Welcome to this week’s Tua Tagovailoa All-22 review. This week, we’ve got Tagovailoa’s fifth-straight win against the New England Patriots to evaluate. 

As head coach Mike McDaniel said postgame, it wasn’t a pretty win for the Dolphins, but a win is a win, especially on the road against a division rival. 

Tagovailoa started the game off hot and played reasonably well, but his stat line was mediocre. He finished 21-of-30 for 249 yards with one touchdown and one interception. 

Although the Patriots lost, their defensive game plan was quite good. It forced the Dolphins to run the ball and play defense — two things that haven’t been a strength in recent seasons. 

However, Miami got the job done this time. Let’s dive into Tagovailoa’s tape and see how the Patriots kept him in check for most of the night. 



If you were on Twitter during last night’s game, you heard about the Patriots playing three safeties on the backend. How does that stop Miami’s passing attack? 

There are two things it stops. One is explosives. Two is middle of the field throws. 

The play above is an excellent example. Pre-snap, the Patriots have three safeties lined up at equal depth. Post-snap, those safeties rotate, putting Kyle Duggar in the middle of the field. 

Duggar takes away the backside crossing route from Jaylen Waddle, and the deep safety ensures Tyreek Hill’s vertical is completely covered. This leaves the check down as the only viable option for Tagovailoa. 

This throw looks ho-hum — partly because it is — but it’s an important benchmark for Tagovailoa. It was a statement early in the game that he wouldn’t force the ball into coverage all night. 

Teams will continue to attack the Dolphins similarly this season. It might look different, but everyone will try to clog up the middle and cap vertical routes. Tagovailoa will have to throw more check-downs this season. 

In that regard, this game wasn’t perfect (we’ll get to that later), but it was more positive than negative. 


We might have to make this one a running segment because, whew, can Tagovailoa hit some crazy keyhole throws. The one above to Braxton Berrios was by far Tagovalioa’s best throw of the night. 

At the end of the first half, the Dolphins drove 75 yards in eight plays in 1:38 to take a 17-3 lead into the locker room. On that drive, Tagovailoa played his best football of the night, going seven for seven and throwing his only touchdown. 

Tagovailoa looked like a surgeon on that drive, and no throw better encompasses it than the one above. This is elite-level placement, accuracy, and anticipation — there’s no doubt about that. There was no other place to put this football. 

However, what’s far more encouraging is the pocket movement beforehand. Tagovailoa has always been an accurate and highly anticipatory passer. That’s not new information. What is new is his ability to be accurate when pushed off his spot in the pocket. 

Last week, we discussed how his newfound ability to create out-of-structure pointed to a higher ceiling in his game. There was less of that against the Patriots, but this play is still a good sign. 

It doesn’t look like a lot of movement, but the sudden slide he uses to buy enough time to release this ball is essential. In the past, that slide would compromise Tagovailoa’s accuracy. The ball would’ve come out of his hand weirdly and likely underthrown. 

This season, that’s not the case. Tagovailoa looks more comfortable being uncomfortable, a massive boon to his profile.

Also, we’d be remiss if we didn’t complement Braxton Berrios and McDaniel for the route on this play. Turning a juke route into a wheel route down the sideline is Galaxy brain stuff. 


Let’s talk about one area of Tagovailoa’s game that hasn’t made the jump this season: vertical placement. 

Yes, his throw to Hill in the fourth quarter last week was a perfectly placed vertical shot. Nobody is denying or forgetting that. However, most of his pure vertical throws have been underthrown this season. 

They left a few plays on the field against the Chargers and another against the Patriots. Some wanted pass interference called on this play, but rewarding quarterbacks for bad throws is lame. Waddle has a step here, and a good throw ends in a completion. 

Everything before the throw is perfect, though. The Patriots played one of their rare Cover 1 reps. There’s no deep help at the top of the screen because that safety rotated down to clog the middle of the field. 

Tagovailoa sees this pre-snap, identifies his 1-on-1 matchup, and lets the ball fly. It’s perfect process, just poor execution. 

The wonderful thing about football is you’re usually given a chance to redeem yourself at some point. This throw is what a good vertical shot should look like, and it’s the same play Tagovailoa missed earlier. 

This time, the Patriots don’t disguise anything. They show Cover 1 before and after the snap. Tagovailoa identifies his 1-on-1 matchup with Waddle and lets the ball fly. This time, it’s got more juice, allowing Waddle to go up and make a play. 

When evaluators say quarterbacks need a short memory, they’re talking about this. Tagovailoa probably isn’t going to win with these routes, but he needs to keep throwing them when the defense serves them up on a silver platter. 


If you’ve followed this series for the past four years, you know we affectionately call some of Tagovailoa’s worst moments “oof plays.” He tends to have one or two plays per game that make you say, “Oof.” 

His interception last week certainly qualified, and so does the one he threw this week. This is a pretty easy play to sum up — it’s just a bad decision. 

It’s the Dolphins’ classic motion into a wheel (Hill), curl (Ingold), flat (Mostert) concept. It’s the Dolphins’ bread and butter. They run this concept and variations of it 15 times per game. 

The Patriots show two-high coverage at the snap and play two-high post-snap. There’s no trickery going on. If Tagovailoa wanted to hit Hill on this concept, he would’ve had to throw a line drive. Anything up in the air and down the field is going to be capped by the safety. 

No version of that throw ends with a completion, barring an insane catch by Hill on a much bigger cornerback. 

It’s hard to know without looking at the playbook, but this play also sort of looks like a designed leak to Durham Smythe coming across the formation. Waddle clears out the backside, and the entire concept develops on the left. 

So why run Smythe out to the right like that if not to dump him the ball and let him run? To that effect, Austin Jackson gets beat before Tagovailoa can even look backside, so maybe that’s why he threw up the prayer? 

We don’t know everything here, and we’ll never claim to. Regardless, this wasn’t a good decision from the Dolphins’ signal-caller. 


Tagovailoa played a solid overall game against the Patriots on Sunday night. It wasn’t anything special, but it was the performance Miami needed, given the game script. 

Outside of his one interception, he was a prudent, quick decision-maker willing to take what the defense gave him. The Dolphins supplemented that with a strong run game and defense, allowing them to beat a capable Patriots team on the road. 

The theme of this season’s columns will be just how good Tagovailoa is relative to his peers. We said he was getting closer to the league’s upper-echelon quarterbacks last week. This week wasn’t as explosive, but it was another good sign. 

Top-of-market quarterbacks must be able to function when opposing defenses take away what they do best. Take a look at these passing charts from the first two weeks of the season: 


Notice a difference? The Patriots’ defense almost completely shut out the middle of the field. It forced Tagovailoa to play outside the numbers, somewhere he’s uncomfortable and less effective. 

That wasn’t untrue on Sunday. He was less effective than against the Chargers. However, he didn’t bang his head into a wall, trying to do what he does best no matter what the defense showed him. 

That’s what got him into trouble against the 49ers and Chargers last season. Sunday’s game is nothing to write home about, but it showed some maturity in Tagovailoa’s game.