What constitutes a “successful debut” for Tua Tagoaviloa versus the Rams?
The eyes of all Miami Dolphins fans, and many more in NFL circles, will be focused on Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday Tua Tagovailoa.
The mere fact that Tua returned to the field after suffering a potential career-ending injury could be considered a ‘success’ in itself. It’s a feel good first chapter to Tua’s story. But when head coach Brian Flores announced Tua as the starter 10 days ago he quickly ended “Chapter 1” and provided a teasing cliffhanger to keep fans hooked throughout the bye week.
As “Chapter 2” begins this week, the question on many people’s mind is “What would be considered a success versus the Rams?” Let’s start with the most basic threshhold and work our way to something more specific, shall we?
1. Tua needs to stay healthy
For most rookie quarterbacks this probably goes without saying but Tua isn’t most rookies. The nature of his injury (hip dislocation) means a reoccurence could potentially/likely end his career. This threat will hang over every Tua start probably for the rest of his time in the NFL but, considering it has been less than a year since the injury, his first few starts will find him under a microscope.
Tua’s need to “stay healthy” also extends beyond the hip. Considering some scouts labeled Tua “injury prone”, he needs to avoid any major injury early in his career or the questions about his longevity/durability will only grow louder.
2. Tua needs to throw the ball away when it’s called for.
This point ties into both #1 and #3. The biggest knock on Tua in college was that he was constantly trying to extend the play to ‘make something happen’. On all the plays he sustained an injury, they occured because Tua wouldn’t give up on a dead play.
Nobody is saying he shouldn’t use his athleticism to buy time but in today’s NFL, with all the rules protecting the QB, there is no reason why Tua should be taking hits after escaping the pocket (see the Mississippi State game).
While this goal isn’t “cut and dry”, fans watching the game will be able to tell how he’s doing. If Tua remains mostly upright and doesn’t take any blows that make fans wince then consider that a win.
3. Get the ball out in a hurry
While the Dolphins offensive line is much improved from a year ago, Ryan Fitzpatrick masked some of their continued deficiencies by getting the ball out quickly. Courtesy of “Next Gen Stats on NFL.com, Fitzpatrick held the ball for an average of 2.41 seconds; which is good for third quickest in the leage.
With Tua’s reputation for quick processing of his progressions, it bodes well that Tua should be comfortable with getting the ball out of his hands quickly. On the other hand, as Brian Miller points out, he is facing a really tough Rams defensive front. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has made alot of quarterbacks miserable and the Dolphins starting two rookies on the right side of their offensive line offers him and the rest of the Rams front a chance to tee off on Tua.
To be successful, the offense will need to slide protections, employ screens/slants and devise ways to get the ball out of Tua’s hands quickly.
How would I measure this? Tua needs to come out of the Rams game having been sacked two times or less; regardless if it’s Donald or other Rams defenders. Fitzpatrick was only sacked 10 times in six games so two sacks or less is a good barometer for whether Tua is getting the ball out quickly enough on Sunday.
4. Complete 60 percent of his passes and lead the Dolphins to 17 points.
The first benchmark should be fairly easy. Only the Eagles, Broncos and Jets are averaging less than a 60 percent completion percentage thus far this season. Considering (a) this is Tua’s first start, (b) the earlier directive about throwing the ball away and (c) the Rams are a tough matchup, my expectations for this week are slightly lower this week than they will be going forward.
As for Tua leading the offense to 17 points? The Rams defense is averaging 17.7 points allowed per game so it would be unfair to expect Tua to score much more than that in his first start. After all, if we are comparing Tua first start to those of his draftmates Burrow (13 points versus Chargers) and Herbert (20 points versus KC), Tua is facing the toughest defense of the bunch.
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5. Lead the team to your first win.
The benchmarks had to get tougher as we went along so, obviously, the final one is the toughest to reach. If you look at the teams without any bias, the Rams have a dominant defensive line that can potentially stiffle the Dolphins anemic run game and force Tua to beat them. If that happens, the Rams have the fifth best pass defense in the league equipped with corners capable of containin the Dolphins wide receivers.
To win, the Dolphins need to do two things they haven’t done so far this season. Come up with some dynamic offensive play-calling and play for 60 minutes. Players that need to step up and help Tua include running backs Myles Gaskin and Matt Breida, TE Mike Gesicki, Jakeem Grant, and either Malcolm Perry or Lynn Bowden.
If Tua can elevate the players around him and come away with the victory against the Rams, it will go a long way to convincing fans, ‘experts’ and the Dolphins organization that they might have their long awaited “franchise quarterback”.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Tua Tagovailoa needs to reach all five goals to have a successful debut but, at the very least, the first three need to be achieved to feel good going forward.