Lost in Los Angeles

Is it time to panic like the last few hours on the Titanic? Probably not but it sure does feel like it after the Dolphins lost their second straight game in California after a much ballyhooed five game winning streak that left the Dolphins in the second seed spot and only one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the tightly stacked AFC. The Dolphins finally caught the attention of the NFL who flexed them to a Sunday night game and the aquatic team from Miami looked absolutely lost in Los Angeles. Since the Dolphins had their bye week something has happened to the offensive attack of the Dolphins, and it doesn’t look like McDaniel is 100% sure why it seems to have faltered, but I am sure that he will figure it out. The Dolphins obliterated the Texans in the first half 30-0 and that had everyone who likes to play the result feeling great, but I could tell during that game there was an ailment in the passing and rushing attack of the offense that was not sitting right with the rookie head coach and offensive guru. McDaniel left Tua and his starters in a game that was clearly over because he and Tua wanted to quote “get some things cleaned up on the offense.”

Offensive Woes

There had been some breakdowns in the red zone that led to settling for field goals including on the opening drive which were very uncharacteristic. This team was one of the most potent offenses in team history and their hallmark was just how efficient they were at scoring touchdowns when they got inside of the opposition’s 20 yard line. There was also the fact that the Dolphins were struggling mightily to run the ball against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league in the Texans, even when they had light boxes at times. Jeff Wilson only averaged 3 yards per carry in that game and Myles Gaskin was stuck in neutral at 2.8 yard per carry. It was a bit of a head scratcher considering how well Miami had run the ball in the game prior to their bye against a much better run defense in the Cleveland Browns. It wasn’t until the offensive line completely imploded early in the 2nd half of that Texans game that McDaniel was forced to pull Tua to avoid injury and address the issues during the subsequent week of practice. However, there was a hint in that game even if we didn’t fully acknowledge because of the result, that something wasn’t right. To the rest of us it felt like McDaniel and Tua wanted to be strict perfectionists considering that they were up by 30, but in hindsight they may have been onto something being out of whack in that fixture.

A Win in LA would have been nice…

Fast forward past the offensive unraveling that occurred last week against the 49ers, and we land in Sunday’s game in Inglewood against the (don’t call them San Diego anymore) Chargers. The Dolphins needed to win this game to get back on track. They needed to win the game to keep pace with Buffalo and keep their playoff hopes on a strong footing. Tua needed to have a big game to recalibrate his confidence. Tuanon needed this game to have another notch in their belt above the Herbert-ites. The Dolphins were the better, more accomplished team on the season coming into the game. I never thought the Dolphins would or could lose that game until the entire NBC pregame panel unanimously picked the Dolphins to win. I instantly became nervous because oftentimes that unanimity ends up being the kiss of death that gets trolled by the underdog’s fanbase on social media after they come up with the surprising victory.

It’s not all about the Explosive Plays….

From the very first series of the game the Dolphins offense was off. Tua tried to force the ball to Tyreek Hill and Waddle even when they had three or four guys in their vicinity. In Tua’s defense, he was able to fit a few balls into tight windows and Tyreek and Jaylen dropped them. Tua has become addicted to big chunk plays and his lack of patience to take what the defense was giving him became the undoing of the Dolphins on Sunday night. Miami tried to play to their strengths and tried to build back up Tua’s confidence from the very beginning by being aggressive and throwing the ball early and often when they should have probably run the ball more to set the tone against a very porous rush defense. Instead, the Dolphins came out bombing away and every time the Dolphins did decide to run the ball, it seemed predictable, and San Diego always seemed to know when the run was coming. On passing downs the Chargers muddied up the middle of the field. They played a lot of press man and were very physical with the Dolphins receivers. Kyle Van Noy got into the Dolphins backfield and absolutely lit up Jaylen Waddle when he was in motion because the way the Dolphins motion it is very easy to predict exactly when the ball is going to be snapped. This has led to increased pressure and plays being blown up right from the beginning.

Is Coach McDaniel a One Trick Pony?

Mike McDaniel needs to adjust to become less predictable. Whenever Gesicki is in the game, teams know that it’s a pass play because Gesicki can’t run block. Whenever Waddle or Hill motions, teams know exactly when the ball is going to be snapped and go to hit the speed receiver to kill the play. On early downs the Dolphins like to go for big plays over the middle, so opponents will clog the middle by dropping linebackers and leaving the sidelines open. On first or second down if Tyreek Hill comes out of the game for a breather, it’s a signal to the opposition that the Dolphins are going to run the ball. The Dolphins need to break these tendencies and adjust to the way teams are defending them now. As a wise friend said to me “this is a big test for McDaniel because teams have started to figure McDaniel out. So if he is really the offensive guru we all believe him to be, his next move needs to be his best move.”

