After months of waiting and wondering, Mike McDaniel called plays in a regular-season game as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Adding the first-year coach wasn’t the only change made by the team. Miami acquired free agents Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Terron Armstead, and Conner Williams. Lastly, a metaphorical bow was placed atop the offense — one with cheetah spots.
It wasn’t necessarily a strong performance — the Dolphins rank No. 30 with an average of 2.8 yards per carry after one week — but it was effective as Miami was just one of six teams to win by double digits.
The offense will evolve and opposing defenses will continue to adjust, but these three trends focus on what McDaniel’s offense is trying to accomplish — at least early in the season.
With New England’s passing attack under construction, the team turned to the rushing attack for most of Sunday. In fact, the Patriots had more rushing attempts (22) than receptions (21).
New England was in the bottom half of plays per game last season but crept into the top half of the NFL in time of possession due to a rushing attack focused on melting the clock away.
That didn’t matter, nor did the 2.8 yards per carry on the ground, Miami’s offense did enough to churn out 18 first downs and win the time of possession, clocking in at 32:30.
As the running game improves, time of possession should continue swinging in Miami’s favor. If his time in San Francisco is any indication, McDaniel will build toward a team that can effectively melt the clock when holding the lead.
Third and manageable
The best way to win time of possession is to keep the chains moving, and the best way to keep the chains moving is to manage down-and-distance. There are certainly bumps to smooth out on offense, but McDaniel deserves credit for keeping the offense out of tricky situations on third down.
Miami reached third down 14 times on Sunday. Seven of those attempts were three yards or shorter, two were between four-and-six yards and five were at least seven yards. In fact, the opening drive featured two plays with less than three yards to go.
Tua Tagovailoa hit Tyreek Hill for a five-yard reception on third and two and couldn’t connect on a shot to Alec Ingold on a third and one. While Miami’s six of 14 on third downs doesn’t look promising on paper, that rate would rank eleventh in the NFL just a season ago.
Consider that more than half of those attempts came with less than three yards to go, and sustainability could — and should — become easier for the Dolphins throughout the year.
Hill averaged a career-best 9.35 targets per game last season and saw 12 targets against the Patriots. Deebo Samuel averaged 7.56 targets last season, but also carried the ball more than three times a game last season.
Twelve targets per game may be tough to sustain, but Hill will likely float around the nine-plus targets he saw a season ago. Considering McDaniel’s usage of top receivers, Jaylen Waddle is next on the food chain. Waddle was targeted five times, catching four passes for 69 yards, and a touchdown.
Waddle and Tagovailoa connected on a 42-yard touchdown but it’s important to keep in mind that Waddle averaged 8.8 targets a season ago. In fact, he saw less than seven targets four times in 2021. While it’s a nice problem to have — utilizing both Waddle and Hill would be an impressive juggling act for the first-year coach.