On Sunday Night Football the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots 24-17. As I watched the game, I couldn’t help but think that this game was the epitome of the new school vs the old school. The Patriots hung around due to their defense and special teams as Bill Belichick pulled another rabbit out of his hat that I’d never seen before on a Dolphins field goal attempt that the Patriots blocked. Although the final score was close, it was evident that the gap between the two teams was vast. This is due to personnel, but also due to the incredible offensive coaching advantage the Dolphins had. This, ladies and gentlemen, is because of Dolphins head coach and play caller Mike McDaniel. McDaniel is only in his second year as a head coach, but here are three reasons why he is already one of the best.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had a career full of turbulence prior to the arrival of McDaniel. It was clear that previous Dolphins head coach Brian Flores didn’t have any faith in Tagovailoa. It is rumored that Flores wanted the organization to draft Justin Herbert instead of Tagovailoa, and when Tagovailoa finally did get his chance to play in his rookie year, Flores did this odd thing where he would substitute Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick in and out of games. I get that he was trying to make the playoffs, but that’s no way to handle a young quarterback you spent the fifth pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on.
When McDaniel arrived, he prioritized rebuilding Tagovailoa’s confidence that had been shattered from the get go. Some of this was displayed on a FaceTime call that was put out by the Dolphins’ social media between McDaniel and Tagovailoa when McDaniel was hired.
“One thing I know about you is that you have the ambition to be great. My job is to coach you to get all that greatness out of you. It’s gonna be fun man, it’s gonna be work, but I know you’re not afraid of that. This is an awesome day for me,” McDaniel said.
In 2022, Tagovailoa’s numbers improved drastically compared to the previous season. In 13 starts, he had 25 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 3548 passing yards, as opposed to the 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 2653 passing yards he had in 12 starts in 2021.
Last season, McDaniel was able to use motion to get free releases for the incredible speed he has at wide receiver with guys like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. That combined with Tagovailoa getting his confidence back and using his anticipation, touch and accuracy to connect with his receivers made the Dolphins one of the most explosive offenses in the league. An interesting thing coming into this season was that we would be able to see how McDaniel would adjust to how defenses would try to play against them after having a full season of tape on him because it was his first season of playcalling.
One major adjustment that has been prominent to start this season has been the way he is motioning Hill. McDaniel is revolutionizing the game by introducing this new way of motioning. Instead of the regular motion that would occur about a second and a half before the snap, in which defenses could see that and adjust. Now Hill’s motion is happening almost right when the ball is being snapped. This gives the Dolphins offense the same advantage as they normally would with Hill being able to get a hard start, but now it makes the defense wait just a bit longer and for a guy like Hill, that can be deadly.
Under McDaniel, the Dolphins have displayed just how good their passing game can be. This season, the running game is also going to have to be something that defenses look out for. After spending years as Kyle Shanahan’s right hand man, one would assume he picked up a thing or two. The reason tight end Mike Gesicki is no longer with the team is because he isn’t good at blocking. This was a sign that McDaniel has real intent to improve that facet of their offense. Against the Patriots where Belichick’s game plan was to make sure Hill didn’t go off like he did in week one against the Chargers, the running game was able to come through for the Dolphins. They rushed for 145 yards and 121 of them was by Raheem Mostert. Both of Mostert’s touchdown runs came on inside zones after McDaniel was able to have the Patriots’ defense right where he wanted them after calling mostly outside zones throughout the game.
McDaniel has a quirky personality but it works because he isn’t trying to be anybody but himself. He’s a smart guy that is self aware and seems fully engaged as to what is happening around him constantly. We see this mostly when he is dealing with the media. An example of this was during his halftime interview against the Patriots where he was asked about what was working well for the offense. “I haven’t done anything,” McDaniel said with a stoic face. When the interview was over, he realized there was a guy with a camera that was going to follow him and he sprinted to the locker room while looking back a few times toying with the broadcast.
Another thing that makes him so relatable to his players is willingness to be vulnerable and open up about his past struggles. McDaniel dealt with alcoholism years ago. It got so bad that it led to his firing in when he was an assistant for the Texans and he smelled of alcohol during team meetings when he was with the Falcons. His Falcons co-workers confronted him and McDaniel accepted the help they were willing to provide. McDaniel has said that he last had a drink in Jan. 2016.
With McDaniel’s openness about such personal subjects and the small glimpses we get to see of him being silly, it is easy to see why his players love him so much.
Header Photo: The Dolphins are 2-0 for the second consecutive season under McDaniel and the 22nd time in franchise history. This is all thanks to the creativity of the man pictured above. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)
Write to Mohamed Warsame at email@example.com