The Miami Dolphins, winners of seven straight, will participate in the playoffs if they win their next two games. This comes after Miami lost seven in a row in a slew of injuries, disappointments, and lack of chemistry.
Now, as they found their groove, many look for players and units to credit. Tua Tagovailoa has looked much improved from last year, rookies Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland look like stars in the making, and the defensive backfield looks just as deadly as last year.
Being in rotation with the likes of Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, Sieler has only appeared in over 50 percent of snaps in five of Miami’s 15 games. Those snaps, however, have been productive. Sieler has excelled at holding his gaps, stopping the run, and making timely hits on opposing quarterbacks, and his all-22 from the last few weeks shows exactly that.
Although Pro Football Reference only registers eight pressures, Sieler has been impactful and timing on that end. His ability to get off blocks quickly and get after the quarterback has complemented edge rushers Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips nicely. While also having two sacks, he has been able to set up for teammates and make impact plays.
As shown on this play against the Giants, the game appears easy for Sieler at times. His combination of speed and power, as shown here, gets him into the backfield in time to influence the throw.
By batting the linemen’s hands to the side, he allows himself to use his unusual speed. He is then able to pull away from the guard and pursue his target. His impressive closing speed is enough for Mike Glennon to put up a dangerous throw, which nearly is intercepted by Jevon Holland.
A Simple Move
Although simple, he thrives in his ability to keep offensive linemen from getting their hands on him. With quick slaps, he is able to remain untouched and keep his forward momentum. The perfect combination of these two factors was on display on Monday Night Football against the Saints.
On this play, shown below, Sieler takes an outside route to the quarterback. To avoid contact with the guard, he runs outside of him. With his quick get-off and speed, he’s able to do his quick swat away and leave him in the dust.
Although it doesn’t register as a sack for Sieler, he was able to pressure Book out of the pocket, and into a sack for his teammate. While his big plays don’t always show up on the stat sheet, they leave the same impact.
Although sacks and pressures are typically more flashy, Zach Sieler makes the Dolphins run defense fun to watch. His combination of speed and power that I referenced earlier show up even more on run plays. His ability to maintain gap integrity while stopping playmakers in the backfield is one not found in many interior defensive linemen.
Sieler’s game against the Carolina Panthers is one that perfectly displays his run defense in action. On this play, his goal would typically be to push McCaffrey out to the edge, while allowing linebackers to come up and make hits on the cutback lanes. What he ends up doing, however, is much more impressive.
He starts by getting outside, as he typically does, when he notices McCaffrey cut back in. Without losing his place, he is able to swallow him up for a loss on the play. He does so by throwing the lineman completely out of the play, which shows just how much power he has to disengage.
Another impressive part of Sieler’s run defense has been his implementation of counters into his game. On film, it is clear that he likes to go outside, which is typically to the left, and he has found a way to use that to his advantage.
On this play from his great performance against the Giants, he sells that he’s going outside, getting the lineman to leave his backside unprotected. In doing so, this allows Sieler to use a swim move to get back inside and stuff the run, potentially preventing a big play.
With limited snaps, linemen don’t have much tape to check out on Sieler. Thus, when they find a trend, it becomes much more important to identify and stop it. If not, Sieler will find a way to ensure they’re wrong every time.
High Effort Plays
In a Brian Flores defense, it’s clear that the fundamentals are preached as necessary for playing time. The coach who once dedicated a wall to the phrase “takes no talent” looks for players who show their love for the game on the field. It’s clear through his high motor that no Dolphins player exhibits that more than Zach Sieler.
As a lineman, it’s typically your job to get into the backfield and make stops like the ones I’ve shown thus far. However, Sieler works far outside his responsibilities, such as on this play shown below.
Sieler recognizes that New York is running a screen to Saquon Barkley, and he is able to, from his IDL spot, get over to the back, track him down, and stop him for only a short gain. His speed is on display here and it’s truly fun to watch.
