How to Tell When the Miami Dolphins are Running Wildcat

Miami Dolphins huddle
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are, for the third week in a row, winners after defeating the Jets 24-17. After starting slowly, Miami was able to put up 17 second-half points, largely due to Tua Tagovailoa and his ability to shake off an early interception.

Although, the most interesting part of the game might have been the offensive gameplan. The Miami Dolphins consistently came out in Wildcat formation, where either a running back or wide receiver would take the snap. Then, they would choose to either hand off to another playmaker or keep the ball on a run up the middle.

The Dolphins, although coming out in Wildcat several times, were unable to find much success with the formation. A majority of their runs were stopped in the backfield or only gained a few yards.

A major possibility for Miami’s lack of success, along with mediocre offensive line play, may be a tell that signals when the Dolphins will motion into Wildcat.

While watching the game, I was able to uncover a small change in Miami’s pistol formation when they plan on motioning Tua out wide.

Below is a side-by-side photo of Miami’s pre-snap look in a pistol formation (in which the QB is not under center, and a running back is behind him). The play on the left is a reverse pass to Albert Wilson, while the one on the right motions into Wildcat.

The left is a Miami Dolphins pistol reverse play, while the right is a wildcat run play.
The left is a pistol reverse play, while the right is a wildcat run play.

The difference between the two, although subtle, is noticeable.

Tipping Their Hand.

When Miami plans on putting Tua in motion, they bring him closer to the line of scrimmage by a yard. The play on the left (a Wilson reverse) has Tua about three yards behind the center. On the other hand, the play on the right (which becomes Wildcat) has Tua only two yards behind.

Throughout the game, it was easy to tell if Miami was going to run Wildcat or not. If there were three yard markers in between Tua and the center, it was pistol. Only two yard markers, on the other hand, meant Wildcat motion was coming.

There are 3 yard markers in between Tua and Reiter on the left, only 2 on the right.

This clear tell, while not the only reason, may have contributed to Miami’s lack of success in the formation. In combination with poor offensive line play and an inability to create holes, Miami tipped their hand to the Jets’ defense.

Another interesting element, shown in the photos, is the difference in Tua’s foot placement.

On the Wildcat play (shown on the right), Tua’s feet are noticeably more flat and parallel to each other. The left, on the other hand, has his left foot much farther in front. This may have shown the Jets’ defense, in combination with the distance from the center, that motion was coming.

Through simple cues in body language and distance, it was easy to tell if the Wildcat formation was coming. This could be concerning for the future, as Miami continues to use the formation to establish the run. If teams know that the motion is coming, it becomes far easier to eliminate the idea of the pass and sell out against the run.

The Bottom Line

Miami must work on eliminating the simple tells in the Wildcat if they are to use it more often. They ran more Wildcat in this game than any other game this season, and teams will pick up on this trend.

If the formation is to be successful, the Dolphins will have to learn to not give away what’s coming, along with opening holes for their ball carriers.

It will be interesting to see if this tell continues to show in the coming weeks, and how defenses react to the Miami Dolphins Wildcat runs.

Jevon Holland has Arrived for the Miami Dolphins

Jevon Holland
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are winners of two in a row after beating the Ravens 22-10 on Thursday night, in large part due to stellar defense and the emergence of rookie Jevon Holland.

This Baltimore team wasn’t like the ones of the past, showcasing less of a slashing run game. Instead, they opted for more of a vertical passing attack. This can be partially attributed to the loss of number 1 and 2 running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

Nonetheless, Miami knew Baltimore wanted to run long-developing routes, and they had a plan to stop it.

To give Jackson little time to improvise, Miami showed cover-0 (an all-out blitz look) a staggering 40 times on Thursday night. Thus, guaranteeing shorter passes and free hits on the quarterback, preventing the playmaking Jackson from operating in his comfort zone.

Miami often dropped in-line defenders towards the center of the field to shore up soft spots, while sending safeties and linebackers into the backfield.

Miami drops DT Adam Butler into coverage.

