It’s that time of year again- the time of the NFL off season when speculation is everything. The dead period of no news except for player arrests. When no news is good news.. The time of the year articles speculating on the upcoming NFL season arise and we say, “This is this player's year." We say that more for Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill more than almost anyone else. And we are saying it again this year.
We’ve all seen the headlines “This is Ryan Tannehill’s Year” and “Tannehill Poised for a Breakout Season”. It seems like every year we declare this, and every year we make excuses for why it didn’t happen. So lets take a trip down memory lane.
We all know Ryan Tannehill was a raw quarterback talent when the Dolphins decided to draft him in 2012. Although he did play quarterback in high school, he was converted to wide receiver for most of his days at Texas A&M before starting only 1 full season as a quarterback in his senior year. He had a solid rookie campaign. He threw for 3,294 yards, 12 TDs, and 13 Ints. Not great numbers, but solid numbers for a first-year quarterback who was not intended to be the starter (David Garrard suffered a knee injury in the preseason). He also showed some promising signs. He beat up on average to below-average teams like the Jets, Raiders, Rams, Seahawks, Jaguars, and Bills. And although the team lost against the Cardinals and Colts, he showed fight and resiliency in his play. Pretty good signs for what some analysts considered a 2-year project.
Heading into the 2013 season, the Dolphins front office decided to find some weapons for their sophomore quarterback (let’s face it, Fins Fans. Marlon Moore and Legedu Naanee weren’t cutting it [All puns intended for Naanee]). The idea was to surround Ryan Tannehill with speed. They retained Brian Hartline (Ryan’s little blankie at the time) who was coming off a career year by signing him to a 5-year $31 million contract, and signed free agents: WR Mike Wallace, WR Brandon Gibson, and TE Dustin Keller. The biggest name and most exciting signing was Mike Wallace. Miami signed him to a 5-year $60 million deal. The Preseason Buzz was filling the air and Tannehill was predicted to have a breakout season (Yay!).
However, these signings, along with the season, did not go as planned. Both Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson suffered season ending knee injuries, Tannehill was dubbed Tanne-KILL and struggled to connect with Wallace, and the offensive line was terrible which led to a league high 58 sacks, a 26th ranked rushing attack, and a Halloween box-office hit called “Bully-gate” starring OT Jonathan Martin and G Richie Incognito (Dolphins win the award for Best New Costume. Yay!). Did I mention they were the first victims of a winless 0-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
The 2013 season was much like a Halloween movie. It started off nice and pretty with a 3-0 record, and a little extra dose of safety with Tannehill’s clutch game-winning drive against the Atlanta Falcons (beautiful throw to Sims by the way). Then, Michael Myers entered a week later, and stabbed T.D. (and by extension, all of Dolphin Land) 4 straight times in the heart. The Dolphins fell to 3-4, and though T.D. fought for his survival with 3 straight flipper slaps (Dolphins were 8-6 entering Week 16), Myers eventually killed him with a stampede of Buffalo Bills and flames of Jet fuel, ending Miami’s season at 8-8 (very scary movie for Dolphins Fans. They had nightmares all off season).
But somehow, just somehow, despite all this adversity, Tannehill managed to throw for 3,913 yards(10th), 24 Touchdowns(12th), and 17 Interceptions. Breakout season? Maybe. It’s hard to tell without the winning topped with the terrible crushing end to the season. The interceptions are a tad high, but it’s definitely an improvement. He was only 87 yards short of 4,000 yards.
“4,000 yards??? Why that’s… that’s Dan Marino numbers!”
“Yeah! He’s Dan Marino!”
“The Next Dan Marino!”
This is where the “Tannehill is the Next Coming of Marino” began to emerge. Dolphins fans have been so desperate for a quarterback since Dan The Man retired, so now they cling to the first above-average one they see. Yes, Tannehill did some nice things. Not only did he display toughness while being a Human Piñata throughout the season (2013 Iron Man Award), he never got rattled. He was constantly under attack behind a carousel offensive line, and he always kept his poise and composure. He once again showed elements of resilience and clutchness in games against the Colts, Falcons, Bills, Ravens, Steelers, and Patriots (and boy, did I think he really approached a new level in that game). Even in games the team lost, Tannehill was leading drives down the field before the offensive line would crumble and fail him. This happened time and time again, and was the main reason for the lost season.
Tannehill also showed leadership. Although not viewed as a vocal leader on the field, during “Bullygate” when the Dolphins’ locker-room integrity was in question, Tannehill stood up to the media, and defended media-villain Richie Incognito and the team. After the controversy, he responded by winning the next 4 out of 5 games.
