NFL Film Breakdown: A look at Tua’s First Start, His Mechanics, and Decision Making

While Tua had a relatively pedestrian first start against the Rams with only 93 yards and one touchdown, the fact is, he just didn’t have to do much and the Dolphins didn’t ask him to do that much. With outstanding performances from the defense and special teams that gave the Dolphins the lead, Tua just needed to run the offense and run it against a very good Rams defense that can get after the quarterback and also has the guys to cover in the secondary. While Tua did struggle at times, especially early before he settled down, there were also some moments where he looked like he could be the guy of the future. It’s way too early to know what he’s going to turn into but let’s take a look at a couple of his plays from his first start.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Sep 20, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tua didn’t push the ball down the field a whole lot, but notably, the Dolphins are really set up to make him feel at home in the shot gun with a lot of spread concepts and plays. The Dolphins here are running Dagger with a clear out from the slot at the bottom and a deep dig behind it from the outside receiver. To the top of the screen they have a seven yard out. Something that you love to see from a young QB in their first start is reading calmly and throwing with anticipation. Here Tua looks to the Dagger concept and sees a defender dropping into the area where the dig will enter. This forces him to come off of that read and he comes all the way across the field to his seven yard out. What’s incredibly encouraging here is that he is throwing with anticipation. He starts his throwing motion to get the ball out to Gesicki before Gesicki has planted for his cut. He read the defense, comes off his first read, and then throws the ball with anticipation to his check-down.

This ability to be calm and use his eyes really jumped out. He was able to look off defenders, make decisive throws underneath, and move through his progressions. Here, he takes one of his few deep shots but first looks to the top of the screen to help hold the safety. He knows that the Rams like to use jump calls on crossers on 3rd downs, so he’s expecting the safety #24 to come down on his shallow drag which leaves a true one-on-one outside with Mike Gesicki. He throws a beautiful ball in rhythm in a great place for his receiver to make a play. This is again a good indicator that he’s processing and understands what’s going on around him.

Overall, Tua handled pressure pretty well. Even when faced with free runners or blitzers, he was able to move out of the pocket and throw off platform to keep the offense on schedule and create plays. A lot of the time, being able to create and make things happen on broken plays or when teams blitz you can be the difference in what makes a good quarterback.

While there were some really encouraging things, there were also some rookie issues where he was expecting a receiver to be in a different spot, lost his consistency in his mechanics, made some rushed throws, or missed some reads downfield. Here he’s just expecting the quick screen to his receiver to be closer to the line of scrimmage and misses what should be an easy completion.

Especially early in the game, he was very frenetic in the pocket. There was a lot of bouncing which can cause some huge vertical inaccuracy. You want to stay as level as possible as a quarterback and calm your feet otherwise when you start your throwing motion as you’re moving up and down, you can get balls that sail on you. Here, Tua does just that and in combination, misreads the leverage of the defender covering the fade to DeVante Parker. The DB is stacked on top, eliminating vertical space. If you’re going to throw that, you have to throw this back-shoulder. You can’t put it in a position where your receiver has to play defense and break up the play. So Tua’s mechanics here were off with the bouncing, he over shot his throw, and he didn’t indicate that he understood the leverage of the defender and where that meant he needed to throw it.

All things considered, Tua did a good job for his first start. There were some flashes of his potential even in the 93 passing yards he had. There were also some rookie mistakes which are to be expected. It’ll be exciting to watch him progress because the Dolphins are rolling with the number one scoring defense right now and are right in the thick of the playoff race. If the team around him keeps playing at a high level and lets him learn while not having to do too much, the Dolphins are going to make some noise in the second half of the season and even compete for the AFC East crown.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: Mike Gesicki Could be Miami’s Secret Weapon

After a lackluster rookie season where Mike Gesicki had only 22 receptions for 202 yards, his sophomore year saw him earn the second most targets on the team with 89 and more than double his yardage total with 570 yards and 5 touchdowns. He showed progress in his route running and started to become a more physical receiver and was the 4th best TE at winning contested catches. While he is listed as a tight end, Gesicki is really just a big slot – one of the positions that more and more teams are adding to their arsenal. He can be impactful there but it does limit his versatility in the offense. Things may change with Chan Gailey as their new offensive coordinator, but in 2019 the Dolphins ran pass plays on 80% of the snaps where Gesicki was in. In part because he’s a good pure receiver and in part because he was absolutely atrocious at blocking.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Gesicki shows flashes of good route running and when he can get up to speed, he’s hard to keep up with as he does well on speed cuts and routes that don’t require starting and stopping or huge change of direction. He can consistently torch linebackers in man but at times he struggled to out-physical smaller defensive backs when they covered him. His straight-line speed is impressive for guy as big as he is and as he works more release techniques and route nuance into his game, he’s going to be tough to stop. Even this little stutter go where gives a small jab to the inside like he’s running a slant can be enough to give him separation on linebackers

Through the season he showed a slow improvement at manipulating the leverage of defenders and working up onto their toes and then exploiting that leverage to get himself open. He gives some quick foot fire to hold defenders and is able to accelerate, lean and cut to the outside and create separation.

