The Miami Dolphins are a radically different team than they were a year ago. They have a new head coach in Mike McDaniel, Tua Tagovailoa is settled in as their starting quarterback, Tyreek Hill is carving up defenses after a big trade with the Chiefs, and Bradley Chubb came over from Denver in another big trade.
How has it all come together? We spoke with Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider for a first-hand look at the new-look Dolphins.
Acme Packing Company: Head coach Mike McDaniel seems to have been a breath of fresh air for the Dolphins. What’s your assessment of your new head coach? What has been the biggest change he’s made this year?
Kevin Nogle: Breath of fresh air is exactly how I describe the change from Brian Flores to Mike McDaniel. Flores is a really good coach and got the Dolphins out of the rebuild year and into winning football. But, from what we have learned since he was fired, there just was no communication within the organization. Add in the clear lack of confidence Flores had in Tua Tagovailoa, even though he was the coach of the team and was hired knowing the team wanted to acquire Tagovailoa, leading to Tagovailoa to doubt himself, and things just did not work with Flores. I think a lot of what Flores knew about being a head coach came from watching Bill Belichick and how he has all the power in New England. When you are a first time head coach, you do not get the same level of control that Belichick has earned with the Patriots, and, with hindsight speculation, that seems to be what Flores expected.
McDaniel is such a different coach, and that is not just in comparison to Flores. McDaniel is just different. His relationships with the players is different. His interactions with the media is different. He is just a different head coach and it is a breath of fresh air. He is not afraid to joke around, have fun, and remain loose. That said, he is not a push over or someone who lets the players get away with whatever they want. He is not the yelling type, but the players have said he will yell when it is warranted and when he does yell, because it is so rare, it holds a lot of weight. He is clearly extremely intelligent and creative, and the offense looks like it. He is great at creating mismatches with alignments and motion. He puts players in position to win and shapes the system around them, rather than trying to force a player to work in his system, and for the most part, he is crushing it by doing that.
I say that, knowing full well that tight end Mike Gesicki has basically disappeared from the offense. He is such a talent that just cannot get the playing time and the targets expected of him this year. As everything else works on the offense, Gesicki has been left behind. He is a dynamic player that, if Miami can figure out how to get him involved over the final three weeks of the season and into the playoffs (should they make it), could add another dimension to Miami’s attack.
What has been the biggest change McDaniel brought to the Dolphins? Tagovailoa. Just giving him the confidence he needs to be an NFL franchise quarterback. We are quick as fans now a days to write off a rookie as a “bust” as soon as they are drafted and do not explode in Week 1. We forget that it takes about three years to figure out what a player will really be over the course of his career. Tagovailoa was so beaten down by the media, the fans, and apparently even his own coaching staff, that he was literally looking at himself in the mirror asking if he sucked. This is a player who four years ago was the sure-fire first-overall pick, the starting quarterback for Alabama, and someone around whom an entire “tanking” campaign was established. He suffered an injury similar to the one that ended Bo Jackson’s career. Tagovailoa was broken after two seasons in the league. McDaniel rebuilt him into the quarterback that is now leading the league in passer rating and is looking like a true franchise quarterback who can lead Miami for years to come. McDaniel changed Tagovailoa and now Miami is finding success.
APC: The Dolphins made one of the biggest splashes you can imagine when they acquired Tyreek Hill in the offseason. They paid dearly to get him, but he’s put up big numbers in return. How do you rate the trade?
KN: “Tell them they can have everything.” That was McDaniel’s response to general manager Chris Grier when he was told Hill was a possibility. Miami gave the Kansas City Chiefs 2022 first-, second-, and fourth-round picks along with 2023 fourth and sixth-round picks, and, honestly, I feel like the Dolphins still stole Hill from the Chiefs. Obviously, the Chiefs made moves with all of those picks and are not slowing down with Hill, but it still feels like Miami came out on top in this trade. There is a history in Miami of the team making the big move, especially when it comes to wide receivers, and then it just does not pan out. Brandon Marshall was good for the Dolphins for two years, going over 1,000 yards both seasons and making the Pro Bowl in 2011, but his stay was short and Miami moved on. Mike Wallace was supposed to give Miami a deep threat and blow the top off of defenses. Again, he was find for two seasons, but then the Dolphins trade him away. Miami likes to get the big wide receiver name, but then it never seems to play out exactly how it was expected to go.
It feels like acquiring Hill is going exactly the way it was supposed to go. Hill is second in the NFL right now in receiving yards, has already set the Dolphins franchise record for receiving yards in a season, is three catches away from setting the team record for receptions in a season, and he was named to the Pro Bowl this year.
