That was nice.
The Dolphins played a normal football game
For all of the tumult of this season, the near constant losing, the injuries, the trade talks, and on and on: it was nice to have what felt like a totally standard Sunday. The Dolphins travelled to MetLife Stadium in New (York) Jersey to play one of the teams I believe in least across all professional sports: the New York Football Jets. Due to a injury to their “Quarterback” of the “Future” Zach Wilson, the Jets trotted out former Superbowl champion and current OfficeMax floor supervisor Joe Flacco to lead the offense. That means the Dolphins were against a 2 win team with a backup QB who hasn’t played in a little bit. That should be an easy win.
And what do you know? It kind of was. There were hiccups here and there (an early interception, a missed field goal, some weird clock management, etc.), but the Dolphins went on the road into a situation where they should have won and won. There are always improvements to make, but a team that can go out and take care of business is a wildly different team than the Dolphins started the season being. That’s great.
They used some creative playcalling for once. There were some fun triple reverses thrown in there, a few formations with non-QB quarterbacks, and even some innovation in the red zone with plays other than failing runs up the middle or useless fades. It seemed to get the offense going and spurred them to scoring 24 points for the first time since losing to Atlanta in Week 7. That’s great.
They even overcame the refs being complete tuna cans, what with them calling three OPIs and a DPI on Miami, the majority of which could easily be deemed ridiculous. Bad teams are usually too bad to compete against bad calls alongside their actual opponent, but Miami managed to soldier on, secure a lead, and hold it. That’s great.
I don’t really have much else to say about that. And, perhaps weirdly, I think that’s also great. It means we finally had a week without chaos and shenanigans. Maybe the Fins are finally starting to settle in. Speaking of settling in:
Tua played well after the early INT
As with most teams, Miami is likely to only go so far without stability behind center. Tua, this far into his short career, has yet to offer that, mostly due to injury issues. Against the Jets, however, Tua went 27/33 (82%) for 273 yds, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. The interception happened in the 1st quarter on a poor throw, high and behind the intended receiver. Otherwise, Tua was on point. An 82% completion percentage is preposterous efficency. He completed a 65 yard deep throw to Mack Hollins for a touchdown and wasn’t sacked despite still playing behind the same piteousness of pranksters who like to cosplay as matadors every other snap.
Detractors will likely point out that if you remove the deep ball to Hollins from the numbers, his average completion distance goes down to 8 yards. It’s true that we’d all like that number to be higher. We’d all like to see the offense push the ball downfield more, especially to Jaylen ‘I put a down payment on a nice house by the line of scrimmage’ Waddle. The more of the offense I see, the more I believe that the inability to go deep falls on the line’s inability to provide sufficient time and, in a compounding move, the coordinators’ unwillingness to call slower developing plays. I equate evaluating Tua’s deep passing prowess to reviewing a receiver’s stat line on game day. The player can only take advantage of the opportunities given to him. If Adam Shaheen gets 1 target and catches it for 19 yards, he can’t be blamed for having a bad game. He caught the only ball thrown his way. Likewise, if Tua throws 27 completions and the majority are underneath routes, it might just be because those routes are the only ones being run on most plays. Without analyzing all of the film, I can’t guarantee that’s the case, but just watching the games in real time and seeing how the offense is constructed makes it seem pretty clear regardless.
Against the Jets, Tua did what was asked of him (sans the one badly thrown INT), bounced back from his early mistake, and looked more comfortable than he has in a while. All of that positivity being said:
Tua needs to limit his panic throws
I’m not really aiming to nitpick here, I swear. It’s just that to me, as the casual yet self-described analytical observer, Tua’s biggest weakness is his decision making in a contested pocket. It reminds me of Miami-era Ryan Tannehill in all the worst ways (come at me: Tannehill’s pocket presence was and is his worst attribute). Tua’s interception was thrown under duress. He may have thought he had a clearer throwing lane or maybe he just missed a pass he otherwise won’t normally miss. Either way, the pocket was collapsing and he threw a bad pass in response. Later on there was a third down and medium (I want to say 3rd and 6) where the Jets’ defensive line was again breathing down Tua’s neck. He threw an ill-advised pass to his right on a crosser to Albert Wilson that was nearly tipped backward and would have ended up in the hands of a second waiting defender. Worse yet, if the pass was completed, it would have only gained two yards. Now, these are two throws across an entire game (one in which he played well) and, again, I’m not trying to nitpick. I’m only pointing out that I hope Tua and the coaches put some focus on handling pressure in the pocket without chucking dangerous passes that should, instead, either be eaten or thrown away.
