All the quarterbacks who wanted the Miami Dolphins instead or Tua Tagovailoa is struggling: Tom Brady is on one of his worst starts, Deshaun Watson is disqualified and Jacoby Brissett has just lost a seemingly unmissable match against the New York Jets.
Meanwhile, after the monster on Sunday winning performance in comeback in Baltimore, Tagovailoa leads the NFL in yard and touchdown passes and is No. 2 in QBR total, while the Dolphins are 2-0 with a 77% chance of reaching the playoffs (and a 5% chance of winning the Super Bowl).
It is a continuation of the upward trajectory that Tua has been on for some time. Since leaving the bench in week 10 of last season, Tagovailoa has been one of the top 10 quarterbacks: he is eighth in the QBR standings (62.7), seventh in the passers-by rating (99.1), seventh in the expected points added for dropback (0.14), and eighth in yards per dropback (6.69), according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. And he only gets better as the game goes on. In the fourth quarter of that range, Tagovailoa is in second place (80.4), fourth (111.9), sixth (0.19) and sixth (7.51) respectively in the same statistics.
Last year, I wrote that Tagovailoa’s clutch performances were a growing inconvenience for a Dolphins organization intending to replace him. But while he impressed with effective and accurate late game throws, he often struggled early and rarely threw deep. Now, not only is Tua’s “clutch gene” still active, but he’s improving his overall game. And Tua hasn’t just gotten better with his short bread and butter passes. During the first two games of 2022, he’s finally also attempting (and completing) the big-play passes that were missing from his arsenal.
Much has been said about the offensive acumen of new manager Mike McDaniel after being hired this offseason, and it has been opened with the press about his assessment of Tagovailoa: McDaniel has called Tua a “Very accurate, “with an eerie feel to the game and a long history of rising to big chances. But even at his peak in 2021, Tua was not aggressive on the pitch. He finished 28th in aerial yards per attempt (6.92), for ESPN Stats & Information, and 29th in the rate of passes that went for at least 20 yards in the air (7.5%).
The acquisition of the fast Tyreek Hill receiver was supposed to help Tua’s short, precise throws become explosively vertical during runs after the socket. But Tagovailoa also dropped bombs. He currently ranks fourth among qualified passersby in the modified completion percentage, with 33.7% of his attempts traveling at least 10 yards in the air (ranking 11th) and 10.8% for at least 20 yards. (13th). A larger share of his passing attempts led to first downs (42.2%) than anyone else except Patrick Mahomes.
Tagovailoa developed a particular chemistry with Hill and Jaylen Waddle’s 1-2 combination from second year. As noted by Next generation NFL statsWaddle gained more yards on vertical “go” courses on Sunday (73) than all last season (43) and, surprisingly, Hill’s 108-yard go-route against the Ravens came close to the 2021 season total (147) while playing with mahomes.
The full potential of that combo wasn’t unlocked until Miami’s back was against the wall in Baltimore. Before the comeback, the Dolphins had apparently stumbled upon a circular saw: their opening kickback returned for a touchdown put Tagovailoa in a hole before he even got under the center – and a three-touchdown blast from Lamar. Jackson in the first half apparently made any attempt from Tagovailoa to come out futile.
But it was then that McDaniel took the training wheels off the attack and Tagovailoa gave a full kick. He went 24/30 in the second half, averaging 10.63 yards per dropback and posting an amazing raw QBR of 99.2. His passerby score was near perfect 150.6. And looking at where Tagovailoa was throwing the ball, particularly at the end of the match, he shows his newfound deep touch:
Baltimore also didn’t take it easy on Yours; their blitz rate did not change from the first half to the second (23.8% vs 23.3%) and their human-to-human coverage rate actually increased (34.9% vs.41.4%). However, they put more defenders on the pitch more often, trying to keep up with the Dolphins’ on-track encounter. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baltimore had dime coverage with a whopping 57 percent of second-half defensive snaps (up from 20 percent in the first half) and in nickel for 39 percent (up from 37 percent). In fact, for Next generation NFL statsthe Ravens defenders have had to cover more ground on Sunday than any secondary since the start of last season.
The extra reinforcements didn’t matter: Tagovailoa and Miami’s passing attack destroyed the Baltimore secondary anyway.
Did McDaniel know that Tagovailoa was capable of making these changes or was it a glass-breaking strategy in an emergency? Just a month ago, Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed reported that the Dolphins were buying tight end Mike Gesicki because his skills on the pitch weren’t going to be used much in this attack; in week 1, he got a capture for a yard on a target. But on Sunday he captured all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Only time will tell if McDaniel saves this “grab it and tear it” approach just for emergencies, or if Tua bombs it at will. Either way, the defenses will have to respect Tagovailoa’s ability to beat them deep in a way they’ve never had to do before, and this could make him even more effective on the short passes he already excelled at throwing.
Check out our latest NFL Predictions.