We have seen enough this season to question whether Tua Tagovailoa is “the one” for the Miami Dolphins.
After Tua Tagovailoa was yanked for the second time this season, the Miami Dolphins need to seriously consider drafting a QB in 2021.
I know what I’m saying will be controversial to legions of Dolphins fans in south Florida and beyond. In fact, I can hear the ‘die-hard fans’ already:
"“Tua’s a rookie and it’s too early to give up on him.”“Chan Gailey’s play-calling is ‘handcuffing’ Tua.”“Tua will be great with some better weapons.”"
Those are all ‘excuses’ that fans use to defend the current quarterback because they have to believe so bad that the team has finally figured out the position that has vexed the team since Dan Marino retired in 2000. Here, I will break down why these kinds of arguments don’t stand up to the scrutiny of evidence that Tua has put forth so far this year.
Tua’s a rookie and it’s too early to give up on him.
I wanted to begin with this to clear the air. I am not saying that the Dolphins should give up on Tua. I recognize that he’s a 22-year old rookie that started the equivalent of just over two full college seasons (32 games in three years). I believe it’s still possible that Tua can become the quarterback for this team.
What that said, I can’t ignore what I’ve seen so far this season. Tua has played well enough to actually contribute to three of the Dolphins’ six victories in games he has started. The rest of the time, he has been relegated to “caretaker”; allowing the defense and special teams to carry the team to victory.
Chan Gailey’s play-calling
Many fans are blaming offensive coordinator Chan Gailey for the struggling Dolphins’ offense. There is some merit to the criticism. After all, Gailey is getting paid to make the most of the Dolphins talent and, if you remove defensive/special teams touchdowns, the Dolphins are averaging 22.5 points-per-game which is tied for 23rd with the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans.
Nobody disputes that the Dolphins offense is much more effective with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center than Tua but the narrative is that in some way that Gailey is “scaling back the offense” for Tua and forcing him to throw short passes and check-downs. According to the statistics assembled by Pro Football Reference, Tua and Fitzpatrick are attempting passes of approximately the same length.
“Intended air yards per attempt” (AIY/PA)”-measures how many yards past the line of scrimmage the receiver is on each pass attempted.
Fitzpatrick is averaging 7.8 AIY/PA
Tua is averaging 7.5 AIY/PA
As you can see, Chan Gailey isn’t confining Tua to ‘dink and dunk’ passes like most “Tua apologists” have stated.
Tua will be great with better weapons.
I do not doubt that the offense would be better if both quarterbacks had more talented skill-position players around them. Injuries have hurt an already thin wide receiving corp; especially the losing Devante Parker to injury the past two-and-a-half games. Where the disconnect comes in is that Fitzpatrick is throwing to the same players that Tua is. Why does the offense spring to life when Fitzpatrick is in the game but struggles with Tua?
The answer is pretty simple. Tua suffers from what I would we’ll call “Alabama Syndrome”. This is caused by having five-star/superior players at almost every position compared to the opponent. What are the symptoms? (1) Being hesitant to throw to a receiver that isn’t open by 3-5 yards; having four current/future first-round wide receivers makes that possible. (2) Holding onto the ball too long because your offensive line usually gives you an eternity to throw.
Is it correctable? No past/current Alabama quarterback has been able to overcome it but I believe it’s possible that Tua could be the first. After the way he spoke following his first benching versus the Denver Broncos, I thought that Tua might have learned his lesson. Here is a quote from his postgame interview:
"“It’s one thing hearing from Fitz when I come to the sideline about taking completions, it may seem like he’s covered but you’ve just got to get completions, and then it’s another to see him go out there and kind of doing it. For me, a lot of the times I see guys that are covered, but they’re not necessarily covered. … Just being to see a lot of what Fitz was doing when he got in, a lot of it was learning lessons."
Since a decent game against the Bengals and the 4th quarter against K.C. (who, by then, had “called off the dogs”), Tua has reverted to his old ways.
In Las Vegas, a city known for gambling, Tua did nothing but play it safe all game. How else do you explain going 17 for 22 (77 percent completion percentage) and passing for a measly 94 passing yards?
So why bring in another quarterback?
The Dolphins need to do something they failed to do during the entire Ryan Tannehill era; bring in competition. Competition is always good in the NFL and, worst-case scenario, the Dolphins have two good NFL QBs. Most teams need two in case of injury and whichever loses the competition could always be flipped in a year or two for draft capital.
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You may be asking, why this year? Well, this is the last year the Dolphins have multiple first-round picks (thanks again Houston Texans!) I’m not advocating using Houston’s top 10 pick on a QB. The Dolphins need to use that pick to select a sure ‘difference-maker’; whether that’s at wide receiver, LB Micah Parsons, or LT Penei Sewell. Where I advocate taking a QB is with the team’s second, first-round pick; if a player like BYU’s Zach Wilson or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is available. If not, then the Dolphins shouldn’t force themselves to select a quarterback.
With better weapons and a full NFL offseason, that doesn’t include rehab, Tua might learn how to run a full NFL offense. However, as of this moment, Tua is playing like a quarterback ‘afraid to lose’ instead of ‘trying to win’.