Miami Dolphins Head Coach: Breaking Down The Candidates

Miami Dolphins head coach candidate Mike McDaniel

Following the conclusion of their season against the Patriots, the Miami Dolphins made a shocking move to fire head coach Brian Flores. This comes off of two straight winning seasons, a feat Miami hadn’t achieved since 2002-2003.

It wasn’t all perfect for Miami, however. Amid trade rumors for Deshaun Watson, Miami lost seven straight, setting themselves behind for a playoff run. This came in what was described as a power struggle, where Flores and general manager Chris Grier disagreed on the future of the team.

Along with front office disagreements, it seemed that the relationship had soured with certain players, specifically on offense, a unit Flores had struggled to build.

Since firing Flores, Miami has requested to interview seven head coaches, who all have diverse skill sets. Young offensive minds such as Brian Daboll, Kellen Moore, Mike McDaniel, and Thomas Brown are contrasted with veteran defensive coaches in Dan Quinn, Vance Joseph, and Leslie Frazier. Miami seems to have two distinct paths they may take at HC, and each candidate is intriguing in their own way.

Miami Dolphins Head Coach Candidates: Offense

Brian Daboll

The current favorite for the job of Miami Dolphins head coach, per BetOnline, is Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Over the last two years, his play-calling has led to a top-five offense, finishing number two in 2020.

However, his most impressive achievement has been his role in the development of Josh Allen.

Josh Allen has been elite over the last few seasons.

Coming into the league from Wyoming, Allen was looked at as a raw athlete with a big arm who struggled at the technical points in his game, such as accuracy and reading defenses.

Through working with Daboll, however, Allen was able to make the necessary steps in becoming an elite passer.

Along with an extensive resume, Daboll also has a connection to Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who he worked with as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2018. Although, that connection may not be what it’s cracked up to be.

Brian Daboll talking to Tua Tagovailoa in Tua’s freshman season.

In the only year they were together, Tagovailoa was only a freshman, and the backup to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. Furthermore, it may be dangerous to tie a young quarterback who lacks the raw talent of Josh Allen to a coach who heavily relies on athleticism and a rocket arm in his scheme.

Daboll may make sense with his choice of quarterback, but tying him to Tua would be a mistake.

Kellen Moore

The youngest candidate Miami has requested to interview, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is only 33 years old, but is already turning heads across the league.

Kellen Moore’s offense is broken down here.

In only his second year under Mike McCarthy, Moore’s creative play-calling has been a subject of praise. Although Dallas has so many weapons, Moore has balanced his offense and used them to their strengths. Dallas leads the league in overall yardage and has amassed over 2,000 on the ground.

The primary concern with Moore, however, is his lack of experience. He’s only been a coordinator for four years, and many question whether he’s ready to lead a team.

Along with that, some believe much of his success comes from the surplus of weapons on Dallas’ offense. While I understand the concern, his playcalling and sequencing have been beyond top-notch, so it shouldn’t worry fans much.

Mike McDaniel

The fan-favorite amongst Miami’s interview requests has been San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, and for good reason. McDaniel and head coach Kyle Shanahan have constructed one of the most intricate rushing schemes in the NFL. Their use of misdirection in their zone-heavy run scheme has made them one of the league’s most productive units.

Mike McDaniel helped invent the inside toss run.

The most exciting part of San Francisco’s scheme, however, might be the use of receiver Deebo Samuel. Samuel has moved all around the field, being productive at receiver, while also effective on the ground.

Deebo Samuel has been a weapon for San Francisco this year.

Like Moore, his lack of experience is of some concern, but in a different way. Although he has been around the league since 2005, he has never called plays. He has, however, been a major part of constructing the game plan and sequencing, per Shanahan and his players.

Miami is the only team to request an interview with McDaniel thus far, so it will be interesting to see how he fairs against their other candidates.

