Chances are you’ve heard the comparison and the argument for why the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa isn’t really as good as his statistics would indicate. The Shanahan system has always elevated these “mid-tier” quarterbacks and turned them into top-10 ones. From a high-level view, you can’t really argue against that point. It’s true, the Shanahan system has taken some mediocre QBs (Garoppolo, Goff, Schaub) and given them career years.
Of course, the term “career year,” is a relative one and that’s where we are going to push back on this narrative. Sure, all of these passers had success playing in a Shanahan system, but did any of them have as much success as Tua Tagovailoa has had in 2022?
Raw statistics can only show you so much and really they’re better for gauging the overall success of the offense. With that said, from an efficiency standpoint, Tua is leading every other quarterback that had a career year in the Shanahan offense. The only player with stats close to what Tua has put up through his first 7 1⁄2 games, is Matt Ryan.
Ryan went on to win the MVP in that 2016 season and lead the Falcons to the Super bowl. If not for his defense collapsing in the second half of SB LI (51), he would have likely captured the ultimate prize. Kyle left to become the head coach of the 49ers the following season, so this was also the last opportunity that Ryan had to play with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator. If they stick together, who knows how the remainder of Ryan’s career plays out.
ADOT: Average Depth of Target (per PFF)
BTT%: Big Time Throw Rate (per PFF)
CPOE: Completion Percentage Over Expected (per rbsdm.com/stats)
EPA/Play: Expected Points Added per Play (per rbsdm.com/stats)
The further you dig, the more obvious it is that other quarterbacks haven’t been able to perform at Tagovailoa’s level in this offense. No one has pushed the ball down the field as often as Tagovailoa (as evidenced by his ADOT figure) and the only player with a similar (actually better) CPOE is Matt Ryan-again.
Folks think of Tua as someone who exists within the offense and isn’t really asked to complete high-level passes, but his big-time throw rate is almost double Garoppolo’s and is much closer to players like Stafford, Goff, and Ryan-quarterbacks with the ability to make big throws.
Yet again the only quarterback who was able to match Tua in both terms of efficiency/accuracy and big throw rate is NFL MVP Matt Ryan-are we seeing a trend yet?
Where did they Attack the Field?
These percentages were pulled from PFF’s “Passing Depth” Figures.
No one threw behind the line of scrimmage less than Tua. Screen-plays and short dump-offs are the definitions of easy schemed-up plays for a QB, and Tua Tagovailoa is doing them at the lowest rate of any of these quarterbacks. He’s also attacking the intermediate and deep portion of the field more than any other quarterback. The only player that is close to matching his splits is, you guessed it, Matt Ryan.
Yeah, but Tua has Hill and Waddle!
You’re right, he does! They are probably the most explosive tandem in the NFL and they allow the Miami offense to stretch defenses vertically, which opens up more deep/intermediate passes. At the same time, let’s not pretend like these other QBs didn’t have elite playmakers.
Kevin Walter isn’t going to set the world on fire, but everyone else on this list is either a legit WR1 or a really strong WR2. Hill and Waddle explain how and why the Miami offense attacks downfield so much, but they don’t explain Tua’s elite ball placement and execution.
Where did this Season come from?
A lot of casual fans will be shocked by how well Tua has performed, but Mike McDaniel will not. That’s because he clearly did his homework on Tua Tagovailoa and has tailored the offense to his strengths. Tua has a quick release, good pocket presence, reads/manipulates defenses well, and has ELITE accuracy to each portion of the field. That’s right, even 20+ yards down the field, he can put it wherever he wants.
Tua Tagovailoa on passes that travel 20+ air yards:— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) January 24, 2022
On-Target: 69.6% (Per SIS Data Hub)
Adjusted Comp Percentage: 55.2% (per PFF)
Both figures led all NFL passers. #FinsUp
(Part 1 of video) pic.twitter.com/qxAbcuYpPh
These clips are from the 2021 season. Even on an extremely conservative offense with horrendous pass blocking, Tua was one of the best deep passers in the NFL.
So Who is Tua Tagovailoa?
If you can read all of this and still make a comparison (straight-faced) to Jimmy Garoppolo-I applaud your resolve in the face of contrary information. They possess some of the same strengths, but Tua Tagovailoa is just a much better version of Garoppolo-one that is more accurate, aware, has a quicker release, and is more able to make big throws. Maybe before the season, the Tua/Jimmy G comp made sense, but not anymore.
I propose a different comparison-Matt Ryan. Ryan was never an ultra-athletic quarterback and never possessed elite arm strength, but has put together a hall-of-fame caliber career nonetheless. He only had two seasons playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but won an MVP and took his team to a Super Bowl in that time frame. If he remained in Shanahan’s offense, maybe he has several seasons of that caliber, but we’ll never know.
The reality is that Tua is playing at that 2016 Matt Ryan MVP-season level. The difference here is that his offensive mastermind is also his head coach and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. He will also have Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle for the foreseeable future, so what exactly is holding him back from putting together several seasons like this one? That was a rhetorical question, but the answer is nothing.
Folks need to stop thinking about what this Shanahan offense is doing for Tua Tagovailoa and start asking the better question: what is Tua Tagovailoa doing for this Shanahan offense?... because it’s never looked this good.