Tagovailoa debuts as Miami’s main man vs. Rams
It’s Tua time in Miami.
The Dolphins host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday with the unveiling of their new starting quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa.
The former University of Alabama star was the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and prepared behind Ryan Fitzpatrick until the team’s bye this past week.
Tagovailoa, who helped Alabama win a national title in 2017 and earned All-America status the following season, made his pro debut on Oct. 18 in a 24-0 win over the New York Jets. Playing in “garbage time,” Tagovailoa completed his only two passes for nine yards.
Now Tagovailoa will get his first start for the Dolphins (3-3), who have won two consecutive games. Since the Dolphins are coming off a bye week, Tagovailoa will have had 13 days to prepare for the Rams (5-2) since the announcement was made that he would be replacing veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“That kid is incredible,” Dolphins defensive end Shaq Lawson said when asked about Tagovailoa, 22. “I’ve seen how athletic he is in practice. You wouldn’t think he’s a rookie from watching him in practice.”
Tagovailoa completed 71.4 percent of his passes last year for Alabama before he was sidelined by a serious hip injury. In 32 career games at Alabama, he completed 69.3 percent and had 87 touchdown throws with just 11 interceptions.
The Dolphins, who went 5-11 last season, appear to be on the rise under second-year coach Brian Flores, who has his team in second place in the AFC East, ahead of the New England Patriots.
But the Rams, led by superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald, provide a tough test.
Miami will be the more rested team. The Rams are on a short week after they defeated the Chicago Bears 24-10 on Monday night.
The Rams’ defense allowed just three points, picked off two passes and held Chicago to 2.9 yards per rush, turning the Bears over on downs three times.
Donald, who is first in the NFC and second in the NFL with eight sacks, is the leader of that fearsome Rams defense. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018 and is the frontrunner this year, too.
“He never gets complacent,” Rams coach Sean McVay said of Donald, who set an NFL record in 2018 for sacks by a defensive tackle (20.5).
The Rams will line Donald up in different spots to try to get him away from double teams. He will be a handful for a Dolphins offensive line that starts two rookies on the right side, guard Solomon Kindley and tackle Robert Hunt.
Miami’s running game has been anemic, ranking 22nd in the NFL (105.2 yards per game). Those numbers don’t figure to improve against a Rams run defense that ranks seventh-best in the league.
If those trends hold, it will put even more pressure on Tagovailoa to find targets such as DeVante Parker and Preston Williams as well as emerging tight end Mike Gesicki. Parker, however, has been limited in practice this week due to a groin injury.
Sunday’s game will also feature two of perhaps the top three cornerbacks in the game — Miami’s Xavien Howard, who is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions, and Los Angeles’ Jalen Ramsey, who recorded his first INT of the season against the Bears.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, lost in the pre-game hype because of Tagovailoa’s first start, is having a bounce-back season after throwing a career-high 16 interceptions last year.
Goff, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, is heading into his prime at age 26. His completion percentage is up this year (a career-high 67.7), and he has thrown 12 TD passes with just four interceptions.
On the injury front, the Rams will be without rookie safety Terrell Burgess, who suffered a broken ankle against Chicago and is out for the rest of the season.
For the Dolphins, defensive starters Kyle Van Noy (foot), Raekwon Davis (shoulder) and Bobby McCain (ankle) were limited Wednesday.
–Field Level Media