The Herbert vs. Tua Debate


Photo Credit: Associated Press

Noah Cahill, Sports Editor

This past Sunday night, the Los Angeles Chargers faced the Miami Dolphins in a much-anticipated matchup. The game had huge implications for each team’s playoff hopes as the Chargers fight for the 7 seed and the Dolphins look to put pressure on Buffalo at the top of the AFC East. There were also massive implications for a growing debate in football: Who is the better quarterback, Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa?  

The debate began earlier this year when Tua led the league in QBR and completion percentage, all while leading the Dolphins to an 8-3 record. Some analysts even put him on their list of MVP candidates. However, his performances in the past two weeks have revealed many of the limitations he still possesses. Against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13, Tagovailoa went 18/33 passing with two interceptions and a QBR of 19.9 in a 33-17 loss. While this was a bad game, it is very hard to play well on the road against the 49ers, who are ranked second in defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and have Fred Warner, an all-pro middle linebacker who takes away Tagovailoa’s favorite part of the field, the middle. His game against the Chargers last Sunday is more alarming. Playing against a Chargers secondary decimated by injuries, Tagovailoa went 10/28 passing with a QBR of 24.7 in a 23-17 loss. This game has shown that if the defense takes away the intermediate middle of the field and forces Tagovailoa to make throws outside the numbers, he will struggle. He produces in the scheme that Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel has drawn up, a scheme that allows Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle to get the ball early and create yards after the catch with their speed. It turns out that having arguably the best receiver in football in Hill and another elite receiver in Waddle makes a massive difference, and masks many of Tagovailoa’s weaknesses.  

On the other side of this debate, Justin Herbert hasn’t had a great statistical season. That said, it is important to understand the obstacles he has to overcome on a game-to-game basis. His best receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have only played six and nine games respectively, and when Allen has played, he has looked hampered by a lingering hamstring injury. He has also been without premier deep threat Jalen Guyton, who has only played three games this year. Despite the lack of weapons, Herbert has almost single-handedly dragged his team to a 7-6 record after his brilliant game last Sunday. He went 39/51 passing for 367 yards and a touchdown in a 23-17 victory that saved his team’s playoff aspirations. He played in a different league from Tagovailoa and silenced critics like Fox Sports TV personality Emmanuel Acho, who claimed he is merely a “social media quarterback” that makes highlight reel throws without real production. Stats can lie and people can lie, but the film doesn’t. Herbert has overcome great adversity this season and it culminated in a marquee victory over Tagovailoa in primetime.