The Miami Dolphins hold the (dis)honor of being the first team to be shut out during the 2021 NFL season.
Miami had a rough showing in Week 2 that not only resulted in a 35-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills, but saw its quarterback Tua Tagovailoa carted off the field with fractured ribs. Any game plan is sure to go south once a starting quarterback is pulled from the game, but the team’s loss to the Bills revealed deep issues with the roster that need to be fixed if Miami is ever to be a true contender.
Here are some of my takeaways from rewatching the team’s Week 2 matchup:
Miami Dolphins offensive line goes from worrying to disaster level
Miami has taken a volume approach to fixing its offensive line over the past two seasons. The team has drafted four offensive linemen within the first four rounds since 2020, hoping to hit on enough picks to string together passable protection for Tagovailoa.
That’s not been the reality, however, and Sunday’s loss exemplified that.
Tagovailoa was pressured on four of his six dropbacks against the Bills, per Pro Football Focus (PFF), and sacked twice before being knocked out of the game. The line play wasn’t much better with backup Jacoby Brissett under center, as he was pressured on 28 of his 47 dropbacks (60% pressure rate).
Upon rewatching the game, I found it difficult to find a single pass set in which at least one offensive lineman wasn’t getting beat in one way or another. Left tackle Austin Jackson and right tackle Jesse Davis seemed to struggle the most defending against Buffalo’s young edge rushers. Jackson continually failed to win with his hands and had them chopped away time after time, while Davis would simply get blown by with speed. Both tackles, as well as right guard Robert Hunt, were also susceptible to bull rushes that nearly knocked them straight into the quarterback’s lap.
If there was any bright spot in pass protection, it was running back Myles Gaskin’s ability to pick up blitzers and stop Brissett from getting blown up a handful of times.
But Gaskin was forced to cover up holes along the line far too often, especially when it came to creeper blitzes, which refers to when a defense only brings four rushers, but one of those rushers is a linebacker after a defensive lineman is dropped into coverage. I noticed left guard Solomon Kindley open up easy pass rush lanes to the blitzer and instead double the defensive tackle center Michael Deiter was already blocking on multiple occasions.
Related: Miami Dolphins game-by-game predictions
Kindley was benched near the end of the game for Robert Jones. Davis, meanwhile, left the game with an injury halfway through. Rookie Liam Eichenberg took his place, but I suspect the Miami Dolphins may have just started a game of musical chairs along the offensive front that may continue throughout the entire season. Even still, I have little confidence this won’t be a bottom-five offensive line unit by season’s end.
A heightened role for a rookie safety
The one shining light I gleaned from Miami’s performance against Buffalo was the outstanding play from rookie free safety Jevon Holland.
The second-round pick seems to have already cemented himself as Miami’s No. 2 safety, as he played 77% of the team’s defensive snaps. That’s up from only 32% of snaps in Week 1.
What encouraged me most about Holland’s play was his ability to fit into a number of different roles. Per PFF, he played six snaps along the defensive line at the edge position, seven snaps in the box, 34 as a free safety, two as a slot cornerback, and one as an outside cornerback. Holland’s ability to be a swiss army knife was his calling card at the University of Oregon, and it’s great to see that skill set carry over into his professional career with the Miami Dolphins.
His role as a potential pass rusher and run defender from the edge was surprising, but he performed well there on Sunday. Holland pressured Josh Allen twice, and also had some nice run stops in which he chased down a running back from behind coming off the edge. One of his pressures almost resulted in Allen throwing a second-half interception, too.
It’s early in his career, but it seems thus far like Miami’s found another cornerstone piece for this defense and a worthy replacement for former safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Miami Dolphins’ fourth down inefficiency
Miami was zero for four on fourth down attempts against the Bills. With that success rate, I was curious as to what went wrong in each of these plays.
The first fourth-down attempt was the play that ultimately knocked Tagovailoa out of Sunday’s game. That came when Davis straight up whiffed on a block and allowed a free shot at Miami’s quarterback, giving him only two seconds to throw. Tagovailoa would have had an open receiver if he only had half a second longer to set his feet and throw his wideout open, so I place the blame on this failed attempt on Davis’s blocking, or lack thereof.
Next, Miami went for it again in the second quarter. The team only needed to gain a yard, so Brissett took the snap out of the pistol formation with Malcolm Brown in the backfield. The offensive line pushed left, but Brown cut right and couldn’t break a tackle from the one defender awaiting him. In general, Brown has struggled in short-yardage situations thus far, and I think it’s about time for the Dolphins to rethink his role in this offense.
Miami later went for it on fourth down while down by 21 late in the third quarter. This was another instance where the team’s offensive line gave up immediate pressure, forcing Brissett to get rid of the ball just a second earlier than he would have liked. It caused wide receiver Preston Williams to get blown up over the middle of the field and drop the ball.
Lastly, the Miami Dolphins went for it during garbage time late in the fourth quarter. Brissett bought himself some time while in an empty formation, and found running back Salvon Ahmed wide open, but he turned his head downfield before securing the ball and let it fall to the floor on what would have been an easy conversion.