Not to throw a mound of pressure on Tua Tagovailoa, but to say the Miami Dolphins‘ hopes rest on him is an understatement. Yes, the weapons around him are incredible. Yes, Mike McDaniel’s Shanahan-style offense is quarterback friendly. But, in an era where we constantly search for the true meaning of the word value, what Tua means to this team is the very definition.
Tua Tagovailoa Is Essential for Miami Dolphins Success
We don’t always get to have the opportunity, when searching for value, to get a snapshot of just what it might look like if another player was thrust into an environment. Will they be as successful as whom they’re replacing? When Tagovailoa was injured last year, we received two opportunities to see how the Dolphins’ offense would fare without him.
Tua’s First Absence
Through the first three weeks of the season, the Dolphins were riding high, and Tagovailoa was humming along in this new offense. Miami scored 20+ points three times, scored over 40 points once, and beat the Buffalo Bills.
With Tua at the helm, the Dolphins had a scoring behavior rate of .9 points per minute of possession time. Already this was near the top of the league.
Then, just before halftime in the Buffalo game, Tua suffered what many believe to be his first head injury. However, he returned for the entirety of the second half, leading the Dolphins to victory.
The following week, on a short week due to playing on Thursday Night Football, Miami took on the Cincinnati Bengals in a very anticipated matchup. The excitement was short-lived, however, as Tua would be knocked out of the game due to a definitive concussion.
Tua would miss most of that game and the next two games of the season. Without him, the Dolphins would go on to lose against both the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets. But it isn’t just the fact that they lost that demonstrates Tua’s value.
Miami’s scoring behavior dramatically changed. There was a 63% decrease in scoring behavior rate. In those games, the Dolphins averaged just .54 points per minute of possession time.
Whenever there’s a dramatic behavior change, the first question we should ask is, what changed in the environment? Well, for Miami, the only change was who was slinging the football.
Tyreek Hill played in both games, as did Jaylen Waddle. The only thing missing was Tua.
Tua’s Second Absence
The dramatic behavior changes continued with Tagovailoa’s return. Returning from the concussion, Tua went on to play in the next nine consecutive games, and Miami’s SBR made up the ground it lost without him — and then some. It increased 64% to .89 points per minute of possession time. That jump is the biggest increase between any opening day starter and their replacements in the NFL in 2022.
It was during this stretch of the season that Tua was being seriously considered as an MVP candidate, and the Dolphins were being considered Super Bowl contenders. Then, Tua suffered yet another head injury during the loss to the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day. This one caused him to miss the remaining three games, and question whether or not Tagovailoa should retire.
In those remaining three games, the Dolphins saw a 94% decrease in their average scoring behavior rate, going from .89 to .46 points per minute of possession. That 94% decrease is the biggest decrease between any opening-day starter and their replacements in the 2022 season. Simply put, the value Tagovailoa provides the Dolphins is immense, and frankly, it’s likely irreplaceable.
What Happens If Tua Tagovailoa Does Go Down?
Nothing good. The reason the Dolphins’ hopes are likely tied to Tua and his health is because the replacements are simply not good enough. In 2022, his main replacement was Skylar Thompson, who strung together a scoring behavior rate of .48 points per minute of possession time. His main competition for the backup position in Miami is Mike White.
Mike White Won’t Cut It
In theory, White should have an advantage here and provide a level of hope. Coming from the New York Jets, he played in a similar offense for a few years, should understand the scheme, and has shown glimpses of high production. However, we need to dig deeper.
White started four games for the Jets last year in relief of Zach Wilson. They went 1-3. He had an incredible game against the Chicago Bears but lost the three games that followed. In those four games, the Jets’ SBR decreased week over week at a rate of ÷5.77. That means week over week, New York’s scoring behavior decreased almost 6x from the week before, for four consecutive weeks.
That has been the book on White. He’ll light it up in his first relief appearance, but then it gets progressively worse from there. Over those four games, the Jets averaged .47 points per minute of possession time. That’s slightly below, but almost spot on, what Thompson provided in Miami.
Simply put, the Dolphins need the true value Tagovailoa provides.