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Scouting Report: Dolphins Offense Returns Its QB, Firepower

As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.

Today, scouting the Miami Dolphins’ offense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT

DOLPHINS’ RUN GAME

New head coach Mike McDaniel brings his San Francisco flair to the Dolphins’ run game. Speedy running backs, perimeter run game, tons of window dressing and constraint plays, using one to set up another to keep a defense on its toes.

McDaniel hasn’t just brought over the scheme either. He’s brought over personnel. RB Raheem Mostert followed him out east and is one of the league’s fastest running backs. Mostert has taken charge of the lead role this season. After backing up Chase Edmunds to start the season, 42% of the reps in Week One, he’s been over 60%+ the last three weeks and has gotten closer to 70%. On the season, he has 71 carries for a healthy 4.4 YPC, though he’s rushed for just one touchdown this season. Edmunds is the inverse, seeing his role reduced as the weeks have gone on.

There’s no other constant in the run game but it should be noted TE Durham Smythe had a QB sneak TD against the New York Jets. Shotgun snap where Smythe ran up behind center and took the snap over the goal line. A fun wrinkle similar to what the Kansas City Chiefs have done.

On the year, the team is averaging just 3.9 YPC, 25th in the league, but Mostert’s numbers are much better than that. They do only have 12 runs of 10+ yards, tied 26th this season, a lower amount than I thought. Like the 49ers, Miami uses a FB in #30 Alec Ingold who sees the field a fair amount. 20+ offensive snaps in five of their six games. He has the fourth-most offensive snaps by a FB in the league.

Schematically, there’s a mix of inside zone and toss plays. They run a Zorro toss, a toss with a player running in motion to the perimeter on the snap. They’ll do that or sometimes shift the FB out a little bit before the snap to cheat him getting on the edge.

But they play off it well. They have a good scheme of base install plays and then concepts to work off it. Watch the FB go in motion here, signaling the toss, but the run is away to the boundary (and it’s not a toss, I’m aware). Good constraint play. Watch #54 freeze the whole way. That’s the impact this has.

Some other offensive notes. Looking at seasonal stats are tough to do due to Tua Tagovailoa’s injury. Predictably, a far worse offense without him. On the season, they’re averaging just 21.8 PPG (17th). But with Tua for the first three games, they averaged 27.7 points. Without him for the last three, they’ve averaged 16: 15, 17, and 16 points. Night and day difference.

On the year, they’re 21st in red zone offense at 38.2% but they’re elite in the red zone, fourth at 70.6%. They have turned the ball over a fair amount, nine times, same as the Steelers, but again, backup and third-string QB play is impacting that.

DOLPHINS’ PASS GAME

Tagovailoa returns after missing the last 2 1/2 games with the scary concussion in the Cincinnati Bengals’ game. When on the field, he’s been excellent, completing nearly 70% of his passes with eight touchdowns with just three interceptions with an exceedingly high YPA at 9.0. In fact, the team YPA, even knowing Tagovailoa missed time, is 8.2, tied for the highest in football. Again, the other QB stats bring the total numbers down. The others threw more INTs (4) than TDs (3) and were sacked nine total times with a 7.3 YPA. Tua’s been taken down just six times on the year. Bottom line, and it’s obvious, it’s a much better and more potent offense with Tagovailoa in the lineup.

With plenty speed at receiver, the Dolphins are tied 7th with 21 passes of 20+ yards. And they stand alone at the top of the league with seven completions of 7+ yards. Jaylen Waddle leads the league with four while Tyreek Hill is tied for second with three – so both men make up those 40+ yard completions.

Hill is one of the league’s most impactful receivers. Tied second with 65 targets, and solely in second place with 50 receptions only trailing Cooper Kupp. He’s also averaging 14.0 YPC, the rare receiver with volume and efficiency. Waddle has just 30 receptions but averaging a “wow” 17.8 yards per catch, fifth in the league of qualified players.

TE Mike Gesicki’s role has shrunk under a new regime. He’s averaging just 2.5 catches per game which totals out to 42.5 on the year. In 2021, he had 73 receptions. However, he already has more TDs this year (three) than all of last year (two). So still a factor in the red zone. Those three make up the bulk of the passing game. Backs don’t see the ball much. Mostert only has eight catches on the year. It was a same story for him in San Fran. Also River Cracraft has two touchdown on two catches. Someone explain that one to me.

Conceptually, they used a lot of empty sets. Even with their backup quarterbacks. They want to spread the field horizontally and isolate matchups with their speed be it vertically or horizontally for YAC opportunities. They like to use bunch sets with wider splits and create free and switched releases off of that to make life tough on defenses. Some examples of the bunch/spacing concepts.

Overall, they space the field well with easy half-field reads for their quarterbacks. It’ll make it a tough offense to consistently defend.

There’s plenty of playaction passes too. Boots to the flat, trap passes downfield, there’s a variety to control and manipulate the eyes of defenders and consistently have them chasing the ball.

Josh’s Individual Report

It’s Dolphins week, Steelers fans!

Coming off of an impressive win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, the Pittsburgh Steelers hit the road to take on another Florida franchise, this time on Sunday Night Football at Hard Rock Stadium against the Miami Dolphins.

