Another game against a big-time opponent, another loss for the Miami Dolphins.
Despite a late rally in Frankfurt, Germany, the Dolphins fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 21-14 on Sunday after a failed final drive where they couldn’t generate the offense needed to get into the end zone. All three of their losses have come to teams that are regarded as some of the NFL’s best — the Bills prior to their slew of injuries, then the Eagles and now the Chiefs. In all three of those games, the offense didn't play up to Miami's standards — particularly in their losses against the Chiefs and Eagles, where they scored a combined 31 points.
Something needs to change for this Dolphins team before they end up wasting a roster that is legitimately capable of going on a deep playoff run.
The Dolphins want to be a multifaceted offense that’s capable of running the ball and passing with great efficiency, and they partly were Sunday. They ran the ball well throughout the game. Running back Raheem Mostert finished with 85 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries and the team averaged 5.6 yards on the ground. According to Ben Baldwin of RBSDM.com, the Dolphins had a success rate of 48% on their early down runs and had a 45% figure for the entire game. All of those numbers in congruence show that the Dolphins were able to run the ball and keep that as a useful part of their offense.
On the flip side, they again struggled to put together a consistent passing performance against a top-shelf opponent. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had his lowest output in terms of yards per attempt for the season with a mark of 5.7. Tagovailoa also failed to crack 200 passing yards for the first time this season, throwing for 193 yards on 34 attempts. It was a dud of a performance for the Dolphins’ high-octane passing attack — even Tyreek Hill was held to just 62 yards on 10 targets. The Chiefs smothered one of the most terrifying passing games in NFL history.
One area where the Dolphins’ passing game has struggled in their matchups against top teams has been their performance on non-play-action passing, which is what they have to rely on when the score gets out of hand. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Tagovailoa and the Dolphins completed 10 of their 13 play-action passing attempts for 126 yards and a touchdown, giving them a passer rating of 132.2 on those plays and 9.7 yards per attempt. On their 21 passing attempts without play-action, they averaged just 3.2 yards an attempt. After their loss to the Eagles a few weeks ago, head coach Mike McDaniel noted that they struggled at times operating as a pure dropback team and it appears to still be an issue.
McDaniel noted that the Dolphins’ record and performances against good teams is a legitimate theme for the season after their loss to the Chiefs.
“This is something that I think we’re all very aware, and we knew going into the game that if we’re going to lose what the narrative would be, and that’s fair,” McDaniel said. “We shouldn’t feel entitled to high opinions from the masses. We have to earn that confidence, and we have to earn every — it also gives me a ton of confidence because I know that NFL games, each and every one of them, is tough.”
The Dolphins have wins over the Patriots (twice), Chargers, Broncos, Giants and Panthers. Outside of the Chargers, none of those teams have a real shot at the postseason. At some point, they’re going to need to show that they can hang with the true title contenders. So far, they’re 0-3 in those circumstances and they haven’t fixed problems that keep biting them in the butt.
Even with these troubles, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Dolphins. They’re still first place in the AFC East with the Bills dropping their Week 9 game against the Bengals. Everyone knows they can beat up on the lesser teams, but that’s not what they’re playing for.
They’re about to hit a much-needed bye week before a welterweight matchup with the Raiders. That down time will be needed to make tweaks for the final stretch of the season, because the Dolphins still have two games against the Jets, a game against the Cowboys and then play the Ravens in Week 17. The litmus test games that matter are still on the schedule, now they need to figure out how to play up to their talent level against the cream of the crop.