Thomas Brown

Another candidate who will participate in his first interview with Miami is regarded as potentially the “next Mike Tomlin”.

Thomas Brown is compared to Mike Tomlin.

Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown has a history of success, working with an elite backfield in college that consisted of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

His name may be familiar to Miami fans, as he was the Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator for three seasons. He led UM’s backs to almost 2500 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2018, seeing their most success in years.

In coming to the NFL, he also helped revitalize Michel’s career, following his trade to the Rams.

Sony Michel scores a TD.

This definitely contrasts with Flores, who dedicated no first-round picks or significant cap space to the running back position.

He doesn’t follow the “offensive guru” trend of McDaniel or Moore, but has made players around him better, and seems to follow the “leader of men” role. His lack of experience in major roles is a bit concerning, but he’s quickly rising up the ranks of potential candidates.

Miami Dolphins Head Coach Candidates: Defense

Dan Quinn

Miami’s defensive candidates have significantly more experience than their offensive counterparts, and that starts with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

Quinn has led an opportunistic Cowboys defense, similarly to Flores in Miami. Leading the league in turnovers, their unit puts ball-hawking cornerbacks like Trevon Diggs in the best position to succeed. It’s easy to envision how Miami’s cornerbacks, especially Xavien Howard, would fit in well in his system.

Trevon Diggs thrived in Dallas’ system.

Much as he did in Atlanta, it’s very possible that Quinn could also bring in a good offensive staff. However, his previous head coaching experience has mixed results. While the Falcons made the Super Bowl in 2016, Quinn only finished 43-42 as the man in charge. He brings a presence and leadership, along with a strong defensive pedigree, but his inconsistency may be hard to ignore.

Vance Joseph

The next defensive-minded candidate has recent ties to Miami. Current Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was Miami’s defensive coordinator under Adam Gase, before taking a job in Denver as a head coach.

Another scheme predicated on opportunistic stops, Arizona ranks seventh in turnovers this year, and with a more healthy unit last year, they finished fourth in sacks. Joseph clearly knows how to lead a strong defense, but his struggles have shown under the role of head coach.

The Cardinals fit the mold of an opportunistic defense.

Joseph went 11-21 as the lead man in Denver, with an offensive unit that struggled to find consistency, similar to Brian Flores. They also weren’t as opportunistic in his final season, where Denver only managed to snag five interceptions.

Inconsistency is a clear issue with Joseph’s scheme, but it definitely looks better in Arizona, making it understandable as to why Miami may look to give him another shot.

Leslie Frazier

In requesting their interviews, Miami chose to reach out to both Buffalo Bills coordinators. Seeing how strong of a team they are twice a year, it only made sense to interview Daboll and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Frazier, like the other two defensive candidates, leads another turnover-centric unit. Buffalo is third in turnovers this year, along with being first in yards allowed. Their ability to pressure the quarterback while holding up in the backend has been impressive, and Frazier’s scheme is a large part of that.

Leslie Frazier’s defense does great against rookie QBs.

However, like the other candidates, Frazier has struggled as a head coach. In four years in Minnesota, Frazier went 21-32-1, appearing in the playoffs in 2012. Although, his most recent head coaching job was nearly a decade ago, and his scheme has definitely been refined since then.

Frazier brings much of the appeal of Daboll in his ability to bring over more Buffalo assistants, and his defensive prowess could be able to replicate Flores’ success.

The Bottom Line

The Miami Dolphins have brought in seven unique head coach candidates to interview thus far, but there are some trends. The offensive minded coaches follow a similar mold, having a lack of experience, offset by how quickly they’ve risen up the ranks.

The defensive minds, on the other hand, each have previous head coaching experience, and they lead very strong, opportunistic units.

Whether fans believe it or not, it seems that Miami has a blueprint of what they want their head coach to represent, and it will be interesting to see how these interviews play out in the coming weeks.

