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5 Takeaways from Dolphins Loss to Broncos

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) suffered a disappointing 20-13 loss in Denver (4-6). The game itself featured an offensive failure that led to rookie Tua Tagovailoa being benched.

This loss also pushed Miami from the postseason picture. The Dolphins are on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff bracket. They currently hold the No. 9 seed, losing tie breakers to both Baltimore and Las Vegas, the other 6-4 teams.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins loss to the Broncos.

Offensive Line Failure in Dolphins Loss to Broncos

One of the big questions heading into the quarterback switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa focused on the ineffectiveness of the offensive line. National pundits panned the move at the time, saying Miami’s line lacked the ability to properly protect their young QB. But local media pointed out that analysis as lazy, and it was.

The Dolphins offensive line had protected Tagovailoa well in his previous three starts. They’d handled pressure and kept Tagovailoa’s pocket relatively clean. Sunday, though, was a different story.

The Dolphins o-line surrendered a season-high six sacks, double the previous high. Beyond just the sacks, the line regularly allowed pressures and failed to open consistent holes for the running game.

The loss of rookie right guard Solomon Kindley in the second quarter hurt. And Tagovailoa also didn’t help his cause by holding the ball for too long.

Rushing Woes Continue

The Dolphins hoped they had something in rookie Salvon Ahmed. After a solid performance against the Chargers, Ahmed’s emergence led, in part, to the release of veteran Jordan Howard. The return of Matt Breida from recent injury also had Miami’s running game trending up. What’s more, they were facing a Denver rushing defense in the lower third of the league.

But against the Broncos, Miami’s ground game remained absent. The team totaled just 56 yards. Ahmed led the way with 43 yards on 12 carries. Breida picked up just four yards on two carries.

This lack of a consistent rushing attack shifted the offensive onus to Tagovailoa. It also allowed Denver to dial up the pressure on a rookie quarterback making just his second career road start. The result? Another anemic performance.

The solution to this issue remains unclear. A return by Myles Gaskin may help, but an ineffective ground game has plagued Miami for two seasons, through two different offensive coordinators. Opening up the playbook to allow the pass to set up the run may be the only way forward at this point.

No Fitzmagic in Dolphins Loss to Broncos

When Dolphins head coach Brian Flores pulled Tagovailoa from the game in the fourth, some speculated injury. Tagovailoa had just suffered a sixth sack, one that wrenched his lower right leg. The rookie had been on Miami’s injury report in the leadup to this game. Flores, though, dismissed that idea.

“Tua wasn’t injured. We just felt like it was the best move at that point of the game,” he said.

Fitzpatrick entered and immediately led Miami’s offense on a scoring drive. The veteran QB marched Miami down the field twice and flashed a chemistry with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki that Tagovailoa seemed to lack.

But all for naught.

Fitzpatrick maneuvered Miami into scoring position with a chance to tie the game. However, instead of connecting with Parker for a touchdown, Fitzpatrick failed to look off Broncos safety Justin Simmons and threw a game-sealing interception. Simmons secured the pick in the closing moments, though the Broncos had the chance to intercept two previous passes by Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick finished 12-of-18 passing for 117 yards and the interception.

Seemingly Still Tua’s Team

Despite the late quarterback change, the Dolphins seemingly remain Tagovailoa’s squad. Miami made the switch from Fitzpatrick to the rookie after a 3-3 start with Flores citing Tagovailoa’s readiness to assume the role. The Dolphins kept rolling. But on Sunday, the rookie showed his youth.

What’s interesting here, though, is the move to Fitzpatrick implies Tagovailoa isn’t a ready as Miami made it seem.

“We had to get in two-minute mode, and we felt like [Fitzpatrick] gave us the best chance to win the game, and we had an opportunity at the end to tie it,” Flores said.

Tagovailoa went 11-of-20 for 83 yards and a touchdown, but showed little effectiveness moving the ball. The offensive playcalling didn’t help.

