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The Miami Dolphins offense thrived by utilizing play-action passes on early downs

Only the Atlanta Falcons called play-action passes on early downs more often than the Miami Dolphins.


Play-action passing plays were vital to Mike McDaniel’s offense as the Miami Dolphins finished fourth in passing yards in his first season as head coach. Third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looked comfortable in an offense that led to career years from wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Only seven teams averaged fewer rushing yards than Miami’s 99.2 yards per game but that didn’t stop the offense from taking advantage of play-action pass attempts — especially on early downs.

NFL analyst Warren Sharp tracked how often teams utilized play-action passing plays on first and second down — the Atlanta Falcons finished first by calling play-action passes 58 percent of the time on early downs. The Dolphins finished second with an average of 55 percent of the time.

Sharp took his analysis a step further, noting that Tagovailoa was top-10 in efficiency when using play action on early downs. On the other hand, when it came to late-down play action plays, he ranked near the bottom of the league.

Tagovailoa had a career year with McDaniel calling the plays and he could take another leap with a year of experience in the system. In year two, the Dolphins will try to replace over 100 targets that left with Trent Sherfield and Mike Gesicki in free agency.

With a larger emphasis on running the football — and the free agent additions of Robbie Chosen and Braxton Berrios — play-action passing plays will again be in Miami’s arsenal throughout the 2023 season.