It's Tua Time for the Dolphins as they host the Rams. But is it the right time?
There is probably not another NFL game this weekend that has as big of a spotlight on it as the matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins. Not because it's the 5-2 Rams taking on the 3-3 Dolphins in what should be a pretty good game. But because of WHO is playing.
In case you've been in a coma and haven't heard, the Dolphins announced last week that Tua Tagovailoa will be making the first start of his NFL career on Sunday. The Dolphins curiously pulled the starting position from Ryan Fitzpatrick, which left him "shocked and heartbroken" and are saying that the future is now for Tua.
And this won't be an easy first test either, with the Rams bringing one of the best defenses in the NFL to Hard Rock Stadium.
Los Angeles at Miami
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Los Angeles -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Well duh... it's all about Tua
This is a huge spotlight for the young man, no doubt. We all know he's got the talent, but does he still have that moxie he had before getting injured his final season at Alabama? How will he perform? How will his line hold up? How accurate will he be? Biggest of all, how quick of a hook with he get if things go south?
The big problem could be that the Dolphins don't really have a go-to transcendent talent in his receiving corps, so even though the coaching staff doesn't want him to use his feet to make magic happen when things break down, he might have to anyway. And don't you have to figure that Tua is a wee-bit gun-shy about doing that in his NFL debut against this physical defense? On top of that, leading receiver DeVante Parker suffered an injury last week and is still questionable for this game. Meanwhile, fellow wideout Antonio Callaway will finally be eligible after sitting out 14 games for violating the NFL's policy on substance abuse. This should be interesting to watch.
2. Give Tua the heeby-jeebies
Enough about Tua Tagovailoa, let's move on to the hyper-talented defense he'll be facing. The Dolphins go up against a solid Rams front seven that posted a 69 percent pass rush win rate in Monday night's convincing win over the Bears. In that game, Los Angeles' D was credited with 21 QB pressures, the most it's had in the last two years. Other-worldly defensive tackle Aaron Donald supplied seven of those and leads the NFL with 26 pressures through seven games. The Rams are second in the NFL at just 17.7 points per game allowed and sixth in total defense (313 ypg). This figures to be a tough debut for Tua.
3. Don't forget about the Dolphins' D
Lest we forget, Miami also is one of the better defensive units in the league, giving up just 18.8 points per game (third in the NFL). Oddly, despite the points allowed, the Dolphins are surrendering 360 yards per game, which is just 16th overall. Monstrous defensive tackle Raekwon Davis suffered a shoulder injury against the Jets and is questionable for this game. The D-line is already without Davon Godchaux and the back seven could miss the services of safety Bobby McCain (ankle), cornerback Jamal Perry (foot), and stud linebacker Kyle Van Noy (groin/foot). If those players can suit up it will give the Dolphins a much better chance against quarterback Jared Goff and that potent Rams offense.
Let's face it, there might be a lot of factors into who wins this game, but this is the Tua Tagovailoa coming out party. He is the future of this franchise and considered to be the modern-day equivalent of Dan Marino for a team that has starved for a cornerstone QB. The question is what happens if he doesn't succeed in this game? What will that do to this locker room? It's odd that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been pulled from his starting assignment after the Dolphins have won their last two games by more than three touchdowns.
Either way, look for the Rams to send the kitchen sink after the poor boy every time he drops back. Mr. Tagovailoa, meet Mr. Donald.
Prediction: Rams 24, Dolphins 14
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
(Tua Tagovailoa photo courtesy of miamidolphins.com)