DeVante Parker Changes the Game for Tua Tagovailoa

The Dolphins offense has lacked a deep receiving threat, but the return of DeVante Parker brings that element for QB Tua Tagovailoa.

Going into Sunday’s matchup in Hard Rock Stadium between the Dolphins and the Jets, young standout receiver Jaylen Waddle is in the COVID-19 protocols and is expected to be inactive.

Waddle has been the number one receiver as of late, having backtoback games of at least 90 yards, racking up 18 catches on 21 targets. It’s clear Waddle is second-year QB Tua Tagovailoa’s favorite receiver, and their chemistry has only grown of late. This makes his potential absence that much more devastating for a divisional matchup and the potential to get to .500.

Although, the return of DeVante Parker showed that Waddle isn’t the only one who brings an element out of Tua.

2020 Struggles

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.

Tua Tagovailoa throws his first career TD.

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.

Similar Start

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.

Miami, under both Tua and backup Jacoby Brissett, kept a majority of passes short, utilizing a heavy RPO system. Although the RPO was to be expected, many still wanted to see more shots down the field.

A variety of reasons could be attributed to this, including an injury to deep-threat Will Fuller, who broke several bones in his hand, but it was clear that something needed to change.

Will Fuller broke “a lot” of bones in his finger.

It appeared, after seventh-year receiver DeVante Parker came back against the Giants, however, that the deep element was finally becoming a staple in Miami’s offense.

The Back-Shoulder Fade

With DeVante Parker’s return against the New York Giants, it was clear that something was different. Specifically, Tua and Miami were taking more shots up the side of the field, particularly on fade routes.

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.

DeVante Parker catches a fade route from Tua Tagovailoa.

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 trust between Tua and Parker is on display once again here.

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.

Time to Snap Data adds a New Wrinkle to Tua Tagovailoa’s Game

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa had a solid performance in his first game back, but analytics show an interesting trend in his game.

The future of the Miami Dolphins is murky to say the least. Following the return of Tua from a rib injury, the Dolphins fell to the Jaguars 23-20, losing their 5th straight game. However, there is a silver lining after losing to the Jaguars and the never-ending swirl of Deshaun Watson trade rumors.

Coming off of fractured ribs, Tua threw for 329 yards and 2 touchdowns, showing some promise Miami desperately needs.

Although, Tua made some questionable plays, Tua led Miami to 2 long touchdown drives in which he made several solid throws, finding rhythm early on scripted drives and finishing strong with a 90 yard drive to keep Miami in the game.

Through the first 12 starts of his young career, a pattern is starting to emerge in the success of Tua. After charting every dropback from Sunday’s game in London, I noticed a strong correlation between yards gained and time-to-snap.

Quick to the Line

Of Tua’s 49 dropbacks, nine of them resulted in plays of 15 yards or more. All nine of those big plays came with seven or more seconds remaining on the play clock. Five of those nine snaps came with more than 10 seconds left on the clock.

Tua Tagovailoa snap stats
Percentages of Time on the Play Clock Remaining on 15+ Yard Plays.

Currently, this offense is designed to get to the line quickly, as Miami drafted a QB who ran one of the most efficient collegiate offenses at Alabama.

Running a variety of RPO’s (run-pass options), Tua was able to lead a prolific 3rd ranked scoring offense in his Sophomore year. It was clear that playing in pace was key for his decision making process. Tua played instinctually and caught defenses off guard with quick throws.

However; with the blueprint for success outlined, Miami came to the table with different plans. In press conferences throughout the season, coaches and Tagovailoa himself stated that their idea was to get to the line quickly, but delay the snap of the ball in order to identify coverages, call-out blitzes, and find soft spots.

In doing so, Miami also causes themselves unforeseen consequences. Defenses now have more time to recover from the previous play, and the ability to make their own counters to what they see on the field. This also has led to significantly worse results for Miami’s young quarterback, particularly early in drives.

