Zwiller: Dolphins! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Thomas Zwiller | Monday, October 26, 2020
The Miami Dolphins didn’t play on Sunday — they had their season bye Week 7 — yet somehow, they were still one of the major storylines heading into the weekend. The reason? Brian Flores and the Dolphins organization announced they would bench starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, (or as I call him, Fitzmagic) and start rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa. Flores said of the move, “We’ve seen a lot of improvement from Tua,” Flores said. “He’s gotten more comfortable … [and his] accuracy, decision-making has been good in practice.”
Fitzmagic originally came out as supportive of the changeup, but later in a press conference said that he was “heartbroken” by the move. While we’ll have to wait for Week 8 to see Tua take on the Rams to know if it was the right move or not, I’m here to tell you in advance why I think it’s not the right call.
The Dolphins are actually competitive
While the Dolphins came into the season with relatively low expectations, FiveThirtyEight gave them a nine percent chance of winning their division, and a 20% chance of making the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight also believed they would go 6-10 and have a negative point differential of -69.
Since then, the Dolphins are expected to go 8-8 and have seen their expected PD rise to +44, which is a massive change. Their playoff chances have risen to 33%, and their odds of winning the division have grown to 17%. The Dolphins are currently 3-3, which is only a game behind the division-leading 4-2 Buffalo Bills. It’s also not crazy to think that the Dolphins could be leading the division; they lost to the Bills by only three points, just a FG in Week 2. That was when Josh Allen and the Bills were a hot team; they have since cooled off, whereas the Dolphins have only gotten better, winning three of their last four.
It’s a similar story with the Patriots; the Dolphins lost to them 21-11 in Week 1, when Cam Newton played like he was shot out of a cannon. Much like Allen, he and the Pats have played poorer than they did in that Week 1. Now that the Dolphins have seen Cam, I would expect them to play him a lot better than they did in Week 1. The Dolphins, as they currently stand, could easily be a 4-2, leading the division or at least tied with the Bills. This season is far from lost — in fact, this season looks like it’s incredibly winnable for the Dolphins, why change it up?
Fitzmagic is playing well
Fitzpatrick is an up-and-down QB for sure, he is the definition of a journeyman QB: he played for the Rams, the Bengals, the Bills, the Titans, the Texans, the Jets, the Buccaneers and finally the Dolphins. Fitzmagic currently has 1,535 yards and 10 TDs, which both ranked 13 in the NFL. His seven interceptions ranks 29th-most in the NFL, and his QBR of 80 ranks seventh. I also think his INT count is a little blown out of proportion; he has 10, yes, but in the last five games he has only thrown four, with the first three coming in his first game against the Pats. Where you can see how he is improving is his completion percentage, which is currently 70%, up from 62% last year.
These stats are resulting in wins; the Dolphins are competitive, and are above the Patriots in the standings. They are in the hunt for a wildcard spot, they are ninth in the AFC and trail the Raiders by a game. They could also win the division; they only trail the Bills by a game, which guarantees a home playoff game. The Dolphins are competitive, so it begs the question, why change it up?
Tua played a handful of downs at the tail end of a blowout game against the Jets. He went two-for-two and got his team a total of nine yards. To be honest, he looked good, and it should give a lot of hope to Dolphins fans. That being said, that’s as much as Tua should be doing this year, a closer if you will. He should play garbage time in games, when he won’t determine the outcome of the game, to get him some real exposure. Even though he may be good in practice, practice and games are very different.
Had Tua played in the preseason this year, I might be a little more understanding, as he would have had real game exposure. Had the Dolphins waited till later in the year and the playoffs were firmly out of reach, I would also understand that a little more. But he didn’t play in the preseason, and the Dolphins are firmly in the hunt for the playoffs. I just don’t think he’s ready yet, and the Dolphins are rushing him onto the field.
Elite quarterbacks who wait behind a seasoned veteran has been proven to play well in their second year when named to start under center. You need only look to Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, both of who waited a year, studied under great QBs and then went onto win MVP awards and Super Bowls. You can also look at quarterbacks who started right out of the gates — Sam Darnold, Marcus Mariota or Mitch Trubisky — and see their careers have torpedoed. Baker Mayfield also started early on and, despite success as a rookie, has since declined and looks questionable. Data really shows that a QB benefits from time, time the Dolphins are simply forfeiting.
Projecting for Tua
The fact of the matter is, despite what I or anyone else says, Tua will be starting for the Dolphins Week 8 against the Rams. Here is what I think is going to happen to Tua: I think he will struggle early on against the Rams. The Rams rank fourth in yards per game against the pass, only allowing 210 yards per game. The Rams have also picked off opponents four times and forced two fumbles so far this season, meaning they can force turnovers.
I think this will be a problem for Tua, and he will face top-notch lockdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is going to cause him trouble. His real challenge will be defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Aaron Donald already has two forced fumbles, and 7.5 sacks, six QB knockdowns, and 19 QB pressures. This is going to make Tua’s life harder, and I think it will force him into a turnover or two. Joe Burrow (who I think is a reasonable comparison to Tua) currently has four touchdowns and six interceptions, and after looking fairly successful early on in the season, has regressed throwing, a pick in three straight games. I honestly think that Tua will follow a similar trend. He will struggle against the Rams, I think he throws at least one interception and will look better for three or four games, but as people figure out his tendencies, he will come back down to Earth.
Tua Projected Stat line: 12 TD, 10 INT, 65% completion, 2,500 yards
For better or for worse, Tua is starting against the Rams. Good luck!
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.