The Miami Dolphins look like flag football champs, but need rugby plays in their repertoire

The Miami Dolphins look like flag football champs, but need rugby plays in their repertoire

The Miami Dolphins represent everything the NFL wants pro football to be. Tua Tagovailoa is throwing cute behind-the-back shovel passes for four-yard gains. Mike McDaniel represents the analytics branch that’s pushed out the “football guys.” His offenses are concentrating on getting athletes out in open space rather than creating micro-collisions that jar the brain, and he has an extensive highlight reel of viral press conference moments. Unfortunately, that corporate-friendly brand has an enemy in the blend of football that still wins Super Bowls.

McDaniel and his perpetual motion offense, are the millennial scheme du jour. Wanna see fireworks? Miami has all the necessary ingredients. Tyreek Hill moves so quickly he can phase through the top shell of the defense.

It’s no wonder Hill has been so adamant about playing flag football in the 2028 Olympics. However, on Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles taught Miami the value of rugby. And knocked the Dolphins around. Aj Brown outmuscled corners, the defensive front jostled Tagovailoa, the run game was non-existent, and Hill was even rattled at times. But it’s not even necessary to fixate on what went wrong Sunday. This has become an ongoing theme for Miami.

There are plenty of things to like about the Dolphins. Tagovailoa is getting hit and pressured less often and he’s protected his brain. Under optimal positions, he resembles an MVP candidate. However, McDaniel’s 4.3-speed merchants limp to the side of the road when they hit roadblocks. Speed is lethal, but championships are made in the trenches.

Even their resurgent rushing attack is finesse-based. In the third round of the 2023 Draft, the Dolphins selected a 5-9, 190-pound back to pair with Raheem Mostert’s track speed. They even have the fastest offensive lineman in NFL history playing tackle.

The Dolphins’ ball carriers slice through defenses like a katana open space, but they can also be physically restrained. In the second half against New England, Miami was held to seven points in the second half and that was only a result of a DeMario Douglas touchdown and Mostert breaking one loose for 43 yards in open space.

Miami’s offense excels at quick-strike scores, but their offense, and defense haven’t proven they have the capacity to grapple against the heavyweights. At 5-2, there isn’t a significant cause for concern for the Dolphins’ fortunes, but expectations are rising quicker than South Beach’s sea waters. The next step after a postseason return is a rise into contention.

Their signature wins can’t keep coming against comatose defenses and other finesse squads or before long, Mike McDaniel could be renowned as the NFL’s Lincoln Riley. Riley’s avant-garde offenses have been the apple of every NFL team’s eyes. But they also haven’t won many fights with conference brawlers. Miami is averaging an NFL record 8 yards-per-play, but more than likely they’ll be playing on the road for a Super Bowl in a frigid climate. Dolphins have never swam well in frozen waters and speed gets neutralized to a degree on icy fields. Look at their peers for instance.

In February, the Chiefs became the very first team to win the Super Bowl and lead the league in passing yardage behind the NFL’s second-most secure offensive line. This season, Kansas City has proven they can win when their offense is under the weather.

The Chiefs defense leads the NFL in tipped passes and has carried the offense long enough for Patrick Mahomes, Travis Swift, and Isiah Pacheco to grind out points. San Francisco’s panoply of road graders, bruisers at tight end, and the NFL’s highest-paid fullback are all components of their offensive locomotive.

Complementing Mostert with a power back like Derrick Henry, 30, could give the Dolphins an added dimension. He’s on the block. Henry landing in Miami would be the inverse of what McCaffrey’s versatility brought to the NFL’s Strong Man team. The Dolphins nearly went all in on Jonathan Taylor because their remaining backs were too frail to carry the load for 17-plus weeks. Henry is a generational 240-pound cheat code. Be a legend, McDaniel, and unleash the thunder that your lightning-quick flag football squad needs.

On Sunday, the Eagles drew a stark contrast by doubling up Miami’s rushing totals as Miami threw 32 times while their running backs carried the rock only 11 times. Philadelphia ran 34 times. The Bills hammered them for nearly 100 yards on 30 carries and lit them up by air. Jalen Ramsey’s health could mitigate the secondary, but Miami could use a rugby ball carrier on their flag football roster.

Jalen Hurts drops back and rolls out behind the Fort Knox of lines. The soft belly of the Dolphins’ interior defense was held hostage by Brotherly Shove conversions on third or fourth-and-short.

Meanwhile, Philly’s defense led the NFL in sacks by recording the most in over 30 years, lost interior pass rusher Javon Hargrove to San Fran of all places and then replaced him with Jalen Carter. Carter has been such a disruptive grenade in the middle that you don’t even hear broadcasters gushing about 330-pound Jordan Davis in the middle anymore. On a second-and-short in the fourth frame, Fletcher Cox, and Adams shared the kill when they caved in Tagovailoa’s pocket and cashed in on a sack.

Yesterday was also Tight End Day. Each of the teams I mentioned deploys a brolic pass-catching safety valve at tight end, which the Dolphins also lack. Would McDaniel be interested in saving Darren Waller?

The Dolphins Super Bowl window is wide open if they stick their head out and feel the breeze. Derrick Henry isn’t the only antidote to what ails Miami. Saquon Barkley is also wasting away, but more costly than Henry. Unless Miami is considering 2028 their Super Bowl, McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier have to go against the grain by mixing some brawn, and physicality into the Dolphins scheme.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.