While all of that is happening, it is not like Jaylen Waddle is struggling to find a role. Waddle has 1,117 yards already and is a Pro Bowl alternate. Hill definitely adds a dynamic the offense did not have before, but the more important piece may just be that Miami has two dynamic wide receivers who can make plays.
Miami made the right move in giving up as much as they did to get Hill. He fits the offense so perfectly for what McDaniel wants to do and he has the route-running discipline to fit perfectly with Tagovailoa’s accuracy throwing to a spot. Absolutely the right move for Miami to add Hill, even with having to trade so many picks.
APC: Of course, Hill isn’t the only noteworthy name to arrive in Miami via trade. The Dolphins also acquired Bradley Chubb in a swap with the Broncos at the trade deadline. You’ve had a little more than a month and a half with Chubb on the roster. How is he fitting in with the Dolphins defense?
KN: Chubb has been fine. He has not been a huge force for the team yet, and he knows it. “I want to be more dominant, taking over games. That’s the reason they brought me here,” Chubb told the media on Thursday.
Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer also spoke about Chubb’s play on Thursday, saying, “I think Chubb’s done some good things for us from a rush standpoint. I think he’s done some good things for us in the run game. I think he’s given us the ability to utilize all three other guys, and we’ve been able to keep them a little bit fresh as we’re going. And again, it’s one of those things that each week, he’s just adding to the things that he’s already brought to us.”
I think that is about the right way to describe it. Chubb has done some good things and he has been a factor in the pass rush, but he has not been “the” force in the pass rush. Adding Chubb to Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram has been a great addition, and we are seeing Phillips break out in the second half of the season. The most important part of the Chubb addition may be what Boyer mentioned in the team can rotate their top three pass rushers to keep them fresh all game.
For that reason, Chubb is perfectly fitting into the Dolphins defense. He wants to have a bigger impact, and hopefully he will, but it has been a solid addition for the team.
APC: Overall, the book on the Dolphins seems to be pretty similar to the classic Packers’ description: strong offense, permissive defense. Is that a fair assessment? How would you slow the Dolphins offense and attack their defense?
KN: That is probably fair. The defense should be better, but injuries have decimated the secondary this year and the defensive scheme has had to change from what was expected. The defense is meant to be a man-on-man secondary, using Xavien Howard and Byron Jones to shut down opposing receivers, but Howard has been battling injuries all year that, despite being named a Pro Bowler this year, has had him slowed some and not playing to the top level we have seen from him, while Jones has been on the physically unable to perform list all year. When you design your defense to be a blitzing system that puts the cornerbacks on an island, but you cannot completely commit to that system as the secondary continues to change weekly, you lose some of the pressure and exotic looks that made Miami’s defense elite at the end of last year.
To slow the offense, clog the middle of the field. The Dolphins make money over the middle, both through slants to get the ball into the hands of Hill and Waddle as quickly as possible, and in deeper crossing routes. If you stay disciplined and hang out in the middle of the field - which is exactly what the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers did in Weeks 13 and 14 - it will get the Miami offense out of rhythm. They are finally starting to use the ground game, so if you are successful in clogging up the middle by dropping linebackers, you may see the team turn to Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson to try to draw the linebackers back toward the line of scrimmage, but keeping those players floating between the hashmarks is key to slowing Miami’s passing attack.
This is going to sound dumb, but hang with me for a minute. I am actually more comfortable with the Dolphins defense against Aaron Rodgers than I am if they were facing Jordan Love. Now that you are fully confused by that idea, let me explain. Miami’s biggest weakness is the running quarterback. Justin Fields, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, those are the quarterbacks that give Dolphins fans nightmares. Miami can do everything right against those quarterbacks and then give up a 40-yard run when the quarterback just takes off and, even with a spy on him, breaks away from everyone. Rodgers can scramble, but he is not a “running” quarterback. Love is much more likely to break off that 40-yard run than Rodgers.
After that, I am worried about the dup of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Green Bay creates confusion with those two, especially when they are on the field together. Miami has to stay disciplined to make sure they are covering both, and they are accounting for them as runners and receivers in those situations. That is worrisome. If I am the Packers, I am hitting Miami hard early with those two to see how the defense reacts.
APC: The over/under for Sunday is 49.5 right now according to DraftKings Sportsbook, which would seem to indicate Vegas expects a shootout. Do you agree? Are you taking the over or the under this week?
KN: At this point, I expect Miami to be in a shootout every single week. I would take the over, because, while I think the Dolphins can win this game, I am not confident the defense will prevent the Packers from putting up points as well. The Dolphins are allowing 24.6 points per game this year, so if Miami has an average game, we are already half way to the point total. Add in Green Bay’s 22.4 points per game, and we are right at 49 points. This seems like an over for me.