The Miami Dolphins are heading into one of the most pivotal off-seasons in quite some time. 2022 was a step in the right direction, but going into what is likely year two of Miami’s three-year Super Bowl window, the time is now to fill their remaining needs.
Throughout last season, the needs were obvious: linebacker, offensive line, tight end, and some secondary depth.
While each of those will need to be filled this spring to reach the next level, there is another position that could use some help: Wide receiver.
At first glance, that idea makes no sense. Miami has arguably the best receiving duo in the league in Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. They also spent capital on Cedrick Wilson, Erik Ezukanma, and Trent Sherfield. The group looks deep, but there’s a role that must be filled. That role being the versatile possession receiver who can be used in either the slot or in contested catch situations downfield.
Sure, Sherfield did a fine job there in spurts, but it was clear that he was never the long-term solution. Miami went out of their way to draft Erik Ezukanma, whose skillset was acquired to complement Waddle and Hill.
On The Roster
Ezukanma is clearly the wild card here. He only appeared in one game all season, which is a bit concerning for someone who looks to step into a big role. It was clear in college that his tape matched what Miami was looking for. However, they opted not to play him until Week 18.
If he can elevate his game into someone who is not only a contributor, but a plus player, then this conversation goes out the window. However, if he doesn’t, Miami maintains this need for a versatile receiver with a knack for contested catch situations.
This need is even more prevalent if Miami loses Mike Gesicki. Miami’s number one tight end and jump ball threat has likely played his last snap as a Dolphin after posting some of the lowest numbers of his career. This leaves little to no options for jump ball opportunities, as well as a void as a big slot. When you really look at it, it becomes obvious this has to be on the Miami Dolphins’ list of roster needs heading into the offseason.
Miami will have options when it comes to filling this void, although they may be limited. The free agency pool is barren at receiver, and with Miami already spending big money last year, they may opt out this time around.
The first is staying pat. Miami clearly had faith in the aforementioned Ezukanma when he was drafted, and the athletic profile is there.
The Rookie Route
However, if they feel they need another draft pick to fill the role, there are several intriguing options. Xavier Hutchinson of Iowa State was at the Senior Bowl, and combines the size and technique needed to play both outside and inside as a big slot.
Purdue’s Charlie Jones is also intriguing. Another natural fit in the slot, who also has hands made of glue. On top of that, he is expected to run in the 4.3 second range in the 40-yard dash. This would be an added bonus to Miami’s already fast offense.
Even later on in the NFL draft, Puka Nacua from BYU is certainly intriguing. His 6’1″ 210 pound frame is certainly big enough for the slot and his knack for finding soft spots in zones could be crucial in this offense.
The bottom line is this isn’t the Miami Dolphins’ number one need. If you were to list them out by position, it may not even be top five. Despite this, it’s needs like these that Super Bowl teams iron out. The future of the big slot may already be on the roster, or it may be filled this off-season. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Miami addresses it.
The Miami Dolphins have had a roller coaster of a season to say the least. Each time they have seemingly pulled away from Wild Card contention, they completely neutralized their winning streaks, and are now sitting at 8-8 with a game to go.
There is still a chance to make the playoffs, which will lie in the hands of Skylar Thompson against the New York Jets. If Miami can win (along with a Patriots loss to the Buffalo Bills), they will secure their first playoff berth since 2016.
However, it is clear that there are underlying issues within this franchise, many of which need to be solved this offseason in order to maximize the potential of the Mike McDaniel regime. Thus, here are some potential solutions to the issues the Miami Dolphins face this offseason.
The Josh Boyer Problem
When the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel, they maintained a supreme confidence in their defensive coaching staff from the Flores regime. It was clear that they saw that unit as the catalyst for their back to back winning seasons, and that faith extended to defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.
That faith, however, seems to have been misplaced. With similar talent to Miami’s opportunstic units of the past, the Dolphins’ defense has fallen off a cliff. They rank 27th in points per game and are 30th in takeaways. That’s a far cry from their significant successes in those areas over the past two seasons.
