Facts, Myths, and Rumors: Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL Path, Part Three

Tua Tagovailoa's NFL Path
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa‘s NFL path surrounded by facts, myths, and rumors is a four-part series. This is part three of parts one and two of that series.

The NFL Path of Facts, Myths, and Rumors About Tua Tagovailoa – Part 3

Myth: Another myth used to criticize Tagovailoa during Tagovailoa’s NFL path has been that he isn’t in the same league as other NFL quarterbacks.

Fact: The fact is that Tagovailoa is in the same league as other quarterbacks. He is even better than a lot of quarterbacks in a couple of categories. Out of this year’s active quarterbacks, he had the least amount of time to throw the ball in 2021. That is an impressive testament to his accuracy. According to Pro Football Reference, Tagovailoa only had an average of 2.1 seconds to throw the ball from the time of the snap. In addition to that, Tagovailoa was the 10th best quarterback in the NFL with one of the lowest bad throw percentages at just 16.3%.

The way that Tagovailoa recognizes defenses is just as impressive. Out of all of his throws in the NFL last season, he only had one batted pass. That led the NFL among all starting quarterbacks. With that, it is a fact that he had the least amount of batted passes with the least amount of time to throw.

According to PFF, Tagovailoa was the eighth-best play-action pass quarterback with 1,375 passing yards. He was also the best RPO quarterback, ranked number one in the NFL, with the most RPO passing yards (847) for the 2021 season. As far as rushing and passing yards combined on RPO plays, Tagovailoa was ranked third in the NFL with 858 yards. That was just 58 yards less than second-ranked Josh Allen in that category. It was also better than Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Justin Herbert. The reason those numbers are significant is that Josh Allen, who is a division rival to Tagovailoa, had more RPO passing attempts than Tagovailoa.

Lack of Athleticism Has Been a Narrative for Tagovailoa’s NFL Path

Myth: Not being as athletic as Josh Allen is another myth from Tagovailoa’s NFL path for a certain reason. Most fans confuse having better stats with being more athletic.

Fact: Unknown to many NFL fans, Tagovailoa was the number one dual-threat quarterback recruit out of high school in 2017 according to 24/7 Sports. When Tagovailoa committed to Alabama he became an early enrollee. According to a 2017 AL.com article, he ran a 40-yard dash that spring. His best 40 time was 4.76. That is the same time that Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen ran at the 2018 NFL Combine. Tagovailoa’s 40 time was slower three years later because of his hip injury.

The most important thing to note about Tagovailoa’s mobility at Alabama was his offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll. The rushes by Tagovailoa at Alabama during his freshman year were designed quarterback rushes by Daboll. Since Tagovailoa was a backup to Jalen Hurts his freshman year, he didn’t get much playing time. But in only 27 rushing attempts, he had 133 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 4.9 yards per carry. For perspective, Josh Allen only averaged 2.2 yards per carry for 204 yards and five touchdowns in 92 attempts during his last season at Wyoming. Tagovailoa averaged 3.3 yards per carry for 190 yards and five touchdowns in only 57 rushing attempts in 2018.

If the context is to fast forward to the NFL, it must be considered that Daboll has been Josh Allen’s offensive coordinator his entire NFL career. But there should be no confusion about Josh Allen’s mobility. Allen would have been a dual-threat quarterback with or without Daboll. Yet consideration must be given that Daboll did help enhance Allen’s mobility with designed plays to run the quarterback.

Flashes of Pre-Hip Injury Tua Returned Last Season

The truth isn’t that Tagovailoa isn’t as athletic as Allen. It is the fact that his hip injury didn’t just have a lot to do with his lack of yards as a rushing quarterback. It had everything to do with it. However, his hip injury has quickly become a memory of the distant past. And flashes of the “pre-hip injury Tua” were seen in games near the end of last season. Not being as athletic as Allen is not true. But not being as mobile as Allen has been only true due to the hip injury.

To say Allen is more athletic because he’s averaged over five yards per carry compared to Tagovailoa’s three yards is an unfair comparison. That narrative is often used to discredit Tagovailoa by fans to support Allen. Most of Tagovailoa’s rushes have been scrambles to evade pressure. And to discredit Tagovailoa because Allen had most of his rushes from designed quarterback runs when Tagovailoa didn’t is simply not a good comparison for athleticism. If so, a case could be made for Tagovailoa as being as or more athletic. That narrative could be that Tagovailoa is more shifty and accurate with the least amount of time to throw. Debating athleticism based on statistics without context is a moot point.

Fitzpatrick Didn’t Save Games for Tagovailoa

Myth: Some say Tagovailoa shouldn’t get credit for all of his career wins. The reasoning has been Ryan Fitzpatrick came in games Tagovailoa started and won the game for him. A horrendous myth is that Ryan Fitzpatrick came in games late to win several games during Tagovailoa’s rookie year.

Fact: When Nick Wright questioned Chris Broussard about Tagovailoa’s 13-8 record on the show First Things First in March, he was doing so with jest. After Broussard complimented Tagovailoa’s win-loss record, Wright asked Broussard, “Listen, just real quick. On the 13-8 record that you said, how many of those victories…I’m ‘gonna have to check…were games where the coach pulled Tua so Fitzpatrick could literally come in and win the game for him because Tua had been so bad? I’m not sure because Tua gets credit for those wins even though the coach was like ‘Get out of here, Tua. We’ve got to go to this bearded 38-year-old to save us.” 

Hopefully, Wright did check. If he did, he would have found out that his sarcastic question had no meaning whatsoever. During Tagovailoa’s rookie season, there were only two games that Fitzpatrick came in that Tagovailoa started. The first game Tagovailoa was benched for, Fitzpatrick didn’t help nor did he win it. Fitzpatrick came in a game against the Denver Broncos, threw an interception, had no touchdowns, and had a 61.6 passer rating. The Dolphins lost by six. Before Tagovailoa was benched, he had one touchdown, no interceptions, and an 81.9 passer rating. Perhaps Broussard should have asked Wright if Fitzpatrick got credit for the loss instead of Tagovailoa.

Tagovailoa Contributed to All of His Wins

Dolphins offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey said it was his own play-calling to blame for the Denver loss instead of Tagovailoa. When speaking about Tagovailoa and the loss to Denver, Gailey said, “They did some things that we didn’t plan on, and it hurt us. That’s my job. It wasn’t him as much as it was me in that ball game.” 

Even taking Tagovailoa out of the game because of six sacks taken shouldn’t have been a reason for him to be benched. For perspective, Cincinnati Bengals head coach, Zac Taylor, left his quarterback, Joe Burrow, (who led the NFL in sacks taken), in games where he was heavily sacked. And their team still went to the Super Bowl.

As far as the Raiders game, Fitzpatrick didn’t come in and win that game either. Both Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown each with no interceptions in that game. The praise that Fitzpatrick got as an incredible play when he couldn’t see where he was throwing because of a facemask wasn’t incredible by him at all. Fitzpatrick threw the ball up in the air on a prayer because he couldn’t see due to his head yanked back on a facemask penalty. The underthrown pass just happened to land in Mack Hollins’s arms because nobody was within 10 yards of him due to blown coverage by the Raiders.

The Dolphins won the game by a score of 26-25. But without Jason Sanders’s field goal in the final seconds of the game or Tagovailoa’s touchdown he already threw earlier in the game, Fitzpatrick’s touchdown would not have made the difference. Everyone contributed to that win, even Tagovailoa who started the game.

Follow the next articles of this series with more facts, myths, and rumors that traveled with Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL path.