The Tua Tagovailoa Situation is Complicated for the Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins, QB, Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins, QB, Tua Tagovailoa

Last Sunday, Miami’s matchup against the Tennessee Titans was hard to watch for Dolphins fans. In the blistering January cold, Tua Tagovailoa and Miami held an opportunity to keep their playoff hopes alive. A sense of “Maybe this team is different.” filled the air after being propelled by a seven-game winning streak. However, the result was as painful as it could get.

Although Miami’s defense held Tennessee to 17 points into the fourth quarter, they could only muster three of their own. The run game was abandoned far too early, even with Duke Johnson averaging seven yards per carry. However, the biggest disappointment of the game was at the quarterback position.

Tua struggled to push the ball down the field in the cold, wet weather. In several key moments, the ball slipped out of his hands, and he consistently missed receivers. In a game where Miami’s defense put their offensive counterparts in a position to succeed, they crumbled at the most crucial position in football.

Tua Tagovailoa fumbles against the Titans.

Now, rumors are beginning to fly, with controversial Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson at the center of them. Miami held interest last offseason, and it picked up at the trade deadline. With Watson’s cases and grand jury investigation seeing a potential conclusion soon, the interest is expected to remain.

This issue has divided Miami’s fanbase from the beginning, with the half who believe that Tua can become the franchise quarterback and the other large group considering his physical tools aren’t compensated enough by his football mind. Both sides have valid arguments, which makes this decision so difficult.

The Expectations

Since arriving in Miami, Tua has been put under the microscope. Like many rookie quarterbacks, the fanbase and coaching staff are looking to find their next leader. However, Miami’s search has been different. While looking for their next face of the franchise, they’re still looking for the replacement for Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

Since Marino retired in 2000, Miami has seen the likes of Jay Fiedler, Chad Henne, and Ryan Tannehill all crowned as successors. However, fans had hope when Miami selected Tua Tagovailoa almost two years ago, with none panning out the way we had hoped.

Coming from Alabama, Tagovailoa had a winning reputation, being one of coach Nick Saban’s favorite players to coach, and helping him bring home a national title. Regarded as the most pro-ready passer in his class, Tua excelled with accuracy and anticipation. In addition, he operated the RPO offense at a high level in college, and many believed it would transfer to the NFL.

With the shadow of Dan Marino still lurking from 20 years ago, it was time for the next great Dolphins QB to reveal himself.

The Good

Through his first 20 starts, Tua has shown flashes of his collegiate self. His accuracy has been promising, with the anticipation growing as he learns the offense. However, the most impressive trait has been his ability to move within the pocket.

With the 32nd ranked offensive line this season, the time has been limited for the Dolphins signal-caller. He’s constantly trying to avoid pressure while having to get the ball out quick to his playmakers. Yet, even with the struggles around him, he has uncovered an impressive skill to maintain composure within the pocket.

When defenders come off the edge, Tua has excelled at identifying and avoiding them while keeping his eyes up-field. While previous quarterbacks, namely Ryan Tannehill, struggled in this area, Tua thrived. He has made solid completions or runs out of plays that looked doomed from the start on multiple occasions. An essential skill in the modern NFL is staying composed, and he does it well.

Along with that, many of his key traits have remained. For example, he has been efficient in the RPO system, making the right decision often. In addition, his ability to limit turnovers has been solid, as he averages less than an interception per game. However, this limited risk makes him have some concerns for his future in Miami.

The Bad

Although there have been some signs he can lead Miami into the playoffs, it hasn’t come together for Tua. The traits have appeared at times but not consistently. Also, his weaknesses look to have been exacerbated on the NFL level.

It was well documented that his arm wasn’t as strong as fellow 2020 class quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Jordan Love before entering the NFL. However, it was seen as something he could overcome by outthinking the defenses. Unfortunately, it seems that neither have those have been the case.

