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Tua committed to eliminating turnovers as Dolphins offense seeks improvement in short-yardage situations

MIAMI GARDENS — Turnovers are on Tua Tagovailoa’s mind.

So much so that, twice after the Miami Dolphins’ 20-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday, unprompted, he mentioned he has to limit turnovers in response to interview questions that had nothing to do with them. First, on the field with CBS as he was asked about the team’s shuffling on the offensive line, and then again at the podium responding to a question about the Miami run game.

The Dolphins turned the ball over three times Sunday — two on Tagovailoa as he threw an interception and lost a fumble — to keep the Raiders in a game Miami should’ve otherwise dominated.

For all the good that Tagovailoa has done behind center — leading the NFL in passing touchdowns per game and second in passer rating and passing yards per game — the Dolphins quarterback has 11 turnovers in 10 games, throwing eight interceptions and losing three fumbles.

He is harping on protecting the football and turning his words into action on a short week as the Dolphins (7-3) face the New York Jets (4-6) at MetLife Stadium in a 3 p.m. kickoff Friday.

“Completions, get drives extended, continue to get our playmakers the ball and keep it moving that way,” Tagovailoa detailed as things he can hone in on to limit turnovers.

Miami’s coaching staff can appreciate Tagovailoa’s steadfast accountability in working to eliminate the problem.

“When it comes to turnovers, you look at the root of them. When you deal with accountable men, you know you’ll improve in it,” offensive coordinator Frank Smith said. “His commitment, the whole group’s commitment to it, will be the reason why we improve.

“If you have that deliberate nature toward the importance of ball security and you approach your day that whole way, that normally creates that habit you’re looking for.”

The Dolphins offense, while sputtering of late, remains No. 1 in total yardage, scoring and passing while second in rushing. That said, Miami hasn’t surpassed 20 points in three of its past four games, averaging 20.5 points per game over those four.

Beyond the three turnovers, two which were in Miami territory, the Dolphins were 3 of 11 on third down and failed on their one fourth-down attempt. A common theme there, the offense’s shortcomings in short-yardage situations.

The Dolphins are 13 of 25 in third-and-3-or-fewer situations, which ranks 27th in the league. Miami is also 3 of 7 on fourth-and-short tries.

“It’s not just one thing. It’s one thing here, one thing there,” Smith said. “You hope over the course of a year, at the end, things even itself out.

“It’s just making sure we’re on the same page, connected because 1 yard is important. Ultimately, when you’re halfway through the season, things can turn around with the emphasis and focus by the group.”

Added fullback Alec Ingold: “It’s execution. I think it’s details, situational football. … The offense’s job on short yardage is to continue to extend drives, extend first downs, to gain field position. It is all going to come into play late in the season. It’s something we are very aware of as players, and we’ve got to get better at that, for sure.”

The Jets defense that Miami faces is 11th in total defense, fifth in passing defense and tied for eighth in takeaways, forcing 16 turnovers on the season.

Preparation is crammed on a short week ahead of the NFL’s first Black Friday game. Tagovailoa mentioned that it helps that it’s a divisional opponent in the Jets that the Dolphins have familiarity with, but that doesn’t apply as much to Tagovailoa himself. He missed Miami’s two games against New York last season during his two separate stints in concussion protocol.

Tagovailoa expressed what he’s thankful for ahead of Thanksgiving: “I am thankful for everyone in my life. I’m thankful for the life that I have, the life that I’m able to live. I’m grateful that I get to live this life. Very fortunate to be living the dream that I’ve had ever since I was little.”

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