South Florida Sun Sentinel
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill played 44 snaps against the Los Angeles Chargers in the opener. He was targeted 15 times, which equates to being targeted once every 2.9 snaps.
That’s no surprise.
Last season Hill was targeted 170 times while playing 800 snaps from scrimmage, meaning he was targeted once every 4.7 snaps, by far the most among NFL wide receivers with at least 100 targets.
New England coach Bill Belichick, whose Patriots host the Dolphins on Sunday night, is undoubtedly aware of these statistics, and aware the Dolphins use Hill more than most other teams use their wide receivers.
The question is, what is Belichick going to do about it?
How do you limit Hill, especially now that he says he knows the Dolphins offense better than he did a year ago?
How does anyone limit Hill?
You saw him last Sunday. He had 11 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the Dolphins’ offense is about two things — Tyreek Hill, and the threat of Tyreek Hill.
That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact.
That’s why it’s totally reasonable for Hill to reach his goal of 2,000 yards this season.
We know Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa love going to Hill. They don’t hide it.
Last season was the highest target rate (once every 4.7 snaps) in Hill’s career, surpassing the once every 5.4 snaps target rate he had in 2021, his final season in Kansas City.
In second place last season was Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs, who played 836 snaps and was targeted 154 times, once every 5.4 snaps.
Las Vegas’ Davante Adams was third, playing 1,044 snaps and being targeted 180 times, once every 5.8 snaps.
Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson led the NFL in targets last season with 184. Jefferson played 1,079 snaps, which means he was targeted every 5.86 snaps.
Rounding out the top five, Kansas City’s Travis Kelce played 914 snaps and was targeted 152 times, once every 6.0 snaps.
I asked Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith last week whether it’s tough to go away from Hill or fellow wide receiver Jaylen Waddle because they offer such a big matchup advantage.
“No,” he said. “Throw to the open guy.”
But as we saw against the Chargers, Hill is almost always open.
I’m about ready to declare Hill the best wide receiver in the league.
Last season Hill had 30.3% of the Dolphins’ passing targets. That total was second-highest among wide receivers with at least 1,000 yards receiving. Adams had a 32.1% share. No other wide receivers had at least 30% of his team’s targets.
So, if you’re Belichick do you try to shut down Hill?
Or is it smarter to allow Hill to get his yards and try to shut down Waddle and everyone else?
The problem with the former strategy is it’s usually an exercise in frustration.
The problem with the latter is Hill can beat you by himself.
Last year Hill had a respectable 12 receptions for 149 yards in two games against New England. The teams split those games with each winning at home.
One way Belichick might choose to attack Miami’s passing game is by poking around with his pass rush, starting at right tackle, then going to left tackle, and then left guard, primarily with linebacker Matthew Judon, the four-time Pro Bowl selection who had 15.5 sacks last season, until he finds the weak spot.
By putting pressure on Tagovailoa, the Patriots could effectively limit the Dolphins’ passing game and stress the pass protection package.
On the other hand …
“When you start bringing a lot of people you better get there,” Belichick said, “because there’s going to be a lot of space behind you if they get the ball, and they’re both (Hill and Waddle) very good with the ball in their hands.”
Of course, Hill gets open so quickly, and Tagovailoa gets rid of the ball so fast, the Patriots’ pass rush might not have time to make a difference.
Belichick will have to devise some type of plan to limit Hill.
And although Sunday night’s game won’t provide a direct matchup between Belichick and Hill, two likely Hall of Famers, it’ll definitely be one of the most important matchups of the night.
Stop Hill, and you stop the Dolphins offense.
The problem is you can’t stop Hill, which means you can’t stop McDaniel and Tagovailoa from going to Hill.
©2023 South Florida Sun Sentinel. Visit at sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.