Players Who Must Step Up for the Dolphins to Make the Playoffs
The Tua Tagovailoa era hit its first snag on Sunday.
Sunday marked the first game in which the Alabama product significantly struggled as Miami's starter, and he has to be much better moving forward for Miami to secure a playoff berth.
Tagovailoa was not the only player to blame for Sunday's loss, as the defense failed to contain the opposing rushing attack, which has been a common theme in the 2020 season.
If the Dolphins win both of those contests, they could be an eight-win team in a favorable spot in the standings ahead of their Week 14 showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The performance-based benching of Tagovailoa was not a good sign for his development.
The good news for the southpaw is that he will be back under center for the Week 12 clash against the New York Jets.
Sunday should give him the perfect opportunity to develop a deeper connection with his wide receivers and build confidence in the pocket.
In Week 11, Tagovailoa went 11-of-20 with 83 yards and a touchdown. He had two touchdowns in each of the two games prior to the loss in Denver.
Although his passing-yard totals need to improve, Tagovailoa has not turned the ball over through the air. He has six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
If Tagovailoa throws for at least 200 yards and multiple scores against the Jets and Bengals, he will put himself and the team in a solid position going into the final four weeks.
Jerome Baker is Miami's leading tackler, but he has not been on the field as much as expected in the last few weeks.
Baker played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in the Week 6 shutout win over the Jets, but since then he has dropped to below 50 percent of plays. On Sunday, the linebacker was on the field for 31 percent of Miami's defensive stops.
The third-year player can be vital to Miami's defensive success, but he has not been placed on the field to make much of a difference.
In his limited playing time, Baker earned four tackles in the last two weeks. In the first nine weeks, he had four or more tackles on five occasions.
If Baker's snap count returns to what it was in the first half of the season, he could help the Dolphins reduce their rushing-yard concession.
Miami's second-best pass catcher has not reached the 50-yard mark in each of the last three weeks.
Mike Gesicki has not offset the low yardage production with scoring plays either. He has not found the end zone since Week 3.
If the Dolphins want to make Tagovailoa feel more comfortable in the pocket, they should try to work Gesicki into the game plan more, whether it be in the middle of the field, or in the red zone.
Since the bye, Gesicki has 10 receptions on 16 targets, but he has not been thrown to more than five times in a single game.
If opposing defensive backs key in on DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant, Tagovailoa should look for Gesicki to extend drives and put points on the board.
In 2019, Gesicki came alive in the final six games with five touchdown catches and two performances with 75 yards or more.
If Miami gets similar production out of the third-year tight end over the next six weeks, its passing attack should look better going into the playoffs.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.