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.

Miami Dolphins: Three Keys to Victory vs. New England Patriots

Miami Dolphins
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The NFL season is finally here! Last night, we had a fantastic game as the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Bucs survived a scare against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas left several points on the table against Tom Brady, and that’s not a winning formula. Looking ahead to Sunday, what will the winning formula for the Miami Dolphins be when they take on the New England Patriots? Here are the three keys to victory!

Three Keys to a Miami Dolphins Victory

Make Mac Jones look like a rookie

During the lead-up to the NFL Draft, one of the biggest talking points was former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. Just how high would the former Crimson Tide star be taken? Could he be the third quarterback off the board? Was he even worthy of a first-round pick? Opinions varied wildly on the young quarterback, but ultimately the only one that matters is Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Belichick made Jones a first-round pick in April. Now he has made Jones the starter of the New England Patriots. Jones has some big shoes to fill, and he’s going to get a major test right out of the gates in the Miami Dolphins defense. Miami had one of the better defenses in the league last year, and they’ve arguably gotten better since then.

Head coach Brian Flores is undoubtedly excited about the idea of unleashing this defense on a rookie quarterback. The Dolphins have added pass-rushing prowess with first-round pick Jaelan Phillips. They also added a chess piece in the defensive backfield with safety Jevon Holland. Coupled with the further development of defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and one of the best corner duos in the league, it’s a recipe for disaster for a rookie quarterback.

Miami will need every bit of that if they’re going to walk away with a win and start their season 1-0. Flores is undoubtedly going to make life a nightmare for Jones, with multiple looks and disguises. Will Jones be able to diagnose what he’s seeing? Will Howard be able to force turnovers at the rate he did last season? New England should be in for a long day if Miami can create pressure up front and confuse Jones behind it.

Improved offensive line play

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Miami Dolphins have questions along the offensive line. It feels like a broken record to continue harping on the line, but the fact remains there are still significant questions. Watching the offensive line play in the pre-season did not assuage any fears Dolphins fans had about the performance of this line.

To make matters worse, the Dolphins come into the season opener with both injury and COVID issues along the line. Miami is going to be without starting left tackle Austin Jackson. One of his presumptive replacements — rookie Liam Eichenberg — has been dealing with a lingering “lower-body” issue. Fellow newcomer to the Dolphins, Greg Little, is also dealing with injury issues. It’s going to be a significant point of concern for Miami heading into Sunday’s game. The million-dollar question is going to be, “How well can the offensive line hold up?”

All through training camp, we’ve heard about all the progress that Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has made in his second season — and first full training camp. All of that progress won’t mean much if he can’t put it on display because of a porous offensive line in front of him.

Jesse Davis will likely be thrust into the starting lineup regardless of whether or not Eichenberg is fully healthy. Can his veteran leadership bring the offensive line together? Will they be able to protect Tagovailoa and open up holes for running backs, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed? They’re going to have to if Miami has any hope of starting the season undefeated.

Tua needs to prove his progress

The biggest story line for the Miami Dolphins this off-season has been quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It has arguably been one of the biggest story lines in the entire league. There’s been talk ad nauseum about what the young quarterback needed to show in year two with the Dolphins.

Pundits and analysts alike have talked until they’re blue in the face about whether or not coach Flores actually believes in Tua. None of that to mention the persistent Deshaun Watson rumors.

All of that — well, maybe not *all* — gets put to rest on Sunday. We saw a bit of his progress in the pre-season, and it was enough to give fans hope that all the talk they’ve heard from camp wasn’t just that. But it’s a much different animal doing those things in the regular season.

If the Dolphins have any hope of walking away from the season opener with a victory, it’s all on Tagovailoa’s shoulders. He needs to show fans — and the Patriots — how much he’s actually progressed in the off-season. He’s finally had an entire off-season to work with the team. He’s been given weapons on the outside with Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller — who will miss this week’s game due to suspension. It’s time for Tagovailoa to make the leap and become a franchise quarterback.

Miami is going to need some explosive plays if they’re to beat the Patriots. Whether that comes from Waddle, tight end Mike Gesicki, or someone else, remains to be seen. But no matter who it comes from, it’s going to start with the arm of Tua. It’s ‘put up or shut up’ time. One way or another, there’s going to be a firestorm of talk after Sunday’s game. If Tua is on his game, and the defense is on theirs, it should be a Victory Monday for Dolphins fans.

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Mutualism: Offensive line and the Run game

The NFL is an ecosystem, in an ecosystem there are predators and bottom feeders.

In short, there are winners and losers every single year in the NFL and the ecosystem changes. For better or worse.