This foot fire stutter mid route once he gets onto defenders’ toes is one of his best moves. It holds the defender and stops their feet while still allowing him to accelerate and use his straight-line speed. Here he even gives a head and shoulder nod which helps sell the slant and opens him up vertically.

If you’re flat footed or guess wrong as he gets to the top of his route he’s too big and fast to slow down and he will 100% run right by you.

He also uses that speed to help him to stack defenders when they don’t get their hands on him and try to run with him. Stacking means that you’re getting directly on top of the defender in coverage. You’re stacking on top and getting back on the line on which you originally started. This gives you a two way go at the top of the route and the defender is in a terrible position and often has to guess on your break. He does that here against the Eagles where he’s taking a wide inside release to avoid the jam and then working to stack back on top as he cuts to the corner. This gives him leverage for any ball over the top and allows a bigger window for the quarterback because the defender is in trail position and can’t look back for the ball.

The problem is, he struggles with starting and stopping. So, on most of his routes he’ll round into his cuts and use a speed cut technique to get to his landmark. It keeps him running full speed and doesn’t make him break down and then speed back up. Especially against smaller or less athletic defenders, his speed cut is really effective and he can eat guys alive.

Since he struggles to start and stop, a lot of defenses started to jam and re-route him at any opportunity whether he was inline or split out and he was pretty awful at defeating it. He had really poor hand usage when defenders would attempt to jam and re-route him. Often, he ran right into the contact and when he gets slowed down, it’s hard for him to start back up.

It really is tough to watch sometimes. For being such a big guy and for managing to win so many contested catches, he really is not physical in his route running. When he can get clean releases, he’s fine, but when teams bump and run with him he starts to really struggle.

He really gets slowed down and without being able to threaten with his straight-line speed or speed cuts, he doesn’t get much separation.

Because he isn’t overly physical, he can also have some issues matching up with corners. They’re fast enough to keep up with him and if he isn’t going to overpower them, then he loses his advantage outside of being able to win a jump ball with his large frame.

That being said, he is one of the best contested catch tight ends in the league. If you give him a 50/50 ball when he is covered or fighting for position, more often than not, he’s going to catch it. And that’s the power of having a guy with his speed and frame on the field. Sometimes even when he’s not open, he’s open.

While winning contested catches is great, the lack of physicality really becomes an issue with blocking. His straight-line speed would be amazing on deep shots for play-action. The problem is… he can’t block. So, he can’t sell that he’s in to block and keep the defense honest. As mentioned before, the Dolphins passed 80% of the time when he was in the game. And when they did ask him to block, it didn’t go well. He plays with poor pad level, doesn’t drive his feet, and gets blown off the ball – especially when he’s playing in-line with his hand on the ground.

Even with corners he can have trouble because he’ll take poor angles to the block or be unable to sustain long enough.

He can have a tendency to lunge at defenders and as mentioned before, that lack of foot movement and quickness gets him in trouble when he’s trying to block just as it can in starting and stopping on his routes.

A sort of perfect encapsulation of him as an athlete is here where he runs right by the defensive back and wins on the route with a quick outside stem. It’s a walk-in touchdown if he gets the ball. As a result, though, he’s downfield for what would be a scoring block… and completely misplays it and allows the one defender that could make the tackle to make the tackle without Gesicki even touching him.

There are bits and pieces of his game that you look at and you think “this guy might be really good” he started to show more nuanced route running and releases like pulling his shoulder to avoid those jams that can give him trouble.

The Eagles and Jets respected him enough to line up Jamal Adams and Malcolm Jenkins on him through the bulk of their games and Gesicki was able to win some routes on them – especially when they gave him cushion to protect against his speed.

