Chargers hope Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t leave defense scrambling
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley previously served as an NFL head coach for four seasons, and has had to make difficult choices as an organization’s leader.
The move Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores made late last month to surprisingly start rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is one he doesn’t envy.
“That’s a tough decision,” Bradley said as the Chargers prepare for Sunday’s road game in Miami. “He must have shown in practice and in meetings that, ‘Hey, we have a chance here. This guy is so special that we’re willing to make this decision.’ That’s what it appears without knowing the whole situation.”
Now, Bradley and his defense are tasked with making a game plan to stop the 22-year-old first-round draft pick. The Dolphins named Tagovailoa the starter on Oct. 20, the start of the team’s off week, and just after veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick had led Miami to a two-game win streak.
Tagovailoa has won both games he’s started, against the Rams and Arizona Cardinals, completing 64% of his passes, throwing for three touchdowns and producing a 101.3 quarterback rating. Bradley said when reviewing film, it is evident Tagovailoa is developing more as a player and a leader.
“When he comes on the field, he brings a certain energy,” Bradley said. “You can feel it through the tape. He’s a guy that you can really feel like when he’s on the field, he elevates the play of everyone around him.”
Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert has responded well against the blitz this season, but that doesn’t mean the Dolphins will blitz any less on Sunday.
Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury last November as Alabama’s starting quarterback, ending his college career and raising questions about his future. Once projected to be the first pick, Tagovailoa slid to No. 5, with the Cincinnati Bengals choosing Louisiana State quarterback Joe Burrow ahead of him. But it seems his hip has fully recovered, and that presents a challenge for the Chargers.
Though Tagovailoa has rushed for only 35 yards in two games, he is still a running threat. A highlight against the Cardinals shows Tagovailoa evading pressure in the pocket, then making two defenders miss on a scramble. It offers a different dimension to defend, said Chargers defensive tackle Justin Jones.
“A lot of older quarterbacks are looking to just sit in the pocket and not really looking to get out,” Jones said. “We have to keep him in the pocket.”
The Chargers have struggled with limiting mobile quarterbacks this season. Against the Bengals, Burrow audibled into a quarterback draw out of an empty backfield formation and rushed up the middle for a 23-yard touchdown.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes converted four third downs against the Chargers by scrambling, including a run for 21 yards on a third-and-20 in a come-from-behind win. Last Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, quarterback Derek Carr ran up the middle on a third down for 12 yards to set up the offense at the four-yard line. Two plays later, the Raiders scored and eventually won, 31-26.
Bradley said it is important for the Chargers defensive linemen to stay disciplined, and that the secondary might need to stick with receivers a bit longer if Tagovailoa tries to improvise and extend plays.
Chargers rookie Josh Kelley had a hot start beginning of the season, but his recent struggles have hurt his confidence.
“We really have to keep him contained and not let him get space within our rush,” Bradley said.
Safety Rayshawn Jenkins says the Chargers do have one advantage, though — experience.
“It just goes back to us following our training and trying to get these first-year guys flustered a little bit,” he said.
Offensive guard Trai Turner, who has played only one game this season because of a groin injury, was a full participant at practice Thursday. Defensive end Joey Bosa, who entered the concussion protocol after the Denver Broncos game, was limited. Running back Troymaine Pope (neck), who was also recently in the concussion protocol, was full. Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) was limited. Running back Justin Jackson (knee) did not participate, and was on the side with a brace around his right leg.
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