Mike McDaniel has burst onto the NFL scene and will hope to lead the Miami Dolphins into the postseason for the second time in as many seasons as their head coach.
I’ll be honest with you, I love his coaching. I do. I’m a Mike McDaniel fan. For my money, I don’t know if it gets any better than when he cracks a good press conference joke or calls a play-action shot to Tyreek Hill (a little Office Space reference for you cool cats out there).
I’ll be serious now that I found a way to incorporate that into my article. I have been a big supporter of McDaniel since the day they hired him. He’s intelligent and highly motivated to succeed... in my experience, these are the kinds of people you bet on. His style is unique and the way he interacts with players and the media is different from what we have come to expect of head coaches.
His belief in Tua Tagovailoa helped to validate much of what I saw in his film from years one and two. He identified Tua’s strengths (accuracy to all parts of the field and a lightning-quick release) and catered the offense to those strengths. It propelled Tua into the conversation as a top-10 quarterback in the NFL and helped lead Miami to their first playoff birth since 2016.
Tua Tagovailoa on passes that travel 20+ air yards:— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) January 24, 2022
On-Target: 69.6% (Per SIS Data Hub)
Adjusted Comp Percentage: 55.2% (per PFF)
Both figures led all NFL passers. #FinsUp
(Part 1 of video) pic.twitter.com/qxAbcuYpPh
What to Fix in Year Two
Like anything in life, being a great NFL head coach means making continual incremental progress- if you’re stagnant that means you’re falling behind the competition. With that in mind, we need to ask what positive changes can Mike McDaniel make to lead the Miami Dolphins to an even more successful 2023 campaign.
Lean on the Running Game
Before any analytics folks get up in arms, I’m not advocating for the Miami Dolphins to become a run-heavy team. In fact, they should continue to pass the ball for at least 60% of their offensive snaps. When you have two of the best receivers and one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, that isn’t a tough decision to make.
With that said, problems begin to arise when your offense is too one-dimensional. There was a stretch of contests where Tua Tagovailoa just didn’t miss throws. From week 8 (Detroit) to week 12 (Houston), Tagovailoa completed 72% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions (a 134.17 QB rating). For much of that time (outside of the Browns game), the running game was an afterthought-Tagovailoa was the offense.
When the Dolphins came up against more capable defenses, that one-dimensional nature became a problem. In the following two-game stretch, Miami averaged 13.5 rush attempts per game and dropped back-to-back contests against the LA Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. Tagovailoa wasn’t quite as sharp as he had been and the offense had nothing to fall back on.
No one should be hoping they transform into the Baltimore Ravens overnight, but their 22.8 rushing attempts per game (second fewest in the NFL) is unbalanced and puts too much on a young quarterback still in the process of mastering the offense.
The Dolphins dominated the Browns in the run game. Raheem Mostert (8.1) and Jeff Wilson Jr. (7.0) had the 2nd and 3rd highest yards per carry for week 10 (minimum of 7 carries). This offense with a productive running game is going to be unstoppable come playoff time.#FinsUp pic.twitter.com/82RSZrmEKP— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 15, 2022
Get Plays in Quicker
This is one that every Miami Dolphins fan has a right to be frustrated with. The constant motion and adjustments made by McDaniel’s offense (pre-snap) will always lead to fewer seconds on the play clock at the time of the snap-that is understandable. Breaking the huddle with fewer than ten seconds on the play clock is on the play-caller though.
The Dolphins tied for the 3rd most delay-of-game penalties in the NFL for 2022 and too often the offense was rushing to get to the line of scrimmage and get the football snapped. It cost them dearly in the Wildcard contest against the Bills. What would have been a 4th & 1 (65.5% conversion rate) with 2:34 on the game clock turned into a 4 & 6 (43.1% conversion rate). With Miami only being down by a field goal, they had the opportunity to take a lead and win the game on this drive. Instead, they failed to convert and lost by three points to the Buffalo Bills (gross).
Take Fewer Homerun Shots
We all know the narrative that was around Tua Tagovailoa going into the 2022 season... he “can’t throw the deep ball.” Mike McDaniel did his best job to send that thing into orbit and nuke it. Tua Tagovailoa led the NFL in average depth of target (ADOT) and completion percentage on deep (20+ yards) passes. He had the 4th most deep passing yards in the NFL (while missing several games) and was PFF’s 4th highest graded passer on deep throws (just ahead of Patrick Mahomes).
While it’s obvious that the narrative is completely nonsensical (even if clueless casuals will hold onto it), there were times when McDaniel went to the well too often. Tua Tagovailoa is a rhythm passer and it can be difficult to get into a rhythm when you’re constantly going for the long ball. This was most evident in the Chargers game, where he posted his highest ADOT figure for a full game all season.
Instead of utilizing Tagovailoa’s fast release and elite short accuracy (or a running game) to get the offense into a rhythm, they took deep shot after deep shot. It led to one of Tua’s worst days as a pro and McDaniel’s worst offensive performance of the season. We unfortunately only got to see Tua play two more games (with mixed results) on the season before concussion problems shut him down for the year.
Year Two could be Special
It’s difficult to have a better rookie year as an NFL head coach than McDaniel did. He led the Miami Dolphins to a playoff birth and has earned the respect and admiration of folks around the league (including the media). If McDaniel can clean up some of these first-year struggles we could see a balanced, efficient, and absolutely unstoppable offense in year two. Combine that with a Vic Fangio-led defense, and the Dolphins might finally be back in title contention.