Week 2 is in the books, and there are currently six – six! – NFL teams averaging at least 30 points per game. It is still very, very early, but only two teams finished 2021 averaging more than 30 points a pop. I don’t think we should bank on all those teams – Buffalo, Kansas City, Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia and Baltimore – to keep up the pace. Still, I think it’s an excellent time to review the performance of two offenses that people were skeptical about coming into the season.
Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins
After passing for 469 yards and 6 TDs in an improbable comeback win against the Ravens, Tua Tagovailoa is the NFL’s passing leader through two games. While this probably comes as a welcomed development to Dolphins fans, I’m skeptical there’s actually much development here.
Tagovailoa made some impressive throws on Sunday. But he also missed quite a few reads, threw several hospital balls, struggled to get enough power on passes downfield and against the sideline, and yeeted two inexplicably bad interceptions. His On-Target Above Expectation (-2%) is down from last year (+3%).
So, while the box score paints Tagovailoa as the second coming of Dan Marino, the film and the advanced stats indicate that Sunday’s fireworks were less about southpaw Jimmy Garoppolo and more about quality offensive architecture and two track stars at receiver.
We’ve allowed several false prophets at the quarterback position to deceive us through the years, and it’s time we open our eyes. Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, the aforementioned Garoppolo, Jared Goff – it’s all been a mirage. We must fight back and sell high on the Tagovailoa hype before it’s too late.
The Lions’ Run Game
And speaking of Goff, the Lions suddenly have one of the best offenses in the NFL through two games. They rank second in points per game and fourth in yards per game, and they are doing it mostly on the ground. They are averaging an absurd 0.24 EPA/carry, which, if it holds, would easily be the best rushing attack in the SIS era (2015-present).
In fact, that figure would even rank among the top 10 passing games during the same period. For additional context, the 2020 Ravens (0.10 EPA/carry) and the 2018 Rams (0.08) had comparatively meager success rushing. Those teams had arguably the best running quarterback and the best wide zone scheme ever, respectively.
Again, it is very early in the season, and it’s probably unreasonable to expect them to maintain this kind of output in the run game. But, the point stands – they are, despite Goff, really fun to watch right now. A whopping 69% of their runs are gap runs, power schemes that emphasize movement at the point of attack and often feature pulling linemen. That is a stark contrast from a zone-heavy league, and their gap run rate would also be the highest in the SIS era.
This Detroit team could potentially be a referendum on the effectiveness of the run game. The analytics bogeyman has conventionally dictated that passing is better than rushing. While that is almost certainly true in general, teams tend to be good at what they invest practice time into.
Furthermore, this has been a passing league for a long time, so teams have tailored their personnel to meet that end. The Lions have many moving parts in their run game – which suggests they spend a lot of time practicing it – and they clearly have the bodies to move people off the ball. They are zigging while other teams are zagging. If they can maintain even a fraction of their effectiveness, then there may need to be some dialogue about how they’ve exploited the current defensive climate of the NFL.
Bryce Rossler contributed to this report.