Dolphins film study: How missed opportunities added to a rare off day for Miami’s offense

Al Diaz/

As Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel spoke after his team’s 33-17 loss to San Francisco, he was blunt in explaining what led to struggles for his explosive offense.

“I think that the guys were a little off just in general collectively,” McDaniel said.

In the defeat that ended the Dolphins’ five-game winning streak, San Francisco held Miami’s offense to 308 yards, its lowest total since Week 1, 0 for 7 on third downs and forced four turnovers.

It was a rare off day for the unit and an especially uncharacteristic outing for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who entered the game as one of the most accurate and efficient passers in the NFL but completed a season-low 54 percent of his passes. 24 percent of his passes were off target, according to TruMedia, by far a season-high rate.

The 49ers’ pass rush, led by defensive end Nick Bosa’s three sacks, proved a challenge at times for an offensive line playing with backup tackles. Tagovailoa was pressured on 27 percent of his dropbacks, the third-highest rate this season.

But as the Dolphins watched film of the game, they likely lamented a number of uncharacteristic mistakes, from Tagovailoa’s inaccuracies to dropped passes.

Tagovailoa’s first overthrow of the afternoon was arguably his toughest pass. On the third drive of the game, Tagovailoa scanned the field with nobody to throw to and started to scramble to his right. Jaylen Waddle, streaking across the field, came into his field of view, and Tagovailoa launched a pass that sailed over Waddle’s head.

It was the type of sequence that Tagovailoa’s critics have said limits him as a passer unable to create out of structure.

As the game progressed, Tagovailoa’s misses were on the type of passes he has routinely completed this season: in the pocket and over the middle of the field.

Later in the second quarter, Tagovailoa faked a handoff to running back Raheem Mostert and dropped back in a clean pocket. Both Alec Ingold and Durham Smythe chipped Bosa before running routes, and the Dolphins had five blockers for San Francisco’s four rushers.

Tyreek Hill, running a deep in-breaking route, had a few yards of separation in the 49ers’ zone defense behind the second- and third-level defenders. But Tagovailoa’s pass was again too high, even for a leaping Hill.

While Tagovailoa’s ball placement struggles hurt the Dolphins’ offense, so did miscues and drops from Miami pass-catchers, with none more harmful than one from running back Jeff Wilson Jr.

In the second quarter, Wilson ran a wheel route and separated from a 49ers linebacker. Tagovailoa lofted the ball down the sideline to Wilson, but he jumped for the pass and it bounced off his hands for an incompletion. Instead of a big completion, and potentially a touchdown, the Dolphins punted two plays later.

Though Tagovailoa’s issues were compounded by a pair of third-quarter interceptions, one marked by a miscommunication with a stumbling Wilson and the other on a poor pass behind Hill, he rebounded in the fourth quarter as the Dolphins shifted to a no-huddle offense.

For as many plays as the Dolphins will find San Francisco’s pass rush and rangy inside linebackers disrupting the timing of their offense and closing in on passing windows, they will find as many self-inflicted mistakes and missed opportunities in the passing game.

“There’s instances where I just flat-out wasn’t getting the ball directly to our guys,” Tagovailoa said. “But there were also instances where there were miscommunications of, I thought I was supposed to be here, whereas normally you’re here. So just communication errors, and like I said and will continue to keep saying, we’ll get better from those.”