Broncos' Best Hope: How to Shut Down Dolphins' QB Tua Tagovailoa
The No. 5 overall pick making just his fourth career start in the NFL and on the road in the highest altitude in football should be a positive thing for the Denver Broncos in the midst of a two-game losing streak.
That’s not the case this week with Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins riding into town.
Denver will have its hands full with not only the Dolphins’ ever-improved defense, but a rejuvenated offense under Tagovailoa, who has put up nearly 600 passing yards, five touchdowns, and a 104.3 QB rating while going 3-0 as a starter with wins over the Rams, Cardinals, and Chargers to start his career.
It hasn’t all been flashy like Tagovailoa’s days at the University of Alabama, which led to his top-5 selection in the 2020 draft, but he’s been super efficient with the football, establishing great rapport with his tight ends through three games, and has added a real mobile option to an ever-improving offense that has been patchwork much of the season.
One thing the Dolphins have done a great job of with Tagovailoa in his first three starts has been getting him on the move on play-action rollouts, cutting the field in half, giving him multiple receivers on separate levels to target.
Dangerous on the Run
As you can see, there are three receivers at separate levels for Tua to work with on one half of the field. Getting him out on the perimeter makes reads easier for him early in his career.
He throws an absolute dart to tight end Mike Gesicki, who has quickly become one of his favorite targets.
It’s clear watching Dolphins tape that they run similar route concepts throughout the game to manufacture successful throws for Tua. When he’s on the perimeter like this he can pick apart defenses.
Denver will have to do a good job on Sunday of shutting down the run game to take away play-action passes for Tua, forcing him to beat the secondary without play-action throws.
Pick Your Poison
The Dolphins have done a really good job layering plays for Tua. You can see the play-action fake here from the 1-yard line, after which Tua rolls left before throwing back to wide-open Durham Smythe for the score.
Tua could have easily pulled this down and scrambled for the touchdown or fired to Gesicki in the back of the end zone, but he does a great job overall of staying within the structure of the play.
Driving Arm Strength
Even when the Dolphins don’t put Tua on the move, he’s very comfortable getting his eyes back downfield on play-action in the pocket, showing off his impressive arm strength to drive the football downfield into tight windows.
He’s very confident with his throws and his accuracy and isn’t afraid to cut it loose as a rookie.
One thing Tua brings to the table that could be a concern for Denver this week is his ability to scramble. Through three starts he has just 15 carries, but he’s really good at extending plays in the pocket and picking up key yards in certain situations.
He wasn’t used much as a runner at Alabama, but he can definitely carve up teams that give him room.
Tua doesn’t panic one bit in the pocket, dropping his eyes just for a second to find a lane. Most rookie quarterbacks would absolutely panic in this situation, but Tua does a good job protecting the ball, staying calm, and finding a rush lane to get out of trouble.
Denver's Best Hope
For Denver to slow down this Dolphins roll as of late on offense, the Broncos will have to dial up the heat in obvious passing situations to make Tua uncomfortable. He hasn’t faced much heat as of late.
Denver will also have to make the Dolphins one-dimensional, taking away the advantage Miami enjoys using play-action. Forcing the Dolphins to be one-dimensional offensively will take away the threat of play-action and could make for some tougher throws for the rookie on the road in the Mile High City.