Why Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel may be out-coaching himself on 4th down

Mike McDaniel has practically become a South Florida icon in only two short years but his high-powered offense may be a little too over thought out.
Cliff Hawkins/GettyImages

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel may be his own worst enemy on game days. Is he overthinking his offense?

Mike McDaniel is a breath of fresh air in the Dolphins locker room, at the podium, and quite frankly, around the league.  In my opinion, no one quite takes their time with the media to answer questions like Coach McDaniel.  Coach doesn’t mean to mug or ridicule you regardless of your question.  If Mike McDaniel can answer, he will, and if he can’t, he has an articulate way of sidestepping the question without making one feel slighted that the question wasn’t answered. 

Having Mike McDaniel at the helm has been great for this franchise and that isn’t even up for debate.  Yet, in the 2 years that McDaniel has been here one of my greatest concerns has been his short-yardage play calling; especially on 4th down.

Since his arrival in Miami Mike McDaniel has been the 2nd most aggressive coach in the NFL on 4th down.  McDaniel is 52% more likely than the average coach to go for it on 4th down situations, second only to Nick Sirianni and the “Push Tush” in Philadelphia.  I am not here to bemoan or second guess coach's propensity to go for it on 4th down.  I do, however, question his play calling during these 4th down situations.

In 2022 the Miami Dolphins went for it on 4th down 24 times throughout the season.  Of those twenty-four times, Miami had 13 successful conversions.  Seven conversions came on a run play, 5 conversions came on a passing play and one conversion came on a neutral zone infraction by the New England Patriots. 

The Dolphins finished 7 of 10 on fourth down running the ball and 5 of 12 when passing the ball.  This equates to a 70% success rate when running and a 41% success rate when passing the ball.  By comparison, the Eagles used the “Tush Push" 41 times in 2022 and converted 37 times.  That’s a 90% conversion rate on 4th down. Therefore, here lies the problem with Mike McDaniel and his offensive genius.  

If as a coach you are converting 70% of your 4th down attempts when running the football, why would you try something else?   It’s like telling Philadelphia to run an HB Toss because the “Tush Push” is just too easy.  Unfortunately, play calling in 2023 doesn’t seem to be that much different.  So far this season the Miami Dolphins have gone for it on 4th down 14 times. 

In these attempts, Miami is 2 of 3 when running the ball and 3 of 11 when calling a pass play.  This equates to a 66% conversion rate on the ground and a pedestrian 27% success rate when passing the ball.  That’s well below the league average of 51%. 

Mike McDaniel was brought in from San Francisco because of his offensive prowess, particularly in the running game.  The Dolphins even signed Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. because of their familiarity with McDaniel’s system.  Yes, Coach has been great for Tua’s development and mental psyche.  Ultimately, McDaniel will be judged on wins and losses.  For that part, establishing the running game needs to be more in coach McDaniels' mental forefront.  

Against opposing teams, the Miami Dolphins ran the ball 35% of the time and passed it 65% of the time.  In 2023 these numbers drop slightly to 61% passing plays and 39% running plays. The Dolphins are 10-4 when they win the time of possession battle and are a hapless 6-7 when they don't. Everyone knows there's nothing like a good running game to keep your opponent's offense on the sideline and keep their defense in the Miami sun; win the time of possession battle.

The Dolphins are averaging 5.6 yards per carry. This makes for a great way to dictate the tempo and manage the game when opponents shrink the field. The Dolphins are undefeated at home in 2023 and nothing would be better than hosting a game or two in the playoffs. If Miami is to be successful, Coach McDaniel needs to show that he can keep opposing defenses on the field and cooking in the South Florida sun.