“When I was in, we couldn’t really get things going,” Tagovailoa admitted. “I couldn’t get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and our guys consistently to get a rhythm going.”

Sure, offensive line issues submarined Tagovailoa’s efforts, but so too did his ineffectiveness. He needs to develop a stronger chemistry with his receivers and find a rhythm for this offense to take the next step.

That said, Fitzpatrick admitted after the game that the Dolphins were still “Tua’s team.”

He said: “Tua is going to continue to get better and grow. There’s no controversy. This is his team. He’s going to lead this team and continue to lead the team.”

To his credit, Tagovailoa wants to learn from this. He remained engaged in the contest and picked Fitzpatrick’s brain on the sideline.

“For me, it was a great learning experience,” Tagovailoa said. “I felt like I was holding the ball a little too long. Just got to get completions and get the ball in the hands of our guys to make plays for us.”

Dolphins D Didn’t Do Enough in Loss to Broncos

Miami’s defense buoyed the team’s five-game win streak. Over that span, the Dolphins defense ranked first points-per-game allowed (17.2) and second in quarterback pressures (86) and completion percentage allowed (57.0 percent). They put up 10 takeaways, too.

In Denver, though, the Dolphins didn’t make enough stops. Although the defense extended its takeaways streak to 16 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL, it wasn’t a banner day for the D.

Perhaps the biggest failing was the inability to stop Denver’s ground game. The Dolphins allowed a season-high 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The 5.7 yards-per-carry average stands as a full yard more than the previous season-high allowed (4.7).

What’s more, the Dolphins couldn’t seem to confuse Denver’s Drew Lock in the same way they did LA’s Justin Herbert a week prior. Lock piled up 270 passing yards, the most Miami’s allowed in more than a month. They also failed to pressure Lock consistently and did not sack him once. It’s the first time this season the Dolphins failed to secure at least one sack.

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Dolphins Broncos

5 Keys to Dolphins-Broncos in Week 11

The Miami Dolphins (6-3) travel to Colorado for their Week 11 matchup with the Denver Broncos (3-6). Originally slated as a bye week, this contest pits a pair of young quarterbacks against each other. The Dolphins are trending up with Tua Tagovailoa at the helm. Meanwhile, the Broncos come off a contest where their second-year signal caller coughed up four interceptions.

The Dolphins enter winners of five straight and find themselves in a soft stretch of their schedule. If Miami means to make a playoff push, the team can’t afford a loss to a struggling Broncos squad. The Dolphins stand among the six AFC squads with six wins thus far, so every victory remains necessary.

Here’s a look at five keys for the Dolphins in their Week 11 games versus the Broncos.

Dolphins-Broncos: Figure Out a Consistent Ground Game

The Dolphins head to Denver with the NFL’s 28th-ranked rushing offense, gaining just 98.7 yards-per-game thus far. The Broncos, though, allow 128.8 yards-per-game on the ground (23rd). And despite a turnstile in the backfield, Miami may have found something in rookie running back Salvon Ahmed.

Ahmed gained 85 yards on 21 carries in Week 10 versus the Chargers. He managed 4.0 yards-per-carry and scored a touchdown. He was actually at 91 yards in the fourth quarter before losing yardage on his final three carries. That said, most of his damage came on just a handful of runs.

In Tagovailoa’s three starts, Miami averages just 85.6 rushing yards-per-game, but one of those games was against the Rams, where the Dolphins offense needed to do very little. Over the last two weeks, the Dolphins have averaged 101 rushing yards-per-game.

Miami released running back Jordan Howard this week but should see the return of Matt Breida to the lineup. The combination of Ahmed and Breida should be more than enough to gain yards on the ground against a subpar rushing defense.

