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Tua Tagolvailoa: A Film Study

2021 Film study

Tua Tagovailoa’s future outlook has quickly become one of the most hotly debated topics in football. With the addition of Tyreek Hill and Terron Armstead, many believe Tua has all the tools to succeed. There are also many doubters that think Tua flat-out stinks and will not survive as the Dolphins’ starting QB.

I reviewed every snap Tua took under center last season and will break down what I saw on film. Is Tua the Dolphins’ future at QB, or should they look for his replacement? Let’s dive in and find out.

TUA TAGOVAILOA 2021 STATS

  • Games played: 13
  • Completions/Attempts: 263/388 (67.8%)
  • Yards: 2653
  • TD/INT: 16/10
  • 40+ yard passes: 6 (T-19th)
  • Yards/Attempt: 6.8 (T-24th)
  • Yards/Game started: 221(19th in adjusted ranking) ***
  • QBR: 49.7 (18th)
  • Passer Rating: 90.1

*** Based on 12 games. Week 2 eliminated (4 passes/13 yards) for better stat accuracy over the season.

ARM STRENGTH

Let’s start with the biggest perceived issue in Tua Tagovailoa’s game, his arm strength. The consensus opinion about Tua’s throwing power is that it is very below average for an NFL Quarterback.

The reality is that Tua has the physical strength to get the ball downfield enough to keep defenders from ignoring a long bomb. I will break down two good examples of 40+ yard completions that immediately come to mind when examining Tua’s arm strength.

Week 16 – Tua Tagovailoa 40 yard pass to Mac Hollins

This is perhaps one of the best examples of a deep touch pass in Tua’s career so far. The official play is 40 yards, but it was actually 47 yards in the air.  The play starts on the Miami 15, but Tua drops back to the six-yard line when he releases it; Mac Hollins catches the ball at the Saints’ 47-yard line.

The most impressive part of the throw was not the total distance but the fact that he could not complete the throwing motion as he had defenders in his face. The pass not only traveled nearly 50 yards but was also thrown with perfect accuracy, allowing Mac Hollins to catch the ball over his left shoulder and out of the reach of the CB. If you look closely, Hollins actually had to stretch out his arms to make the catch. The pass was not only on target but perfectly placed.

Week 17 – Tua Tagovailoa 45 yard pass to Jaylen Waddle

This is another great throw from Tua and also highlights the upper limits of his arm strength. Once again, the actual air yards are more than the official record.

The play starts on Miami’s 29-yard line, but Tua backs up to the 19 and releases the ball at the 21-yard line, and Waddle catches it crossing the Titans’ 29. The total distance traveled was 50 yards. The pass was a little behind Waddle but still in front of the Titans’ defender (Hooker).

The difference between the pass to Hollins and the pass to Waddle is that the 50-yard pass to Jaylen Waddle was one where Tua had the range of motion to throw the ball without any defenders in his face.

In 12 games, Tua completed six passes of 40+ yards in 2021, tying him for 19th among starting QBs in the NFL. Surprisingly, this is only two, yes TWO, fewer than Josh Allen, who threw eight passes of 40 or more yards in 17 games last season. I am not comparing Tua’s arm strength to Josh Allen’s; I am simply putting the number of long completions into context in relation to the rest of the NFL starting Quarterbacks.

Evaluation

Tua Tagovailoa’s overall arm strength is average for an NFL QB.

ACCURACY

Tua finished his second season in the NFL tied with Dak Prescott for the fourth-highest completion percentage among 32 starting quarterbacks with 67.8%. However, not surprisingly, he finished near the bottom of the league (T-24th) in average yards per pass thrown with 6.8.

The Miami passing game in 2021 was, for the most part, largely RPO-based (98 of them, to be exact), leading to most catches being made between 5 – 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.

While not overly exciting for the average NFL fan in a pass-happy league, these throws were typically on point and where the receiver had the best chance to complete the catch.

One issue affecting his overall accuracy score is when he and the receiver were not on the same page, resulting in too many overthrown balls. Another concern is that, at times, he rushed the throw and missed his mark. If it were only under duress, I would be able to ignore it, but he often had clear lanes and no defender in his face.