Sieler typically finds himself around the football, which is a common trait among star defensive players, and a prime example of that is Miami’s game vs. Carolina.
Here, he is able to see that Cam Newton is passing his way, perfectly timing his jump and getting his hands in the air to bat the ball down.
The most impressive part about his timing on this play is that he gets Cam to throw it there and gets his hands up late enough. Although, they still get up in time to make the play.
Knowing Your Responsibility
This last play, which is one of my personal favorites this year, comes against the Jets. After noticing that a reverse is coming, Sieler sees Zach Wilson begin to slip out.
Realizing that his responsibility is the quarterback, Sieler disengages and takes off. As the receiver lets the throw go, Sieler is tracking down Wilson to the end zone. With impressive closing speed, he is able to get his hands up and knock the ball down.
Without Sieler’s high football IQ and effort, this play very well may have resulted in a touchdown.
The Bottom Line
Zach Sieler, although not regarded as a top defensive lineman, has far exceeded expectations set by fans and the Dolphins coaching staff.
His ability to defend the pass and run, while always giving 100 percent has been special to watch, and it pops on film every week.
It will be interesting to see how the former seventh-round pick continues to improve, but it’s clear that his story is just beginning to unfold.
The Week 17 NFL Power Rankings are still showing signs of craziness, considering some of the movement we’re seeing from last week. But, ultimately the playoff picture is starting to solidify. We’re starting to see teams that should make their marks in January start to separate themselves from the pack. And, we’re starting to see teams that will fall apart down the stretch start to show us why.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)
Last week: 32
The Jacksonville Jaguars proved they belong in the basement of the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings this week by losing to the next worst team in the NFL. It was briefly a back-and-forth affair in the first quarter. But, the Jags were unable to take advantage of the Jets’ numerous mistakes. I don’t think interim coach Darrell Bevell is endearing himself much to the front office right now.
31. New York Jets (4-11)
Last Week: 31
On the flip side, the Jets proved they’re NOT the worst team in the NFL this week by outlasting the despondent Jaguars. The Jets took their first lead of the game on a 52-yard touchdown run by Zach Wilson that was really cool. But, they had to struggle for that win and never really felt like they had firm control.
30. New York Giants (4-11)
Last Week: 30
Someone go console the football fans in Jersey. The Jets are… the Jets, and the Giants appear totally rudderless. It was kind of cool to see Jake Fromm get his first NFL start. But, he turned out to be just as much of a disaster as Mike Glennon as he finnished with a 19.5 passer rating. Yikes. Mike Glennon ended up playing the savior role and, honestly, didn’t look much better. As bad as Daniel Jones was, this is a new level of Hell.
29. Detroit Lions (2-12-1)
Last Week: 29
The Detroit Lions came OH SO CLOSE to a winning streak in 2021! It feels unfair that we were forced to watch Tim Boyle ruin it with a goalline interception at the death. I won’t kill the Lions too badly in the Week 17 Power Rankings, though. It feels like Jared Goff would have won this game, and there’s no accounting for COVID.
28. Carolina Panthers (5-10)
Last Week: 28
The Carolina Panthers look broken. Luckily for them, everyone else in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings bottom 5 looks more broken than them. Cam Newton was bad again. But, Sam Darnold returned to the field and looked serviceable. Fifth year option serviceable? No. But, Cam has looked completely washed since he’s settled in with the Panthers. So, might as well start Darnold the rest of the season to see if he can give you any reason to trust him for another year.
27. Seattle Seahawks (5-10)
Last Week: 24
What the hell happened to the Seahawks man? Russell Wilson was unspectacular, but efficient. Plus, the Seahawks running game absolutely sliced through the Bears this week! But, their defense fell apart when it mattered and the offense kept shooting itself in the foot on the final drive. I can’t do anything but lay into them in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings for that.
26. Chicago Bears (5-10)
Last Week: 27
Barely beating a lost Seahawks team to improve to 5-10 isn’t exactly the most inspiring storyline of all time. But, they did win. I can’t imagine there’s anything the Bears can do at this point to save Matt Nagy’s job. But, perhaps they can string a few wins together at the end of the year to give the next regime something to build off of?
