Where’s ‘Waldo’? Stopping Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill isn’t child’s play

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson doesn’t have time to mourn the trade of linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bears’ best player.

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Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill runs against the Lions on Sunday.

Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill runs against the Lions on Sunday.

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson doesn’t have time to lament the trade of linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bears’ best player.

“I love Roquan,” he said, “but I got some dogs coming to town. . . . I got the No. 1 and No. 4 wide receiver.”

On Sunday at Soldier Field, the Dolphins will have speedy Tyreek Hill, who leads the NFL with 961 receiving yards, 69 catches and 92 targets. His sidekick, Jaylen Waddle, is fourth in the NFL with 727 yards.

Their combined 1,688 receiving yards are the most by a pair of teammates through eight games in football history.

Johnson wants to follow Hill around the field. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams, unlike previous Bears coaches, has allowed Johnson to stay with one receiver throughout a game.

“I look forward to things like that,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, that’s not my decision. Whatever they tell me to do, I’ll do, and I’ll execute that to the best of my ability.”

He might regret it. Hill’s speed is legendary; he reached 23.24 mph on a kickoff return in 2016, the fastest time ever recorded by NFL Next Gen Stats.

“You watch him yourself — do you ever see him get tackled in pursuit?” said Bears linebacker Nicholas Morrow, who faced Hill often when the two played in the AFC West with the Raiders and Chiefs, respectively. “He either finds a way to get to the sideline [or] he’s so fast, he breaks ankles with his speed. But he’s also very quick. He’s just as quick as he is fast.”

The Dolphins traded for Hill this past offseason and built their offense to take advantage of his speed. First-year Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel moves his chess pieces around the line of scrimmage, trying to create huge mismatches on passes from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to Hill or Waddle.

Williams, stressing the importance of finding both Hill and Waddle before the play, referenced an old children’s book.

“Knowing where Waldo is,” he said. “Search for Waldo before the snap. Pre-snap, you’ve got to identify, ‘Hey, where’s [Waddle]? Where’s [Hill]?’ At all times, situationally, third down, knowing where they are in the red zone. Knowing where they are first and second down.

“They motion them, they shift. You have to be aware of that, along with what your assignment is and where they could end up. So, just being aware. This ballgame, you definitely have to multitask.”

The Bears will have to do it without Smith in the middle of the defense. That plays to the Dolphins’ strength: Tagovailoa has 32 completions in the middle of the field that stretch beyond 10 yards, according to Next Gen Stats — twice as many as the No. 2 quarterback. Half of those have been to Hill.

Williams said the Bears will try to slow Hill and Waddle by making contact within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Once they get running, it’s harder to stop them.

“We’re gonna try to put hands on them when we can and try to disrupt the timing,” cornerback Kindle Vildor said. “They’re real successful when guys are playing off and they run free and get into those throwing lanes and windows for the quarterback. We’re going to try to be disruptive and try to make it hard for them.”

Better defenses have failed. The Dolphins’ 2,455 passing yards are the most in the NFL.

Johnson, though, welcomes the challenge.

“Everybody says and argues that [Hill] is one of the best in the league,” he said. “And Jaylen Waddle’s been extremely productive. He’s working his way up that list as well. I look forward to these prime matchups.”

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