Much has already been written and said and more will be written and said about how Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa were teammates at Alabama. You know the story. Hurts was benched at halftime of the national championship game, Tagovailoa took over and won, Hurts never got his starting job back at Bama.
The two have another thing in common. More accurately, they will.
System QB or QB System?
Last season, on his way to finishing runner up for MVP, there was criticism by some that Hurts was a product of the system rather than the engine behind it. There was some validity to it. The Eagles replaced Jalen Reagor, who currently can’t break into the abysmal Patriots offense, with AJ Brown, one of the best WRs in the game. Upgrades don’t come much bigger than that. Want to see a QB in recent years make a big jump in play? They probably had a star WR join the team: Hurts and Brown; Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs; Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase; Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, and now Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill. Rare is the QB who can do it all on his own.
So far this season Tua Tagovailoa is looking like the front runner for MVP. He’s on pace for over 5000 yards and 40 TDs, and is completing over 71% of his passes for a league best 9.5 yards per attempt. If Hurts got the who-made-who talking point, Tagovailoa deserves it in spades. Tua Tagovailoa has started 21 games in the NFL without Tyreek Hill, and 19 with him. That’s a pretty good split. The numbers with and without Hill are staggering.
Without Hill, Tagovailoa had just two 300+ yard games, but they were on 48 and 47 attempts, for 6.6 and 7.0 yards per attempt. With Hill, Tagovailoa has seven 300+ yard games, and his worst yards per attempt in those was 9.4. In 2021 a Dolphins WR had 100+ yards just four times, three by DeVante Parker, and one by Jaylen Waddle. Tyreek Hill alone had seven in 2022, and already has four this season. If you like passer rating, Tagovailoa’s was 26th and 19th without Hill, and has led the league in both seasons with him.
Of course those QBs all have something else in common: they were highly touted young players, and highly touted young players develop. Are they products of their offense or is the offense a product of them? The answer is a bit of both, even Tom Brady in his best seasons had either Randy Moss or Rob Gronkowski.
Garner Minshew completed 58.3% of his passes and had a 3-3 TD-INT rate in his two starts in relief of Hurts last year. If you take Tagovailoa out of the Dolphins offense, it too struggles. In 2022 Tagovailoa completed 64.8% of his passes for 8.9 Y/A, with a 6.3 TD% and 2.0 INT%. In four starts in relief of Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson combined to complete 61.1% of their passes for 6.6 Y/A, 2.6 TD%, and a 3.2 INT%.
That said, slow down Hill and you slow down the Dolphins. Their lowest scoring games this season, also Tagovailoa’s least efficient, were the two games Hill was held to 58 and 40 yards, in all others he has at least 163.
The Eagles do not have a great chance to slow Tyreek Hill down with their banged up secondary. But they can slow him down in the backfield. In the Dolphins sole loss this year Tua Tagovailoa was sacked 4 times, he’s been sacked just twice in all other games combined. Last season Tagovailoa was sacked at least twice in five straight games, in those games he had a 84.4 passer rating, in the five games before that he was sacked a total of three times and had a 118.9 rating. So far this season Tagovailoa is 18th in completion percentage while under pressure and 16th in passer rating; though this is not an automatic solution, last season he was 4th and 1st. Granted every QB performs worse under pressure, but some do more than others. Get Tagovailoa under pressure, and the Eagles have a good chance.
And that’s what you need against perhaps the best player in this game, and in the game. Which isn’t their QB.
This season should have a non-QB MVP
Every MVP of the last decade, and 18 of the previous 21 in the past two (there was a tie in 2003) have been QBs. The three times a non-QB won were all by RBs, with 61% (Adrian Peterson in 2012), 88% (LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006), and 38% (Shaun Alexander in 2005) of the vote. The 2003 tie aside, Peterson and Alexander were the 3rd lowest and the lowest vote getters in the past 20 seasons. Alexander tied and then Tomlinson broke the single season rushing TD record. Peterson had 2097 rushing yards, 2nd most ever. MVP voters really don’t want to give the award to a non-QB unless they have no choice.
We are a third of the way through the 2023 season there are worthy choices for MVP who aren’t a QB.
Christian McCaffrey leads the league in rushing yards, is second in scrimmage TDs and in yards from scrimmage. Without him on Sunday against the Browns the 49ers offense ground to a halt. The 49ers only score came on an 8 yard play after a PJ Walker interception gave the 49ers the ball at the 8 yard line. That play aside, the 49ers gained all of 70 yards on 17 plays, 4.1 yards per play, which would tie the Giants for worst in the league over a full season. To be fair to the rest of the 49ers, Cleveland has the top defense and average 3.8 yards per play against, the game was in Cleveland, the Browns were coming off their bye, and the game was in bad weather. But zoom out from that game. A year ago yesterday, the 49ers traded for McCaffrey. In 19 games with McCaffrey in which all of the 49ers QBs were not knocked out by the Eagles the 49ers are averaging 31.7 points per game. In their 19 previous games without McCaffrey, they averaged just 22.8.
