Successful Rebuild: Five Questions About the Dolphins

An inside look at the Dolphins' rebuild, which has lapped the Bengals this season
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CINCINNATI — The Bengals play the Dolphins on Sunday in Miami. Both teams were in the hunt for Joe Burrow one year ago. 

Fast forward to 2020 and the Dolphins are legitimate playoff contenders. 

Both of these teams started the 2019 season with an 0-7 record. Miami has won 12 games since that dreadful start. Meanwhile, even after landing Burrow with the No. 1 pick, Cincinnati has just four wins over that span. 

The Dolphins enter Sunday's game with a 7-4 record. The Bengals are hoping to end a three-game losing streak. They're 2-8-1 on the year. 

For more insight on the Dolphins and how they've turned their franchise around, we asked AllDolphins publisher Alain Poupart five key questions about Miami. 

1. How has Tua Tagovailoa played so far this season? Are people questioning him after seeing Justin Herbert play well for Los Angeles? 

Poupart: Tua Tagovailoa’s performance since he took over as the starting quarterback probably could only be described as adequate. In fairness, though, it’s not like he’s been asked to do all that much because the defense and special teams have been carrying the Dolphins during their recent run of success. Tagovailoa’s passing numbers are pretty pedestrian and he has shown a hesitation to try to make dangerous or even remotely dangerous throws. The best thing he’s done is not through an interception yet, though he had one pass go right through the hands of a Chargers linebacker and an interception at Denver was negated by a shaky defensive holding penalty. Without abusing the term, Tua has been more of a game manager so far. That’s in stark contrast to Herbert, who’s putting up big numbers for a team headed nowhere. Tagovailoa has his detractors among Dolphins fans, but he’s got a much bigger base who believe he’ll become a star in time. 

2. Brian Flores is 12-8 over his last 20 games and looks like he's going to turn things around in Miami. Was there a moment when you realized he was the right guy for the job? If so, when and why? 

Poupart: I think you have to go back to last year and Flores’ ability to squeeze five wins out of a roster that had to rank among the worst ever fielded by an NFL team. The 2019 season for the Dolphins was about moving bad contracts and accumulating draft capital (not tanking, as some have suggested) and their countless young players moving on and off the roster throughout the year. By the time they faced the Patriots in the season finale, the Dolphins had 30 of their 53 players on the active roster who entered the NFL either as undrafted free agents or seventh-round picks, and yet they beat New England to cost the Patriots the second seed and a first-round bye. That told me right there that Flores could coach. 

3. How important has Ryan Fitzpatrick been for Tagovailoa's development this season? 

Poupart: That’s a tough question because Tua has yet to show great development, but in terms of having a good veteran quarterback from whom to learn, he hardly could do better than Fitzpatrick. Not sure you’re aware of this, but Fitzpatrick went to Harvard, so he’s clearly very intelligent. He’s also a team-first guy who has helped Tagovailoa before and after the quarterback switch, no matter how painful it was to him. So if we’re looking at this as a developmental year for Tagovailoa, he most definitely has a good mentor in Fitzpatrick. 

4. Are the Dolphins on track with the rebuild timeline or are they ahead of schedule?

Poupart: There is absolutely zero question that they’re not only ahead of schedule, they’re way ahead of schedule. For the Dolphins to be in playoff contention with the amount of roster upgrading they needed after the 2019 season is nothing short of amazing. The offense, which has started three rookies at different times, remains a way in progress, but the defense is absolutely legit—particularly the secondary, which is as good as just about any in the NFL. 

5. What one area should the Bengals exploit in hopes of pulling off an upset on Sunday? 

Poupart: There are two areas where the Dolphins aren’t that good right now, and that’s run offense and run defense. The Dolphins rank 30th in the league in rushing yards per game and 32nd in rushing yards per attempt, so that’s not ideal. But, again, it’s the defense and special teams that led the way during their 6-1 stretch. The one loss came at Denver when the Dolphins’ so-so run defense was exposed. But other opponents haven’t been able to do enough damage on the ground to be able to stay away from throwing the ball, and that’s when the Dolphins defense can unleash its ultra-aggressive pass-rush scheme and create turnovers.

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