Their pressure numbers have also clearly been lacking. Despite trading for Bradley Chubb, they are middle of the pack in sacks. Along with this, they have been unable to gain pressure without blitzing. With a pass rushing duo as promising as Jaelan Phillips and the aforementioned Chubb, the volume of blitzes and schemed pressures called by Josh Boyer has been dumbfounding.
The bottom line is that Miami needs a new defensive coordinator. There is simply too much talent along the defensive front to struggle the way they have. Some have suggested switching to a 4-3 scheme, which makes sense with the personnel on the roster.
Phillips and Chubb can play strictly on the edge, with Sieler and Wilkins wreaking havoc on the interior. The potential change is a more natural fit for their skill sets, and would limit mismatches in crucial situations.
Either way, it’s clear that it’s time to make a change on the defense. Moving on from the final Flores holdover may be that step.
The Quarterback Conundrum
The end of the season has been catastrophic, regardless of playoff success, and the simple fact is that the quarterback play has not been up to par over the last month or so.
Following a five game winning streak where Miami didn’t play a single top ten defense, the Dolphins faced a tough December. It’s safe to say that the team, and specifically the quarterback, didn’t make the most of it.
Dolphins’ fans biggest fears were realized as, against Miami’s toughest stretch of opponents, Tua Tagovailoa absolutely collapsed. He threw less than 60% completions against the 49ers, Chargers, and Bills, as Miami lost all three. Then, in a Christmas day game against the Packers, Tagovailoa threw an interception on each of the offense’s three fourth quarter drives. It was later discovered that he suffered a concussion prior to those interceptions, but that only adds onto the concern over the “injury prone” label.
Miami is now playing their final games of the season with backup quarterbacks. Although they spent significant capital on Teddy Bridgewater, it’s clear that it hasn’t panned out. He has been unable to win any games to this point, and has been injured himself at times this season. With Tagovailoa bound to miss significant time, it’s important to secure a high level backup, and Bridgewater hasn’t been that.
The Quarterback Solution in the Miami Dolphins 2023 Offseason
This leaves two potential solutions, one of which is much more aggressive than the other. The first is to draft a young quarterback to back up Tua Tagovailoa. It’s clear that pursuing backups such as Jacoby Brissett and Bridgewater hasn’t worked. Thus, a rookie would not only potentially be more effective, but cheaper with a higher ceiling. This quarterback class has some depth, and Miami could bring in a young backup to excel in ways Bridgewater has failed.
The second path is far more controversial.
There are several starter-level quarterbacks rumored to be moved this offseason. Tom Brady and Derek Carr are expected to be free agents, while there are rumors of Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson being on the move as well.
It’s undeniable that Tua has improved this season. Miami’s offense sat atop the league for significant stretches with him at the helm. However, when you combine the injury history and consistent drop off against high-level opponents, it’s not a stretch to say that it may be in the Miami Dolphins’ best interest to be aggressive this offseason.
The Dolphins are likely squandering away the first year of a three-year Super Bowl window. Talents like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle don’t come around often, and outside of a historic comeback, their first year will have all been for not.
Miami must ensure that the next two years are different, and without a first round pick, they can’t secure a top flight quarterback prospect. Despite this, there are options available who provide a ceiling and consistency that Tagovailoa lacks. Miami has the chance to go from good to great, and Stephen Ross is tired of watching his years of spending be unfulfilling.
The Chris Grier Dilemma
The last of the potential moves would be the biggest, and it involves general manager Chris Grier.
Grier has been with the organization dating back to 2000, even predating owner Stephen Ross. He has continued to rise up the organization, becoming Ross’ right hand man and general manager in 2016.
Despite his rise, however, the Dolphins haven’t won a single playoff game in the last twenty years. The team seemingly finds themselves in the same position year-in and year-out, and Grier remains a constant. It was his recent work, however, that may be the final straw.
When the Miami Dolphins decided to go for a full rebuild in 2019, they positioned themselves for a crucial 2020 offseason. They held five picks in the first two rounds of that draft, including three firsts. Their haul? Tua Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Robert Hunt, and Raekwon Davis.
