NFL News & Analysis

Expanding the zone: How Tua Tagovailoa can maintain MVP-level production

2K1HE4M Baltimore, USA. 18th Sep, 2022. Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa (1) in action against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on September 18, 2022. Credit: Cal Sport Media/Alamy Live News

When healthy, Tua Tagovailoa looked significantly improved last season. He acclimated well to head coach Mike McDaniel’s new offense and built an excellent rapport with wide receiver Tyreek Hill along the way.

While Tagovailoa’s 81.4 passing grade was the fifth best in the NFL, his play during a midseason five-game stretch stands out above the rest of his career work.

Tua Tagovailoa Passing Metrics
Metric 2022 Weeks 8-12 (4 games) Rest of Career (32 games)
Passing Grade 94.2 66.7
Passer Rating 126.7 90.5
Yards Per Attempt 9.5 7.2
Big-Time Throws 9 26
Turnover-Worthy Plays 2 52

Tagovailoa’s passing grade, passer rating and yards per attempt all were league-best marks during Weeks 8 through 12. Granted, Miami had the privilege of playing softer defenses in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Houston in consecutive weeks, but Tagovailoa succeeded in ways that he hadn’t before.

Passing Grade 2022 Weeks 8-12 Rest of Career
When Pressured 89.3 29.3
When Moved off Spot 75.4 28.4
Throws At/Outside Numbers 95.1 69.3

It seemed as though Tagovailoa could suddenly handle pressure, as his 89.3 passing grade under pressure led the NFL during this five-week period. More interestingly, he began making quality throws to the outer parts of the field that had been a rarity for him before, with his 95.1 passing grade on such throws pacing the league.

Coming into 2022, it was expected, with McDaniel’s arrival, that Tagovailoa would make significant improvements in throwing over the middle of the field to maximize yards-after-catch opportunities. This style fits Tagovailoa as a passer with mediocre arm strength.

He wouldn’t disappoint. His 91.2 passing grade on throws between the numbers ranked fourth among qualified passers. It was also a nearly 20-point jump from his 2021 grade of 71.6 on such throws. Darts over the middle seem to be in his wheelhouse.

This development was key to the Dolphins' success last season and will continue to be a crucial part of their offense. But there is an argument that Miami should find a way to capitalize on opportunities outside.

Tua Tagovailoa on Throws At/Outside the Numbers
Metric Weeks 8-12 Rest of Season
Passing Grade 95.1 53.0
Adjusted Completion % 83.3% 66.2%
Big-Time Throws 7 4
Turnover-Worthy Plays 0 8
Air Yards % 71.6% 54.2%

The Dolphins' offense was lethal when Tagovailoa began driving the ball outside and downfield. He was more willing to expand the field horizontally.

As evidenced by the stark contrast in air yards percentage in the table above, Miami was able to drive the ball vertically downfield, as well.

The Dolphins led the NFL with 0.700 expected points added per pass at or outside the numbers during Tagovailoa’s five-game hot streak. Outside of that stretch, the offense carried a -0.065 EPA per pass figure in such situations — which would rank dead last if extrapolated over the entire 2022 season.

The foundation of Miami’s offense will be play action, run-pass options and quick-rhythm throws over the middle with Mike McDaniel at the helm. Defenses have found ways to adjust, though, and Miami will need to occasionally find answers.

If Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins' passing attack can consistently execute outside of their usual domain in 2023, they may be unstoppable.

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