Time and time again, Tua has struggled to push the ball down the field. His deep passes, which he rarely attempts, are typically underthrown and don’t garner good results. He has thrown several ugly interceptions on deep attempts, with several more bad throws of 20+ yards. When compared to Herbert, who was drafted one pick later, who is already one of the best deep passers in the league, it seems that the Dolphins young QB is lagging.

Tua Tagovailoa & Reading the Field

Another area in which Tagovailoa has struggled, which was not anticipated in college, is reading the field. Being one of the most efficient collegiate quarterbacks ever, many believed Tua could make full-field reads and be a traditional pocket passer. However, the more he plays, many of those reads came from the Alabama RPO system, in which he was throwing to the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle.

When given time to make reads, he typically holds the ball for a long time, and as pressure starts to come up the middle, he fades on throws. In addition, he rarely trusts his eyes, often double-clutching on the correct read. As a result, his confidence in himself and his receivers dissipates outside of the quick game.

When Tagovailoa has had less than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, he combined for 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, the numbers drop drastically to a 9:9 ratio when he has more. His ability to make the right throw on traditional dropbacks suffers significantly after the first read and is a significant cause of Miami’s struggles.

The Bottom Line

Miami faces a quarterback controversy at, quite possibly, the worst possible time. The draft doesn’t seem to be an option for a quarterback class that many consider bereft of top-flight talent. However, the trade market is expected to be hot, with the Watson mentioned above and Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers possibly being on the move.

The issue, primarily, is the Dolphins’ title contention window. This season has shown that Miami still has needed along the offensive line and skill positions. If they were to trade for Watson, they would have closed one need while leaving several more open. While it’s possible to attract free agents, they also need money to re-sign their players and their draft class. There will still be holes in many of the same places as years prior.

Although, there is something to be said about elite quarterbacks, which Watson elevates play around them. It’s possible, with better talent at the helm, that many of these players will begin to develop as expected. The pull Miami has may also see many free agents looking to join a young QB with a stellar defense.

Whether you believe in Tua Tagovailoa or not, these next few months will be crucial to his future. Watson’s verdict will most likely be reached, and Miami will most definitely have some level of interest. The question of how much has yet to be answered, but Miami may see their 24th starting quarterback since Dan Marino.

*Top photo: Tua Tagovailoa – Getty Images

Zach Sieler: The NFL’s Most Underrated Player

Dolphins DT Zach Sieler is one of the league's most underrated players
Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins, winners of seven straight, will participate in the playoffs if they win their next two games. This comes after Miami lost seven in a row in a slew of injuries, disappointments, and lack of chemistry.

Now, as they found their groove, many look for players and units to credit. Tua Tagovailoa has looked much improved from last year, rookies Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland look like stars in the making, and the defensive backfield looks just as deadly as last year.

Although, a name that needs some recognition is Dolphins defensive tackle Zach Sieler. The fourth- year pro, while only having two sacks, has generated eight pressures, per Pro Football Reference, and has been a stalwart in the run game.

Being in rotation with the likes of Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, Sieler has only appeared in over 50 percent of snaps in five of Miami’s 15 games. Those snaps, however, have been productive. Sieler has excelled at holding his gaps, stopping the run, and making timely hits on opposing quarterbacks, and his all-22 from the last few weeks shows exactly that.

Zach Sieler gets after Ian Book.

Pass Rusher

Although Pro Football Reference only registers eight pressures, Sieler has been impactful and timing on that end. His ability to get off blocks quickly and get after the quarterback has complemented edge rushers Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips nicely. While also having two sacks, he has been able to set up for teammates and make impact plays.

As shown on this play against the Giants, the game appears easy for Sieler at times. His combination of speed and power, as shown here, gets him into the backfield in time to influence the throw.

Zach Sieler forces a near INT on a pressure

By batting the linemen’s hands to the side, he allows himself to use his unusual speed. He is then able to pull away from the guard and pursue his target. His impressive closing speed is enough for Mike Glennon to put up a dangerous throw, which nearly is intercepted by Jevon Holland.

