Mike McDaniel gave us a glimpse into how the Dolphins are likely to operate this season in Week 1 – with one interesting twist. We witnessed the “standard Shanahan tree” slow pace of play (31st overall and 27th situation-neutral) and Josh Boyer swarming defense, but the team left Week 1 with the highest pass rate over expectation value and highest pass rate over expectation on first down in the league. It takes a lot of speculation as to why we saw the high pass rates last week (which could be anything from a specific game plan against the Patriots, to an intent to mask a bottom 10 offensive line, to making a statement with his newly acquired alpha wide receiver,) but I tentatively expect the aggression to continue. Consider this – Miami averaged a paltry 2.41 yards per running back carry against the Patriots last week but 8.2 yards per pass attempt and 11.7 yards per completion. That said, there are multiple signs pointing to increased pass rates continuing forward to Week 2 against the Ravens, which we’ll get into further below.
Speaking of the ground game, man, oh man, did this unit fail to get anything going last week. Not only did we see a putrid 2.41 yards per running back carry, but the offensive line lacked any real push up front, and the outside zone run scheme was almost nonexistent; the latter of which could be a big issue considering Miami brought in two running backs best suited to B-gap and off-tackle rushing. I expect we might see a similar game plan to what the Jets decided to do last week against these Ravens – throw the football (and a lot – okay, probably not 59 times, but, yea, a lot). And that wasn’t just an anomaly – Baltimore has not ranked lower than third in the league in rush attempts against per game since 2018, when they finished fifth in the metric. The combination of Brandon Williams (no longer with the team) and Michael Pierce (starting nose tackle) have ranked no lower than third in run-stopping metrics each of the previous five seasons. Pair that with an aggressive blitz and defense that plays man coverage and cover-1 at some of the highest rates in the league (this remained relatively consistent in Week 1 under new defensive coordinator Mike McDonald, who received the in-house promotion after the departure of Wink Martindale) and we’re likely to see the Dolphins side with an aerial-first attack once again in Week 2.
The Dolphins pass offense exhibited many of the characteristics we should expect based on the Shanahan tree in Week 1, with 12-of-33 pass attempts coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, five attempts 20+ yards downfield, and 9-of-16 intermediate attempts (five to 15 yards downfield) going to pass-catchers over the middle of the field. Basically, whether it was due to scheme or quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s relative lack of downfield acumen, this pass offense operated under horizontally spread basic concepts in Week 1 with sparsely utilized downfield attempts built from there. Expect McDaniel to continue to utilize the speed of his primary skill position players to put strain on opposing defenses in the horizontal plane, with the goal being to get the ball into their hands in space. Tyreek Hill saw a massive 12-of-33 pass attempts directed his way in Week 1 (36.4% team target market share), setting up an interesting matchup against what is highly likely to be primary coverage from Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters (should he make his return from a torn ACL). The best on-paper matchup for Miami pass-catchers falls into whichever wide receiver sees the most slot snaps, but Miami utilizes enough pre-snap motion and misdirection that on-paper matchups become less relevant. Baltimore starting nickel corner Kyle Fuller was lost for the season in Week 1 due to a torn ACL, leaving starting duties to 2021 third-round pick Brandon Stephens, who posted just a 33% man coverage success rate last year on a 52.1% man coverage rate – again highlighting the heavy man principles the Ravens defense typically operates under. Stephens also allowed a hefty 120.2 passer rating and 2.00 fantasy points per target in his primary coverage, each of which are extremely poor marks. These shortcomings, paired with a low route participation rate from tight end Mike Gesicki, leave Miami with a very clear (and potentially concentrated) path of least resistance through the air. Finally, given Baltimore’s heavy blitz rates (31.1% in 2021 and 30.6% in Week 1), expect Miami to continue to lean towards a ball-out-quick primary aerial gameplan.
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