”
Tua’s final stat line was 32/40 (80%) 291 yds 4 TDs 2 INTs. Those 2 INTs were the difference between Tua being a minus one and Tua being a zero. Hell, he was 9 yards and 2 picks from an 80% completion percentage for 300 yds and 4 TDs. That’s the stat line of a serious plus one. Whether it’s purely inexperience, miscommunications, nerves, mechanical issues, or whatever else: throwing those two ugly picks kept this from being Tua’s ‘I-told-you-so, stay-in-Houston-pal’ game. Just like an 8-8 season, a good game marred by costly mistakes is just about the least helpful thing we could get from Tua. If he were consistently dreadful, it’d be easy to call it and move on. If he were incredible, it’d solve our QB issue once and for all (read: a few years). Teams can win games with a zero. Tua needs to get his floor to a zero, gain some more experience, and become the permanent plus one we’ve needed for decades. This was his (unlucky) 13th start in the NFL. That’s not even a full rookie season’s worth yet. Mistakes like those two interceptions are the sort of mistakes that rookies make. It doesn’t excuse them, but context is critical. If Tua’s still making those throws at the end of this season, 20+ games into his career, we can start collecting our towels to throw in. Until then, he’s a ‘rookie’ showing improvement on a bad team. Unfortunately, the league is a what-have-you-done-for-me-this-second kind of business and, with our leadership failing as hard as they have been lately, I fear he’s not going to get any more chances as the front office scrambles to save themselves.
The Dolphins should throw some trade offers around
When you’re sitting at 1-6, everything’s on the table as far as I’m concerned. Did anyone see how winless Detroit (led by former Dolphins interim head coach Dan ‘Oklahoma Drill’ Campbell) came out against the Rams? They followed a big play touchdown with an onside kick and a fake punt on the same drive. It got them to 16-17 at the end of the half against a much better team. They even ran a second fake punt in the 3rd quarter to extend another drive. Now, Jared Goff singlehandedly made sure to spoil his return to L.A., but nonetheless. That’s the kind of reckless abandon that truly bad teams need to embrace to spark their players. The Dolphins need to take on that mentality and start looking anywhere and everywhere for some life.
It’ll be really interesting to see what approach the front office takes after the season in terms of the depth of house cleaning, but there are 9 days left until the trade deadline and I’d like to see Miami make some moves. What moves, you ask? I don’t even care all that much. I just want to see them try something. If you can get anything at all for Albert Wilson, no brainer. If a high powered offense wants to look at DeVante Parker, I’m all ears. Some Titans out there want to give me a good deal for Xavien Howard, I’ll take a call. That’s not even considering the other side of the trade market, i.e. who they could bring in. The NFL doesn’t really have a publicly accessible Trade Bait list, but you have to imagine nearly anyone’s available for the right price. We can stand to upgrade practically every unit on the team. A veteran lineman, a pass rusher with a history of actually rushing the passer effectively, a linebacker who tackles at the line of scrimmage, or a receiver who plays more than 30% of games would all be good places to start. I won’t pretend to know who other teams are shopping or what acceptable prices would be for any player(s). I’ll only say that it’s clear there are better players out there than those on the Dolphins right now. So I’d like to see us make an effort to grab some.
Jason Taylor should be a coach
I once again listened to the game on Sirus XM radio while driving (before suffering through the replay on GamePass), so I had the pleasure of listening to Jason Taylor do his new thing. I have no clue if Taylor has interest in any other gig, but I’d cherish if the Dolphins’ higher ups offered him the chance to coach. He’s a really knowledgeable former player who can provide direct mentoring at an area of dire need. What’s not to like? Like I said, at this point, the only move to make is to do anything and everything available to you. For me, that’s reaching out to some more unconventional outlets for help. Maybe we can lure Uncle Rico out of Idaho and down to South Florida.
You’re still here? Get a job. I expect there will be some openings at Dolphins headquarters within the next few months. Put your resume in the comments below.