A Simple Move

Although simple, he thrives in his ability to keep offensive linemen from getting their hands on him. With quick slaps, he is able to remain untouched and keep his forward momentum. The perfect combination of these two factors was on display on Monday Night Football against the Saints.

On this play, shown below, Sieler takes an outside route to the quarterback. To avoid contact with the guard, he runs outside of him. With his quick get-off and speed, he’s able to do his quick swat away and leave him in the dust.

Zach Sieler generates a pressure on Ian Book.

Although it doesn’t register as a sack for Sieler, he was able to pressure Book out of the pocket, and into a sack for his teammate. While his big plays don’t always show up on the stat sheet, they leave the same impact.

Run Stopper

Although sacks and pressures are typically more flashy, Zach Sieler makes the Dolphins run defense fun to watch. His combination of speed and power that I referenced earlier show up even more on run plays. His ability to maintain gap integrity while stopping playmakers in the backfield is one not found in many interior defensive linemen.

PFF rates Zach Sieler among the top IDL’s at run stopping.

Sieler’s game against the Carolina Panthers is one that perfectly displays his run defense in action. On this play, his goal would typically be to push McCaffrey out to the edge, while allowing linebackers to come up and make hits on the cutback lanes. What he ends up doing, however, is much more impressive.

Zach Sieler stops Christian McCaffrey.

He starts by getting outside, as he typically does, when he notices McCaffrey cut back in. Without losing his place, he is able to swallow him up for a loss on the play. He does so by throwing the lineman completely out of the play, which shows just how much power he has to disengage.

Counters

Another impressive part of Sieler’s run defense has been his implementation of counters into his game. On film, it is clear that he likes to go outside, which is typically to the left, and he has found a way to use that to his advantage.

On this play from his great performance against the Giants, he sells that he’s going outside, getting the lineman to leave his backside unprotected. In doing so, this allows Sieler to use a swim move to get back inside and stuff the run, potentially preventing a big play.

Zach Sieler uses a swim move to stop the run.

With limited snaps, linemen don’t have much tape to check out on Sieler. Thus, when they find a trend, it becomes much more important to identify and stop it. If not, Sieler will find a way to ensure they’re wrong every time.

High Effort Plays

In a Brian Flores defense, it’s clear that the fundamentals are preached as necessary for playing time. The coach who once dedicated a wall to the phrase “takes no talent” looks for players who show their love for the game on the field. It’s clear through his high motor that no Dolphins player exhibits that more than Zach Sieler.

As a lineman, it’s typically your job to get into the backfield and make stops like the ones I’ve shown thus far. However, Sieler works far outside his responsibilities, such as on this play shown below.

Sieler recognizes that New York is running a screen to Saquon Barkley, and he is able to, from his IDL spot, get over to the back, track him down, and stop him for only a short gain. His speed is on display here and it’s truly fun to watch.

Sieler uses his great motor to get out on the screen.

Sieler typically finds himself around the football, which is a common trait among star defensive players, and a prime example of that is Miami’s game vs. Carolina.

Here, he is able to see that Cam Newton is passing his way, perfectly timing his jump and getting his hands in the air to bat the ball down.

Zach Sieler bats down the pass.

The most impressive part about his timing on this play is that he gets Cam to throw it there and gets his hands up late enough. Although, they still get up in time to make the play.

Knowing Your Responsibility

This last play, which is one of my personal favorites this year, comes against the Jets. After noticing that a reverse is coming, Sieler sees Zach Wilson begin to slip out.

Zach Sieler prevents a TD

Realizing that his responsibility is the quarterback, Sieler disengages and takes off. As the receiver lets the throw go, Sieler is tracking down Wilson to the end zone. With impressive closing speed, he is able to get his hands up and knock the ball down.

Without Sieler’s high football IQ and effort, this play very well may have resulted in a touchdown.