However, there were things that Tannehill did not do well. Chemistry between Ryan and deep threat WR Mike Wallace was a problem since Day 1. During training camp and preseason, the QB and WR combo struggled to connect deep. This led into the season, and constantly frustrated fans and the team (hence my receding hairline). Multiple times throughout the season Wallace would get open deep, and Tannehill would either overthrow him or underthrow him. Tannehill’s deep-ball touch and accuracy was in question, a problem Marino never had.
This season-long frustration never seemed to have a logical explanation. The minds of fans could not compute the surrealism. They were completely dumbfounded by the situation. How can a receiver be wide open and the quarterback constantly misses him?
“It’s the O-line. Tanny doesn’t have enough time.”
“He’s got a clean pocket now.”
“Wallace needs to dive for the ball.”
“He’s 3 yards open. He shouldn’t have to dive.”
“Maybe it’s Tanny’s fault.”
How dare you question the Savior? The Savior does everything right! He’s the best quarterback we’ve had since Marino!
This was the first tear that began to divide the united Dolphin fans, and one of the first flaws we began to see in Tannehill’s game. On one hand, you have the Tannehill disciples, the total believers, he can do no wrong, and whatever happens is no fault of his. On the other hand, you have the realists who can see flaws to his game, and understand that Tannehill and Marino are two different people, as well as quarterbacks.
The truth was that Tannehill still had a lot of growing up to do. He was drafted as a raw quarterback talent, not a complete quarterback prospect like Marino. Marino had all the tools of a great QB. Tannehill, although making strides and being a pleasant surprise sooner than expected, still needed work.
Since offensive line was a huge problem in 2013, the Dolphins decided to protect their quarterback. LT Jonathan Martin and G Richie Incognito were gone from the team, and the Dolphins needed replacements. New Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey signed former Chiefs LT Branden Albert to a 5-year $47 Million contract, G Shelly Smith, and drafted RT Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner. This group was expected to be enough to shield Ryan Tannehill from oncoming attack. Miami also added free agent Knowshon Moreno who would bring physicality to the running game (for 1 game). They also drafted WR Jarvis Landry (JUICE!) in the 2nd round.
Another big change for the offense came when OC Mike Sherman was fired. His 2013 offense ranked 27th in the NFL and was considered predictable and bland (he had receivers lining up in the same position all year long), and his “GO, Go-Go” system wasn’t helping either (“Go” for a pass, “Go-Go” for a run). The Dolphins decide to hire Eagles OC Bill Lazor from the Chip Kelly Tree (Remember when Chip Kelly was considered a good coach?). Lazor was credited for developing 2nd-year QB Nick Foles into the NFL’s Top-Rated Passer in 2013. Lazor brought creative formations, West Coast concepts, and stressed the “no-huddle” and “up-tempo” philosophy (Although Fins Fans never saw it).
Fans were excited to see Tannehill work with Bill Lazor and expected big things for their quarterback. It was Tannehill’s 3rd year, and coming off his 2013 season, it was predicted that he would enter the 30 TD range and take the next step towards becoming an elite quarterback.
Unlike 2013, Miami did not have a magical 3-0 start to the season. After the impressive home win against the Patriots (yay!), the Dolphins lost the next 2 games against the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs (boo). The offensive line seemed to be failing Tannehill yet again (8 sacks allowed in 3 games), and the team was putting up an uninspiring 19.3 Points Per Game. Tannehill was struggling. He was ranked dead last in the league with 5.0 yards per attempt (7 for 21 in passes over 10 yards), and averaging 208 Yds/G while only mustering 4 TDs.
In Week 4, The Dolphins were set to play the Raiders in London. The Raiders were a bad team, but it was a do-or-die situation for the Dolphins season and for Tannehill’s starting job. The week leading up to the game, Joe Philbin was non-committal to his former 1st round pick.
“We are going to get our 46 best players to the game and we are going to utilize them the best way possible.”
Now, some people think Philbin was being non-committal to light a fire under Tannehill’s Tanne-bum, but I doubt that. Joe Philbin doesn’t strike me as a Mad Scientist type of guy (The only thing mad about him was his OCD paper-plucking). Whatever it was, whether by sincerity or tactic, it worked.
Tannehill responded by throwing for 278 yards and 2 TDs averaging 12 Yds/Att. The Dolphins beat down the Raiders 38-14, and headed into the BYE Week with Tannehill keeping his job.
