Burn the Field Not the Cars

Patriots Dolphins Football

The Miami Dolphins are officially off and flying under the leadership of Mike McDaniel with a home win over the New England Patriots. It seems the last few years that on opening week it has become a ritual to play against Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Tua Tagovailoa is undefeated in four games against one of the greatest coaches of all time, which is no small accomplishment. For two decades the Dolphins have served as a proverbial doormat for the Patriots and since the Dolphins drafted Tua, those fortunes have changed significantly. The tables have now turned as the Dolphins and Bills now sit atop the AFC East. The Dolphins are off to such a hot start that the sauna like conditions inside the stadium were no match for the heat generated outside the stadium as someone decided it would be a good idea to put a barbecue grill under their car where all of the gasoline and oil is situated and completely torched eleven cars outside.

The game was not always a clean one or perfect by any stretch of the definition. However, the Dolphins did what they needed to do to walk away with a near two-touchdown win. The polarizing figure on the team is Tua Tagovailoa and this year has been dubbed a make-or-break year for the young Dolphin triggerman. All eyes were on him as he dropped back to make his first pass of the season and hit Tyreek Hill for a sweet completion. Everyone in the offseason talked about Hill’s ability to take the top off the defense and questioned whether or not Tua could hit Cheetah on the deep ball. What they forgot to keep in perspective is that a good portion of Hill’s big plays were born from short passes that he carried for big yards after the catch. Hill is a freak athlete that possesses the rare combination of straight-line speed, lateral quickness, twitchy sudden movements, instantaneous change of direction, streetball wiggle elusiveness, not to mention that he is an elite route runner and pass catcher. Hill is immensely talented, he’s a hard worker, he’s coachable, and he is a vocal leader. He’s the perfect player and that’s just Tyreek Hill’s football skills. Check out YouTube if you want to see his basketball talents. The guy has game, and he is showing everyone why the Dolphins spent so much draft capital and gave him 120 million reasons to okay the trade from Kansas City to sunny South Florida.

The Dolphins used all those Hill skills and then some in the first half against the Patriots to wreck their defensive game plan. For all of the Patriot’s current limitations, Bill Belichick is still a defensive guru. His mantra is taking away the team’s best option and making them beat you with someone else. When Mike Wallace came to Miami from Pittsburgh, Bill B’s defensive calls would frustrate Tannehill by parking a safety over the top and taking away most of what Miami wanted to do with the downfield routes on Wallace’s side. The Patriots tried that with Hill, and they ended up with 12 targets, 8 receptions, 94 yards, and a ton of drive extending chain moving first downs. The safety over the top was rendered mostly null and void as Hill was running shallow crossers, mesh concepts, out and ups, motioning near the line of scrimmage, and catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage. It made it extremely hard to keep a body on the Cheetah and forced the Patriots to have to play off coverage and leave open space underneath. The one-time Tua put the ball in harm’s way on the outside, Hill won the jump ball and then made the safety miss for another run after the catch first down.

Tua had a great first half. He showed exceptional growth with accuracy and passes with velocity in the intermediate range. The Patriots were getting a lot of pressure on Tua, but the ball was getting out quickly and Tua had no problem taking what the defense gave him with pressure release valves by slipping a running back out the backside of the play behind the defender who was tasked with keeping containment on the edge after Tua bootlegged away from the main action of the play. The casualty of the quick strike passing of Tua was that he was not going through his progressions even when he had time to throw and spread the ball around as he normally would. There were substantial amounts of time where we had to double check to see if Waddle was on the field because of the lack of targets he got until late in the 2nd quarter. The good thing with Waddle is that he made the most out of his 4 receptions and broke the game wide open right before halftime with his huge touchdown catch on 4th down. That play call singularly made me a huge Mike McDaniel fan because I thought it was a minimal risk shot that most coaches would not have the gusto to take. McDaniel did and it essentially ended the game before the intermission.

The second half was a bit shakier for Tua. In fact, if we are being honest, it was pretty bad by comparison to the 179-yard 1 touchdown and high completion percentage first-half that Tua had. There were a few times where Tagovailoa held onto the ball too long and did not protect the ball well. Remember in the first half he fumbled the ball after Connor Williams blew a blocking assignment, but in the second half Tua tried to throw the ball into the dirt twice to avoid sacks when he was already in the grasp of the defender. Those are bad judgement plays. I have seen too many things go wrong when guys who already made the mistake of holding on to the ball too long panic and try to get rid of the ball late instead of just taking the sack. That is when bad turnovers or injuries happen to quarterbacks. Whether Tua felt the game was over or not, he must keep his focus for the full 60 minutes because one negative play can completely change a game in the blink of an eye in the NFL. Especially when you consider that Tua had been getting pressured all game and injuries had hit his already mediocre offensive line. Injuries to Armstead, Austin Jackson, and Little were concerning. Little returned and played well at right tackle. Armstead came back as well which was encouraging, but Liam Eichenberg at left guard was a rough go all game. Eichenberg is a natural tackle, not an interior lineman. If the Dolphins want to build a running identity this season, they must get better play from the LG position. With all of that said, Tua still had the 5th best QB rating in the league for week 1 and had a passer rating of 104.4. That’s pretty good, especially when you look at how many quarterbacks and offenses struggled to move the ball and score points around the league during week 1.

I would be remiss if I did not mention how well the defense played all game long. They stood tall for 60 minutes and only allowed two good drives all game long. One of those drives ended with a momentum stealing endzone interception for Holland after Xavien Howard volleyball passed it to him. Our safety room was absolutely dominant with Jones and Holland. They flew around and played great in coverage. The defensive line was harassing Mac Jones all day long. Seiler was stuffing the run, Ogbah was hurrying the pass. The Dolphin’s defense is the Miami team that truly deserves the turnover chain because they are exceptionally gifted at forcing turnovers and scoring from them. Except for a couple of plays, Needham had a good game that had Mac Jones not willing to test him. Instead, Jones made the mistake of trying to attack Xavien Howard because someone lied to him and told him that DeVante Parker one-on-one against X is somehow a mismatch in favor of the Pats.

Byron Jones was missed but not as much as we thought because Needham played well and the former Texas A&M-Commerce prospect Kader Kohou looks like he could be a player for us. First Round Iggy is watching his prospects on this team evaporate to a couple of undrafted dudes. It seemed like Kohou was making big plays all over the field with a big pass break up and forcing the game sealing fumble on Agholor. Sam Madison and Pat Surtain are doing a great job coaching these guys up. Josh Boyer without the help of Brian Flores did a great job confusing Mac Jones all day long by mixing up his exotic blitz calls and correctly choosing when to drop out in coverage zone. Adam Archuleta kept trying to predict on the CBS broadcast when the Dolphins were selling out for an all-out blitz versus when they were dropping out, and he hilariously kept getting it wrong. I am sure Mac Jones was having just as much as a tough time diagnosing the various pre-snap looks the Dolphins were showing. Looks like the Dolphins made the correct decision to keep the defensive staff together and hire an offensive specialist like McDaniel. What truly has me excited is how the Dolphins dominated the game in every facet and they frustratingly did not play very well. McDaniel in his post-game comments sounded like a coach who knows he has a special team on his hands and has the quiet confidence of knowing his team usually plays much better and practices much better than what they put on film Sunday. That has me extremely excited about what the Dolphins can achieve this season. As far as our linebackers, Baker had a rough game, and we need Jaelan Phillips to get back on form to make sure Lamar Jackson has a tough day at the office next Sunday. Fins up!

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