Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is one of the most polarizing names in the NFL. The Dolphins selected him with the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, one selection ahead of Justin Herbert. And while the early returns and the talent difference are stark, that doesn’t mean Mike McDaniel and the Dolphins cannot find success with Tua. McDaniel hails from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, which goes back to the Mike Shanahan tree, which is really the Bill Walsh tree.
We’ve seen the younger Shanahan have great success with Jimmy Garoppolo, who is not one of the 15-best quarterbacks in the league. A few passing concepts, in particular, could feed off what Tua excelled at in college and what would maximize the talent surrounding the young QB.
Maximizing the Miami Dolphins’ weapons
The concept should not be foreign. Miami attacked the offseason with a trade for Tyreek Hill. As one of the best receivers in the NFL, Hill immediately brings expectations along with him, but not solely for himself.
Tua must show marked improvement in Year 3. He has a better offensive mind around him, the most dangerous weapon in the league at receiver, and a younger version of that receiver in Jaylen Waddle. They’re two of the most explosive receivers in the league, and both are legitimate touchdown threats every time they touch the ball.
So the offense should be predicated on horizontal-passing concepts that allow the two freedom to make plays after the catch. There should be very few instances of receivers simply running to the sticks and turning around to wait for the ball.
We’ll look at a few concepts that could hugely impact Miami’s offense, and then we’ll tag a few more at the end as a bonus for participating.
Shot play: Burner
The Dolphins don’t have a traditional X receiver anymore. DeVante Parker would have been that player, but he’s now in New England. Rookie Erik Ezukanma may eventually fit into that role, but three more talented players are ahead of him.
The Burner concept puts Cover 3 looks into conflict. It also presents a difficult matchup for the slot defender against the F receiver in Quarters.
Vs. Cover 3
Against Cover 3, the cornerback should bail into the deep third with the X. Meanwhile, the curl-flat defender has a few issues on his plate.
First, the threat to his area is coming from the opposite slot, which means that communication between the deep safety, linebackers, and himself must be on point, and his head must be on a swivel. Second, the check release from the running back is meant as both an outlet for the QB and as bait to pull that defender forward.
The way to take this away defensively is to have the WILL linebacker try to carry the over route by the F while the deep safety drives over the top and beat that over route to the spot.
But that creates an additional problem for the coverage. The Z is now running across the middle at 20 yards wide open because the Z is probably Hill in this offense. No cornerback without outside and deep leverage carries him across the middle even if he attempts to pattern match. This gives Waddle and Hill horizontal space against less athletic defenders in zone coverage.
There are far too many variants to account for, so we’re sticking to the basic match-based Quarters coverage here.
The outside cornerbacks will be in man coverage against the two outside receivers. The safeties to each side are responsible for the second receiver to their side, but only if that receiver goes vertical. If not, they’re robbing No. 1.
Because the Burner has the F crossing the field, that responsibility falls on the slot defender to carry across the field.
What slot defender is going to consistently carry Waddle across the entire field? It would entail the backside slot or WILL to come off his responsibility to the back and bail to the spot, leaving the flat outlet alone for an easy completion.
This league is about matchups, and a few of the plays on the above sheet catch the eye when thinking about Miami’s personnel.
Z Dagger F Shallow
These are the top two plays. First, having the 6-foot-6 Mike Gesicki streaking up the seam should garner some attention. Second, this again gives Waddle a route crossing the field. Against man coverage, he’ll continue running and will sit versus zone.
Dagger is simply a tried and true concept that generally disturbs both open and closed middle-of-the-field looks. It puts a terrible responsibility on the cornerback to drive inside on the in-breaking dagger route by the Z.
And here it’s run by Hill.
Cluster 3 Jet Z Dagger X Shallow
This gives the same look as the top right graphic, but with the X and F flipped and Hill in motion pre-snap.
The motion can give Tua a cue on the coverage between man and zone. However, because the original alignment is a bunch, the defense would have probably checked into a zone look. A lot of teams like to run a Cover 3 variant against the tight cluster.
No matter the coverage, the Dolphins have an already full-speed Hill steaming vertically, which makes life difficult for any defense.
His vertical threat forces defenders to really bail hard, making the mirror to the middle of the field far more difficult.
Flag Water concept
There was no need to pick out any specific formation variation of this concept. No matter who’s in motion or who runs what, the backers will be in conflict between the shallow and deeper routes sneaking behind them from the opposite side.
Additionally, each one has either Hill or Waddle as the primary target on the China Route and the other as the secondary on the Flag. The only one that does not is the Stack formation with the F running the shallow across the field.
Dolphins bonus material
That was all a bit nerdy. Here are a few other favorites that just missed the cut but should also show up here and there on Sundays.
Getting Gesicki involved downfield isn’t a bad option, and Y Leak rivals the slot fade in its undefeated-ness. But the first two options here will remain the two most explosive playmakers in Hill and Waddle, so it’s a win for the entire gang.
This is a similar philosophy to the Burner concept. A deep route complemented by a deep crossing pattern and an underneath route to conflict with the underneath defender.
Gesicki is pretty talented, especially as a receiving threat. This choice route allows him the freedom to attack the defender’s leverage.
3 Jet Hooters
We probably won’t see this concept aside from long third downs or end-of-half situations.
There might be the occasion where this is run on a 2nd-and-short situation, and McDaniel wants to take a shot, but the deep drop paired with a still underwhelming offensive line makes it a bit impractical.
Because Tua doesn’t have a massive arm, deep middle-of-field passes allow Miami to push the ball downfield without lengthening the throw for their QB.