In the 2nd quarter of the season the Dolphins went 3-1. After losing a close game to the Packers in which Joe Philbin decided to give credit (along with timeouts) to his former team, Miami went on to have convincing wins against the Chicago Bears (27-14), Jacksonville Jaguars (27-13), and topping it all off with a shutout win against Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers(37-0) at Sun-Life Stadium. During this stretch, Tannehill threw for 1,005 yards (251 Yds/G), 8 TDs/3 Ints, and averaged 11.88 Yds/Att. Further proving that he deserved to keep his job and was clearly better than backup QB Matt Moore.
In the 3rd quarter of the season the Dolphins went 2-2. They defeated division rivals Buffalo Bills (22-9) and New York Jets (16-13), but lost to the Lions (16-20) and Broncos (36-39). During this stretch, Tannehill passed for 910 yards (227.5 Yds/G), 6 TDs/3 Ints, and averaged 8.7 Yds/Att. Although he still kept his poise, he was clearly struggling again and started being considered as an “Alex Smith” type (a quarterback with a weak arm who never attempts passes over 20 yards). Indeed, Tannehill has a strong arm, but he clearly wasn’t taking chances downfield, and he was not displaying his clutch gene like he did the previous year.
Let’s discuss the 3 losses the Dolphins had prior to this point: the Packers, the Lions, and the Broncos. In all 3 games, Tannehill was put in a position to lead the team to victory and failed to produce. During the Packers game with 4 minutes left, Tannehill had the chance to kill the clock by getting 1st downs to win the game, but he failed to do so. Allowing Aaron Rodgers to lead a drive down the field to win the game. The Lions game was a similar situation, but with 3 minutes left (Some fans will put the blame on the defense for allowing the Packers and Lions to score in the final seconds, but the fact is that it shouldn’t have gotten to that point). And during the Broncos game with 3:45 left in the 4th quarter, Tannehill failed to lead a scoring drive that would’ve won the game. 3 times Tannehill had the game in his hands, and 3 times he failed to rise to the occasion.
In the final quarter of the season, the Dolphins fell apart and went 1-3 with losses to the Ravens, Patriots, and Jets (making Geno Smith look like another Week-17 Superstar). They nearly went 0-4 if it wasn’t for a blocked punt against the Vikings (thank you, Terrance Fede… for 5 more games of Joe Philbin). Tannehill passed for 1,455 yards (363.75 Yds/G), 7 TDs/3 Ints, and averaged 11.05 Yds/Att.
Tannehill’s numbers improved and he showed fight in close games against the Vikings and Jets (which was a good sign), but it was too little, too late as the season was already over. The Dolphins finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs once again.
Tannehill finished the 2014 season with 4,045 yards (11th), 27 TDs (tied for 12th) and 12 Ints.
He passed for over 4,000 yards!
He’s almost in the Top 10 for yards and touchdowns!
He’s on the verge of being an Elite quarterback! Yay!
With a 6.9 Yds/Att average, Tannehill ranked 12th out of the 14 quarterbacks with at least 500 pass attempts (“Oh, that’s not so bad.”), and 20th out 24 quarterbacks with at least 400 pass attempts (“Eeh…” [Trust me, you don’t wanna know what it looks like once I lower it to 300]). Also, out of his 392 completions, only 4 were passes completed over 40 yards. Proving, once again, that he is not Marino.
Yet, another season passed by and the Tannehill Faithful wanted to blame the offensive line and use the “new offensive system with a new offensive coordinator” argument. These claims had some merit to them. Although the offensive line improved from dead last in Sacks Allowed (58 in 2013), they finished 23rd in 2014 with 46. Not to mention that the entire offensive line was different from the previous year: LT Brandon Albert, LG Dallas Thomas, C Samson Satele, RG Mike Pouncey (only played 12 games due to Hip Surgery), and RT Ja’Wuan James.
Many a fan began to develop skepticism in the third year quarterback. But continuing to statistically improve in all the major categories (Yards, TDs, and Interceptions), it was hard to lose faith. Ryan Tannehill still left many holding on and believing (Journey).
After the collapse to the Jets in Week 17, in which Mike Wallace was benched (or quit on the team. It all depends on who you ask.), and that embarrassing postgame locker room interview was released (Brandon Gibson did a great job speaking as Wallace’s agent), rumors of the wide receiver core disliking Tannehill began to emerge. In response, the Dolphins decided to cut Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, trade away Mike Wallace (and his ridiculous salary), and confirm their faith in Ryan Tannehill by signing him to a 6-year $96 million contract.
Ryan Tannehill essentially needed a new arsenal of weapons. So the Dolphins decided to rearm by trading for speedy WR Kenny Stills of the New Orleans Saints, signing TE Jordan Cameron, and drafting 1st round talent WR DeVante Parker. Kenny Stills fixed the speed problem left behind from Mike Wallace, TE Jordan Cameron brought size and mismatch speed left behind from Charles Clay’s departure, and DeVante Parker was a tall receiver who can highpoint the ball and bring #1 WR talent to the team. Along with Jarvis Landry (Tanny’s new blankie), these weapons were considered an upgrade from what Tannehill had his entire career as a Dolphin.
