So, the Miami Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa lost again on Saturday. The Dolphins returned from sunny California to play in snowy, dark Buffalo against potentially the AFC’s best team. 

The Dolphins actually put up a respectable fight on both sides of the ball despite their 32-29 defeat. Speaking of respectability, Tagovailoa likely earned a little more respect for his ability to play in the cold because he was fairly solid on Saturday. 

It certainly wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was much better than both his games against the 49ers and the Chargers. Let’s dive into the film and see where this game ranks relative to the rest of the season. 

The Good Stuff

This throw was early in the game and is probably the best example of week-to-week improvement from Tagovailoa. Against the 49ers and Chargers, Tagovailoa struggled with solving the blitz a little more than usual. 

Teams were sending a lot of different looks and using press coverage to throw of the timing of routes. The Bills still did that on Saturday night but not on this play, and Tagovailoa took advantage. 

A common thing you’ll hear is, “quarterbacks should throw into the blitz.” Essentially, the idea is to throw the ball from wherever the blitzing defender is coming from because that spot in the defense should be vacated. 

The Bills drop into a three-high look with both corners dropping into zone off the snap. This allows Jaylen Waddle to a free release into the middle of the field. The Bills end up blitzing both middle linebacker Tremaine Edmonds and cornerback Taron Johnson. 

The idea is to drop Matt Milano and left defensive end Boogie Basham into coverage to make up for losing Edmonds and Johnson. This is called a simulated pressure — when a DL drops into coverage and a LB/DB blitzes — which is designed to get a numbers advantage against one side of the line. 

It works too, because the Bills get a free runner at Tagovailoa. However, Tagovailoa sees it early, and Terron Armstead makes a tremendous spin block to make this completion possible. It’s good processing, anticipation, and accuracy from Tagovialoa. All things that started to slip the previous two weeks. 

This throw makes the cut less because it was a good read and more because it’s a good “gut-check” throw. This is a third and long situation inside the red zone. Any team trying to complete an upset needs to convert a couple of these to do so. 

Tagovailoa does a nice job throwing this pass early and anticipating where Hill is going to come out of his break. Additionally, the accuracy on this throw is quite impressive. It leads Hill a bit outside and allows him to use his body as a shield. 

The ball doesn’t jump out of Tagovailoa’s hands, but he’s so early and so precise with the throw it doesn’t give Kaiir Elam or the safety time to react. 

This throw doesn’t look great without context, but it was a situation that required Tagovailoa to just let one rip, and he did. 

Okay, let’s talk about Tagovialoa’s best throw of the game — his touchdown pass to Hill down the right sideline. This throw isn’t wildly impressive in a bubble, but given the last two weeks, it’s a good sign. 

The Bills play a rare snap of cover-one with Hamlin as the deep safety. Their corners are in press at the line, so they’re hoping they can jam up Miami’s WRs enough for pressure to get home. 

However, pressing Hill makes sense in concept, but occasionally you’re going to get burned. 

Tagovailoa starts to his left with the intention of holding that middle-of-the-field safety for a split second. This is important because windows in the red zone are tight. So even though Hamlin has a long way to go, getting him to hesitate for a second is needed to fit this ball in. 

Then, Tagovailoa just flips his hips and floats a beautiful rainbow ball out to Hill for the touchdown. Pause the video and see where Tagovailoa threw this ball. Hill is at around the 15-yard line and just pulling away from Tre White after his outside release. 

Seeing Tagovailoa hit a vertical route is important because teams have challenged him to do this recently, and he’s struggled at times. Think about all of the missed nine routes down the sideline against the Chargers. So again, more improvement from the previous two weeks. 

This is great anticipation and also trust by Tagovialoa in what he was seeing. Quarterbacks are taught to throw this pass exactly when Tagovailoa did. 

The Meh Stuff 

The Meh Stuff section makes a triumphant return this week after being skipped for a couple of weeks. This throw is fine because it gives Jaylen Waddle a chance to make a catch for an explosive gain. 

However, it’s way underthrown, which ultimately limits how many yards Waddle has given up. The Bills dropped an additional safety into the box post-snap, leaving Waddle in one-on-one coverage with no safety over the top. 

If Tagovailoa hits Waddle in stride, it’s a walk-in touchdown for the speedster. So close to “good” but in the end, it’s just “meh.” 

The Bad Stuff

Most of the bad stuff from Saturday’s performance falls into the same two categories. One, staring down reads. Two, underthrown passes. 

This throw to Tagovialoa’s right encompasses both of those in one play, and there were a couple of these throughout the game. Here’s another one: 

The first throw is the most worrisome. Tagovialoa is targeting Waddle in one-on-one coverage against White on a short out route near the sticks. He takes the snap, looks that way, doesn’t look anywhere else, and fires a lackadaisical pass into an incredibly tight window. 

White undercut this route and almost comes away with a critical interception. 

The second one is a little more forgivable since it’s a farther throw, and Tagovailoa had pressure at his feet. However, if Tagovailoa is going to try windows like this, he needs to find a way to create more velocity on the ball when he can’t set his base. 

This is great coverage by White, so it probably doesn’t even matter how fast Tagovailoa throws this pass. Still, this ball took forever to get to its target, making White’s job much easier on the backend. 


Instead of showing you three more throws that essentially boil down to the same point let’s talk about the big picture a little bit. 

The late, great Dennis Green had one of the best press conferences of all time back in 2009 while he was the coach of the Arizona Cardinals. 

“They are who thought they were! And we let em’ off the hook!” is an all-time great line to deliver before smacking the podium and leaving. 10 out of 10. No notes. 

Anyway, the line “They are who we thought they were” kept popping into my head while watching Tagovailoa’s film this week, and most of the season too. All of Tagovailoa’s strengths — accuracy, anticipation, processing speed — and his weakness — athletic ability, arm strength, creativity — were all on display against Buffalo. 

Overall, it was a solid bounce-back performance for Tagovailoa. He gave Miami a chance to win a game against a good football team, and that’s exactly the type of quarterback he is. 

Let’s go to the rankings.

These rankings are based on the film. Not stats. Not QB wins. Not whatever the hell Emmanuel Acho is ranting about. Just the film. Additionally, the games are not ranked in their respective tier.

Tier 1 is the best. Tier 1.5 is good but just a couple of mistakes that kept it from being “great.” Tier 2 is solid, quality play but nothing special. Tier 3 is “below average.” Tier 4 is “dreadfully bad.”

Tier 1: Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns 

Tier 1.5: Baltimore Ravens (this is tough because he was basically a different player after halftime)

Tier 2: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills (Wk 15)

Tier 3: Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots 

Tier 4: San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Chargers

This week’s Christmas game vs. the Packers gives Tagovailoa a chance to essentially clinch Miami’s playoff spot and string two solid performances together for the first time since November. Let’s see if he gets it done.

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