The Miami Dolphins have gone cold right as the schedule gets cold.
The things that were working during a five-game winning streak have been flipped against them in back-to-back road losses against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers.
It only gets tougher now for Miami (8-5), playing the division-leading Bills in potentially snowy Buffalo on a short week for a Saturday night game after returning to South Florida early Monday morning from traveling coast to coast.
Here’s how the Sun Sentinel grades the Dolphins in several areas of Sunday night’s 23-17 loss to the Chargers at SoFi Stadium:
Passing game: F
It was thought to be a shootout with both Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Chargers signal-caller Justin Herbert. Tagovailoa didn’t hold up his end of the bargain in a putrid 10-of-28 performance for 145 yards.
It made for back-to-back poor outings for the third-year quarterback where there were misfires, miscommunication between him and his receivers and pass catchers just otherwise not creating separation. After the 49ers frustrated the Miami passing attack with off coverage, the Chargers, who had five starters out on defense, played man defense and pressed while taking away the middle of the field.
Tyreek Hill got his 60-yard touchdown beating Michael Davis deep, but he had drops and the one deep pass over the middle where he couldn’t find Tagovailoa’s throw, which was off target anyway. Jaylen Waddle was a non-factor with two catches on four targets.
Running game: C
Raheem Mostert got most of the work, with 11 carries for 37 yards. Jeff Wilson left the game with a hip injury after four carries for 26 yards — 20 on his long run — and he also fumbled on a play that worked to Miami’s advantage when Hill scooped it up to score on his own. Tagovailoa also scrambled for 28 yards.
The run game was just fine. It wasn’t game-changing in either way, and it certainly didn’t help the Dolphins in the time of possession battle they lost, 39:38-20:22.
Defending the pass: D
In a full game for Chargers receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams playing together after just 46 snaps with one another this season, they each had big games. Allen went for 92 yards on 12 receptions. while Williams had 116 on six receptions, including one impressive touchdown in the back of the end zone and a deep ball where he beat cornerback Xavien Howard for 55 yards.
Herbert was firing on all cylinders and finished 39 of 51 for 367 yards and the touchdown. He made all the challenging throws asked of him and even some smart checkdowns to Austin Ekeler, who had eight catches for 59 yards. Miami’s one saving grace was the pass rush against Herbert, sacking him four times, one each for Jaelan Phillips, Christian Wilkins, Jerome Baker and Eric Rowe. Phillips had another taken away from him on what was a truly bad roughing-the-passer penalty.
Defending the run: B
In the run game, Ekeler was mostly held in check, going for 45 yards on 15 attempts (3 yards per carry). Joshua Kelley was allowed to escape for a 22-yard scamper at one point. Wilkins had a dominant stretch in the first half where he couldn’t be blocked. Baker made 11 tackles. Rowe offered strong support from the safety position with eight tackles before he left with a hamstring injury.
Special teams: B
Kicker Jason Sanders made his one field goal attempt late from 55 yards to keep the Dolphins alive for one more play, an onside kick that Miami nearly recovered. Elijah Campbell, before he was thrust into 31 defensive snaps for the injured Rowe, made the big hit on Chargers return man DeAndre Carter on the opening punt by Thomas Morstead. The Dolphins punter had a 46.7-yard average on seven punts with four landing inside the 20.
Mike McDaniel’s offense, outside of a few big plays, has been stymied for two consecutive games. And, schematically, there were major differences in how the 49ers and Chargers did it, so it’s not like all he has to do is figure out adjustments to one key switch opponents have made. There are multiple ways to stop the Dolphins right now.
Defensively, Miami did a decent job of keeping the high-powered L.A. offense from pulling away, but the Chargers controlled the night with possession of the ball for two-thirds of the game clock. And we have to address the alignment with eight defenders at or near the goal line on third-and-goal from the 17-yard line, which allowed the Chargers to get to the 1 on a screen and punch it in from a yard out with 18 seconds left in the first half. The 4-point difference from a touchdown to a field goal changes the whole game flow the rest of the way.
Stock up: Tyreek Hill
Even Hill had his miscues in a game where not much went right, but he was responsible for the Dolphins’ two touchdowns. He is unquestionably the MVP of this team. Now opponents even have to be aware of where he is on Dolphins fumbles. Hill broke Mark Clayton’s franchise record for receiving yards in a season, now standing at 1,460 on 100 receptions.
Wilkins also deserves mention, especially with how unblockable he was early in Sunday’s game, but his stock was already up from just last week.
Stock down: Tua Tagovailoa
There’s no way around it. He has to be better and show that his hot stretch that preceded these struggles was no fluke. Right now, the Dolphins quarterback is in a spot where no one expects him to bounce back against the Bills in what could be some very difficult passing conditions. He’ll get a chance to turn it around in a big way if he can deliver.