Different Game Plan, Same Result

To be fair the 49ers’ defensive game plan was completely different from the Chargers’ defensive game plan. The Chargers played a lot of press man and got away with a lot of illegal contact downfield, but the refs were letting them play. The 49ers played a lot of Cover 2 and quarters coverage because honestly, they were not having success playing man coverage against Miami’s speed. The receivers were getting open on the 49ers, Tua just missed them. It was a different story against the Chargers. Many people made a big deal about the Chargers having a bunch of backups in, but this is football and those guys are still players. The Dolphins defense has played with a bunch of backups and third stringers all season and no one is allowing them to use it as a built in excuse, nor should they.

The Chargers got away with a very high-risk high reward strategy. They had their backup safety in single coverage in a base man coverage on Waddle or Hill quite a bit. Theoretically, as a defensive coach that is the opposite of the kind of position that you want the back end of your defense to be in. One man between the Cheetah and the end zone in single coverage? That’s living life on the edge. Those are the matchups that would have an offensive coach like McDaniel salivating. More likely than not, you will get burned trying to defend the Cheetah and the Penguin that way. That’s what allowed both receivers to put up crazy numbers at the beginning of the season. The Chargers are not the first team to employ this strategy against the Dolphins. They are just the first team to try to do it since the beginning of the season and the only team to not get burned by it consistently enough to cost them the game.

The Good, and The Possible

The Chargers got burned on it on one 60-yard touchdown play and honestly should have been burned earlier in the game for defending Tyreek that way on a deep post route but for some reason Tyreek lost track of the ball in the air and didn’t realize that the ball was thrown to him. That would have been a 70-yard touchdown. There were a couple throws down the sideline in similar situations where Sherfield and Waddle had a step but the ball was slightly under-thrown which allowed the DB to recover and break the pass play up. Getting burned on those two plays is exactly why most teams will not defend Miami this way and the Chargers’ blueprint may not be replicable and probably is not the best way for the rest of the league to try to defend the speedy Dolphins. So, the Dolphins don’t need to do a complete overhaul, but McDaniel does need to make some adjustments. Frankly Tua needs to play better as well. 10/28 for 145 yards is never going to get it done any day of the week, especially on Sundays. If teams are going to drop and play man against the Dolphins then the opportunity for Tua to run for big gains and get down in time to protect himself will be there. Also, the short underneath routes to the running back and tight ends will be there as well. Tua will need to take those yards until the defense starts creeping closer to the line of scrimmage and then burn them over the top. Tua needs to practice patience like Mahomes had to when the whole league started dropping and playing Cover 2 all game against the Chiefs.

Icy Premonitions….

The Dolphins head to an ugly matchup against Buffalo this Saturday night. Early forecasts call for 2-3 inches of snow, bitter cold, and blustery wind. It will not be great conditions. The Dolphins will need to run the ball more. It will be tougher because Jeff Wilson is by far the better pure running back than Raheem Mostert and Wilson left the Chargers game early with a hip injury. Jeff Wilson is better at reading blocks in between the tackles, pressing the hole, and making himself skinny to squeeze into tight creases. Wilson does not possess the top end speed that Mostert has but his physical running style is more conducive to the nature of this offense which is the passing game is dominant and sets up the run. The Dolphins just need to run the ball to keep the chains moving and keep defenses honest. To punish them for playing light boxes and dropping to cover the pass. The Dolphins can not continue to struggle running the ball against bad run defenses with light boxes geared towards stopping the pass.

A Glimmer of Hope

The Dolphins need to make teams pay for daring them to run the ball and there’s no time like now to get started on that mission. McDaniel was known as a run game guru in San Francisco, it’s time to bring some of that Mike Magic to Miami and get back to his identity. I understand that after these last two performances confidence amongst the fanbase is not at an all-time high. The Tua detractors and Dolphins doubters are out in full force with their “I told you so’s.” However, even if the Dolphins drop to 8-6 after a tough road trip culminating in a brutal matchup in Buffalo, the Dolphins can still get back on track by getting some home cooking in Miami on Christmas against Green Bay. If the Dolphins win out after Buffalo or get 2 of their last 3, they will still be in great shape to make the playoffs. First things first, the rematch with the Bills Mafia. Fins up!

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