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That first play explained McDaniel’s offense; was Armstead a good free-agent buy? — 5 thoughts on Dolphins – The Denver Post



When people praise the Dolphins offensive system under Mike McDaniel, there’s a short answer to understanding why. It’s that first play on Sunday against San Francisco. It underlines how strategy meshes with personnel in a good way.

For starters, it showed good thinking during the week and how the coaches found ways to move their chess pieces after watching San Francisco’s top-rated defense. There were three prime components:

A. Tyreek Hill is the player every defense fears for good reason and that’s obvious as he went in motion on this play and became the shiny bright object for the 49ers to watch. Cornerback Chavarious Ward, who was pressing slot receiver Trent Sherfield, moved off him at the snap to cover Hill. Just as importantly, safety Talanoa Hufanga immediately moved to Hill and Sherfield had some open field before him — all thanks to Hill.

B. At the same time, there was some hocus-pocus happening in the backfield. Running backs Raheem Mostert and Alec Ingold criss-crossed in front of Tua Tagovailoa after he got the shotgun snapped. Tagovailoa offered a fake hand-off to either one. That froze linebacker Fred Warner the necessary half-beat to keep him out of the passing lane Tagovailoia would throw.

C. Sherfield ran a simple slant and Tua made a simple, 9-yard pass over the middle. An easy pitch-and-catch. The 49ers other safety, Tashaun Gipson, made a misstep in reacting and Sherfield beat the one player he had to beat for the touchdown.

That’s how good coaching works with good personnel for a great result. The Dolphins had receivers running open Sunday in the manner the No. 1 defense rarely yields. Hill had nine catches for 146 yards, confirming again why he’s the prime interest of defenses. This first play also underlines why he’s my vote as the MVP of the team. Even when he’s not catching passes, he’s changing how defenses play and open space for teammates to find.

2. Speaking of changing defenses, San Francisco linebackers seemed to drop a yard or two deeper than most defenses against the Dolphins on regular occasions. I don’t watch them enough to know if it’s their normal drops, but perhaps this is the subtle change that affected Tagovailoa’s passing angles? If so, it will be interesting to see if other defenses change things.

3. There have been some good front-office decisions to build this roster. The verdict remains out on left tackle Terron Armstead. It’s not his talent. He’s elite. But should you spend big money on a player who hasn’t played a full season in 10 years? Who played just 18 games total the previous two years? You want to win in January — and want your best players playing at that point. The easiest prediction to make is Armstead was going to miss games this year and, thus, a vital decision was who the backup left tackle would be.

4. The running game? It’s clear the Dolphins didn’t think they could run on the 49ers’ No. 1-rated rush defense (75 yards a game) and rather went at their 12th-rated pass defense. They ran just eight times for 33 yards. The numbers are skewed, because the Dolphins only ran 45 plays thanks to turnovers, their 0-for-7 on third downs — and San Francisco’s defense is top-rated for a reason. Now comes the Los Angeles Chargers defense and it’s generally awful as its 30th in points allowed (25.8 points per game) and 25th in yards allowed (371.7). This game should get the Dolphins offense get back to being the confident bunch it was in November to prepare for the showdown against Buffalo. Speaking of which …

5. The NFL did the Dolphins no favors by moving Sunday’s game to a night kickoff (8 p.m. Eastern) and the following Buffalo game to Saturday night. It has some of the feel of the 1999 season’s playoff schedule when the Dolphins won in Seattle in a late-afternoon game on Sunday and kicked off Saturday at noon in Jacksonville. Veteran NFL writer Peter King has called that the worst scheduling job for the playoffs that the NFL has ever done. It didn’t explain losing 62-7 to Jacksonville. But it didn’t help. This schedule isn’t any better.

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