The Miami Dolphins defense struggled mightily in the first half against the Detroit Lions. The offense found themselves in a 14-0 hole early in the first quarter and it took big plays for the entirety of the afternoon to dig their way out.
What really stuck out from their performance was how big they came up in the most important moments (3rd & 4th down and the red zone). Now if you’ve paid much attention to Tua Tagovailoa’ s career, you would know that these high impact moments tend to be where he shines the brightest.
But it wasn’t just Tua, as you’ll see below. The offensive line gave him the time needed to work through his progressions and his receivers made some really big plays. This was the first time since the second half the Ravens game that this unit worked in perfect harmony.
3rd and 4th Down
The Miami Dolphins converted on 8 of their 12 (67%) third down conversion attempts. For reference, the Kansas City Chiefs have the highest mark in the NFL this year with 51.9%. They only were forced to attempt one 4th down, but converted that attempt.
Converting in these high leverage situations keeps your offense on the field and gives you more opportunities to score. In this contest, it proved to be the difference between winning and losing. Lets look at some of these conversions.
This was a 4th & 4 in the 1st quarter. Lions are in man coverage against a 4 man route concept. Waddle just runs a quick out from the slot. Good protection, easy pitch and catch. pic.twitter.com/pxkqSWLq01— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 1, 2022
This was their only 4th down conversation of the afternoon. The Dolphins have a four man route concept against Detroit’s man-front here. There aren’t too many defensive backs that can stick with Waddle on a quick out from the slot like this and they definitely don’t play for Detroit. With Tua’s precision and timing, this is an easy conversion.
The Dolphins are down 7-0 at this point and on the very next play Braylon Sanders has his first career reception.... and then fumble.
3rd & 13 in the 1st quarter. Detroit shows a cover 0 look and brings the house. Tua just locates Hill and puts it up for him. Guy is really a cheat code. pic.twitter.com/3f7lqwj4a5— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 1, 2022
A dreaded 3rd & 10+. These plays used to be our kryptonite in years past, but this is a different offense. Detroit shows Cover-0 and only drops four guys into coverage. Those players are all 10+ yards off the ball, but that doesn’t stop Tyreek Hill from running past them. It isn’t a particularly great throw by Tua, but it’s a smart decision. Tyreek makes a monster play on the ball and they convert the 3rd & 13 with a 36 yard gain.
3rd & 6 in the 3rd quarter. This time the Lions have everyone covered up. The protection is so good though and it gives Tua time to move around and see a running lane. He shows off the wheels here and if not for a trip, he may have an even bigger play. pic.twitter.com/la6SIAcljo— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 1, 2022
The Dolphins are down 27-24 on this drive late in the 3rd quarter. We have a 3rd & 6 and Detroit brings a blitz which flushes Tua out to his right. He probably could have hit Sherfield or Waddle on this play, but as soon as he steps to his right he sees a ton of open grass and knows he can pick up that first down.
Its an 18 yard gain on a crucial 3rd & 6. The Dolphins end up scoring the go ahead touchdown on this drive.
Red Zone Efficiency
The Dolphins were perfect in their red zone trips against the Lions (3 for 3). That ended up being the difference as Detroit was forced to kick a field goal on one of their 4 red zone trips and Miami wasn’t. If you’ve followed Tua’s career closely though, this shouldn’t be a major surprise. He was actually one of the best red zone quarterbacks last year...
Tua's rankings in the RZ in 2021:— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) April 20, 2022
Comp %: 65.4 1st
On-Tgt%: 80.4 1st
TD%: 28.8 3rd
Sack%: 1.8 2nd (lowest)
QB Rating: 101.3 6th
Stats courtesy of @football_sis
Here are all of Tua's pass and rush attempts inside the RZ in 2021. #FinsUp
Part 1 of 5 pic.twitter.com/MqVNCHTsuo
This is one of the places were his accuracy is so important. One of the big factors that we’ll see on the red zone plays from Detroit is how well the pass protection held up. Tua is able to work through multiple progressions to deliver these throws.
1st & goal in the 1st quarter. Great protection allows Tua to get through his progressions. They jump the slant to Sherfield and that really opens up things for Waddle in the corner of the end zone. Great play. pic.twitter.com/NFx5rWCMNJ— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 1, 2022
The Miami Dolphins are down 14-0 in the 1st quarter for this play. It is absolutely paramount that the Dolphins respond on this drive and they do. It looks like Sherfield is his first read on this play but you can see his head snap to Waddle when the defense takes away that throw. Perfect pass towards the corner of the end zone and a huge red zone conversion.
3rd & 3 in the 3rd quarter. Great protection again affords Tua the opportunity to get through his reads and eventually finds Gesicki in the end zone with a perfectly placed ball. This one gave them the winning lead. pic.twitter.com/gMlq1R8Fwu— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 1, 2022
This is the game winner late in the 3rd quarter. The protection is good again and Tua works through several reads before finding Gesicki in between multiple defenders. No Griddy this time, but still a fantastic conversion and the difference between winning and losing in Detroit.
This is first time a Miami Dolphins offense has run so smoothly for an entire game in... a long time. Tua had one of the most impressive performances of his career and secured the single highest game grade that PFF has given to a quarterback all season (a 96.8).
With the Chicago Bears shipping away some of their best defensive players, it would appear that this Miami offense should continue to roll. The only possible road block to that would be inclement weather as the game will be outside in Chicago. Look for Tua to continue being one of the most efficient passers in the NFL and this Miami offense to make a lot of noise down the stretch.