He’s got weapons!
This is the year! *crosses fingers*
Despite the Dolphins’ rookie weapon missing all of training camp due to foot surgery, the 1st team offense easily led drives downfield, and the 1st team defensive line (led by Ndamukong Suh’s monstrous bank account) unleashed a SUH-nami upon opposing offensive lines. These short-but-sweet examples of dominance, along with the new stadium renovations, brought optimism and excitement once again to the upcoming season. But Dolphin Nation soon learned that preseason is not the regular season, and did nothing to prepare them for the REAL Tsunami in October.
After scraping away with a Jarvis Landry punt return victory against the Redskins in Week 1 of the regular season. The Dolphins fell to 1-3 with another embarrassing loss to the Jets - this time in a home replacement game in London, which finally caused Joe Philbin to get fired (3rd time’s the charm), along with coordinators Bill Lazor and Kevin Coyle. To make matters worse, the defense was allowing 25.25 PPG, 160.5 Yds/G Rushing, and only had 1 sack (compliments of Jordan Phillips).
Stephen Ross hired the only alpha male that seemed to be left on the staff, Dan Campbell, as interim head coach to inspire the team.
“The grit that Dan possesses will do wonders in that locker room.”
- Stephen Ross
And it did – for 2 games, until the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills brought the Dolphins back to reality. The Dolphins were 3-5 and with all the coaching changes, the season was all but over. But for many who wait all year long for football, the season could not just be a waste, and the focus shifted from crushed hopes for the playoffs to the growth of Tannehill.
Up until this point, Tannehill’s numbers were somewhat average. Through 8 games, his passing yardage was impressive (2,235), but his Touchdown to Interception ratio was not (13-9). His wins against the Redskins, Texans, and Titans proved that he was once again good enough to win against bad teams (yes, the Redskins and Texans were bad at that time.), but not good enough to win against playoff caliber teams or good quarterbacks like the Jets, Bills, Jaguars, and Patriots.
In the 3rd quarter of the season, he further followed up this argument with wins against the Eagles and Ravens, but losses to the Cowboys (of course, the 1 game Tony Romo showed up for) and the Jets once again.
It was late November, the Dolphins were 5-7, the Lazor was fired (all puns intended), and by this time, not only were the fans divided, but the coaching staff and front office as well on whether or not Tannehill was the right quarterback for this team (which makes for a really bad season when the organization can’t stand together). On one hand, the front office believes Tannehill is a Top 8 passer in the league. According to an exercise the team does, if the Dolphins were starting a team today, they would pick him over quarterbacks such as Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr. On the other hand, Dan Campbell and the coaching staff believe Tannehill is a game manager, and don’t want to overload him with pre-snap tasks at the line of scrimmage in order to keep him playing fast.
“What I’ve told Ryan is, ‘I don’t need Superman.’… I just want to make sure my message to him is: ‘don’t try to be something you’re not’. Just manage the game for us. Make the throws that are there, which he will.” – Dan Campbell
And on Monday Night Football at home against the New York Giants, that’s exactly what Tannehill did. He handed the ball off to Lamar Miller, and made the throws that were there. Including a beautiful 47-yard pass to Kenny Stills for a Touchdown. However, in a close game, sometimes you have to make the throws that aren’t there, and in the 4th quarter, with the game on the line, Tanny did not. Proving once again to the fans and to the team, that he is not clutch.
The Dolphins went on to lose against the Chargers (14-30) and the Colts (12-18). Yet, Tannehill found a way to finish strong by beating the Patriots in the season finale in decisive fashion, causing them to lose the #1 seed in the playoffs. He threw for 350 yards and 2 TDs teasing us all once again, and leaving Dolphins fans scratching their heads throughout the offseason.
Tannehill finished the 2015 season with 4,208 yards, 24 TDs, and 12 Ints.
Another 4,000 yard Season! Yay!
No… just no.
Tannehill’s 2015 stats are misleading. Lets take out the 2 decisive victories the Dolphins had against the Titans and Texans (2 out of 16. Yay.). In the 1st half of 14 games, the Dolphins scored 102 points. In the 2nd half of those 14 games, the Dolphins scored 126 points. Not too bad, right?
Now lets break those 14 games into 2 groups: the blowout games (2 Bills, 2 Jets, Patriots, and Chargers), and the close games (8) in which the Dolphins were within 7 points going into the 4th quarter.
