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The Showtime Dolphins: Can they also go big time?

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That’s right, Showtime Dolphins. Remember where you heard that moniker coined for the first time if the national media starts to pick it up. Because let’s be honest, this team most definitely shares similarities to the Showtime Lakers of the 1980’s. Let me explain. 

Those Lakers were known for their up-tempo style of offensive play, complimented by exceptional passing. Magic Johnson led fast break after fast break for easy points, consistently finding playmakers like Kareem Abdul Jabar and Byron Scott for easy buckets at the rim. Not much different than Tua Tagovailoa slicing up defenses with completion after completion to his own playmakers like Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill for big chunks of yards and scores. 

The cities themselves share similarities as well. Los Angeles and Miami are both flashy by nature. Known for bringing the heat in not only the local temperature but fashion, cars, and overall lifestyle as well. Cities that promote living fast and playing fast. Much like the Lakers of the 80’s and the Dolphins of today. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dolphin’s Head Coach Mike McDaniel in relation to Showtime Lakers Coach Pat Riley to complete this big brain comparison I’m going for here as well. Here we go. For one they were both successful assistant coaches who were then hired to head coaching positions, impressively young, in otherwise odd circumstances.

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Pat Riley was first an assistant coach for the Lakers during their 1979-1980 Championship run under then head coach Paul Westhead. The following season led to less success as the Lakers were sent home by the Moses Malone Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. Early in the 1981-1982 season a disgruntled Magic Johnson wanted to be traded as he was unhappy  with the coaching of Paul Westhead. Which led to Lakers’ Owner, Jerry Buss, firing Paul Westhead. At the announcement Buss, with the logo himself Jerry West by his side, named West as the next coach seemingly unbeknownst to West. Buss then backtracked and described West as an offensive captain, and then later co-coach with Riley. West would go on to say he would only assist Riley, and that Riley was the head coach. Riley would go on to become the permanent head coach and win three championships in Los Angeles.

Mike McDaniel found success as an assistant coach as well. Starting his career as a coaching intern for the Denver Broncos in 2005, working under head coach Mike Shanahan. After working for a handful of other NFL and UFL clubs McDaniel in 2017 was hired by the San Francisco 49ers as their run game coordinator. Working under head coach, and former colleague for nine years with several different teams in the assistant coaching ranks, Kyle Shanahan. In 2019 the success of the San Francisco running game helped bring the 49ers and McDaniel to Miami for Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs. They’d lose that game at Hard Rock Stadium 20-31, but it wouldn’t be the last opportunity for McDaniel in South Florida.

On February 6th 2022 McDaniel was named the head coach of the Miami Dolphins during a time of chaos for the franchise. League and federal investigations into the teams handling and firing of former coach Brian Flores, and owner Stephen Ross’ inappropriate pursuit of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Sean Payton, would lead to a Ross suspension, a $1.5 million fine, and loss of first and third round draft picks in the 2023 draft. Despite all the noise the Dolphins seemed to still get their guy. Even if he wasn’t their original “guy”, so to speak. McDaniel became the first Dolphin coach to win his first game since Nick Saban, and his current 6-3 record boasts the highest winning percentage (66.7%) for any Dolphin coach of all time. Legendary coach Don Shula’s record is 257-133-2 (65.8%) and only time will tell if McDaniel will continue to hold off Shula for that impressive distinction.

The Drive To Survive-R team got a big (but rare) win last week as the Cincinnati Bengals easily took care of business against the Carolina Panthers but it is time to find a new winner this week.

All very similar to the sudden introduction and upstart career of a young Riley in Los Angeles some 40 years ago or so. I’ll let you guys decide if McDaniel’s sideline designer sunglasses are as cool as Riley’s courtside designer suits. Fashion aside, the Dolphins have the potential to achieve success similar to the 80’s Lakers if they do the following:

1. Protect the money

Yes, that money would be Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. This season the Dolphins are undefeated when Tagovailoa starts and finishes the contest, outscoring teams 165-133. In games without Tagovailoa to start and close, Miami only scored 48 points to their opponents 91. A substantial jump. A jump that one could contribute to how quickly Tagovailoa makes his reads and delivers the ball to playmakers downfield. In fact, he’s been getting the ball further down the field and quicker than any other quarterback in the league. See the chart below that shows Tagovailoa leading in average depth of throw within 2.5 seconds of the snap with just under 8 yards a clip.

