There were multiple directions I thought about taking this piece after the Dolphins took the pot on the river, so to speak, thanks to some FitzMagic and Jason Sanders on Saturday Night. The Tua hot takes sure are everywhere. There’s the “will they or won’t they play their starters?” takes about the Week 17 matchup against Buffalo. We’re done with Dolphins Football in 2020, so perhaps it’s time for resolutions for 2021?

I had to restart my previous article several different times, and rather than do that again, which was rather unpleasant, I think I’ll just touch on a little bit of everything as we head into the pivotal Week 17 game against the Bills.

Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day
The 2020 Miami Dolphins weren’t built in a day either. It’s counterintuitive for fans to lump games, players, coaches, etc., into a 140-180 character box and call it a done deal. We do it anyway. Unless you’re just obtuse about it, I think we as Dolfans can all agree that Miami’s on the right path under Chris Grier and Brian Flores. 2019 was a bumpy road, but we’re seeing the fruits of labor come to bear. Consider:

– The Dolphins are one win away from being .500 under Brian Flores through two seasons.
– They’ve accomplished this despite replacing two coordinators after year one.
– This team fights. Their worst loss is a 10-point defeat to New England in Week 1.
– Miami’s Defense went from 32nd to 1st in terms of points allowed.
The Dolphins finally have a quarterback that’s worth building around. More on this later.

Before the season started, I went on several podcasts as a guest to preview the Dolphins. As is customary on those podcasts, they ask what your prediction for Miami’s record will be or something along the lines of, “What constitutes a successful season in your mind?”.

I hoped that Miami would finish 8-8. On paper, before the season, Miami’s schedule seemed pretty rough. Some unkind West Coast trips (remember, San Francisco and Denver were originally back-to-back weeks), and I didn’t expect Miami to go 3-1 against the NFC West. 8-8 would only have been an incremental improvement, but the team could be worlds better.  8-8? Check.

The second point was that I hoped Miami could whittle down the needs on defense to just a few specific things. In my mind, they’d poured more resources into that side of the ball during the offseason, and I was expecting a big improvement. They’re first in the league in points allowed, have the most takeaways, and the best 3rd down defense. I think the needs are apparent and focused. Better defense? Check.

The third was the offensive line, primarily the rookies, developing and the unit being better as a whole. Clearly, they’re better as a pass-protecting unit than a year ago. That much has shown through, though there’s still work to be done. Both Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa have moved into sacks at times. But the unit is better. Miami’s running game has also come alive as of late, and their season average is 35 yards per game better than it was a year ago. They still have some tough questions to answer, though. Namely, they need to take long, hard looks at the veterans. Solomon Kindley played better at LG than Flowers has. Jesse Davis is more a tackle than a guard. Should he be starting? Ted Karras seems to do well in pass-pro consistently, but offers little in the run game. He’s been better of late. Better O-line? Sort of.

Finally, Miami had to see what they had in Tua. He’s been accurate. He’s run the offense well, especially in no-huddle situations. He’s been able to push the ball downfield at times. He’s been more mobile than I expected he’d be a year off hip surgery. He doesn’t make many bad decisions. Does he need to be more aggressive? At times yes. Does he need help from the supporting cast? Yes. But all in all, you can tell he’s going to be a special player.  Is Tua the real deal? Check.

All this said it’s clear that the 2020 Miami Dolphins are not a finished product. As stated before, the defense could still use one or two key players in the front seven, and they’re going to have to retool some of their depth players. But it’s clearly closer to finish product status than the offense.

We’ve seen Miami’s offense play well for stretches. And we’ve certainly seen it play poorly for stretches. While the common reaction to this seems to be to blame Chan Gailey, and part of the offensive woes are certainly on him, it seems most people don’t consider the nuance involved in Miami’s situation.