The Effects of Starting Slow

Of Tagovailoa’s 11 drives, five of them started with gains of two yards or less (including his INT). ALL five of those snaps came with 10 or less seconds left on the play clock, with minimal gains causing Miami to fall behind on down-and-distance, preventing sustained drives.

Tua Tagovailoa’s Drive Starting Dropbacks with Play Clock Time and Yards Gained.

It’s clear that getting to the line fast, especially early on in drives, significantly increases Tagovailoa’s confidence, pace, and production. Miami had five drive-starting snaps with 11 or more seconds on the play clock, and ALL of them started with gains of at least five yards.

Upping the Pace Late

One of those drives, a 90 yard TD drive in the 4th quarter, started with a snap with 14 seconds left on the play clock. Tua was able to find to find Mike Gesicki over the middle on a game-high 32 yard pass.

On that drive, which was Tua’s best of the game, Miami made quick snaps a priority, snapping with 10 seconds or more remaining on three of the first four plays. The result? Each of those three plays went for 12 yards or more.

The flexibility of Miami’s offense grows with Tagovailoa’s comfortability, however, as the Dolphins were able to wait longer to snap the ball later on in drives, with a similar level of success.

It is clear that the early drive gains are dependent on getting to the line fast, as Tua’s footwork sees a significant drop-off when he is forced to beat the clock early on, which throws him out of rhythm for long portions of drives.

As he was in college, Tua is very much a rhythm based QB, and the ability to get him to act more off of instinct is one that Miami relied too little on, too late in the game.

As a result of that, Miami’s offense was only able to put up 20 points on the Jaguars, the least a Jacksonville opponent has scored all year.

The Bottom Line

With Chris Grier and Brian Flores potentially on the hot seat, Miami is in must-win mode for the rest of the season, and the key for success lies in the hands of a fast-paced Tua Tagovailoa led offense, that we have seen the flashes of.

In the midst of the Deshaun Watson trade rumors, we have seen the narrative on Tua shift to one of a young QB who needs support from his staff and to be put in places where he can succeed. While it is certain that Miami’s staff hasn’t done so to this point, the perfect opportunity to change the narrative lies ahead.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Flores and his staff will be open to different methods of teaching in order to battle through adversity. It will be interesting to see if it includes a shift to a faster paced offense. It may improve Miami’s success rate in early drive situations, much how it has up to this point.

View the Full Chart with Time To Snap, Down, Distance and Success here!

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Tua Tagovailoa is Back, and he’s Brian Flores’ Last Hope

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa has returned from fractured ribs, and Miami’s coaching staff is relying on him for their futures.

Tua Tagovailoa

1-0. That’s the Dolphins’ record when Tua Tagovailoa plays a full game, and a mentality they look to hold after this week, when Tagovailoa returns from fractured ribs to face the Jaguars in London this Sunday.

Miami’s four-game stretch without Tua didn’t go so well, as Jacoby Brissett was unable to lead Miami to any wins against tough teams, with a combined 12-8 record.

But the quarterback wasn’t the only issue, however, as Miami’s offense is 31st in total yards per game, and last in rushing.

Miami’s defense was also unable to hold their own, allowing 30.8 ppg in the first five weeks, which is 30th in the league.

Considering Miami’s defense was looked at as a potential top-5 unit in the league, their disappointment cannot be understated.

But through the fire of a 1-4 start, Tagovailoa’s return brings a glimmer of hope to a unit that desperately needs one.

Bringing a 7-4 record as a starter, Miami has been significantly better with their potential franchise QB.

The offense was at it’s smoothest in Week 1, when Tua was able to orchestrate two RPO-filled touchdown drives against a tough Patriots defense coming out of the halves. The offense was clearly made for him, and with only one week of film under new OC’s Godsey and Studesville, it is truly unknown how successful Tagovailoa can be with this group.

My Thread on Tua Tagovailoa vs. New England.

