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Giants-Dolphins: What to expect when Miami has the ball

Do the Giants have any chance of grounding the high-flying Dolphins’ offense?

Denver Broncos v Miami Dolphins Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The 1-3 New York Giants start their second road trip of the season in Miami for a Week 5 game against the 3-1 Dolphins this Sunday. Summer expectations for the Giants far exceeded what transpired through the Giants’ pitiful start to the 2023 season.

The Giants have been outscored 122-46 through four games. Thirty one of those points came in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals.

Conversely, Miami has outscored its opponents (Chargers, Patriots, Broncos, Bills) 150-119. Seventy of the Dolphins’ points were against a hapless Broncos team in Week 3. Still, Miami has scored 20 or more points in every game, including their 49-20 loss against the Buffalo Bills last week.

Miami’s defense is adjusting to Vic Fangio’s style, and points can be scored against the unit, but their offense is clicking on all cylinders, and third-year wide receiver Jaylen Waddle’s impact has yet to be felt.

The numbers

ESPN analytics gives the Giants a 12.9% chance of winning, and DraftKings Sportsbook has New York as 11-point dogs. Head coach Mike McDaniel, and his idiosyncratic style, could run a coaching masterclass on how to exploit space with elite speed in the pre- and post-snap phase. It’s obvious he’s from the ripe tree of Kyle Shanahan.

Miami’s offense leads the league in scoring at 37.5 points per game. They’re currently the number-one rushing team in the NFL (176.8 yards per game average) and number one in passing yards (334.4 PYPG). Therefore, they’re also number one in total yards with an astounding 511 yards per game, 100 yards per game more than the second-place San Francisco 49ers.

Miami is number one in Estimated Points Added (EPA) per play, EPA per rushing play, and they’re second behind the 49ers in EPA per pass play.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL with 1,306 yards passing, with 9.6 yards per attempt and has a 71.3% completion rate (behind Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Brock Purdy, and Dak Prescott).

Tagovailoa is second behind Kirk Cousins with nine touchdown passes with just three interceptions. His lightning-quick release, combined with - as Brian Daboll put it - his keyhole accuracy, is a dangerous combination for a team that likes to blitz frequently. New York will have its hands full with Tagovailoa, but let’s look at other pieces of this roster and why they’re so successful.

Dolphins vs. Giants chess match

As previously stated, Mike McDaniel is a master at exploiting space by leveraging his team’s unique speed. The Dolphins have two running backs with 4.3 speed in 31-year-old Raheem Mostert, who did fumble twice last week, and rookie De’Von Achane, who has 309 yards and four touchdowns with an 11.4 yards per carry rate in just two games.

That speed is coupled with elite burst and athletic ability from wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Hill ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards with 470 on 39 catches; only Justin Jefferson and Puka Nacua are ahead of Hill. He averages 16.8 yards per catch and has four touchdowns.

Waddle missed Week 3 against the Broncos and returned last week from his concussion. He has only 12 catches for 210 yards through three weeks. The Giants can’t sleep on the 24-year-old receiver, but they only have so many assets to allocate toward slowing down this expeditious offense.

The Dolphins used 21 personnel (two RBs) on 46% of snaps this season. Plenty of teams that use 21 personnel have a fullback as the second running back; while Miami will use fullback Alec Ingold creatively, they also align both Mostert and Achane on the field at the same time - that’s a very explosive PONY package.

So, how does McDaniel exploit space? One way is through condensed formations with presnap motion; they always have someone either in orbit or motioning outside to expand throwing windows and give that specific player a release with momentum. The movement is unpredictable, and it forces the defense to adjust and communicate against one of the fastest teams the NFL has ever seen.

Sometimes the motioning player gets a jet-sweep, touch-pass, end-around, or a quick dump-off. Other times he expands to the sideline to create space for another receiving weapon to come open while using play action as eye candy to occupy the linebackers:

The condensed formations employed by the Dolphins allow for clear out routes to expand outward and stretch zone defenders to the outermost part of their responsibility. The expansion also creates larger throwing windows over the middle of the field for the receivers on dig routes.

Tagovailoa has an astounding 81% completion rate (21 of 26) from 10 to 25 yards past the line of scrimmage. Seven of those completions were explosive plays (20+ yards). The Dolphins love attacking the middle of the field and finding those soft spots between the safety and linebacker against zone coverage.

Miami’s signal caller currently has 16 explosive passing plays, four of his nine touchdowns were against the blitz with zero interceptions and just one sack, due to his quick release, and he’s targeting Hill on 33.6% of his dropbacks.