The key to this aggressive defense, however, came from a new face in the DB room, rookie safety Jevon Holland.

Draft Profile

In the 2nd round of the 2020 Draft, Miami made a decision that many questioned. Instead of making a trade for fan-favorite running back Javonte Williams, the Dolphins selected Jevon Holland one pick later.

After having a promising first two seasons at Oregon, Holland sat out in 2020 due to COVID concerns. Thus, much like other players, he lost the ability to show NFL scouts he was a first-round talent.

When the NFL Draft came around, the opinion on Holland was mixed. While most scouts liked his traits and performance, a lack of experience left him in varying places on big boards. It was difficult to tell where safeties such as Holland, Trevon Moehrig, and Richie Grant would land.

Jevon Holland and Trevon Moehrig are the highest-graded rookie safeties.

However, Miami seemed to have an affinity for Holland. His ability to play almost everywhere on the field caught Brian Flores and Chris Grier’s eyes, especially for a defense that uses a myriad of different coverages.

This, as we know, ultimately led to Miami taking Holland, making him the first safety drafted in 2021.

Early Season Spark

Through the beginning of his rookie season, Holland showed flashes. Standout plays such as sacks on Matt Ryan and big hits on Jonnu Smith made waves on social media. Fans and media began to see why Holland was taken so highly, and it seemed he just needed a moment to shine.

Jevon Holland lays the boom on Jonnu Smith.

It seemed that this time had manifested against the Houston Texans. Just after Miami’s defense put together a pretty strong outing against the Bills, they looked to gain some momentum and potentially salvage the season.

With Miami facing a potential 8th straight loss, Holland made a huge play. Coming over from the middle of the field, he was able to intercept a pass in the back corner of the end zone.

Jevon Holland intercepts Tyrod Taylor.

Showcasing his range and playmaking ability that led to nine interceptions in his first two college seasons, it was clear that Miami had uncovered a gem. It was just time to display it to the national media.

Primetime Talent

With the Baltimore Ravens coming to town, it was clear that Miami’s defense had a major test. After failing to stop dual-threat quarterbacks in Brian Flores’ first two years as head coach, this would be one of their toughest challenges to date.

Miami knew that they needed their young players to step up, and under the Thursday night lights, it was the perfect time to set the narrative straight on their careers.

With the lights shining their brightest, it was the rookie Holland who stepped up to the plate.

Applying Pressure

With Miami using more of a blitz-heavy scheme, more responsibility was placed on the safeties. The Dolphins overloaded the box, often giving Brandon Jones and Holland a free rush. The key was getting there quick enough, rushing the ball from Lamar Jackson’s hands.

Holland excelled in that role.

Tallying 6 more of his position leading 14 pressures, Jevon Holland was able to rattle Jackson early and often. His quickness and instinct off the edge were rare for a player of his position, as many coverage players struggle as rushers.

Being a crucial part of Miami’s gameplan, Holland’s pressures caused Lamar’s passes to come out quickly and inaccurately. He was even able to tally a sack against Baltimore’s elusive QB, in which his speed off the edge gave Jackson little time to react.

Jevon Holland sacks Lamar Jackson.

Versatility in Space

Holland’s work in the open field was just as impressive. Tallying 5 tackles, he displayed the range that, in large part, led him to be selected so high.

On several occasions, he was able to move across the field and prevent big plays.

One particular play saw Holland begin on the opposite side of the formation on a jet sweep. After the receiver got to the second level, the young safety was able to get to the second level and make a play on the ball. His hit to force Duvernay out of bounds was extremely important, as he was the last line of defense, giving room for a potential touchdown.

Brett Kollmann reacts to Jevon Holland’s hit on Lamar Jackson.

His ability to threaten the entirety of the field while playing free safety gives the Dolphins much more margin for error, allowing them to run the exotic defenses we’ve seen recently.

The Bottom Line

It’s clear that Jevon Holland has the makings of the elite defensive back for the Dolphins, and his progression through the first 10 weeks has been immense. Miami has used him in a myriad of ways, and I expect that trend to continue.