But, even with a fanbase questioning the jobs of Tua Tagovailoa, Chris Grier, and Brian Flores, nobody needs a turn-around from this team more than the third year head coach.

First Two Years

Coming into the year, Brian Flores was looked at as a rising star in this league. In his first season, he was able to lead a Miami team bereft of household names to a 5-11 record, including an impressive win in New England against his former team.

2020 was more of the same. The defense took a major leap, placing 4th in scoring and finding a knack for creating turnovers.

Xavien Howard picks off Mahomes.

But the offense, on the other hand, was mediocre at best. Finishing 15th in points per game (a number helped by several defensive scores), they struggled to find consistency in the run or the pass. These struggles were blatant against contenders like the Bills and Chiefs, both of whom Miami struggled to hold their own against.

Revamped Unit

So Miami went to their third (and fourth) coordinators in three years under Flores, promoting Godsey and Studesville from position coaching jobs.

Along with that, they invested significant capital in getting weapons for Tagovailoa to succeed in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle.

Going into the season, there were reasons for optimism regarding Miami’s offensive group. They looked significantly more fluid in preseason and training camp, connecting on several big plays, and the new coordinators looked to be implementing more modern schemes.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a deep pass to Albert Wilson.

Even with Miami putting up 17 points in Week 1, the offense had shown flashes that fans hoped would become a constant.

But before this could be realized, Tua went down with an injury and Miami was forced to go to Jacoby Brissett.

As previously mentioned, Brissett had truly started to uncover many of Miami’s flaws as a unit. Receivers were struggling to get open, play-calling was looking reminiscent of years’ past, and the former Patriots QB was missing reads and failing to capitalize in key situations.

Present Day

But now, just as Miami’s season looks bleak, and Tua Tagovailoa looks to turn them around, Brian Flores’ career might depend on his success.

Now having his third offensive staff in as many years, Flores’ inability to lead a competent group has become a major concern. While defensive-minded Chargers HC Brandon Staley wows fans in interviews, Flores repeats the same ideas of wanting to get Miami’s situation under control.

Brandon Staley speaks on Lamar Jackson.

One way fans believed Miami would do so was by potentially making a move for Deshaun Watson. Following a significant injury to their young QB, now looked like the time to acquire the troubled superstar.

But in the prime window to make a trade, Miami stood pat, signaling Tua has this year to perform. This coaching staff has shown faith in their QB that many believed wasn’t there, as he is the last resort.

Bottom Line

So now, with Tagovailoa coming back, it’s his team. If he fails to succeed, Brian Flores’ inability to find consistency will stick out like a sore thumb. While teams such as the Bills, Chargers, Ravens, and Chiefs led quick rebuilds centered around a young, explosive QB, Miami’s has seemed to go the opposite way.

In his first year with real expectations, Flores has started 1-4, and neither side of the ball has performed well. But the return of his young QB brings momentum. A sense of spark Miami hasn’t had thus far, in a time when they most desperately need it.

The NFL is very much a “what have you done for me lately” league, and Flores’ future as Miami’s HC could be on the line if Tua Tagovailoa and Miami’s offense can’t meet preseason expectations.

DeVante Parker is hurt again, but Miami is Prepared

DeVante Parker sustained an injury against the Colts, but Miami has several receivers who could fill his role.

The Miami Dolphins’ receiver room has had as much shakeup over the last 3 days as any unit in the NFL. Following the trading of Jakeem Grant 3 days ago and the placing of Will Fuller on Injured Reserve on Wednesday, DeVante Parker has come down with a hamstring injury that leaves him questionable for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.

Coming off of his best game of the season, Parker snagged 4 balls for 77 yards and a TD. Among these, multiple tough contested catches on deep throws, an element Miami hadn’t seen thus far.

Jacoby Brissett throws a TD to DeVante Parker.