25. Washington Football Team (6-9)
Last Week: 23
Remember that brief time a few weeks ago when Washington looked as hot as anyone and might somehow find a way to wrestle the division away from Dallas? Yeah…. All that nonsense seems like a really abstract joke now. Washington continues their freefall in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings after giving up the largest point total of any team this season.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
Last Week: 22
Somehow, despite a new 17 game schedule, the Pittsburgh Steelers feel like they’re well on their way to a .500 season. That said, I feel like tying the Lions should take at least .001 points off that record. .499 seems like a more accurate representation of their season this year. They certainly didn’t look like a dead average team this week against the Chiefs. Their offense is broken and their defense is exploitable.
23. Houston Texans (4-11)
Last Week: 26
Who knew that Davis Mills was the right choice for the Texans all along! For that matter, David Culley might actually be a pretty decent coach. This Texans team entered the 2021 season looking like a fully castrated organization considering the Watson drama and all the fallout of the Bill O’Brien era. But, they’re showing signs of life down the stretch. Who knows. Maybe the complete overhaul will yield a competitive team in a few years?
22. New Orleans Saints (7-8)
Last Week: 21
As bad as Taysom Hill has looked at points, Ian Book looked that much worse against the Dolphins. This game had all the simulated pressures of a playoff game. Both teams needed this one to stay on track to have a realistic shot to make the playoffs. There is still hope for the Saints to turn things around and sneak into that No. 7 spot. But, they’ll need to show some sign of life to win out against the Panthers and Falcons.
21. Atlanta Falcons (7-8)
Last Week: 25
I know barely beating the Lions despite flirting with another classic Falcons choke job isn’t exactly the most impressive win of all time. But, it’s still a win. If the Falcons can find some way to beat the Bills this week, their unlikely playoff dreams could stay alive. Is it likely? No. But, I’ve seen crazier comebacks.
20. Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
Last Week: 18
At a certain point, does giving the Vikings credit for keeping things close against a quality opponent matter? What really matters is finding a way to win those games, and the Vikings simply do not do that. They technically have a tiebreaker advantage over the Falcons and Saints for the top spot in the NFC playoff hunt. But, they’ll need to pull off another massive upset against the Packers in Lambeau to have a realistic chance to regain control of a playoff spot.
19. Denver Broncos (7-8)
Last Week: 17
It’s kind of sad, really. The Broncos got off to such a hot start in 2021. We all thought for sure they’d be in contention by the end of the year. But, as things currently stand, they’re one loss away from being eliminated from playoff contention. But, you’re never going to get where you want to go if you base your whole offensive identity on running the ball then gain 18 yards in a gotta have it game.
18. Cleveland Browns (7-8)
Last Week: 14
The Browns arguably don’t deserve to fall this far in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. After all, they fought hard and nearly found a way to win against a Packers team nobody gave them a chance against. For me, the reason they’re falling so far is because Baker Mayfield’s arm looks completely useless at this point. We all respect guys who can tough it out and play through the pain. But, sometimes it’s about making smart decisions, and the Browns did not make a smart one with Baker in 2021. Oddly enough, they still have a pretty realistic shot to win the AFC North. But, I don’t see how they beat the Bengals in Week 18 if his arm is this dead.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
Last Week: 15
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. In the Ravens’ defense, they can’t help the historically terrible luck they’ve had lately with injuries and COVID. But, it doesn’t change the fact that they look completely done. Lamar Jackson wasn’t playing up to his standards before the ankle injury. So, I’m struggling to see how they bounce back. If they don’t find some way to take down a hot Rams team this week, they’ll be eliminated from playoff contention. So, I have no choice but to continue dropping them drastically in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7)
Last Week: 20
Like Rocky, the Raiders didn’t hear no bell. At any point this season. Not after the slew of dramatic circumstances derailed their season. Not after losing five of six games in the middle of the season. Not even after getting absolutely demolished by the Chiefs twice in a span of five weeks. The Raiders still need a lot of help to squeak into the playoffs. But, they took care of what they could take care of this week by completing a season sweep of the Broncos.
15. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
Last Week: 12
Speaking of mighty teams falling, the Cardinals were a mainstay at No. 1 this year. But, certainly not in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings! There’s no shame in losing to a Colts team that is as hot as anyone right now. But, for the Cardinals, it’s their third loss in a row. They haven’t won a game since the first week of December. They haven’t looked dominant since the first week of November and have now lost control of the AFC West.
14. Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Last Week: 19
The Miami Dolphins are officially a playoff favorite, everyone! They still have a pretty tough schedule to get through with the Titans and Patriots up the next two weeks. But, they’ve battled back from an abysmal start and would be in the playoffs if they started today. Granted, those wins came against a slew of the worst teams in the NFL. It’s not hard to bounce back from 1-7 when you’re playing teams like the Jets, Texans, Panthers, and Giants every week. But, give them credit for knocking off a Ravens team that hadn’t started collapsing yet. Also, a Saints team that was also desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
Last Week: 16
Yeah, it’s just the Giants. But, I thought the Eagles taking the Giants behind the woodshed was a good way for them to announce their presence. Jalen Hurts is playing efficient football and it has this Eagles team looking like a team ready to make some noise. There’s always that one team that sneaks into the playoffs and randomly becomes a tough out every year. Why not Philly?
12. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)
Last Week: 9
The only reason the Chargers are ranked this high in the Week 17 Power Rankings is out of respect for what they’re capable of. But, getting blown out by the Texans in the middle of the playoff race? That’s hard to look past. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now because I think they’re better than the Broncos and Raiders. But, if they lose either of the next two weeks, things could get hairy quick.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
Last Week: 13
For most of 2021, whether or not the Bengals are talented has not been a question. Their problem has been consistency. Basically, the ability to STAY good. If they could find a way to string results together, we might be talking about this team as a top-5 unit. But, that’s not who they’ve been this year. They have a chance to completely re-write the narrative this week with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town. But, they haven’t won three games in a row all season. Hence, why I’m hesitant to give them too much credit for their historic blowout win in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings.
10. San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
Last Week: 8
You could make the argument the 49ers don’t deserve to be this high in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings. After all, their season as a whole certainly isn’t ridiculously inspiring. But, they’ve won six of their last nine games and played the contending Titans close. I’m not going to knock them down too far for losing a close game against a good team.
9. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
Last Week: 11
For all the setbacks the Tennessee Titans have experienced in the last month and a half, they’re still good enough to win against good teams. Granted, the 49ers are the first good team they’ve beaten since Week 9 when they took down the LA Rams. But, they’ve shown some moxie lately and set themselves up extremely well early this season. They’ll coast into the playoffs. If Derrick Henry is able to return to the same level of play he left at, this Titans team will be tough to stop.
8. New England Patriots (9-6)
Last Week: 3
A big fall in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings for the former No. 1 team. Mac Jones looked awful when asked to throw more than three passes against the Bills this week. The Patriots’ slow start in 2021 meant they needed to dominante the whole rest of the way if they wanted to stay among the top echelon of NFL teams. Now, they’re back to the Wild Card race unless the Bills slip up.
7. Buffalo Bills (9-6)
Last Week: 10
The Bills caught their fall against the Patriots this week. They took that embarrassing loss a few weeks ago personally and are now back to looking like a team that can beat anyone. With two games remaining against the Falcons and Jets, it feels like the Bills being crowned AFC East champions this year is inevitable.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4)
Last Week: 7
You know what would have been worse than losing to an identity-crisis riddled Saints team? Following that loss up with another loss to the moribund Panthers. Tom Brady and the Bucs put that Saints loss in the past and returned to their winning ways this week by completely annihilating a Panthers team that just wasn’t ready. With the Jets and a rematch against the Panthers filling out their remaining schedule, I doubt we’ll be analyzing a loss for them again this regular season.
