A fun trend is developing in the NFL the last few weeks as underdogs are scoring their fair share of victories. One way the Miami Dolphins became the latest team to pick off a heavy favorite -- an aggressive style of play with blossoming youngsters throughout the roster.
One of three receivers Thursday night to go over 60 yards (Albert Wilson and Isaiah Ford), rookie Jaylen Waddle is showing why Miami coveted the receiver with the sixth pick in April's draft. He drew Ravens All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey repeatedly throughout the game, garnering high praise from the back-to-back Pro Bowl corner.
Waddle was only targeted twice when matched up man-to-man on Humphrey, catching both passes for 20 yards, but it was the frequency of his separation that stood out above all. According to Next Gen Stats, no receiver generated more separation on average in a game against Humphrey than Waddle's 2.34 yards per route run.
The 35-yard reception to dig Miami out of a first-and-20 hole was the second-longest of his career and came with a 30.6 completion probability, per Next Gen.
"The one to Waddle? That was a good grab by Waddle," quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said postgame with a chuckle.
Not Tua Aggressive
That throw split a pair of Ravens defenders; a play in which Tagovailoa was provided ample time (3.50 seconds) from his offensive line to survey and deliver.
Tight-window throws have been the norm for Tagovailoa this season. His 21.8 percent aggressive rate (throws that, at the catch point, occur with one or fewer yards of separation) is tops in the NFL (Joe Burrow 20.1 percent).
"I think the guys did a good job getting open," he said. "You just got to get it to them. I tried my best to do that (Thursday)."
It should come as no surprise, given the calling card of Brian Flores' and Josh Boyer's defense, that a pair of young safeties are showcasing the multiplicity that made them high draft choices. The final season of both Brandon Jones and Jevon Holland in college (2019) saw both players wear multiple hats, but none more than covering from the slot position at Texas and Oregon, respectively.
Thursday, both players set high-water marks in the brief history of Next Gen Stat tracking. Holland's 21 blitzes were the most by any defensive back in a game since Next Gen started in 2016. The second-most, Brandon Jones (17) in the very same game.
"We have such a good relationship off the field," Jones said of he and Holland, who both played all 73 defensive snaps Thursday night. "I think that definitely correlates with how we play on the field. We have a lot of trust for each other. I think it's really cool to see once we get on the field, there are a lot of instances where we don't even communicate and we're still on the same page."
Holland (14) and Jones (12) rank No. 1 and No. 2 among all safeties in Pro Football Focus' QB pressures metric. Both have been more than just heat seeking missiles, they've been sterling in coverage, to boot.
Their respective pre-snap alignment reps this season are as follows (PFF):
Jones: total 581, box 190, free safety 103, defensive line 96, slot corner 38, wide corner 12
Holland: total 633, free safety 386, box 75, defensive line 56, slot corner 21, wide corner 11
In addition to the blitzing production, the pair have a combined passer rating allowed of just 90.5 (PFF).
Miami's defensive turnaround started building in Western New York three weeks ago when they held the Buffalo Bills to three points late into the third quarter. Josh Allen warmed up and Buffalo eventually scored 26, but it was a sign of things to come as the Dolphins have allowed just 19 points in the last two games while holding the opposition to 8-of-27 on third down (29.6 percent).
On tap, a trip back to New York (well, technically New Jersey) to face the Jets. Miami is in search of a third-straight win and a chance to even their AFC East record at two up, two down.