Tua’s next task: find his No. 1 receiver more

  • Associated Press The Dolphins have won all three games that rookie Tua Tagovailoa has started for them at quarterback, but Miami's offense may really be able to flourish is Tagovailoa can build a connection with wide receiver DeVante Parker.

Brian Flores’ Dolphins keep rolling, and if the offense ever catches up to their defense, there’s no telling how far they can go.

That, of course, is a big if with a rookie quarterback — even one with the poise and accuracy of Tua Tagovailoa.

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Three starts and three wins for Tagovailoa is a dream start. There has been no noticeable dropoff in performance from Ryan Fitzpatrick.

But allow us for a moment a bit of a reality check.

(Flores, who wants to keep his team motivated and focused, might even thank us.)

The offense can be better. Tagovailoa, even with a passer rating (104.8) and a QBR (70.9) that would rank in the top 15, can be better.

Flores acknowledged – and even stressed – as much Monday, less than 24 hours after the Dolphins beat the Los Angeles Chargers for their fifth straight victory.

“I think we can improve in a lot of areas — run game, drop-back, third down, third-and-1, red zone, two-minute,” Flores said. “O-line can play better, backs can play better, quarterbacks can make better decisions, receivers can do a better job getting open.

“It hasn’t been perfect, that’s for sure. There’s always room for improvement and I think the guys will work towards making those improvements.”

Two plays from Sunday perfectly summed up where the Dolphins’ passing game stands.

Chan Gailey drew up the perfect goal line play early in the fourth quarter, using misdirection to get Durham Smythe wide open — like 10 yards open — on the right side of the field for a 2-yard touchdown that essentially put the game out of reach.

But about a half hour earlier, we saw the other end of the spectrum:

Tagovailoa, in an attempt to get DeVante Parker more involved, forced a pass into double coverage in the end zone, an offering that could, and perhaps should, have been picked off.

Those anecdotes perfectly captured what the stats indicate:

The Dolphins are a much improved red-zone offense with Tagovailoa under center than they were with Fitzpatrick. They have scored touchdowns on eight of Tagovailoa’s nine trips into the red zone.

That’s not just elite. It’s otherworldly. The Seahawks lead the league with an 81.3 percent red zone efficiency. The league average is just over 60 percent.

“That’s a part of the field we put a lot of emphasis on during the week,” Smythe said. “Whether it’s running the ball or play design that frees people up. I think over the last four, five weeks, really the hole season, we’ve had plays in our game plan that free people up. You saw me yesterday. There was no one within 10, 15 yards of me. That is a reflection of the offensive staff and the game plans they’re putting together in the red zone and us going out there and realizing there’s an emphasis on it and then trying to execute.”

It worked.

What did not?

Incorporating their No. 1 receiver into the offense.

Parker’s production is way down from his standout 2019 season, especially since the Dolphins made the quarterback change. A year after catching 72 passes for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns, Parker is on pace to catch 67 for 821 and five in 2020.

Of Tagovailoa’s 77 professional attempts, just 16 have gone to Parker — and only nine of which have been completed.

Perhaps aware of that dynamic, Gailey called a pass play to Parker on the first snap of the second half Sunday, but the throw was off target.

Still, this is probably nit-picking considering the growth Tagovailoa has made — not just in his four appearances, but the 12 months since mangling his hip. Monday marked the one-year anniversary of his injury.

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“I love Tua,” Flores said. “He’s come through it, he’s healthy, he’s playing well, he’s getting better on a weekly basis. I think that adversity will ultimately help him, and has helped him come through something like that. Rehab, you feel like everything is going to be over, everything you’ve worked for is over, and then you come back and you rehab. I think that’s a testament to him, his family, his work ethic and how important the game is to him.”

Beasley writes for the Miami Herald