The Five Biggest Dolphins Questions at the Bye
The Miami Dolphins arrived at their altered bye week with a 3-3 record following consecutive victories against the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.
The Dolphins initially were scheduled to have their bye on the weekend of Nov. 22 in Week 11, but those plans were changed when the NFL reshuffled a bunch of games in light of COVID-19 positive tests involving the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots.
The Dolphins obviously find themselves in a much different position at the bye than they did at their bye last week when they went into it with an 0-4 record by a combined score of 163-26.
This year, the Dolphins have outscored their opponents by 47 points, giving them the fourth-best point differential in the AFC behind only Super Bowl contenders Baltimore (+75), Pittsburgh (+62) and Kansas City (+48).
Despite the clear improvement, the Dolphins still had some concerns heading into the bye and we addressed the five stand out:
1. How will the quarterback change affect the team?
This actually might be questions 1 through 10. That's how significant the announced move from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
It's seismic, really.
There's no question that Tagovailoa represents the future of the franchise and there's clear merit in getting him in the lineup to give him meaningful experience and also for the Dolphins to get a feel for just what they have in the former University of Alabama star.
But the short-term impact of the quarterback switch remains to be seen because, even though some fans and writers don't want to hear or read this, there's no guarantee the Dolphins offense will be as effective in 2020 with Tagovailoa at quarterback than it was with Fitzpatrick.
In terms of the move affecting team chemistry because of Fitzpatrick's immense popularity with his teammates, we'll give head coach Brian Flores the benefit of the doubt here that he'll sell the move to the players and they'll be fully on board.
2. How will the offensive line hold up over the final 10 games?
There's no question the Dolphins' offseason moves have paid off on the offensive line because that unit is soooo much better than it was in 2019, but that's not to suggest it's yet where it needs to be.
By all measures, rookie draft picks Austin Jackson, Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt have done a solid job at left tackle, right guard and right tackle, respectively, but it's also been far from perfect.
While the pass protection has been pretty good, the Dolphins are 26th in the NFL in rushing average per attempt at 3.82 and that's going to need to improve.
The Dolphins also will have to make a decision when Jackson comes off injured reserve, mainly deciding whether Hunt needs to stay in the starting lineup at the expense of veteran Jesse Davis, who moved from right to left tackle after Jackson was injured in the game against Seattle.
3. What's the ceiling for the defense?
The Dolphins had really good defensive performances against both the 49ers and Jets and they corresponded with the return of cornerback Byron Jones to the lineup after he missed almost three games with a groin injury.
But those performances also came against a 49ers team with hobbled Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback for a half before he was pulled against a Jets team that's, well, the Jets.
So what was the biggest factor?
It says here the Dolphins absolutely can be a very good defense for the final 10 games of the season (provided they stay healthy) because having Jones in the lineup to go along with vintage Xavien Howard gives Miami the kind of cornerback play that helps the entire defense.
Was it really any coincidence that the pass rush came to life in those two games? Against, yes, it was against mediocre offenses, but it also speaks to what improved coverage in the back end can do for the pass rush.
4. Can the Dolphins step up and beat a good team?
That's clearly the next step for the Dolphins, who came close against the Patriots, Bills and Seahawks but couldn't make the plays in the fourth quarter.
On the flip side, the Dolphins' convincing victories against the Jaguars, 49ers and Jets shouldn't be dismissed because of the level of competition (remember, the 49ers were bad that week because of major injury issues) because good teams easily handle bad teams, and that's just what Miami did.
But if they want to become contenders, it's obvious the Dolphins will have to finish games against good teams because that's what good teams do.
5. Can the Dolphins make a run at the playoffs?
Not to put undue pressure on the rookie, but it's pretty clear that the answer to this question could come down to how Tagovailoa performs.
Let's be honest, the Dolphins sure looked like a team ready to make a run after that 24-point victory against the Jets because Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing some good football at quarterback — no, he wasn't perfect, but he was on track to set a single-season franchise record for completion percentage and his passer rating of 95.0 would stand as the fourth-highest in team history.
The move to Tagovailoa was the right one in a long-term view for the franchise, but it remains to be seen if the Dolphins will be better in 2020 because of it.
If they are, the Dolphins absolutely should be in the thick of the playoff race come December.