Holland’s young career has been fun to watch thus far, and I only expect him to grow as it unfolds.

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Thursday Night Football: A Chance to Change the Narrative

Following a week 9 win, the Miami Dolphins have an opportunity to shock the world against the Ravens on Thursday Night Football.

This season, as we all know, has been a rough one for The Dolphins. After winning a close game in week 1, the Dolphins began to lose grip on their season. Coaching miscues, injuries, and regression led to Miami losing 7 straight.

They finally snapped their streak on Sunday, grinding out a defensive battle without QB Tua Tagovailoa.

Although it seems that Miami’s season is likely over from a postseason perspective, there is still something to prove.

The NFL Playoff Picture going into week 10.

Brian Flores and Chris Grier must show ownership that there is reason for them to stay. A competitive game with one of the league’s premiere teams on Thursday Night Football could help the optics of their situation.

Optics is the operative word here. While Miami doesn’t much have to compete for as a team, individual players have a chance to define the early portions of their careers.

Primetime games present an opportunity that 1pm Sunday showdowns don’t: fans from across the league are watching, and their opinions on players often come from the very little they get to see from their specific teams.

A prime, and frankly, a painful example of this comes on December 26th, 2020.

A Cautionary Tale

Following an impressive win against New England, the Tua led Dolphins went into Las Vegas to take on the Raiders, with playoff hopes on the line. Little did they know, the public opinion of 2 players would change drastically that night, both in different directions.

The game started slow, with very little coming from either offense. Tua was struggling, and many of his completed passes were coming at or behind the line of scrimmage.

With 94 yards on 22 attempts, Miami was in need of a spark, and they made the decision that it wouldn’t come from Tua.

Tua was benched against Las Vegas.

Instead, Miami went with 38 year old veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fans were outraged, and the national media had begun to change their opinion. A quarterback once looked at as a potential star just failed to outperform a career backup.

Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, received an overwhelming amount of positive attention.

Impact of the Comeback

Following Tua’s benching, the veteran was able to go 9-13 for 182 yards and a touchdown, including the infamous facemask pass, to come from behind and give Miami a 1 point win.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Facemask Pass was the Best Play of 2020.

The media instantly reinstated the “Fitzmagic” nickname, and questioned whether Tua should remain the starter. Comparisons between the two QB’s play began to run wild on social media.

Tua’s status throughout the league began to diminish, as he slowly became looked at as a mediocre option. To this day, Tua seems to be of a low opinion to national media, while Fitzpatrick carries his nickname and the lore behind it.

Since then, Tua is 1-5 as the starter, and Miami has looked into other options at the QB position, such as troubled superstar Deshaun Watson. Part of the Dolphins diminishing opinion on Tagovailoa may have come from that December night.

Dolphins fielded questions regarding Deshaun Watson.

Although he performed well in several other games that year, the emphasis on the primetime game shows a trend. When the lights are brightest, media and casual fans judge players the most.

The story of Tua Tagovailoa presents a cautionary tale, and although he remains Miami’s starting quarterback, that game may have been the beginning of the end for his time as a Miami Dolphin.

Seize the Moment

That’s why, along with hopes of winning, Dolphins players must seize the opportunity Thursday Night Football. This game can go a long way in beginning storied careers for many young players. Potential rising stars such as Jaylen Waddle or Jaelan Phillips can cement their place in the eyes of many, while an unexpected hero can emerge, much like Fitzpatrick has time and time again.

Thursday night is an opportunity to shine for Dolphins players looking to make their mark on a subpar team. Legends are made in primetime, and it will be fascinating to see who takes advantage and makes their presence known.

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Miami Dolphins: It’s Time to Blow It Up

Miami Dolphins

Nearly two months ago, the Miami Dolphins marched into Gillette Stadium and escaped Foxborough with a one point win.

Since then, they haven’t won a game. The Dolphins have been outscored by 96 points, and are sitting at the bottom of the AFC.

This comes off a 2020 season where Miami over exceeded by winning 10 games. The Dolphins had the 4th ranked scoring defense, and were viewed as a team on the rise.