This Dolphins receiving unit has been reminiscent of last year, which saw a myriad of injuries. With Parker and Preston Williams going down, Miami relied on unproven receivers such as Mack Hollins, Antonio Callaway and Lynn Bowden Jr. for production in 2020.

But, even through injures, Miami’s group this year is much deeper. After seeing an inability to separate in 2020, the Dolphins made a commitment to improving the group, adding the aforementioned Fuller as well as young QB Tua Tagovailoa’s collegiate teammate in Jaylen Waddle.

The Dolphins also had some notable returns in Preston Williams and Albert Wilson, the latter of which opted out of 2020 due to COVID concerns.

The bottom line is that Miami’s group is still deep, and more than capable of being good enough for Tagovailoa or Brissett to win games.

While they will be looking for contributions from their veterans, young speedster Jaylen Waddle is in a prime position for a bigger role.

Jaylen Waddle

Waddle has seen his fair share of targets, leading rookie wideouts in catches with 25. But even with the volume of touches, the scheming has been questionable at best, as many of his opportunities have come in situations where it has been different to get yards after the catch, something he flourished with at Alabama.

Jaylen Waddle scores an explosive TD.

But with the slot position open, Waddle is now undoubtedly the most explosive healthy wide receiver on the roster, and his usage rate will be increasing with him now being the number 1.

He should also see more downfield targets, as he has been open on several deep routes, but Jacoby Brissett has missed him. With Miami reviewing the film and ways to beat a high powered Buccaneers team, I expect more shots to be taken.

Jaylen Waddle was wide open…but Jacoby Brissett misses it.

The ever interesting aspect of Waddle’s game that we haven’t seen enough of is his ability to make quick cuts. Often times in college, a jet sweep, screen or slant route could turn into a 50+ yard score. It’s no question that Waddle has top end agility, but it’s also clear Miami is figuring out how to use him.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a TD to Jaylen Waddle.

While he only saw 3 catches against the Colts, his looks and routes were promising. He was often running farther down the field, and was able to average 11 yards per catch. That’s up from less than 5 in the previous game against the Raiders.

If Miami’s Offensive Co-Coordinators are able to figure out the learning curve of Waddle’s explosive playstyle, his production could grow exponentially, especially with the injuries to Parker and Fuller.

Williams and Hollins

As for other potential contributors, 2 receivers have a connection with Tua Tagovailoa, who should come back next week against the Jaguars.

Mack Hollins and Preston Williams were both some of Tagovailoa’s main targets in 2020, both catching a TD vs the Cardinals (widely looked at as Tua’s best game).

Mack Hollins scores a TD vs. the Cardinals.

After losing Williams to a foot injury, Tagovailoa looked significantly less comfortable, and he could look for his security blanket in his first weeks back from a rib injury.

Tagovailoa also showed some chemistry with Albert Wilson in camp, as the 2 connected on several deep passes in the offseason. Although Wilson has struggled of late, a push into the lineup could bring some of the explosiveness he showed in 2018 before a season ending hip injury.

Tua throws a BOMB to Albert Wilson

The Tight Ends

We could also expect a bigger role from the tight end group, namely Mike Gesicki.

Gesicki, along with Waddle, has seen a lack of manufactured space on targets, but with these injuries, he could see more target share.

Mike Gesicki catches a TD.

Synopsis

It’s going to take a group contribution to make up for the element DeVante Parker brings to this offense. His ability in 1-on-1 situations is elite, showing an ability to snag jump ball deep passes.

But after seeing this situation play out last year, Miami is much better prepared. Explosive slot players in Waddle and Wilson hope to bring speed and agility, while Hollins and Williams bring an element of chemistry to a returning young QB. It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins distribute snaps and who gets a lion’s share of the targets on Sunday and beyond.

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It’s Time for a New Playcaller: Charlie Frye

The Dolphins have struggled to produce big plays, but promoting a certain assistant coach could provide the spark they need.

