The New England Patriots will get a tase of the Miami Dolphins’ future this Sunday when they go up against Tua Tagovailoa for the very first time. The rookie took over as the team’s starting quarterback midway through the season and has played some impressive football since, showing why Miami decided to invest the fifth overall draft pick in him earlier this year.
Needless to say that the Patriots’ at times inconsistent defense will be in for a major challenge this week. This thought was amplified by Bill Belichick during one of his media conference calls this week. Speaking about Tagovailoa, he particularly praised his ability to evade pressure when in the pocket.
“He gets rid of the ball very quickly, doesn’t hold it much, sees coverages well, has taken good care of the ball, hasn’t thrown the ball to the defense,” Belichick said about the Dolphins’ first-round selection. “Sees what he’s got, understands the pressure, understands the timing of the routes, gets the ball out quickly, and has enough quickness in the pocket to make it difficult for the pass rush to get to him.
“He can run a little bit but he is more, I would say, a quicker guy in the pocket that’s elusive and really wants to throw more than he wants to run. He can run but he really is a good passer and wants to get the ball out quickly in the passing game. He does a pretty good job of that.”
Tagovailoa started the season as Miami’s number two behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, therefore also not participating in the loss in New England on opening day. Following a brief appearance during a 24-0 blowout of the New York Jets in Week 5, however, Dolphins head coach and former Patriots assistant Brian Flores decided to make a change: Tagovailoa would be the team’s starter coming out of its bye the next week.
Since then, the rookie has led the Dolphins offense in seven of its eight games. While he was benched in favor of Fitzpatrick against the Denver Broncos and later missed the rematch against the Jets because of a thumb injury, the 22-year-old has shown all the qualities teams would like to see from a franchise quarterback.
That’s not all, however, as Mike Pellegrino pointed out. The Patriots’ cornerbacks coach also spoke about Tagovailoa this week, and praised him for his ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes much like a veteran would.
“You can definitely see it,” Pellegrino said. “Right of the snap, you watch a couple of tapes, you can see him trying to look off middle-of-the-field safeties, really trying to start on one side and work to the other. He does a really good job of that, trying to fool the defense — mainly the deep backend guys on where he’s going with the football. So, I would say from that aspect of a young quarterback, he’s doing it really well.”
The numbers also reflect how well Tagovailoa has played so far.
Of the 184 throws he has attempted so far this season, 114 were caught by Miami’s pass catchers for a completion rate of 62 percent as well as 1,214 yards, and a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception share. While he is getting sacked an average of two times per game behind a young defensive line — one that might start three fellow rookies on Sunday — Tagovailoa has followed cardinal rule number one: don’t lose the game.
He did quite the opposite, actually, playing some solid complementary football alongside one of the NFL’s better defenses. Miami is 4-2 with him as its starting quarterback, which has a lot to do with Flores’ team as a whole but the QB’s job as well.
On Sunday, the Patriots will get to face that QB and try to limit him just like they did another highly-touted first-round rookie just two weeks ago: in Week 13, New England held Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert to a sub-50-percent completion percentage while intercepting him two times. It was the worst game of Herbert’s career.
Now going against Tagovailoa, who was selected one spot ahead of Herbert in April’s draft, New England will try to duplicate that result — and to properly welcome the Dolphins’ new starting quarterback to the AFC East in style.