Dolphins hoping recent losses help right offensive wrongs

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Tua Tagovailoa believes the Miami Dolphins’ recent losses have taught them lessons their early season success didn’t.

Ahead of Miami’s pivotal division matchup against Buffalo, Tagovailoa said the Dolphins are learning the importance of putting bad drives behind them and not letting incompletions or miscommunication dictate how a game progresses.

“The next play mentality definitely needs to show itself more evident for us with the way we play offensively,” Tagovailoa said. “Because of the success that we found early in the year, we really haven’t been given that opportunity.”

Miami heads to Buffalo having beat the Bills in Week 3, but the Dolphins could face frigid temperatures for Saturday night’s matchup.

“I can speak for myself, it’s a mindset thing,” Tagovailoa said. “And if I’m too focused and worried about if it’s too cold, can I grab the ball, can I not, then I would say I’m focused on the wrong things. It would be hard to play that way going over there against a really good team.”

The Dolphins managed just 34 points and four TDs over the past two games, atypical for an offense that entered Week 12 averaging 386.7 yards and 25.6 points per game. Tagovailoa has been surprisingly inaccurate, completing just 28 of 61 passes in the past two games.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said he felt players were pressing and playing outside the offensive scheme in their losses to San Francisco and the Los Angeles Chargers, and that the offensive woes have resulted from poor execution, not poor preparation. He has emphasized the best thing the Dolphins can do about their recent two losses is learn from them.

“Losing streaks can be the best thing that ever happened, or they can be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” McDaniel said. “And … what I know you’ll see is you’ll see a team that won’t give up because they understand that the tough times happen.”

For 12 weeks, the Dolphins had one of the NFL’s most high powered offenses thanks to Tagovailoa’s pinpoint accuracy and the speedy playmakers around him. Entering Miami’s matchup against San Francisco, Tagovailoa led all NFL quarterbacks in passes that traveled 10-plus yards over the middle of the field, according to Next Gen Stats.

Teams mostly played zone coverage against Miami because of the speed of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, which resulted in Miami’s quick receivers finding huge openings in opponent secondaries.

Entering Week 12, Hill led the NFL in yards receiving with 1,233, and Waddle was fifth with 963.

Waddle has been held to three catches and 40 yards in the past two games. And Hill, outside of a 60-yard TD catch and a wacky 57-yard fumble recovered for a TD against the Chargers, caught just three passes for 21 yards in his last game.

The Chargers neutralized Miami’s speed by playing press coverage and jamming Miami’s receivers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing of Miami’s rhythm offense, and they kept a safety deep over the middle to take away the throws that Tagovailoa had been successful with all season.

McDaniel said that defensive plan wasn’t anything the Dolphins hadn’t seen in recent weeks — Miami was simply outplayed.

“You could really look at the breakdown by coverage and there’s plenty of teams that have done the same things,” McDaniel said. “They just, to their credit, their players really committed to it. Their coaching staff had a plan that they didn’t really drop many things and handled motions and everything very well.”

Tagovailoa noted the importance of starting Saturday’s game with quick, easy completions to establish a rhythm instead of forcing deep shots down the field when the plays aren’t there.

Earlier in the season, the offense was successful pushing the ball down the field because those plays were always open and within his progression, Tagovailoa said, so he rarely needed to check it down.

But there’s a balance, and the Dolphins are still finding it.

The Bills defense is allowing just 17 points per game and one of the best units in the NFL at limiting explosive plays.

“I would say regardless of the coverages, I think we have good enough or more than good enough players to account for whatever routes they have,” Tagovailoa said, “and me being the distributor, I’ve got to give them those opportunities.”

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