Defenses Seem To Have Figured Out Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins’ Offense

    The Miami Dolphins went 0-2 on their West Coast swing, losing to the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday in a game in which Tua Tagovailoa looked lost at times.

    Defenses Seem To Have Figured Out Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins’ Offense

    In Sunday’s most anticipated head-to-head comparison between the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers, there was no comparison. Justin Herbert ran circles around Tua Tagovailoa Sunday. And Brandon Staley did the same to Mike McDaniel.

    A disastrous Dolphins trip to California wrapped up Sunday with a 23-17 loss to the Chargers on national TV. The results were bad. The process was worse.

    Teams now have the book on Tagovailoa and the high-powered Miami Dolphins offense. And unlike a week ago, when it was the deep and talented 49ers defense that flustered Tua, the Dolphins were bullied Sunday by a Chargers defense playing a bunch of backups.

    Miami Dolphins, Tua Tagovailoa Need Answers — Fast

    That suggests that the Dolphins can get out-schemed and not just out-talented. McDaniel was supposed to be the great equalizer, with his innovation on offense extracting maximum production from Tua.

    But that needs revision after back-to-back losses on the West Coast. Tua just had his worst two-game stretch since the beginning of his second season — a time, you might recall, when Dolphins decision-makers were actively trying to replace him with Deshaun Watson.

    “It’s not up to our standard,” McDaniel said postgame. “It’s extremely disappointing.”

    McDaniel, who rightly pointed out that the Chargers were the more physical team, added: “Football’s a humbling game. These are the things you have to learn as a team. Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way.”

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    Before Week 13, Tagovailoa had taken a quantum leap forward in Year 3. He was lighting up defenses with incredible accuracy and timing, making the big-time throws to his stars on the outside. But in Cali, that dude vanished like the marine layer by midday.

    The Dolphins’ passing game lives across the middle. The Chargers and Niners took it away by flooding the area with bodies. They could do that because they were able to create pressure with four. L.A.’s undermanned secondary held up against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle by getting physical. And when throws were there, Tua, at times simply missed them.

    It was ugly the whole way around. Tagovailoa finished Sunday’s game 10 of 28 for 145 yards and a touchdown. His completion percentage (35.7) was the worst of his game in which he had at least five attempts.

    “Incredible team effort on defense,” Staley said. “An incredible team win for us. … What I’m really proud of is how hard we played.”

    L.A.’s effort was only matched by its ingenuity. The undermanned Chargers defense took it to the Dolphins from the game’s first snap.

    If teams are going to dare Tua to beat them on the outside, he needs to make them pay. Tagovailoa threw almost exclusively to Hill Sunday. Most of his throws across the middle were incomplete. His only touchdown of the game came when he targeted Hill on the outside.

    Tua, at times, acted as if no one else was on the field but Hill. Tyreek was targeted 10 times. The rest of the Dolphins’ roster? 14. Waddle (two catches for 31 yards) had the quietest game of his young career.

    That all needs to change. And it starts with fresh ideas from McDaniel — on a very challenging week.

    The Dolphins were scheduled to land Monday sometime around dawn. One hundred or so hours later, they’ll be back on the plane, headed to Buffalo. The Bills can effectively win the division when these teams meet Saturday night.

    A far better effort from Tagovailoa and McDaniel is needed for the game to even be close.

    Justin Herbert Is Absurdly Talented

    The Chargers, meanwhile, had their best win of the year when they needed it the most. And they got that win for one reason above all others: The No. 6 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft significantly outplayed the No. 5 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft.

    Herbert — 39 of 51 for 367 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions — was exceptional throughout. But he was particularly good on the Chargers’ close-out drive.

    L.A. took over at its own 11 up six points with 11:19 remaining. A quick three-and-out or a turnover could potentially have been fatal. But Herbert didn’t allow that to happen. He directed a 17-play, 79-yard drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock and resulted in a game-sealing field goal.

    Herbert picked up three crucial third downs on that drive — including one with his legs. He made throws to players the Dolphins had completely covered — and still was able to complete them.

    The Tua vs. Herbert debate wasn’t settled Sunday night. But Herbert, in total control of his insane natural gifts, proved that his upside is higher than most anyone in the league — Tua included.

    Credit the Dolphins’ defense for hanging tough despite losing the time of possession battle by two-to-one. But the game was there to be won early in the fourth quarter. And Miami simply couldn’t get off the field.

    “We need a better performance,” McDaniel said of his team. “That’ll start with me.”

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    Adam Beasley is Pro Football Network’s Director of Original Content and Brand Development. You can read all of Adam’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @AdamHBeasley.