Brian Flores confirmed that Miami was going to insert Tua at the bye. Miami’s bye was moved up due to the Broncos-Patriots game being rescheduled, and thus the timeline for Tua was accelerated. So now, you’re the offensive coordinator. You’ve got to insert a rookie QB mid-season after winning three of four to get to the .500 mark in the thick of the playoff race. You’re doing it with a revolving door of offensive line combinations. At the time, Miami was missing Austin Jackson, and we’ve seen Jesse Davis, Solomon Kindley, and Ereck Flowers in and out of the lineup since. You’re doing it with only one receiver that would presumably start on other rosters in DeVante Parker. They’ve had to use three, and sometimes four different running backs in-game to make the offense function to a degree of success.

None of this is easy to do while putting your team in a position to be 6-2 since Tua was named the starter. That’s a tall task for anyone. Acknowledge that. It’s impressive given the circumstances.

But at the same time, *I* acknowledge that Miami’s offense must be better in the future if they’re going to be able to beat teams like Buffalo, Kansas City, and Seattle, and not just compete with them but end up on the wrong side of one-score games.

Coach Flores certainly wasn’t shy about moving on from Chad O’Shea last year. I’m sure if he feels that there’s a better option than Chan Gailey, or if Chan Gailey decides to re-retire, Coach Flores will adapt and move on. If there’s one thing we all can be certain of, it’s that Miami’s coaching staff has been dead-on accurate in terms of feeling out the game flow weekly. I think they, especially Coach Flores, have a pretty good feel for which coaches they’re okay with moving on from, letting leave for opportunities a la Patrick Graham, and promoting like Josh Boyer.

Above all else, if there’s one thing that we as Dolfans should agree on, it’s that the Dolphins are finally in good hands. The right hands. They’re on the path we’ve desired for so long, with Chris Grier and Brian Flores leading the way. What they’re building is something well enjoy for a long while.

In my Dolfan Memory, I can’t recall any player drafted, signed, or traded for that had more hype built up around him than Tua Tagovailoa. Maybe Ricky Williams in 2002? I was a high school sophomore then and didn’t live anywhere near Miami, so I’m not sure what the vibe was. But for me, that’s the player that had me more juiced than anyone else. Tua hype has blown that away in my eyes.

I know I’ve touched on this before, but having had the opportunity to be in the press box for the game in 2019 was eye-opening. I spoke with several of the Miami beat reporters and overheard other conversations nearby that day. The prevailing thought was that having locked up the 5th overall selection the day I was down there, and with Miami’s other resources, they’d be able to get Tua in the Draft.

As one reporter told me, in the Miami market, there really hasn’t been a “marketable superstar,” a “face of the franchise” in the city since Dwyane Wade retired. There hadn’t been one for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired. Yeah, I know we’ve had some “name” players like Jason Taylor, Ricky Williams, and Cameron Wake, but none of them could capture the city of Miami like Marino or Wade. Tua has that opportunity. Not that he, or we, should care about it – we should care about wins, but that sphere of influence is something Tua will have the opportunity to step foot in, should the wins continue. And I think they will.

Not to shift gears too much, and I promise I’ll provide context for this shortly, but here are two quarterbacks.

Quarterback A is Ryan Fitzpatrick. Quarterback B is Tua Tagovailoa.

Now, here’s the context. I went through and compiled the statistics for Ryan Fitzpatrick for each year he played under Chan Gailey, whether Gailey was the Head Coach of Offensive Coordinator, including games played. Fitzpatrick averaged out to be roughly 14 (14.1). These were from 2010-12 while the pair were in Buffalo, and 2015-16 while they were in New York.

I took Tua’s eight starts and multiplied by 1.75 for each category to make it equal to Fitzpatrick’s average of 14 games played per season. As you can see, Tua Tagovailoa’s numbers, as a rookie, are almost on par with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s average numbers under Chan Gailey. Keep in mind that Fitzpatrick also had 23 starts in the NFL before working under Gailey.

Tua’s numbers have come with offensive line changes, a carousel at running back, and several games without DeVante Parker at receiver, and one game without Mike Gesicki at tight end.

Say what you want about the rookie; it’s your prerogative, but if these are the EARLY returns, imagine what Tua’s going to be able to do once he’s fully ingrained in the system the way Fitzpatrick is. With a better O-line. With a more stable backfield. With better weapons at wide receiver. Let’s give the kid a chance, people.

