The last quarterback to take the Miami Dolphins to the postseason was Chad Pennington in 2008, the former New York Jets first round pick that was scorned by the team just a season before. In a performance and scenario fit for a Lifetime movie, Pennington went into MetLife Stadium and beat his former team to win the AFC East. Coach Tony Sparano fist pumped the Dolphins into January for the first time since 2001.
Almost seven years later, the Dolphins are once again looking for their first playoff berth in the past seven years. They have been one game away (more or less) the past two seasons, so close to the postseason that they could smell it. Then, head coach Joe Philbin somehow found a way to engineer two late season collapses, and the Dolphins went home early per usual. This year feels different for the first time since that 2008 season. The Dolphins feel like a playoff team, and Ryan Tannehill has a sense of leadership and poise surrounding him for the first time in his short three year career. He has built on each of his first three seasons, and now finds himself surrounded with younger but better personnel in the second year of Bill Lazor’s offense.
So what exactly does he need to do to get over the hump and lead his team to the playoffs?
Take complete control of the offense
What do Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers all do best? They are experts when it comes to reading the defense and owning their offenses. Ryan Tannehill has every physical skill in the book. It is time he got just a little bit smarter in between the ears. Too many Dolphins drives have stalled on third down because Tannehill did not change the play at the line of scrimmage. It has been reported in the past that he hasn’t had complete control to audible or change plays. No clue if that falls on Philbin or Lazor, but that restriction needs to end immediately. He is entering year four. The training wheels need to come off and in order to reach the playoffs Tannehill must have the ability to change a play if the situation calls for it. Hopefully, he has been working on this all offseason. So many future Miami offensive drives depend on it.
Be more aware in the pocket and don’t be afraid to RUN
Yes, Tannehill has been sacked more than anybody in the NFL the past two seasons. No, not all of these sacks have been thanks to a mediocre offensive line (though many have). Tannehill does have a problem with holding on to the ball too long. A lot of the time, he will wait for a play to unravel and not recognize when a play just isn’t going to work out as planned. Holding the ball results in sacks and fumbles, neither of which the Dolphins can afford late in a game. RT17 must learn and learn quickly to either just thrown the ball away and live to see another down, or take off and do what he does so well: run. He had 311 yards rushing last year, and almost all of those were on designed plays. He would freeze defenses and become even more dangerous if he could recognize when a passing play is busted and take off for chunks of yardage. Run Ryan Run!.
Develop the deep ball
Arguably the biggest criticism of Ryan Tannehill as an NFL quarterback at this point in his career is his lack of a deep ball. I think a lot of the blame regarding this weakness can be attributed to his terrible offensive line and the lack of effort from the diva that was Mike Wallace. The two had no deep ball chemistry and that had to have something to do with Wallace’s inconsistent effort combined with Tannehill’s inconsistent throws combined with the offensive line’s inconsistent play period. Noticing a trend? Tannehill has had no deep ball consistency, partly to the instability of those around him. But this year, he has a new and hungry receiving corps, with last year’s number one deep ball threat in Kenny Stills. Tannehill will operate behind his best offensive line this year, as Mike Pouncey, Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James should be healthy together again. It is time for Tannehill to build chemistry and become one with his line, receivers and deep ball. It will just take repetition and practice.
Play more passionately and lead more overall
Ryan Tannehill came out of his shell a little bit more last season. But, he still could play with much more passion and lead this team more verbally. He is hands down the leader of this offense, but needs to become more of a leader of the entire team as a whole. When he is on the sidelines watching the other two phases of the team, he isn’t bouncing around the sideline or pumping his team up. That has to change, especially if the team does make the playoffs. One game in particular sticks out in my mind about Ryan Tannehill’s career. Two years ago, the Dolphins hosted the eventual Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. With the game on the line and a little over two minutes left, Tannehill engineered a beautiful drive from his own 20-yard line, setting up a Dan Carpenter 43-yard field goal that sealed a 24-21 victory over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. He was dynamic, passionate and took control of the offense. If he can play like that every game in 2015, the Dolphins have more than a good chance to make the playoffs.