3 Takeaways from Dolphins' Week 11 Loss
The Miami Dolphins' five-game winning streak came to an end on Sunday, as they fell to the Denver Broncos 20-13. While the loss to an inconsistent Broncos team won't also end Miami's playoff hopes, it was a sobering reminder that this is still a team in the early stages of a rebuild.
Miami struggled to finish drives, with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa getting benched. While the defense forced quarterback Drew Lock into some critical mistakes, it had no answer for Melvin Gordon III and Denver's rushing attack.
In total, the Broncos racked up 459 yards of offense, 189 of which came on the ground.
With other potential AFC wild-card teams like the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts picking up wins on Sunday, it's become clear that Miami will have a fight on its hands to reach the playoffs. Here are three other things we learned during the Dolphins' Week 11 loss.
Brian Flores Is Indeed Eyeing the Postseason
Perhaps the most important takeaway from Sunday is this: Head coach Brian Flores is more interested in reaching the playoffs than making the stretch run about evaluating Tagovailoa. He made that clear when he benched the rookie in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
"Today was different than the last few weeks. They needed me to go in there and provide a spark," Flores said, per Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
It's not that Flores isn't interested in developing his quarterback of the future. He said the former Alabama star will get the start again next week. It's just that Flores isn't going to make the rookie's development the sole purpose of the 2020 season.
And why should he? While the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers have every reason to lean into the development process for their rookie quarterbacks—at least the Bengals did, before losing Joe Burrow to a season-ending injury on Sunday—Tagovailoa is only part of the equation in Miami.
This is still Tua's team, but if Flores believes he can provide a spark and get a win by bringing in Fitzpatrick, he's going to do it. The playoffs are a very real possibility for Miami, and even an AFC East title is within reach. There is more to play for than just the future over these last six weeks.
Tagovailoa Is Still a Work in Progress
Burrow and the Chargers' Justin Herbert have largely made the transition to being an NFL quarterback look easy. Over the past couple of weeks, Tagovailoa did the same. He came into Sunday 3-0 as a starter, and he tossed four touchdowns with no interceptions over his last two games.
Sandwiched around two strong outings, though, is two shaky performances by the rookie. Tagovailoa passed for just 93 yards in a win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8, and he was mostly ineffective against Denver.
Tagovailoa did throw another touchdown, but he also completed just 11 of 20 attempts for 83 yards and was sacked six times.
The reality is that Tagovailoa at times looks and plays like what we're used to seeing from first-year signal-callers. He isn't ready to put the team on his shoulders as Burrow did in Cincinnati and Herbert has in L.A.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as rookie struggles should be expected. However, it does lead one to wonder if we'll see more appearances from Fitzpatrick as long as Miami remains in the playoff race.
Run Defense Is a Growing Concern
While Miami could have used a better performance from Tagovailoa, it still might have won this game with him under center—provided it had been able to slow Denver's run game. Gordon racked up 84 rushing yards and two scores, while Phillip Lindsay chipped in 82 yards on the ground. Lock even scrambled twice for 23 yards.
This isn't the first time that run defense has been an issue for Miami. The Dolphins rank 27th against the run and 29th in yards per carry allowed. That hadn't led to losses over the previous five weeks, but it could be a fatal flaw down the stretch.
Over the final four weeks of the season, the Dolphins will face the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills. This means they'll be up against running backs like Josh Jacobs and Clyde Edwards-Helaire along with scrambling quarterbacks Cam Newton and Josh Allen.
Miami should win its next two games—against the New York Jets and the Burrow-less Bengals—but that final month will likely decide whether the Dolphins make the postseason. If they can't tighten up their run defense before then, the final month could prove extremely difficult.