Mike Gesicki has all the tools to be a great receiving tight end in the league. Even if the blocking never truly gets there, he has eerily similar combine stats and measurables as Jimmy Graham and he did just fine for years and was a huge weapon in New Orleans and early on in Seattle. What’s exciting is his growth as a route runner and seeing him start to put together indications of physicality. The contested catches are the start. Using his body to create leverage and being more physical in his routes is the next step. Balance and consistency are what he needs and if Tua is down to give him more jump balls, the Dolphins may have a secret weapon behind DeVante Parker who can gash you over the middle, be too physical for corners, faster than linebackers, and bring some fireworks down to Miami.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Miami’s Xavien Howard has All the Tools to be a Shutdown Corner

Xavien Howard, drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, cashed in on a 5 year, 72 million dollar contract in the summer of 2019. At the time, he was coming off of a pro-bowl year where he had a league high 7 interceptions, allowed a 52.4% completion percentage, and a 61.2 QB rating. Although plagued with injuries like fellow teammate DeVante Parker, when he’s healthy, he’s a huge contributor.  While not the most physical corner, Howard is one of the best at closing on routes and reading receivers. He shows efficient footwork, sound technique, and is really good when he can play off and close on routes with vision.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

The Baltimore Sun

            The problem is the Dolphins ran a ton of man coverage with single high looks to help with their porous run defense. Howard struggles with his jam punch and he can get caught peaking in the backfield in man coverage. His excellent closure grade and poor collision ability make him incredibly susceptible to double moves. That being said, he does a good job of keeping his cushion deep and almost never gets beat over the top in zone. He can play outside or in the slot if needed and when he’s on and in the right defense he can completely eliminate a receiver or one side of the field.

            Howard’s technique when turning and running with receivers is really impressive. He is able to stay in the pocket of receivers as they cut, close the throwing window on them, and is almost always in a position to make a play on the ball or an immediate tackle. Whether he’s in man or zone coverage, he does a good job keying their eyes and hips, playing tight to their routes, and contesting catches. You can see the efficiency and fluidity in his movements as he changes direction and plants to get out of his backpedal. He has truly elite change of direction which gives him good flexibility as both a man and a zone corner.

            Howard does a good job of stacking on top of receivers and widening and washing them towards the sideline. He closes the available window for the quarterback to throw to, has the quickness to break on backshoulders, and isn’t afraid of getting beat deep. You can see the receivers start on the numbers and get washed all the way to within a yard or two of the sideline.

In man coverage he plays tight with good hand usage, and can keep up with even the fastest of guys like Marquise Brown of the Ravens. He shows good discipline not to over-run routes and shows efficient footwork on his breaks. While he tracks the hips of receivers in zone, he plays off their eyes in man which helps him to locate the ball when his back is turned.

Because of his quick closing ability and keying of eyes, this sets him up for double moves and route stems from receivers and he can get caught peaking at the QB at times even without head fakes or the set ups for double moves.

One of the first plays that Dallas ran was a double move on Howard with Amari Cooper running a slant corner. Howard also struggled with getting hands on receivers in man and giving a top tier receiver a clean release in man is asking a lot of your physical abilities. He lets Cooper release and get on his toes before breaking to the Slant. As soon as he turns his head for the slant, Howard is already beat and is looking back at the QB for the ball. A few steps into the slant stem, Cooper rounds out and back to the corner and Howard is completely lost in coverage.

The Cowboys and Cooper didn’t stop there though. Almost every route caught on Howard during the game was some form of double move. Howard’s tendency to close on routes fast was used against him throughout the game and he didn’t have an answer for it.

Double moves obviously take a little more time to develop though and to help combat this, he needs to be more physical at the line of scrimmage when walked up in man or flat zone coverage. Either he gives no jam and re-routing attempt or has an incredibly weak punch which barely influences receivers. He’s athletic enough to get away with it most of the time but to take the next step he does need to be a little more physical.

Without a jam, this lets the receiver dictate the route, doesn’t put time pressure on them, and often can get Howard in tough situations. When he lets receivers get on his toes with no contact, he’s put in a really difficult position and it’s impossible for almost anyone to cover consistently when you allow that to happen.

He is entirely capable of being physical, he’s just incredibly inconsistent. He has all the tools in his bag and just needs to fine tune the technique. He doesn’t need to be a dominating force, but he does need to make receivers uncomfortable more consistently at the line of scrimmage.

Xavien Howard has the ability to be a dominant corner in the NFL. Team are going to have to decide between throwing at him or free agent pickup Byron Jones and they’re going to have a tough time. His closure ability, route recognition, and fluidity are all elite. I think he’s a better fit as a zone corner because of his lack of physicality but he can absolutely hold his own in man coverage. Even though Howard only played in 5 games last season, he did handle Marquise Brown, Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, and Keenan Allen and held them all to just 237 yards total. As Dolphins fans can probably tell you, if he can stay healthy and fine-tune his press technique, he’s going to be worth every penny of that 72 million dollar contract and help the Dolphins ascend to the top of the AFC East.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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