In the biggest game of the year, with the season on the line, the Dolphins went to Tennessee and scored three points.
It was cold and it was rainy and it was windy.
Tua Tagovailoa considered wearing gloves, but didn’t. Everyone acknowledges that yes, the cold and rain and wind played a factor in some throws that looked really, really bad.
But too often this season, regardless of venue, day of the week, time of kickoff, and yes, weather, the Dolphins offense has been bad.
It has scuffled. It has stumbled. It has just not been good enough.
“We’d like to perform enough to win,” said George Godsey, Dolphins co-offensive coordinator and play-caller. “Some games we’d like to perform better.”
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Godsey and Miami’s assistant coaches spoke with the media on Tuesday. And it may be the last time they speak with reporters for many, many months.
So, what went wrong?
Godsey has consistently pointed to a failure to consistently execute. He has also consistently taken blame for some calls he’s said he’d like to have back.
Miami began the season with a convoluted and unclear play-calling system that in some way involved Godsey, quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye and co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville.
At some point it was streamlined, and at points that has seemed to help, but Miami has never gained traction in establishing any identity.
Though coaches tried to follow the script of saying there’s one game to play — they host the Patriots on Sunday afternoon — most understood the reality of the situation.
Yes, the Dolphins can finish with a winning record of 9-8, but with playoff chances officially eliminated, it is time to look at what happened.
Why are the Dolphins 24th in the NFL in points per game?
Why are the Dolphins 29th in the NFL in offensive yards per play?
Why are the Dolphins 31st in rushing yards per game and play?
Offensive line ranked among the worst in NFL
It starts with sub-par performance by the offensive line. Some combination of Liam Eichenberg-Austin Jackson-Michael Deiter-Robert Hunt-Jesse Davis has not been good enough.
In fact, Miami’s pass-blocking and run-blocking have ranked at or near the bottom of the league by almost all metrics, almost all season.
“That’s where most of the passing game starts, is protection,” Godsey said. “Matchups. Execution of our job as a protector, whether that’s a back, a lineman or a tight end. That group has to give the quarterback enough time for the receivers to get open. If we’re under pressure, we can’t get the ball downfield.”
The Dolphins surely will consider signing one or two projected offensive line starters in free agency. And they surely will consider drafting at least one potential starter on the offensive line.
“Our techniques have been getting better but we need to be more consistent,” Dolphins’ first-year offensive line coach Lem Jeanpierre said Tuesday.
Jeanpierre has understandably faced criticism because of the underwhelming performance of his young unit. The Dolphins have had four offensive line coaches in three years under Brian Flores.
“Definitely a lot of learning and growing,” Jeanpierre said of his first season. “I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to be a part of the Dolphins right now. They gave me an opportunity and I’m very grateful for that. Keep pushing myself and try to be better for not only my group but for the Miami Dolphins.”
The Dolphins will also need to add a legitimate starting running back in free agency or the draft. Myles Gaskin, Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay are legitimate NFL running backs. But the Dolphins can’t average 3.4 yards per carry and win games.
“We have to run the ball better,” co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Studesville said Tuesday. “We’re working at it. It’s a continued emphasis. We have to run it better and that’s the whole group. The offensive line. We’re all involved in that. To have a consistent run game helps with so many other things. We have to be better.”
Tua Tagovailoa improved this season, but Dolphins need better quarterback play
And finally, the Dolphins will need better production from the quarterback position. Tagovailoa improved in his second season. But he did not push the ball down the field enough and turned the ball over not only with interceptions, but troubling fumbles.
Tagovailoa’s overall ranks compared to his NFL peers are: 19th (passer rating), 19th (yards per attempt), 26th (yards), 25th (touchdowns), 7th (completion percentage), 23rd (interception percentage) and 28th (average pass length).
Those numbers must be better. The concerns about arm strength, durability and decision-making will continue to be discussed until and unless Tagovailoa answers more questions than he did in 2021.
If the Dolphins do not acquire an elite quarterback such as Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson this offseason, Tagovailoa will need to accelerate his progress.
“I think he’s shown growth in the way he’s played this year,” quarterbacks coach Frye said. “As a young quarterback, the more reps you get, the experience you get, the more you can take from that. Learning moments. You try to apply it to the next week’s game. Then you get into the overall picture in the offseason and try to take some steps that way.”
Patriots at Dolphins
4:25 p.m., CBS