Tua Tagovailoa and his “Superhero” Trait

Tua Tagovailoa gestures to the fans after the game against the Giants.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) gestures at the end of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins defeated the Giants 20-9. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Following Miami’s win last Sunday, they have almost crawled themselves entirely out of their 1-7 hole to start the season. With improved play-calling on both sides, rookies finding their rhythm, and timely turnovers, and the emergence of Tua Tagovailoa, Miami has found themselves at 6-7 and in the thick of the playoff race.

Among all of the improvements throughout this winning streak, the biggest resurgence has come from none other than Tua Tagovailoa. The second year quarterback has looked much improved, with an ability to stay efficient while limiting turnovers.

Over the last four games, Tua has thrown five touchdowns and only one interception, while also completing 78 percent of his passes. That number is good enough for second in the NFL over that span.

Tua Tagovailoa has been elite recently.

The most impressive part, however, has been how he has produced with what’s around him. With an offensive line ranked dead last in pass-block win rate and a banged up receiver unit, Tagovailoa has let his traits speak for themselves.

Tua Tagovailoa’s College and Rookie Year

Coming into the NFL, Tua was looked at as a passer with elite accuracy and decision making. Widely regarded as the most efficient college passer of all time, his ability to work within an RPO system was high-level.

In that elite skill of decision making lied a deeper trait: the ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes. In the process of deciding to pull or handoff the ball, Tua would never tip his hand, leaving defenders flat footed. This opened up the middle of the field to be attacked as much as it was at Alabama.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a strike to Devonta Smith.

When Tua came to the NFL, it took a while to show the same traits we saw in college. Adjusting to the speed of defenses and a new playbook gave Tua less confidence and slower decision making. Thus, his bread and butter plays became more difficult to execute, and everything else began to falter.

As a result, Tua’s rookie season was divisive. While some argued that he needed more time, many struggled to comprehend why he wasn’t as successful as they had hoped.

It seems that time, above all, was the answer, at least in terms of decision making. Early on this season (as he learned another new scheme), Tagovailoa made several mistakes, including four interceptions in his first four starts.

However, as he has had more time, and the playbook from new coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville has opened up, the traits have began to show themselves with consistency. Last Sunday’s game against the Giants was a perfect example of these special skills.

Early Game Playmaking

On a third down early in the game, the Dolphins were looking to keep the drive alive. The play involved Jaylen Waddle running to the flat, with other receivers coming over the top.

Tua Tagovailoa manipulates a defender to get the ball to Waddle.

Tua is able to read the flat, see that it’s not open, manipulate the flat defender by re-reading the top, then getting back to Waddle for the first down.

By using his eyes to move the underneath defenders, he caused them to commit to the over routes, which single handedly freed up Waddle. The way Tagovailoa uses his eyes is already freeing up big plays early.

RPO Manipulation

The second play shows just what made Tua Tagovailoa so good throughout his collegiate career. This RPO play, as usual, gives the option of the run, but also gives the option for a route over the middle to Waddle.

Tua Tagovailoa gets the ball to Jaylen Waddle on the RPO.

With two linebackers preparing for the run, Tua holds the potential handoff while looking at the edge defender. When the linebackers begin to creep up, Tua pulls up and rips it over the middle of the field.

Showing off one of the quickest triggers in the NFL, Tua Tagovailoa can ensure you’re wrong every time.

Tua Tagovailoa’s Late Game Magic

The last play, coming on a 3rd and goal in the fourth quarter, looks very similar to the first one to Waddle.

The manipulation begins on a fake end around. In order to sell the fake, Tua holds his eyes on the motioning Myles Gaskin. In doing so, the linebacker creeps over and is unable to get to the left side of the field.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a TD to Isaiah Ford.

After the fake, Tagovailoa begins to roll out, and realizes his first read (the flat route) isn’t open. He then reads the back pylon over route to Gesicki, which also isn’t open. The next read of this play is the underneath route to Parker, which, like the first two, is also unopen.

Peyton Manning breaks down Tua Tagovailoa.

Knowing that nothing is open, Tagovailoa does what he did earlier in the game, holding his eyes on the underneath route. In doing so, defensive back Xavier McKinney is unable to commit to his responsibility of the flat, and he flattens his feet. Tagovailoa, realizing he manipulated the defender, quickly snaps his eyes and pulls the trigger to Ford.

Touchdown.

This play in itself has already shown much of Tua Tagovailoa’s immense growth over his first two seasons.

The Bottom Line

Throughout his first 17 starts, Tua has already shown immense growth. With the time to learn his system, his offensive line, and his receivers, his comfortability is starting to show.

The elite traits that we saw in college are slowly starting to shine through, and the ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes is just one of them.

As Miami continues their miracle run, Tua Tagovailoa will hope to show why he can be Miami’s quarterback of the future, and it seems this development is just the beginning.

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