4 Ways the Dolphins Can Get Tua and the Passing Attack Rolling

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2020

4 Ways the Dolphins Can Get Tua and the Passing Attack Rolling

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins stunned the New England Patriots in Week 15, winning 22-12 to move to 9-5 and remain right in the thick of the AFC playoff race. 

    Lost in the hype of a continued passing of the guard in a rivalry, though, was a tough-looking outing from rookie passer Tua Tagovailoa

    He was strictly a game manager, posting a 20-of-26 passing line with one tough red-zone interception and no completions over 15 yards. That said, he rushed for two scores and led two critical touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. 

    For the purposes of offensive balance against better competition (such as the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills in Week 17) and Tagovailoa's long-term health given his prior injury issues, the Dolphins need to get the passing attack rolling again. 

Feature Myles Gaskin

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    One way to provide some balance and take rushing chances out of Tagovailoa's hands is to get the ball back to Myles Gaskin. 

    Gaskin has only appeared in eight games this year and is currently dealing with a knee injury and on the reserve/COVID-19 list, yet Dolphins coaches have trusted him as the workhorse when he's available. He's rushed for 477 yards and two touchdowns on a 3.9 yards-per-carry average, and he has another 32 catches in the passing game on 37 targets. 

    Keep in mind this is considering future opponents, too. Salvon Ahmed going for 122 yards and a score against a bottom-six New England Patriots rushing defense wasn't too shocking, but he's only appeared in four games this year and has caught just seven passes. 

    Returning a workhorse to the lineup and featuring him in the running and passing game should keep defenses guessing and make life easier on Tagovailoa when he has to drop back for deeper looks.

Prioritize TEs

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    One of the staples when trying to make life easier on a rookie passer tends to be prioritizing big-bodied targets like tight ends, especially when it's time to move the sticks or score outright. 

    But with the Dolphins down starter Mike Gesicki against the New England Patriots, the offense targeted Durham Smythe just five times and Adam Shaheen just twice. 

    Smythe caught all five of his targets, and Shaheen hauled in just one. But the latter is especially perplexing as the so-called bust of a second-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 2017 took his one catch for 15 yards and happens to stand at 6'6", making him quite the target. 

    The problem was especially pronounced on Tagovailoa's first-half interception in the red zone when Lynn Bowden Jr. was the target on an ill-advised throw under pressure. 

    Keeping in mind the opponent was merely the 6-8 Patriots, it's important to see tight ends get more run moving forward, especially when Gesicki returns.

    Arguably Tagovailoa's best passing game of the year, which came in a Week 13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, featured Gesicki and Smythe combining for 11 catches and a score while Gaskin dominated the touches out of the backfield. 

Get Healthy

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    It's admirable how tough Tagovailoa hung in there against the Patriots, including on those two lengthy fourth-quarter drives given the lack of targets around him. 

    The Dolphins were missing Gesicki, Gaskin, DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Jakeem Grant at the skill positions, making for a skeleton crew. His available targets on the ill-fated interception? Bowden, Shaheen, Mack Hollins, Isaiah Ford and Patrick Laird.

    Saying the above was not ideal would be an understatement. 

    Luckily for Tagovailoa, it really is as simple as getting everyone healthy. Parker, the team's leading receiver at 677 yards and four scores, was merely questionable before the win. Gesicki, the owner of 602 yards and six scores, was also questionable and seemed like a game-time decision, too. 

    Get some key players back for the important stretch run, pair that with the other points made here and Tagovailoa should keep learning from mistakes on the fly and developing while winning games. 

Enable More Deep Shots

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Tagovailoa's longest pass of the day against the Patriots went for 15 yards. On the season, his yards per pass attempt has squeaked above seven just twice over eight games. 

    Granted, the Patriots dialed up the blitz a ton, so the Dolphins were comfortable getting the ball out fast, especially with a skeleton crew around the quarterback. But with a speedy weapon like Bowden available (and with the Patriots losing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to injury), it's a wonder the offense didn't take more deep shots. 

    Some of that is also on the offensive line with Ereck Flowers missing against the Patriots. But extra chip blockers or better scheming could keep the pocket cleaner for longer, allowing Tagovailoa to push the ball down the field. 

    Better defenses will realize the blitz isn't exactly flustering Tagovailoa and will merely collapse on the short stuff. Deep shots can be the great equalizer that opens up the whole offense, provided the protection up front is right and the coaches trust the rookie to let it fly.