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
Last Week: 6
It’s a shame the Colts took so long to get going this year while the Titans got off to a blazing hot start. They have basically no chance to win the AFC South at this point because the Titans hold a season sweep over them. But, the late-bloomer Colts are clearly the best team in the AFC South right now. Without a doubt, they’re one of the best teams in the AFC after taking down the Cardinals.
4. Dallas Cowboys (11-4)
Last Week: 5
No team has scored 56 points in a single game in 2021. Wasn’t that Washington defense supposed to be really good this year? Well, first of all they haven’t quite lived up to that expectation. Also, not if Dak Prescott has anything to say about it. Dak followed up a rough few games with a career performance against Washington to prove once and for all that the Cowboys are a legit contender this year.
3. Los Angeles Rams (11-4)
Last Week: 5
When the Rams can win important games despite Matthew Stafford playing poorly, you know there’s something special going on. This is why Stafford wanted to leave Detroit. He wanted to go to a team where he can have the occasional off day and the entire thing wouldn’t fall apart. The Rams are made of championship caliber material. So Stafford is playing poorly? Big whoop. We’ll just get 131 yards out of Sony Michel and still drop 30 points.
2. Green Bay Packers (12-3)
Last Week: 1
Taking the Packers out of the top spot in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings was a tough call. Yes, they won. Yes, Aaron Rodgers played extremely well. Yes, they put up over 100 yards rushing on the day. Yes, they pulled in four interceptions and racked up five sacks. And yet, they still barely held on to beat a floundering Browns team. The Packers are nursing a slim lead for the No. 1 seed in the NFC despite lucking their way into wins against every AFC North team this year.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
Last Week: 2
No team in the NFL looks more deserving of the top spot in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings right now than the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Packers struggled to put away a destitute Browns squad, the Chiefs mopped the floor with a Steelers team the Packers also struggled to put away. I hesitated to buy into the “Chiefs are washed” narrative earlier this year. Why? Because they were always capable of randomly turning back into this. The defense is clicking and the offense, while a bit inconsistent, is getting the job done. Watch out.
The Miami Dolphins, after starting 1-7, have managed to win six straight, and are now in the thick of the playoff rates. The most recent win, coming against the New York Jets, showed a different side of the offensive unit.
For the first time this season, Miami had a 100 yard rusher, and while many saw Myles Gaskin filling that role, the one who completed that feat was none other than University of Miami alum Duke Johnson.
In the 93rd game of Johnson’s career, he was able to amass 107 yards and two touchdowns, his first time achieving either in his career.
It was through his rushing prowess that Miami was able to survive a lackluster passing performance and put together yet another win.
However, Johnson’s biggest impact doesn’t come from just his own ability. While important, his impact on other players, specifically other running backs, opens up Miami’s offense in a new way.
The NFL season is widely regarded as a “war of attrition”. Analysts and former players cite the beatdown of the previous weeks as a major struggle. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, for players to get close to the shape they were before the season.
Specifically, the toll of the running back position is grueling. A workhorse back may carry the ball 20+ times a game, with more contact reps in receiving and pass-blocking. In short, running backs are being hit more often than other skill positions, and it sets in late in the season.
Thus, it becomes important to find “fresh legs” in time for the playoffs. Players who are in good enough shape to produce while also helping to keep other players healthy by splitting carries.
This gives Miami more freedom to give Johnson workhorse-like reps, keeping their backfield healthy and fresh. The mix of Johnson, Lindsay, Gaskin, and Ahmed gives four capable runners in a system that thrives in RPO looks.
Although, it was clear the Brown signing didn’t work out, as he went on IR early and struggled to produce in Miami’s system. Without him, Miami lacked a power back and someone who could thrive between the tackles.
The signing of Johnson, although new, seems to have fixed some of those issues. His ability to keep his legs driving while sustaining contact leads to solid gains, even with an inconsistent offensive line.
