Through the first two games of the 2023 NFL season, the Dolphins’ offense has showcased the elements that made it one of the league’s most explosive units in 2022: unmatched speed on the outside, a quarterback as pinpoint as any passer in the league and an offensive-minded head coach with the wits to scheme up favorable looks.
Miami leads the NFL in yards per play (7.3), and Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL with 715 passing yards.
The Dolphins have come out of the early part of the season with wrinkles to some of their staple concepts and have improved in multiple areas, particularly rushing and blocking, which were points of emphasis during the offseason.
In the Dolphins’ Week 2 win against the New England Patriots, the Dolphins ran for 145 yards, the fourth most the team has totaled since Mike McDaniel became head coach.
The Denver Broncos, whom the Dolphins will host for their home opener Sunday, offer a new look for Miami’s offense. Coached by former Dolphins assistant Vance Joseph, the Broncos rank 10th in blitz rate, according to TruMedia, sending extra rushers on 29 percent of opposing dropbacks.
Tagovailoa, a Saint Louis graduate, has been effective against the blitz through two games, completing 21 of 31 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. And his quick release could also come in handy if Denver decides to blitz often. Tagovailoa has the quickest average time to throw (2.35 seconds) but leads in the NFL in yards per attempt (9.5) and average completed air yards (8.5).
“That’s just understanding presnap where we need to go with the ball,” Tagovailoa said after practice Wednesday, “and then also post-snap adjusting and making that adjustment quick.”
He added: “You’ve got to understand where those blitzers are coming from. You got to understand where you want to protect them. We’re going to have to find out, if there are blitzing from here, where the openings are going to be and we’ve got to figure out how we want to attack it in that sense.”
Waddle status uncertain
The Dolphins offense could be preparing without one of its biggest playmakers, though.
Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle did not practice Wednesday as he remains in concussion protocol after taking a hit late in the team’s Week 2 victory. During the open portion of practice, Waddle was seen stretching with his teammates but then watched from the sideline without a helmet.
“I’m not really worried about the timeline. I’m more worried about him getting right,” McDaniel said before practice.
Waddle, who has caught eight passes for 164 yards through the first two games, has not missed a game in his NFL career. If he is sidelined, players such as Braxton Berrios, River Cracraft and Erik Ezukanma would see an increase in snaps.
While there is no substitute for Waddle’s electric skill set, the Dolphins believe they are well-equipped to keep their offense functioning if Waddle cannot play. During training camp, the offense often staggered Waddle and Hill’s reps. And Tagovailoa got acquainted with his secondary pass-catchers when Waddle was sidelined toward the end of training camp because of an oblique injury.
Even though Hill has doubled Waddle in receptions with 16, Tagovailoa has spread the ball to a number pass-catchers who have stepped up to fill the void of departed Mike Gesicki and Trent Sherfield. Tight end Durham Smythe has six catches on 10 targets, while Berrios and Cracraft have five receptions each.
“It’s tough when you don’t have two of your top guys in Waddle and if we weren’t to have Tyreek on any given Sunday,” Tagovailoa said. “But I would say the rest of the guys in that room, they’re ready to step up. They’re ready to play.”
O-line play ‘very encouraging’
A large unsung reason for the early success of the Dolphins’ offense can be traced to a cohesive offensive line that has protected Tagovailoa and opened lanes in the running game.
Tagovailoa has only been sacked once, which is tied for second-fewest in the NFL. And he’s been pressured 19 times, which is the fifth fewest.
McDaniel said new offensive line coach Butch Barry’s teaching has been instrumental in helping a much-maligned group.
“He’s relentless,” McDaniel said. “He’s sweating in his sun hat every day, brings the juice and takes it very, very serious. So, I think the residuals are in the players and I commend the whole group for understanding their various rules and using each other to maximize all their potential, which is letter C in the alphabet. We have a long way to go, but it’s been very encouraging thus far.”
The offensive line could get a boost with the return of left tackle Terron Armstead. Armstead did not play in the first two games because of multiple injuries but practiced Wednesday, his fourth consecutive session. McDaniel said the four-time Pro Bowler will receive an uptick in reps when the team practices with pads on Thursday.
“There’s been a lot of naysayers and I know our guys in the O-line room hear what everyone’s saying, as well,” Tagovailoa said. “So that’s a way that they’re able to shut the haters up basically. To me, it’s nothing new. Those guys have been working their butts off this entire offseason, OTAs, training camp, they’ve been working their butts off. So, this is nothing surprising to me.”
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