The Miami Dolphins took their high-flying, precision & timing based offense on the road to Kansas City in sub-zero temperatures and had about as much success as you’d expect. Six short weeks ago, this same Miami Dolphins team was sitting atop the AFC with a record of 9-3 and a (positive) point differential of 118. They had a three game lead over the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East with five games left to play. Injuries and poor execution sunk this once promising year, but let’s break down what happened specifically in Kansas City this past weekend.
An Injury Hampered Defense
This defense having struggles was about as predictable as it gets. It wasn’t any one player or coaches fault, it’s the accumulation of impact injuries on that side of the ball that forced them into just surviving rather than being able to attack and dominate. Being down your three top edges, second corner, star free safety, and defensive captain isn’t really something you can just “play hard” through. The defense was fundamentally different without those players and that was most obvious when they didn’t blitz.
The lack of organic pressure Miami got from their front four is totally untenable (and completely due to injuries). It forced them to blitz on 55% of Mahomes' dropbacks, putting a ton of pressure on a shorthanded secondary. Honestly impressive to hold KC to just 26. pic.twitter.com/f0ipHftgB2— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) January 16, 2024
While Miami did blitz at a rate (55.8%) well above their yearly average, when they didn’t Mahomes had about as long as he wanted in the pocket. That meant that a secondary that was already shorthanded was forced to cover players for even longer than would have been normal. When they did blitz, they were typically able to get home but Mahomes still avoided any interceptions, sacks, or turnovers. They knew Fangio would be forced to blitz and had a solid plan to counter that.
If you aren’t familiar with Fangio’s brand of defense, he likes to get pressure with his front four and mix up coverages on the back end. They will let you take underneath stuff, but want to force you into nickel and diming your way down the field. When you’re missing all of your best pass rushers, it makes it impossible to play his brand of defense. Hats off to Fangio for having a good game plan so shorthanded which kept Miami in this game for most of the night.
Offense Pulls a Disappearing Act
This offense is built around what Tua does best and the weapons they have. McDaniel chose to stick with Tua and build the offense this way. One of the things we need to accept is that all this motion and these timing based concepts have very small room for error. It’s not easy to do, but when a defense has the personnel and game plan to disrupt it, things can fall apart pretty quickly. Some might describe it as a house of cards.
There were bad concepts, bad play calls, missed throws/blocks.. just a comedy of errors. Daniel Jeremiah may be right, this team will need homefield advantage to do anything in the playoffs going forward. pic.twitter.com/ZimxTTdtnR— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) January 16, 2024
This may have been Tua’s worst game of the season, but I think there is plenty of blame to go around. I know the Dolphins are a perimeter running team, but they were playing right into the Chiefs strengths as a defense by continuing to attack the perimeter with pitches and screens. There were times where it may have made more sense to keep the football on the ground, especially in these conditions, but Mike threw the football. The offensive line also didn’t have a great day against this tough Chiefs front, both in pass and run blocking.
They had the one long touchdown to Hill, but outside of that this offense was totally inept. The conditions and being on the road surely didn’t work in their favor, but they were really only missing one impactful starter (Connor Williams). I like Isaiah Wynn, but don’t see it as a huge drop off to Robert Jones. The idea that this team will legitimately NEED home field advantage to make any kind of a run in the playoffs is probably true.
What can they add this off season to help them win these sorts of ugly playoff style games? Well, one of the biggest needs they are likely to have (depending on who is brought back) is going to be offensive line. Both depth and likely some starting positions. If you’re going to keep a pocket passer as your franchise quarterback, this has to be a top priority. The other thing is a big bodied receiver than can beat press, win against man coverage, and make contested catches. That could be in the form of a tight end (my choice) or a wide receiver, but it doesn’t feel like that player is on the roster at the moment.
Being unable to beat the Bills at home on the final regular season game of the season sent them on the road to play in record low temperatures against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The results were predictable as they got outcoached and outplayed ending their season with another wild card exit. Mike McDaniel and Chris Grier will be answering difficult questions all off season and both will need to find a way to get this group over the proverbial hump. It’s not likely that both will survive another disappointing finish like this.