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.

NFL Trade Deadline: Dolphins on the Move?

Dolphins Trade Deadline
Credit: Phin Phanatic

As Tuesday’s trade deadline rapidly approaches, the Miami Dolphins may be looking to move players. Two players whose names have come up as tradable pieces are Albert Wilson and Devante Parker. Miami, whose season is likely over, might be looking to move high salaries or under performers and gain draft capital for the coming years.

Albert Wilson

Albert Wilson might have been the Dolphins best player during camp. Wilson and 2nd-year QB Tua Tagovailoa were showing significant chemistry and were connecting all over the field. 

Wilson was expected to be a big contributor in the offense and have a lot of playing time. Unfortunately, he hasn’t seen the field much and has struggled to be productive when he step on the field.

This season, Wilson has just 7 catches for 45 yards. He is averaging 3.75 yards per target. In week 3, Wilson played 55% of the Dolphins offensive snaps. He hasn’t been close to that number again and played just 4% of snaps last week. Mack Hollins and Preston Williams (when healthy) are seeing more snaps than the Training Camp MVP. The Dolphins clearly don’t have a plan to use Wilson this year and should look to trade him for a position of need (OL, LB) or future draft picks.

Wilson is set to hit free agency after this season, so the Dolphins moving him before the trade deadline and collecting assets instead of letting him walk for free may be the best option. Trading Wilson will also save the Dolphins $3.8 million against the cap and they’ll take on just $1.3 million in dead money.

Devante Parker

Parker’s career has been plagued by injury since he was drafted by Miami in 2015. In 2019, Parker was healthy for all 16 games and put up 1,202 yards and 9 touchdowns. It seemed like a breakout year and his career was reaching the tipping point. In 2020 though, he missed 2 games due to a hamstring injury, which has been an issue for the majority of his career. He still put up respectable numbers with 793 yards and 4 touchdowns. 

Through the first 4 games of this season, Parker was a key part of the offense with 17 catches for 242 yards and 1 touchdown. Unfortunately, he has missed the last 3 games and is in danger of missing his fourth straight this Sunday in Buffalo.

Parker’s inability to stay healthy may be the driving force to trade him. According to reports, the Dolphins have discussed trading Parker. 

There have also been talks about Parker not being fully committed to football. Nagging injuries can take a toll on a player, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Parker is growing increasingly frustrated.

A trade would give Parker a fresh start to his career which is something he probably needs.

For Miami, a Parker trade would clear cap space for the 2022 season. The Dolphins are projected to have the most cap space in 2022. However, only 19 players from the current roster are under contract for next season. The cap availability is going to diminish rapidly and they need money to re-sign big money players like Mike Gesicki and Emmanuel Ogbah.

Miami may try to trade for an offensive line piece, collect assets for next year, or both at once. Regardless, the Dolphins wide receiver room needs to be monitored with just 4 days until the trade deadline. 

Follow Rishi Desai on Twitter

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DeVante Parker is hurt again, but Miami is Prepared

The Miami Dolphins’ receiver room has had as much shakeup over the last 3 days as any unit in the NFL. Following the trading of Jakeem Grant 3 days ago and the placing of Will Fuller on Injured Reserve on Wednesday, DeVante Parker has come down with a hamstring injury that leaves him questionable for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.

Coming off of his best game of the season, Parker snagged 4 balls for 77 yards and a TD. Among these, multiple tough contested catches on deep throws, an element Miami hadn’t seen thus far.

Jacoby Brissett throws a TD to DeVante Parker.

This Dolphins receiving unit has been reminiscent of last year, which saw a myriad of injuries. With Parker and Preston Williams going down, Miami relied on unproven receivers such as Mack Hollins, Antonio Callaway and Lynn Bowden Jr. for production in 2020.

But, even through injures, Miami’s group this year is much deeper. After seeing an inability to separate in 2020, the Dolphins made a commitment to improving the group, adding the aforementioned Fuller as well as young QB Tua Tagovailoa’s collegiate teammate in Jaylen Waddle.

The Dolphins also had some notable returns in Preston Williams and Albert Wilson, the latter of which opted out of 2020 due to COVID concerns.

The bottom line is that Miami’s group is still deep, and more than capable of being good enough for Tagovailoa or Brissett to win games.

While they will be looking for contributions from their veterans, young speedster Jaylen Waddle is in a prime position for a bigger role.

Jaylen Waddle

Waddle has seen his fair share of targets, leading rookie wideouts in catches with 25. But even with the volume of touches, the scheming has been questionable at best, as many of his opportunities have come in situations where it has been different to get yards after the catch, something he flourished with at Alabama.

Jaylen Waddle scores an explosive TD.

