The Miami Dolphins dropped their Preseason Week 2 contest against the Las Vegas Raiders 15-13 in a game that, by this time next week, no one will really remember. Even though the Dolphins had some good plays and individual highlights, the game as a whole was just one of going through the motions, checking the box, and moving on. A sentence full of cliches was about the best way to describe yesterday’s game. But, even in a forgettable preseason game, there is one thing that should have stood out.
The Miami Dolphins can win with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
They can win with Tagovailoa if the offensive line can actually come together and perform as a unit. While we have yet to see Terron Armstead, Miami’s big free agent signing and the anchor on the left end of the line, 80 percent of the presumed starting line was in the game on Saturday. In pass protection, the line looked good. They were able to give Tagaovailoa some time, and the quarterback looked in control, made good decisions, and used his legs to avoid any pressure that did seem to be coming. That all said, the offensive line has to figure out their run-blocking issues. The team is still using a vanilla playbook and trying not to show anything that can be used against them when the regular season starts, but there still needs to be some sign that 86 rushing yards across two games is not what the 2022 Dolphins can expect.
They can win with Tagovailoa if Mike Gesicki looks like Mike Gesicki. The Dolphins used the franchise tag on Gesicki this season to ensure they kept a top pass-catching tight end in South Florida. Right now, they have a player who seems to be trying to overthink every play, who is dropping passes he normally catches, and who is just not playing up to the level we have all seen from him in the past. Gesicki played 25 snaps on Saturday, well above the 13 snaps Tagovailoa played and the 15 snaps the starting offensive line played. Asked after the game about being on the field for an extended period compared to the rest of the first team, Gesicki seemed genuinely introspective, explaining, “I need it. I need all the reps I can get. I mean, I played receiver last year, I’ve played receiver the past three or four years. I’m playing tight end now and any reps I can get live, out there blocking, putting my hands on another guy and going out there, working hard and blocking; honestly just working on my footwork and my hand placement, all that kind of stuff. Any reps I can get at that, I can use it.” Gesicki recognizes the areas in which he needs to improve and the weaknesses in his game right now, but it just feels like he is thinking about every aspect of the game again, playing like a rookie instead of a veteran where everything is muscle memory and second nature now. He should get there, but until he does, the Dolphins are missing a large part of their offensive threat.
The Dolphins can win with Tagovailoa if the rushing attack shows up. To say the Dolphins have an offense built on play action would be under-emphasizing the number of times Miami is looking to use play action to set up the pass. In the first two preseason games, it has felt like the Dolphins have run a play-action fake on nearly every pass attempt. That is a slight exaggeration, but slight is the keyword. How many play-action bootlegs will the Dolphins run in 2022? All of them. The problem with building your passing attack off play action is, when you have no rushing attack, the defense is not going to bite on the fake. The Raiders on Saturday clearly ignored the handoff action and continued to chase after quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson, leading to thrown-away passes or rushed short throws. Part of this is the preseason, part is on the offensive line, as above, but part is on the play calling, part is on the running backs, and part is on the tight ends. Everything needs to come together to correct the running game if the play-action passing game is going to be effective.
And the Dolphins can win with Tagovailoa if the receivers (and tight ends) are able to make plays, make adjustments, and hold on to the ball. Miami clearly will have a deep threat to their passing game, with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle able to take the top off the defense on every play. That is not where the Dolphins are going to win, however. Miami’s offense is made to spread the ball around, get it into the hands of the receivers quickly, and let them make plays. While the long ball will show up, the Dolphins are going to be looking to the short- and medium-length routes to make the most of the weapons they have. We have not yet seen Hill and Waddle with Tagovailoa in the preseason. We likely will not, and if we do, it will be a small sample size with very basic play calling. The assumption is the receivers and Tagovailoa will be on the same page when the season starts, but that remains an assumption right now.
The Dolphins can win with Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa was 6-for-8 for 58 yards on Saturday, giving him a 94.8 passer rating. The first incomplete pass was a throwaway, with Tagovailoa throwing the ball toward Gesicki’s feet as a blitzer came through toward the quarterback. The other incompletion was a drop from Gesicki when Tagovailoa threw a perfectly placed ball to the tight end, hitting him in the numbers, but Gesicki had not yet turned his head and missed making the catch. “Yeah, I just didn’t get my head around,” Gesick said after the game of that drop. “Tua is a damn trained SEAL, so he got back there, his back foot hit, and he put it right in-between my numbers. I just got to get my head around quicker.”
If Gesicki had caught that pass and was tackled immediately, that would have been a 12-yard gain for the Dolphins. That would have made Tagovailoa’s stat line 7-for-8 for 70 and a 103.1 passer rating.
Tagovailoa’s 7.3 yards per attempt would have been tied with Mac Jones and Jalen Hurts for 14th in the league last year, just behind the 7.4 yards per attempt average from Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. It is well above the 6.8 yards per attempt Tagovailoa averaged in 2021, when he was tied with Josh Allen and Davis Mills for 23rd in the league. This is obviously all based on an extremely small sample size, but Tagovailoa was not the offense’s issue on Saturday.
The Dolphins are set to win with Tagovailoa if the rest of the offense does they parts as well.