MIAMI GARDENS — Like batting average in baseball, completion percentage is one of those football statistics that the cool, new age metrics gurus summarily dismiss.
And while we can appreciate a fascination with intended air yards per pass attempt, air yards to the sticks and aggressiveness percentage, Tua’s out here completing passes.
Tua is Tagovailoa, of course. And you can call it old-school if you like. But what if we told you that almost every time Tua, the Dolphins quarterback, drops back to pass, he completes the ball to a receiver?
“Positive plays keep you on schedule,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said Wednesday. “And if you’re on schedule, then normally good things happen.”
Over the past two games, Tua has completed more than 80 percent of his passes. In each game. So that’s 80 percent of the time something good happened.
“A very catchable ball,” tight end Mike Gesicki said.
Statistically, it’s pretty much one of the most catchable balls ever, actually. Only four other times in history has an NFL quarterback done that 80-80 thing.
The Dolphins drafted Tua because they wanted to take a swing at a quarterback who could be elite. Well, when it comes to accuracy, Tua is elite.
It is his super power.
Sorting it out: How do Tua’s first 16 NFL starts compare to peers? Pretty well.
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Tagovailoa is second in the NFL in completion percentage at the moment (71 percent), trailing only Arizona’s Kyler Murray (73 percent). That would set an all-time Dolphins record.
When was the last time the Dolphins had a quarterback ranked second in the league in anything?
“He just put the ball in a great place,” Jaylen Waddle said of a third-down touchdown catch against the Panthers last Sunday. “It was a timing route and it was right there. He put it where only I could get it really.”
It is true that some of Tagovailoa’s quick passes in a run-pass option based offense are designed to be essentially automatic. You may view them as almost a substitute for a run. But sometimes, Tagovailoa is forced to make a more difficult throw.
And lately, he’s been hitting on them.
The 9-yard touchdown pass to Waddle, which put Miami ahead 14-7 in the second quarter, was fired with authority into the end zone. It’s a play that excited both Tua’s offensive coordinator, George Godsey, and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky.
“The third-down throw in the red area, that’s as tight of a throw as you’re going to see,” Godsey said. “And it was on time. Third and goal in the NFL is the hardest situation you can be in. And from 9 yards he was able to deliver that ball on-time, accurately. It was pretty impressive.”
Orlovsky has been an advocate of Tua’s since before the 2020 NFL Draft. While breaking down that particular throw, he become all fired up.
“Right on his face mask so he can go make that catch,” Orlovsky said. “Boom! That’s a rip. Sudden. That’s awesome.”
Orlovsky went on to proclaim that given some help (offensive line, etc.) Tua has the ability to become a “Drew Brees-type player.”
That’s a lofty proclamation, for sure. But it’s not insane. None other than Tua’s college coach and former Miami coach Nick Saban has made the same comparison.
And there’s nothing Saban likes less than comparisons.
But it’s the deadly accuracy that results in the possibility. Brees never had the strongest arm, and neither does Tua. But Brees was surgical. He was precise.
Death by paper cuts is still death.
Yes, now that Tua’s hip, ribs and throwing finger are better, the Dolphins will look to hit on a few more downfield passing plays (air yards, as they say) of beyond 20 yards.
But Tua has shown that he can orchestrate 12 or 14 of 16 plays and methodically drive his team down the field. Maybe mixing in some tempo. Maybe mixing in some trickeration. Maybe moving the pocket a few times.
Miami’s offense has become a bit more interesting in recent weeks. But more than anything it’s still centered around the idea that Tua can, and will, consistently and repeatedly strike receivers in the short- and medium-windows of the field.
As long as Miami is moving the ball and scoring enough points to win, Flores will be satisfied. And you should be, too. It is is always possible that if big-play threats like DeVante Parker and/or Will Fuller come back into the fold, and if the Dolphins’ offensive line continues to make small improvements, they can open things up a bit.
But when the play-by-play summary shows this time after time after time, there’s really no reason to change what’s working:
T. Tagovailoa, pass complete
T. Tagovailoa, pass complete
T. Tagovailoa, pass complete
It can be frustrating for a defense to be plucked apart, piece by piece. Flores, a defensive expert, knows that, too.
Flores believes that, yes, accuracy can be improved upon, including at the NFL level. But he also agrees that it is largely innate.
Tua was given a gift, and it’s one he honed at an early age.
“Working out with my Dad, that was imperative,” Tagovailoa said. “Just everything I had to do had to be to his liking. So if the ball placement wasn’t where it should have been, then we do it again. And we do it until we get it right.”
There have been 45 quarterbacks to start 16 games with at least 390 pass attempts over the last 10 years.
Galu Tagovailoa surely will be pleased to hear that only one quarterback (Dak Prescott) had a higher completion percentage over the last decade than his son.
The ball placement is special. The ball is rarely on the ground.
On Wednesday, Tagovailoa broke down how he weighs precisely where to put the ball, based on various factors, such as the type of defensive alignment.
“If it’s man, you never want to put it behind him or put it on him,” Tua said. “You always want to lead him. In zone, you’re really just trying to beat the defensive guys to spots.”
And trust, he stressed, is important. Tagovailoa must have trust that his receivers are going to be where he expects them to be, especially in the fast-moving NFL.
“I think accuracy is very important,” Flores said. “He’s been accurate. We’ve asked him to be accurate. He’s practiced that way in practice and it’s showing up in games.”
In recent weeks, especially, Tua is throwing with more confidence, assuredness and zip. He’s looking more and more like the player he appeared to be in college.
Tua spoke about needing to trust his receivers. What’s becoming more apparent as his pro career progresses is this — they can trust him to deliver an accurate pass.
Giants at Dolphins
1 p.m., Fox