Each week of the NFL Regular Season I’ll be posting a new edition of my 2022 Matchup Preview Series. Leading up to that, I’ll be using the same format to preview all four teams in the AFC East.
These previews will look at five components of each team; Pass Offense, Rush Offense, Pass Defense, Rush Defense, and Special Teams. Each component will be ranked using my patented 👏 scale which ranges from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Best) to 👏 (Worst). The post culminates with a Floor, Ceiling, and Prediction of the team’s record.
This week we will look at the Miami Dolphins.
Dolphins Pass Offense
2022 is the definition of a Make or Break Season for the Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa. Tua has been consistent, albeit unspectacular, in his first two NFL seasons posting back-to-back QuBeRs of 49.76 and 49.91. In 2021 he ranked No. 4 in Positive Attempt Frequency, but below average in yards, touchdowns, and turnover frequency. Reports out of Dolphins camp suggest Tua has taken the next step in his development but real questions still remain. Can Tua push the ball down the field, or is he isolated to throwing left and/or short? Is Tua a 1-Read QB or does he have the ability to progress? And finally, will a new offensive strategy and revamped personnel provide an environment in which Tua Tagovailoa can finally excel?
Possibly the biggest move this offseason was Miami acquiring wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs in exchange for five draft picks. Hill’s elite speed and shiftiness make him one of the most notorious skill players in NFL history and he was a key factor in Kansas City’s historic offense since 2018. He now joins Jaylen Waddle to produce the fastest wide receiver duo in the NFL with 40s of 4.29 and 4.37 respectively. This seems to play directly into the scheme of Dolphins Head Coach, Mike McDaniel.
McDaniel’s offense is predicated on YAC, which allowed 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo to lead the NFL with 6.5 YAC/Cmp in 2021. The speed of Waddle as well as the size of Cedrick Wilson (80th Percentile Height) and pseudo-Tight End Mike Gesicki should provide ample opportunities for the Dolphins to replicate the success of the 49ers.
Miami also revamped their OL by bringing in another splash name, Terron Armstead. Armstead has been one of the best left tackles in the NFL for nearly a decade but over that span has struggled to stay healthy. He has yet to play a full season in his career and has only played ten-plus games twice in the last six years.
Armstead provides a massive boost to the Dolphins OL but not to the level most LTs would. With Tua throwing left-handed his blindside is not protected by Armstead but instead Austin Jackson. This is something to monitor in 2022 because even with the improvements Armstead and fellow addition Connor Williams (C) provide, it is possible that Tagovailoa’s 10th best Pressure Rate (20.9%) increases.
Dolphins Rush Offense
2020 and 2021 saw the Dolphins trot out one of the worst Rush Offenses in the NFL, posting Y/As of 3.9 (NFL-29) and 3.5 (NFL-31) respectively. Predictable improvements through the air should help the ground attack, but Coach McDaniel’s scheme should do even more to improve this area of the offense. A run game coordinator from 2017-2020 and Offensive Coordinator in 2021, McDaniel was a focal point in the 49ers’ success on the ground during his tenure with the team. Under his tutelage, San Francisco had the No. 16, No.30, No. 7, No.15, and No. 4 rush offenses by DVOA, leading them to a Super Bowl and an NFC Championship appearance. Assisting McDaniel with replicating this success in Miami is a completely revamped Dolphins running back room..
The Dolphins’ top three rushers in 2021 were Myles Gaskin (612), Duke Johnson (330), and Salvon Ahmed (149). Miami’s top ball carriers in 2022 are set to be Chase Edmonds (592), Raheem Mostert (20), and Sony Michel (845). Gaskins is the lone remaining back from a year ago, but the near total turnover in the position group should produce much-needed efficiency gains for Miami.
Edmonds comes from Arizona as the dual-threat back of the bunch. He’s most dangerous as a pass catcher but his 4.9 Y/A over the past 3 seasons ranks 7th among all NFL RBs. Mostert comes to the Dolphins fully healed from chipped cartilage suffered in Week 1 of the 2021 Season. His 4.38 40yd time is still very much in play and with the Dolphins he looks to complete the Legion of Zoom. As for Sony Michel, he may very well be the best pure RB of the bunch. He was a key piece in the Rams’ 2021 Super Bowl run providing them 1045 scrimmage yards, often through the use of a brutal running style.
Miami also brought in some new faces to help create lanes for these runners. Terron Armstead speaks for himself but the addition of Connor Williams could also prove fruitful. Williams excels as a blocker when getting to the second level and a move from Guard to Center may provide more opportunities to do just that. There are some worries that Williams still must learn the finer points of playing Center, but if he can figure those out, this OL should round into form quickly.
Another quiet, yet important, addition is FB Alec Ingold, formally of the Raiders. Ingold will play the role of Kyle Juszczyk-role for the Dolphins and is a uniquely talented run blocker in his own right. Finally, you can expect the Dolphins to spread the defense out to open lanes for their traditional RBs. While Miami doesn’t quite have their own Deebo Samuel, both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have the speed to force defenders to be cognizant in setting the edge when utilizing jet motion and sweeps.
Dolphins Pass Defense
The Miami Dolphins have been one of the best, most consistent, Pass Defenses in the NFL the past two seasons. In 2021, they ranked 7th in Passer Rating Against (85.4) and 6th in 2020 (87.0). They have accomplished this via a stout secondary and efficient pass rush. The loss of Brian Flores, in theory, could have a negative impact on this component of the Dolphins’ team but things are in place to reduce that concern. For one, coach McDaniel retained Defensive Coordinator, Josh Boyer, who has been with Miami since 2019 and spent 10-plus seasons with the Patriots as a CB/DB coach. More importantly, though, all of the major players who have produced in the back end remain in place.