Sunday night’s Dolphins-Eagles game features two other non-QBs worthy of MVP consideration.
Tyreek Hill is the most explosive player in the league, on pace to obliterate the single season receiving record in just fifteen games. The record, set by Calvin Johnson in 2012, is 1964 yards. Hill is averaging a mind boggling 137.5 yards per game, on pace to finish with a ridiculous 2306 yards, which would break the record in Hill’s 15th game. Even if you waved a magic wand and made Hill’s season opening 215 yards disappear, he’d still be on pace for 2037 yards over 17 games.
So long as the key players stay healthy, the 49ers and Dolphins offenses will continue to put up huge numbers. If so, Hill or McCaffrey should win MVP.
But there’s another player in this game worth MVP discussion. He will never win it. He has zero chance to, which is a condemnation of the award and not the player. I’m not talking about AJ Brown, who is an excellent player having an excellent season. I am talking about Lane Johnson, who is as great at his job as anyone in the NFL is as theirs. The Eagles are 6-12 in meaningful games (read: no final game of the regular season with starters rested) without Johnson since 2018, with half of those wins coming in 2019. They’re also 2-2 in games where he plays less than half of snaps, and 4-4 in games where he plays two thirds or less.
No team leaves their offensive tackles one on one at the rate that the Eagles do. When Johnson goes out not only do they suffer a massive downgrade in talent, but they can’t play the same offense. That’s no different than losing Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa... or Christian McCaffrey or Tyreek Hill.
I love Mike McDaniel’s fit
Mike McDaniel has overtaken his old boss Kyle Shanahan as the league’s best play caller. The jury is still out on him as a head coach: his defenses have stunk, making him the NFL’s version of an Air Raid coach; he talks a nice game but then so did Chip Kelly; and his handling of Tua Tagovailoa’s concussions last year was disgusting.
But I do love the look he has. This is a 40 year old Yale graduate who dresses like a 60 something Miami retiree from Queens.
The choice of sunglasses, the eight pounds of hair gel, the unnecessarily large watch, wearing hoodies in Florida… Nick Sirianni is a world class panderer, and we love him for it, but Dolphins fans have it just as good in that regard. He looks like he’s cosplaying a stereotypical Miami retiree. He reminds me of late era Don Shula… but just in his look.
Can we get McDaniel a Starter jacket?
College Football Watch List Week 8
It’s fraud watch week. Come to think of it, every week is fraud watch week in college. It’s part of the fun! But today we have a triple slate of games where the loser is a fraud. The winner might also be a fraud, but at least they won’t have lost.
Big Nude Kickoff - Ohio State vs Penn State
James Franklin is 3 and 11 as the lower ranked team or unranked vs a ranked team in the last five seasons at PSU.
There are future NFL players all over these rosters, highlighted by OSU’s endless well of 1st round draft picks (that will dry up when someone hires Brian Hartline as their HC). But what I’m most interested in seeing are the edge rushers on both sides, PSU’s Chop Robinson #44 and Adisa Isaac #20, and OSU’s JT Tuimoloau #44 and Jack Sawyer #33.
Late: Tennessee vs Alabama
Alabama plays back to back ranked teams over the next two weeks. Win those and they’ll punch their ticket to another SEC title game. The timing on these games are fitting, because like a paint by numbers horror movie villain Alabama is back and waiting. This week’s potential victim is bizarro Tennessee, who this season are winning through their defense and run game.
Even though Tennessee’s passing offense vs Alabama’s secondary isn’t the key matchup here, it’s the one I’m watching because that’s the one area of Alabama I haven’t paid much attention to this season. CB Kool-Aid McKinstry #1 will be out of reach for the Eagles but S Malachi Moore #13 (if he plays) is worth a watch.
Night: Duke vs Florida State
FSU is 4th in the polls, but they feel like a paper tiger. Washington should be ahead of them, but whatever, that stuff tends to work itself out. Florida State should win the ACC, but this is not a national title team. Their offense is good, but not great, WR Keon Coleman #4 is excellent, and WR Johnny Wilson #14, if he plays, is a good prospect, but QB Jordan Travis #13, a 6th year senior, is unimpressive. Their defense is also good, but not great. EDGE Jared Verse #5 however is great.