In Terms for the Miami Dolphins, you couldn’t have seen such a turnaround from 2019 to 2021. A team crafted out of street free agents, undrafted players and ageing veterans had the makings for predators to lick their chops.

It was trial by fire to see who could overcome and adapt harsh situation, and at times while trying to cool the flames, they would hinder themselves and the rest of the team.

The Defense struggles at times but found their footing, they went from prey to predator by learning and adapting to the environment.

2019

On the other hand, the offensive line is trying to find a footing to best handle it’s surroundings. At times in 2019 and 2020 there were inconsistencies. Some days the line was meshing well other days, well, they were fresh meat.

In this league you cannot have abysmal trench play, it hampers the running game and QB play. We all have seen how poorly the line played in 2019, the statistics tells a holistic story.

A Historic Rate

There are other metrics to gauge Offensive line play such as PFF’s pass/run block win rate. ESPN’s rate also shows it too.

Michael Dieter, who was a in 2019, finished as the team’s worst offensive linemen. Jesse Davis, who started 15 games, was the only other offensive linemen to make the list.

The team had the worst pass blocking scheme in the NFL. Trench play was absolutely abysmal and there were many instances where Ryan Fitzpatrick could not do anything.

Trickled down Economics

Running backs Kenyan Drake, Marl Walton, Myles Gaskin and Kalen Ballage could not even eclipse anywhere near 100 yards a game.

Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher for the team.

To say the least, the offensive line was a nagging parasite, harmful to the team overall.

Miami’s offense could not score to compete with its opponents, Defense on the field for more than 60+ snaps every week. As a team, the Dolphins could not function properly.

Sort of like eating gas station sushi to fill your hunger on a road trip, it does not end well.

2020

The good news about the offensive line was that it did not get worse. As a result of newly introduced reinforcements into the NFL landscape there were some improvements.

Helpful Vets

Jesse Davis has been the anchor of the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins since he was drafted in the 2017 NFL draft. As a rookie, he has played in 47 of the team’s 48 games. He’s been improving every year.

Ereck Flowers was brougth in as a Free Agent to plug the hole at Left Guard. He was an important piece to help Austin Jackson understand the NFL before going down with a season ending injury.

The Miami Dolphins have been looking for a solid center since Mike Pouncey left in 2018. They got one in Karras, who did a decent job protecting Fitzpatrick and Tua as the quarterbacks.

The Newbies

Some people may think that Jackson was drafted too high despite having played less games than other starters in college. He showed that he can play left tackle in the NFL, but is still very raw.

Kindley was given no reconsideration as a right guard in 2020. His ability to protect Tua’s blind side helped the team establish a running game that finally eclipsed over 100 yards in the final 6 games. Kindley shifted to left guard when Ereck Flowers went down.

Robert Hunt played on the right side as a right tackle alongside Solomon Kindley, protecting Tua’s blindside. Although Hunt was decent, his highest celling as a lineman looks to be a fixture at Right Guard.

Impact

Overall, the play was significantly better compared to 2019; however, it can always improve. Per PFF, the Dolphins offensive line was ranked 28th. A slight improvement over the worst rank in 2019.

Few teams invested more in improving the offensive line than the Dolphins did entering the 2020 season. They spent draft picks on Austin Jackson in the first round, Robert Hunt in the second round and Solomon Kindley in the fourth round — all who played more than 700 snaps in 2019.

An offensive line with three rookies, would struggle early on, but did improve slightly. Robert Hunt looked to be the best out of the bunch as his 76.4 PFF grade from Week 12 through the end of the regular season was 5th out of 37 right tackles.

2021

As Pre-season winds down we see glimpses of what this Dolphins offensive line could be, thus as it factors into offensive philosophy.

Scheme

Contrary to Ben Fennels point (I love ya ben) but the Offense looks to be a pass first offense. In theory, it will open up the run game.

In fundamentals of an RPO-based offense the offensive line has to consist of guards and tackles that can run block well. The top three run blockers on this offensive line consists of Soloman Kindley, Robert Hunt and rookie OL Liam Eichenberg.

Eichenberg has tried out playing Left Guard at camp but looks to fight Jesse Davis for the starting RT spot. He took first team reps at Right Tackle for the first time against Atlanta and looked consistent opening up holes in the run game.

“Eichenberg is an extremely solid, if unspectacular, tackle prospect. He saw his performance take a massive leap from his first to his second season as a starter. His pass-blocking grade went from 63.5 in 2018 to 85.6 last year and his run blocking grade from 60.8 to 78.8.”

PFF’s Mike Renner on Liam Eichenberg

Recipe for Success

I expect some growing pains on the offensive line to happen against the 3rd pre-season game against the Bengals and early on in the regular season. Furthermore, there has been a noticeable trend from since last year particularly on the right side of the line.

