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The areas where Tagovailoa has outperformed Watson. And assessing Watson in 20 areas

·8 min read

Part 2 of a 3-part series

With Deshaun Watson rumors swirling — and numerous reporters linking him to Miami — we’re exploring various aspects of Watson and the story.

First, two quick news updates from other outlets on Wednesday:

NFL Network reported that the Carolina Panthers aren’t pursuing Watson and the Dolphins remain the only team to which Watson has approved a trade.

Also, CBSHQ’s Josina Anderson said the Dolphins and Texans have not agreed on draft pick compensation, contrary to a Houston Chronicle report that states the teams have agreed on trade terms but that the Dolphins won’t make the trade without more legal clarity on Watson and a sense of the length of a possible suspension.

In Part 1 of my three-part series on Tuesday, we explored where things stand on the trade front and assessed 10 areas of Watson’s game.

In Part 2, we explore 20 other statistical measures of Watson from 2020, and how they compare with Tagovailoa this season and in some cases, last season.

There are actually some areas where Tagovailoa - in a small sample size this season — has outperformed Watson. (More on that later).

Exploring 20 statistical measures of Watson from 2020:

Though Tagovailoa has improved dramatically overall, one of several areas where Watson has a clear edge is performance in the face of a pass rush.

When Watson faced pressure from a pass rush, he was fifth best in the league with an 87.7 passer rating last season, behind only Justin Herbert, Matt Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. So even though he takes too many sacks, he’s much better than average when he gets the pass off under pressure.

Performance in the face of a pass rush has been a problem here for years, with Ryan Tannehill and now Tagovailoa, who had a 45.6 passer rating under pressure last season and 37.9 this season.

Tagovailoa is getting 2.52 seconds to throw on average this season, 10th least among NFL QBs.

Last season, Watson got 2.99 seconds to throw last season, fifth-most among NFL starters.

But Tagovailoa takes fewer sacks per drop back than Watson. That’s one area where Tua has the clear edge, even though Watson is the more skilled runner.

When Watson had a clean pocket, he was tied with Patrick Mahomes for third in the NFL with a 121 passer rating, behind only Rodgers and Kirk Cousins.

But Tagovailoa has been very good with a clean pocket this season; his 118.3 passer rating when he’s not pressured is 10th among all NFL QBs in 2021, per PFF.

Last season, Watson was sixth in rushing first downs with 31 on 90 carries. So once out of every three times he runs, he picks up a first down.

Tagovailoa isn’t nearly as skilled a runner and doesn’t run nearly as much but picks up first downs a higher percentage of the time (18 in 47 career rushing attempts).

Watson ranked 12th in the category of third-down pass attempts that were converted into first downs.

Of Watson’s third-down pass attempts, 43 percent went for first downs. That was just behind Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson and just ahead of Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady.

This season, Tagovailoa has converted the exact same percentage of third-down throws into first downs as Watson did last season — 43 percent (12 of 28).

Watson last season was fifth in percentage of all pass attempts that went for first downs — 40.6, just ahead of Mahomes at 40.5.

That compares with 36.4 percent for Tagovailoa this season; he has passed for a first down on 43 of 118 passing attempts.

Watson last season completed a league-high 42 passes that went for gains of 25 yards or more — five more than Mahomes completed. Brady was second with 41.

So Watson makes more chunk plays than any quarterback in the league.

Tagovailoa, conversely, isn’t permitted to throw deep much and has struggled when he has, completing 4 for 11 passes for 125 yards, no TDs and an interception this season on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air.

Last season, Tagovailoa was 10 for 29 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, but also three drops on throws of 20 yards or more.

▪ To expand on that: On passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air last season, Watson had the seventh-best passer rating among starters at 116.1. He completed 33 of 67 for 1,094 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Among starters who threw at least 60 deep passes, only Murray, Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Derrick Carr had a higher passer rating on deep throws. So Watson pretty accurate on the deep ball.

But would the Dolphins have enough confidence in their offensive line to allow Watson to throw deep as often as he did in Houston? Dolphins coaches don’t have the confidence to allow Tua to do that.

