Any Given Sunday: Broncos over Dolphins

Denver Broncos ER Bradley Chubb
Denver Broncos ER Bradley Chubb
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Since taking over the quarterback job from Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tua Tagovailoa has delivered some impressive throws that were impeccably placed. He has also shown some signs of the things that had people doubting him coming out of Alabama. As you might have guessed from the box score, this was a game that was mostly full of the latter. Here's the DVOA viewpoint on the Dolphins with and without Tagovailoa:

Miami Dolphins Quarterbacks, 2020
Deep Passes
Deep Passes
Week 11
Week 11
Ryan Fitzpatrick 150 -1.6% 166 58.2% -13 -22.3%
Tua Tagovailoa 107 4.4% 77 54.3% -28 -29.5%

The two quarterbacks are remarkably similar to each other in how well they've played in just about every area this season from a statistical standpoint. I will note that Fitzpatrick has thrown more than twice as many passes as Tagovailoa, but Fitzpatrick has also faced a much easier schedule of defenses. Tagovailoa has played the Rams and Broncos, who are both in the top 10 in defensive DVOA, and the Chargers and Cardinals, who are game if not great. Not exactly the Seahawks and Jaguars squads Fitzpatrick rolled over.

This was a "rookie moments" game for Tagovailoa, and I think even though he completed a beautiful pass to DeVante Parker for a touchdown on his first drive, you can clearly see a lot of what went wrong here on two throws from that opening possession:

You can see that the pass rush itself didn't bother him much. He was able to successfully reset and get his eyes back where they needed to be. Jakeem Grant is a burner outside and he's the target on both of these plays. I would go as far as to say most everything went right about those two throws before, you know, Tagovailoa simply overshot the guy both times. He got a little excited when he saw the coverage he was getting to target.

Tagovailoa also struggled with pass protection. He took six sacks to Fitzpatrick's zero, and he's up to 10 sacks in 107 dropbacks. I think the processing speed played a little slowly in this game at times as he tried to kind of contain his emotions. We don't talk a lot about emotions on Football Outsiders because this is a statistical website, but I think the tone got set a little early that he was playing too fast, and Tagovailoa may have overcompensated with his process to try to slow things down. This isn't to say the Miami offensive line played well or to excuse the sheer number of guys in his face, but Tagovailoa plays with enough poise to get past that on a lot of plays.

It was a deserved benching, but after four games I'm not exactly out on the good things that Tagovailoa has done. A game defense tripped him up, and now he has been given the material to learn more about how he needs to develop.

Where the Game Swung

Chart 1

Where the Game Swung
Event Time DEN GWC
Justin Simmons interception 1:10 Q4 79.9% 99.4% +19.5%
Fourth-and-1 fail by Denver 9:20 Q3 67.4% 54.1% -13.3%
DeVante Parker third-and-11 21-yard catch 2:50 Q4 85.6% 75.8% -9.8%
Third-and-8 MIA roughing the passer 3:18 Q3 61.8% 70.8% +9.0%
Drew Lock intercepted 13:15 Q1 40.8% 32.3% -8.5%
Melvin Gordon rushing TD 2:38 Q3 72.8% 81.2% +8.4%
Tim Patrick 41-yard catch 11:49 Q2 48.2% 55.8% +7.6%
Third-and-13 Lock scramble 3:43 Q1 26.5% 32.7% +6.2%

To go into the EdjSports numbers a little deeper here: the Broncos actually gained 4.1% GWC on the decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 up three at the Miami 14 in the third quarter (9:20). The second choice would have been kicking a field goal, but that only puts you up six and still leaves it a one-score game. However, when we separate the decision from the result, we find two entirely separate things. After failing, the Broncos lost a metric ton of GWC.

The Broncos were 4-of-12 on third downs in this game. Three of those conversions make this chart: one is a penalty and two are, I would say, wildly fortunate and part of the Drew Lock experience. On any play, Drew Lock can make a knock-your-socks-off throw, scramble for a first down, look like a star. It's just that on most downs, he doesn't do that. That's the problem.

By the (D)VOA

MIA -22.0% 19.0% 5.7% -35.3%
DEN -1.3% -27.2% 2.6% 28.5%
MIA -34.4% 2.1% 5.7% -30.7%
DEN -1.7% -32.2% 2.6% 33.1%

As we talk about this for most of the article, you're probably aware that the Denver defense is pretty good. That also means a big opponent adjustment for the Dolphins' offensive rating. This was a game Miami lost on offense, not on defense.

Justin Simmons: Good at Football

So, then, we turn to the best player on this defense in my opinion.

Justin Simmons was franchise-tagged last offseason. He didn't complain, he didn't hold out, he's playing on the tag. He's crushing it. The game-winning interception is one thing, but he had another against Tagovailoa that would have ended the first drive if not for a penalty.

The first interception has him playing more of a quarterback-read role, with one deep safety behind him. Tagovailoa tries to get over the pass-rusher and fit the ball into a very tight window. The ball almost winds up right at Simmons. The second interception has Simmons rotating over at the snap to disguise his coverage as a single-high safety, and then just heading right to the post route on an easy read of Fitzpatrick's eyes.

As with most safeties, it's interesting to talk about Simmons statistically because there's not really an easy to number to throw on "this guy is good because he's always in the right position." I think the best way I can explain it statistically without referring to grades is through this table:

Justin Simmons and the Denver Defense
  DEN Deep
Rank SIS Points
Passes Defensed
in Coverage
2019 35.1% 21 53 10
2020 12.3% 6 15 1

Simmons was targeted a lot in 2019, but most of those targets were as a box safety. As he has played deeper a little more often this year, he has been further away from direct coverage, but he has helped keep Denver's deep pass DVOA down. A healthy Bryce Callahan has been taking most of the targets that Simmons was getting last season and turning them into great statistical output.

I'm surprised it hasn't been an easier decision for the Broncos to just extend Simmons to a long-term deal. Some football front offices still just don't value safety play all that much. But no matter what happens after this year, Simmons is on pace to be a very, very rich man again.


1 comment, Last at 25 Nov 2020, 12:58pm

1 Thank you, I would've…

Thank you, I would've thought Fitz had the better overall DVOA, but as you say, opponent adjustments matter. And anyway, Fitz hadn't been playing as well as last year.

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