Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins' offense in a rut as showdown with Bills looms

MIAMI -- When they lost to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13, the Miami Dolphins didn't believe there was a blueprint in place for stopping their offense. They'd lost to the best defense in the NFL, after all -- no reason for concern.

Coach Mike McDaniel expected a "robust turnaround" for their prime-time game against the Los Angeles Chargers, but the results were far from it.

The Dolphins mustered just 219 yards of offense during Sunday's 23-17 loss, their second-worst output of the season, and 60 yards came on one play, a touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Tyreek Hill. Without that score and Hill's 57-yard fumble recovery in the second quarter, Miami's offense crossed midfield on only two occasions -- resulting in a punt and a field goal on its final two possessions of the game.

Tagovailoa turned in his second straight dud, completing 10 of 28 passes for 145 yards and the touchdown to Hill. After the game, he said the Chargers didn't do anything different than what he has seen over the past few weeks, but he admitted his play wasn't up to par.

"They played to what they’re good at, and we just didn’t execute," he said. "It’s very disappointing for us to go out there as an offense and kind of show what we showed. That’s not up to our standard. That’s not how we play football here, and that was very disappointing.”

Tagovailoa did see man coverage on 17 of his dropbacks Sunday night, a season high. After he posted a 26.7 completion percentage against it, he will probably see more of it Saturday in a key AFC East showdown against the Buffalo Bills (8:15 p.m., NFLN).

Buffalo runs man coverage on roughly 40% of its defensive snaps but is highly effective when doing so, allowing just 5.2 yards per dropback -- the fifth-best mark in the league.

In the wake of their second straight loss, McDaniel said the only course of action for the Dolphins to take from here is to learn from the events of the past two weeks; he shouldered most of the blame for Sunday's loss and called it a "gut check" for a team that had won five straight games prior to this losing streak.

"I’ll comb the tape and we’ll attack it with the next opportunity that we have with the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night," he said. "No one’s in the business of feeling sorry for us. No one should. We have tremendous opportunities moving forward to play to our standard. If our team wants to play together longer, then they’re going to have to adjust that standard as it is present and continue to improve.”

But in order to play together longer, Tagovailoa will need to find the form that made him an MVP candidate through the first 12 weeks of the season. He has been uncharacteristically off-target on roughly 25% of his throws over the past two weeks as both the 49ers and Chargers took away his first read and forced him to hang onto the ball for longer than he's comfortable to do so.

Tagovailoa completed 11 of 30 passes for 146 yards over the past two weeks when holding onto the ball for more than 2.5 seconds. It's not an inspiring stat line considering the Bills allow the sixth-fewest yards per attempt when opposing quarterbacks take at least 2.5 seconds to throw the ball.

McDaniel said he would be more concerned about the rest of the Dolphins' season if he didn't feel like there was an answer within the framework of the technique the team has worked on since August. But ultimately, their offense is in a rut that they'll need to snap out of in order to salvage a playoff berth.

"I think football is a humbling game, and people adjust to certain things and present different issues," McDaniel said. "I think there are probably a handful of those plays that we will look at the tape and be like, ‘Man, you really can make this play here or there.’ I think there is going to be a handful of plays that we’re going to say that some of our [receivers] weren’t doing the job, and I think there will be a handful of plays where it’s hard to expect the quarterback to make a play when the protection is off.

"So collectively, I think that we just are not playing together as an offense in the way that I’d like. I think you want to continue to progress and be your best in December and January. We have had a lot of reps at certain things, and we should be better right now in this last two-game stretch. Again, it is a really cool time realistically for a young team to see what we are all about, so to speak, just because it is hard when you invest a ton and fall short. After last week, I do not think the guys were prepared for this outcome. So, we will learn a lot about people. This is the nature of the beast."