2 QBs and stingy defense have Dolphins in playoff contention

MIAMI >> The way the Miami Dolphins defend, it doesn’t matter who they have as a quarterback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is 4-3 as a starter and rookie Tua Tagovailoa is 3-1, largely because the Dolphins are second in the NFL in points allowed per game.

The stingy defense has the Dolphins (7-4) in the fight for their first AFC East title since 2008, and they are 11-point favorites at home against Cincinnati on Sunday, even though they don’t know who their QB will be.

Tagovailoa missed Sunday’s 20-3 win at the New York Jets due to a sore thumb on his throwing hand, and he will remain the starter for coach Brian Flores when he is healthy.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Flores said Monday. ‘He treats. He’s in rehab. “

Only five AFC teams have more wins than the Dolphins, who are division leader Buffalo (8-3) one game behind. However, Flores doesn’t want his players to think about a playoff race.

“You can’t get where you want to go without doing what you want,” he said.

WHAT WORKS

The Dolphins are only 19th in the NFL in allowable yards, but they know how to get off the field. Their defense leads the league with a conversion rate down 33%, and two takeaways on Sunday raised their seasonal average to 1.7 per game, which is in second place.

Run-defense has been an issue, and Frank Gore of the Jets ran for a season-high 74 yards on Sunday. But since week 4, only one opponent has scored more than 21 points. In two games this year against the rival Jets, the Dolphins allowed a total of three points – an average of less than a safety.

Flores was hired last year for his success as a defensive player at New England. Now his freshman defensive coordinator, Josh Boyer, is starting to gain acclaim.

“You often give me too much credit,” Flores told reporters. “Josh has done a great job all year round.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Miami quarterback situation continues to heat up as Flores tries to evaluate and develop his top picks while on the hunt for a berth in the playoffs.

Tagovailoa has not played since sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter of Miami’s loss to Denver on November 22, and the attack this season was more productive under Fitzpatrick’s lead. On Sunday, he threw 257 yards and two touchdowns with no turnover.

But the Dolphins have two first-round picks in April’s draft, and they can’t determine if they still need a franchise quarterback when Tagovailoa is on the bench.

STOCK

Fitzpatrick threw 14 times to DeVante Parker, who caught eight passes for 119 yards, high all season. Parker’s yardage total was higher than for all four games Tagovailoa has started.

STOCK

The dolphins have used eight running ridges this year and none of them have been able to get the ground game going.

They haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in the past 29 games, and DeAndre Washington led them 49 yards on Sunday. To make matters worse, Matt Breida and Patrick Laird lost fumbles during consecutive run plays in the third quarter.

Miami’s most memorable run was 38-year-old Fitzpatrick’s 12-yard win over a quarterback goalkeeper.

“It would have been in Tua’s plan, not me,” Fitzpatrick said. “When it came in on the play call, I laughed to myself, called it and was very surprised. Maybe I scored on that thing ten years ago. “

INJURED

Rookie running back / receiver Malcolm Perry (chest) left Sunday’s game. Walking back Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) and security guard Solomon Kindley (foot) did not play. Myles Gaskin (knee), the Dolphins’ lead rusher this year, could return this week after missing the past four games.

KEY NUMBER

7 – Xavien Howard’s NFL leading interception total, including one Sunday. He is second in the league with 15 defended passes.

NEXT STEPS

After facing Cincinnati, the Dolphins’ playoff path gets much more difficult, with games remaining against Kansas City, New England, Las Vegas and Buffalo, which are 29-15 together.