A notable Tagovailoa development, the Derrick Henry question and the star receiver issue

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Some notes and conclusions on the Dolphins’ offense, as we embark on a week-long series of Dolphins facts and conclusions:

Fact: Tua Tagovailoa didn’t throw a single interception when targeting his top three receivers in man coverage. He threw for a ton of yards but was also more error-prone against zone defenses.

We had a million factoids in parts 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 of my recent series on Tagovailoa, but here’s another that I found interesting:

Against man coverage, Tagovailoa threw eight touchdowns and no interceptions when targeting Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Cedrick Wilson Jr. (Much of those came when Hill and Waddle were both available at the same time.)

Against zone coverage, he threw six TDs and six interceptions when targeting those three.

Here was the exact breakdown for each, per PFF:

1). Tagovailoa to Hill against man coverage: 23 for 34 for 440 yards, four TDs, no interceptions, 149.8 passer rating in his coverage area…

Tagovailoa to Hill against zone coverage: 74 for 99 for 1,055 yards, six TDs and three INTs and a 116.4 passer rating in his coverage area.

2). Tagovailoa to Waddle against man coverage: 10 for 21 for 204 yards, two TDs, no interceptions and a 114 passer rating…

Tagovailoa to Waddle against zone coverage: 53 for 69 for 688 yards, no TDs and two INTs and a 95.6 passer rating in his coverage area.

3). Tagovailoa to Wilson against man coverage: 7 for 10 for 108 yards, two TDs, no INTs…

Tagovailoa to Wilson against zone coverage: 10 for 20 for 149 yards, no TDs, one INT.

Conclusion: Tagovailoa threw for a ton of yards against man and zone. He was exceptional against man coverage.

To say he was poor against zone would be inaccurate. But he and his receivers need to be more precise when teams try to confuse with zone defense.

And the man coverage worked best when Hill and Waddle both were available. The Dolphins need either a dynamic No. 3 receiver or a tight end who’s a red zone and seam threat to thrive against man when Hill or Waddle is sidelined or blanketed.

Fact: This is very rare in PFF’s grading system: Two Dolphins running backs were rated in the top five of the league at their position.

De’Von Achane was rated first and Raheem Mostert fifth, among 63 qualifying running backs.

The three in between: Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry and James Connor.

Achane was first in the league in yards per carry at 7.8.

Mostert was seventh among running backs (minimum 100 carries) at 4.8 per carry.

Among backs with at least 100 carries, Achane was first in yards after contact at 5.1 and Mostert was sixth at 3.38.

Conclusion: We’ve seen suggestions the Dolphins might benefit from signing three-time All Pro/four-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry, and the case certainly could be made.

But for a team $50 million above the salary cap, I don’t see how that can be a priority if it’s not a low-money deal.

The thinking is that having one of the most physical, bruising backs of his era would leave the Dolphins better positioned to win tough games in cold climates.

But even with Henry, how would a coach who often prefers to pass the ball possibly split carries among three starting caliber backs (Henry, Mostert, Achane)? It would be a good problem to have, but not if any money for Henry would lessen the chances of addressing the offensive and defensive lines.

Henry had an odd final month, with two bad games (17 carries for 34 yards against Miami and 16 carries for 9 yards against Houston), but then ran 19 times for 153 yards in the finale against Jacksonville.

For the season, Henry, who turned 30 last month, ran for 1167 yards on 4.2 per carry. It’s worth exploring - but only at the right price and if McDaniel privately determines that this will be more of a run-first team.

With Mostert and Achane and Chris Brooks under contract after this season, there’s no urgency to spend significant free agent money or draft inventory at this position.

Jeff Wilson is under contract at $2.6 million next season but appears at risk; none of that money is guaranteed, and his cap number drops from $3.7 million to $782,000 if he’s cut.

Brooks, incidentally, averaged 5.63 yards after contact on his 19 rushes,behind only Baltimore’s Keaton Mitchell (5.68 YAC average on 47 rushes).

It’s a cheap running back room, too: Next season, Mostert is due to make $2.3 million (plus incentives), Achane $997,157 and Brooks $915,000.

Fact: The Dolphins’ top two receivers had glorious seasons, but also a few too many drops.

Hill had nine drops, tied for second most in the league behind the Rams’ Puca Nakua, who had 13. Waddle had six, tied for ninth most.

Several of Hill’s drops came at inopportune times, including the bobbled pass against Baltimore that could have been a touchdown, and a similar drop on a pass that could have been a touchdown at Philadelphia. Then there was the fumble returned for a touchdown against Kansas City.

Hill still had a brilliant, All Pro caliber year. But he knows opportunities were missed.

Conclusion: Hill and Waddle make this offense go, but they can be even better. The modest production against playoff defenses was primarily the result of Tua Tagovailoa being off on some throws and offensive line issues, but the star receivers need to be at their best in big games.

PFF rated Hill first and Waddle sixth among 128 receivers.