Hyde10: Tua benched, lines dominated — 10 thoughts on Dolphins’ 20-13 loss to Broncos

Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·7 min read

That five-game win streak? Gone.

That feel-good over Tua Tagovailoa’s start. Gone, too.

Tagolvailoa appeared to be benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter of the Miami Dolphins’ 20-13 loss to Denver. We’ll have to make sure there wasn’t an injury concern considering he took a beating in the game. But there are decisions ahead and games to clean up. Especially on both sides of the line, where the Dolphins got knocked around.

Here are 10 thoughts on the game:

1. Tua was benched by all appearances for a bad day. Ryan Fitzpatrick came in and sort-of sparked the offense. Now what? Brian Flores has a decision, that’s what. The easy thing is to start Tua and bring Fitzpatrick off the bench if Tua struggles like he did on Sunday. Tagovailoa wasn’t just struggling passing the ball - 11 of 20 for 83 yards, a touchdown and a measly 4.2-yard average. He was getting knocked around with six sacks. The offense wasn’t moving - it had 105 net yards through three quarters under Tua. Fitzpatrick came in and, well, made some plays. On his last drive, the Dolphins started at the 1-yard line in the final minutes. He got the offense moving 84 yards. On third and eight from the Broncos 14, he forced a pass into double coverage over the middle. Fitzpatrick completed 11 of 20 passes for 83 yards.

2. Remember way back in September when the rushing defense was a concern? Well, nothing really changed other than the Dolphins having the lead a lot of Sundays and the opponent having to throw more than run. On Sunday, the Broncos had the lead in the second half and ran over the Dolphins defense. It ran 30 times for 188 yards for a 6.3 average. The Dolphins got pushed around most of the day - they did have a fourth-and-one stop at the Broncos 14 early in third quarter. Even when they were pushed around Sunday the defense ..

3. Could-have-been-the Play of the Game: Andrew Van Ginkel had a holding (and unnecessary roughness that was declined) penalty to give Denver a first-and-goal at the 9 in the fourth quarter of a 20-13 game. A TD effectively ends it. Melvin Gordon busts a run and near the goal line Van Ginkel slaps the ball out of Gordon’s hands. Fumble. Safety Eric Rowe recovers. Instead a game-cementing touchdown, it’s new life for the Dolphins.

4. By the second half, as Tua kept getting hit, the attention shifted from what was wrong to if he was going to get up after every hit. The sixth sack by Bradley Chubb had the look of danger as Tua’s leg seemed to twist under the hit. He got up. But the escapability of Tagovailoa wasn’t there Sunday - and neither evidently was a receiver to throw to. Six sacks. It wasn’t just one player, either. Guard Ereck Flowers got beat when tackle Deshawn Williams went around him. Right tackle Jesse Davis got beat, though in part because running back Salvon Ahmed didn’t chip defensive end Dre’Mont Jones. Left tackle Travis Jackson got beat for the second sack he gave up this year. Bradley Chubb went between Jackson and Flowers. Give Denver’s defensive head,Vic Fangio, a defensive-based coach, the credit for coming up with this scheme. Everyone knows this isn’t a high-powered offense with no running game, two or three rookies playing on the line and average-at-best receivers. But Denver dominated this line physically.

5. Devante Parker is quietly (?) having some moments this year. He made a nice touchdown catch against the sideline that A.J. Bouye needed to see on replay to believe he was complaining so much it was out of bounds. That was his ninth TD catch since the start of last season with a separation of a yard of less - tops in the league, according to NextGen Stats. Parker also made a great third-and-5 catch on a slant for 6 yards and a first down just before half and picked up a pass interference penalty for another one. You’d like to see more of that as a No. 1 receiver on the team. He entered Sunday with 38 catches - ranking 34th in the league - for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Nothing flashy. But you see moments of what he can do.

6. Here’s one concern of Tua that’s a bit surprising considering his injury history: He’s throwing his body all around. And that should be concerning the Dolphins, too. He chased down Nick Vigil last week and made a touchdown-saving tackle. OK, you can see that. Early in Sunday’s game he threw an interception and launched himself like a missile to tackle Denver cornerback Justin Simmons. Tagovailoa missed and the interception was called back by a defensive holding penalty. Still. And then there was taking hits in the pocket. “I’ll say this - don’t take those hits, get rid of the ball,’' CBS’ Nate Burleson said at halftime. You don’t want Tua to take away his natural aggression. But there’s a line between understanding quarterbacks get hurt a lot easier in the NFL - and he got hurt a lot in college.

7. Remember that Houston draft pick that for a while looked like it had an outside shot for the No. 1 overall pick, then like it might be a top five pick? Well, it sits at No. 8 now. That’s after Houston moved to 3-7 by beating New England, 27-20. It’s also .003 on Houston’s strength-of-schedule tiebreaker from dropping to ninth. In other word, what looked like it might have been a winning lottery ticket looks like it’s going to end up as just a good No. 1 pick.

8. The Dolphins are a plus-7 in turnover differential after the 10th game. You could chalk that up to Xavien Howard’s league-leading six interceptions. Plus-7 is, in itself, a winning number for a season. They entered the game as fifth in the league in turnover differential. There’s six games left, but the plus-7 would be the biggest differential the Dolphins have had since their league-leading plus-17 in 2008. That was the year they won the division after a 1-15 season in 2007. There’s a reason coaches say it’s the most important stat. Here’s the Dolphins turnover margins since that 2008 season: minus-8, minus-12, minus-6, minus-10, minus-2, minus-3, minus-3, plus-2 (in the playoff year of 2016), minus-14, plus-5 (in 2018, an outlier?) and minus-10 in 2019.

9. Good to see CBS show Mike Shula on the Denver sideline in conjunction with a picture of his father at the White House visit of the the 1972 team. Shula, the Broncos offensive coordinator, did what few coordinators have done in (a) throwing the ball downfield repeatedly against the Dolphins, (b) sticking with the running game against them. That’s in part because the Broncos got ahead and could stick with the running game. It’s been a tough year for the Shulas with the loss of their father. It had to be warming and a bit strange for Mike Shula to see the patch “Shula, 347 1/4 u2033 on the Dolphins jerseys. It hasn’t been the best of week for the ‘72 team, either, with the death of Jake Scott. Mike’s brother, Dave, wore No. 13 starting as a kid because Scott was his favorite player.

10. Next week: Dolphins at New York Jets. Remember when Adam Gase didn’t want to stay with the Dolphins to go through a rebuild? That was the idea floated by Steve Ross anyhow. Well, Gase’s Jets entered Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Chargers at 0-9. It’s tough to see them not going 0-16 and being first in line for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. That’s the main reason to keep Gase around at this point - to have him deliver that No. 1 draft pick.

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