Miami Herald (Sunday)

Final analysis on Tagovailoa, plus analysts’ feedback

- BY BARRY JACKSON bjackson@miamiheral­ Barry Jackson: 305-376-3491, @flasportsb­uzz

Part 2 of our 2-part series on Dolphins quarterbac­k Tua Tagovailoa

The Dolphins are comfortabl­e moving forward on long-term contract talks with Tua Tagovailoa. Asked about a long-term deal, he told reporters on Friday that “I believe that will happen.”

The biggest concerns, in an otherwise strong season, remain his performanc­e when:

A). He faces stout defenses.

B). It’s late in close games.

C). A heavy pass rush is in his face.

For his career, when trailing in a one-possession game with under five minutes remaining, Tagovailoa is 53 of 89 (59.6 percent) for 601 yards (6.8 yards per attempt) with six touchdowns, four intercepti­ons and a passer rating of 83.6.

This season, he was 14 for 25 for 134 yards, with one TD and one INT, in those situations. That’s a poor 64.4 passer rating. And Miami was 2-3 in those games involving the NFL’s equivalent of “clutch time” in the NBA.

This season, Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to a late-game victory against Dallas (won on a field goal with no time remaining) and a fourth-quarter comeback win against the Chargers, capped by a four-yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill to give Miami a 36-34 lead with 1:45 left. Those were excellent performanc­es and shouldn’t be glossed over. On the flip side…

He threw a red zone intercepti­on with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter in Philadelph­ia, with the Dolphins trailing by a touchdown.

He couldn’t hit Cedrick Wilson Jr., who was streaking open, with his team down a touchdown and two minutes left against Kansas City in Germany (there was clear miscommuni­cation on that play), then couldn’t corral a slightly errant snap on fourth down.

Down 28-27 against Tennessee with 1:45 left, Tagovailoa and the Dolphins mustered only 19 yards on six plays, with Tagovailoa taking a sack on fourth down.

He threw an intercepti­on with just more than a minute left and his team down by a touchdown in the regular-season finale against Buffalo.

Those are among the reasons why Dolphins radio analyst Joe Rose has surprising­ly come out publicly against giving Tagovailoa a contract extension.

And there’s this: In the


fourth quarter this season, Tagovailoa’s 75.9 passer rating was 18th among starters who played in at least 10 games; San Francisco’s Brock Purdy was at 123.8 and Buffalo’s Josh Allen

was at 104.0.

Tagovailoa played seven


games against teams that had top 10 scoring defenses. He played well in two of them (No. 4 Dallas, No. 9 Las Vegas), decently in the blowout loss to Buffalo and poor in the second Buffalo game (62.7 rating), the first Kansas City game and the Chiefs playoff game (87 and

63.2 ratings) and the Baltimore game (71.9 rating).

Against opponents with winning records, Tagovailoa has eight touchdowns and seven intercepti­ons with an 80.8 rating, and Miami was 1-6. He averaged 228 passing yards in those games.

He had 22 TDs, eight intercepti­ons and a 110.8 rating against other teams, and Miami was 10-1 in those games. He averaged 293 passing yards in those games.

When facing quarterbac­k

A pressure, Tagovailoa had a dismal 57.5 passer rating; only

Zach Wilson, Bryce Young and Mac Jones were worse among qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.

Tagovailoa completed only 46 of 113 passes when pressured (40.7 percent) with two touchdowns and two intercepti­ons.

The question is whether Tagovailoa’s accuracy can ultimately overcome his struggles making something out of nothing, a skill that Patrick Mahomes and Allen and Lamar Jackson possess because of their elusivenes­s and running ability.

“I get worried,” ESPN’s Marcus Spears said, “when there’s a glitch in the computer, when the picture is not turning up how they imagined it being painted, when the play is called and when the play starts [and it breaks down].

“Where do you go after that? That has been my issue all season long. Miami Dolphins fans have been pissed off at me about it. They’ve told me, ‘Look at the numbers!’ When I’m looking at it from the defensive standpoint, when I can get Tua to pull the ball down, [he struggles]. When I can get him to stick to how this play was drawn up computer-wise, that’s the only thing he’s going to do successful­ly. The polar opposite is what Josh Allen was able to go beyond X’s and O’s... You need that in the playoffs to have success.”

Then there was this conversati­on on ESPN during a debate about whether to give Tagovailoa a huge multiyear extension or allow him to play out 2024 on his already-exercised $23.1 million fifth-year option.

“My concern about a longterm contract with this team that needs to get over the hump is this question: If you take away the middle of the field, do you trust him to move the ball?” ESPN’s Mina Kimes said. “We have seen defenses do it, obviously [Kansas City in the playoff game] do it with success. Do you trust him to create on his own? And can you go deep into the playoffs if you can’t do that?”

ESPN analyst and former NFL safety Ryan Clark, responding to that question from Kimes, said: “I think that’s extremely difficult. I believe Tua is one that cannot excel once you take away that first read in between the numbers.”

So that’s the bad news. The good news?

He led the league in passing


yards and was fourth in passer rating (101.1) and third in completion percentage.

He was exceptiona­l with a


clean pocket: His 112.5 passer rating when he was well protected was third best in the league, behind only Purdy (125.4) and Detroit’s Jared Goff (114.5).

He completed an elite 76.6 percent of his passes when kept clean, and his 27 TD passes with a clean pocket tied Dallas’ Dak Prescott for most in the league.

Tagovailoa remained well above average on deep ball accuracy, or specifical­ly, passes that traveled at least 20 air yards.

Among quarterbac­ks that threw at least 40 such passes, Tagovailoa completed the fourth-highest percentage of them (50.8), behind only Purdy (63.8), Houston’s CJ Stroud

(56.1) and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford (51.9).

If you average the MVP


seasons of Mahomes (2018 and 2022), Aaron Rodgers (2020 and 2021) and Jackson (2019), here are the areas where Tagovailoa was essentiall­y as good or better:

1). Completion percentage: Those three QBs completed 67.8 percent of their passes during their MVP seasons. Tagovailoa was at 69.3 this season.

2). Passing yards per game: Jackson, Mahomes and Rodgers averaged 273.6 yards passing during their MVP seasons. Tagovailoa was at 272 per game this season.

3). Passing yards per attempt: Those three MVP QBs averaged 8.1 passing yards per attempt in their MVP seasons. Tagovailoa averaged 8.2 yards per attempt this season.

Final word on what the Dolphins should do long-term with Tagovailoa from ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, the former NFL quarterbac­k: “From 2009 to 2019, they had one season over. 500. They have four since then, and Tua has been the quarterbac­k. You win a lot of games with him.

“The amount [of money] is the part you’ve got to figure out with a contract extension. [But] he should be their quarterbac­k…. He’s not a perfect player. He’s a good to really good player. And the Dolphins haven’t had that in a long time.”

The Dolphins, interested in an extension, appear to agree with Orlovsky’s thinking.

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 ?? AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiheral­ ?? Dolphins quarterbac­k Tua Tagovailoa on Dec. 31.
AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiheral­ Dolphins quarterbac­k Tua Tagovailoa on Dec. 31.

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