Why Dolphins can stay on schedule even if QB play doesn’t leap in 2021

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There’s been much made about the pressure facing second-year Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa this season. And, yes, if the Dolphins are to be taken seriously as a threat to make a postseason run in 2021, the team will need to get a much improved version of Tagovailoa to make that happen. But to think that Miami’s entire success as a team rides on Tagovailoa is to ignore the advances of some of the the NFL’s more successful reclamation projects in recent memory.

Things are always easier when the quarterback leaps. But there are 21 other players on the field on offense and defense at any given time. And Miami has done well to commit themselves to improving the overall talent, depth and competition on the rest of their roster, too. The team can draw inspiration from a handful teams from recent memory; which pave the path for Miami to have a successful season regardless of their young quarterback.

The 2019 Buffalo Bills

The situation sounds familiar: a rebuilding team entering into Year 3 with a new head coach, a second-year quarterback who struggled at times as a rookie and a firm investment in rebuilding the rest of the roster. Josh Allen was better than he was as a rookie, but he certainly wasn’t the 2020 version of himself that shredded most of the league. Allen and the Bills finished 10-6 courtesy of the No. 2 scoring defense in football. Allen finished the year with 16 starts and passed for just 3,089 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season.

Should Tagovailoa do the same this year, he’d likely be labeled a flop. But yet the Bills improved their win total by 4 games from 2018 and found themselves in the playoffs at 10-6.

The 2017 Los Angeles Rams

If you thought the Miami Dolphins have had a tough 15 years, let’s appreciate how hard success was to come by for the Rams organization after the departure of former coach Mike Martz. Martz’s Rams with 12-4 in 2003 and proceeded to post two seasons of 8-8 over the next 13 seasons with the other 11 campaigns finished with losing records, including years that offered 1 win, 2 wins, 2 wins (again), 3 wins and 4 wins.

Yikes!

But then along came Sean McVay, who pulled QB Jared Goff out of the miserable depth of a rookie season that made Tua Tagovailoa’s 2020 campaign look like Dan Marino in 1984. Goff as a rookie was 0-7 as a starter and he was sacked on 11.3% of his dropbacks while averaging 2.82 adjusted net yards per attempt on 205 passing attempts.

Not great!

And of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the Rams’ organization would not find the top of the mountain with Goff at the helm and the passer became increasingly limiting to the offense after his peak play in 2018. But that 2017 season, which was the Rams’ first winning year since 2003, offered an 11-5 record and “pretty good” play from Goff, who posted 3,800 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns on the year. Goff’s play would further spike in the first half of 2018 before spiraling downward from there, but yet the Rams have not had a losing season with McVay at the helm, posting seasons of 11-5, 13-3, 9-7 and 10-6.

But the Rams have maintained that success by attacking top-level talent. Miami has the assets to do the same, but they’ll need to see what they’ve got in their young influx of draft selections first. If the Dolphins see a handful of players step up and develop themselves into top tier talents, then Miami can follow a similar path to sustained success no matter what happens at quarterback — before ultimately deciding if a hypothetically stagnant Tagovailoa will need to be moved on from; just as the Rams finally did with Goff this offseason.