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Applying pressure to the opponents secondary and relieving pressure off of the Dolphin’s offensive line. That style of play helps keep Tagovailoa upright, but the front office can help maintain the longevity of this high powered offense by continuing to invest in offensive line talent. Offseason left tackle acquisition Terron Armstead has been great thus far helping to solidify the left side of protection. But continued investments via the draft, free agency, and trades to solidify the depth of the protection moving forward are so important as well due to the likelihood of injuries throughout the season occuring to interior lineman. Protect the money, protect the winning percentage.

2. Keep your foot on the gas, continue to innovate

To piggyback the end of that first point about investing in protection players. It’s critical to keep your foot on the gas in acquiring and challenging a variety of players to bolster not just your weak spots as a team but your strong spots as well. Prior to this season the Dolphins recent identity was fast, aggressive, and playmaking on defense. Cover zero blitzes, defensive touchdowns galore, with a conservative offensive approach that was simply, try to not lose the game. Fast forward to this season and they’ve allowed the eighth most points per game in the league at 24.9 and 10th most yards per game allowed at 363.3, while being fifth in offensive yards per game at 380.4, second in passing yards per game at 293.6, and top ten in points per game as well. A quick and complete 180.

Point being. It’s easy to get complacent when things are working well for you and let the quality slip. Today you’d think the Dolphins should be mainly focused on improving the defense, since their offense is doing so well statistically, but you must always be doing both. Think of it like a barbell, putting too much weight or emphasis on one side over the other will lead to everything being unbalanced. This Dolphins offense is running hot right now, but defensive coordinators around the league are actively working on ways to slow it down and will likely do so if Miami doesn’t continue to innovate in how they are getting the ball down the field. It’s on McDaniel and the rest of the coaching staff to bolster and improve this defense, but continue to create new ways to break defenses down offensively as well.

3. Do the little things

Games in the NFL often come down to a handful of really finite, yet important decisions time after time. And it’s not always the fourth down decision late in the fourth quarter that decides it. Coaches and players can often make decisions in the middle parts of a game that have a profound impact on the final result. For example, let’s discuss the Dolphins Week 7 primetime game against the Steelers. The final score in this game was actually the same as the halftime score, 16-10 Dolphins. In this game the Dolphins made a decision in the third quarter that made the end of the game more complicated than it needed to be. On fourth-and-3 on the Steelers 14-yard line they chose to not kick the chip shot field goal that would’ve extended their lead to nine points. Instead they ran it for no gain with now Bronco, Chase Edmonds. Miami’s offense had previously picked up big fourth down conversions in prior games but in that scenario and that type of slugfest low scoring matchup it really didn’t make sense to not take the points. That decision led to the Dolphins defense needing to come up with two late interceptions, both in their own field, to close the game out. A seemingly small decision in the middle part of the game that made the ending of the game a lot more dramatic than it needed to be.

That being said, the Dolphin’s special teams play, especially place kicking, has been somewhat rocky this season. Kicker Jason Sanders has missed four field goals this season and an extra point. A crucial missed 29-yard field goal late in the first half against the Bears last week made that game much more complicated than it needed to be as well. As a unit and team you either have to improve or look for solutions elsewhere so as to not overthink kicking scenarios down the road. Kickers in the NFL have notoriously short leashes with management when it comes to poor play and I would expect the Dolphins to make a move if Sanders doesn’t improve. A small thing that could turn into EVERYTHING if the season comes down to one kick. And we all know how often that comes true in the NFL.

The Showtime Lakers were famous for their dazzling offense but won championships because of their defense. We’ve most definitely seen the dazzling offense out there in the aqua and orange this season. Let’s see if these Dolphins can put it all together and truly be, SHOWTIME.