Mike McDaniel had a successful first season as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. He led his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. He worked with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and made him a good starting quarterback. He also brought a good offensive structure that produced points and big plays this team hasn’t seen since the Dan Marino days. The players responded well to him, and he communicated well with his team. He seems to be a bright football.
However, like any first-time head coach, there are things he must work on and evaluate to get better at his job. The number one thing he must evaluate is his game and clock management skills. This came back to bite him against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday and prevented the Dolphins from possibly upsetting the Bills in the end. McDaniel calls the offensive plays, and that’s fine. It’s his right as the head coach. Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid call the offensive plays. It’s not like he’s doing something unheard of. However, he needs to get his plays in quicker, and there were too many times last Sunday it took too long to get a play in, and the Dolphins had to burn all their time-outs. They didn’t have one on the 4th and 1, so they had to take the penalty. McDaniel must realize in this game, he has a rookie quarterback and three different starters playing different positions on the offensive line, and communication is big. Too many times, the offense was not breaking the huddle with 10 seconds left on the play clock. It just screwed up the offense and didn’t help his rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson.
On one of the things McDaniel said about the 4th downplay, he said one of the officials told him he had a first down and, due to that, got the personnel wrong. I don’t buy that because the official on his side is on the line and should know where the play ends. That play was short by a good yard, and the head linesman or woman, Sarah Thomas, was on the game and would have told him they were short or close. I know this being a high school official working on the line. I never tell a coach he has the first down unless I had a spot that was past the line to gain or my line judge across the field points the ball carrier has the first down. Let me get that out of the way that’s a BS excuse. Plus, the ball was near midfield; McDaniel should be where the line of scrimmage is and know where the first down is and see where the play ends. There is no reason he shouldn’t have known that and instead relies on others. That falls on him, period.
McDaniel likes to be aggressive and that’s fine. His aggressive approach had the Dolphins go for it more often in certain situations. Some he looked great at, and others didn’t look good. The first one was in the opener against the New England Patriots, he went for it across mid-field just before the half, and he got a big play to Jaylen Waddle for a touchdown. Then there were other times it wasn’t necessary, and he must go by game situations and how the flow of the game is. In the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins were leading 16-10 in the 3rd quarter, and it was a defensive slugfest game where points were tough to come by. The Dolphins had a 4th down in the red zone, and instead of kicking the field goal to go up 19-10, McDaniel went for it; the Dolphins didn’t convert and came away with no points. The Dolphins won the game 16-10, but the Steelers were driving, and if it was for an interception in the end zone on the last possession, the Dolphins could have lost the game, and that decision to pass on the field goal would have come back to bite McDaniel. If it did, the Dolphins would have lost the game and missed the playoffs with that loss. There was another instance against the New York Jets; the Dolphins crossed midfield and had a 4th down on the opening possession. With a rookie quarterback going up against the Jets, whose offense hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in two games, and a backup quarterback, he goes for it and doesn’t get it. LookThephins won the game, but in that situation, with a playoff spot on the line punting and playing defense, especially when going up against a team that is struggling on offense with a backup quarterback pinning them deep, is the best option. I like McDaniel’s aggressive style, but there comes the point when you must go with the flow of the game and situations.
The other thing that drove me nuts this year with McDaniel was he was too reliant on his passing game. I get it the Dolphins’ strength on offense was their passing game, but you must try to establish a running and stick with it when it’s working. McDaniel was the running game coordinator and considered the guru running it with the San Franscisco 49ers; well, you wouldn’t know that this year as the Dolphins were ranked in the bottom of the league running the ball. There were games this year, like against the 49ers, where they only ran the ball eight times, and it was a one-possession game going into the 4th quarter. Or when they played the Los Angeles Chargers, who were not a good run defensive team, they didn’t commit to the running game as well and were trying to throw the ball much. In those games, Tagovailoa had an off game, and those happen, but that’s where you need to try to establish a running game and take some pressure off of your quarterback. There were also times where McDaniel’s offense would run the ball well but got away from it especially in short yardage situations. The most frustrating was the second game against the Bills, where the Dolphins ran the ball very well, but when there were short yardage situations, they threw the ball. The Dolphins had third and one side of the Bills’ 15-yard line and were running it well, but then called a passing play, and Tagovalioa got sacked and kicked a field goal. In that situation, run it, and if you don’t make it, you might go for it on 4th and short, or you get the first down and could come away with a touchdown. There were other points in that game where he opted to pass in short yardage situations instead of sticking with the running game. If a team can’t stop something, then stick with it until they can stop it period.
Like all of us, we must evaluate how we are doing at our job. McDaniel has to reflect on things he has to work on as a head coach and play caller. These are all correctable things he has to work on. My hope as a fan is that he recognizes it and works on these things moving forward.