But with the slot position open, Waddle is now undoubtedly the most explosive healthy wide receiver on the roster, and his usage rate will be increasing with him now being the number 1.

He should also see more downfield targets, as he has been open on several deep routes, but Jacoby Brissett has missed him. With Miami reviewing the film and ways to beat a high powered Buccaneers team, I expect more shots to be taken.

Jaylen Waddle was wide open…but Jacoby Brissett misses it.

The ever interesting aspect of Waddle’s game that we haven’t seen enough of is his ability to make quick cuts. Often times in college, a jet sweep, screen or slant route could turn into a 50+ yard score. It’s no question that Waddle has top end agility, but it’s also clear Miami is figuring out how to use him.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a TD to Jaylen Waddle.

While he only saw 3 catches against the Colts, his looks and routes were promising. He was often running farther down the field, and was able to average 11 yards per catch. That’s up from less than 5 in the previous game against the Raiders.

If Miami’s Offensive Co-Coordinators are able to figure out the learning curve of Waddle’s explosive playstyle, his production could grow exponentially, especially with the injuries to Parker and Fuller.

Williams and Hollins

As for other potential contributors, 2 receivers have a connection with Tua Tagovailoa, who should come back next week against the Jaguars.

Mack Hollins and Preston Williams were both some of Tagovailoa’s main targets in 2020, both catching a TD vs the Cardinals (widely looked at as Tua’s best game).

Mack Hollins scores a TD vs. the Cardinals.

After losing Williams to a foot injury, Tagovailoa looked significantly less comfortable, and he could look for his security blanket in his first weeks back from a rib injury.

Tagovailoa also showed some chemistry with Albert Wilson in camp, as the 2 connected on several deep passes in the offseason. Although Wilson has struggled of late, a push into the lineup could bring some of the explosiveness he showed in 2018 before a season ending hip injury.

Tua throws a BOMB to Albert Wilson

The Tight Ends

We could also expect a bigger role from the tight end group, namely Mike Gesicki.

Gesicki, along with Waddle, has seen a lack of manufactured space on targets, but with these injuries, he could see more target share.

Mike Gesicki catches a TD.

Synopsis

It’s going to take a group contribution to make up for the element DeVante Parker brings to this offense. His ability in 1-on-1 situations is elite, showing an ability to snag jump ball deep passes.

But after seeing this situation play out last year, Miami is much better prepared. Explosive slot players in Waddle and Wilson hope to bring speed and agility, while Hollins and Williams bring an element of chemistry to a returning young QB. It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins distribute snaps and who gets a lion’s share of the targets on Sunday and beyond.

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An Underrated Piece of the Dolphins’ Offense

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins dedicated this offseason to revamping their offense, after going 10-6 behind the 4th ranked scoring defense.

Adding playmakers in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle, they hoped to improve a receiving core that had already Red-Zone threats DeVante Parker and Preston Williams.

But with the overwhelming amount of weapons, there is one player that isn’t being mentioned enough:

Wide Receiver Mack Hollins.

Early Career

After being drafted in 2017 by the Eagles, Hollins was looked at as a mix of size and athleticism. But even with his raw talent, he received very little playing time, only logging 22 targets while being behind Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith, and Alshon Jeffery on the depth chart.

Mack Hollins scores a TD in his rookie year.

The following year, Hollins looked to take the next step, honing in on his technique and skills at the next level. But as he looked for an increased role, tragedy struck, as he suffered a groin injury that knocked him out for the whole 2018 season.

This would start the downward trajectory for his time with the Eagles. He only saw 22 targets in 2019 with them and was waived on December 3rd, 2019.

Picked Up Off Waivers

Following being cut, Miami claimed Mack Hollins off of waivers. Looking for someone to fill a role on special teams and offense (due to several injuries), they figured the 26 year old was their guy.

While Hollins only had 1 target in 4 games, the little things were where he shined. Crucial to the blocking and kicking game, he excelled in acting as another big body in run sets while being a highly effective gunner.

With head coach Brian Flores’ roots in special teams, his affinity for high effort players spread to Hollins, who showed the skill and willingness to move around that this team desperately needed.

2020

Hollins’ second season with Miami is where his impact was truly recognized. He remained the an ace on special teams, making several key plays. But his role as a receiver and a blocker continued to expand.

With injuries to key contributors such as Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, and Preston Williams, Hollins elevated up the depth chart and played a few games as the number one receiver. In those games, he put up solid numbers, including a game against the Chiefs where he hauled in 5 catches for 66 yards.

He also had his fair share of big plays. Notably, the infamous Hail Mary pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to keep the Dolphins playoff hopes alive.