However, a series of missteps have culminated in a 1-7 record and a head-coach-GM tandem that’s now regarded as a failure. These major mistakes have changed the narrative of the franchise.

Offensive Line

Current general manager Chris Grier has had several positions in his 21 year tenure with the Miami Dolphins. Grier became the GM in 2016, and has held significant power ever since.

Chris Grier has failed to assemble a competent OL.

In that five-year span, Grier has failed to put it together in the trenches. Miami’s offensive line has consistently been below average. Draft picks and free agent pickups at those positions are struggling to find their way in the NFL.

Since entering the GM position, Grier as drafted nine offensive linemen. Only one of them, Laremy Tunsil, has made a Pro Bowl. Three of them have struggled to find playing time (Isaac Asiata, Isaiah Prince, Larnel Coleman). The rest have been playing on the field but producing a unit regarded as among the worst in the league.

This problem would not have been an issue if Grier had brought in any of the several veteran linemen that were made available over the last few offseason.

Linemen such as Orlando Brown, Corey Linsley, Trent Williams, and Joe Thuney have all changed teams over the last few years. There were no reports about Miami in play and Miami has refused to make an effort to sign anyone of their caliber.

Rather, Miami has went the route of saving money. Taking on chosen “cheaper talent” such as Matt Skura, Jesse Davis, and Ereck Flowers. Though, to his credit, Flowers has been serviceable for Washington since leaving Miami.

Ereck Flowers has been serviceabe in Washington.

The philosophy coming in was to work in all of the drafted OL’s together. However, Miami has no veterans to truly help develop them. This has resulted in a unit full of penalties, blown assignments, free rushers, and an injury to their young QB.

2020 Draft Picks

Among Miami’s young and struggling linemen, three of them were drafted in a year that was supposed to supply a treasure trove of future talent. After moving on from the aforementioned Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami held five picks in the first two rounds.

With those five picks, Miami selected Tua Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Robert Hunt and Raekwon Davis.

The first of which, whether you believe in him or not, has struggled. Tua was benched twice for his struggles last season. He was destined to take a step forward this season. It’s safe to say it hasn’t happened yet.

Fighting injuries and inconsistency, Tua is 1-3 as the starter. He’s had some good throws right into WR’s hands, while also having questionable throws leading to interceptions.

Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene, on the other hand, have been far worse. In Jacksons first 21 games, he was seen unfit to play tackle, and has currently moved to guard.

He has had some hiccups at guard but is slowly improving. It is notable that it took the coaching staff this many games to try him at guard.

An Austin Jackson missed block leads to a Tua Tagovailoa INT.

Noah Igbinoghene has not been given the same chance as Austin Jackson has. Igbinoghene has appeared in only two games this season, mainly seeing time when other defensive backs are out.

Igbinoghene’s name has been called in mostly disappointing results, consistently being picked on by opposing QB’s.

The Dolphins passed on Jonathan Taylor for Noah Igbinoghene.

The 2nd round picks (Hunt and Davis), unlike the first three, have shown their potential. They have also shown inconsistency, with neither making the jump fans and analysts hoped to see.

This 2020 draft class was one Miami hoped to hang their hat on; thus far, it has the makings of a potential disaster.

Offensive Coordinators

While Chris Grier can largely be to blame for the first two issues, Flores may be at fault for the most recent.

Since entering the league in 2019, Flores has had four offensive coordinators. The turnstiles of OC’s have led to the Dolphins offense not being able to produce efficiently. The Dolphins have not had a top scoring offense; they have been in the bottom five the last few years.

Former Dolphins OC Chad O’Shea was fired in 2019 for what was rumored to be a “difficult system” to comprehend. Many questioned O’Shea being let go, with his replacement being just as head-scratching.

Chad O’Shea’s firing was head scratching to many.

In the 2020 offseason, Miami brought Chan Gailey out of retirement to help groom their rookie QB.

Contrary to their plan, Gailey didn’t click with Tua, and the playbook looked significantly different when Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had success with Gailey in New York, was at the helm.

