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.

Tua Tagovailoa is Back, and he’s Brian Flores’ Last Hope

Tua Tagovailoa

1-0. That’s the Dolphins’ record when Tua Tagovailoa plays a full game, and a mentality they look to hold after this week, when Tagovailoa returns from fractured ribs to face the Jaguars in London this Sunday.

Miami’s four-game stretch without Tua didn’t go so well, as Jacoby Brissett was unable to lead Miami to any wins against tough teams, with a combined 12-8 record.

But the quarterback wasn’t the only issue, however, as Miami’s offense is 31st in total yards per game, and last in rushing.

Miami’s defense was also unable to hold their own, allowing 30.8 ppg in the first five weeks, which is 30th in the league.

Considering Miami’s defense was looked at as a potential top-5 unit in the league, their disappointment cannot be understated.

But through the fire of a 1-4 start, Tagovailoa’s return brings a glimmer of hope to a unit that desperately needs one.

Bringing a 7-4 record as a starter, Miami has been significantly better with their potential franchise QB.

The offense was at it’s smoothest in Week 1, when Tua was able to orchestrate two RPO-filled touchdown drives against a tough Patriots defense coming out of the halves. The offense was clearly made for him, and with only one week of film under new OC’s Godsey and Studesville, it is truly unknown how successful Tagovailoa can be with this group.

My Thread on Tua Tagovailoa vs. New England.

But, even with a fanbase questioning the jobs of Tua Tagovailoa, Chris Grier, and Brian Flores, nobody needs a turn-around from this team more than the third year head coach.

First Two Years

Coming into the year, Brian Flores was looked at as a rising star in this league. In his first season, he was able to lead a Miami team bereft of household names to a 5-11 record, including an impressive win in New England against his former team.

2020 was more of the same. The defense took a major leap, placing 4th in scoring and finding a knack for creating turnovers.

Xavien Howard picks off Mahomes.

But the offense, on the other hand, was mediocre at best. Finishing 15th in points per game (a number helped by several defensive scores), they struggled to find consistency in the run or the pass. These struggles were blatant against contenders like the Bills and Chiefs, both of whom Miami struggled to hold their own against.

Revamped Unit

So Miami went to their third (and fourth) coordinators in three years under Flores, promoting Godsey and Studesville from position coaching jobs.

Along with that, they invested significant capital in getting weapons for Tagovailoa to succeed in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle.

Going into the season, there were reasons for optimism regarding Miami’s offensive group. They looked significantly more fluid in preseason and training camp, connecting on several big plays, and the new coordinators looked to be implementing more modern schemes.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a deep pass to Albert Wilson.

Even with Miami putting up 17 points in Week 1, the offense had shown flashes that fans hoped would become a constant.

But before this could be realized, Tua went down with an injury and Miami was forced to go to Jacoby Brissett.

As previously mentioned, Brissett had truly started to uncover many of Miami’s flaws as a unit. Receivers were struggling to get open, play-calling was looking reminiscent of years’ past, and the former Patriots QB was missing reads and failing to capitalize in key situations.

Present Day

But now, just as Miami’s season looks bleak, and Tua Tagovailoa looks to turn them around, Brian Flores’ career might depend on his success.

Now having his third offensive staff in as many years, Flores’ inability to lead a competent group has become a major concern. While defensive-minded Chargers HC Brandon Staley wows fans in interviews, Flores repeats the same ideas of wanting to get Miami’s situation under control.

Brandon Staley speaks on Lamar Jackson.

One way fans believed Miami would do so was by potentially making a move for Deshaun Watson. Following a significant injury to their young QB, now looked like the time to acquire the troubled superstar.

But in the prime window to make a trade, Miami stood pat, signaling Tua has this year to perform. This coaching staff has shown faith in their QB that many believed wasn’t there, as he is the last resort.

Bottom Line

So now, with Tagovailoa coming back, it’s his team. If he fails to succeed, Brian Flores’ inability to find consistency will stick out like a sore thumb. While teams such as the Bills, Chargers, Ravens, and Chiefs led quick rebuilds centered around a young, explosive QB, Miami’s has seemed to go the opposite way.

In his first year with real expectations, Flores has started 1-4, and neither side of the ball has performed well. But the return of his young QB brings momentum. A sense of spark Miami hasn’t had thus far, in a time when they most desperately need it.

