What Bill Belichick knows – and doesn’t know – about new-look Dolphins’ offense

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Opening day in the NFL is always a day of unknowns.

First-week unknowns are even more of a factor when a team is preparing for an opponent with a new coach, his new schemes and key new players.

That’s exactly what Bill Belichick’s Patriots are in store for this coming Sunday afternoon in Miami against a new-look Dolphins offense led by first-year head coach Mike McDaniel and built around playmaking speedy trade addition Tyreek Hill.

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McDaniel arrives in Miami after spending most of his prior coaching career under the Shanahan coaching tree, first with Mike Shanahan in Denver back in 2005 and following Kyle Shanahan to a number of NFL stops, most recently a five-year stint as the run-game coordinator and then offensive coordinator with the 49ers.

As such, as Belichick and his defense prepare for what the Tua Tagovailoa-led Dolphins might do offensively, most of the research will be rooted in San Francisco.

“The last two years the 49ers have led the league in yards after catch. So they get a lot of yards after the ball is in the receivers’ hands,” Belichick said in a Tuesday morning Zoom when asked what the core concepts of a McDaniel offense might be. “A lot of emphasis on the zone running game. Again, things that we’ve seen from Kyle and even before that from Mike Shanahan. But a game plan team. Create different things each week for the new opponent. Multiple types of runs. It’s not all zone runs by any stretch. And they use all their players, receivers, tight ends whether it was [George] Kittle or whoever, as part of the running game or RPO, which is kind of an extended, it’s a pass play but it’s kind of an extended part of the running game. Outside screens and bubble passes and things like that. So they do a good job of attacking the entire field and play-action comes off the running game and of course they’ve added a lot of speed to their team with the two backs (Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert) and [Cedrick] Wilson and Hill. Of course they already had [Jaylen] Waddle.

“So, it’s an explosive offense that has a balance of running game, play-action, mobile quarterback and deep ball explosive play threats.”

As much as Belichick may know about McDaniel from his work under Shanahan in San Francisco and in terms of the scouting reports of specific players, exactly how that all translates to what Miami may do is a mystery heading toward opening day.

“We haven’t really seen, haven’t really seen them play yet. I mean it’s preseason. They’re running their core stuff like everybody else is,” Belichick explained. “What they actually will come up with for us? I don’t know. But I imagine it will have its own flavor. It will be something that attacks or tries to attack what they expect us to do or what they perceive our weaknesses to be. And we’ll just have to see what those are. I think again this is a team looking at San Francisco that they have some core concepts, they build them in a lot of different ways and they change it from week to week depending on who they play and what the opponent shows defensively in terms coverage, run force and front alignment, how they set the front and where they put their defensive players. Then that affects the formation-building and the creativity that Coach McDaniel and his staff will use to try to put pressure on the defense.

“So we’ll have to really see what those are. It would be hard for me to sit here and tell you I know what the game plan is now, because I really don’t.”

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