One of Mike McDaniel’s first thoughts upon the Dolphins trading for star receiver Tyreek Hill this offseason, pairing him with fellow standout Jaylen Waddle, was a vision he probably shared with many Miami fans.
“What if you had two? It’s an exciting thought,” McDaniel said this week that he pondered when Hill was acquired. “I hadn’t personally been around two players in the same position group of that caliber.”
What they can do on the field together was exhibited in full force in last Sunday’s thrilling 42-38 come-from-behind win in Baltimore. Both had 11 receptions, scoring two touchdowns. Hill had 190 receiving yards and Waddle 171.
They became the first pair of NFL teammates to post those stat lines or better in a game. The question of “How good can this combination be?” was answered, in just their second game together: Historically good.
“To have two guys like that, with that kind of talent and that kind of speed, just puts so much stress on a defense,” said wide receivers coach Wes Welker, who posted 9,924 receiving yards in his 12-year playing career. “Their speed, it’s really changed my perspective on the receiver position. … Not only do they have the speed, they’re dogs. They’re tough. It’s very rare to find guys that are that fast, that explosive but aren’t track guys.”
As the Dolphins enter an AFC East showdown with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, through two games, Hill has 19 receptions for 284 yards and the two touchdowns. Waddle has 15 catches for 240 yards and three scores. The two are capable of posting big numbers on their own, but complementing each other, they leave opposing defenses at a crossroads.
“[Defenses have] to respect someone like that, as dominant as him on the field,” Waddle said. “He opens up a lot — not just for me, but for other guys, tight ends, run game. You just got to always be accountable for a guy like that.”
Added fellow wideout River Cracraft, who started the fourth-quarter scoring bonanza in Baltimore that brought the Dolphins back from down 21: “Having them both out there is just, the threat is so high. It’s like you can get it from any angle and from either guy, and if they’re on the same side, how are you supposed to play that type of thing?”
Hill left Sunday’s game at the Ravens momentarily with cramps, and he immediately scored the two long touchdowns of 48 and 60 yards upon returning. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said the second one was a coverage bust that allowed Hill to run free. Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith took his shot at explaining how the earlier one occurred against cornerback Marcus Peters.
“It was a situation where I’m sure Marcus wasn’t thinking he’s going to run downtown on me, and he was sitting at the sticks,” Smith said. “Then, all of a sudden, you got Tyreek coming at you. You got a business decision to make. Fortunately, he was able to run past him.”
“Those guys stretch the field every play,” added linebacker Jerome Baker, feeling his defense saw enough of it throughout training camp to know what the Ravens went through on Sunday. “They do a lot of things that’s not normal. To have two guys like that, they give anybody defensive challenges.”
Waddle, after also scoring on a screen in the second quarter, followed Hill’s two fourth-quarter touchdowns by being on the receiving end of the game-winning touchdown from 7 yards out with 14 seconds left.
If it’s not one, it’s the other.
And the motion in McDaniel’s offense has created fits for defenses, adding another layer to the ease in which they get open for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, creating some of those coverage busts.
“With our jet motions with Tyreek, Jaylen and all our other guys in the back end, we get to see how they move within their coverages,” Tagovailoa said on Wednesday, noting motion also helped open up running back Chase Edmonds’ long run late that put Miami in position for Waddle’s winning score.
Better yet, the receiving duo and McDaniel still feel like there’s another level for them to reach together.
“While they were making plays, that’s not the final product of the vision to me,” McDaniel said. “If you ask them point blank if they were very happy with the game, I think they were happy with being able to make plays, but there’s a lot of stuff for them to clean up, especially in the first half. … I think the final product is better execution with other things that were not at the point of attack.”
McDaniel added he would want more of a distribution of targets after Waddle got 19 on Sunday: “But shoot, I’m not going to argue with hot hands, so I’m also not hard-headed that way.”
It could be commonplace to have four hot hands between the Dolphins’ two star receivers, as long as they’re on the field together.