There’s a reason Florida and 40 other states have banned text-messaging while driving. It’s incredibly dangerous — more so than even driving under the influence, researchers say.
Here’s why: The human brain is not built to handle that many stimuli at once.
“Attention is a limited-capacity thing,” said Keith Kaufman, a Washington-based clinical psychologist and research associate at Catholic University. “If you’re paying attention to one thing, you have less attention to go around for anything else.”
The technical term is maladaptive focus, and it’s not limited to the open roads.
Substitute the words “worrying about Mario Williams” for “texting” and “running the Dolphins’ offense” for “driving,” and you get an idea why the record number of sacks Ryan Tannehill has taken this year is troubling.
First, Tannehill’s physical health is at risk. But his mental well-being — most specifically, his ability to concentrate on doing his job — could be imperiled as well.
“When you play physical, you bring your will to them and make them shudder or look over their shoulder when maybe somebody’s not there,” Dolphins star pass rusher Cameron Wake said.
“It’s the nature of this beast, and you want to be that beast that causes those ghosts and those footsteps.”
Tannehill swears the 24 sacks he has sustained this fall have not affected him mentally. Those words will be put the test Sunday, when the Dolphins (3-2) play host to the resurgent Williams and his Buffalo Bills (2-4).
Williams, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, has eight sacks this season, third-most in football.
“No question, he’s back to the Mario Williams he was before,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said. “He’s playing real good football.”
And he’s going against an offensive line that has allowed more sacks per game (4.8) than any team in the league.
It’s a worrisome matchup for the Dolphins, who arguably rely more on their second-year quarterback than they should.
Miami has been historically awful at running the ball this season, and its defense has been exposed by several big-time quarterbacks.
So the last thing the Dolphins can afford is regression from Tannehill. But if they can’t keep him upright, it’s likely to happen.
“He’s integrating a lot of information,” said Kaufman, who counsels high school and college athletes. “If he’s not completely plugged into what he’s doing at the line of scrimmage, that’s where that maladaptive focus comes in.”
This isn’t some faculty-lounge theory. There are real-life examples.
One is David Carr, considered one of the greatest draft busts in NFL history. The then-expansion Texans made Carr the first overall pick in 2002, and he went on to start all but five games for them over the next five seasons.
But they forgot to get him a competent offensive line. As a rookie, Carr was sacked 77 times, an NFL record that still stands. In his second pro game, he was sacked a staggering nine times, and hit more than a dozen times more.
“Yeah, he got sacked a lot that year,” said Dom Capers, Carr’s coach in Houston who was fired after four losing seasons. “When you’re putting together an expansion team, you’re going to be short in some areas. Unfortunately, we were short in that area.”