Game Preview: Week 9

Will Tagovailoa Hush Critics in Game Two?

By: Antonio Longobardo

Tua’s First Start Left Some Things to Be Desired

What a first start for Tua: A changing of guard for the Dolphins; A win against a solid playoff caliber team; A first TD pass that ignited Hard Rock stadium, causing 14,000 fans to sound like 75,000 (trust me-I was there). With all that good, was there some…bad? Tua was 12-22 passing for 92 yards and a single touchdown- hardly an electric stat line. So, what is in store for the Dolphins and the young Prodigy QB in week 9?

The Story

It’s true: Tua boasted a less-than-stellar stat line in his first start, but a good deal of credit for that belongs to a total team effort; the defense created what essentially amounted to two defensive touchdowns and another score came via special teams. Tua did not have to put up the monster stats his draft position warrants.

Coach Flores has this defensive unit playing like a top three defense in the league. They are flying to the quarterback, locking up receivers, creating turnover-worthy plays, and are currently the top defense IN THE LEAGUE in points per game allowed (more on that later). The Dolphins, believe it or not, are currently in an advantageous position to make the playoffs.

The fact is, Tagovailoa did not have many opportunities to light the world on fire. Those opportunities were seldom due to conservative play calling while Miami played to protect a three-touchdown lead procured in a matter of minutes into the second half. That did not stop the national pundits to emphatically state Tua is already on the hot seat.

Flores immediately shut down the critics who were claiming this was a 10-game try out for Tua stating, “Im just going to tell you about my thinking: We brought Tua here because we believe in him, same as the other draft picks.” Whether that is fact or coach-speak remains to be seen. This week will begin to write the real story of Tua Tagovailoa.

The Game

The Dolphins will travel to Arizona as a 4-3 team taking on the 5-2 Cardinals. Both teams have had big turnarounds under the second year with their respective head coaches.

Kliff Kingsbury has Kyler Murray and the Cardinals looking like a dynamic offense, currently holding it down as the top offense in yards per game. The most difficult aspect of this matchup is the discrepancy in the Arizona run game (3rd in YPG) and the Miami run D (19th in YPG). The Dolphins run defense is stat “reducing” here, as they do not pass any of the eye tests but have been able to get out to early leads and disincentivize the opponent from running. They are currently last in DVOA against the run in the NFL. How this defense holds up against Kyler and Chase Edmonds on the ground will be THE key on defense.

As per the Cardinals defensive matchup, they are slightly better than advertised and will be an interesting matchup for Tagovailoa & company. The Red Sea is currently 9th in PPG, 22nd in YPG, and 10th in DVOA. Imagine what they could do if they started their first-round pick, athletic phenom Isaiah Simmons! They are a middling defensive team against both the pass and the run, making them a much better matchup than Tua’s first start against the LA Rams in week eight. It will be crucial for Miami to not let the Cardinals acquire a big lead, thus putting the rookie QB in a more predictable gameplan.

Key Game Notes

Starting running back Myles Gaskin has been placed on IR, leaving him unavailable for at least three weeks. His presumptive replacement, Matt Breida, will also miss this game with a hamstring injury, leaving Miami with a backfield of Jordan Howard, Patrick Laird, and Salvon Ahmed. Fans should not expect to see newly acquired DeAndre Washington, as the league’s covid protocol requires a waiting period before joining the team and he will need some time to acclimate to the new playbook. Rookie left tackle Austin Jackson appears to be healthy enough to return to game action, but will Miami rush him back with versatile Jesse Davis holding down the position?

Key Players Missing:

MIA: Myles Gaskin

ARI: Kenyan Drake

The Prediction

This is a big week for Tua and an even bigger week for Miami as a whole; sitting at 4-3 and half a game out of the 7th seed, The Dolphins are playing quality, complimentary football with the next nine games against teams with a combined record of 31-35-1, a favorable figure. Even the most pessimistic fan can glance at this schedule and find a pathway to a 10-6 season, a record anyone should be ecstatic about just the second year into a rebuild.

As for the Cardinals, they currently sit in 6th seed of the NFC wildcard race. A loss this week could drop them out of the playoff picture all together.

The Dolphins defense is going to have its hands full; Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is currently the #1 receiver in the league in YPG, and the league-leading Arizona run game won’t miss a beat without Kenyan Drake as Chase Edmunds has shined in limited snaps. Kyler Murray and his electric ability to extend plays with his legs pose a serious problem to a Miami defense that has done much better against stationary quarterbacks in 2020.

All said and done, look for the Dolphins to open up the offense with Tua like shiny, new PS5 for Christmas. They are going to need him to keep up with the Cardinals quality offense.

MIA 31 – ARI 28

The Dolphins win a nail biter, and Tua wins our hearts.