Mike McDaniel: Effort and Execution, Not Scheme, Is Holding Miami Dolphins’ Offense Back

Mike McDaniel thinks Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins don't need to do much of anything different on offense. They just need to do what they do better.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The big talking point this week — from this website to the World Wide Leader and beyond — was that the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers had found the blueprint to slow down Tua Tagovailoa and the high-powered Miami Dolphins offense:

Rough up Miami’s wide receivers coming out of their stance. Play inside leverage to funnel Tua’s targets toward the sidelines. Keep a deep safety in the middle of the field to clog up his vision. And generate a pass rush with their front four, and cover with seven.

On Wednesday — ahead of their massive prime-time game against the Buffalo Bills — we had the opportunity to ask Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel about the growing narrative. His response to the question was illuminating.

Coach Mike McDaniel On Miami Dolphins’ Offensive Woes

“Quite honestly, I think by percentages and stuff, it wasn’t that the Chargers did anything that we hadn’t seen,” McDaniel responded. “What they were was hyper-competitive. They played as good as they have played all year, and we were far from that. And they out-physicaled us.

“But it wasn’t because they were doing this cheat code,” McDaniel continued. “It was because players were executing their plan. Their players were better prepared, [that] is the way I look at it. As a coach, you get paid to prepare guys to play and when one team is more prepared than the other or more ready to play more physical, you know that that’s something that you have to look at in how you prepare them for that moment.

“There were times when they were, you know, rerouting us and out-physicaling us. I think our biggest play of game was against bump. They just came to play and didn’t drop any coverage. Their one-on-one matchups in the rush they won and they took advantage of us not being on and did it in a real way which was, you know, hopefully humbling to the entire offense and team in general.”

The statistics were jarring. Tagovailoa is coming off his worst two-game stretch since early in the 2021 season. Tagovailoa finished Sunday’s game 10 of 28 for 145 yards and a touchdown. His completion percentage (35.7) was the worst of his career in which he had at least five attempts. The Dolphins’ offense — rightly viewed as one of the most explosive in the league as recently as 11 days ago — scored four touchdowns on 24 possessions during their West Coast trip.

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And you can expect the Bills — one of the league’s most talented defenses — to do a lot of the same things when the teams meet in snowy Orchard Park Saturday. That means using a lot of inside leverage to keep Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle from finding windows in the middle of the field.

When asked what he tells his quarterbacks about countering that technique, McDaniel responded:

“Don’t throw it inside. You know, the only time he listened to me was when Tyreek had a 55 or 60-yard touchdown,” McDaniel said jokingly. “Finally! And then I stopped giving [Tua] advice.

“No. We have route trees and we have protection schemes, but I’m looking at the defense every week. … I’m not saying, ‘This is what we do.’ You try to set up a system that has offsets to everything. And when they’re doing one thing you have to — if someone’s playing inside leverage, they are vulnerable on the outside, if they’re playing outside leverage, you know what I mean?

“So, again, it wasn’t … you could really look at the breakdown by coverage and there’s plenty of teams that have done the same things. They just, to their credit, their players really committed to it. The coaching staff had a plan that they didn’t really drop many things, you know, handled motions and everything very well and they beat us, and as competitors that’s what happens if you get out-competed.”

How Will Tua Tagovailoa Handle Buffalo Weather?

That, to a large degree, is in the Dolphins’ control. They now know what to expect. If they don’t adapt — including by taking the check downs that are open — that’s on them.

But what is not under their control: The elements in Western New York Saturday. Temperatures will be in the 20s, and there’s a good chance of snow. Neither of that has been historically good things for Tagovailoa.

Tua, in his two late December/early January cold weather road starts, has completed just 55.2% of his attempts with a 5.9 yards per attempt average and a passer rating of 58.8. The Dolphins lost both of those games by a combined 61 points.

The cold has been such a mental block for Tagovailoa in his young career that he spent the earliest days of his 2022 offseason with his brother Taulia at the University of Maryland to work through it.

“It was pretty cold up there,” Tua said. “It was probably in the 20s. There was snow on the ground, too. Got to test that out. Got to throw up there with a couple of his guys. That was good.”

What did he learn during those workouts?

“Me personally, and it might be a mindset thing, but it felt really good throwing it while it was snowing. I don’t know. I can’t give anything more than that. I didn’t feel any effects of throwing in the snow.”

The Dolphins certainly hope the same is true this weekend.

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