The 2020 Blunder
The last two have been solid, with Hunt proving this season that he can be a cornerstone of Miami’s line. However, it’s the first round picks, Tua, Jackson, and Igbinoghene where the missteps are clear.
While the verdict on Tagovailoa is unclear, the same can’t be said about Justin Herbert. Taken only one pick later, Herbert has vastly outperformed his 2020 colleague. The last pillar of the Tua-Herbert debate was the idea that Herbert couldn’t win big games. That has now fallen with Herbert’s Chargers clinching a playoff spot and Miami on the outside looking in yet again.
Jackson and Igbinoghene are a similar story. Both have underperformed to their draft slot, with the latter struggling to see the field at all. While Jackson has started, his production has lacked, and this year he has been unable to stay healthy.
Thus, in arguably the most important draft in franchise history, Miami selected the following:
The wrong quarterback, a below average right tackle, a cornerback who doesn’t see the field, an above average right guard, and a starting caliber nose tackle.
This simply isn’t going to cut it for Grier, who is now seeing the successes of talents of like Justin Herbert, Justin Jefferson, and Jonathan Taylor (all of which were available with Miami’s respective first round picks).
It’s not unheard of for a team to keep a coach and hire a new general manager. That may very well be the path if Ross decides to move on from Grier.
The Bottom Line on the Miami Dolphins Offseason
No matter what Ross ends up doing, it’s clear that a change needs to be made. Miami can ill afford to squander the Super Bowl potential of the high-end talent on this roster. Tyreek Hill may very well be the best Dolphin since Dan Marino, and his presence must be capitalized on.
It likely won’t be as drastic as firing a general manager, but there are reasonable changes to make. Time after time, Stephen Ross has seen his teams come up short and December and January. He holds the power to ensure that this time is the last and that the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl hopes are realized. That starts with this offseason.
This Dolphins vs Bills matchup presents Miami with a real chance to make a statement to the rest of the league, even in defeat. If the Dolphins can keep the game close, a strong performance will put the league on notice that they are a legitimate post-season contender.
Dolphins vs Bills Game Information
Date: Sunday, September 25
Time: 13:00 ET (18:00 UK Time)
Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami FL
TV: CBS and Sky Sports NFL
Record: Dolphins (2-0) Bills (2-0)
Week 2 Recap
A comeback performance for the ages! For the first time in 711 games, a team was able to overcome a 21-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. Miami were able to turn adversity into opportunity, following a shaky first half, to pull off a stunning comeback against a very strong Ravens’ side.
Offensive productivity on third down
Noticeable elevation in Tua’s game in fourth quarter
Hill and Waddle = Weapons of Mass Destruction
Improvements in the run game
Alex Ingold’s blocking contributions
Goal line run defense
Star Performer- Tua Tagovailoa
Have a day Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa!
Following a rocky first half performance, Tua elevated his game to become only the third Dolphins’ QB to throw for 6 TDs in a game, alongside Dan Marino and Bob Griese.
Tua finished the game 36/50 for 469 yards, 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Tua’s confidence and poise was such that he could have continued to score as and when was required.
In my Week 2 preview article I wrote that “Tua needs to step up and elevate his game to a level which will allow him to take the game to this Ravens defense, in the event that the game turns into a shootout.” And a shoot-out it was.
Tua’s performance was a notable step towards silencing his biggest critics. It is often said that the Dolphins win in spite of Tua. Well that was not the case in this game. Tua stepped up and carried the team forward in light of the defense’s early struggles.
I have to admit at half time, I for one was skeptical, with the offense seemingly having no answer to the Ravens who were able to score with ease. In my game day notes at half time, Alec Ingold was the Dolphins’ star performer. Lamar Jackson had an outstanding MVP caliber performance, yet Tua’s remarkable comeback performance was able to overcome the high bar that Jackson set.
While Tua had a career game, I would be remiss if I did not honor the superb performances of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. The speedy tandem of receivers were all over the field and unplayable in the second half, despite Hill suffering from cramps and being doubtful to return to the game.
Excitement is certainly high as to what this Mike McDaniel offense can achieve this season.
