"Speed kills," the late Hall of Fame Raiders owner Al Davis famously said. "You can't teach speed. Everything else in the game can be taught, but speed is a gift from God."
If Davis was around today to see the speed, plus scheme combination brewing within the Miami Dolphins 2023 offense -- between their explosive playmakers and head coach Mike McDaniel's playbook -- he would have a grin from ear to ear. The Dolphins dropped 70 points, tied for the second-most points scored in a regular-season game in NFL history as well as the most in a game since Year 1 of the Super Bowl era (1966), with ease on the visiting Denver Broncos in a 70-20 Week 3 victory. Their 726 yards of total offense produced were the second-most in a game all time (1951 Rams, 735).
Through three games, the Dolphins have produced the most yards (1,651) and the second-most points (130) in NFL history to start a season. Their 8.4 yards per play this season are the most for any time through their first three contests in the Super Bowl era. Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning's 2013 Denver Broncos hold the record for the most points scored in season with 606, and the 2023 Dolphins are on pace for exactly that many points across their last 14 games with their league-leading 43.3-points-per-game average. That number doesn't just stem from Sunday's performance: they dropped 36 points on the road in a 36-34 Week 1 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. In total, Miami is on pace to smash the 2013 record with a projected 736 this season.
The dynamic abilities of All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, running back Raheem Mostert and rookie running back De'Von Achane -- plus quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's ability to quickly distribute the football around to all of them -- are why the Dolphins are responsible for the five fastest plays of the 2023 season, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats. Tagovailoa leads the NFL in quickest average time to throw (2.28 seconds), yards per pass attempt (10.1), completions of 15 or more air yards (16) and passing first downs (53).
Fastest ball-carrier speeds
Week 3 vs. Broncos
RB De'Von Achane
Week 1 at Chargers
WR Tyreek Hill
Week 2 at Patriots
RB Raheem Mostert
Week 1 at Chargers
WR Tyreek Hill
Week 3 vs. Broncos
RB De'Von Achane
* According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats
"This is the fastest group of individuals I've ever seen assembled," All-Pro Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, a teammate of Hill's for six seasons in Kansas City, said Wednesday on his "New Heights" podcast. "They have a full-on track team right now."
Achane, a third-round pick (84th overall) in the 2023 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M, totaled 203 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 18 carries, plus two receiving touchdowns in the jaw-dropping dismantling of the Broncos to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week. However, the offensive eruption in South Beach primarily has to do with the continuity that comes with McDaniel, Tagovailoa and Hill all in their second season working together, plus McDaniel's willingness to have no end to how many different motions he can scheme up to get his speed out in space. One of the things Tagovailoa points to being much improved in 2023 is the communication both he and McDaniel have with each other when relaying the play calls to the rest of the offense.
"We all know that 15 seconds cuts out for the quarterbacks and play-callers," Tagovailoa said postgame Sunday. "In practice, we run plays and we try to get our personnel in. We call our personnel while I'm getting ready for Mike [McDaniel] to tell me what number it is, and we operate in that sense. It's a little more challenging when you're the head coach because Mike has to talk to guys, guys want to talk to him while he's calling the plays for us, so it was also a challenge for him. But yeah, we try to see, all right, how much time do we have left of the period if we start out with eight minutes, like how much time do we have left? Two minutes and we finished our plays. That's good operation from play-caller to the quarterback, quarterback to the huddle."
McDaniel concurred after the historic win on Sunday, confirming he is way more comfortable with the game day operation of calling plays in his second season as a head coach. Prior to 2022, McDaniel spent 15 seasons as an assistant coach, but he never called plays while primarily working under current San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
"A huge one," McDaniel said postgame on Sunday when asked about how efficiency with getting play calls into Tagovailoa. "I speak a lot to the players about getting better, and I think last year was the first year that I had done a lot of stuff, and my expectation was to be what everyone deserved. But that being said, you know that there's going to be things that you can get better at. Well, getting used to calling plays, I think there's the tempo with which we operate and the speed with which my decisions are just very much enhanced from a season's worth of reps. I think that's very nice of Tua to say; don't let us equate our growth to anything that has to do with me. My job is to set forth a standard, and I'd better be getting better at everything. That's what the team needs and deserves."
Ultimately, his players make those plays come to life on the field, and McDaniel's heavy utilization of motion -- present on 70.1% of the Dolphins plays (the second-highest rate in the NFL behind the Chiefs 70.6% rate in 2023) -- puts the electrifying speed of Miami's playmakers into open space with the aide of his play designs. In McDaniel's tenure running the Dolphins since the start of the 2022 season, no offense has incorporated motion more frequently into their offense as Miami's 74.3% percentage since the start of last season -- nearly 10 percentage points higher than the 49ers' 66.7% rate. It's a deadly combination and one that puts a lot on Tagovailoa's plate.