Last season on the right side proved it with the Combo of Hunt/Kindley as the running game was efficient running the ball to the right. Pass protection and the running game worked on Tua’s Blindside.

Thanks to some help from Kyle Crabbs and Sharp Football analysis, rushing YPC produced on the right side of the line.

It’s about fundamentals and execution this pre-season. If the entire line can stay disciplined, stay confident and build upon fundamentals, this OL will be even better.

Not only will it not harm the team but become another strength to push the Dolphins to the top of the NFL ecosystem.

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Miami Dolphins Run Game Woes Continue in First Preseason Action

It’s been a long time coming, but the wait is finally over: NFL football is back!

The Miami Dolphins had their first preseason game on Saturday against the Chicago Bears. Miami fell to the Bears 20-13 in their first action since the 2020 season. The end result is largely irrelevant; what matters is the impressions that were made in this first glimpse of the 2021 squad. That impression was a mixed bag.

One of the biggest areas of concern: The run game.

Before we get into any of this, it’s important to remember: This was just the first preseason game. It’s easy to overreact to everything, both good and bad. Most of the starters only played one quarter, so there isn’t much to go on.

The next game against Atlanta will tell us much more about what we can expect going forward. That being said, it’s hard to ignore just how inefficient and, quite frankly, ugly the Miami Dolphins run game was.

Now, the question becomes: Why was the running game so bad against Chicago, and what can be done to improve it before the season starts?

Starting Duty Shuffle

One of the more interesting things to come out of the Dolphins first preseason game was the division of duty when it came to the running game. The Dolphins opened the game with Malcolm Brown as the starter, despite being second on the depth chart.

Both Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin saw time as the game went on, but it was Brown who saw top billing against the Bears.

After the game was over, I had some strong words about Brown starting on Twitter. I reiterated those feelings on this week’s Around the Block – Miami podcast with Hussam and Rishi.

I’ll echo those sentiments again here: Malcolm Brown should not be the starter for the Dolphins. The Miami Dolphins run game was markedly better with Ahmed and Gaskin at the helm.

I do believe that Brown can be an effective situational back. He should be utilized in the team’s short-yardage game. Brown can also be an effective goal-line running back, though we didn’t see that Saturday against the Bears, either. That said, Brown showed no burst on Saturday, and with a porous offensive line, you need a running back with some explosion and wiggle to help mask those shortcomings.

Offensive Line Woes Continue

To perhaps no one’s surprise, the Miami Dolphins offensive line struggled yet again against the Bears in the preseason debut. The offensive line has been bad in Miami for years, and if Saturday was any indication, those woes will follow Miami into 2021. The left side of the line was particularly troublesome against the Bears. Matt Skura, Robert Hunt, and Jesse Davis performed well in their 2021 debut. The same cannot be said for Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley.

Jackson was beaten badly on a few pass rush reps, getting thrown into quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on one rep in particular. However, it was his performance in his run blocking duties where the holes in his game really showed through. As a rookie, one of the big knocks on Jackson was that he needed to get functionally stronger. That issue seems as though it’s going to persist into the 2021 season. 

His partner on the inside, Solomon Kindley, didn’t perform any better in the run game. These two struggling with run blocking contributed as much to the Miami Dolphins run game woes as Brown did, if not more. According to PFF grades provided by Ryan Smith, Kindley received a 45.7 run-blocking grade, with Jackson getting an abysmal 31.8 grade. PFF grades aren’t the end-all, be all, but it doesn’t paint a pretty picture going forward.

One thing that may give Dolphins fans hope is that 2021 second-round pick Liam Eichenberg did not play on Saturday due to injury. Training camp has been up-and-down for Eichenberg, but inserting him into the lineup should improve the Miami Dolphins run game. Whether Eichenberg winds up at tackle or guard remains to be seen, as he’s seen work at both positions.

A Veteran to the Rescue?

The Miami Dolphins run game woes should come as no surprise to Dolphins fans. One of the biggest complaints fans had about the 2021 NFL Draft was that the team opted against taking a running back until Gerrid Doaks in the seventh round. Fans were clamoring for Najee Harris, Javonte Williams, and just about every other top-flight running back. The team had other ideas for their running back room, however.

Miami was content to enter the season with Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin as the presumed starters at the position. The team brought in Malcolm Brown in free agency to give the group some diversity with a thumper to Ahmed and Gaskin’s speed and athleticism.

However, after watching the first preseason game, the fans are once again bemoaning the state of the room, leading some to ask the question: Should Miami bring in a veteran running back for competition?