Tua’s impatience- resulting in two unnecessary picks
Dolphins’ secondary playing too soft
Lack of pass rush
You know the defense is having a bad day when Xavien Howard is beaten time and time again. Howard had a PFF coverage grade of 41.7 against the Ravens allowing 5 receptions for 119 yards on 8 targets. The Dolphins secondary played too far off man, resulting in Howard being exploited against the speedy Bateman.
Buffalo Bills Week 2
The Bills are off to a red hot start in 2022, following wins against the Super Bowl Champions and last year’s #1 seed in the AFC. The Bills were relentless against the Titans putting up 34 unanswered points, with Josh Allen being allowed to rest up during the fourth quarter.
Buffalo are clicking on all fronts following another strong defensive performance in which they held the Titan’s offense to a mere 187 total yards. Tyreek Hill had more yards than the entire Titan’s offense in Week 2.
Dolphins vs Bills- Keys to Success
A battle of two undefeated teams, and staunch divisional rivals. This Dolphins vs Bills game is set up to be a real showdown for two teams with the playoffs firmly in their sights.
Buffalo are the consensus Super Bowl favorites and have dominated Miami in recent years. So what will the Dolphins need to do to stand a chance of going toe to toe with the Bills, who are #1 in scoring offense and #1 in scoring defense?
1. Improvements on Defense
It is safe to say that Buffalo has had their way with Miami in recent years. In 2021, the Dolphins were outscored 61-11, mainly attributable to Miami’s offensive woes.
In the Week 8 matchup, the Dolphins’ defense kept the game within one score until the fourth quarter when Buffalo ran away with the game. However, Tua and this offense are vastly improved and should help the defense by keeping Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense off the field.
If the Dolphins are to stand a chance in this game, their defense must improve and that starts with the pass rush. Jaelan Phillips and Jerome Baker have been incredibly quiet to start the season.
Strong performances from these two will not only limit the time that Allen has to sit in the pocket, but also take away his ability to escape the pocket and run with the ball.
2. A Confident Tua
Tua is his own biggest critic, which is hard to believe given the amount of critics that he has. He was the first to admit that his first half performance was not up to standard, often trying to force plays when things were not clicking offensively.
However, in the second half against the Ravens, Tua played with more confidence than he ever has in his career and it showed. A confident Tua who plays with poise and consistency will be key to victory on Sunday.
“I want his confidence to outweigh his perfectionism, or whatever that word would be, so that he can continue along his journey, but also be a little more present in reality.”
Coach Mike McDaniel
Tua slowed down his game was able to focus his fundamentals and the individual play in question to deliver in key moments. I urge all Dolphins fans to watch the film breakdown below.
While discipline is a key to victory in just about every game, Buffalo’s ability to punish on extended drives will be detrimental to any hopes that the Dolphins have in starting the season 3-0.
Special teams’ mistakes, forced interceptions and penalties almost resulted in Miami contributing to their own downfall in Week 2. Make no mistake, they will need to be at their very best to beat this Buffalo side.
Buffalo’s victory against the Titans did not come without a cost. With Tre’Davious White remaining on IR, the Bills secondary is badly beaten up. Both starting safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer sat out of practice on Thursday.
Both Hill and Waddle will look to take full advantage of this on Sunday. Meanwhile, look for Gabe Davis to potentially return after just missing out in Week 2.
Miami are not without their own injury concerns. Terron Armstead (toe) did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Let us hope that this is just Miami being cautious with the highly experienced veteran not needing as many practice reps to be game ready.
The Dolphins also appear to have caught a break in their secondary. Despite not practicing on Wednesday, Xavien Howard returned to practice on Thursday and looks likely to play on Sunday. His involvement will be key to keeping the Dolphins in this game.
The wait is over, the 2022 NFL regular season is upon us. After a long offseason fueled by excitement and high expectations, the Mike McDaniel era in Miami has arrived. First up, a familiar foe in the New England Patriots — for the third straight year. Dolphins ATB preview the key matchups, expectations and keys to success ahead of their NFL regular season opener against the Patriots.