The NFL is very much a “what have you done for me lately” league, and Flores’ future as Miami’s HC could be on the line if Tua Tagovailoa and Miami’s offense can’t meet preseason expectations.

It’s Time for a New Playcaller: Charlie Frye

Charlie Frye and Tua Tagovailoa
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Dolphins offense was a cause of concern this offseason.

Being middle of the pack in points and near the bottom of yards in 2020, Miami needed to make a change.

In an effort to maximize a group led by 2nd year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Miami acquired deep threat receivers Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. The goal was to produce more big plays and create separation, a category Miami heavily struggled with in 2020.

Catering the offense to Tagovailoa was clearly the main goal, and truly showed when Miami made their choice at offensive coordinator.

New OC’s

Rather than bringing in an outside hire such as Mike McDaniel or Pep Hamilton, the Dolphins promoted position coaches George Godsey and Eric Studesville to “co-coordinators.”

The idea was to incorporate more of the RPO game and make the offense earlier for Tua, allowing him to make easy reads and control the ball.

Former QB Dan Orlovsky speaks on Tua’s ability in the RPO.

Changes were visible, as we saw a more comfortable and confident Tagovailoa in preseason, but as we have progressed through September, it seems that the idea may have been fools gold.

Although Tagovailoa has missed the majority of the last 2 games with fractured ribs, his time in the offense wasn’t as productive as many would have hoped.

Failure to Launch

Putting up a meager 17 points in week 1, Miami struggled to move the ball, as the RPO (run pass option) game became easy to stop, and big plays were hard to come by.

But following the injury to their starting QB, the Dolphins’ offense has shown more of it’s flaws.

Playcalling has been as bad as ever, with Miami getting away from the run early, lacking situational awareness, not taking enough shots, and, most importantly, misusing their weapons.

Miami runs a screen pass that gets stopped for a safety.

Players such as Jaylen Waddle, who was one of the fastest players in the 2021 draft, aren’t being given room to work, being used as security blankets, similar to Jarvis Landry’s usage in Miami (Landry is much less athletic).

Jaylen Waddle is being misused in Miami’s offense.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans on Twitter and elsewhere are getting impatient, looking for a change. Many are looking for a replacement coordinator for next year, with some already calling for the firing of Brian Flores over his failure to produce a high quality group.

But Miami needs to make a change now, and it should come in the promotion of Quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye.

Prior Experience

Frye, a former NFL QB, has experience calling plays in college, leading the Central Michigan offense to an explosive 31.3 points per game in 2020. Behind his run calls game, CMU finished 3rd in their conference in rushing yards per game.

Frye is also looked upon as someone who helped turn the program around. Behind his offensive creativity and explosion, Central Michigan went from a 1 win team in 2018 to a MAC West Division winner in 2019.

Charlie Frye and Tua at the Elite 11

Coming out of high school, Tagovailoa participated in the Elite 11 football camp, where the best young QBs in the nation compete to be the best of the group.

Going into the camp, Tua was looked at as a raw prospect. Former NFL QB Trent Dilfer questioned his technique and looked at him as a raw talent, and was unsure if he could play the position.

But, through the coaching of Charlie Frye, who worked with the camp (and developed a relationship with Tua), Tagovailoa was crowned Elite 11 MVP.

Trent Dilfer names Tua Tagovailoa Elite 11 MVP

His ability to maximize the former Alabama QB is one Miami doesn’t have in Godsey or Studesville. Their relationship is clearly strong. Frye relays the plays into Tua’s ear, and they have known each other since the latter was in high school.

Bucky Brooks explains Tua Tagovailoa’s relationship with Charlie Frye.

If Miami hopes to maximize Tua Tagovailoa (when he returns from injury) , along with former college teammate Jaylen Waddle (among other weapons), promoting the former NFL QB seems like the obvious move.

Synopsis

The bottom line is this: Miami’s offense needs a spark. They are currently 28th in yards, and lack the ability to make big plays. Charlie Frye, and his potential promotion to offensive coordinator, may be the best way to deliver that spark.

It will be interesting to see how Miami attempts to max out their young offensive unit, and if Frye is in those plans, as Miami fights to remain in the playoff race.