Ryan Fitzpatrick throws a Hail Mary to Mack Hollins.

On top of the receiving production, he was moved around a lot on offense. One of his roles consisted of him moving in line to run block – much like a TE. He consistently played any role asked of him and became a “glue guy” both on and off of the field.

Hollins’ improvement and continued success on special teams as well as offense led to him receiving a 1 year contract extension on last March.

Training Camp and Preseason

Coming into this season, Hollins’ role on the team was in question. Having newcomers in Waddle and Fuller with Wilson returning after opting out, Hollins looked to be on the bubble. An improvement in the passing game looked necessary for his future.

But throughout camp, that’s exactly what happened. With more injuries to Miami’s starting receivers, Hollins stepped in and delivered, showing a more of the chemistry that flashed with Tua Tagovailoa last year. Tua and Mack connected on plenty of big plays throughout camp, and kept their connection strong in the preseason.

Tua finds Mack Hollins in Training Camp.

Through 2 preseason games, Hollins had 6 receptions for 69 yards, including several crucial first downs to keep drives alive. Without Parker or Fuller, Mack Hollins showed the ability to compliment Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki as an X reciever.

But his improvement wasn’t just at receiver, Hollins work on and off the field led to him being the only captain on the field for coin tosses against the Falcons and Bengals.

The Future

Flores and Tagovailoa clearly are both impressed with Hollins, leading to his promotion and continued success on the field. His role should grow this season. In his limited opportunity, he has continued to show high effort and character, with notable improvement as a receiver. Coming from someone who struggled to get playing time, Hollins will be hard to keep off the field in 2021.

Hollins’ story has been one of adversity, but his continued improvement and dedication will be crucial with his future in Miami. It will be exciting to watch how he performs this season and beyond as his role continues to grow.

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Genius Move by the Dolphins to place Lynn Bowden Jr. on the IR

Credit: @NFLTrade_Rumors twitter

There aren’t your father’s Miami Dolphins. The old Dolphins would handle the Lynn Bowden Jr. injury like Neanderthals, trying to start a fire by waiting for lightning. They would sit him out and wait for him to return just so he can take multiple weeks to potentially feel like he’s in mid-season form. Meanwhile three quarters of the season would be over and Bowden Jr. coming back wouldn’t mean anything.

But like I opened up with, these aren’t your grandfather’s Miami Dolphins. The Miami Dolphins have moved on from barely bi-pedal creatures to savvy Jordan Belfort type humans. Minus the skiing with dancers because as we know they got rid of those type of guys.

This regime that runs the Miami Dolphins are taking an unfortunate situation and turning it into a move that could very possibly pay off major dividends next season.

Hopefully, Bowden Jr. doesn’t take an injury settlement and will be in training camp with the Dolphins to start the 2022 season. He’s a player who is young and still very much learning a new position. He showed upside last year, and will have a great opportunity to produce for Miami for years to come.

The genius here is that Bowden Jr. has a hamstring injury, something that seems like a prerequisite to be a Miami Dolphin’s wide-receiver. A typical hamstring injury typically takes about 4-8 weeks pending severity and lingers around the whole season.

With putting Bowden Jr. on the season ending IR, he now gets to heal and to focus on next year. He doesn’t have to come back and get reacclimated to the team and slowly get worked in. Yes, it would have been fun to see him work back to playing this year. But with the amount of receiver depth the Dolphins currently have, he’s a guy that can sit out the year healing and learning and the offense won’t miss a beat.

We all know that the Dolphins, currently, house a loaded wide-receiver room. Even with the release of Robert Foster and Isaiah Ford, who lets face it will probably be on the team later on this year when the Dolphins have predictable injuries to other receivers and need a guy who knows what he’s doing to come in and play, the Dolphins have very good wide outs.

Parker, Fuller, Waddle, Williams, Wilson, Hollins, and either Grant, Merrit, or Perry will be their 7th receiver making the club.

But next year, the wide receiver room, I expect, will look much different. I would think Parker will be gone. Fuller signed a one year deal so it’s hard to say if Miami would sign him to a long term deal. Preston Williams and Albert Wilson are two other guys that aren’t locks to be around for multiple years to come.

So, this means that having Bowden Jr., who has been immersed in the new offensive scheme, will be able to step in a pick up where he left off. He might even be thought of as a guy who needs to be one of the main receivers on the squad.

The important aspect here is that Grier and Flores are always looking ahead. Of course this season is paramount but they’re smart enough to know that next year is also important to consider just a little bit right now. That’s why I love this move. There are adults running the show who will do things that seem weird but are actually in fact smart. Enjoy your Wednesday.

Follow Matthew Serniak on Twitter

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