The Bottom Line

Zach Sieler, although not regarded as a top defensive lineman, has far exceeded expectations set by fans and the Dolphins coaching staff.

His ability to defend the pass and run, while always giving 100 percent has been special to watch, and it pops on film every week.

It will be interesting to see how the former seventh-round pick continues to improve, but it’s clear that his story is just beginning to unfold.

Zach Thomas: The Case for the Hall of Fame

Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas deserves Hall of Fame honors
Credit: The Phinsider

Every August, we see posts explaining why Zach Thomas should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and then the chatter ends. Then, the next year’s finalists are announced and everyone makes their case for Thomas again.

The same thing happens every year; but, hopefully, that changes next year.

Zach Thomas’ Hall Of Fame Endorsements

On Saturday night, now Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson made sure to let everyone know his thoughts on Thomas. Johnson said “Zach Thomas belongs up here” as he talked about his defense that led the Miami league.

Jimmy Johnson is now the 2nd Hall of Fame inductee to emphasize that Zach Thomas needs to be in the HOF. In 2019, former New York Jets OL, Kevin Mawae said Zach Thomas should be in the HOF.

The Numbers

Thomas was drafted in 1996 and spent 12 seasons with the Dolphins, before spending his last season with the Cowboys. He retired after his 13th season.

Thomas intercepted 17 passes and returned 4 of them for touchdowns. He also forced 16 fumbles. Although the turnover numbers aren’t eye-grabbing, offenses could never be too cautious with the ball around Thomas. With 33 forced turnovers, he is tied with LB Brian Urlacher, who has been in the HOF for 3 years. 

Thomas racked up 1,100 solo tackles and 627 assists through his 13-year career. For comparison, Urlacher and Junior Seau had less tackles. Both are in the Hall of Fame. As a matter of fact, he led the Miami Dolphins in tackles 10 out of his 12 seasons in South Florida. The tackling machine ranks 5th all-time on the tackling list.

It is crucial to note that all 4 players ahead of Thomas on that list played significantly more games than Thomas.

Zach Thomas also had 5 first team all-pro selections and 2 second team all-pro selections. Additionally, he was voted into 7 Pro Bowls.

Clearly, Zach Thomas has the stats to be in the Hall of Fame. From tackles to forcing turnovers, Thomas wreaked havoc wherever he was on the field. 

Leadership

Aside from the numbers, Thomas was a hell of a leader and football mind. He took blame for every Dolphins loss. Thomas was often the first one in the facility and the last one out. During Kevin Mawae’s enshrinement speech, he said Thomas was “one of the smartest, if not the smartest” defender he had ever faced.

On Sunday, Peyton Manning was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Most people consider Manning a top-3 QB of all-time. Whenever Peyton Manning discusses players who posed the greatest challenge, he always mentioned Zach Thomas

According to Manning, Thomas was able to call out the Colts offensive plays.

He was the quarterback of the Miami defense for 12 years, and caused opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to lose sleep.

Why Zach Thomas isn’t in the HOF yet is, quite literally, unanswerable. He started all but 2 games in his career and has the numbers to compete with other HOF LBs. Thomas averaged almost 10 tackles per game, and was one of the smartest LBs to play the game. He’s been endorsed by two Hall of Famers during their enshrinement speeches and called on of the greats by Peyton Manning.

The difference for Thomas may be that the Dolphins didn’t have real success as a team during his time in Miami. Whatever the reason may be, we won’t ever know. However, at this point, it’s laughable that Zach Thomas doesn’t have his own gold jacket. 

Thomas has been a finalist two years in a row now. He is bound to get in at some point, right? Dolphins Fans all over the world(literally) will have to wait and see if Thomas is on the stage unveiling his bust next August.

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Duke Johnson and his Underrated Impact

Miami Dolphins running back Duke Johnson
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins, after starting 1-7, have managed to win six straight, and are now in the thick of the playoff rates. The most recent win, coming against the New York Jets, showed a different side of the offensive unit.

