The Miami Dolphins offense is for real, but Mike McDaniel must empty cupboard against Buffalo Bills

The Miami Dolphins offense looks reborn under Mike McDaniel. How can they continue that against the Buffalo Bills?

Tua Tagovailoa didn’t turn into Dan Marino overnight, but Tua doesn’t need to be Marino in this Miami Dolphins offense. Some offenses ask a lot of their quarterbacks, while others make things easy for the passer, needing them to be an “elevated point guard.”

Tua may never be more than an elevated point guard, but he’s better than Jimmy Garoppolo, who is 31-14 as a starter with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. And against Buffalo, he’ll need to be more ready than ever.

Miami Dolphins offense must clean up play to beat Buffalo

The circumstances surrounding Tua have changed drastically over just this past season. Mike McDaniel’s arrival would always elevate the Dolphins’ offense, but play-calling can take years to perfect. But McDaniel has hit the ground running, and in Week 2, he used everything in the passing attack’s disposal in the Dolphins’ 42-38 come-from-behind victory in Baltimore.

McDaniel will face his biggest challenge yet in Week 3 against a Buffalo Bills team that looks like they’re ready to dismantle an NFL all-star team through two weeks of play.

The Dolphins’ QB is one of the more provocative names in the NFL. Few names produce more polarizing opinions than the former college football national champion. The third-year quarterback has limitations to his game. Any objective observer recognizes that.

Tua took care of the ball in college behind an offensive line that dominated weekly, with receivers like Jaylen Waddle, Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, and Irv Smith Jr.

But things have been very different at the next level, albeit behind a horrific OL and hilariously outmatched offensive coaching. However, Tagovailoa’s inconsistent decision-making persists.

Not all interceptions are created equal. Luck is involved in some, while others are very much on the quarterback’s decision-making and placement. Tua still struggles in that respect, even during his six-touchdown day in Baltimore.

Tua pre-determined the above play. Credit to him, he tried to look off the safety but said safety never came off the numbers. Thus, the throw never stood a chance.

Quarterbacks need to find the balance between confidence and arrogance in their arms. NFL quarterbacks don’t all need to have Josh Allen’s velocity, but that velocity helps those QBs get away with things that passers like Tua cannot.

Being a bit too aggressive and throwing an interception downfield on third down is one thing. Doing that on first and second down is unforgivable. Despite Tyreek Hill’s speed, he doesn’t threaten the safety vertically, and the defensive back jumps this curl. But Tagovailoa has an option underneath that’s open.

Tua has to learn what his limitations are without losing his newfound confidence. He has four turnover-worthy plays in his first two weeks of action. He can’t do that against the Bills.

Using RPOs and screens as an extension of the rushing attack

McDaniel put some nice window dressing on this RPO, allowing Tagovailoa to attack the intermediate level here. The motion extends Marlon Humphrey outside of the numbers, and the run action and split action from Hill keep the linebackers in place, which opens up a mass of green space for Waddle.

Miami only ran the ball 18 times against Baltimore. But they used screens and RPOs to get the ball out to the edges quickly to Hill and Waddle.

The fullback revolution is upon us. Alec Ingold isn’t Kyle Juszczyk, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t provide outstanding value to the Dolphins’ offense. Personnel versatility is massive. Being able to force teams into heavier defensive personnel packages with 21 personnel on offense is partly the reason the above play worked.

There are levels to this as well. If teams try and cheat this too much by flying downhill on the swing, a receiver can fake the block and scurry down the sideline uninhibited.

Using motion and post-snap action to overload zones

Baltimore puts themselves at a disadvantage here by keeping two defenders over three offensive threats with the motion. And with the back to the strong side as well, Miami is four strong pre-snap.

This time Miami goes to four strong post-snap. Defenses won’t play man coverage often against these Dolphins playmakers, and with pre-snap motion and post-snap movement, they can overload coverages like the above play. Baltimore doesn’t do enough to spin the coverage. Defenses want to keep one extra defender per side in coverage if they’re not sending pressure.

While Baltimore “technically” did this on this play, with three vertical components and the nature of Hill’s motion, he snuck out on the swing and had some open grass to work with.

Attacking the Buffalo Bills

Buffalo’s defense looks unflappable. However, losing Dane Jackson while already being without Tre’Davious White makes things a bit more difficult when having to defend against receivers like Hill and Waddle on the outside.

I’d expect the Dolphins to use a heavy dose of screens and RPOs to thwart the efforts of Buffalo’s outrageous pass-rushing unit. Not giving the Bills a chance to pin their ears back is crucial for the Dolphins. While their offensive line is improved, they aren’t up to the level of Buffalo.

Miami will need to pick and choose their spots to attack vertically, just as they were able to find a balance against Baltimore. Despite the heavy dose of underneath action, Tua’s aDOT was nearly eight yards downfield. We can thank a few busted coverages for that, but the Dolphins still took their shots in normal situations.

And when they do face man coverage, things don’t have to be complicated. Hill and Waddle’s explosiveness is nearly impossible to deal with defensively. Nobody will consistently carry either player on crossing routes, and they both have the foot speed and route-running prowess to uncover quickly underneath.

But it still won’t be easy. The Dolphins will need a team effort, and they must keep the game within reach. Buffalo won’t allow them to come crawling back like Baltimore did.

But suppose McDaniel can continue to keep pulling things out of his bag to overwhelm defenses schematically. In that case, they’ll continue producing as a top-five EPA-per-play production team.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.


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