Attack the Quarterback

The Dolphins defense continued its stellar play this season in Week 10. Against the Chargers, Miami defenders registered two sacks and eight quarterback hits. Xavien Howard’s interception extended a 15-game long streak with at least one takeaway. And the Dolphins 15 takeaways this season are tied for fourth-most in the NFL in 2020.

Chargers wideout Keenan Allen revealed that the LA offense was confused by the Dolphins’ disguises on defense. Miami offered amoeba looks to LA’s rookie quarterback Justin Herbert on four different third-down occasions last week. That uncertainty kept the Chargers from finding a rhythm on offense.

With a pair of young quarterbacks, the Broncos could be facing a similar attack from Miami. Denver deploys multiple tight ends often, which could allow the Dolphins to send extra defenders at either Drew Lock or Brett Rypien. The Dolphins blitz 41.6 percent of the time, fourth-most in the NFL thus far.

Since the start of Miami’s five-game winning streak, the Dolphins defense is first points-per-game allowed (17.2) and is second in quarterback pressures (86) and completion percentage allowed (57.0 percent).

Dolphins-Broncos: Limit Denver’s Run Game

The Broncos sport a rushing attack that registers 106.6 rushing yards-per-game (19th). This figure belies the talent Denver rolls out in the backfield. Both Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay are good running backs. The pair has combined for 852 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, allow 128.1 rushing yards-per-game (22nd). They’re likely without Christian Wilkins for a second-straight week, though rookie Raekwon Davis played very well against LA. Miami limited the Chargers to 99 rushing yards on 29 attempts, a 3.4 yards-per-carry average.

Denver runs the ball on second down more than any other team in the league. If the Dolphins can keep Denver in third-and-long, attack the Broncos’ QB, whomever it is, becomes that much easier.

Take Care of the Football

This goes without saying for any contest. But limiting turnovers, especially in winnable games on the road, remains the best way to secure a victory. Last week against the Chargers, a botched snap led to a dramatic momentum swing in that contest.

Ted Karras’ bad snap led to a fumble with the Dolphins driving up 14-0. If Miami managed to score on that possession, they would’ve held a 17-0 or 21-0 lead and a strangle hold on that game. Instead, the fumble allowed the Chargers to get back into the game. They scored a touchdown and the Dolphins responded with a three-and-out on offense. Late in the second quarter, the Chargers were driving to tie the game.

Tagovailoa is yet to throw an interception this season, though there have been a couple of close calls. He’s fumbled twice (though one was the bad snap). If Tagovailoa plays another clean contest, the Dolphins should leave Denver with their sixth-straight win.

The Dolphins enter with a plus-5 turnover differential, tied for the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. The defense has managed at least one takeaway in all nine games this season and both Broncos QBs have been turnover prone. Lock threw four interceptions against the Raiders last week and Rypien threw three interceptions in his Week 4 start against the Jets.

Dolphins-Broncos: Don’t Get Complacent

Miami’s play of late has turned some heads. With seemingly unexpected wins against the Rams and Cardinals, coupled with the efficient play of Tagovailoa, the Dolphins are NFL darlings these days. That, plus the soft schedule this month, means Miami’s postseason dreams could become a reality.

That said, this contest has all the making of a trap game. Entering having won five-in-a-row and hearing football pundits praise their play might lead the Dolphins to let their guard down.

That can’t happen.

The Dolphins are one of nine AFC teams with at least six wins this season. Only seven of those will make the playoffs. Miami has the 19th-easiest remaining slate of games, based on strength of schedule, but that can’t rely on that. According to Tankathon.com, Baltimore, New England, Cleveland and Las Vegas, all teams vying for one of those playoff spots, each have easier schedules than the Dolphins.

And if Miami really has set their sights on an AFC East title, the Bills schedule is only slightly more difficult. Buffalo’s remaining opponents sport a .509 winning percentage.

The Dolphins have a chance to bank wins with this stretch of opponents. They’ve won five straight but need to win at least three more. Being 9-3 entering the home stretch of the schedule would all but guarantee a playoff spot.

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