Follow Tyler DeSena on Twitter

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5 Crucial Plays From Tua Tagovailoa vs. Patriots

Going up to Foxborough for week 1 is a tough challenge for any NFL team, and the Tua Tagovailoa led Miami Dolphins lived up to that challenge. In a game dominated by defense, the team, and especially the young QB, showed some positives. But Tagovailoa also had some plays he will regret and need to improve on for the future. Here’s a deep dive of Tua Tagovailoa and key plays vs. the Patriots.

Timing and The RPO

The first drive from Miami was a work of art, and it started with going to Tua’s bread and butter: The RPO (Run-Pass Option).

Tua Tagovailoa makes an RPO throw to Jaylen Waddle.

Those 3 letters are a main focus of this season, as it gives Tagovailoa the chance to do what he’s best at: making quick decisions and utilizing a lightning fast release. Here, he holds the potential handoff to Gaskin long enough that he can freeze the defense, then quickly shifts his eyes from the sideline to Jaylen Waddle for a big gain on the opening play.

In college, Tua Tagovailoa led one of the most efficient offenses in the country, centered around the RPO. The elements of speed and precision that come with the ability to choose a run or pass are what the 2nd year QB excels at, as it gives him structure and comfortability. I expect to see these as a staple of the offense moving forward.

Accuracy and Velocity

One thing that was preached in the RPO heavy offense of Alabama was accuracy and timing, and when Tua is comfortable, he’s one of the more accurate QB’s in the NFL.

On this play, Tagovailoa makes a throw he wouldn’t have made last year. It was well documented that he wasn’t comfortable in the Chan Gailey offense, thus not comfortable making tight window throws.

Tua Tagovailoa makes a strong throw to DeVante Parker that falls incomplete.

But here, in an offense catered to his strengths, he steps into a STRONG throw over the middle right on the money to Parker, but it falls incomplete. Sometimes, the defense beats the throw, and all you can do is tip your cap.

Struggles Against Interior Pressure

Throughout last year, Tagovailoa faced the most hardship when he was pressured up the middle. When Nose Tackles and Interior Defensive Linemen were able to get penetration, it caused Tua to either panic in the pocket or fade back on his throws.

Although he has developed in several other areas, this is still one where he struggles. The first example of this is a miss to Mike Gesicki that’s incomplete.

Tua Tagovailoa sails a ball to Mike Gesicki.

With pressure coming from the center spot, Tua is forced off his spot in a move to the right (his noticeably weaker side), and while he makes the right read, his mechanics never get set and he sails the ball for what should have been an INT. If Tagovailoa wants to reach the upper echelon of QBs, he has to be able to balance protecting himself with remaining composed.

However, the second example of this has a far worse outcome. With pressure coming from the outside towards the middle, Tagovailoa gets happy feet and decides to play hero ball. He rolls around in the pocket (to his weaker right side) and by the time he decides to throw it away, he gets hit and can’t get it out of bounds, which results in an INT.

Tua Tagovailoa throws an INT vs the Patriots.

In a situation where the team is protecting a 1 point lead and attempting to seal the game, Tagovailoa can’t get caught up in making a play. Live to play another down.

Development and Confidence

As previously stated, Tua Tagovailoa admitted that he struggled with the playbook in the Chan Gailey offense. Saying that he couldn’t check out of plays he believed would fail, he had to commit to the play and make the best of a bad situation.

But in a new year, we are seeing a different Tua. In a press conference following the game, Tagovailoa stated that he checked out of a run call on his own goal line into a quick slant. While it’s a risky play, he went with what he saw and it worked out.

Tua Tagovailoa audibles out of a run play and seals the game for Miami.

His confidence and ability to trust what he sees is by far the biggest difference between Tua’s rookie year and now. In only his 10th career start, he was able to change a call at the line and make a game sealing play. I expect we will see more free reign from Tagovailoa as the season progresses.

Synopsis

Overall, I think that Tagovailoa was solid. He displayed his top notch accuracy at several points throughout this game, giving his receivers opportunities to get extra yards. He also made several gutsy throws that worked out, taking chances on big plays that he didn’t make last year.

But there were definitely some negatives, which primarily started with struggling from interior pressure. His mechanics were off at times, and an inability to give up on plays hurt him a few times.

Although there were some issues, it’s only the first game of the season, and while some disagree, he has definitely made an improvement from last season. It will be fun to watch Tua’s continued growth throughout the season as the Miami Dolphins fight to compete with the league’s best and earn a playoff spot.