As far as the benchings against Denver and Las Vegas, let’s consider the following. As pointed out by the folks at Three Yards Per Carry (@3YardsPerCarry), the defensive minds who caused this was Vic Fangio and Rod Marinelli. Fair to say Belichick gave him a difficult time as well.

Given the OL Miami’s playing with, the weapons around Tua, and up until the past two games, the subpar running game, is it really that big of a concern Tua had those days?

I don’t think so, and apparently, neither did Brian Flores. If the 2019 season taught us anything as Dolfans, it’s that Coach Flo plays to win no matter what. And, in the midst of a playoff push in both the Denver and Las Vegas contests, why not turn to a grizzled vet when you have one? As the sharp Noah DuPont (@noahsadork) pointed out to me, Don Shula did this once upon a time with David Woodley and Don Strock. It’d be one thing to let Tua sit and take his lumps if it’s Week 2, and you’ve got the majority of the season to play out. This was Week 16 IN THE PLAYOFF PUSH! Coach Flores’s move worked. Miami won. Mack Hollins atoned for two drops. Fitz threw with his face damn near ripped off. Jason Sanders was ice cold. W 26-25! Sometimes it’s better to catch the ace on the river than to get three of a kind than to flop two pair.

Week 17 at Buffalo
Growing up watching the Dolphins taught me to hate the Buffalo Bills more than any other team. They always seemed to knock the Dolphins out of the playoffs or playoff contention. I couldn’t stand them. I met Jim Kelly once shortly after I graduated college, and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t one of the nicest, funniest people I’d ever met. He was great! And in a way, it made me appreciate the Dolphins-Bills rivalry more.

And now, here we are. If you play around with the Playoff Machine enough, you can configure a scenario where Miami and Buffalo could play back-to-back weeks, regular season, and then a Wild-Card Game. With the way the Ravens are playing, I’m not sure anyone would want to see them in the postseason. Does Buffalo try to engineer a situation like the Bengals did against the Jets in 2009 and try to play Miami twice in a row? I guess we’ll see based on how the rest of these games finish.

I think it’s fitting that in the first year after Brady, the Pats have fallen. They can’t finish any better than 8-8. It’s also fitting that the two teams that have passed them are Buffalo and Miami. Before the Patriots’ rise to a dynasty in 2001, it seemed like Buffalo and Miami were vying for control of the division throughout the 1990s. Something feels right about that. I think it makes the NFL better. I hope the Bills-Dolphins rivalry gets back to that point.

For me: I have two. Better acknowledge when I’m wrong. Generate more content. 2020 was a weird year, and my first kid and new job threw my schedule out of whack for a while. I think I’ve gotten a better handle on things now, so look for more soon!

(The rest are meant in jest)

For the media: Appreciate Kyle Van Noy. I know he can be gruff. But goddam, he does so many little things well that you don’t even notice. For example, two plays last night against the Raiders. He stopped mid-rush to cover Josh Jacobs to prevent a first down on a 3rd down. He also absolutely blew up Darren Waller as he came off motion to release to the flat on a 1st and goal play that prevented a TD. Neither of those shows up in the box score, but they’re fantastic plays.

Also, give X more pub! Howard should be DPOY.

For Dolfans: I have two. Be good to each other. We all root for the same team. It’s been a tough year for everyone.

Also, don’t be so quick to try and trade-off guy just because another player is drafted at the same position (see wanting to trade Xavien Howard after Miami selected Noah Igbinoghene). Hardly any will admit it, but you know who you are!

For the Dolphins: I have two. Keep building. Finish building the elite defense we’ve started to see in 2020. Build around Tua. Give him weapons. Give him a running game. Protect him. He’ll take us far.

Also, beat the Bills!

I hope all of you had a great holiday, and have a happy and safe New Year! Thank you for taking the time to read, tweet, interact – it makes all the time spent watching the film, researching, and writing worth it!