MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Teams confident in their ability to pick up a tough yard usually don’t throw screen passes to their 5’10”, 191-pound deep threat on 4th-and-1 near the goal line.
So Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel’s play call early in the second quarter in Week 11 told us plenty about his view of the team’s ability to move the pile.
It wasn’t a surprise that the Tyreek Hill screen-pass gambit failed. But at this point, the Dolphins are willing to try anything in short yardage.
That area of the game might be the team’s No. 1 shortcoming at this point of the season.
“That is ever-present right now on our minds,” McDaniel said this week. “… We want every play to work and when it fails, it’s our job to fix it.”
Miami Dolphins’ Ugly Short-Yardage Stats
After that unsuccessful attempt, the Dolphins have now come up short on 31 of their 55 3rd- or 4th-and-1 tries since Mike McDaniel took over in 2022, according to independent sports journalist Simon Clancy.
I’ve taken issue with Miami’s short yardage play calls under Mike McDaniel, so I looked at the numbers in a bit of a thread. They’re 2nd worst in the NFL. They’ve had 55 3rd or 4th & 1’s & converted just 24 of them – 43.6%. 22 passes. 29 runs with four pre-snap penalties…..
— Simon Clancy (@SiClancy) November 21, 2023
Even more telling? The Dolphins have run the ball in just 56.8% of those situations over the last two seasons. Contrast that with the Philadelphia Eagles, who successfully use the Tush Push on basically every short-yardage situation.
The obvious inference: The Eagles are a power team while the Dolphins are built for speed.
Dolphins fullback Alec Ingold, who is built for moments like that, has a different view.
MORE: Why Haven’t the Miami Dolphins Tried the Tush Push?
“It’s execution,” Ingold said. “I think it’s details, situational football, especially late in the season. December, January, it’s like that one yard turns into three or four it seems like. And that’s the importance of those inches in the matter of the game.
“So when there’s a certain menu of plays, the guys have got to be able to execute that at a very high level. And I think those situational football offenses, defense, special teams playing together, offense’s job on short yardage to continue to extend drives, to extend first downs, to gain field position, that is all going to come into play late in the season. So it’s something we’re very aware of as players and we got to get better at that for sure.”
A Possible Fix for Dolphins’ Offense
Now, it’s obvious why the Dolphins don’t want to line up Tua Tagovailoa under center and have him ride a rugby scrum past the first-down sticks.
Tagovailoa, who suffered two concussions in 2022, is finally having a healthy season after missing time in each of his last four years due to injury (a stretch that reaches back to his time at Alabama).
But it’s not like the Dolphins are without other options. They used 2021 backup QB Jacoby Brissett as their short-yardage specialist during his lone season in Miami. He rushed 19 times for 70 yards that year, picking up first downs on 47.4% of his carries.
Unfortunately, Brissett is no longer on the team. But Mike White is. He has a bigger frame than Tagovailoa and is not nearly as irreplaceable.
That’s an idea. But it’s not the best idea.
Use a non-quarterback?
Backup tight ends Tyler Kroft and Julian Hill are 252 and 251 pounds, respectively, and Hill played quarterback in high school.
Those are good options.
A better one (assuming he can handle a snap)?
Wide receiver Chase Claypool, a 6’4″, 238-pound behemoth has averaged 5.2 yards per carry in his four-year NFL career. Claypool has the size and power to fall forward for a yard and has just four fumbles on 205 career touches — and just one since his rookie year.
We asked Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith about potentially using White or a non-QB under center in short-yardage situations.
His response? Ehhhh.
“We’ve weighed a lot of different things,” Smith said. “That’s also putting someone under center that’s not there all the time, another chance for you to put the ball on the ground.
“So there’s variables for all things, you know, that you can weigh in. You know, we try to make sure that everything we do is for a purpose and for a reason, you know, the last game, you know, we knew what other issues were. We were working on improving it. On Friday, it will be an opportunity to improve in that area.”
From the current NFL standings to team depth charts to coverage of every game in the 18-week NFL schedule, we have all the news from around the league to keep you up to speed!
Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast
Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Dolphins Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Dolphins Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.