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Is the Miami Dolphins’ Explosive Offense Sustainable?

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What came as a surprise to most of us was Tua Tagovailoa’s performance, no wonder, said Mike McDaniel. Even after record comeback and passing exit equal only Dan Marino In franchise history, the Miami Dolphins head coach said that Tagovailoa didn’t do anything the team didn’t already know the quarterback was capable of.

“Nobody thought, ‘Wow, dude, where did that come from?’ — McDaniel. said.

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What refers to Tagovailoa’s game with six touchdowns and 469 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s 42–38 win. Both touchdowns and passing yards were career highs for a third-year professional.

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“It’s nice to see you all, but we’re looking forward to it.” – Receiver Jaylen Waddle. said.

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Yes, but come on. Tagovailoa has never played like this before and the fact that he has shown a marked improvement in the first two weeks of this season is a good indicator. thing for a Miami offense that needed significant development from its starting quarterback. Now the question is whether a wider audience should share the Dolphins expectations. It may not be fair to expect Tagovailoa to drop 42 points in a week, but can the Dolphins sustain this explosive offense long enough to place the team in the AFC playoff contenders?

First, reasons for skepticism: Many of Tagovailoa’s best games against the Ravens have come in high variance situations. Four of his six touchdowns came on third downs, and two came against Baltimore’s bad covers. Miami scored 28 of 42 points in the fourth quarter as injuries took their toll on the Ravens’ secondary roster. Baltimore was already without starter Brandon Stevens, and Marlon Humphrey was limited to just 11 snaps in the fourth quarter.

But there is still clear reason to believe that the way the Miami offense played on Sunday, if perhaps not the outrageous statistics and magic of the fourth quarter, can be replicated. Beyond simply demonstrating the speed of Waddle and Tyreke Hill or Tagovailoa’s composure under pressure late in the game, the Dolphins’ offense showed that the combination of dynamic staff, Tagovailoa’s passer skills and McDaniel’s intrigue can work together in a way that works. .

This season it was not obvious that this was possible. At a basic level, McDaniel came from a Kyle Shanahan-created San Francisco offensive team that has a long history of getting good results from quarterbacks without asking them to elevate the players around them. (In 2021, for example, the 49ers had the seventh most offensive yards in total yards and the first in net yards per pass attempt, despite asking their quarterbacks — mostly Jimmy Garoppolo, though Trey Lance also threw 71 passes — trying a total of 514 passeswho finished 29th in the league and, in the case of Garoppolo, shared 22nd in average target depth.) Looking even more critically at the potential interaction pattern between coach and quarterback, the Dolphins hired someone from a heavy game action system where the quarterback is usually under center for coach Tagovailoa, who is in 2021. Tagovailoa ranked 29th in the NFL for average hitting depth last year, and the Dolphins are now asking him to throw on two of the NFL’s fastest deepballers, the 2021 first-round pick Waddle and three-time All-Pro first-team pick Hill. Miami seemed to have the potential to end up with very fancy square pegs and a very fancy round hole.

Sunday’s performance against the Ravens was critical because it showed that all of these pieces could fit together perfectly. Looking at the first two weeks of the Dolphins’ season, Miami has featured at least three major offensive developments that allow all of the building blocks to click.

Firstly, Tagovailoa shoots the ball deeper than ever before. His average depth per target last year was 7.0 yards, which is worse than quarterbacks like Davis Mills and Daniel Jones. He is tied for 15th among qualified passers this year with a 7.8 yards average. (If Tua was throwing further downfield than Josh Allen on your 2022 NFL bingo card, I take my hat off to you.)

It’s not that the Dolphins completely uncork Tagovailoa, who doesn’t have enough arm strength to be an elite passer. But they don’t wave the white flag and have him hit and dunk around the scrimmage line and rely solely on his playmakers to create after the catch. The result so far is that the dolphins lead the NFL with 338 yards after a catchbut these plays go even more yards due to the air pads that Tagovailoa adds first.

The effect is not only that Miami can move the ball piecemeal, but that the Dolphins can force the defense to spread out. It’s probably always going to happen given the respect that defensive coordinators have for Hill and Waddle’s speed, but Tagovailoa proves he’s going to take some deeper shots and throw it into the midfield. This forces the opponents to cover even more territory, and you saw the effect on Sunday when Hill and Waddle averaged over 3 yards apart. according to next generation statistics. Tagovailoa even threw two touchdowns on Hill, but the receiver had enough room to come back to get them.

The main problem for the Dolphins last season was how often Tagovailoa shot the ball into tight windows, which he did 19.3% of the time, leading the league. So far this year, that figure has dropped to 8.4%. 28th among starting quarterbacks. (Next Gen Stats defines a narrow window throw as throwing towards the receiver less than a yard away from the nearest defender.) said recently that he throws “the most accurate and agile ball I have ever seen” – so the problem was not so much that he could not make these throws, but that they got to receivers who had no place, to turn around. and extend the game. This season the situation has changed significantly. By continuing to push the ball more than in the past, Tagovailoa took advantage of the playmakers around him and took the ball away from them in situations where they could add yards after a catch. Tagovailoa doesn’t need to turn into a deep ball thrower (and he shouldn’t), but he must continue to force opponents to defend enough of the field to open up shooting space at every level of the field.

McDaniel’s ability to use spacing opened up the midfield for Tagovailoa. Look at the difference in his progression heatmap from TruMedia from 2021 to his two games in 2022 and you’ll see a much bigger glowing red dot between the hashes:

Tagovailoa is 6ft 1in, short for an NFL quarterback, and concerns that his size would limit his vision in center field were clearly confirmed in his performance last season. It didn’t look comfortable tossing between hashes. But when the defense can’t block the short and intermediate sections of the field, they create open receivers and wider shots that Tagovailoa was able to take advantage of, as he did on this 33-yard completion to tumble for a left hash against the Ravens:

The third major change to the Dolphins’ offense under McDaniel is that they have almost completely abandoned the consistent but non-explosive offense they relied heavily on last season. They replaced many of these RPOs with a playable action, including a shotgun playable action (as you saw in the video above). This is a pivotal event because it shows what tagovailoa is like in this brand of Shanahan’s attack. In Shanahan’s setup, the under-center play is the main concept, but Tagovailoa and McDaniel have so far succeeded in using it with the quarterback in shotgun placement.

According to TruMedia, Tagovailoa made 35 shots using play actions, 13 of which were with a shotgun. In these plays, Tagovailoa is 10-of-12 for 150 passing yards (averaging 12.5 yards per try) with a touchdown, interception and a passer rating of 111.8. These plays are a combination of Shanahan’s scheme, skill set, and Tagovailoa’s preferred playing style, and they work for Miami. Non-game action waivers work too: Tagovailoa reported a league-high 0.57 expected points added for those games in Week 2. The Dolphins always had to find games that worked to replace some of their requirements RPO if they were going to become more explosive and take advantage of their staff. Until now they are.

The best news for Dolphins is that there should be more fruit on the vine. While the passing offense exceeded all expectations, Miami’s running game wasn’t very exciting or fast-paced. Dolphins current rank 25th in the NFL in yards per try – 3.7. This was despite the fact that their offensive line wasn’t terrible, ranking 18th in ESPN’s two-game block wins. McDaniel came to Miami as the game coordinator for one of the most productive runs in the league, and he has two good, fast guards in Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert, as well as a cornerback in Alec Ingold who can help with blocking duties. if the line of attack is fighting. The running game was supposed to help the Dolphins’ offense if the passing game was loose and if it started to work when the offensive line hardened and McDaniel hit the groove like the first time. .


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