When discussing veteran options at the position, the conversation begins and ends with two names: Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley. Both backs have been upper-echelon backs during their careers, but both are at the tail-end of theirs. Gurley has had myriad knee issues, and Peterson would be entering his 15th season at the age of 36. To complicate matters, both would likely have to agree to a veteran-minimum contract to make it work.

For better or worse, the Miami Dolphins run game is going to hinge on the guys in-house. The offensive line is going to have to get much better, and in a hurry. Ahmed and Gaskin are going to have to take control of the room and command the lion’s share of the touches. If those things don’t happen, Dolphins fans are once again going to be clamoring for a running back early come the 2022 NFL Draft.

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11 Players the Miami Dolphins would protect in NHL-Style Expansion Draft

Miami Dolphins Expansion Draft
(Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

The National Hockey League welcomed a new team to their league last week, the Seattle Kraken. With their entrance to the league came an expansion draft, and it generated a lot of buzz in the NFL media world. While the NFL isn’t expanding and has its own rules for an expansion draft, it did pose an interesting question: Which 11 players would the Miami Dolphins protect in an NHL-style expansion draft?

If you’re unfamiliar with the format of an NHL-style expansion, I can’t blame you!

The NHL has expanded twice since 2010, the Kraken’s entrance has introduced many to the strange, albeit fun, idea of “protecting” players from being poached by the new team.

Whenever an expansion draft happens, each team needs to “protect” 11 players from the draft. Players entering their first or second season in the league were exempt from the process. There’s more nuance, but that’s the basic premise.

That stipulation certainly plays in the Dolphins’ favor, as Miami is an extremely young team. That said, it would leave Miami with a lot of interesting questions with regard to who they protect and who they’d risk losing. To make it a bit easier, we’re going to split it up into five offensive players, five defensive players, and one special teamer. Let’s take a look!

Miami Dolphins Protected Players – Offense

  1. Mike Gesicki
  2. Michael Dieter
  3. Jesse Davis
  4. Devante Parker
  5. Myles Gaskin

Miami Dolphins Protected Players – Defense

  1. Benardrick McKinney
  2. Byron Jones
  3. Jerome Baker
  4. Xavien Howard
  5. Andrew Van Ginkel

Miami Dolphins Protected Players – Special Teams

  1. Jason Sanders

Why these 11 players?

Let’s start with the obvious: Special teams. Of all the players we’ve chosen to protect in this hypothetical NHL-style expansion draft, Jason Sanders seems like the easiest choice. He’s easily one of the best kickers in the NFL. If you have to protect a special teamer, you’re going to protect your kicker unless you have a Matthew Slater-type player, which Miami doesn’t.

The offense is where things get really tricky. It feels weird for us to be protecting both Michael Dieter and Jesse Davis.

Through projections, both Dieter and Davis might not start the season in 2021. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if one of them isn’t with the club when the regular season starts. That said, with how young the offense is and how many players are exempt, there aren’t many options. Both Dieter and Davis offer position flexibility, which Coach Flores values heavily.

In terms of skill position players, Miami’s cornerstone of the franchise Tua Tagovailoa and current 2021 first round draft pick Jaylen Waddle are already protected considering they are second and first year players.

That leaves us with Mike Gesicki, Devante Parker, and Myles Gaskin as our only real options. Preston Williams has the injury bug lately, making the chance of him being stolenby another team may be slim to none. No one else in the WR corps plays a big enough role in the offense to warrant consideration.

Gesicki’s contract expires at the end of this upcoming season; however, he is not the type of player who warrants protection, but options are limited and I expect Miami will extend him before his contract expires.

Over on the defensive side of things, the Dolphins have a bit more options with regards to who to protect. The defense isn’t quite as young as the offense, and there are some important players over here who could certainly get poached. We start with the newly acquired Benardrick McKinney. Miami gave up assets to get him, and he’s going to play an important role in Coach Flores’ defense. He’s an elite run defender, and if he’s back to his old self, can be a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker for the Dolphins.

McKinney isn’t the only linebacker the Dolphins are protecting in this hypothetical scenario. Fellow backers Jerome Baker and Andrew Van Ginkel also make the cut. Both Baker and Van Ginkel are athletic pieces that the Dolphins can’t afford to lose with the current composition of the defense. Baker has yet to live up to his full potential, but the athleticism is unquestioned. Van Ginkel is just scratching the surface of the pass-rushing threat he can be from the linebacker group.

In the secondary, we’re going to be protecting both Byron Jones and Xavien Howard. Both Jones and Howard are two of the top guys at their position, and both would make cornerstone pieces for a hypothetical new team. Howard’s contract dispute may hamper a team from poaching him, but it’s a risk the Dolphins wouldn’t take. Protecting both Jones and Howard means risking guys like Christian Wilkins, but that’s a chance I think they’d be willing to take.

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