Expectations for Week 1
Expectations are certainly high for the 2022 Miami Dolphins. However, having gone back to last year’s Week 1 preview article, the narrative is shockingly similar…
“After years of mediocrity Dolphins fans are somewhat bemused about what to expect, going into a season a strong favorite as a playoff contender. Gone are the days of Chan Gailey’s archaic play-calling, with the new era of George Godsey and Eric Studesville bringing excitement over the possibility of a modernized attack. Last season the Dolphins thrived when they played up-tempo. The additions the Dolphins made this offseason highlight how speed will be an integral part of the 2021 Dolphins offense.”
Everything said in the above quote can be said about the 2022 Dolphins. Whether you call it delusion or insanity, us fans fixate on what our destiny could be and with high expectations for what the season may bring. Despite years of being let down by the team, I have no choice but to fall back into the trap of thinking “this could be the year” or “things are different this year”.
As to the present, I do expect the Dolphins to have the edge this game. The Patriots’ offense appears to be a ship without a captain, with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge attempting to fill the play calling void left behind by Josh McDaniels. While I expect the Patriots’ pass rushers to cause the offensive line difficulties, I feel that Miami’s weapons will prove to be a matchup nightmare against New England’s secondary.
As to what I expect from the Dolphins, I expect a rather conservative game, trying to establish the run early and gain rhythm and consistency on the short and intermediate passes. Do not expect the long balls early, those will come with time. While this offense and Tua may feel they have a point to prove, they first have a game to win. Starting the season with a winning record is far more important than seeing a Tua-to-Tyreek 75-yard touchdown pass on the opening play.
Keys to Success
1. Establish the Run
The Dolphins have had mixed success in running the football against the Patriots in recent years, with a lot of Miami’s success in establishing the run coming later on in the season.
Over their past two regular season openers against the Patriots, the Dolphins have averaged 80 yards from 25 carries and 3.2 YPC.
In the second meeting between the two teams, the Dolphins have managed to average 222 yards from 42 carries, which equates to 5.3 YPC.
The Dolphins have struggled so far during camp, and the pre-season, to establish the run. Nevertheless, with a vastly improved backfield and renowned running game expert in Mike McDaniel calling the plays, the Dolphins will be hoping that the new zone running scheme will signal the end of Miami’s early season troubles in rushing the football.
2. Pressure Up Front
Play to your strengths. Miami has one of the strongest defensive lines in the league. However, with Byron Jones currently on the PUP list until Week 5, Miami’s “Amoeba” defense is likely to be hamstrung with out one of their lockdown corners.
It is therefore essential that Miami’s defensive line can keep sustained pressure on Mac Jones. Jones, a traditional pocket passer, achieved a 71.9 percent completion rate when he had a clean pocket in 2021. When under pressure, that completion percentage dropped drastically to 54.3 percent.
While New England’s receiving corps is nothing to write home about, if Jones is allowed time in the pocket, Miami’s depleted corners may struggle to lockdown the likes of Devante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Jakobi Meyers. It will be interesting to see which receiver will line up opposite Xavien Howard.
The DL will also be key to containing the Patriots’ backfield that totaled 2,151 rushing yards and 24 TDs in 2021, behind a strong offensive line.
Under Brian Flores, the Dolphins were one of the least penalized teams in the NFL. This early in the season, there is inevitably going to be some teething problems for all teams. A key to the Dolphins’ success will be keeping those mistakes to a minimum to prevent beating themselves.
A new look offensive line that has had limited play time together as a unit, may encounter some early difficulties as they seek to build chemistry as a group. Minimizing drive killing penalties will be key to any team wishing to start the season 1-0.
Key Matchup: Austin Jackson vs Matt Judon
With Terron Armstead solidifying the left side of the line, it is highly likely that Bill Belichick will seek to overpower Tua’s blindside and Austin Jackson. Who better to do that than Matt Judon, who ranked 52nd on the NFL Top 100.
Judon’s acceleration and penetration make this a key matchup against Jackson, who has struggled in his early career to get his feet set — especially against speed rushers.
