It’s been said that learning is easier when one fails rather than when one succeeds. With all of the failing the Miami Dolphins have done over the past two decades, one would think they would learn their lesson by now. But unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Miami is about to make the same mistake with their quarterback all over again. Tua Tagovailoa was viewed as the answer to all the franchise’s problems. As it turns out, it’s not that easy.
There are so many other factors that are mandatory for a team to win a Super Bowl. Yes, the quarterback is undoubtedly part of it. Most of the teams who made it to the playoffs in the past several seasons had a top 15 QB leading their offense. But in a world where all the attention is focused on the quarterback, the pieces surrounding them tend to be overshadowed.
Miami’s first mistake
Former Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has just been eliminated from playoff contention. There’s no question that in some ways, he’s holding the team back. He’s always had trouble sensing pressure, and he has a bad tendency to stare down his receivers. Nevertheless, in all three seasons he’s been the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, he’s made the playoffs.
No one will make the argument that Tannehill is the reason the Titans have found success. Tannehill is surrounded by talent. Now he has all the pieces needed to succeed.
He has a decent offensive line, something he rarely had in Miami.
He has an excellent running game, courtesy of Derrick Henry. The one year he made the playoffs with the Dolphins was the year Jay Ajayi became a star.
He has good weapons with A.J. Brown and the newly added Julio Jones, among others.
He has a good defense, he has a coach who supports him, he has everything a quarterback needs to succeed. So now, if he can’t get the job done, there’s nothing else to look at except his own shortcomings.
But during his time in Miami, there was always an excuse to make with Ryan Tannehill. He didn’t have an offensive line, he didn’t have a run game, he didn’t have good weapons. These are all true statements. He didn’t have what the Titans gave him, and so the Dolphins never made it to the playoffs. But surely, if Tannehill were a better QB, they would have accomplished something!
Perhaps so, but also perhaps not. Recent events have proven even an elite QB is not enough.
Elite QBs still need help
The Green Bay Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night in the divisional round. Future Hall of Fame QB Aaron Rodgers is now 0-4 against the 49ers in the playoffs. Is it because Rodgers himself is insufficient?
Was Dan Marino not good enough to win a Super Bowl?
No one who watched Dan Marino play would dare suggest he was the problem in Miami. Likewise, it’s very difficult to make the case that Aaron Rodgers is the reason the Packers keep coming up short. Yet, it seems people are making that exact accusation in the aftermath of Saturday’s game.
The 49ers drafted Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers and have been to more super bowls than Green Bay since while going 4-0 against them in the playoffs.
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) January 23, 2022
AARON RODGERS, 4-TIME MVP, IS NOW 7-9 IN THE PLAYOFFS SINCE HE WON THAT ONE SUPER BOWL 11 YEARS AGO. OVERHYPED, OVERRATED.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 23, 2022
All the QBs who have gotten to multiple Superbowls win or lose have a much worse TD-INT ratio.
The thing holding this team back is him & his unwillingness to take risks when it's needed. He takes sacks & throws the ball away along with his teams chances at getting over the hump!
— J Andrews (@UPJ33) January 23, 2022
One issue Rodgers has had, for years now, is when things get tough, he'll get tunnel vision on Davante. It can be to their benefit sometimes because they're both so damn good. But stuff like this is also the downside of it. https://t.co/oZ5cYPRlMh
— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) January 23, 2022
Everyone is taking turns criticizing Rodgers for his failure. Unquestionably, he deserves some criticism. Rodgers is not a perfect quarterback. But he is one of the league’s best. Easily top 5 in the NFL. Now he is the reason the Packers fail to win in the playoffs? Is the implication that a future Hall of Fame QB who regularly puts together MVP caliber numbers is not good enough to get the job done?
How can you possibly upgrade from that?
Without a doubt, much of the criticism Rodgers is receiving is due to his off-the-field remarks. But there is a significant portion of analysts who are saying that Aaron Rodgers – the player – is holding the Green Bay Packers back.
If that’s the case, then there’s very little hope for any quarterback who intends to take his place.
The Miami Dolphins are still looking for someone to fill the shoes left by Dan Marino. No one has even come close in the two decades since his retirement. So why are people still under the erroneous belief that a quarterback will fix all of Miami’s problems? Dan Marino, the greatest Miami QB of all time, with one of the greatest coaches of all time in Don Shula, could not win a Super Bowl. He didn’t have the running game, and at times he did not have the defense Super Bowl winning teams usually have.
Miami has an opportunity here. They need to avoid repeating the mistake they made with Ryan Tannehill and, yes, Dan Marino. They need to stop looking for a savior, and start building an army.
Dolphins repeating the mistake
Take a look at the teams remaining in the playoffs – as of this story.
- Kansas City Chiefs
- San Francisco 49ers
- Buffalo Bills
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Los Angeles Rams
- Cincinnati Bengals
Four of those teams have a quarterback considered to be either good or great. Joe Burrow is at least in one category. Results vary depending on who you ask. Nevertheless, that still leaves two teams with QBs who are nothing special. The Los Angeles Rams have Matthew Stafford, who up until his arrival in LA under Sean McVay, was rarely considered one of the league’s top QBs. People respected him, they knew he had skill. But they also knew there was a limit to how far he could take the Detroit Lions.
One year with the Rams, and he’s in the playoffs, battling for the NFC Championship Game. What a difference a change of scenery makes. Stafford did not magically improve, the pieces around him did. WRs Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson, Robert Woods. RBs Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson, not to mention the star-studded defense.
