As we enter the first week of this season judging Tua Tagovailoa, everyone knows the areas he must improve: constantly pushing the ball down the field, and making better decisions when faced with an intense passing rush.
But there is another, less discussed area where it should show significant growth: intermediate throws.
The good news: In 2021, Tagovailoa had the league’s second-highest completion percentage in passes thrown at least 20 air yards (48 percent; 14 versus 29). He didn’t throw many deep balls, but he was often accurate – contrary to perception – when he did.
But in all passes thrown at 11 yards or more, Tagovailoa completed just 44 percent of his passes, which was 26th in the league, according to ESPN.
The reason: He was poor at throws between 11 and 19 yards.
Consider these numbers as a courtesy Focus on professional football:
▪ When Tagoviloa threw between numbers on fairways that traveled 11 to 19 yards, he had a 71.1 NFL passing rating (32 to 57 for 524 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions).
▪ When thrown straight out on fairways that traveled 11 to 19 yards, he had an NFL pass rating of 12.5 (5 for 15, 80 yards, no touchdowns, 2 interceptions).
▪ When thrown out to the left on fairways for 11-20 yards, he did well: 93.1 passer rating (13 for 26, 161 yards, four touchdowns, one interception). Since Tagovailoa is a leftist, it stands to reason that it is better to throw to his left than to his right.
So in all passes thrown from 11 to 19 yards, Tagovailoa had an unacceptable passer rating of 68.6:50 completions in 98 attempts for 765 yards, with five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Conversely, he was excellent at short throws. In lanes that walked between one and 10 air yards, 77 percent completed them, according to ESPN. This was the second best player in the league.
Maybe 11 to 19 yards will improve, with Tyreek Hill on the receiving end of those middle ways—and perhaps with more time to weed out a better offensive line.
And performance in the face of the passing rush simply has to improve.
Per PFF, the Tua 54 fo -106 went from a pocket zip, with a passing score of 34.2 (not a pass rating, but a PFF score) when the defenders were in the face, with three TDs and seven interceptions.
He often avoided bags in those situations (taking only 19), but only Jimmy Garoppolo had a greater disparity between his PFF score in a clean pocket and when he faced the pressure. Tagovailoa earned a pass score of 83.6 PFF from a clean jeep, a difference of 49.4.
So the two areas for growth are clear: intermediate throws and better decisions when impulsive ones fall for it.
What to expect from Tagovailoa this season?
ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky explained it well:
“I think people need to understand that he will not just be asked to be Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. He will be required to be meticulous in all the little details when it comes to operating this offense.
“I think the most important things for Tua are and it’s not easy for everyone in the house; when Mike McDaniel calls these plays, you have to be precise with the sudden point movement. So if the movement and the ball are drifting behind the tackle, it can’t be behind the goalkeeper or behind the goalkeeper. The narrow end.You have to go to the right man at the right time.
“So a four-yard catch becomes eight yards. It’s going to be the new West Coast offense that revolves around speed and how well they can do all the little things.”
Here’s what ESPN’s Tim Hasselbeck said he would view as a successful season for Tagovailoa:
“He has to start every game, throw for over 3600 yards and throw 25 touchdowns. If you do that, it will give Miami the feeling that we can keep building around him.”
As expected, 17 quarterbacks topped the 3,600-yard pass last season; Tagovailoa was 2,653 in 13 matches (although he played less than half in two of those matches). Eleven QBs threw at least 25 touchdown passes; Tagoviloa threw 16.
Hasselbeck was generally optimistic about Tagovailoa, noting that he had been “rather unfairly criticized”.
A couple of Tagovailoa nuggets, courtesy Focus on professional football:
▪ And led the league in the percentage of completion of the red zone last season at 66.1. Mahomes was second with 64.9 and Dak Prescott third with 63.8.
▪ According to PFF’s Ryan Smith, Tagovailoa has a pass rating of 106.5 in motion play, a rating of only 77.4 when he has not played motion. Per Smith, 42.4 percent of his dropouts were theatrical work. So Mike McDaniel should be using that a lot.
▪ The Dolphins have added several players who are above average in producing yards after the catch – Hill, Chase Edmonds and Cedric Wilson Jr. This will naturally add to the number of passing yards in Tagoviloa.
Wilson averaged 5.6 yards after a catch in 2021, which was 14th among receivers. Hill’s 444 YAC team finished 17th in the league.
Keep in mind that the Dolphins averaged just 4.3 yards after hunting last season, the third-worst in the league — just ahead of Baltimore and Buffalo.
One more note from Tagovailoa:
Former coach Brian Flores wanted Tagovailoa to spend more time working on one rest day each week. So it was interesting that general manager Chris Greer said this on Tuesday when asked a general question about the midfielder:
“The other day he was visiting with Mike for a few hours on a day off just coming up, and spending some time. He was downstairs in the practice room for about an hour with the coaches just talking. Seeing his character come in, that’s just the way it is. I think all his teammates in The team sees it and feels it.”
Dolphins and defensive end/back line Brennan Scarlett, who was an injured reserve with a foot injury, has reached an injury settlement and has been released, according to a source. That allows him to play this season, perhaps with the Dolphins, who will consider bringing him back when he’s healthy.
He should be expected to be healthy by the seventh or eighth week. Had he stayed in the IR, he would have been required to miss this season because he was put into the IR before the team made their 53-man roster.
Scarlett made 13 appearances and made four appearances for Dolphin last season and included 19 tackles. He played 19 percent of Miami’s defensive shots and 77 percent of the dolphins’ special teams.
▪ Preston Williams, a former Dolphin recipient, has joined the Carolina Panthers coaching staff.
This story was originally published September 6, 2022 3:05 pm.