Tua returns, but so do questions about Dolphins’ struggling offense – The Denver Post


Once, and not that long ago, it would feel different. Tua Tagovailoa’s offense would feel like a work-in-progress juggernaut and not like Skylar Thompson’s offense. Mike McDaniel’s creativity would feel on display more than his doubling down on a decision that looked doubly dubious as he explained it.

“Hooray,” the Miami Dolphins coach said of his thoughts when the defense intercepted two passes in the final three minutes Sunday night to seal the 16-10 win against the scrappy Steelers.

It was a night for hooray as the defense saved the night, stopped the three-game losing streak, pushed the record to 4-3 and prevented what would have been a mind-bending loss that was preserved by Noah Igbinoghene’s acrobatic interception with 18 seconds left.

Yes, that Noah Igbinoghene. Like I said, this one felt different.

Mostly, there is no magical mystery anymore around this offense. One game you’re the inevitable juggernaut. A month later, you’re a Disney movie, “Hey, Honey, I Shrunk The Offense.”

Oh, it looked magical on the first drive Sunday, as Tagovailoa returned from a couple of games in concussion protocol and followed a scripted drive where open receivers ran freely in completing 6 of 7 passes for 68 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass.

The second drive was 59 yards of fine offense, too, even if it resulted in a field goal. Who knew it would be a punt diet in the second half? Who knew Pittsburgh would drop four would-be Tua interceptions?

The Dolphins had 10 first downs in the first quarter to tie for second-most in any quarter since 2000. They had seven first downs the rest of the game. Sizzle, you see, went fizzle as Pittsburgh’s defense adjusted.

Sixteen points. That’s what the Dolphins offense has been outside a fourth quarter in Baltimore that left everyone dizzy with possibility. They scored four touchdowns in that electric fourth quarter a month ago.

They’ve scored 12 touchdowns in the 27 other quarters. Eleven touchdowns, if you consider the defense handed them the ball at the Buffalo 6-yard line.

So what’s the outlier, the Baltimore quarter or the other 27? Escaping with a win Sunday night seven games into the season isn’t about conclusions, but the trend is certainly there. Thompson put up 17 points against the New York Jets. Teddy Bridgewater ended a subpar game of 16 points against Minnesota. The revolving quarterbacks can’t help. Nor is it the only issue.

This offense ranks 10th in total yards and 18th in points scored. So something’s being lost in translation.

“We should be scoring more points than we are,” McDaniel said. “I think everybody on the team would agree with that. There’s no just like some sprinkle fairy dust to fix that or it’s just not an absolute. You have to identify and address what has been the hiccup when you get in those situations.”

One hiccup was McDaniel’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 in the second half rather than a field goal from Pittsburgh’s 14-yard line. This is simple. You kick the field goal there. You go up two scores. You understand that would be a feat for the 31st-ranked Pittsburgh offense and its rookie quarterback, Kenny Pickett, with a microscopic 3.2-yard per attempt average Sunday.

There was some curious clock management when the Dolphins were at their 47-yard line with two timeouts and ninety seconds left in the first half. They somehow gained just 23 yards before kicking a 47-yard field goal with two seconds left.

Now this head-scratcher of going for it on fourth down was compounded by running your second-tier back, Chase Edmonds, up the middle for no gain. McDaniel hasn’t had much to question in his rookie season.

“I’m very aware that it’s one of those things that if it works, it’s a great play, and if it doesn’t, you know exactly what you have to … it could be a deciding factor in the game,” McDaniel said.

Just so we’re on the same page. And while we’re shuffling pages, can there be a court order mandating Tagovailoa slide to the ground rather than taking on linebackers head-on? Isn’t that a given considering his recent concussion issues?

Or is he just intent on turning every fan into a nervous Little League parent?

“Sorry, coach,” he told McDaniel after running into linebacker Devin Bush. “I had to do that.”

Sorry wasn’t the word for Sunday. Hooray was, even a muted hooray. There’s time to fix the offensive issues if this season goes where a 3-0 start suggested. There’s also a growing account that, as Sunday again showed, Tua’s return doesn’t exactly fix this struggling offense.



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