Miami’s primetime games against the Raiders on Saturday was a roller coaster ride of emotions that ended in an improbable win keeping the Dolphins in the playoffs. However, the biggest storyline after the game was the benching of Tua Tagovailoa for Ryan Fitzpatrick. 

Fitzpatrick led one of the most improbable comebacks of the NFL season, aided by total incompetency by the Raiders’ defense and a face mask penalty. Despite this, Brian Flores named Tua the starter for week 17 against Buffalo furthering a unique dynamic that only exists in Miami. 

Clearly, it was the right decision to win the game against the Raiders. Fitzpatrick was much better than Tua and gave the offense a much-needed spark. Tua’s only played in 10 games, but the coaching staff seems to lack faith in him. 

This is the second time they pulled him during a high-pressure situation when he was struggling. The lack of trust goes beyond just Flores, though, and it has seemed to drip into the offensive play calling with OC Chan Gailey. When Fitzpatrick comes in, everything seems to work smoother. 

Let’s dive in and see what the numbers and film tell us about the offense when Tua plays and the offense when Fitzpatrick plays and what that means. 

The Numbers: 

A popular narrative is Fitzpatrick is willing to push the ball down the field more often than Tua. It makes sense on the surface. Fitzpatrick is known as a gunslinger, while Tua is more conservative. However, if you look at the average depth of target, this narrative starts to lose steam.

Tua’s average depth of target is 7.5 yards while Fitzpatrick’s is 7.8 yards, which isn’t exactly a big difference. Things get even more interesting when you look at completed air yards per completion. Tua’s is 5.8 yards, while Fitzpatrick’s is 4.6 yards meaning Tua is actually getting more yards per completion than Fitzpatrick. 

These numbers were calculated before the Raiders the game, so there is a chance they change a bit in the coming days. With that said, the point isn’t really one that is higher than the other but more that the difference is pretty negligible. 

Fitzpatrick has completed 14 more passes longer than 20 yards when you look at the raw numbers compared to Tua (24 to 10). Fitzpatrick has attempted more passes than Tua this season despite starting fewer games, but the discrepancy isn’t big enough to explain this disparity in 20 plus yard completions. 

I can’t find the numbers to back this up, but I would imagine if you look at attempts longer than 20+ yards, Fitzpatrick would be much higher while Tua is more willing to throw in the 10-to-15 yard range. This explains the depth of target favors Tua while the actual explosive plays completed favor, Fitzpatrick. 

Next-Gen stats uses something called “Aggressiveness rating” to determine how aggressive QBs are. Tua ranks last in that category while Fitzpatrick ranks third to last, so again we have a marginal statistical difference. 

Since the stats won’t help us determine why the Dolphins’ offense is more explosive with Fitzpatrick vs. Tua, let’s dive into the film and see what it has to say. 


The Film: 

Thankfully the film is much more helpful in figuring out why the offense is so different with Fitzpatrick at QB. I have been saying the Dolphins need to open the playbook for Tua since he became the starter. I still believe the play calling could improve, but it wasn’t the issue against the Raiders. 

Here is an audio breakdown summarizing my thoughts with an example of Tua not be willing to throw the seam route against Tampa-2. I’d recommend listening to it before you continue because I will dive into some more examples, but this is a good summary of my thoughts. 

This play is also a missed opportunity, in my estimation. The Raiders are in zone coverage, and— just like the play above— the play call from Chan Gailey generates an open receiver. Hollins comes wide open in the soft spot between the right CB and the SAF. 

Tua looks that way at the snap but comes off it almost immediately for some reason. He then returns to his left and throws the check down in the flat without really looking at the deeper routes. 

Hollins would’ve picked up the first down easily on this play. Instead, it’s a short gain to the flat. It can be unfair for me to sit here and pick out every open WR and say, “Tua should’ve hit him.” I think it’s fair to point this one out because it doesn’t even really look like he went through his progressions. It looks he saw a weird zone coverage and just immediately took the check down. 

This play is a little more forgivable given how tight the window is, but I’m pretty sure Fitzpatrick would’ve let this rip. The Dolphins run a smash concept with a curl route and a corner route. 

The curl route sucked in the OCB just enough to clear space for the corner route. Yes, this is a tough throw with the safety lurking over the top. However, if you put it high and outside, Gesicki probably comes down with it for the first down. 

Instead, Tua throws underneath to Gaskin. Tua’s throw is actually perfect. He places the ball on the outside shoulder allowing Gaskin to make the catch, but he’s not able to get the first down making it essentially irrelevant. 

This read is conservative. Again, the play call generated an open receiver, but Tua checked it down. 

Here we have a play where Tua makes a good read but doesn’t execute the throw. Hollins is open on this deep curl route. It’s the perfect play call against this defense, and Tua sees it right away. 

This is a good example of why the All-22 is so important because, from the broadcast angle, the throw doesn’t look that bad. From the wide view, it is pretty clear this throw needed to be higher. 

Mack Hollins could’ve caught the ball; in fact, he probably should’ve caught it. That doesn’t absolve Tua of the blame, though. He still made a poor throw, and if he didn’t, Hollins wouldn’t have had to make an adjustment going to the ground. 



The numbers show two quarterbacks who are way more similar than people believe. The film, on the other hand, shows two quarterbacks who could not be more different. Fitzpatrick trusts his eyes way more and throws with better anticipation than Tua. 

Fitzpatrick makes quicker decisions and is willing to be more aggressive than Tua. Tua has struggled with this most of the season. I thought he got over the hump against the Chiefs, which is why I started to blame the play calling. It is clear against the Raiders the fault was with Tua and not Chan Gailey. There were open receivers down the field throughout the game. 

I think the broadcast said it well. Tua needs to learn what NFL open is vs. what Alabama open is.

Everyone wants a single person to blame or someone who is “the most to blame,” whatever that actually means. Here’s the thing, Dolphins fans, there isn’t one person to blame. The OC is too conservative, and so is the quarterback. Neither of them has help from WRs who can’t separate and an offensive line that struggles to pass block. 

The reality is Miami’s offense isn’t very good, and everyone is to blame.