No matter the journey, the destination has been the same with the Miami Dolphins for the last 23 years, sent home without a playoff win. You could fill out a bingo card and then some with the reasons the Dolphins couldn’t get to or win a playoff game over that span. Add “top offense goes completely cold” to the card.
As much as the fans and national media heads like to push the QB vs. QB narrative as to who wins and loses football games, football is a team game, and there’s more than one reason for losing.
Up on today’s docket, the focus of blame will be centered around Tua Tagovailoa and his ineffectiveness in the cold, Mike McDaniel’s play calling and scheme, and the Dolphins being one of the NFL’s most injured teams.
Do you Want to Build a Snowman?
I’m not going to lie to you. When I saw Tua Tagovailoa show up pre-game in some Timbs, I thought Dolphins by fifty. I say that jokingly, but I was under the impression Tua would be all business and would go out there and sling it a little bit. Turns out, the opposite happened.
I thought he would transition to tundra-like conditions like Johnny Tsunami, but he instead turned in Olaf and played like his joints hurt. He just looked cold and stiff.
As much as we criticize Tua, he played in elements that no team other than Kansas City had to deal with. They get the advantage of living there, and Patrick Mahomes has plenty of experience playing there in December and January.
Fans and media are pushing the weekends playoff winners like CJ Stroud and Jordan Love to pass Tua because of their play but forget to mention that they both played inside games and had lesser competition. Tua Tagovailoa and the beat-up Dolphins had to travel to the Super Bowl Champs house in sub-zero temperatures.
Some will call it an excuse, but the context has to be taken into consideration.
I said last week that Tua is a big game player and could deal with the elements, but that blew up in my face. You could point to a few issues that didn’t help Tua, such as the lack of a run game, the pressure getting home, and little separation from receivers. Times when the other variables were going well, Tua didn’t deliver. He wasn’t consistent and seemed a bit in his head about how cold it was.
This is probably a TD, if Tua hits Achane in stride. Two blockers, two defenders, and the fastest running back in the NFL. Missed opportunity. pic.twitter.com/6vsAmVdx1T— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) January 16, 2024
I don’t blame him. There are levels to it, and it was another level type of cold. Being able to play in this type of weather will always be a skill set that is needed. Kansas City, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Buffalo will all be playoff teams for the foreseeable future.
When it’s windy, it’s hard for any quarterback, even the ones who throw nukes like Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert. The key is having a plan b when things break down, and being able to escape the pocket is something Tua needs to focus on in the offseason because it’s simply not good enough right now. If you can’t sling it in the cold, you need to be able to be mobile. There has to be another threat in your toolbelt to keep the defense guessing. The offense’s speed got worn down by the elements and the unpredictability of Kansas City’s defense.
Tua’s fastball is his precision and anticipation, but when it’s cold and windy, that goes out the window. More versatility is needed, and Tua didn’t show that. He looked overwhelmed, but the hand he was dealt on Saturday was as bad as it gets.
He’s still the franchise quarterback and is getting better every offseason. He just needs to continue that curve Mike McDaniel alluded to in his end-of-season press conference. Next stop, mobility!
Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner
One aspect of Mike McDaniel’s personality that I view as overwhelmingly positive is his sense of accountability, even if it’s to a fault. Most coaches will go up on that podium and will never take the blame. They’ll deflect into a speech of execution or discipline and even throw others under the bus.
Not Mike McDaniel. He gets it. He knows what he excels at and what might be too much on his plate.
I asked Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel to assess his play-calling and if he would ever consider delegating those duties.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) January 15, 2024
"Nothing's off the table, ever," McDaniel said. "I think we failed to reach our goals this season, so play-calling wouldn't live outside that."
I’ve been a bit critical of Mike McDaniel’s play calling, referring to him as Madden McDaniel for his bombs away approach. I felt he again abandoned the run, and didn’t stick to a game plan that could get Tua in more comfortable throwing situations.
Just sitting here frustrated watching the #Dolphins O tape back… UGH! 1st Tip my Hat to KC D/Spags MIA had no chance… but on the other side: No pressure plan! Confusing concepts! Still struggling when having to work beyond #1 read! Tua playing too fast!— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) January 14, 2024
Heres a couple plays from MIA O that may help explain what I was talking about last night and where some of the struggles come when the primary guy isn’t open for Tua/QB… (and always remember I’m not in the room so it may be execution as much as play design)… #StudyBall pic.twitter.com/VbYkXy5k11— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) January 14, 2024
Inversely, some perfectly drawn-up plays could’ve gone for big chunks or touchdowns, but Tua couldn’t execute those throws. That’s a bit of what the problem is. It feels like they were more focused on hitting defenses in one big strike and not managing a game-long plan of attack or setting plays up for later. I saw little, to no adjustments, and the offense became predictable in the second half.
It’s one of those situations where neither McDaniel nor Tua could pick the other one up. I watched other teams with similar offensive philosophies scheme guys open all day and even saw Green Bay Packers Luke Musgrave catch a touchdown with no one in his zip code.
I think ultimately, Mike McDaniel knows the elite qualities he has as a motivator and scheme creator. He should, and probably will give up play-calling duties to Frank Smith. It takes a man with little to no ego to take blame, accountability and take steps to address it. I respect that about Mike McDaniel.
What Else Could It Be?
Two straight weeks that Evil Vic Fangio does not make the list. As much as I want to get on him about not having Jalen Ramsey on Rashee Rice all night, the Miami Dolphins defense played their hearts out and held their end of the bargain despite injuries to six key starters.
The best Dolphins fans could hope for from the defense was to be a bend but don’t break defense. They couldn’t get any pressure without blitzing since all the top pass rushers are hurt, and the back end was just Jalen Ramsey and Deshon Elliot flying around everywhere. It wasn’t sustainable and needed help from the offense, but got none. They held Mahomes and the Chiefs offense to four field goals in that game, and it could’ve been a lot worse if they didn’t. We can let Fangio and the defense off the hook.
The most significant factor in the game were the injuries in my opinion. In hindsight, you’d have to be a bit crazy to think a team as hurt as the Dolphins are could go into sub-zero temperatures and beat the best quarterback in the league, their elite defense, familiarity with the conditions, overall healthy team and come out with a win. I thought Tua could kick it into extra gear and be an elite game-changer, but that didn’t happen.
Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been a game-changer in an indoor game like most of the others got the luxury of over the weekend, but that wasn’t the hand he got. It won’t be the last time the Dolphins are dealt that hand, so adjustments are needed. The Miami Dolphins walked into Kansas City hurt, unfamiliar with extreme elements, and a scheme that became predictable. In reality, they may have had no chance.
Let us know in the comments who, or what you think was the biggest reason for the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and what needs to be adjusted in the offseason.