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Tua Tagovailoa’s Rookie Season Was Very Similar To Dan Marino’s Rookie Season

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Nobody will argue that Dan Marino is still the greatest Miami Dolphins quarterback of all time and one of the best quarterbacks that ever played in the NFL. But when Tua Tagovailoa signed with the Dolphins, fans began to wonder if he would finally be the next franchise quarterback or like Dan Marino or Bob Griese, who once donned the aqua colored Miami uniforms.

Even Dan Marino said that Tua was a “much better college player than I ever was.” Tua even wore the same jersey number in college (#13) that Dan Marino wore in college and for the Miami Dolphins. But some fans and sports columnists have said it was to early to even think about comparing Tua to Dan Marino. However, when you begin to look at the numbers, although Marino was better, Tua still had a similar rookie season to Dan Marino’s rookie season.

The most obvious similarity is that Tua Tagovailoa and Marino both started 9 games their rookie season. For comparison’s sake, since Tua only threw two passes late in the 4th quarter his first NFL game, it is more accurate to compare Dan Marino’s first game to Tua’s first start, which would officially be Tua’s second game he played. They both played a team from Los Angeles.

Marino came in the game against the Los Angeles Raiders in 1983 and Tua started against the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. Dan Marino completed 11 passes for 90 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Tua completed 12 passes for 93 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Marino’s longest pass was 11 yards while Tua’s was for 15 yards. With those two games, it is a fair assessment to say that they were almost identical statistically.

During their rookie year, Dan Marino had 296 attempts while Tua Tagovailoa had 290 attempts. What should make Dolphins fans happy and some have overlooked is that Tua completed more passes (186) in less attempts than Marino completed (173) in more attempts. This gave Tua a higher completion percentage (64.1%) than Marino’s 58.4% his rookie year. (And to ease fans’ concerns about the Dolphins facing Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in 2021, Tua’s 64.1% completion percentage was higher than Josh Allen’s 52.8% during his rookie season).

Dan Marino did have more touchdowns (20) than Tua Tagovailoa had (11) during his rookie season. But with an improved receiving corps those numbers should be better in 2021.


Many fans and sports analysts began to doubt Tua Tagovailoa after the last game of the 2020 season when he threw 3 interceptions against the Buffalo Bills. However, it has been evidently overlooked by many in the sports world that Tua’s game against the Buffalo Bills was not that different from Dan Marino’s game against the Buffalo Bills. Ironically, Dan Marino threw for a season high of 322 yards and completing 19 passes his rookie season against the Buffalo Bills while Tua threw for a season high of 361 yards and completing 35 passes his rookie season against…yes…the Buffalo Bills.

Tua threw 3 interceptions and was sacked once in that game against the Bills, but Marino threw 2 interceptions and was sacked 3 times when he played the Bills. Marino had 3 touchdowns and Tua threw for one. Tua Tagovailoa’s longest pass in his season high passing yard game against the Bills was for 31 yards and Marino’s was for 35 yards. Tua Tagovailoa rushed for 28 yards for a total of 389 yards of total offense while Marino had -4 rushing yards for 318 yards of total offense.

When passing yards for both Tua Tagovailoa and Dan Marino is examined it must be considered that Marino played 11 games while Tua only played 10.

Marino finished his rookie season with 2,210 passing yards while Tua finished his rookie season with 1,814 passing yards. Dan Marino was never put in a game his rookie season late in the 4th quarter only to throw 2 passes as Tua was his first game he ever played in. Marino’s minimum passing attempts in any game his rookie season was 17. Tua averaged at least 31 attempts per game. If Tua Tagovailoa had 31 attempts in the game he only threw 2 passes in and played one more game to equal Marino’s 11 games played with 31 attempts, at 6.3 yards/game Tua would have hypothetically and realistically had 2,205 passing yards his rookie year. That would have been only 5 less yards than Marino had.

To examine the competitiveness against ranked defenses Marino and Tagovailoa played against during their rookie season, let’s look at two new stats that I’m introducing which is called DPA (Defenses Played Average) and DPO (Defenses Played Offenses). This stat, which I designed, gives an idea of the level of difficulty (DPA) a quarterback played against during a season and how well the quarterback played against the level of difficulty (DPO).

The defensive rankings are based on yards allowed for the season, which means the Los Angeles Rams will be the number one ranked defense in 2020. If Tua played 10 games, the stat is to take the ranking of each team’s defense such as Rams (1), Jets (26), Arizona (12), etc… and add all of those rankings together, then divide that total by the number of games played. So for Tua’s 10 games played in 2020, the total rankings would be 173 divided by 10 which would equal 17.3, which would be his DPA (Defenses Played Average). The lower the number, the more difficult of ranked defenses played.

To equate the DPO (Defenses Played Offense) or Defenses Played [against] Offense, take the total passing yards for the season and divide that number by the DPA. Tua’s DPO would be calculated as: 1,814 passing yards divided by his DPA (17.3) which would give him a DPO of 104.8. The DPO gives analysts and coaches an idea of how well a quarterback has played against ranked defenses. Dan Marino’s DPA for his rookie season is 13.27, meaning he played against better ranked defenses on his schedule in 1983. Consideration must be given that quarterbacks can only play the ranked teams that are on their schedule whether their ranking is low or high. Tua’s 104.8 DPO is low compared to Marino’s 166.5.

However if Tua Tagovailoa played with a 13.27 DPA (meaning the defenses and their rankings on their schedule and the total rankings divided by games played), then his DPO would be 136.7. If Tua had played 11 games with a 31 passing attempt per game average and totaling his passing yards for 2,205 yards for the season as mentioned earlier in this article, then his DPO would have been 166.1 just below Marino’s DPO.

From a statistical standpoint as a whole, Dan Marino did have a better rookie season than Tua Tagovailoa. However, Tua’s rookie season was indeed very similar to Marino’s.

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