Mike McDaniel must get Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ offense back on track

In back-to-back weeks, defenses have held the Miami Dolphins’ offense to only 17 points.

After losing to the Los Angeles Chargers (23-17) and then to the San Francisco 49ers (33-17), it’s time to officially be concerned about quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Mike McDaniel’s offense.

When the 49ers’ pass defense entered their week 13 game against the Dolphins, they were ranked 10Th overall in defensive DVOA giving up 201 passing yards per game. The Chargers, a little worse, sitting 16Th overall, allowing 220 passing yards per game (per Football Outsiders and team rankings).

Yet, over these last two weeks Tagovailoa has a 47% completion percentage, three touchdowns, two interceptions, and is averaging a 72.5 passer rating.

So why is it that the number-one overall pass offense is struggling when it was so consistently great before? And what can Mike McDaniel do to get his offense back on track?

Physical man coverage on critical downs.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

In Sunday’s game against the Chargers, at the half, Tagovailoa only completed 20% of his passes, the lowest completion percentage in the first half of any game this season, according to NBC.

The Chargers’ defense had a very good plan entering the game — start out in man coverage on early downs and obvious passing situations (second-and-7+ and third-and-3+) then switch to zone coverage when the offense is in trips (on third-and-long).

When Tagovailoa throws slants against zone coverage, he could throw it when his receiver gets in between zones. But when running a slant route against man coverage, it would force Tagovailoa to wait for his receiver to get open and/or force tough throws.

The Chargers decided on forcing Tagovailoa to make the tougher throws.

On the first drive of the game, it was second-and-10, and the targeted receiver (Jaylen Waddle) was at the top of the screen. The defender is playing head-up press man coverage, leaving no room for Waddle to get open.

The nickel cornerback (No. 36), rookie Ja’Sir Taylor stayed in his underneath zone instead of sticking with the outside slot, who was running the seam. The defense passed off responsibilities flawlessly, and they did this all game. We’ll touch on this a little more later.

This defensive disguise gave Tagovailoa trouble throughout the first quarter.

On the Dolphins’ second offensive drive of the game, the Chargers went back into man coverage on second-and-9, taking away the slant once again.

With the safety stepping up to help, this allowed the nickel corner to undercut the route which took away the opportunity for a throw.

The 49ers also explored a little bit of man coverage against the Dolphins in their week 13 matchup:

When looking at both of these pre-snap clips, the defenses are in a similar look against the receivers. Both results are the same — Tagovailoa is sacked.

Over the last two weeks, defenses have done a great job being physical against the Dolphins’ receivers. Even when the Dolphins came out in stacked looks to give their receivers space, the 49ers pass rush would get to Tagovailoa, and the Chargers were bracketing Waddle and Hill, forcing Tagovailoa to look elsewhere or make tough throws.

Pre-snap and post-snap readings.

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

The Chargers also did a great job taking away the Dolphins’ biggest threats with brackets and switches that they were able to communicate pre- and post-snap.

In the clip below. Hill motions across the line of scrimmage and when he crosses the center, cornerback Asante Samuel communicates with his nickel corner, “switch!”

On the very next drive, McDaniel noticed how on the play above, the safety on the backside was creeping over to help against the trips.

So, the Dolphins replaced the single side receiver with Hill and sent the running back to move to the flat. With a mismatch in numbers to the left side, the safety crept over and that left a one-on-one nightmare on the right side.

Outside of the one touchdown, Tagovailoa had a rough third quarter, passing for only 26 yards. He was unable to move the ball against the Chargers’ tight man coverage, switches and brackets.

Making changes to stay on top.

(Syndication: Palm Beach Post)

The Dolphins offense is the most explosive in the league as they are currently sitting first in air yards (2244). They are second in the league in boom plays at 50% on passes that are 20+ yards, per Sports Info Solutions.

So, at any moment, the Dolphins can get deep down field. That’s only if McDaniel can scheme his guys open and Tagovailoa can take notice of the coverages pre-snap and at the snap.

When looking at what this offense is missing, there is a glaring hole when looking at tight end production. Over the last three weeks, Mike Gesicki has not had a single catch and was only targeted four times. The Dolphins’ backfield only totaled 24 attempts for 96 yards over the last two weeks.

The Dolphins have relied on Hill and Waddle for so long that their playmakers have been schemed out. With them ‘in the hunt’ for a playoff spot, these next few weeks will be critical for the offense. McDaniel must get his tight end more involved, while exploiting defensive tendencies to find one-on-ones for Hill like he did last week. On top of everything else, the running game must improve if the Dolphins want to see the playoffs this season.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire

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