I mentioned earlier that Tua didn’t take a sack in this game. That’s technically only mostly true because there was a play with 5:25 left in the 4th quarter where he held the ball entirely too long and got collapsed on by most of the Jets’ defensive line. He was bailed out by a defensive holding penalty that extended the drive, but it was another instance of poor pocket awareness that I’d like to see become fewer and further between as he continues to progress (for the record, I think it will). Identifying the pressure and responding to it in the safest way to keep drives moving (or at least to limit turnovers, if that’s the best possible outcome) is, to me, the last major piece of Tua’s game that will elevate him a step higher and help him become the consistent and trustworthy quarterback the Dolphins have been waiting on forever.
The coaches changed the whole defense for no reason until it started to fail
As smooth of a win as this felt, the Dolphins can’t seem to go through any game without a few head scratching decisions. This week it was moving away from the wildly successful defense of last week’s Baltimore game to a more traditional soft coverage zone for the first half of the Jets game. Maybe they thought the Jets weren’t good enough to warrant the amoeba/cover 0 defense that befuddled Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense. Maybe they wanted to cross train the defense on something else. I don’t know. What I do know is that if I was a coach who allowed his defense to return to a system that they used with incredible success the previous year and found incredible success with it again, I’d probably go ahead and leave it alone. Why do our coaches insist on changing what works? The team responded to the Return of the Amoeba (in theaters nationwide June 5th) against Baltimore like gangbusters. Let them be Gang Green busters with it too. The cover 0 was deployed so sparingly agains the Jets that in one instance, it was the defense called when the Fins’ defense surrendered a huge touchdown pass. It was almost like the defense couldn’t get comfortable with it when it was called one out of fifty plays. Everyone saw the scheme that shut down the Ravens. The defense clearly loved playing it. Let them play it.
On the offensive coaching side, there was a weird clock management sequence going into the end of the first half. The Dolphins had 1:00 and 2 timeouts left, yet managed to not really pursue a touchdown and, instead, seemingly tried to set up a short field goal on purpose, despite getting well within range to take a couple shots at six. It seemed almost defeatist from the onset and then, in traditional Dolphins’ fashion, the offense got into position for that highly coveted short field goal and Jason Sanders missed it. I’m possibly oversimplifying it, but if I have 1:00 and 2 timeouts, I’d like my offense to go for a touchdown and settle for a field goal, not go for a field goal and settle for nothing. Fortunately, it didn’t end up affecting the final outcome. One of these days I’d just like to see a game without any questionable approaches to really common football situations.
The team has every opportunity to ride its momentum over the next few weeks
A few weeks ago, everyone was rending their clothes and wailing in the streets. I still am, but that’s only because I like to have hobbies. Suddenly, the Dolphins have won three in a row and have a very favorable upcoming schedule. It’s quite possible they can ride the wave of momentum and totally cowabunga dude. The newly Cam Newton’d Panthers come to South Florida next week in an eminently winnable game for Miami. Christian McCaffrey is obviously the main concern as far as containing the Panthers’ offense. And historically the Dolphins love to let running quarterbacks make them look silly. Cam Newton, however, is about five years past running. I want to see Miami’s defense treat the Panthers like the Ravens and come out swinging. Pressuring an elderly Cam Newton into oblivion should force turnovers galore and keep McCaffrey off the field while the Fins’ offense slowly plods down the field at 3 yards per run and 8 yards per pass. It might not be flashy, but it can work. And based on how this Dolphins season has gone so far, I don’t need flashy. I need another nice, normal Sunday.
Do you hate nice things and wish the Dolphins went to OT and tied the Jets? Think Cam Newton will be yelling ‘I’m back’ when he’s on his back after his fifth sack? I haven’t been able to say anything slightly trash-talky in so long. It feels good. Commenting feels good too.