What for most of us was an unexpected performance by Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t surprising, said Mike McDaniel. Immediately after a record setting comeback and a passing exit matched only by Dan Marino In franchise history, the Miami Dolphins head coach said that Tagovailoa had done nothing the team didn’t already know the quarterback was capable of.
“Nobody said ‘Whoa, man, where are you from?'” McDaniel She said.
That refers to Tagovailoa’s six touchdown, 469-yard performance against the Baltimore Ravens in a 42-38 comeback win on Sunday. Both touchdowns and passing yardage were career highs for the third-year pro.
“It’s good to see it, but we expect it,” said wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
OK but Come on. Tagovailoa had never played like that before, and the fact that he has shown a marked improvement in the first two weeks of this season is positive. thing for a Miami bout that needed significant development from its starting quarterback. The question now becomes whether a wider audience should share the Dolphins’ expectations. Perhaps it is unfair to expect Tagovailoa to lose 42 points over opponents weekly, but can the Dolphins withstand this explosive attack long enough to put the team in the mix between the AFC playoff contenders?
First, the reasons for the skepticism: many of Tagovailoa’s best plays against the Ravens came in high variance situations. Four of his six touchdowns made it to the third down and two came against Baltimore’s busted cover. Miami scored 28 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, as injuries put a strain on the Ravens’ secondary. Baltimore was already without owner Brandon Stephens and Marlon Humphrey was limited to just 11 fourth quarter shots.
But there is still a clear reason to believe that the way the Miami bout played on Sunday, if perhaps not the outrageous statistics and the magic of the fourth quarter, is replicable. In addition to simply showing Waddle and Tyreek Hill’s speed, or Tagovailoa’s balance under pressure at the end of the game, the Dolphins’ attack showed that the combination of dynamic personal, Tagovailoa’s ability as a passer, and McDaniel’s intrigues can intertwine in a way that works.
It was not obvious to enter this season that he could. At the grassroots level, McDaniel came from a Kyle Shanahan-engineered bout in San Francisco that has a long history of getting good production from the quarterbacks without asking them to elevate the players around them. (In 2021, for example, the 49ers had the seventh-best attack by total yardage and finished first in net yards per pass attempt despite asking their quarterbacks, mainly Jimmy Garoppolo, although Trey Lance also threw 71 passes. attempting just 514 passes, which ranked 29th in the league and, in Garoppolo’s case, 22nd for average target depth.) Looking even more critically at the potential fit scheme between coach and quarterback, the Dolphins have assumed someone from a heavy game action system where the quarterback is usually under the center of coach Tagovailoa, who played 88% of his shots outside shotgun lineups in 2021. Tagovailoa ranked 29th in the NFL for average target depth last year, and the Dolphins are now asking him to throw at two of the NFL’s fastest deep-ball threats, Waddle at the first-round draft of 2021 and Hill three times in the All-Pro first team. The potential seemed there for Miami to end up with some very fancy square pegs and a very sleek round hole.
Sunday’s performance against the Ravens was pivotal as it proved that all of those pieces can fit together perfectly. Looking at the first two weeks of the Dolphins season, Miami showed at least three major offensive developments that allow all component parts to click.
The first is that Tagovailoa is throwing the ball further down the field than he ever has before. His average depth per goal last year was 7.0 yards, worse than quarterbacks like Davis Mills and Daniel Jones. This year he is in 15th place among qualified passers-by, with an average of 7.8 yards. (If you had Tua tossed farther than Josh Allen on your NFL 2022 bingo card, hats off to you.)
It’s not like the Dolphins are completely uncorking Tagovailoa, who doesn’t have the arms to be an elite deep ball passer. But they’re not waving the white flag and making him squash and squash on the scrimmage line and rely solely on his directors to create after the capture. The upshot so far is that the Dolphins lead the NFL with 338 yards after capture, but those played are getting even. Moreover yards due to the Tagovailoa aircraft yards is adding in the first place.
The effect is not only that Miami is able to move the ball to pieces, but also that the Dolphins are able to force the defenses to widen. It would probably always have happened given the respect the defensive coordinators have for Hill and Waddle’s speed, but Tagovailoa is showing that he will take deeper drops and launch at the middle level of the court. This challenges opponents to cover even more territory, and you saw the impact on Sunday, as Hill and Waddle averaged more than three yards of separation each, according to Next Gen Stats. Tagovailoa even threw two touchdown passes on Hill, but the receiver had enough room to go back and catch them.