For the first time this season, Miami had a 100 yard rusher, and while many saw Myles Gaskin filling that role, the one who completed that feat was none other than University of Miami alum Duke Johnson.

In the 93rd game of Johnson’s career, he was able to amass 107 yards and two touchdowns, his first time achieving either in his career.

Duke Johnson had a day on Sunday.

It was through his rushing prowess that Miami was able to survive a lackluster passing performance and put together yet another win.

However, Johnson’s biggest impact doesn’t come from just his own ability. While important, his impact on other players, specifically other running backs, opens up Miami’s offense in a new way.

Fresh Legs

The NFL season is widely regarded as a “war of attrition”. Analysts and former players cite the beatdown of the previous weeks as a major struggle. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, for players to get close to the shape they were before the season.

Specifically, the toll of the running back position is grueling. A workhorse back may carry the ball 20+ times a game, with more contact reps in receiving and pass-blocking. In short, running backs are being hit more often than other skill positions, and it sets in late in the season.

Thus, it becomes important to find “fresh legs” in time for the playoffs. Players who are in good enough shape to produce while also helping to keep other players healthy by splitting carries.

Duke Johnson’s fresh legs are very important for a playoff run.

Before this game, Duke Johnson had only rushed the ball four times, all of which coming in week 11. When compared to Myles Gaskin’s 154 carries, it’s clear Johnson wasn’t impacted the same way.

This gives Miami more freedom to give Johnson workhorse-like reps, keeping their backfield healthy and fresh. The mix of Johnson, Lindsay, Gaskin, and Ahmed gives four capable runners in a system that thrives in RPO looks.

Versatility

Going into the season, it was clear Miami wanted versatility in their running back room. With hard, power runners like Malcolm Brown, they hoped to win in short-yardage situations. Backs like Gaskin and Ahmed, on the other hand, would provide explosiveness and pass-catching ability.

Although, it was clear the Brown signing didn’t work out, as he went on IR early and struggled to produce in Miami’s system. Without him, Miami lacked a power back and someone who could thrive between the tackles.

The signing of Johnson, although new, seems to have fixed some of those issues. His ability to keep his legs driving while sustaining contact leads to solid gains, even with an inconsistent offensive line.

Duke Johnson scores a TD while keeping his feet moving.

Against New York, Johnson broke eight tackles and looked more than capable of being a short-yardage option. This means Gaskin and Ahmed can be used for their proper roles, making big plays on zone runs and passing plays.

Competition

The drive to compete, on a team level, is the biggest principle in all of sports. However, the competition for playing time and success within an organization can be just as heated.

NFL coaches, especially Brian Flores, push the idea of bringing guys in to have them compete. Along with potentially getting a new contributor, the threat of fewer snaps can bring the best out of others. This principle is no different with the addition of Duke Johnson.

Coming from Washington as a seventh-round pick, it’s clear that Myles Gaskin, the previous starter, has an underdog mentality. In his three years in the league, he has been able to rise up the depth chart and become a prominent face in Miami’s backfield. Thus, I believe the addition of Johnson will only help him as a player.

Myles Gaskin looked better when offsetting Duke Johnson.

The underdog stature is one common in Miami’s running back room, as Johnson, drafted in the third round, is the only one drafted that high. The internal competition on having someone to work with and against will bring the best out of this group.

The Bottom Line

Duke Johnson looked like a legitimate NFL starter in his first game, and it comes at an opportune time. Miami faces three tough defenses to close out the year, likely needing to win out to get into the playoffs. With a competent run game, these strong units can’t hone in on the short passing game, which Miami thrives with.

It’s not only his production, but the other elements that Miami hopes to maximize in order to give this team the late-season surge they need to make the postseason. The addition of Johnson paying dividends now, and Dolphins fans have good reason to believe it may in the foreseeable future.