When people praise the Dolphins’ offensive system under Mike McDaniel this year, there’s a short answer to why. It’s Sunday’s first game against San Francisco. It emphasizes how strategy blends with personnel in a good way.
For starters, it showed good thinking during the week and how the coaches found ways to move their pieces after watching San Francisco’s top-ranked defense. There were three main components:
A. Tyreek Hill is the player that every defense fears for good reason, and that’s evident as he went into motion on this play and became the shiny object for the 49ers to watch. Cornerback Chavarious Ward, who was pressuring slot receiver Trent Sherfield, moved away from him at one point to cover Hill. Just as importantly, safety Talanoa Hufanga immediately moved to Hill and Sherfield had an open field in front of him thanks to Hill.
B. At the same time, some hocus-pocus happened in the back. Running backs Raheem Mostert and Alec Ingold crossed in front of Tua Tagovailoa after he broke the snap. Tagovailoa offered a fake transfer to each. That one froze linebacker Fred Warner the half needed to keep him out of the passing lane that Tagovailoia would throw.
C. Sherfield ran a simple slant and Tua made a simple 9m pass over the middle. An easy pitch-and-catch. The other 49ers safety, Tashaun Gipson, misstepped in reaction and Sherfield beat a player he was supposed to beat for the touchdown.
This is how good coaching with good staff works for a great result. The Dolphins had receivers open on Sunday, the way No. 1 defenses rarely give up. Hill had nine catches for 146 yards, proving again why he is the defense’s top concern. This first play also underscores why he is my vote as team MVP. Even when he’s not catching passes, he changes the way the defense plays and opens up space for teammates to find.
2. Speaking of changing defenses, San Francisco’s linebackers seemed to drop a yard or two deeper than most defenses against the Dolphins on a regular basis. I don’t watch them enough to know if it’s their normal drops, but maybe this is the subtle change that has affected Tagovailoa’s passing angles? If so, it will be interesting to see if other defenses turn things around.
3. There were some good decisions in the front office to build this list. The verdict remains on left tackle Terron Armstead. It’s not his talent. He is elite. But should you spend big money on a player who hasn’t played a full season in 10 years? Who has played 18 total games in the last two years? You want to win in January and you want your best players to play then. The easiest prediction to make is that Armstead will miss games this year, and so a vital decision has been who will be the backup left tackle.
4. The running game? It’s clear the Dolphins didn’t think they could run the 49ers’ No. 1 rushing defense (75 yards per game) and instead went with the No. 12 pass defense. They ran just eight times for 33 yards. The numbers are skewed, because the Dolphins have only run 45 plays thanks to turnovers, 0-for-7 on third down — and San Francisco’s top-rated defense for a reason. Now comes the Los Angeles Chargers defense and it is generally awful as it is 30th in points allowed (25.8 points per game) and 25th in yards allowed (371.7). This game should get the Dolphins offense back to the confident group it was in November to prepare for the matchup against Buffalo. Speaking of which…
5. The NFL did the Dolphins no favors by moving Sunday’s game to night (8 p.m. Eastern) and the next Buffalo game to Saturday night. It has a portion of the 1999 playoff schedule, when the Dolphins won in Seattle in a late afternoon game on Sunday and started at noon on Saturday in Jacksonville. Veteran NFL writer Peter King called it the worst playoff scheduling job the NFL has ever done. It didn’t explain the 62-7 loss to Jacksonville. But it didn’t help. This program is no better.