When it all boils down, the Miami Dolphins will only go as far as Mike McDaniel and Tua Tagovailoa can take them. With all of the talent on this team, it’s easy to win regular season games against teams they should beat. But it’s starting to feel like Miami is relying on the talent of their personnel in the games where they outmatch the opponent, and talent isn’t enough to beat elite and well-coached teams.

The Dolphins have progressed so that you almost expect them to win games against lesser opponents, and you don’t expect it to be close. But the Dolphins seem to falter in playoff environments. Will this team be known for merely being a good regular-season team and unable to win the big ones? I’m not saying the Miami Dolphins are frauds, I don’t think they warranted that type of criticism yet. But going back to the last season, it seems that Miami shrinks back when it’s time to rise to the occasion.

What will it take to get over the hump so that this team can reach new heights? No matter how you flip, it’s on the shoulders of both McDaniel and Tua to get this team over the hump, and I’ll tell you why I believe that.

Mike McDaniel

Mike McDaniel is only in his second year as a head coach, but he’s received lots of praise for the historical offense he’s manufactured. But I think it’s time to have a conversation. Maybe we need to hold off on the offensive genius label until McDaniel can adjust during a game. Dating back to the 49ers game last season, it seems that when defenses have a perfect counter to McDaniel’s offense, he just doesn’t know how to adjust or refuses to. In an offense he’s claimed to run for 17 years, he has to have a counter when the opposing defenses have an answer.

This is a copycat league, so when one defense has your offense figured out, there’s a good chance the rest of the league will follow suit. Against mediocre or average-at-best teams, Miami’s offense looks historic, maybe the best the NFL has ever seen. But against worthy opponents, Miami’s offense looks pedestrian. That’s a problem for a team that hopes to make a deep playoff push. Miami’s offense has folded under the bright lights, and McDaniel has to learn to adjust. This offense has plenty of talent and weapons to use when things aren’t working according to how you scripted the game. But when the script isn’t working, it seems that McDaniel buckles.

His playcalling and decision-making become very questionable when things get foggy, and this is something that will have to change if the Miami Dolphins want to take this team and offense to the next level. I understand that McDaniel is still maturing as a coach and deserves plenty of grace, but he also warrants criticism because when things are good, they’re great, but when things are bad, they’re even worse. As much as McDaniel talks about this team’s progression, I hope he is considering his progression as well as a coach. He’s more than capable, and I believe this is his next step in the progression to becoming the coach I know he wants to be.

Tua Tagovailoa

I’ve watched Tua since the day the Miami Dolphins drafted him, and I am extremely proud of his progression as a man and a player. I’m very slow to criticize him because he receives so much unfair criticism, and like most Dolphin fans, I spend a lot of time defending every tidbit of his play. He’s the most scrutinized quarterback in the league but also the most protected because of his cult-like fanbase, Tuanon. Tua has gone from being in trade conversations at every turn to being in the MVP conversation. But now it’s also time to discuss how Tua plays in big games. He simply has not risen to the occasion when it matters the most.

That isn’t to say he’s played badly; more often than not, Tua has played efficiently. But in playoff atmosphere games, he has to play more than just efficiently; sometimes, these games require Tua to put the game on his back. I’ve seen him do it before; he did it at Alabama, I saw him do it against the Arizona Cardinals his rookie year, and I saw him do it against the Baltimore Ravens last season. We need that version of Tua consistently. I don’t think it’s a lack of ability; I believe it’s a lack of mentality. I’m glad that Tua has found his happiness, especially with how miserable the first two years of his career had been. But it’s not favorable when your quarterback is smiling when you’re down in a game that he should be taking personally.

He’s not playing with a lot of fire, and I do understand that certain things aren’t a part of his personality, but I’ve seen Tua play with a competitive edge, and I’m just not seeing that right now. I’m not questioning his work ethic, but he looks too comfortable during games. It seems that in the games Miami has won, excluding the LA Chargers game, he’s done the bare minimum. Granted, he hasn’t had to do more than that with the teams Miami has played, but against better teams, he has to press the gas pedal. At times he makes conservative throws when he should be aggressive, and I’ve only seen him take chances in games where Miami has pulled away.  He’s going to have to will this team to a victory because, at some point, the talent around him will fail. I won’t dare blame it on his lack of athleticism; I’ve seen Tom Brady will his team to victories, and Tua has Brady beat in the athleticism department.

He’s made great strides as a quarterback, but he has to kick it into hyper-drive to reach the next level, or his ceiling will just be efficiency. It seems that he’s regressed to his competitiveness, which may have much to do with his injuries. But he has to find a balance between his former self and who he is now to protect himself and still win games for this team. Tua hasn’t failed to get better every year, and this is the next step in his progression to being the quarterback he needs and wants to be for this team.

I have to say that I am a fan of both Tua and McDaniel, both as human beings and as a coach and players. I believe my criticisms of them are just and come from a good place. I only wish for them to be the best version of themselves because it’s the only way this team will reach the mountaintop.