When Miami Dolphins fans think of Tua Tagovailoa, they think about his accuracy. There may not be a more accurate QB in the NFL than Miami's.
It can get pretty dicey when you start talking about the former Alabama product. Many of his 'Bama fans followed him to the Dolphins. They were never Miami fans before he arrived. Few players elicit such a following from college.
With that comes the realization that speaking ill about the Dolphins QB can be met with a lot of criticism, unwarranted name-calling, and stabs at fans, fandom. Yet for those who don't ride the "Tuanon" train, there is an opportunity to see examples of where he needs to improve.
Make no mistake, Tua is a good quarterback but he has a lot of things to learn from the NFL and he hasn't just yet.
Before I jump into this, I'm not coming down on Tua Tagovailoa because he lost a big game on Sunday. That was a team-effort loss if there ever was one. Tua was part of the problem as well. On Sunday, there were some glaring deficiencies in his game.
Ability to read and react beyond the first read: Tua is getting better in this area. In the past, he focused far too much on making his first read and getting rid of the ball. He is doing much better on going through his progressions but he still needs to get better.
One thing I noticed is that when he gets sacked or hit, he tends to start rushing his passes. It isn't so much a fear of being hit or sacked again but more or less trying to avoid it. That is understandable but it also leads to bad plays.
On Sunday, Tua's first interception was a straight look at his receiver and he never averted his eyes to anyone else. That gave Patrick Queen a perfect jump on the ball. He has to work on quickly checking off his first read and moving on when it isn't there.
Making plays out of busted plays: Pockets collapse in the NFL. Tua doesn't show a consistent ability to move around and create time and thus allow his WRs to find space for him to throw to. We see this quite a bit with other QBs who can move around and when routes are broken, they end up with big gains because they buy time.
Tua has to do a better job of recognizing the pressure and sliding out of the pocket where he can allow his players to move around and create that space. Many times, he doesn't slide out and he takes a sack.
With Tyreek Hill on the team, there is no reason for Tua not to slide outside and buy time so Hill can create space and blow by defenders. This should almost be part of the game plan.
Tua has a problem getting rid of the football: There is no one in the NFL right now with a quicker release than Tua Tagovailoa but when he has to hold on to the ball, he holds it far too long.
On Sunday, Tua avoided a sack by throwing the ball into the ground when he was falling to the turf. He needs to do that more. He needs to understand that sometimes, he can ditch the ball at the feet of an eligible receiver and not take a sack. This goes back to being able to move around the pocket and making good decisions with the ball.
Great QBs buy time and avoid taking sacks. Tua isn't doing that yet and something as simple as throwing a pass into the dirt can save 9 yards or more instead of taking a sack. There are times when you have no choice but if you are in the pocket for more than a few seconds, there is no excuse for taking what is termed a "coverage" sack. Move outside, get rid of the ball, and avoid the sack.
Tua needs to make better situational decisions: Tua is not a running QB, he never has been but situational football still eludes him. On Sunday, two mistakes highlighted some of these areas of concern.
Tua threw an interception trying to get a final play off before the 2:00 minute warning in the first half. The Dolphins were moving the ball and didn't need to get an extra snap in. Tua rushed the play, rushed the team to the line, and rushed the pass. It was a big change in the game. It isn't the first time he has done it, just the most recent.
His second blunder came in the 2nd half when the team still had a little bit of an outside chance to climb back into the game. Facing 4th down and long, Tua opted to run the ball when the pocket collapsed. There was no one in that stadium that believed he would run for more than 10 yards. So when he took off, he inevitably slid and gave up on the play.
What he should have done, what other QBs will do when they understand the situation, is throw the ball. If it is picked off, so what? It is a chance. Maybe a PI or a hold, maybe a big time catch and run. Taking off with the ball knowing you will give up on the play rather than take the hit (smart decision) gets you nothing.
Against the Titans, late in the game, he gave up on plays and took sacks when he should have thrown the ball away.
The little things keep him from being great: When the game is going well, Tua is at his best. When he needs a drive, he can make it. The problems for Tua are minor, they are small areas that combine to make them all seem worse than they are.
Tua thrives on his accuracy but he struggles with decisions when it breaks down around him. Situational awareness, like we said. When the game is on the line, Tua is the type of QB that can drive the field and get the score but he can also get scattered and cave when protections break down, and at times, he looks confused by what is in front of him.
Tagovailoa needs to improve in his recognition of defensive adjustments once the ball has been snapped. He has the ability to but increasingly has relied too much on making a first read quick throw that when he can't, you can almost see him internally debate his next decision. For example, he will bring the ball up to throw and then pull it and do it again instead of just letting it go. Or as we said, taking the sack when all he needs to do is throw it away.
These actions frustrate fans. They are what keeps him from taking the next step to being elite. This year, Tua made improvements in leaps and bounds with other parts of his game. Next year, hopefully, he can correct some of these other ones.
The Dolphins have their franchise QB but Tua still needs to grow and get better like most QB do. He hasn't earned enough to get passes.