"I could call plays fast as all get out, and they have to execute them," McDaniel said. "What Tua is doing is beyond the stat sheet because we're doing a lot of movement. We're moving a lot of pieces every snap. There's a lot of timing involved with a lot of things that he's doing, not just passing. All of that orchestration and the lack of pre-snap penalties, starts with the quarterback position, the immense amount of stuff that he has to learn and execute every week, and then it goes down to the entire offense. They're fully committed to their techniques and fundamentals that we ask, and they're starting to really gain that hunger of the continued growth, which is never at rest. It's always there. We have to grow from this game, and we will continue to focus on that, which is the biggest reason why you're seeing some extra — you're just seeing some growth in our production from an offensive standpoint."
That growth manifests itself in unlimited combinations of McDaniel putting his speedy burners in motion. An example from Sunday is using Mostert to draw the defense's eyes into the backfield, faking a run to him and then bringing Achane over from being lined up as a wide receiver to run the football back toward the side of the field where Mostert was originally aligned. The result: a gain of over 40 yards for Achane.
This whole Miami Dolphins run is hell for a defense— Anthony Cover 1 (@Pro__Ant) September 26, 2023
-Mostert motions into the backfield
-Orbit motion from the short side of the condensed 2x2 (becomes a lead blocker)
-Fake to Mostert w/ a puller
-End around toss to Devon Achane who was lined up at WR
"No, I mean, there's multiple jet tempo motions," McDaniel said Monday when asked if he has a set number on how many types of motions are present in his offense. "You're kind of always problem-solving and sometimes those things are given birth by the nature of necessity or certain skill sets that individuals have or different things that affect the defense. I think there's been motions that we utilized yesterday that were from this offseason, problem-solving for some things. But then there was a bunch that we'd employed last year and this year, the only difference is, we're not having near the pre-snap penalties while we're doing them. That's just something that at first, it's hard for a coach because it's not clean when you first start doing stuff like that and moving all the time. But when it becomes your norm, guys kind of get uncomfortable now when there isn't a motion on a play. They're like, 'where's the rest of the play?' But that takes a total commitment of everyone, including the offensive line, because you have to get used to the different types of snap counts that Tua uses to not only execute some of those motions, but then make sure that the defensive line can't tee off on snap points, and then have variations of cadence on that, too. So everybody plays a part in it and it's something that takes a village to execute."
Their 31 pre-snap/dead-ball penalties in 2022 ranked as the ninth-most in the NFL last season. The Dolphins only have five such penalties in 2023, putting them on pace for an improved number of 28 by the end of the season. Another element that has led the Miami's rise is Tagovailoa allowing his dynamic weapons do more of the heavy lifting and taking more completions on shallow crossers and underneath routes. His 478 passing yards after the catch lead the NFL this season.
"Yeah, he's learning every week, man," McDaniel said postgame on Sunday when talking about Tagovailoa being better at taking underneath throws and not just hunting the deep ball. "He is one of the -- I've said it before on record; he's like the most coachable, best learner that I've ever been around. Everything that happens, you guys — have you heard adversity is an opportunity? Yeah. Well, that's how he looks at it. For instance, he thought he was short-changing how fast I was getting the plays in last week and wasn't looking at his wristband fast enough, so he kept the tempo moving. Then you have to execute aggressively what the defense is giving up while they take something away. When safeties are super high and wide and deep, he learned from his interception from the Patriots game [in Week 2]. In that moment, he was trying to win the game and threw it up to Tyreek [Hill]and he had a checkdown to Raheem Mostert. I think it was on a very similar play — it wasn't the same play, but a similar situation where he threw in the second half a checkdown to De'Von [Achane] that last week he would have thrown into tight coverage. That's all you're trying to do is a lot of people — it's hard to get better continually because it's exhausting, and you just want to feel like, man, I've arrived. That's not him. That's why we'll continue to see a better version of him as he progresses."
To be fair to Tagovailoa, his connection with Hill is what allows McDaniel's offense to truly open up for everyone else. Hill leads the league with four touchdowns this year, including his 54-yard bomb on Sunday. That touchdown also highlighted something the Dolphins offense does differently: play-action passing out of the shotgun. Their 20.7% play-action rate out of the gun under McDaniel leads the NFL in that span. Hill's 144 catches and 2,122 receiving yards since becoming a Dolphin are both the second-most in the league behind only 2022 Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson.
As long as Tagovailoa and Hill stay healthy, McDaniel's offense has the potential to continue humming at a historic rate. In the 16 games, the former equivalent of an entire NFL regular season, that Tagovailoa and Hill have played together, the Dolphins average 6.9 yards per play. That would rank as one of the highest by an offense for a single season in NFL history, ahead of some Hall of Fame-caliber units.
Notable offenses in NFL history
Perhaps the most wild element of the Dolphins' 70-point tsunami on Sunday was their offense wasn't even whole. Waddle, whose 18.1 yards per reception led the NFL in 2022, was out with a concussion. Tagovailoa, plus Hill, plus Waddle in their second season in McDaniel's offense will undoubtedly lead to many more fireworks.
"Yeah, I mean, we always have the next-guy mentality going, but when we do have Jaylen Waddle, it does present a lot more challenges for defenses," Tagovailoa said. "But needless to say, we've got our run game going. We had our deal with our pass game, our play-action game. I'm very proud of the guys and the way they came out."