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Tua Tagovailoa has improved — but is it enough?

Chicago, Illinois, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) talks to his teammates during their game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Eileen T. Meslar-USA TODAY Sports

With most of the football world's attention spent gawking over the five 2021 first-round rookie quarterbacks making plays in NFL preseason action, Tua Tagovailoa has flown a bit under the radar.

Tua, although not a rookie, is playing in his first preseason as he looks to desperately improve upon last year's abysmal output. His 65.4 PFF grade was significantly worse than the 75.1 mark from early-season starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who he took over for in Week 8. The Dolphins' passing attack dropped from .150 expected points added (EPA) per play with Fitzpatrick to .121 with Tua.

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Passing on the consistency that a veteran quarterback — even someone as high variance as Fitzpatrick —  can give an offense in exchange for the volatility of a young quarterback who didn’t prove he could handle throwing the ball in the NFL was a step into the unknown for Miami.

And after two preseason games, the Dolphins must like the progress Tua has made. But there are still red flags in his game that need to be ironed out.

The caveats:

  1. It’s preseason, and the data continues to show that it is meaningless to project almost any quarterback statistic from these exhibition games to the regular season.  
  2. Tua’s first game against the Chicago Bears looks weaker now that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, of all people, tore them up in Week 2. Trubisky went 20-of-28 for 221 yards and a touchdown. 

With these two ideas in mind, let’s look at how Tua's preseason performance thus far.

The Good

Tagovailoa's accuracy has generally been spot on, which is probably the best sign for this upcoming year. He’s also become more aware in the pocket, and this third-and-10 throw against the Falcons shows that off.

The Falcons are showing a big pressure look here but eventually drop out of it. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the pre-snap look still creates confusion between the right guard and the running back, which invites a free rusher.

The quarterback makes a nice play to evade the rush, and because he saw a man coverage look in the secondary, he expected his outside receiver to be breaking free inside. He was correct in that assumption, but the Falcons defensive lineman had dropped into that throwing window. Still, Tua resets for the second window and fires a completion to that same receiver.

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