Be sure to check out my full breakdown of Tua Tagovailoa’s key plays and analysis vs the New England Patriots on Twitter.

My thread about Tua Tagovailoa’s first game vs. the Patriots.

Follow Tyler DeSena on Twitter

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This Miami Dolphins Offense is DIFFERENT

Ever since Dan Marino retired in 2000, the Miami Dolphins have been a team heavily focused on defense. Players such as Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Cameron Wake have been the faces of the franchise.

But behind the defensive stars lied a team that struggled to produce offense. Year after year, elite pass rushers and secondaries were wasted by an inability to put up points and win big games. Besides the Wildcat gimmick year of 2008, the Dolphins have been a mediocre offensive team.

A major reason for this was a lack of modern concepts. Since the wildcat, Miami has been years behind the newest offensive concepts.

Coaches like Joe Philbin and Adam Gase, who were brought in for offensive expertise, failed to lead strong unit. The latter of which was looked at as an offensive mastermind when he was hired, but never called an offense that finished above 17th in scoring.

Yet another example of a Dolphins team being let down by their offense was in 2020.

While teams like the Chiefs and Rams led innovative units behind Andy Reid and Sean McVay, the Dolphins hired a retired OC in Chan Gailey, who was in the middle of the pack in pre-snap motion.

Dolphins were 12th in motion in 2020.

As a result, Miami only finished 15th and scoring, struggling to stay in games with the league’s offensive powerhouses like the Bills and Chiefs.

But unlike previous Dolphins regimes, Head Coach Brian Flores and GM Chris Grier saw the error of their ways. They parted ways with Chan Gailey and dedicated this year to improving the offense and maximizing QB Tua Tagovailoa.

Solving Their Issues

Seeing that separation was an issue, the brought in explosive receivers in former Texan Will Fuller and 1st round draft pick Jaylen Waddle. With their speed and athleticism, they hope to stretch the field and win one-on-one matchups that Miami previously struggled with.

The Dolphins Offensive Line also struggled in 2020, but was addressed in the offseason. Just like the receiving unit, Miami snagged a veteran and a rookie, adding Matt Skura and Liam Eichenberg.

But the most important step in fulfilling the new offensive vision was on he coaching side. Miami promoted position coaches George Godsey and Eric Studesville to be co-offensive coordinators.

The move was controversial, as it was unknown how playcalling duties would be distributed and schemes would be blended. While Godsey had previously called plays in Houston, Studesville had only ever been an assistant. It would be up to them to find a good mix and bring the first high powered offense Miami’s had in years.

Through the first week of training camp this Dolphins offense looks both collaborative and innovative. Using motion, RPO concepts, and deep routes to beat 2020’s #4 scoring defense.

Ahead of Schedule

Just about every year in training camp, Dolphins fans hear about how the defense is ahead of the offense early. Whether it’s a talent discrepancy, scheming or a lack of chemistry, the offense has always lacked in the first weeks of camp.

But this year, the tables have turned entirely. Day in and day out we hear about how second year QB Tua Tagovailoa has thrown several touchdowns to a myriad of receivers, even with Will Fuller, DeVante Parker and Preston Williams missing time. Playmakers like Jaylen Waddle and Albert Wilson have shown out in practice, being the subjects of hundreds of live tweets.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a TD to Albert Wilson in training camp.

The biggest part of the offense success and new look early has come from the new coordinators. From live tweets and videos released by the media, we see a new wrinkle that lacked in previous regimes. On a vast majority of plays, pre-snap motion is being used to create separation, create leverage, and beat the defense.

Dolphins use motion to get Jaylen Waddle open.

Receivers like Waddle and Wilson are constantly moving, as Miami uses their quick feet to their advantage. Their ability to create mismatches in the secondary has led to the rapid improvement of Tua and the offense.

Unlike the past regimes, the Dolphins have followed the footsteps of innovators across the NFL, using playmakers to their strengths.

The Future

As we get closer to the preseason opener against the Bears, more of the offensive vision will materialize. We will begin to see more personnel packages and schemes similar to those Miami will use during the season.

Through insiders, writers at camp, and video posts, we hope to see more of the innovative, modern concepts that have been teased thus far. We know that Brian Flores and his staff can develop schemes and players, as we have seen on defense. But it will be interesting to see if Miami’s offense will continue to take that leap that we’ve seen thus far.

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