Things will certainly look different this year considering Miami’s new pieces on offense, but what about Tua Tagovailoa?
Tagovailoa has started 21 games in his two-year career and we’ve seen what made the former Alabama quarterback a top pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
When asking what an ideal drive from Tagovailoa may look like, let’s take a look at Week 18 against the New England Patriots last season. Specifically, Miami’s 13-play 77-yard touchdown drive to begin the game.
Tagovailoa hasn’t changed much since his days at Alabama and that was apparent from the first play of the drive. With no hesitation, he hit Jaylen Waddle in stride for a quick nine yards on a bubble screen.
The 13 play, 77 yard touchdown drive began with some bread and butter. Simply put, Tua gets the ball to Waddle in space on a screen for a quick nine yards. pic.twitter.com/CJFcWnbwH9— Jake Mendel (@JMendel94) July 25, 2022
Tagovailoa then hit Waddle on an out-route for a first down with a clean pitch-and-catch. Now, both Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay were nice stories last year, but on this drive the duo averaged 3.2 yards per carry, which would be the lowest total in the NFL.
Due to Miami’s inability to churn out first downs, Tagovailoa used these quick passes as an extension of the running game and a way to stay ahead of the down-and-distance. For instance, on second and six, Waddle sets the rookie-reception record with a nice five-yard catch, but fails to pick up the first down.
A game of inches!!!! Waddle sets the rookie record for receptions on this but is a yard short of the marker.— Jake Mendel (@JMendel94) July 25, 2022
One of Tua's strengths out of college was his ability to roll out and deliver a dime on the run.. something I am sure McDaniel is aware of... pic.twitter.com/ZeroS1tQo7
This meant that Tagovailoa, again, had to make another play to keep the sticks moving. After picking up the first down with a quarterback sneak, Tagovailoa attacks the middle of the field for the first time — a perfect pass to Mike Gesicki. The 13-yard reception was the longest play of the drive.
The Dolphins are moving, but averaged less than 4 yards over the last four plays.. in walks Mike Gesicki.— Jake Mendel (@JMendel94) July 25, 2022
The Patriots load the box and Tua finds Gesicki for the longest play of the drive, 13 yards. Could be called the lemon squeezy... cuz it was easy peasy. pic.twitter.com/samRQnM7yk
The offense was slow and steady, but moving the football. We know that often wasn’t the case a season ago, which speaks to how hard it is to consistently nickel-and-dime down the field. One drop, one penalty, or one bad throw is enough to knock over this metaphorical tower of cards that is under construction.
Lindsay picked up three yards on a second-and-six from New England’s 23-yard line, meaning Tagovailoa was the only thing standing between a field goal, or another set of downs.
Again, we see what made Tagovailoa a top pick. New England’s defense takes one step back, and it was more than enough for Tagovailoa’s instincts to take over, finding Gaskin for seven yards and a new set of downs.
Lindsay sets up a third and three, where Tua wastes little time dumping it off to Gaskin for the first down. Tua's decision making and IQ are on point, Gesicki gets plenty of action and the defenders see Wilson open over the middle, which then allows Gaskin to fill that space. pic.twitter.com/vpysfv2TcU— Jake Mendel (@JMendel94) July 25, 2022
None of these plays look all too impressive when isolated, but consider the consistency required for Miami to move the football for 17 games. Gesicki led the team with 12 receptions of 20-plus yards last year, which was 34th in the league.
Miami’s 2021 playbook was built around Tagovailoa’s strengths, a quick read-and-react before delivering a strike to a receiver. However, that wasn’t the case for the receivers that struggled to get anything going on the other end. The same was true for a rushing attack that averaged 92 yards per game on the ground, the third-lowest total in the league last season.
Think about it this way, if Miami’s drive was nine plays, instead of 13, not only does Tagovailoa’s yards per pass look better, but it limits the number of opportunities for someone to make a mistake. Additionally, 13 plays, over and over again, is a lot to show a defense without it getting an idea of what will be coming.
This first-and-ten play to DeVante Parker is a perfect example. Tagovailoa opens his hips and fires a rocket to Parker for nine yards. After being tackled, Parker pounds the ball as if he wanted another shot at breaking free from a defender.
Now, this is what a revamped group of playmakers can hopefully change. The field is tightening up and yards are harder to come by. Parker even looks like he wishes he had another shot at this. pic.twitter.com/zviEgofnQy— Jake Mendel (@JMendel94) July 25, 2022
Something to consider — Tyreek Hill was one of five players with 10-plus broken tackles forced a season ago. Imagine if Parker broke free and scored here. Not only is it six points, but it would avoid Johnson getting stuffed on a second-and-one from the seven-yard line — which set up another do-or-die third-and-short.
The closer you get to the end zone, the field shrinks — and the offense has less room to work with. Tagovailoa didn’t flinch, rolling out to his left and delivering a perfect pass where only Waddle could get it in the back of the end zone.
2nd and 1 is now 3rd and short, one hiccup derails the drive. Instead, Tua rolls (see a theme? ) and finds Waddle for a quick 6 points and a waddle.— Jake Mendel (@JMendel94) July 25, 2022
Execution needed to be perfect. It's insanely hard to maintain this in a game, let alone entire year. pic.twitter.com/Mt3608XXbm
Tagovailoa was a top prospect because he can make it look easy, not because he has a big arm. If the offense can move with him, there is no reason he can’t thrive in this league.
This is what an ideal drive from Tagovailoa looks like, but where does McDaniel come in?
The hope is that a game plan is established where picking up four yards on the ground isn’t a challenge and the plays are drawn up where Tagovailoa doesn’t always have to dink-and-dunk down the field.
Tagovailoa’s special trait is consistency, but there are 21 other players on the field that impact each play. I’m not saying Tagovailoa’s faults are all due to the struggles of others, but plenty was left on the field a season ago.
Some bigger plays, both on the ground and through the air, give opposing defenses more to prepare for. In theory, cutting down even two-or-three plays a drive could be enough for Tagovailoa to stay a step ahead and blossom at the NFL level.