Dolphins continuing to control what they can… and what they can’t

In sports, there’s only so much you can script, and always so much you can’t. Or as Mike Tyson more eloquently stated, everyone has a plan ’til punched in the mouth. That punch can come in many forms, and from any angle, and can sometimes land in spite of all your preparation. Still, the best squads, the ones that stay standing, are the ones that find counters and contingencies, the ones who remain resilient instead of ruffled. The Miami Dolphins of 2023 — who enter Sunday’s game with winless Carolina at 4-1 — are showing themselves to be one of those squads so far. And they must be again, even as they’ve been hit with more unexpected adversity, this time in the form of rookie running sensation De’Von Achane joining projected pillars Jalen Ramsey, Terron Armstead, Connor Williams and others on the sidelines.

They showed their resourcefulness again last Sunday against the Giants, not because the opponent was formidable (it wasn’t), but because not everything went according to expectation. This was evident on the very first drive, a situation that has been a specialty for the coach, Mike McDaniel; his quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the entire offense all season.

As with many teams, the opening drive is typically carefully orchestrated. It is typically a unit’s best foot forward, and the Dolphins have been exceptional in these situations this season, even if they win the coin toss and defer, and take the ball after the other team changes the field position or even takes a lead. Coming into last Sunday against New York, the Dolphins had scored 17 points on their four prior starting salvos, and it would have been three or seven more if not for a fumble on the Chargers’ 2. Tagovailoa was completing more than 75 percent of his passes, easily pushing the ball down the field with tempo and precision.

And he did it again.

On this drive, he completed six of seven passes, for 65, to four different targets, finishing in a Jaylen Waddle 2-yard reception for the score.

“I’m very comfortable, regardless of what Mike has,” Tagovailoa said of the success at the start of games. “Whether it’s on script, off script, of plays that we like. Or plays that are ‘OK, we’re calling this play, I didn’t really like this play throughout the week, but I put myself in the playcaller’s mind frame, and if they go out there, that’s how it ends up happening with how I see the field…..'”

Still, you would think, watching how he did see the field, and saw his receivers break free, that the Dolphins had practiced all week against the identical alignments the Giants had shown.

“It’s so much work, accumulated by players,” McDaniel said. “All the things that are happening, they’re executing, they’re prepared to do it against multiple looks. That speaks to their preparation and their ownership of when we go through, the openers, they’re the ones executing it. And sometimes we get what we were practicing again. Like, today, we saw absolutely, positively an extreme version of the antithesis of the defense that we prepared for.”

Wait, what?

“They came out in a different personnel package and play coverages than they have ever played before, and to be able to do that and have players not even blink, means that they are super prepared,” McDaniel continued. “On top of the fact that their coaches have taught them the appropriate way to digest the defense, so if there is a defense that you haven’t prepared for, they are still able to execute their job. It’s a group effort, and whatever plays that I call, if the players don’t really, really invest in what they’re doing, those plays suck.”

And so, for the Dolphins of late, the plays don’t suck even when they’re not the right play.

Like that 69 yard pass from Tagovailoa to Tyreek Hill, just 54 seconds into the third quarter.

When a reporter mentioned that Tagovailoa had executed it by seeing single high coverage, the quarterback couldn’t keep up the ruse anymore.

“Did it look like single high?” he replied. “Like from the beginning of it? It did?”

Then the laughter, of a kid caught with his hands in the candy jar.

“Yeah, um, well that… that was the wrong play call,” he said. “That was the wrong play call. And you can ask Mike about that. I don’t think I should be saying. That was the wrong play call. I just called the wrong play. So you guys might want to ask Mike about that one…”

More reporter repartee….

More honesty.

“Yeah,” Tagovailoa said, smiling. “That sounds weird, just taking the credit for that one… He said a play…. I told him I misheard him. As I was looking at it, I was like, ‘Oh.’ I did mishear him. I did. Yes. Yes.'”

So we did ask McDaniel.

“Yeah, apparently he stole my thunder,” McDaniel said, in his sardonic style. “I wanted to unveil that he’s now a playcaller. No, that’s one of the moments that in his journey, that is indicative of where he’s at. I just know that the way we were able to move the ball a little bit, and then those turnovers, the picks, it would have been hard to get him out of that, just how mad he would be at himself. But the disciplined work that he’s done with mind, body and soul to be in a moment like that, and just take the game into his own hands, that’s what you’re trying to build.”

All for a play like that.

“It was a really cool moment that when you’re watching the formation set up, I am not composed. ‘What, what?” McDaniel said. “You just don’t know. It was hard to actually visualize what play he actually called, because you just think that nine people are messed up. And then that’s the type of stuff you can’t manufacture, to be able to have the wherewithal to say, ‘You know what, let’s put it in mine and Tyreek’s hands.’ I’m just very very proud of him. Sometimes, the messy games are my favorite, with that stuff.”

It was a play reminiscent of Dan Marino, feuding with his coach Jimmy Johnson, once ignoring a call and just telling Oronde Gadsden not nearly as fleet as Hill — to just “f—– go deep” and hitting him for a one-point win against the Colts way back when. Except, this coach and this quarterback are aligned. And Tagovailoa and this offense are doing Marino-like things.

Will it continue today, against feeble Carolina?

It should.

Be sure, McDaniel and Tagovailoa have a plan for it.

Be sure, the plan will go awry at some point. A play will “suck.” A pass will float. A kick will miss.

For a change, when off script, the Miami Dolphins appear capable of staying on track.


Ethan Skolnick is the CEO of Five Reasons Sports Network.

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