Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has had an up-and-down start to his NFL career. But entering Week 2, the lefty leads the NFL in passing yards (466), touchdowns thrown (three), yards per attempt (10.4) and yards per completion (16.6) after a dominant first start.
The New England Patriots defense took notice.
“It’s underestimated how good he really is,” cornerback Jonathan Jones said on Wednesday. “So we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Tagovailoa’s performance last week may have been his best game as a pro, especially as it came against the Los Angeles Chargers defense that troubled the him last season.
Beyond being his usual accurate self, the quarterback created out of structure — most notably on this 47-yard completion to Tyreek Hill — and appeared to have more zip on the ball, even looking like his old Alabama self at times.
“We’ve seen him. He has a big arm,” defensive lineman Lawrence Guy said Thursday. “I know a lot of people don’t say that, but he does have an arm on him and he can get out of the pocket and get it down the field. So those quick passes are there, but we understand there’s also another threat we have to be worried about.”
Bill Belichick added: “The quarterback’s played very well, and he’s had tremendous production over the last couple of years, led the league in a lot of different categories passing the ball.”
One of those categories is against single-high structures. Since being paired with head coach Mike McDaniel last season, Tagovailoa is the NFL’s best passers in terms of EPA against such looks. That’s noteworthy against New England, as single-high coverage is a staple for Belichick.
But as the two matchup on Sunday, the Patriots may ditch some of those looks for more two-high safety shells. In two matchups against the Dolphins last year (only one with Tua), New England sat in zone nearly 80 percent of the time to limit big plays, while also mixing in some man to take away the middle of the field on money downs.
No matter how the Patriots plan to slow down Tagovailoa and the Dolphins explosive offense, they will hope to replicate some of their past success. In four games against Tua, the quarterback has averaged just 181.5 yards through the air while posting just three touchdowns and two interceptions.
What they will hope to change, however, is the result - as Tagovailoa is 4-0 in those games.
“He’s won,” Jones added. “If you look at his record for how long he’s been there, he’s won a lot of games for him. Regardless of what people say, he’s won games.”