A show of sportsmanship is the only thing standing between the Miami Dolphins offense and the record books. Coach Mike McDaniel decided a kneel-down for an intentional turnover on downs was less humiliating for the Denver Broncos than being on the receiving end of the highest-scoring performance in NFL history. The Dolphins settled for a casual 70-20 win.
History or not, the Dolphins sent a message to the rest of the league. Talks of their demise and being “figured out” at the end of last season were overblown. These Dolphins are going to score an ungodly amount of points. Either keep up or eat their dust.
Dolphins’ Offense Operates at Warp Speed
Sunday’s beatdown was exactly what we’ve come to expect from their offense. Speed, speed, and a little more speed. All of the Dolphins’ speed demons terrorized the Broncos’ defense up and down the field.
Tyreek Hill bagged another nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. Rookie running back De’Von Achane sprinted to 203 yards on the ground and scored four combined touchdowns, two as a runner and two through the air. Veteran back Raheem Mostert had 142 yards on 20 total touches and matched Achane’s four touchdowns. Run or pass; left or right; short or deep; no matter how Miami got its guys the ball, they were too fast for the Broncos’ 11 players on the field.
And that was all without one of the Dolphins’ primo speed threats in the lineup. WR Jaylen Waddle missed the game because of a concussion, but the Dolphins offense didn’t miss a beat at all. It turns out that when a team has the fastest skill group ever constructed, missing just one guy isn’t enough to stop the team from moving at warp speed.
McDaniel’s Coaching Maximizes Speed
What separates the Dolphins from previous NFL track teams isn’t that their players are just that much faster. It’s true that the space they can create is unique, Hill especially, but it’s coaching that puts them over the top. McDaniel has found a way not only to use the Dolphins’ abundance of speed after the snap by attacking down the field but before the snap with shifts and motions galore. Sunday’s fireworks show was his Magnum Opus.
On Sunday, the Dolphins moved someone before the snap on 50 of 71 plays (70.4 percent), according to NextGenStats. Ten different players went in motion, and eight of them moved around on at least four plays. The Broncos defense rarely got a chance to just line up and play.
The Dolphins get to their shifts and motions in all kinds of ways, too. They aren’t spamming it thoughtlessly for the sake of doing it. Sometimes the Dolphins line up in two-back and motion a running back into the slot. Sometimes Hill lines up like a wing tight end before short motioning out to the sideline. They’ll motion one way to shift the second level of the defense then run back the other way, or they’ll run or play-action pass to the same side of the motion to catch defenders over pursuing.
Dolphins are constantly getting to their base concepts through formation and motion.
Fast short motion to a cluster to get Hill free on Bang-Return. pic.twitter.com/irDfqIQ3zr
— Bobby Peters (@b_peters12) September 24, 2023
After a certain point, all the confusion leads to hesitant defense, and a hesitant defense is never going to catch up to any of the Dolphins’ skill players.
Approach Maximizes Tagovailoa’s Skillset
That doesn’t even get to the quarterback part of the equation. Tua Tagovailoa is playing lights-out football. What he lacks in prototypical arm strength and athleticism, he makes up for with one-of-a-kind anticipation and ball placement. Tagovailoa knows when and where every route is going to break in Miami’s free-flowing offense, and his rapid-fire release lets him get it there before the defense has a chance to break on the ball. The offense is a perfect fit for what Tagovailoa does well and the confidence he is playing with right now has kicked the whole thing into overdrive.
Three weeks into the season, that formula has been nothing short of historic. The Dolphins are on par with, if not outpacing, all of the best offenses we’ve seen since the turn of the century.
Points per game paints a clear picture of how dominant the Dolphins have been. The Dolphins are scoring 43.3 points per game through three weeks. Now, that’s going to come down because they won’t play the worst defense in the NFL every week, but it’s a bonkers place to start less than a month into the season. Moreover, only four teams in NFL history have even cleared the 35-point benchmark: the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2011 Green Bay Packers, the 2013 Denver Broncos and the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs. Even if the Dolphins’ number comes down a little bit, they’re going to be in elite company.
|2007||Patriots||16-0||36.8||Lost in Super Bowl|
|2011||Packers||15-1||35.0||Lost in Divisional Round|
|2013||Broncos||13-3||37.9||Lost in Super Bowl|
|2018||Chiefs||12-4||35.3||Lost in AFC Championship|
Not that it should come as a surprise, but all four teams also saw their quarterbacks win the MVP that season. Tagovailoa is right on track to make it five-for-five.
Three games in, Tagovailoa is producing 0.64 EPA per dropback. That is an almost unfathomable number on its own, but even more so when placed in context with his peers. The only first-three-game stretch since 2000 better than Tagovailoa’s current run was Tom Brady’s 2007 season, per Austin Gayle. Put another way: The only comparison for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ passing offense right now is the best quarterback of all time at the beginning of what became a perfect 16-0 regular season. That’s pretty special.
There’s a good chance we’re witnessing the most prolific offense in the history of the sport with the 2023 Dolphins. Hill is a unique talent to center the entire offense around, the overall team speed is a weapon unlike any other, and McDaniel has only gotten more creative as a play caller. Add in a quarterback as accurate and quick on the draw as Tagovailoa and you complete football Exodia.
Miami’s offense singularly makes them the team to beat right now. Other teams may be a little more complete, but no team has a single superpower as strong as the Dolphins. In a league defined by overwhelming strengths taking over when it counts, the Dolphins are as poised for greatness as they’ve ever been in the modern era.
Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.