All of these teams are positively stacked at every position. That’s what gives them that edge.
The Dolphins need to do the same for Tua Tagovailoa. The Alabama standout was hyped by Dolphins fans everywhere. Even Chargers fans – now perfectly happy with Justin Herbert – were hoping Miami would choose Herbert over Tagovailoa. That is not a coincidence. The consensus pick pre-draft was Tagovailoa over Herbert. But now, one QB has been given support to succeed. The other has been cut off at the knees at every turn.
Reports are coming out that coach Brian Flores did not want Tua Tagovailoa. That it was him who kept pushing the narrative that Miami wanted to trade for Texans QB Deshaun Watson, in spite of his legal controversies. The current consensus is that GM Chris Grier and owner Stephen Ross ultimately overruled him. However, that was the beginning of the end as the relationship between Flores, Grier and Ross rapidly deteriorated from there.
Five Reasons Sports’ own Alfredo Arteaga has determined that after watching Tua Tagovailoa during the tail end of the season, his mechanics had crumbled. His struggles can easily be attributed to that. But that’s not all there is to it. Take a look at the pieces around Tagovailoa.
Miami’s offensive line was absolutely terrible in 2021. Austin Jackson regressed mightily at both tackle and guard, and Jesse Davis continues to be a liability starting at right tackle. It wasn’t until the final week of the season, when the year was already lost, that Brian Flores made a change and put in undrafted free agent Robert Jones instead.
Almost immediately, there was an improvement. That is an example of Flores’s failures with personnel decisions. He refused to look for ways to improve the offensive line, instead insisting that he was sending out the best five guys to start every week. Obviously, that was not correct.
Then there’s the running game. The Dolphins had no running game. That is, until Duke Johnson became the starting running back. For some reason, Brian Flores felt that the running back room was good with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Obviously, that was also not correct.
Then there’s the weapons. Miami has three players who can make a difference in the game. But only one actually did. Tua Tagovailoa helped Jaylen Waddle break Anquan Boldin’s rookie reception record. As for DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, Parker missed seven games and wasn’t available for Tagovailoa to throw to most of the time. Gesicki, on the other hand, was available, but criminally underused. That was either by coincidence, or by design. Gesicki was off the field far too often, with Durham Smythe and even Adam Shaheen taking those snaps.
Finally, the head coach. It isn’t hard to see that Brian Flores did not support Tua Tagovailoa. The young QB even made it a point to show everyone that he easily could have played during the Houston Texans game in spite of his injured finger, throwing the ball in warmups only to be sidelined for Jacoby Brissett.
If Brissett hadn’t suffered a knee injury the next week against the Baltimore Ravens, his return would have been delayed even longer. When he did come in, Tagovailoa started off cold but eventually found his rhythm, showing that even while injured, he could do a better job than Brissett, who Flores seemed to believe was the better choice.
But in the end, it wasn’t good enough. Tagovailoa couldn’t deliver when it counted, and Miami was knocked out of playoff contention. Undoubtedly, that’s partly his fault. But to pretend that Tagovailoa has all the pieces a QB needs to succeed is ignorant of reality.
Build up the army
Joe Burrow in Cincinnati has one of the best WR trios in the NFL. Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and of course his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase. His offensive line isn’t very good, and that shows when facing a team who can get pressure on a QB. But when you have three WRs who can make defenders look dumb and get excellent yards after a catch, it’s easier to make up for it. Also, he has a solid tight end in C.J. Uzomah, and an undoubtedly excellent running back in Joe Mixon, who ran for 1,205 yards this season, as well as catching 42 passes for 314 yards.
Justin Herbert – on top of being more physically gifted – also has better support. Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are easily better options than DeVante Parker. Allen alone is a certified top NFL WR, with Williams being an excellent number two. True, Herbert’s offensive line is also bad, but he does have a running game. Austin Ekeler is one of Herbert’s most used weapons. Just this season, he ran for 911 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching 70 passes for 647 yards and eight more touchdowns. That combines for a total of 1,558 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns total from the team’s starting running back.
Tua Tagovailoa is expected to be on par with his constituents, with injured and misused weapons, RBs who get benched by free agents off the street, and an offensive line that forces him to throw in less than three seconds on a regular basis? The Miami Dolphins already tried this with Ryan Tannehill. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.
Quarterbacks need pieces around them that they can count on when the moment arrives. Right now, the only one Tagovailoa can count on is Jaylen Waddle, and even he made some mistakes in key moments that could have helped fend off the dominating narrative that Tagovailoa is a bust. Whoever the new coach is for the Dolphins, he needs to recognize that while a QB is important, a lack of support will doom him.
Miami must give Tua Tagovailoa a good running back, like Herbert and Burrow have. They must give him reliable weapons, like Herbert and Burrow have. With any luck, they will also recognize that they need to give him a good offensive line, which Herbert and Burrow actually do not have.
If after all that is done, Tagovailoa still doesn’t measure up to his fellow 2020 draftees, then it may be safe to move on. But if they decide that based on 2021’s results that Tagovailoa is already a failure, then they’ll just keep setting up replacement after replacement for failure. Dan Marino isn’t walking through the tunnel anytime soon. And even if he did, his own career proves that a QB alone isn’t enough to win it all.
History is there to learn from, Miami Dolphins. Stop looking for a savior, start building an army. Don’t make the same mistake again.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for seven years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung