It has been suggested that Tua Tagovailoa is playing scared, is that a real thing?

Tua Tagovailoa has been up and down all year with the MVP talk. He is in the top 3% of the QBs in the league statistically but after every loss, he gets criticized. There is a new one now...he is playing "afraid."
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) breaks free for a first down against the New England
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) breaks free for a first down against the New England / Jim Rassol / USA TODAY NETWORK

To get to the bottom of this latest Miami Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa disrespect, we once again find ourselves heading over guessed it, ESPN.

On Monday Night Countdown, they talked about Tua Tagovaioloa because they talk about every game over the weekend but it seems crazy that Tua receives most of the vitriol from the network. Miami Dolphins fans are used to this because ESPN has targeted the Dolphins for decades.

At first, I wanted to write this off as another ESPN commentary to discount what Tua and the Dolphins offense have done this year and what they haven't done against the better teams. The question that was asked was simple. "Is he afraid? Is Tua afraid?"

The question is an interesting one and at first, I blew it off but as I start to think a little harder about that question, is it one that should be asked?

First, I don't think Tua is afraid. I think Tua is playing smarter, especially as it relates to his health. Last year was absolutely abysmal for the young QB. Two and possibly three concussions with the last one ending his season. There was talk of off-season retirement and a lot of discussions about long-term problems.

Tua reportedly met with neurologists about his head injuries and took to martial arts during the off-season to try and prevent further issues.

This year, we have hardly seen Tua take off and run. Tua has never been a running QB but this year, he isn't taking as many risks. In his first two seasons, Tua ran for 237 yards, last year that dropped to 70 yards. Halfway through the 2023 season, Tua has 33 yards rushing.

To put this in more perspective, Tua rushed 36, 42, and 23 times in his first three seasons. This year he has 23 as well which would technically put him on pace for more than any other year previously. The yards are not adding up, however.

In some respect, Tua hasn't had to run the ball. This offense is crazy fast and his release is faster. When he does have to get out of the pocket he is moving far better than in previous years but instead of tucking the ball and taking off, he is throwing it.

Oct 8, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) run with the
Oct 8, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) run with the / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

That's a good quality and hardly lines up with the "afraid" comment that was made.

I find it hard to believe that Tua is playing scared. I think "smarter" was the right word to use and yes if he is taking less risk with his health in the back of his mind, then that too is smarter.

One thing that does stand out that isn't being mentioned nearly enough is that Tua is no longer being properly protected. Through the first six games of the season, Tua had been sacked six times with four of those coming against the Bills in week four.

Over the last three games, including Sunday against the Chiefs, he has been sacked 8 times. The important thing to note here is that in all three of the Dolphins' losses, Tua has been sacked at least 3 times. Four against the Bills, three against the Eagles, and three times against the Chiefs.

When Tua is sacked less that three times, the Dolphins have won.

Is that something that could be contributing to the "afraid" narrative? It shouldn't be. Why? Because if you look at his QB rating, Tua is still putting up impressive numbers. In Miami's three losses, Tua has shown up. Against the Bills, he posted 92.2, the Eagles, 87.5, and the Chiefs 87.

The only time Tua posted a QB rating less than 100 was in week two against the Patriots, it was 92.2.

I think the sacks and pressure have something to do with this perception. If he doesn't have time, he is taking hits, and against teams with top defenses, Tua is moving and trying to make plays but the end result, a loss, is making too many in the media critical.

On Sunday, Tua didn't play well but we can also look at the play calling as well. Consider that when Miami's receivers are jammed at the line, the timing is off from the start, which puts pressure on the linemen to protect the pocket and give Tua time for something to open downfield.

That isn't playing "afraid" that's football and if it were anyone else, the question wouldn't be asked. Unlike QBs like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, Tua isn't the type of QB who will give up a play to tuck and run and when he does, he isn't sacrificing his body for yardage. That isn't afraid, that's smart.