Blowout Games (6)
1st Half Points 2nd Half Points
Close Games (8)
1st Half Points 2nd Half Points
This statistic contributes to the fact that not only did Tannehill acquire most of his stats during garbage time, he is not clutch either. Out of the 8 close games the Dolphins had (Redskins, Jags, Eagles, Cowboys, Ravens, Giants, Colts, and Patriots) 4 were losses, and 2 of out the 4 that the Dolphins won (Redskins and Ravens) don’t necessarily fall on Tannehill’s shoulders.
Another issue that baffles me is his play in the games against the Ravens (15-13) and Colts (12-18). Both teams were without their star quarterbacks, yet Tannehill struggled to put up points. This is another Tannehill Conundrum the Dolphin Fan base is puzzled by. Any knowledgeable football fan knows Tannehill is clearly better than Matt Schaub and Matt Hasselbeck. By extension, if Dolphin fans believe Ryan Tannehill is a good quarterback, he should easily beat a Colts team with no Andrew Luck and a defense ranked 24th in points allowed and 22nd against the pass, right? O.o
And if Ryan Tannehill is a good quarterback, he should easily beat a Ravens team with no QB Joe Flacco, no RB Justin Forsett, no backup RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, no WR Steve Smith, no WR Breshad Perriman, no WR Marlon Brown, no SS Matt Elam, and no Terrell Suggs, right? O.o
Yet in the Colts Game, Tannehill was only good for 329 yards, 0 TDs and 1 Int. Not only did he lose to Matt Hasselbeck, he lost to Charlie Whitehurst – Clipboard Jesus. Think about that for a second. He lost to Charlie Whitehurst, the 3rd string QB on the team. Tannehill also managed to hold onto the ball and take a safety when he saw the defender coming right at him.
If that doesn’t get you going, against the Ravens, a team decimated by injuries, Tannehill passed for 86 yards and 1 TD.
Wait… I’m sorry. That’s a typo.
That’s a typo, right?
Well… he must’ve gotten hurt or something. That terrible offensive line finally got him injured.
Nope, he played the whole game folks. 87 yards. 87 yards against a team with no QB, no RB, no backup RB, no WRs, no SS, and no star LB. Matt Schaub would’ve had a better game than him if it wasn’t for that Pick 6 (308 yards 1 TD 2 Int).
This is where I side with the coaches. Tannehill is not a good QB (not yet anyway). He is a game manager. A good quarterback dominates teams that are clearly inferior to his own, especially teams with no quarterbacks. A good quarterback leads drives towards the end of close games and takes his team to glory, and Tannehill hasn’t shown that for 2 years (not against good teams anyway). Tannehill is too inconsistent. You never know what you are going to get out of him week in and week out. There are times when he flashes and there are times when he folds. His 3rd down percentage has always been an issue, and he still has problems that I never think he will fix (i.e. stepping up in the pocket to avoid an edge rush and being a vocal leader.)
However, do I think he is done growing? No. Each year he has managed to improve in one area or another. Remember when we said he couldn’t throw the deep ball? Well, this past year was his best of passes over 20 (57) and 40 (13) yards. He has been playing behind an offensive line (45 sacks allowed in 2015) that has failed him in crucial situations throughout his career (perfect example: the end of the Colts game). Despite his strong work ethic and study habits (which coaches and media always rave about), he’s never had a coaching staff that has trusted him with the full responsibilities of being a quarterback (i.e. calling audibles at the line of scrimmage and adjusting WR routes), or had his back 100% (Joe Philbin reportedly wanted to draft Derek Carr in 2014)
“He’s been kind of babied—and I don’t mean that in a bad way for him. He has the work ethic and desire to be great. He just hasn’t been given the reins to where he has the liberty and freedom to call the shots sometimes.” – WR Greg Jennings
Throughout 2015, there were reports that Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor only gave Tannehill two audible options per play. But the only way you can see a quarterback’s full potential is if you give him full control of an offense. New Head Coach Adam Gase is expected to give Tannehill this power. If Gase is the quarterback guru that NFL and Media circles believe he is and the new talent on the offensive line holds up, then this should be the year we see Tannehill command an offense, and catch a glimpse of his full potential.
Either Tannehill is what he is, a game manager that can put up nice numbers at times, or he is still that raw quarterback prospect that is still growing compared to his 2012 classmates. I am not expecting a breakout season, we have seen that Tannehill can put up numbers. I want to see my quarterback command an offense, lead drives downfield, and create clutch comebacks for wins. Tannehill has all the physical tools, talent, and weapons to achieve these goals. He just needs to go out there and do it.