Cratering offensive line threatens to ruin Dolphins' strong start

DAVIE, Fla. -- Ryan Tannehill took hit after hit, wincing and limping back to the huddle. He got bent backward awkwardly on a hit when Sunday's game against the Patriots was out of hand. Dolphins coach Adam Gase saw enough to pull Tannehill for Brock Osweiler in the fourth quarter to preserve his first-string quarterback's health.

Tannehill brushed it off after the game, but it clearly affected him.

"Took a few shots but I’m doing good," Tannehill said after Sunday's game.

Running back Kenyan Drake ran into walls of Patriots defenders and tried to bounce plays outside, looking for daylight to try to spark a struggling offense. Not much was there.

Neither Tannehill nor Drake played well Sunday, but the offensive line is where the bulk of these issues arise. In fact, Miami's cratering offensive line threatens to derail the team's strong 3-1 start to the season.

"We didn’t sugarcoat a whole bunch," Gase said about the team's film review. "Nothing went right. Nothing we did was good. It just was not a good game.”

If it doesn't improve, a potential playoff contender could instead be booking vacation trips in December and January.

This was already a team relying on its continuity and team chemistry to overcome some of its talent dearth. Injuries have devastated the Dolphins in the season's first four weeks, and no position group has been hit harder than the interior offensive line. Top free-agent signing guard Josh Sitton, team-captain center Daniel Kilgore and veteran reserve guard/center Jake Brendel are all on injured reserve already.

The losses of Sitton in Week 1 with a torn rotator cuff and Kilgore last Sunday with a torn triceps are devastating because they were the two new starters brought in to change the production and perception of Miami's offensive line.

Ironically, the Dolphins traded for Kilgore to replace released longtime center Mike Pouncey because of health-related issues. Now they are without either, and reserve Travis Swanson is the next man up at center. Swanson had some expected struggles on Sunday, allowing a sack and playing a central role in several blown-up plays. To be fair, Kilgore took his turn at getting beaten by the Patriots' defensive line, too.

"That’s a tough position to get thrown in there, especially a newer guy in our program. Now all of a sudden," Gase said. "He’s taken reps in practice, but then all of a sudden you go against those guys and then they’re all over the place."

The Dolphins have looked into depth options and Tuesday night signed former Jets center Wesley Johnson, who they had in for a tryout during the day.

Veteran reserve Ted Larsen, who replaced Sitton, has also struggled in the last few weeks to create running lanes up the middle. He also allowed some heat on Tannehill.

The most frustrating part of Sunday's loss for Gase was how they got "outphysicaled" as a team. He repeated that several times in the last couple of days. No unit took more of a blow in this department than the Dolphins' offensive line. It wasn't just one player; nearly every Dolphins offensive lineman who played Sunday took turns getting beat.

The Dolphins had only one of their 11 drives last longer than five plays, and it was their final drive, when Osweiler led the offense to a garbage-time touchdown.

There were several occasions when multiple members of the offensive line were pushed back directly into Tannehill, Drake and veteran back Frank Gore, blowing up a play. Communication appeared to be an issue as well, as the Patriots had a lot of success running twists and stunts to get defenders free in the backfield.

"We’ve just got to do a better job of consistently doing stuff," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "We have to consistently keep the pocket consistently good so we can give Ryan time and consistently switch guys off and things like that. That’s what they’re getting us on. There’s a lot of different twists.”

James was pulled in the third quarter because he "got banged up" and "it wasn't a performance-based thing," per Gase. So we'll assume that some of his struggles -- and he didn't perform well as a pass blocker or a run blocker Sunday -- were due to injury. Sam Young stepped in for him.

Even the Dolphins' best offensive lineman so far this season, Laremy Tunsil, wasn't immune to the struggles. He had two key penalties that derailed drives.

Gase and the Dolphins' offensive line believe these problems are fixable. For the sake of their playoff hopes, the Dolphins need them to be right.