Last Sunday, Miami’s matchup against the Tennessee Titans was hard to watch for Dolphins fans. In the blistering January cold, Tua Tagovailoa and Miami held an opportunity to keep their playoff hopes alive. A sense of “Maybe this team is different.” filled the air after being propelled by a seven-game winning streak. However, the result was as painful as it could get.
Although Miami’s defense held Tennessee to 17 points into the fourth quarter, they could only muster three of their own. The run game was abandoned far too early, even with Duke Johnson averaging seven yards per carry. However, the biggest disappointment of the game was at the quarterback position.
Tua struggled to push the ball down the field in the cold, wet weather. In several key moments, the ball slipped out of his hands, and he consistently missed receivers. In a game where Miami’s defense put their offensive counterparts in a position to succeed, they crumbled at the most crucial position in football.
Now, rumors are beginning to fly, with controversial Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson at the center of them. Miami held interest last offseason, and it picked up at the trade deadline. With Watson’s cases and grand jury investigation seeing a potential conclusion soon, the interest is expected to remain.
This issue has divided Miami’s fanbase from the beginning, with the half who believe that Tua can become the franchise quarterback and the other large group considering his physical tools aren’t compensated enough by his football mind. Both sides have valid arguments, which makes this decision so difficult.
Since arriving in Miami, Tua has been put under the microscope. Like many rookie quarterbacks, the fanbase and coaching staff are looking to find their next leader. However, Miami’s search has been different. While looking for their next face of the franchise, they’re still looking for the replacement for Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
Since Marino retired in 2000, Miami has seen the likes of Jay Fiedler, Chad Henne, and Ryan Tannehill all crowned as successors. However, fans had hope when Miami selected Tua Tagovailoa almost two years ago, with none panning out the way we had hoped.
Coming from Alabama, Tagovailoa had a winning reputation, being one of coach Nick Saban’s favorite players to coach, and helping him bring home a national title. Regarded as the most pro-ready passer in his class, Tua excelled with accuracy and anticipation. In addition, he operated the RPO offense at a high level in college, and many believed it would transfer to the NFL.
With the shadow of Dan Marino still lurking from 20 years ago, it was time for the next great Dolphins QB to reveal himself.
Through his first 20 starts, Tua has shown flashes of his collegiate self. His accuracy has been promising, with the anticipation growing as he learns the offense. However, the most impressive trait has been his ability to move within the pocket.
With the 32nd ranked offensive line this season, the time has been limited for the Dolphins signal-caller. He’s constantly trying to avoid pressure while having to get the ball out quick to his playmakers. Yet, even with the struggles around him, he has uncovered an impressive skill to maintain composure within the pocket.
When defenders come off the edge, Tua has excelled at identifying and avoiding them while keeping his eyes up-field. While previous quarterbacks, namely Ryan Tannehill, struggled in this area, Tua thrived. He has made solid completions or runs out of plays that looked doomed from the start on multiple occasions. An essential skill in the modern NFL is staying composed, and he does it well.
Along with that, many of his key traits have remained. For example, he has been efficient in the RPO system, making the right decision often. In addition, his ability to limit turnovers has been solid, as he averages less than an interception per game. However, this limited risk makes him have some concerns for his future in Miami.
Although there have been some signs he can lead Miami into the playoffs, it hasn’t come together for Tua. The traits have appeared at times but not consistently. Also, his weaknesses look to have been exacerbated on the NFL level.
It was well documented that his arm wasn’t as strong as fellow 2020 class quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Jordan Love before entering the NFL. However, it was seen as something he could overcome by outthinking the defenses. Unfortunately, it seems that neither have those have been the case.
Time and time again, Tua has struggled to push the ball down the field. His deep passes, which he rarely attempts, are typically underthrown and don’t garner good results. He has thrown several ugly interceptions on deep attempts, with several more bad throws of 20+ yards. When compared to Herbert, who was drafted one pick later, who is already one of the best deep passers in the league, it seems that the Dolphins young QB is lagging.
Tua Tagovailoa & Reading the Field
Another area in which Tagovailoa has struggled, which was not anticipated in college, is reading the field. Being one of the most efficient collegiate quarterbacks ever, many believed Tua could make full-field reads and be a traditional pocket passer. However, the more he plays, many of those reads came from the Alabama RPO system, in which he was throwing to the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle.
When given time to make reads, he typically holds the ball for a long time, and as pressure starts to come up the middle, he fades on throws. In addition, he rarely trusts his eyes, often double-clutching on the correct read. As a result, his confidence in himself and his receivers dissipates outside of the quick game.
When Tagovailoa has had less than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, he combined for 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, the numbers drop drastically to a 9:9 ratio when he has more. His ability to make the right throw on traditional dropbacks suffers significantly after the first read and is a significant cause of Miami’s struggles.
The Bottom Line
Miami faces a quarterback controversy at, quite possibly, the worst possible time. The draft doesn’t seem to be an option for a quarterback class that many consider bereft of top-flight talent. However, the trade market is expected to be hot, with the Watson mentioned above and Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers possibly being on the move.
The issue, primarily, is the Dolphins’ title contention window. This season has shown that Miami still has needed along the offensive line and skill positions. If they were to trade for Watson, they would have closed one need while leaving several more open. While it’s possible to attract free agents, they also need money to re-sign their players and their draft class. There will still be holes in many of the same places as years prior.
Although, there is something to be said about elite quarterbacks, which Watson elevates play around them. It’s possible, with better talent at the helm, that many of these players will begin to develop as expected. The pull Miami has may also see many free agents looking to join a young QB with a stellar defense.
Whether you believe in Tua Tagovailoa or not, these next few months will be crucial to his future. Watson’s verdict will most likely be reached, and Miami will most definitely have some level of interest. The question of how much has yet to be answered, but Miami may see their 24th starting quarterback since Dan Marino.
*Top photo: Tua Tagovailoa – Getty Images