Dolphins’ offensive line, which was viewed suspiciously entering season, showing signs of improvement – The Denver Post


Tua Tagovailoa has had two of the best games of his career the past two weeks against Detroit and Chicago. And his best could be yet to come.

“It can always get better,” said Tagovailoa, Dolphins’ third-year quarterback who leads the NFL in passer rating (115.9).

“It can always be better.”

That’s a scary proposition for Dolphins opponents, especially if the Dolphins’ offensive line continues its recent ascent.

Communication is better for the offensive line, technique is better, and the results are better for a group that’s used five starting combinations in nine games.

“I think it’s a fixation and collaborative effort on fundamentals,” coach Mike McDaniel said about the offensive line’s improvement. “I think starting to understand on a week-by-week basis what is asked of them, for the players, is important. And then how to drive home the techniques appropriately from the coaching staff.

“But I think it’s been a collective mindset and we’re seeing the results week in, week out.”

Against the Bears, Tagovailoa wasn’t sacked and only took two hits. Against the Lions, Tagovailoa was sacked twice, but those were the only hits he took.

Given time to throw, Tagovailoa can seemingly pick apart any defense.

Plus, the running game posted a 107-yard effort against Detroit, its third 100-yard game in a four-week span. The Dolphins, who are 29th in rushing at 86.9 yards per game, dipped to 77 yards rushing against Chicago.

But the offensive line, which was breaking in left guard Robert Jones as a first-time starter this season against the Bears, is moving forward as a whole.

It all starts with left tackle Terron Armstead, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and team captain. But Jones, who is playing for Liam Eichenberg (knee injury), had a good effort against Chicago. And center Connor Williams, right guard Robert Hunt and right tackle Brandon Shell have combined to complete a solid group under the tutelage of offensive line coach Matt Applebaum and offensive coordinator Frank Smith.

The offensive line’s performance is even more impressive when you consider they entered the season as a perceived weakness, then endured injuries to starting right tackle Austin Jackson (ankle/calf), Armstead (toe), and most recently, Eichenberg, and they’ve still managed to improve as the season has progressed.

McDaniel said Jackson will practice this week and is considered day to day.

The offensive line was a concern early in the season when Tagovailoa was sacked hard against Buffalo and Cincinnati, the former raising alerts around the league and the latter resulting in a concussion. The offensive line didn’t help its reputation when quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and quarterback Skylar Thompson were knocked out of games although it could be argued neither was a direct result of faulty offensive line play (Bridgewater was sacked by an unblocked cornerback and Thompson hit his thumb on a pass rusher’s helmet).

But things are better now.

With the offensive line playing well it’s no coincidence the offense is seeming to hit its stride with back-to-back 30-point games in victories at Detroit (31-27) and Chicago (35-32).

The creativity of McDaniel, the offensive architect, combined with the talents of Tagovailoa, wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and Tagovailoa having time to throw have provided the Dolphins with an offense that’s a threat to score at any time from anywhere on the field.

In the past two games Tagovailoa is 50 of 66 for 684 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a bunch of good decisions. He’s also posted the two best passer ratings of his career with a 138.7 (at Detroit) and 135.7 (at Chicago).

And Hill (1,104 yards receiving, three touchdowns) and Jaylen Waddle (812 yards, six touchdowns) are on a torrid, record-setting pace as a duo. Their combined 1,916 yards are the most by a duo through nine games in the Super Bowl era and the second-most through nine games all time, trailing Houston’s Bill Groman and Charlie Henningan, who had 1,950 yards in 1961.

Throw in the potential of the running back duo of Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert and things are looking even better.

The challenge for the offensive line this Sunday is Cleveland All Pro edge rusher Myles Garrett, who is fifth in the NFL with 7.5 sacks.

But they won’t be fazed. The Dolphins have already faced six of the top 13 in terms of sacks when you include New England linebacker Matthew Judon (11.5 sacks), Minnesota linebacker Za’Darius Smith (8.5), Buffalo linebacker Von Miller (7.0), New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (7.0), Pittsburgh linebacker Alex Highsmith (6.5) and Baltimore linebacker Justin Houston (6.0).

And they’ve kept most of the league’s top pass rushers in check while giving Tagovailoa time to pass and occasionally opening holes for the run game. So, things are promising for the Dolphins’ offensive line.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re performing exactly the way we envisioned the final product looking,” McDaniel said. “That will never be the case.

“But we are continually getting better each game, which is what gives me confidence because I know that is the formula for teams to have success in this league, improvement during the course of the season, and I think we’re all seeing that.”



Source link