Going up to Foxborough for week 1 is a tough challenge for any NFL team, and the Tua Tagovailoa led Miami Dolphins lived up to that challenge. In a game dominated by defense, the team, and especially the young QB, showed some positives. But Tagovailoa also had some plays he will regret and need to improve on for the future. Here’s a deep dive of Tua Tagovailoa and key plays vs. the Patriots.
Timing and The RPO
The first drive from Miami was a work of art, and it started with going to Tua’s bread and butter: The RPO (Run-Pass Option).
Those 3 letters are a main focus of this season, as it gives Tagovailoa the chance to do what he’s best at: making quick decisions and utilizing a lightning fast release. Here, he holds the potential handoff to Gaskin long enough that he can freeze the defense, then quickly shifts his eyes from the sideline to Jaylen Waddle for a big gain on the opening play.
In college, Tua Tagovailoa led one of the most efficient offenses in the country, centered around the RPO. The elements of speed and precision that come with the ability to choose a run or pass are what the 2nd year QB excels at, as it gives him structure and comfortability. I expect to see these as a staple of the offense moving forward.
Accuracy and Velocity
One thing that was preached in the RPO heavy offense of Alabama was accuracy and timing, and when Tua is comfortable, he’s one of the more accurate QB’s in the NFL.
On this play, Tagovailoa makes a throw he wouldn’t have made last year. It was well documented that he wasn’t comfortable in the Chan Gailey offense, thus not comfortable making tight window throws.
But here, in an offense catered to his strengths, he steps into a STRONG throw over the middle right on the money to Parker, but it falls incomplete. Sometimes, the defense beats the throw, and all you can do is tip your cap.
Struggles Against Interior Pressure
Throughout last year, Tagovailoa faced the most hardship when he was pressured up the middle. When Nose Tackles and Interior Defensive Linemen were able to get penetration, it caused Tua to either panic in the pocket or fade back on his throws.
Although he has developed in several other areas, this is still one where he struggles. The first example of this is a miss to Mike Gesicki that’s incomplete.
With pressure coming from the center spot, Tua is forced off his spot in a move to the right (his noticeably weaker side), and while he makes the right read, his mechanics never get set and he sails the ball for what should have been an INT. If Tagovailoa wants to reach the upper echelon of QBs, he has to be able to balance protecting himself with remaining composed.
However, the second example of this has a far worse outcome. With pressure coming from the outside towards the middle, Tagovailoa gets happy feet and decides to play hero ball. He rolls around in the pocket (to his weaker right side) and by the time he decides to throw it away, he gets hit and can’t get it out of bounds, which results in an INT.
In a situation where the team is protecting a 1 point lead and attempting to seal the game, Tagovailoa can’t get caught up in making a play. Live to play another down.
Development and Confidence
As previously stated, Tua Tagovailoa admitted that he struggled with the playbook in the Chan Gailey offense. Saying that he couldn’t check out of plays he believed would fail, he had to commit to the play and make the best of a bad situation.
But in a new year, we are seeing a different Tua. In a press conference following the game, Tagovailoa stated that he checked out of a run call on his own goal line into a quick slant. While it’s a risky play, he went with what he saw and it worked out.
His confidence and ability to trust what he sees is by far the biggest difference between Tua’s rookie year and now. In only his 10th career start, he was able to change a call at the line and make a game sealing play. I expect we will see more free reign from Tagovailoa as the season progresses.
Overall, I think that Tagovailoa was solid. He displayed his top notch accuracy at several points throughout this game, giving his receivers opportunities to get extra yards. He also made several gutsy throws that worked out, taking chances on big plays that he didn’t make last year.
But there were definitely some negatives, which primarily started with struggling from interior pressure. His mechanics were off at times, and an inability to give up on plays hurt him a few times.
Although there were some issues, it’s only the first game of the season, and while some disagree, he has definitely made an improvement from last season. It will be fun to watch Tua’s continued growth throughout the season as the Miami Dolphins fight to compete with the league’s best and earn a playoff spot.
Be sure to check out my full breakdown of Tua Tagovailoa’s key plays and analysis vs the New England Patriots on Twitter.
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