A major problem for the Dolphins last season was how often Tagovailoa threw himself into tight windows, which he did 19.3% of the time leading the league. So far this year, that figure has dropped to 8.4%, the 28th among starting quarterbacks. (Next Gen Stats defines a tight shot as one on a catcher less than a meter away from the nearest defender.) Tagovailoa’s accuracy and ball positioning when he doesn’t throw a deep rank among his strengths as a passer: McDaniel recently claimed that he throws “the most accurate and catchable ball I’ve ever seen,” so the problem wasn’t so much that he couldn’t take those shots, but that they were going to receivers who didn’t have the space to get up on the court and extend the game. That has reversed significantly so far this season. Continuing to push the ball down more than he has in the past allowed Tagovailoa to take advantage of the point guards around him and catch them in situations where they can add yards after the catch. Tagovailoa doesn’t have to turn into a deep ball thrower (and he shouldn’t), but he must continue to force opponents to defend enough of the pitch so that the space opens up by throwing windows at every level of the pitch.
McDaniel’s ability to use distance unlocked the center of the pitch for Tagovailoa. Look at the difference in its passing heat map, from TruMedia, from 2021 to its two games in 2022, and you’ll see a much larger bright red dot between the hashes:
Tagovailoa is listed at 6-foot-1, on the smaller side for an NFL quarterback, and concerns that his size would limit his vision in the middle of the pitch were clearly confirmed in his game last season. He didn’t seem comfortable throwing himself through the hashes. But when the defense fails to clog up the short and in-between areas of the court, it creates open receivers and wider launch lanes, which Tagovailoa was able to exploit, as he did in this 33-yard completion to Waddle on the left hash against. the Ravens:
The third significant change in the Dolphins’ attack under McDaniel is that they have almost completely eliminated the heavy, but not explosive attack, which they relied heavily on last season. They replaced many of those RPOs with in-game action, including shotgun gameplay action (as you saw in the clip above). This is a key development because it shows what this Shanahan crime mark looks like for Tagovailoa. In Shanahan’s scheme, playing action from below the center is a fundamental concept, but Tagovailoa and McDaniel have so far managed to handle it even with the quarterback in shotgun formations.
According to TruMedia, Tagovailoa took 35 dropbacks using gameplay, 13 of which came with the shotgun. In those plays, Tagovailoa is 10 out of 12 for 150 yards of passing (with an average of 12.5 yards per attempt) with a touchdown, an interception and a passer-by rating of 111.8. Those comedies represent the marriage of Shanahan’s scheme and Tagovailoa’s favorite skill set and play style, and they are working for Miami. Non-play dropbacks also work: Tagovailoa recorded a maximum of 0.57 predicted points added to those played in week 2. The Dolphins would always need to find plays that worked to replace some of their RPO calls if they became more. explosives and will use their staff. So far, they have.
The best news for dolphins is that there should be more fruit on the vine. Although the passing attack exceeded expectations, the Miami racing game was not very exciting or dynamic. The Dolphins are currently in 25th place in the NFL in yards per attempt with 3.7. This is despite the fact that their offensive streak wasn’t terrible, ranking 18th in ESPN’s two-game block win rate. McDaniel arrived in Miami after being the running game coordinator for one of the league’s most productive bouts, and has two good and fast defenders in Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert and a full-back in Alec Ingold who can help with blocking tasks. in case of offensive fighting line. The running game should have been the thing that would have sustained the Dolphins’ attack in case the passing game was disrupted, and if he starts kicking when the offensive line freezes and McDaniel gets into a rhythm as the first caller once, he will give Miami another card to play.
The big question now is whether this suddenly explosive Miami offense will make the Dolphins competitive this Sunday against their # 1 nemesis, the Buffalo Bills. Miami has lost nine of their last 10 games to Buffalo (including the playoffs) and was overtaken by Bills 61-11 in two games last season. And the 2022 Bills look even stronger, having scored 72 points (and conceded only 17) in two games (both against 2021 playoff teams). But Miami is arguably even stronger offensively and should enter this game with confidence in its revised attack. Miami is proving that this crime can work and Tagovailoa can excel at it. If this year’s results continue to show he’s more than capable of executing McDaniel’s plan and creating explosives with Waddle and Hill, he should finally earn more commitment from the organization. In which, as it is probable to say, they have always believed.