Against New York, Johnson broke eight tackles and looked more than capable of being a short-yardage option. This means Gaskin and Ahmed can be used for their proper roles, making big plays on zone runs and passing plays.
The drive to compete, on a team level, is the biggest principle in all of sports. However, the competition for playing time and success within an organization can be just as heated.
NFL coaches, especially Brian Flores, push the idea of bringing guys in to have them compete. Along with potentially getting a new contributor, the threat of fewer snaps can bring the best out of others. This principle is no different with the addition of Duke Johnson.
Coming from Washington as a seventh-round pick, it’s clear that Myles Gaskin, the previous starter, has an underdog mentality. In his three years in the league, he has been able to rise up the depth chart and become a prominent face in Miami’s backfield. Thus, I believe the addition of Johnson will only help him as a player.
The underdog stature is one common in Miami’s running back room, as Johnson, drafted in the third round, is the only one drafted that high. The internal competition on having someone to work with and against will bring the best out of this group.
The Bottom Line
Duke Johnson looked like a legitimate NFL starter in his first game, and it comes at an opportune time. Miami faces three tough defenses to close out the year, likely needing to win out to get into the playoffs. With a competent run game, these strong units can’t hone in on the short passing game, which Miami thrives with.
It’s not only his production, but the other elements that Miami hopes to maximize in order to give this team the late-season surge they need to make the postseason. The addition of Johnson paying dividends now, and Dolphins fans have good reason to believe it may in the foreseeable future.
Although, the return of DeVante Parker showed that Waddle isn’t the only one who brings an element out of Tua.
As has been covered time and time again, Tua Tagovailoa’s rookie season was divisive, to say the least. Many questioned his arm strength, injuries, and ability to outplay journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
These concerns primarily stemmed from Tua’s tendency, or lack thereof, to push the ball down the field. In key moments, he consistently took the underneath routes, and it largely worked. He was 6-3 as the starter and was able to keep control with an elite defense on the other side.
However, in several key moments, his aggressiveness didn’t ramp up in the way many hoped for. Whether it was the playcalling, which was underneath under Chan Gailey, or other factors, many expected more from the former Alabama QB. Thus, Tagovailoa was benched twice in key situations for the aforementioned Fitzpatrick, further bringing down his reputation.
Following the promotion of George Godsey and Eric Studesville to co-coordinators, many expected a largely different offense in 2021. However, through the first few games, it appeared that the game plan was similar.
On two separate occasions, Tua let the ball go before Parker turned around, showing a trust we believed only to be there with Waddle.
The first example of this is shown below. As soon as Tua sees that the defensive back’s eyes are off the ball, he lofts it into the place where only Parker can make a play. The veteran, who is widely regarded as an elite jump-ball receiver, high points the ball and gets two feet down.
That play in specific is the one that Miami hasn’t had in their time with Tua Tagovailoa. The RPO offense has and will continue to be their base, but mixing in deep plays like this keeps defenses honest, and is what can make such an efficient quarterback such as Tua hard to stop.
The second play, shown in the tweet below, also demonstrates the same thing. With the corner’s back turned and pressure coming, Tua lofts it up and gets it to Parker. It’s clear defenses, don’t see this coming, and it’s added a new element to Miami’s offense.
The Bottom Line
The deep fade routes are a specialty of DeVante Parker, and are honestly something few else can match. With the threat of the ball going outside, teams are less likely to crowd the middle of the field. This gives Tua room to work in the area of the field he operates best in.
With DeVante Parker, the Miami Dolphins are simply a better team. His ability to stretch the field is unmatched by the majority of the league. His production on the field speaks for itself, and along with helping the run game and being an elite player, he significantly helps your young quarterback.
Although missing Jaylen Waddle is a big deal, it will interesting to see how Tua Tagovailoa performs with DeVante Parker.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This play in itself has already shown much of Tua Tagovailoa’s immense growth over his first two seasons.