The Miami Dolphins won a 36-34 thriller against the Los Angeles Chargers in SoFi Stadium this past Sunday evening. If you read the film preview article prior to this game, you know just how good of a job the Chargers did against this offense in 2022. There were three keys to victory in this contest: 1. Sustain Drives 2. Protect Tua and 3. Take advantage of opportunities.
Let’s go through each key to victory and check the film to see how they did (or didn’t) pull it off.
In their last contest against the Chargers, the Dolphins had some explosive plays both on the ground and through the air. The biggest problem was that their drives always seemed to stall around mid-field. They ended up with very few plays in Charger’s territory and their longest drive of the game was only seven plays long.
In this game, they managed drives of 12, 9 (three times), and 8 (twice) plays. They held the football for over 27 minutes and outgained the Chargers by over 100 yards (while giving up over 400 yards on defense). They didn’t lean on the running game as much as we would like to see, but the offense was consistent and explosive-a tough combination to deal with. Let’s take a look at their longest drive of the game below.
When Miami went to Sofi Stadium in 2022 they failed to sustain drives. Their longest (most plays) of that game was 7 plays and 38 yards.— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 12, 2023
In 2023, they managed drives of 12, 9 (3x), and 8 (2x) plays. Here was their longest which Tua finished with a TD pass to Cracraft. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/7lquOPW7rz
What stands out most about this drive are the variety of plays/concepts and the decision-making of Tua Tagovailoa. In the preview article, we talked about getting the offense some easier rhythm throws to keep them in sync and we got an abundance of those this time around. Make no mistake, this drive stalls if Tua Tagovailoa isn’t a special quarterback. The difference is, he doesn’t need to be special on every single play-it’s able to happen organically.
This was going to be the tallest task of the game for this Dolphin offense. They came into this contest without Terron Armstead and were going up against one of the best edge tandems in the NFL in Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. Well, Tua did get pressured on a few snaps (about 30% to be exact) but wasn’t sacked or hit cleanly the entire afternoon. Let’s check out some of the true pass sets and see how Austin Jackson held up against Bosa and Mack.
Let’s not be disingenuous, they game-planned around this Charger pass rush. The ball came out of Tua’s hand lightning-quick and they had help with Bosa for much of the afternoon. With that said, when Austin Jackson needed to step up and make a block, he made it. Like I’ve said before, they only need Jackson to be a consistently good (not great) tackle and that is exactly what he was against the Chargers.
Take Advantage of Opportunities
This was a big reason why they struggled last year. They had the right looks but failed to capitalize on the aggressive man coverage that the Chargers ran. This season, they were able to take advantage of those looks, especially late in the game when it mattered most. Let’s take a look at Miami’s explosive plays vs man coverage.
For this first one, the Chargers have safety help over the top. I don’t know if Derwin James doesn’t think Tua can make this throw or what, but he’s frozen in the middle of the field by Tua’s eyes and lets Tyreek get a few yards of separation on his way to the end zone. For the second play, they jump the dig route by Waddle (who falls down). This kind of forces Tua to go off script and he completes the most impressive throw of his career (thus far).
The key here is that the Chargers came out emphasizing the middle of the field yet again. The difference this year is that Tua and his receivers were still able to complete those throws and on top of that, they punished the Chargers’ defense for singling up Tyreek on the outside.
The offense did almost everything that we pointed to as a key to victory in the preview article (outside of sticking to the run game). It felt like maybe we saw Tua’s ceiling in some of the games last season, but that was incorrect. Tagovailoa has grown as a player and he’s more comfortable in this offense. His six “big-time throws” (charted by PFF) were the most in the NFL this week and the most he’s had in a single game in his career.
Now the Dolphins will travel to New England to take on a Patriots defense that has historically given Tua a difficult time. If Tagovailoa and this offense can continue to be productive like they were in week one, we could be watching a two-horse race for the MVP between Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill. What a time to be a Dolphins fan.