However, there is reason for optimism. Jackson, who has made the transition to right tackle after stints at left tackle and left guard, has impressed during camp.
“When Austin Jackson is playing right tackle, I’ve been very pleased”
Dolphins’ Head Coach Mike McDaniel
Jackson’s athleticism and intelligence gives him every chance to succeed in Miami’s new outside zone blocking scheme. However, the transition will not be an easy one, with Judon coming off a career high 12.5 sacks.
A number of Miami’s starters were limited in practice on Wednesday, however all 53 players on the roster practiced. Jaylen Waddle’s injury has officially been designated as a quad injury, with Nik Needham suffering a similar injury. Nevertheless, it is hoped that both will be fit for Sunday’s game.
As for the Patriots, Meyers (knee), OT Isaiah Wynn (back), and RB/WR Ty Montgomery (knee) were all limited during Wednesday’s practice.
The Miami Dolphins are preparing for their Week 1 matchup with the Patriots, and are doing so with some significant questions surrounding the team. However, none are bigger than the identity of their run game.
First year head coach Mike McDaniel’s run scheme, which he brings over from San Francisco, is lauded for both creativity and effectiveness. Whether it’s the variety of different looks, designed cutback lanes, or use of weapons such as Deebo Samuel, his ability to draw up successful run plays is a large part of what landed him the Miami job. Although, there is much work to do.
Miami’s offensive line had significant questions after finishing second-to-last in yards per carry in 2021, and even in adding high quality talent in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams, there remains cause for concern.
However, Mike McDaniel and Chris Grier have built this team in such a way where the offensive line isn’t the only advantage needed in the run game. It is the horizontal stretching, specifically by the deadly combo of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, that will keep defenses guessing.
Two High Safeties
Perhaps the most obvious effect of having two of the fastest receivers in the league is how defenses will play their safeties. Putting one high, which was really effective against both the run game and the short pass against the Miami Dolphins in 2021 won’t work this year. There are simply too many deep options that, even if teams don’t respect Tua Tagovailoa’s ability, he should be able to hit one every so often against one high safety.
Thus, teams will have to move back into two-high shells, which, in turn, takes one man out of the box. With a team that plans to run a lot of 11 personnel, it’s very possible we see a numbers advantage for the Miami Dolphins run game.
Not to mention, this also opens up the middle of the field, which is where Tua does his best work, as well as where Tyreek and Waddle have thrived.
Just as important as stretching out the defense vertically is what you can do from sideline-to-sideline. The Miami Dolphins are in a perfect situation to stretch defenses horizontally with their run game.
Not only will teams primarily have two high safeties on the field, they will have to protect the perimeter. This not only opens up the middle of the field, but also effectively takes those safeties out of a potential run play. Defenses will need to dedicate at least three defenders to the combination of Waddle and Hill (bracket one, put the best cornerback on the other). When combined with lighter boxes in scenarios where Miami trots out slot receiver Cedrick Wilson, it’s nearly impossible to stop all of the dynamic athletes.
For instance, picture this potential play in your head. Miami comes out in 20 personnel in the shotgun, with Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert to his left and right, Hill and Waddle on the perimeter, and Wilson in the slot. Teams already have to come out in a lighter package to account for the third receiver. However, if you send Edmonds on a bubble motion, that now draws out another defender from the box.
This now leaves an even lighter box for an offensive line that already creates numbers advantages through pulls, along with one of the fastest running backs in the league in Mostert with open gaps. Miami may not come out in gun often, but the point still stands. The opportunity to generate explosive plays in the run game should be there in this offense.
The Bottom Line on the Miami Dolphins Run Game
Miami’s offensive line, no matter the external factors, must succeed this season. Tua Tagovailoa has demonstrated severe drop-off when consistently pressured, and we already know how the run game is affected.
However, their job may be a little easier knowing defenses have to account for a litany of weapons, headlined by two of the fastest players in the NFL. It will certainly be interesting to see how Mike McDaniel employs his players and scheme in such a way that can stretch out defenses in Week 1 and beyond.