MIAMI – Tackling the offensive line has seemingly become an annual offseason focal point for the Miami Dolphins.
And new offensive line coach Matt Applebaum was reminded at a news conference Wednesday that the unit has long been a “concern.” His the answer was concise.
“Yes, they told me,” he said.
The Dolphins had the worst pass-blocking win rate in the league last season, winning just 46.6% of their matchups, according to NFL Next Gen stats. For reference, the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams led the NFL in that category with 68.4%. The Dolphins’ inability to hold screens altered the way quarterback Tua Tagovailoa played his game.
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Despite Miami’s low win rate, Tagovailoa was sacked at the 10th-lowest rate in the NFL last season (4.7% of his rebounds). He was bombed on 26.6% of his throwbacks and faced pressure on 27.1%, ranking 22nd and 12th lowest in the league, respectively. Tagovailoa is largely responsible for those numbers, considering his average time to throw (2.52 seconds) was fourth-fastest in the league, and only two quarterbacks spent less time in the pocket on average than his 2.27 seconds per throw. .
How quickly Tagovailoa needed to throw directly impacted his average target depth. His average of 6.92 passing yards per attempt ranked eighth-lowest in the league, and his average of 10.09 yards per completion ranked seventh-lowest.
But that was in Miami old offense. The new one, designed by first-year coach Mike McDaniel and offensive coordinator Frank Smith, will likely feature a strong zone-blocking scheme that uses the run to set up the pass, something this team wasn’t equipped for last season. (30th in rushing yards in 2021). With McDaniel as their running game coordinator (2017-20) and offensive coordinator (2021), the San Francisco 49ers ranked 11th in the league in rushing yards since 2017 and sixth in total offense.
“Every year people call our scheme so creative, but really we’re just adapting,” he said. “We are adapting to defenses. We are adapting to our players. We are constantly evolving. And I think that’s important, and I think that’s a winning formula. I think it puts the players in a position to succeed, and that’s the key.” unit for the schematic.
“And that’s why it’s less about being creative for creativity’s sake. It’s more about solving problems in different ways and having different tools and skills to do it.”
The Dolphins will have to work out their offensive line woes in 2022, but luckily for them, they have more than $60 million in cap space to help them do it.
McDaniel’s first steps toward beefing up the line were the signing of Applebaum and Smith, who have a history of developing offensive linemen. Miami spent the first 100 draft picks on four of its five starters along the offensive line, and Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson, Michael Deiter and Robert Hunt are likely to have a chance to develop further under this regimen.
Jesse Davis, the Dolphins’ starting right tackle last season, could probably benefit from a change of scenery after finishing 160th in pass-earning rate among 170 qualified linemen. Instead of replacing him in the draft, the Dolphins should do so through free agency. Experienced tackles like Terron Armstead, Cam Robinson and Trent Brown are well within the Dolphins’ price range, as is guard Brandon Scherff, if McDaniel & Co. wants Jackson or Hunt back as tacklers.
From what they have said publicly, the Dolphins are betting everything on Tagovailoa in 2022. But last season, he missed the better part of six games and the first half of a seventh due to various injuries. The best way for Miami to protect your investment in Tagovailoa is to literally protect your investment.
Playmakers make the headlines, and the Dolphins certainly need a few more. But without proper protection and time to pitch, Tagovailoa is destined for another efficient, if unspectacular, season.
As McDaniel said:
“I’ve never seen a quarterback win a football game alone, really. He has to have someone to pitch to. He better not get knocked down before he throws, so someone better block.”
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Miami Dolphins can boost Tua Tagovailoa with better offensive line play