The bottom eaters sprouted. The second stringers were pressing. The lowest-rated defense the Dolphins will face to end the year has set up a roadblock at the midpoint where Miami receivers like to find open space.
“Everyone has been laid back and played soft in the zones and giving them all this space because they’re scared of their speed,” Chargers defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko said late Sunday night after the 23- 17 from Los Angeles.
It was the secret sauce, they thought.
“We weren’t scared,” Fehoko said. “We played man-to-man press on their receivers. We didn’t give them space for their running speed. And up front, we didn’t blitz much, did we? »
“Almost at all,” defensive lineman Morgan Fox said. “But we had a lot of pressure on (Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa).
“It was such a simple and smart plan,” Fehoko said.
Here’s the real question: Do these basic tactics explain how the Dolphins’ offense has had the headache of their season? Did they say why Tagovailoa went from Mr. Accurate in November to no longer shooting straight in December?
“That’s probably the most we’ve missed this season,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said.
No one expected big numbers every Sunday from this offense or from Tagovailoa. But completing just 10 of 28 passes for 145 yards? Make a single substantial throw – a 60-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill to break up Tagovailoa’s 3-for-17 start and provide second-half hope?
It wasn’t the November Tua on display for a second consecutive week. It was Tua 2021. It might even have been the rookie model of 2020, considering it wasn’t just about season low numbers for all the games he finished. They also came up against the 30th-ranked Chargers defense, missing three other injured starters right after last week’s loss to Las Vegas.
“Everything,” Tagovailoa said when asked what was wrong. “From communication to getting the details right with our guys and just being able to make plays. It was very disappointing for us to go out and do what we were doing. We work too hard to deliver a performance like that.
Gone are the open receivers of recent weeks. No more easy passes. Gone also is the rhythmic beat that connected the quarterback to the receiver. Jaylen Waddle didn’t catch until the fourth quarter as he was stopped by Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel, Jr.
If any play represented that messy Sunday, it was Tua uncorking a long pass as Hill opened up for a rare moment in the second quarter. The receiver never saw the ball. And the bullet arched away from Hill’s route. He bounced harmlessly off the turf in a way that was explained on Sunday. And could not be explained at all.
McDaniel spread the ball, just as he looked on the pitch.
“I thought overall, with the way we were playing to win the game, (Tagovailoa) probably had to do something right,” McDaniel said. “I thought at times he did some stuff. He competed and gave us a chance to win.
That’s what you need a few days from a franchise quarterback. Chargers Justin Herbert delivered just that. Despite being hit seven times and continuously being kicked out of the pocket, he had a career-high 39 passes on 51 attempts for 369 yards and orchestrated several no-try plays at home.
Still, the Dolphins defense continued to give the offense a chance to win. The offense just couldn’t muster much. All Miami night was two moments from Hill – the deep pass that was the only play the Chargers cornerback lost it and an earlier slapstick play where he recovered a fumble from a rugby scrum and ran 56 random yards for a touchdown.
It’s a three-game road test and the Dolphins failed the first two questions. In San Francisco, the Dolphins had open receivers all day against the top-rated defense and Tagovailoa was out. In Los Angeles, they were dominated by one of the worst defenses in the league and, maybe, just maybe, their new scheme.
“Don’t let the fast guys run down the field,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “When you let fast guys run around the field – as fast as they are – and let them run through areas with no one around, it turns into a track encounter. Guess what, you’re not as fast as them. No one is.”
For weeks, the Dolphins offense could not be stopped. Now he was nowhere to be found. The question is if they can locate him on a short week of training before the coming Buffalo chill on Saturday night.