Miami struggled heavily to truly compete with the high powered offenses with Gailey’s seemingly antiquated system.

So when the Dolphins missed the playoffs, in 2020, it was time to find another OC.

Intriguing candidates such as Mike McDaniel, Pep Hamilton, and Matt Canada all received interviews. Miami shocked everyone by going with two internal hires, George Godsey and Eric Studesville.

The Dolphins Offensive Staff has changed year to year.

Many were hesitant to believe the two former assistants could call a top-tier offensive scheme. So far, the hesitation has become reality. Miami is bottom five in scoring, and most recently put up 11 points on the division rival Buffalo Bills.

Once looked upon as a future star HC, Brian Flores has failed to solve his offensive coaching woes. The future does not look promising.

The Watson Saga

The newest domino to fall in the slew of missteps has been the handling of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson’s trade request.

Following a formal request in January, Miami had shown interest, and for good reason. Watson threw 33 touchdowns in 2020 and was regarded as a top 5 quarterback.

But, beginning in March, Watson began to face civil and criminal accusations from more than 20 women of sexual misconduct, which is when Miami had a choice to make:

Commit to your 2nd year QB or continue your pursuit of a troubled, potentially criminal player, disrupting Tua’s confidence and in turn, your whole franchise.

Miami chose the second option. Allowing the Dolphins to be the subject of trade rumors into the season, persisting in their attempts to grab another young QB when they already had one who they drafted 16 months ago still on the roster.

Thus, Brian Flores, Tua Tagovailoa, Chris Grier, and more Dolphins players and staff have been berated with questions about a player who shouldn’t be of any concern.

Tua chimes in on the Watson rumors.

Now, rumors have continued to fly, with the newest comming from lawyer Tony Buzbee. Buzbee claims owner Stephen Ross and the Dolphins may have made an attempt to pay off the women involved in exchange for a settlement and/or NDA. Chris Grier has adamantly denied these rumors.

Chris Grier denies rumors of influencing Watson’s cases.

With Miami declining to make the deal before the deadline, it’s still Tua time in Miami. However, the Watson talk will pick right back up in the offseason, where Miami will have to make the same decision they did this year.

The Bottom Line

Since becoming the main sources of power in the Miami Dolphins organization, Chris Grier and Brian Flores have made some crucial mistakes.

Whether it’s drafting raw players, failing to address the offensive line and coordinator, or letting the Deshaun Watson rumors hang over their head, Miami’s small decisions have spiraled out of control.

It’s gotten to a point where this regime is running out of time, and it may be better off starting over under new leadership.

Miami’s decisions over the next few months will be telling, and it will be intriguing to see if Grier and Flores remain at the helm.

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5 Key Plays from Tua Tagovailoa vs. Falcons

Tough.

The Dolphins are now 1-6 on the year, falling 30-28 to the Atlanta Falcons on a game winning field goal. The Dolphins are now 1-6 on the year.

What you’ll find was hidden in another Miami loss to a sub .500 team is a really good performance from 2nd year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has been in the headlines for a variety of reasons, including potential trades for Deshaun Watson.

In the meantime, Tua is the QB, and we can only base projections off of the roster right now. Tua made great plays, especially in the 4th quarter. He helped the Dolphins come back from down 13 to take the lead with under 4 minutes left.

The story of this game is one of elite traits, signs of development fighting adversity, and mistakes to improve on, and these five plays tell that story.

Pocket Presence

Going into the season, Miami’s offensive line was a major question mark. The Dolphins were starting second year players to start the year and the growing pains were noticeable.

Miami was forced to shuffle around their line in an attempt to find something that sticks. In doing so, they weren’t able to find much improvement.

Through 7 weeks, the Dolphins rank dead last in Pass Block Win Rate, per ESPN, with a whopping 47 percent. For reference, the Cleveland Browns are first with 73%.

Even with the adverse circumstances up front, Tua has been elite in the pocket, ranking near the bottom in sack rate. On several plays throughout the game, Tagovailoa was able to evade pressure and create positive yardage, including this scramble on 2nd and 8.

