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How Tua Tagovailoa has forced Miami Dolphins to re-evaluate QB situation in 2023

Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa entered December as an NFL MVP candidate, with the league buzzing about the ascension of the former No. 5 pick into stardom. Just a few weeks later, Tagovailoa is now forcing Miami to re-evaluate its plans for the 2023 season.

Things looked so promising for the 6-foot-1 quarterback after November. While everyone expected a little regression, Miami’s defensive improvements and the play-calling of Mike McDaniel made the Dolphins a darkhorse Super Bowl contender. Making the playoffs seemed like a virtual certainty, but all of that unraveled beginning with the matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

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49ers’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans – one of the top NFL coaching candidates in 2023 – took away the middle of the field and San Francisco’s cornerbacks played more press coverage. The quick throws were gone and with the rhythm of the Dolphins’ passing attack taken away by the physical play at the snap, things fell apart quickly.

Pass YPGTD % – INT %Y/ACompletion %QB Rating
Week 1 – 12284.96.7% – 1.1%9.369.7%115.7
Week 13 – 162465.2% – 4.3%8.552.6%80.5
Tua Tagovailoa stats via Pro Football Reference

The sudden regression from Tagovailoa has been an anchor on the Dolphins’ offense. After boasting a 40.7% third-down conversion rate through its first 11 games, Miami has now converted just 25.6% of its third-down attempts during this four-game losing streak.

Miami’s offensive line can’t really be blamed for this. It still ranks 14th in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Blocking Efficiency (86.8), maintaining its level of play during this team’s best stretch. Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill are also still out there and giving their quarterback chances to make plays. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, he’s just not getting it done.

The most alarming thing is how quickly it unraveled on Sunday. Tagovailoa dominated in the first half, throwing for 229 yards on 12 attempts with a 75% completion rate. Coming out of halftime, he netted just 81 passing yards with three interceptions. While all three of his picks were inexcusable, the game-sealing throw to Rasul Douglas looked as if it was intended for the Green Bay Packers cornerback.

It would be one thing if this was a brief two-game sample that could be excused by the caliber of the opponent. However, these problems are persisting for nearly a quarter of the season and they feel reminiscent of some of the frustrating issues with Tagovailoa in his first two seasons.

The Dolphins won’t be able to land a top-flight quarterback via trade or the 2023 NFL Draft this offseason. However, veteran starters like Geno Smith and Jimmy Garoppolo could view Miami as the perfect one-year landing spot.

Miami boasts all the talent it needs to have one of the best offenses in the NFL if its quarterback avoids critical mistakes and is capable of making a few plays outside of structure. Right now, Tagovailoa is proving that he can’t be trusted when the designed throws are taken away and that puts the Dolphins in a difficult spot.

Just weeks removed from being in consideration for MVP votes, the Dolphins’ front office and coaching staff will need to spend its offseason evaluating if Tagovailoa should even be the starting quarterback in 2023.