Miami Dolphins’ Familiar Formula Good Enough To Beat the Pittsburgh Steelers – But Not Many Others

An outstanding defensive performance was all the Miami Dolphins needed to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. But more will be needed from the offense going forward.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In honor of Brian Flores’ return to Hard Rock Stadium, Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins played like it was 2021.

They beat a bad team — in this case, the Pittsburgh Steelers, by a score of 16-10 — with a suffocating effort on defense and just enough plays on offense. Tagovailoa, in his first game back from a serious concussion, was great to start but bad to finish.

There were also a number of head-scratching coaching decisions, but Miami’s ability to make plays on defense papered over all of those deficiencies.

Miami Dolphins, Tua Tagovailoa Survive Pittsburgh Steelers

The Dolphins are 4-3 instead of 3-4 for one major reason: Their defensive backs were able to catch the football, and the Steelers’ defensive backs were not. Miami intercepted rookie Kenny Pickett three times — including a game-clincher by Noah Igbinoghene at the goal line on Pittsburgh’s final offensive play.

The Steelers’ defense, meanwhile, unofficially had four dropped interceptions, which made Tagovailoa’s final stat line — 21 of 35 for 261 yards, one touchdown, and no picks — look better than his performance actually was.

Tagovailoa was lights out to start — leading Miami on three scoring drives to open the game — but was ineffective after halftime. The Dolphins had just four first downs and crossed the 50 twice in the second half.

Tua was rusty — not surprising after a long layoff. But he also threw some passes that would have been inexcusable even on the first day of practice.

“Miscues with ball placement, communication with the route that this receiver thought was this look and I thought was that look,” Tagovailoa said. “Just miscommunications on our part with that. We just couldn’t find our rhythm.”

MORE: Tom Brady Is the Elephant in the Room

McDaniel isn’t one to dwell on the negatives, and so he was upbeat in his assessment of Tagovailoa’s performance, saying Tua “did a tremendous job.”

McDaniel did quibble, however, with Tagovailoa’s decision — again, less than a month removed from a brain injury — to twice lower his shoulder and play bumper cars with Steelers defenders in an attempt to run for a first down.

The first collision came on the Dolphins’ second drive, when he used his body as a battering ram against Steelers linebacker Devin Bush.

“Was I advising him to do that? No,” McDaniel said. “I think he immediately, the next series after the first time he did it, said, ‘Coach, I’m sorry. I needed that.’

“… He’s a competitor and he’s trying to get a first down for his team, so I’m never going to totally encourage that at all,” McDaniel added. “I’m probably going to advise him to slide every time. But when push comes to shove, when the guy has the ball in his hands, it’s going to be tough to get him to completely turn it down — although I would try.”

Mike McDaniel Gets Risky vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

McDaniel is right. People are who they are. And McDaniel, like Tagovailoa, can be aggressive to a fault.

His game management wasn’t the best Sunday. His ill-fated decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 up six midway through the third quarter — eschewing the field goal that would have made it a two-score game — almost turned a win into a loss.

Credit McDaniel for owning the decision completely — and absolving his analytics department of any blame.

“I have a couple guys within analytics that are in my ear in all those types of situations,” McDaniel said. “In this situation, they did not advise me to go for it. So there’s plenty of decisions that are made that — it’s a balancing act. You take the statistical percentage chance, which is what they’re evaluating, and it’s one of those things, I think it was a fourth — I think the scoreboard might have said [fourth-and-]3, but I think it was like a long two and a half, but it’s one of those if it’s fourth-and-2 they’re a lot more supportive; fourth-and-3 the percentages go way down.

“But that was something that I do pretty much every game where you’re balancing that with the momentum of the game and where we were at. I felt really confident that we’d be able to convert. Obviously we didn’t.”

Outlook for Miami Dolphins After Sunday’s Win

While it’s important to point out what went wrong for Miami Sunday night, let’s not lose sight of this:

The Dolphins enter Week 8 above .500 for the first time since 2018. Or put another way, McDaniel has done something that Flores — the ex-Dolphins coach who returned to Hard Rock as a Steelers assistant Sunday — never could.

Flores’ relationship (or lack thereof) with Tua was a discussion point in the days leading up to Sunday’s game. He coaches from the box but was on the field briefly pre-game. He greeted a handful of Dolphins players he coached during his three seasons, but Tagovailoa was not one of them.

“Nope,” Tua said when asked if he spoke with Flores Sunday.

MORE: NFL Week 8 Power Rankings

There are a lot of reasons why Flores is no longer the Dolphins coach. The way he handled Tua during their two years together was certainly part of the equation. He never believed in Tagovailoa in the way McDaniel does.

And Tua has shown that he can play better — much better — than what Flores thought, and better than he did against Flores’ defense Sunday. But when the Dolphins’ schedule firms up again in November, 16 points on 12 possessions won’t cut it.

“We should be scoring more points than we are,” McDaniel said. “I think everybody on the team would agree with that.

“… The whole deal is to continually progress with your game and make sure that that is not the norm because you don’t — it is frustrating for the whole team, and we’re not going to be able to just have to out-score 10 points every time to win games, so we’ve got to find a way to get better at that, which we’ll be focused on moving forward.”

Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast

Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Dolphins Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Dolphins Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.

Related Articles