Dolphins Tua Tagovailoa's biggest problem may all be in his head

Tua Tagovailoa has the talent to be a top NFL quarterback but he may be keeping himself from reaching that level.

Jan 13, 2024; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) runs the
Jan 13, 2024; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) runs the / Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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There are those who believe Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is already an elite QB. They are wrong. He has the potential though.

In his first few years in the league, Tua dealt with a myriad of injuries and a head coach who didn't like him. Mike McDaniel started to get the best out of Tua but in 2022, concussions sidelined him. This is where I think his problems start.

Tua spent the offseason working on protecting himself. His martial arts training worked out well and it was on display throughout the 2023 season. Tua was able to take hits and protect himself when he was hit and when he fell.

Did the concussion issues change the way Tua Tagovailoa plays the game? It may have led to a stall in his development.

If we look at his full career, Tua has been sacked quite a bit. In 2020 he was sacked 20 times and 20 times again in 2021. During those first two seasons, Tua only played in 23 games total.

In 2022, the year he spent dealing with concussions, Tua was sacked 21 times in 13 games. This year, in a full season, Tua was sacked 29 times. Is Tua being smarter with his body and taking the sacks instead of trying to move around the pocket? It is a marginal difference if we look at this as a season that included four more games.

Still, with the quick release offense that is being run, you would think that number would be lower.

Another metric that I find curious is his rushing attempts and yardage. Tua ran for 3 TDs in each of his first two seasons. He ran 36 times in his rookie year for 109 yards. In his second season, he ran 42 times for 128 yards.

When McDaniel arrived, the offensive system changed and Tua only ran 23 times for 70 yards. This year he ran 35 times for 74.

The difference in attempts isn't the question, the difference is in the yards. Tua isn't risking his health when he is running the ball and as soon as he sees a defender he slides.

Normally, you wouldn't think much of it but you have to wonder if internally, Tua is playing more cautious given what he went through in 2022. It would make sense but it would also give reason to believe that playing safer is creating a problem for his continued development.

Tua is not a QB who will escape the pocket, buy time, create time, and allow his receivers time to create space. For Tua, he rolls out and either tucks the ball and runs for a few yards before sliding or forces the throw to a dump outlet.

In his first two seasons, Tua ran for 13 first downs in each of those years. In his last two, he has a total of 9 combined. Another statistic that also supports this is his yards after contact. 2020 - 29, 2021- 36, 2022 - 9, 2023 - 3.

Tua is clearly avoiding contact as much as possible and that makes you wonder if he is being too careful not to put himself in a position to get hurt.

Tua is never going to be a guy like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, or Lamar Jackson but on Sunday night, we watched Brock Purdy make plays with his legs when he needed them. Tua didn't do that this year consistently. Facing 3rd and 4th downs when he would leave the pocket, Tua still slid well short of the first down markers regardless of the game situation.

While this may sound like a huge knock on the quarterback, it isn't intended to be. What I am suggesting based on his history and stats in the NFL is that Tua is playing with a mental note pinned in his head that says, "Don't take the hit."

Everyone should understand why he plays that way if it is correct but for Tua to progress and get better, he has to get that out of his head and allow himself to progress as a QB.

Until he does that, he will always be a top 10 QB in the NFL but he will not be a top 5, even if his passing yards look great on paper. QBs sometimes need to do more and if it is simply sliding out and buying time, then it needs to be done. I think the concussions stuck in his head this year and he didn't want a repeat. He succeeded. Now he needs to take a step forward in 2024.