The Dolphins will exploit where defenses are weak. If a defense accounts too much for the speed of Waddle and Hill by aligning off leverage, then McDaniel will run screens to force those defenders closer to the line of scrimmage. All four of the skilled position players discussed do an excellent job creating yards after the catch.

The passing attack isn’t the only aspect of this offense to fear. Miami has so many options and a diversified rushing attack that is successful, and that was helped by the return of their star left tackle Terron Armstead. However, both Armstead and guard Connor Williams are unlikely to play in Week 5.

The Giants significantly struggle with pin-pull and counter concepts. Miami runs more zone than power/gap, but their power/gap is special with the speed they have at running back. Here are a couple plays of crack-toss:

Here, the play side tackle kicks around a crack block from a wide receiver or non-Y tight end. The Dallas Cowboys used this play successfully against the Giants several times last season. Other teams mimicked the Cowboys, and the Giants have not looked comfortable against this concept since.

McDaniel is a creative mastermind when designing runs and short shovel passes; this was evident when the Dolphins were in the red zone against Denver:

Both of these plays are from 21 personnel (one with two true RBs, the other with Ingold), against a defense that is worse than the Giants. Still, I have concerns about how the Giants' second level will account for and attack a team with this much speed and eye candy before and after the snap.

The Giants may look to bracket and cloud-cover Hill in obvious passing situations. New York did this against Tyler Lockett toward the end of the second quarter and throughout the rest of the game with a cornerback and, typically, Isaiah Simmons walling Lockett off from the inside.

Executing cloud from Cover-6 on Hill is difficult since he’s never stagnant. McDaniel will put him on the move and give him free releases. Pressing him is a wild risk, and the motion makes it difficult, so New York could opt to play off leverage with a deep post safety in middle-of-the-field- closed (MOFC) looks.

Against San Francisco in Week 3, with fullback Kyle Juszczyk on the field, Wink Martindale aligned in MOFC on 77% of snaps. They were off leverage on every one of those snaps against that offensive personnel. However, the Giants have aligned in press and soft coverage against most other personnel groupings.

Martindale could look to replicate his game plan against Brock Purdy and the 49ers, where he blitzed on 86% of the young quarterback’s dropbacks. With Tagovailoa’s processing and quick release, success may be hard to come by with that approach.

Still, New York is on the road and has to play within the context of the game. If the Giants' offense remains stale against a suspect Miami defense, then the Giants’ defense may look to make some game-changing plays by dialing up more pressure.

Martindale and the Giants have to stop the run and force Tagovailoa to throw outside of the numbers and over the middle of the field. Martindale may also look to employ more quarters coverage and Cover-6.

The Giants run a lot of Cover-1, which is risky against this offense. Miami has primarily seen zone coverage all season. Five of Tagovailoa’s nine touchdown passes were against man coverage. New York will focus on Hill with possibly Adoree’ Jackson and inside help to protect the middle of the field.

If that’s the case, Deonte Banks will see a lot of Jaylen Waddle. I don’t know if Jackson will shadow Hill, but multiple sets of eyes must be on him in passing situations.

Tackling and angles of pursuit are going to be of even higher priority against this team. Gap-sound responsible defenders are another key to success. If the Giants can get the Dolphins to third-and-long or third-and-medium, they could have a shot of getting them off the field with more exotic pressure looks.

Passing situations is when Isaiah Simmons finds his way onto the football field. His speed may be even more necessary in this game, and I wouldn't be shocked to see his snaps increase. Miami ranks 12th in third-down conversion rate at a number of 42.1%. For reference, the Giants rank 20th at a 37.5% rate.

Final thoughts

Containing Miami’s offense is going to be very difficult. Speed, motion, and deception are two of the many aspects that Miami utilizes to exploit open space on the defense at every level of the field. The Giants’ defense was solid against Seattle on Monday night; essentially, they only surrendered 10 of the 24 points scored, since Daniel Jones’ turnovers basically resulted in the other two touchdowns.

Handling this offense is a difficult task. Two of the best features of the Dolphins’ offense are McDaniel’s ability to script and design exotic power rushing plays and their ability to attack the intermediate middle of the field. The Giants' defense struggles to handle both of those assignments.

I think we’ll see more simulated pressures (four-man rushes) with possibly some drop-eight, like Martindale used against Jacksonville last season. New York’s pass rush has to find a way to defeat Miami’s injured offensive line. But first, the Giants are going to have to shut down Miami’s rushing attack, which is easier said than done.