▪ Only 1.3 percent of Watson’s passes were intercepted, which was fourth best in the league, behind only Rodgers and Mahomes (1 percent) and Joe Burrow (1.2 percent).

By comparison, 3.4 percent of Tagovailoa’s passes have been intercepted this season (four of 118).

In the stats.com category of percentage of passes completed in late and close situations, Watson was second, completing 77.5 percent of his passes (55 for 71). Only Brees (79.5) completed a higher percentage.

Watson completed just 61.7 percent of his passes in the first quarter, which didn’t rank in the top 20 in football. By comparison, Watson completed between 72 and 75 percent of his passes in every other quarter. So he sometimes starts slowly.

By contrast, Tagovailoa has started games well this season. He has completed 75.8 percent of his first-quarter passes, much higher than Watson. But with some of these stats, context is needed; Watson throws deep more than Tagovailoa does.

Watson completed 71.1 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter, which was sixth in the league.

Tagovailoa was first in fourth-quarter completion percentage at 76.9 percent (50 for 65) last season and has been even better in the fourth quarter this season, completing 82 percent of his passes (23 for 28 for 264 yards, with three TDs but also two picks).

Watson completed 73.4 percent of his passes on first-and-10, which was fifth in the league. The Dolphins’ Ryan Fitzpatrick led the league at 75.4 percent last season.

Tagovailoa is at 72 percent this season on first down (35 for 50), which is very good.

Watson was 12th in percentage of passes completed for first downs on third-and-8 more. He was 31.9 percent (15 for 47). So he’s pretty good — but not great — in converting third-and-long situations into first downs.

Tagovailoa, in situations of third-and-7 or longer, has converted 6 of 14 into first downs this season, which is good and better than Watson’s percentage last season. (Again, this is a small sample size for Tua in 2021.)

While Watson was tied for 17th in first-half touchdown passes with 13, he was third in second-half TD passes with 20. Watson tied Cousins for most fourth-quarter touchdown passes with 13.

We’re not compaing Tagovailoa with Watson on TD passes because there isn’t a similar number of games to make the comparison.

Watson last season was 10th in first-half passer rating at 105.4 but best in the league in second-half passer rating at 120.1, easily ahead of Cousins, who had the second-best second-half passer rating at 113.9.

Watson’s fourth-quarter passer rating of 124.4 was second-best in the NFL, behind only Brees’ 128.7. Mahomes was sixth at 116.2.

Tagovailoa has a fourth-quarter passer rating of 111.9 this season, which is very good.

Watson had a 105.1 passer rating inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, which ranked 10th.

Tagovailoa’s passer rating inside the opponent’s 20-yard line is 80.1 this season, which is mediocre.

Watson was fifth in passer rating at home at 109.8 and second on the road at 111.5, behind only Rodgers at 120.7. That suggests he shouldn’t suffer statistically simply by not playing eight games a year at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

Watson was the beneficiary of 1,971 yards after catch, which was seventh most among NFL QBs. Justin Herbert got 2,237 yards after catch, most in the league, last season.

That’s an area where Dolphins playmakers must improve; Miami ranked 30th in YAC last season and 29th this season. So Tagovailoa still isn’t getting enough help from his playmakers.

Watson had a 108.9 passer rating in the shotgun, which was second best behind only Rodgers.

Watson had a 117.5 passer rating when he had two receivers (which was eighth in the league), a 123.3 rating with three wide receivers (which was second behind only Aaron Rodgers) and a 104.4 rating with four wide receivers (also second behind only Rodgers). So he’s effective in whatever personnel groupings a team uses.

Here’s Part 1 of our 3-part Watson series.

Here’s Wednesday’s Dolphins notebook with lots of nuggets.

Here’s my loaded Miami Hurricanes 6-pack from Wednesday.

Here’s colleague Daniel Oyefusi’s report on what Tagovailoa said on Wednesday about the Watson situation.

I’ll post part 3 of my 3-part Watson series on Friday. We’ll have two Dolphins stories in this space on Thursday.

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