Tua Tagovailoa puts Deion Jones on skates.

With pressure coming off the edges, Tua makes a quick move, reminiscent of last year’s game vs. Arizona, gets past Deion Jones, and gets the first down.

Although he isn’t a “running QB”, Tagovailoa has shown on several occasions that he is willing to take off if that play breaks down.

“Keyhole” Accuracy

Entering the 2020 draft, Tagovailoa’s key trait was accuracy. At Alabama, he led a fast paced RPO offense, centered around hitting receivers in stride and letting them create yards after the catch.

Since Miami selected Tua #5 overall last year, the accuracy has stayed a point of emphasis, especially when he finds his rhythm.

It was much of the same against Atlanta, as Tua made several tight window throws, especially late in the game, that showed off his most impressive trait.

In the 4th quarter, when Miami was in desperate need of a touchdown drive, Tua started out with an outstanding touch throw.

Tua Tagovailoa threads the needle to Durham Smythe.

Tight end Durham Smythe runs a wheel concept, in which the receiver runs out towards the boundary, then up the field, and Tagovailoa is able to anticipate him reaching a soft spot in the coverage. Upon seeing this, Tua was able to float a pass in a perfect spot for Smythe to make a play on the ball, which he did, for a gain of 18.

Tagovailoa has continued to show that his accuracy is up to the challenge when Miami needs him most.

Fighting Adversity

Earlier this week, Mack Hollins let the world know what he thought of his young QB.

Mack Hollins calls Tua “that dude”

Hollins has a point, as we were able to see Tua’s ability to fight adversity to put Miami in a position to win the game. Some of which included his own mistakes

On the same drive as the throw to Smythe, Tagovailoa made a crucial run on third down, showing that he is willing to put his body on the line for the sake of the team.

Tua Tagovailoa lays the BOOM for a first down.

Sensing pressure coming from the edges, Tua stepped out of the pocket, and lowered his shoulder in order to pick up a crucial first down. Many were looking to see the “dog” in Tua, and we got a glimpse of it last week.

Just Keep Fighting

The next play is less of a show of Tua’s out of structure talent, but more his ability to execute clever plays perfectly if they’re run more.

On his last throw of the game, Miami ran a fake end around, getting the defensive line to commit to Jaylen Waddle’s speed and explosiveness.

After selling the fake to perfection, Tagovailoa rolls out, being able to place a ball in between 2 defenders in the back of the end zone for a lead-taking TD.

Tua Tagovailoa fakes the end around for a TD to Hollins.

Miami hasn’t used much creativity in their playcalling for Tua, and with less to lose, I hope we can see more plays like this.

Area of Improvement

Through his first 3 full games of the season, Tagovailoa’s growth has been noticeable. Unlike his rookie year, he has been much more willing to take chances in the intermediate game.

Even with his growth, there has been a consistent issue in his game: the inability to let plays die.

At several points throughout the games, Tua has made plays outside of structure, which he struggled with in 2020.

Although, there have been times when this has come back to bite him, and this game was no different.

Tua throws an INT.

Although many argue that Waddle is to blame for Tua’s second INT, interior pressure (which he has struggled with), was bearing down, and in the midst of being sacked, Tua let a ball go a bit high.

Another view of Tua’s INT.

While some believe Waddle could have made a play, the ball should never have been thrown.

Nonetheless, Tua must learn to play another down if he is to take the next step Miami hopes he will make.

The Bottom Line

In a year where Miami probably won’t make the playoffs, development is very important. Tua Tagovailoa is a prime example of that. Whether he’s in Miami’s long term plans or not, his and the Dolphins’ futures are somewhat reliant on his performance.

Although he wasn’t perfect, Tua showed that he has made great strides since his rookie year. Possessing some great accuracy, pocket presence, and ability to work in and out of structure, it is clear that Tagovailoa had one of the best games of his young career.

It will be exciting to see what he can do against Buffalo and other difficult teams down the stretch.

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