In a game in which the Dolphins are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1972 undefeated Super Bowl champions, Miami will also see the return of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa from his scary head injury he suffered on Thursday Night Football in Week 4 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Tagovailoa has cleared all protocols and will provide the Dolphins with a massive boost offensively after two weeks of Teddy Bridgewater and rookie seventh-round quarterback Skylar Thompson.

Though he doesn’t have the strongest arm and still has some doubts that remain about his future outlook, Tagovailoa was playing rather well prior to the injury as the Dolphins were one of the most explosive offenses in football.

He’s a sound decision maker, one that runs the RPO very well. He has easy accuracy and isn’t afraid to test tight windows either.

 

He has great touch on his throws and can really place the football where he wants to up to a certain point. Plus, he knows how to protect his receivers in traffic, like he did on this throw to tight end Mike Gesicki.

Tagovailoa isn’t going to wow anyone with his arm strength or the distance in which he can throw the football down the field. What he can do though is operate at a high level in first-year head coach Mike McDaniel’s West Coast offense, hitting receivers in stride to take advantage of yards after catch, and can extend plays with his legs.

It helps that two of his receivers to utilize are the two fastest receivers in the NFL that are dominant over the middle and can really rack up yards in a hurry.

Tyreek Hill, of course, is the most dangerous receiver in football. He can take a short catch and turn it into an explosive play in the blink of an eye.

 

The Steelers know all about him, having dealt with him for many years in Kansas City. For the most part, they’ve kept him bottled up, but the Dolphins have been pretty creative getting him the football in space on the move.

 

Opposite Hill, the Dolphins are able to deploy another speedster in second-year pro Jaylen Waddle. Together, Hill and Waddle are incredibly dangerous, forcing defenses to pick their poison.

So far this season, both receivers have had massive games.

Waddle doesn’t have as in-depth a route tree as Hill does at this point, and he isn’t as quick-twitch as Hill is (who will ever be?), but he dominates after the catch and really has a knack for getting into space on his routes.

 

Both will be major problems for the Steelers on Sunday night. The good news is, the Steelers are getting healthy in the secondary at just the right time.

Behind Waddle and Hill, Miami has some intriguing depth in Trent Sherfield, Cedrick Wilson Jr. and River Cracraft.

When Tagovailoa was healthy, Cracraft emerged as that clutch slot receiver, having scored two touchdowns in two weeks. He’s a special teams piece for Miami, but can provide decent offensive snaps.

Wilson Jr. was a key addition in free agency but hasn’t quite find his footing in Miami as the No. 3.

At tight end, the Dolphins are rather loaded with Gesicki, Durham Smythe and Hunter Long. Gesicki is the ideal move tight end in this offense, one that wins in the middle of the field often. He’s not much of a blocker, but he can run routes like a receiver, has tremendous hands and even brings some juice after the catch.

Smythe and Long are the blocking tight ends in McDaniel’s offense, though Long has gotten more work as a receiving option in recent weeks.

In the backfield, the Dolphins have a good 1-2 combination with Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds.

Mostert is a carry over from San Francisco under McDaniel, who was the run game coordinator in San Francisco before getting the top job in Miami.

Mostert is a former track star in college that has really excelled at the position in the NFL, when healthy.

The Dolphins love to get him the football on quick tosses with a full head of steam, allowing him to utilize his impressive speed on zone runs, being able to read the defense and pick through holes.

 

He’s a one-cut runner that really thrives in the outside zone.

Edmonds is the dual threat that can handle a starter’s workload but has split time with Mostert this season. He’s a tough runner between the tackles despite being a bit smaller than most running backs, and he has tremendous hands out of the backfield.

Up front, the Dolphins rebuilt their line in a hurry, but they’re dealing with injuries that could change the look of the starting unit in Week 7.

Here’s how I expect the Dolphins to line up left to right on Sunday:

LT — Terron Armstead
LG — Liam Eichenberg
C — Connor Williams
RG — Robert Hunt
RT — Greg Little

Armstead was the big fish in free agency. He’s been serviceable when on the field, but has been dealing with a toe injury in recent weeks and missed last week’s game. He didn’t practice Wednesday, but was limited Thursday and is trending towards playing.

Eichenberg, a tackle in college at Notre Dame, has transitioned to left guard nicely in the NFL. He has his issues in pass protection and will have his hands full with Cameron Heyward, but is a solid run blocker overall.

I am a big fan of Hunt. He’s a nasty people mover in the run game and has vice grip-like hands in pass protection. Greg Little remains a turnstile at right tackle, and was a major liability last week at left tackle.

Connor Williams, a guard in Dallas before switching to center in Miami after signing in free agency, is quietly transitioning to a new position very well.

On special teams, kicker Jason Sanders has been hit or miss this season. He’s 7-for-10 on field goals and has one missed extra point on the year. His misses on field goal attempts have come in each of the last three weeks. He’s fallen off the last two seasons after a great 2020 season.

Punter Thomas Morstead continues to get it done at a high level at 36 years old. He’s averaging nearly 47 yards per punt this season on 23 punts, downing nine inside the 20 yard line with a long of 66. He does have the one butt punt though in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills.

The Dolphins also tried a fake punt last week that backfired on a run by Clayton Fejedelum.

Hill will be the punt returner. He remains a handful in that role, though the Dolphins pick and choose when to use him there. Safety Jevon Holland gets a lot of work as a punt returner as well.

Mostert is the kickoff return man thanks to his homerun speed and vision.

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