That group begins with arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL. Byron Jones is one of the better CB2s in the NFL and has been decent since coming over from the Cowboys, where he was an All-Pro. Jones’ numbers don’t demonstrate elite play, though, as his 2 Interceptions, in 30 Games Played, have facilitated a +100.0 Passer Rating against over that span. Opposite him, at CB1, is arguably the best CB in the NFL, Xavien Howard. Where Jones lacks in interceptions, Howard has 15 over the past 2 seasons. Add in a CB that didn’t give up a TD out of the Slot in 2021 in Nik Needham, a hard-hitting Safety in Brandon Jones, and an emerging superstar in Jevon Holland and the Dolphins are in the discussion for best Secondary in the NFL.
Where the Dolphins are looking to take the next step in the Pass Defense hierarchy is via an improved Pass Rush. Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips proved to be a dynamic duo off the edge, each posting 8.0+ Sacks. Reports out of camps suggest they will be even more dominant in 2022 with Phillips taking the next step in his NFL journey. The hope this season is that both Ogbah and Phillips push north of 10.0 Sacks, allowing the Dolphins to reduce their 39.6% Blitz Rate – which ranked 2nd in the NFL in 2021. Doing so will allow the Dolphins to drop additional defenders into coverage, providing the ability to be more versatile in coverage schemes and/or bracket multiple players when necessary.
Xavien Howard in press coverage 🔒⬇️ pic.twitter.com/QmNqeEHKqC
— PFF (@PFF) May 22, 2022
Dolphins Rush Defense
As good as Miami’s pass defense has been, their run defense has been equally mediocre, ranking 20th in Y/A against (4.4) and 17th in Run Defense DVOA (-6.6%) last season. Little was done this offseason to improve on these numbers, but some players that are key producers against the pass could provide a boost. If Ogbah and Phillips are as deadly off the edge as suggested, they will also provide a more stringent edge for opposing runners. If Brandon Jones and Jevon Holland continue to improve in their abilities to play in the box, this will also benefit the Dolphins’ run defense. Beyond them, there will be similar faces in the middle of the field responsible for keeping opposing runners in check.
Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins represent two studs in the trenches that can both cause havoc in the backfield while controlling opposing linemen. Both are imposing figures in the middle with Davis at 6-foot-7, 330-pounds and Wilkins at 6-foot-4, 310-pounds. Wilkins made waves in 2021, posting an elite PFF grade of 83.3 but each excelled at their respective responsibilities. Behind them are primarily Andrew Van Ginkel and Jerome Baker. Van Ginkel is a freak athlete out of Wisconsin who posted a 9.24 RAS despite being undersized. His primary responsibility is to slow sweeps but he has proven capable inside as well. Meanwhile, Jerome Baker is one of the more unappreciated players in the NFL. He is a solid, to above-average middle linebacker that is talented against both the run and pass, which has allowed him to quietly approach the Top-10 ILB discussion.
Another key to the Dolphins succeeding this season will be their ability to stop QBs from running. In 2022 they are projected to see Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen (x2), Zach Wilson (x2), Mitch Trubisky, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Justin Herbert, all of whom excel on the ground. In 2021 they were successful at containing running QBs holding them to 216 Yards and 3 Touchdowns on 62 Carries for a Y/A 3.5. That’s the good, the bad was Josh Allen producing 90 Yards and 1 Touchdown on 13 carries by himself for a Y/A of 6.9. In a year where they will see more runners similar to Allen than last, this will be a key part of their weekly game plan. In such occurrences expect at least one of the Dolphins safeties to spend more time than usual in the box as a QB spy.
Dolphins Special Teams
The Dolphins have one of the better Special Teams units in the NFL. Kicking for them is Jason Sanders who was All-Pro in 2020 and continued to play well in 2021. He made 91.7% of kicks inside of 50-Yards and posted a Top-7 Touchback rate of 71.8% on Kickoffs. At punter, Miami added 36-year-old Thomas Morestead, who’s entering his 14th season in the NFL. Morestead has remained incredibly consistent throughout his career with a 46.6 Gross Average and 42.9 Net Average.
While Sanders and Morestead are quality special teams assets, it’s at returner where Miami could really shine. There are no guarantees on who will be the primary kick or punt returner, but McDaniel has left the door open for either Tryeek Hill or Jaylen Waddle to play a role, particularly on punts. Hill hasn’t consistently returned punts since 2018 but when doing so, proved to be an All-World returner. Meanwhile, Waddle returned just 5 Punts his rookie season but has 38 punt returns for a 19.3 Y/PR average in his collegiate career at Alabama. The kick return job is also up in the air, with Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds joining Waddle as possibilities. Mostert has a career 24.2 Y/KR Average while Edmonds has a career 22.1 Y/KR. Regardless of who the Dolphins decide to return Kicks/Punts don’t be surprised to see Hill and/or Waddle involved as game-breaking options.
FLOOR: 7-10, CEILING: 12-5, PREDICTION: 10-7
Anything less than a playoff appearance for the Dolphins this season will be considered a failure. Further, not being in competition with the Bills will produce heavy scrutiny. In order to achieve their 12-5 ceiling, they would need to go 5-1 in the division which means, at a minimum, a split with the Bills. There is no sugar coating it, Josh Allen’s Bills have had Miami’s number the past few years, but a revamped roster will look to change that. It all comes down to if Tua Tagovailoa can take the leap so many Dolphins fans have coveted. If he can the Dolphins may contend for more than just the AFC East. If he can’t, Miami may yet again be on the search for something they have been looking for since Dan Marino – a Franchise Quarterback.