Miami Dolphins can give Tua Tagovailoa a boost with better play from offensive line

Quick throws were a necessity for Tua Tagovailoa last season. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

MIAMI -- Addressing the offensive line has seemingly become an annual focal point of the offseason for the Miami Dolphins.

And new O-line coach Matt Applebaum was reminded at a news conference Wednesday that the unit has long been a "concern." His response was concise.

"Yeah, I've been told," he said.

The Dolphins owned the league's worst pass block win rate last season, winning just 46.6% of their matchups, per NFL Next Gen stats. For reference, the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams led the NFL in that category at 68.4%. The Dolphins' inability to sustain blocks altered the way quarterback Tua Tagovailoa played his game.

Despite Miami's low win rate, Tagovailoa was sacked at the 10th-lowest rate in the NFL last season (4.7% of his dropbacks). He was blitzed on 26.6% of his dropbacks and faced pressure on 27.1%, ranking 22nd lowest and 12th lowest in the league, respectively. Tagovailoa is largely responsible for those figures, considering his average time to throw (2.52 seconds) was the fourth fastest in the league, and only two QBs spent less time in the pocket on average than his 2.27 seconds per dropback.

The quickness with which Tagovailoa needed to throw directly impacted his average depth of target. His 6.92 average air yards per attempt ranked eighth lowest in the league, and his 10.09 average yards per completion ranked seventh lowest.

But that was in Miami's old offense. The new one, designed by first-year coach Mike McDaniel and offensive coordinator Frank Smith, will likely feature a heavy zone-blocking scheme that uses the run to set up the pass -- something this team was not equipped to do last season (30th in rushing yards in 2021). With McDaniel as their run game coordinator (2017-20) and offensive coordinator (2021), the San Francisco 49ers ranked 11th in the league in rushing yards since 2017 and sixth in total offense.

"Every single year, people call our scheme so creative, but really we're just adapting," he said. "We're adapting to defenses. We're adapting to our players. We're constantly evolving. And I think that's important, and I think that's a winning formula. I think it puts players in position to succeed, and that's the key drive for the scheme.

"And that's why it's less trying to be creative for creative's sake. It's more solving problems in different ways and having different tools and abilities to do so."

The Dolphins will have to solve their problems on the offensive line in 2022, but lucky for them, they have more than $60 million in salary-cap space to help do so.

McDaniel's first steps toward bolstering the line were hiring Applebaum and Smith -- both of whom have a history of developing offensive linemen. Miami spent top-100 draft picks on four of its five starters along the offensive line, and Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson, Michael Deiter and Robert Hunt will all likely get the opportunity to further develop under this regime.

Jesse Davis, the Dolphins' starting right tackle this past season, could probably benefit from a change of scenery after finishing 160th in pass block win rate among 170 qualified linemen. Rather than replace him in the draft, the Dolphins should do so via free agency. Experienced tackles such as Terron Armstead, Cam Robinson and Trent Brown are well within the Dolphins' price range, as is guard Brandon Scherff, if McDaniel & Co. want to move Jackson or Hunt back to tackle.

Based on what they have said publicly, the Dolphins are all-in on Tagovailoa in 2022. But this past season, he missed the better part of six games and the first half of a seventh because of various injuries. The best way for Miami to protect its investment in Tagovailoa is to literally protect its investment.

Playmakers make the headlines, and the Dolphins certainly need a few more of them. But without proper protection and time to throw, Tagovailoa is destined for another efficient, albeit unspectacular season.

As McDaniel put it:

"I haven't seen a quarterback win a football game by himself ever, really. He has to have somebody to throw to. He better not be getting tackled before he throws, so somebody better block."