Tua and the Dolphins offense look to make a bigger impact in his 2nd start

Why Sunday Will be Revealing for Tua and These Dolphins

Tua’s starting debut? Meh.

But Tua’s second start, with less pressure on him after all the praise this week was heaped on the defense? Let’s just say that the spotlight on him has dimmed slightly and he’s in a much better position to succeed this Sunday. 

That is, unless you ask certain members of the national media. 

Adam Schefter came out a few days ago with a report stating that part of the reason Tua was tabbed to start over Ryan Fitzpatrick beginning with week 8 was so that the team can get an evaluation of the rookie QB before the 2021 NFL draft. Schefter’s source seemed to indicate that the Dolphins were potentially already weighing the idea of selecting a quarterback early in the upcoming draft with the Houston Texans pick.

It’s true that the team would like to evaluate its quarterback of the future in action (because who wouldn’t?). 

But the part of the report stating that they’re already looking at possible QB replacements? False, according to head coach Brian Flores.

Look, we brought Tua here because we believe in him, same as all the other draft picks,” Flores said on Thursday. “We believe in developing players and I think guys have heard talk about improving the players on a daily basis. That would be the opposite of giving somebody a 10-game audition. So … that’s my thinking on that just so everybody is clear.”

Flores made these remarks unprompted, taking issue with the ESPN report. This is good news for Tua, as the rookie QB doesn’t need anything else on his plate after a pedestrian first outing. Especially with fellow rookie QB’s Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert playing well for their respective teams, Tua is already under a good deal of pressure.

Which brings us to this Sunday’s matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

If Tua’s debut against the Rams was a lap around the driveway on training wheels, I expect Sunday’s game to be a tear through the neighborhood on a dirt bike. 

The training wheels will likely be coming off in Tua’s second start. And they probably have to. 

The Cardinals currently stand as the 8th best scoring offense in the NFL, averaging an impressive 29 points per game. For the Dolphins to keep pace — especially with Myles Gaskin out and Matt Breida’s status up in the air — Tua may have to manufacture some fireworks. 

Adding to this theory is the fact that the Dolphins are no longer facing a ferocious Rams front. Up against a Cardinals defense that doesn’t feature Aaron Donald, Tua will be making throws he was never asked to make last Sunday.

With the rookie having a full workload on his plate in a much more reasonable matchup, fans will begin to see just what to expect from the young quarterback. He wasn’t asked to do much last week after the defense built up a big lead. This week, he’ll likely have to shoulder more of the burden.

Beyond Tua, this game will also tell us just how legit this Dolphins defense is. The team has feasted on lesser QB’s and pocket passers, but Sunday’s matchup brings on Kyler Murray. Murray is as shifty and mobile as they come, all five feet and ten inches of him.

In matchups with these types of quarterbacks, the Dolphins have struggled defensively. Consider:

In games against Cam Newton, Josh Allen, and Russell Wilson, the Dolphins have allowed…

  • 27.67 points per game on 440.33 yards per contest
  • 2 passing TD’s per game with only 1 INT in all three games combined
  • A 72.7% completion percentage, 9.2 yards per pass attempt, and an average passer rating of 117.97 
  • A 46.67% 3rd down conversion rate while managing only 1.67 sacks per game

On the flip side, check out just how different the stats look in games against Gardner Minshew, Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens, Joe Flacco, and Jared Goff. Here Miami has only allowed…

  • 11.75 points per game on 327.75 yards per contest
  • 0.5 passing TD’s per game with 1.5 INT’s to go with each outing
  • A 55.55% completion percentage, 5.35 yards per attempt, and an average passer rating of 57.13 
  • A 25.92% 3rd down conversion rate while sacking the QB an average of 3.5 times per game (!!)

The difference is night and day. It’s remarkable.

Tua smiling on the sideline after finally seeing the field in the NFL

The Dolphins have been so suffocating against pocket passers that those latter four games have turned them into the NFL’s leading scoring defense, only surrendering 18.6 points per game.

Brian Flores’ defense has no doubt improved greatly since the start of the season in weeks one and two against Newton and Allen — and they’re also mostly healthy as it stands — but the next real test comes Sunday against a quarterback who fits the profile of a player this defense has struggled to contain so far this season. 

The matchup between Murray and the Dolphins D will be an exciting one and will determine just how much Tua must do to secure a victory against the Cardinals.

What’s more for the purposes of this season is that Sunday’s game will show us if the team is truly ready to compete in 2020 or not. 

Coming into the season, just the second in a full-scale rebuild, most people expected the Dolphins to set their sights on 2021 as the first year of budding relevance. Somewhere along the way, however, Brian Flores decided his team was ready to make the jump a year early. 

A win on Sunday would lift the Dolphins to 5-3 with a schedule that continues to look manageable the rest of the way. A win on Sunday would also do one of two highly important things: It would prove that the defense is legit no matter the type of quarterback it faces, or it would prove that rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa is ready to compete and is capable of carrying this offense to victory. Maybe both, if things really go well. 

Against a Cardinals team that knocked off the Seahawks before enjoying a bye week, is 1st in the NFL in yards per game and 8th in points per game, and is highly capable in the red zone on both sides of the ball, the Dolphins will have their hands full. The league’s number one scoring defense versus the league’s number one yardage offense? Sign me up.

For a victory, either Tua or this revitalized defense will have to step up.