Charlie Frye and Tua Tagovailoa
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Dolphins offense was a cause of concern this offseason.

Being middle of the pack in points and near the bottom of yards in 2020, Miami needed to make a change.

In an effort to maximize a group led by 2nd year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Miami acquired deep threat receivers Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. The goal was to produce more big plays and create separation, a category Miami heavily struggled with in 2020.

Catering the offense to Tagovailoa was clearly the main goal, and truly showed when Miami made their choice at offensive coordinator.

New OC’s

Rather than bringing in an outside hire such as Mike McDaniel or Pep Hamilton, the Dolphins promoted position coaches George Godsey and Eric Studesville to “co-coordinators.”

The idea was to incorporate more of the RPO game and make the offense earlier for Tua, allowing him to make easy reads and control the ball.

Former QB Dan Orlovsky speaks on Tua’s ability in the RPO.

Changes were visible, as we saw a more comfortable and confident Tagovailoa in preseason, but as we have progressed through September, it seems that the idea may have been fools gold.

Although Tagovailoa has missed the majority of the last 2 games with fractured ribs, his time in the offense wasn’t as productive as many would have hoped.

Failure to Launch

Putting up a meager 17 points in week 1, Miami struggled to move the ball, as the RPO (run pass option) game became easy to stop, and big plays were hard to come by.

But following the injury to their starting QB, the Dolphins’ offense has shown more of it’s flaws.

Playcalling has been as bad as ever, with Miami getting away from the run early, lacking situational awareness, not taking enough shots, and, most importantly, misusing their weapons.

Miami runs a screen pass that gets stopped for a safety.

Players such as Jaylen Waddle, who was one of the fastest players in the 2021 draft, aren’t being given room to work, being used as security blankets, similar to Jarvis Landry’s usage in Miami (Landry is much less athletic).

Jaylen Waddle is being misused in Miami’s offense.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans on Twitter and elsewhere are getting impatient, looking for a change. Many are looking for a replacement coordinator for next year, with some already calling for the firing of Brian Flores over his failure to produce a high quality group.

But Miami needs to make a change now, and it should come in the promotion of Quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye.

Prior Experience

Frye, a former NFL QB, has experience calling plays in college, leading the Central Michigan offense to an explosive 31.3 points per game in 2020. Behind his run calls game, CMU finished 3rd in their conference in rushing yards per game.

Frye is also looked upon as someone who helped turn the program around. Behind his offensive creativity and explosion, Central Michigan went from a 1 win team in 2018 to a MAC West Division winner in 2019.

Charlie Frye and Tua at the Elite 11

Coming out of high school, Tagovailoa participated in the Elite 11 football camp, where the best young QBs in the nation compete to be the best of the group.

Going into the camp, Tua was looked at as a raw prospect. Former NFL QB Trent Dilfer questioned his technique and looked at him as a raw talent, and was unsure if he could play the position.

But, through the coaching of Charlie Frye, who worked with the camp (and developed a relationship with Tua), Tagovailoa was crowned Elite 11 MVP.

Trent Dilfer names Tua Tagovailoa Elite 11 MVP

His ability to maximize the former Alabama QB is one Miami doesn’t have in Godsey or Studesville. Their relationship is clearly strong. Frye relays the plays into Tua’s ear, and they have known each other since the latter was in high school.

Bucky Brooks explains Tua Tagovailoa’s relationship with Charlie Frye.

If Miami hopes to maximize Tua Tagovailoa (when he returns from injury) , along with former college teammate Jaylen Waddle (among other weapons), promoting the former NFL QB seems like the obvious move.

Synopsis

The bottom line is this: Miami’s offense needs a spark. They are currently 28th in yards, and lack the ability to make big plays. Charlie Frye, and his potential promotion to offensive coordinator, may be the best way to deliver that spark.

It will be interesting to see how Miami attempts to max out their young offensive unit, and if Frye is in those plans, as Miami fights to remain in the playoff race.

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