South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Hyde: Game big for Tua’s development
Erik Spoelstra, whoknows all about winning championships, said something apropos to the Miami Dolphins’ big picture thisweek.
The MiamiHeat coachwasn’t talking about the Dolphins at all. Hewas talking about his own team, its development and direction this upcoming season. He talked about adding size to aHeat roster that needed more against theLos Angeles Lakers in theNBAFinals when he struck on a larger theme for all sports.
“Whenyouwant to win at the highest level and get that final win, you have to have pretty mucheverything,’’ he said. “You have to check a lot of different boxes. You have to be tested, but you have to have an incredible versatility.
“You have to be able to have a lot of different kinds of things for different circumstances. And opponents at that level, the elite of the elite, pose answers for every kind of question. So you have to be able to bring a lot of different things.”
The Dolphins have made significant strides, especially defensively, toward checking boxes thisyear. Butdon’tgo crazy about a playoffstretch thatwould be a good accomplishment. They’re still not there. They still have significant boxes to check.
That’s neither breaking news nor a criticism at this point in their development. It does
explain the importance of playingTuaTagovailoa, though, and that gets into the importance of him playing Sunday against the sad-sack Cincinnati Bengals.
Look at this Ben gals defense:
30thin sacks, 26thin in yards against, 21st in passing yards. Those numbersonly start to sayw hyit matters who plays at quarter back for theDolphins, Tagovailoaor RyanFitzpatrick. Someoneisgoing tohaveagoodday— orshould anyway.
Look at the last four average-togood quarterbacks to play against Cincinnati. Throwoutthe last two weeks of the struggling offenses behind the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones and Washington’ s AlexSmith.
Gowiththestretch of the four beforethat: Indianapolis’ Phillip Rivers, Cleveland’ s Baker May field, Tennessee’ s Ryan Tan ne hill and Pittsburgh’ s Ben Roe th li sb erg er.
Average-to-goodquarterbacks, right? Not elite, nottopfive. There’s
not atop-10-rated quarter back in the bunch other than Tan ne hill.
These quarter backs burned Cincinnati foracombined14 touch downs against three inter
ceptions and a 110.3 rating. They weresackedatotal oftwotimes in fourgames. Theiroffensesall
scoredmorethan31 points against theBengals.
Doyouseehowthat translates toSunday— andto the Dolphins’ situation?
The Dolphins don’ t have a quarter back controversy by exact definition. It’sTagovailoa’s job— if he’s healthy. It’s Fitzpatrick’s role to playmentor— justas itshouldbe.
Everyone agrees on that, but everyone also should understand whoever comes out of this game should showenough sparkle for people to say, “That’s the guy for the rest of the year.” And not just people. The players, especially.
It’s one thing for coach Brian Flores to say, “This isTua’s team.” It’s another for him to perform thatway. He did so against Arizona. He needs to get back to that. This is a day that presents that kind of opportunity.
If you look at the big picture, the one Spoelstrawas talking about in developing his team, that’swhy you needTagovailoa to develop, to get these reps and get in line to check that most important box in football.
Flores playedit cute Fridayin lettingeveryoneknowhe’ddecide onthe starter just after talking to themedia. That’s his call. It’s also alittle odd. What’s the point of notannouncingit? Acompetitive advantage? Doyoueverheargood teamsdothat— orneedto?
The Dolphins’ record is ahead of its development. That’s a good testament to the coaching and playersmaximizing their chances. Making the playoffs would be an accomplishment.
But making it withTagovailoa would be the accomplishment this franchise needsmoving forward. The Dolphins made the playoffs in 2008 and 2016 in nice seasons thatwent nowhere.
Tua hasn’t played since being benched in Denver. If that defense presented problems, this bad Cincinnati defense provides opportunities. It gives up points, doesn’t rush the quarterback and, thanks to an offense without rookie JoeBurrow, should be kept on the field too long.
It’s a perfect opportunity forTagovailoa to get his sea legs under him again and the Dolphins’ development to continue in good form. Making the playoffs? Nice. Butmaking them in theway where Spoelstra’s boxes are getting checked is what matters most.