Evaluation

As much as I want to rate his accuracy as elite, I have to reduce him to above average because of so many miscues while not under pressure. He has laser accuracy and a clear ability to thread the needle when needed, but the missteps are puzzling and inexcusable.

ANTICIPATION AND EYE MOVEMENT/SUBTERFUGE

A big issue with Tua is the lack of anticipation and throwing his receiver open. He threw to an open receiver more often than not instead of anticipating where he would end up and throwing him open. Had he done this more effectively, the yardage totals would have likely gone up, and the total number of sacks (20) and pressures would have reduced.

Before starting the film study, I knew he was not very good at throwing WRs open, but I assumed it was due to a lack of arm strength. Well, you know what assumptions do…Tua has the strength to do it.  The simple truth is that Waddle is often open at some point, and Tua just waits for the window before passing. The issue is, had he anticipated where Jaylen would be a half-second earlier, it would have likely resulted in more YAC.

Eye Movement/Subterfuge

Another issue that shows up consistently on film is staring down the receiver from the snap of the ball until release. Opposing defenders are taught to watch a QB’s eyes for hints about where he is going with the ball, and Tua tipped off the CB or Saftey on several occasions long before the ball was thrown.

The clearest example of tipping off defenders with his eyes came in week 15 vs the Jets. With 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, the ‘Fins were second and long from their own 16-yard line. The play was designed to be a five-yard comeback to Hunter Long on the left sideline; instead, it turned into a pick-six by Brandon Echols. Tua stared at Long from the time the ball was snapped, and Echols easily stepped in front of the pass and ran it in for six points. Tua’s eyes told Echols where the ball was going without paying attention to the receiver’s route. Had Tua looked off Echols even for an instant, the play would have likely been a success instead of a critical interception near the end of the game.

Evaluation

Tua stares down his receivers way too long and does not do a good job anticipating where the receiver will end up. Because of this, his film shows him to be average-below average in these two categories.

QB VISION, POCKET PRESENCE, DECISION MAKING

I am combining these categories mainly because of the nature of the play-calling by the OC in 2021. Most of them were RPOs, quick slants, screens, or runs, with the odd deep shot mixed in.

Vision

The truth is that Tua Tagovailoa was rarely asked to decipher complicated defensive schemes. More often than not, it was simply a box count and deciding whether or not a run was favorable. When the majority of a QB’s reads are so simplified, it is almost impossible to get a true read on his ability to dissect a defense pre-snap.

When Tua did have to make reads downfield on longer drives, there were several plays where he misread the coverage and would throw into double, sometimes triple coverage. If you watch the Jacksonville game, you will see a few instances where Tua decided to throw to Gesicki or Parker even though they were low percentage plays.

Pocket presence

Pocket presence/calm under pressure, Tua was fairly decent in feeling where the defenders were and evading the first tackle. The problem is what he does next.

Decision making

The young signal-caller is very mobile and can do a good job evading the first tackler. His instinct is to leave the pocket and scramble more than to step up to evade a tackle. This needs to be coached up more in the upcoming season. However, when he was forced to scramble or leave the pocket, his decisions often led to trouble.

His athleticism saved him at times, and he was able to run for positive yardage. However, he often chose to try and make an off-balanced throw to a receiver or to extend plays too long. These two decisions led to interceptions, sacks, or, if he was lucky, incomplete passes.

The first interception he threw against the Jets in week 15 was a perfect example of bad decision-making. Tua is a left-handed QB. When he had to scramble to his right, he decided to make a sidearm throw into coverage along the right sideline. Instead of throwing the ball away and living to fight another down, the result was an interception.

Evaluation

QB Vision: average.

Pocket Presence: average/below average

Decision making: average/below average.

CONCLUSION

Overall, the tape was more positive than negative. There are things for Tua Tagovailoa to improve upon in the upcoming season, but the issues are fixable.

The addition of Tyreek Hill is a positive move to accentuate what Tua does well. He gets the ball out quickly, accurately and relies on the receivers’ ability to make defenders miss.

Final film grade/evaluation:

Tua Tagovailoa is a league-average QB with the potential to be a very good but not great NFL QB.

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Written by Tom Ayling

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