DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins and the concept of tanking have been synonymous for most of the year, but over the past two weeks, the team has started to rewrite its 2019 narrative since quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick re-entered the lineup.
Yes, the Dolphins are still winless, having dropped six games. But thanks to more aggressive playcalling and strong decision-making of late by coach Brian Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, the Dolphins have had Washington and Buffalo on the ropes and are catching their opponents’ attention.
Regardless of the team’s minus-148 point differential as well as the organization’s intentions of securing the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, the Dolphins are still thirsty for a win.
“They play hard. I thought it would be different based on their record, but watching tape and playing against them, those boys are working. You gotta bring your ‘A’ game,” Bills running back Frank Gore said after Sunday’s game. “Fitz gives them energy. Flores got them boys playing to win.”
Fitzpatrick has led the offense to five touchdowns over the Dolphins’ past five quarters. In Miami’s first 19 quarters (Josh Rosen led 12.5 quarters, Fitzpatrick 6.5), the Dolphins scored only two touchdowns.
Miami’s growth cannot be measured with wins, but the team’s aggression has come through, most notably in decisions on special teams. The Dolphins have two surprise onside kicks this season — both were initially successful before being negated because of offside penalties. They also have run a few fake plays, as well.
“I think we’ve been very aggressive,” Fitzpatrick said. “There is some stuff that we’re doing that is really good like special teams where we’ve been super aggressive and we just haven’t done a nice job of finishing the job. I think there’s aggressiveness in the playcalls. I think we’re headed in the right direction. I was very happy just last week to come in and for [Flores] to say I was going to be put back in the lineup. I think there are a lot of things [Flores has] shown that are showing he wants to win football games.”
Here are some examples of the Dolphins’ aggressive play:
Week 6: Redskins 17, Dolphins 16
In first quarter of a scoreless game, the Dolphins called a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from Washington’s 45-yard line. Kalen Ballage took the direct snap, caught several defenders off guard, and converted a first down. Later, an offensive pass interference penalty spoiled the drive.
Down 17-10 early in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins called for a surprise onside kick following a touchdown. It caught Washington off guard. Dolphins linebacker Deon Lacey recovered the kick, but Steven Parker — who wasn’t very involved in the play — was called offside.
Miami erased a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit with some Fitzpatrick magic. Faced with a decision to kick an extra point for overtime or go for the two-point conversion and the win, Flores didn’t hesitate. “We were trying to win the game,” he said afterward. His players agreed with the decision. But, Kenyan Drake dropped the bubble screen, and the Dolphins failed to convert.
Week 7: Bills 31, Dolphins 21
Flores made a surprising decision to bench Rosen, who he had indicated was settled in as his quarterback. Rosen, who hoped he could be the franchise’s long-term signal-caller, had one of the bottom-three QBR games of any this season against Washington and was pulled during the game. Fitzpatrick almost led the comeback win against the Redskins. For the Dolphins game against Buffalo, Flores stayed with Fitzpatrick.
In the third quarter at Buffalo and with a 14-9 lead in the middle of a nine-plus minute drive, Miami calls for a fake field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Bills’ 4-yard line. Punter/holder Matt Haack takes the snap and runs toward the right tackle, converting the first down. A touchdown would have given Miami a 21-9 lead, but Fitzpatrick threw an interception two plays later.
This Dolphins’ attacking mindset is fueled each week by O’Shea discussing a weekly aggression goal with his team.
Against Buffalo, the Dolphins had nine plays of 14-plus yards (eight passes) — the most they have had in a single game all season. In fact, the Dolphins have 15 plays of 14-plus yards over their past two games. In its first four games combined, Miami had a total of 18 such plays. There’s a sign of some growth.
“There were times we were able to be aggressive with the play-action game,” O’Shea said. “The word aggressive definitely comes up in our game planning, whether it’s something we install as a special play or something we consider as an aggressive style of play.”
This improving Dolphins team no longer looks like a pushover, and a large portion of that is because the coaches and players haven’t punted on the season, yet. The Dolphins’ next test will be on Monday at the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“What do we have to lose at this point,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s part of the mentality. And part of the mentality is trying to get that to trickle down and rub off on everybody else.”