Before most every practice, Ryan Tannehill does his best Mike Miller impersonation (minus the balky back, of course).
Tannehill spends five minutes lofting footballs into a small, netted target from a considerable distance, like Miller unleashing a deep three. On Wednesday, Tannehill couldn’t seem to miss, dropping most every toss into the intended target.
On Sundays, he has been just as effective.
Through the first six games of his young career, Tannehill is at his best when chucking downfield. On throws of 20 yards or longer, Tannehill has completed 11 of 19 passes for 395 yards, two touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions. His quarterback rating at that distance — a sparkling 137.5.
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“It’s been unusual for a rookie or any about else to have that kind of accuracy on the deep ball,” Jets coach Rex Ryan marveled Wednesday. “He takes shots and hangs in there and makes accurate throws down the field. It’s been impressive.”
Tannehill is not only one of the league’s best deep throwers (statistically, at least), but, surprisingly, he is also far better at that than he is on intermediate routes.
The rookie’s completion percentage drops to 50 percent, and his quarterback rating to 55.9, on passes between 10 and 19 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
When asked to explain that disparity in effectiveness Wednesday, Tannehill merely shrugged.
“I think there’s areas of improvements in both situations,” Tannehill said. “You go back to the [first] Jets game, there were some balls downfield that I left out of bounds. Those are huge plays for us, if you just let the guy try to make a play.
“You’ve got to improve in both areas.”
He’ll have a chance to do just that come Sunday, when the Dolphins face the Jets once again. (He completed 16 of 36 passes for 196 yards and threw a pick when the teams met a month ago.)
And, based on New York’s changes in personnel, there’s reason to believe Tannehill will fare better this time around. Jets all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis tore his ACL in that game and is out for the season.
Without him, the Jets haven’t scrapped their defensive identity, but have changed it to a degree. New York has played a lot more zone than man coverage with Revis on the shelf, Tannehill said.
Even without Revis, the Jets’ pass defense ranks in the top 10 in the league, and the team surrenders a measly 6.6 yards per attempt. Kyle Wilson has replaced Revis’ in the starting lineup, and has been more than serviceable. Opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 56.4 when they throw into his coverage area.
Still, the Jets are known for bringing pressure, and coach Ryan can only fight the play-it-safe impulse so much. When New York inevitably does blitz, Tannehill might be even better. His completion percentage and yards-per-pass both go up when he’s under duress.
In all, Tannehill’s has connected on 59.6 percent of his passes this year, tied for 20th in the league among quarterbacks who have taken at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps. That statistic, however, doesn’t tell the whole story.
A full 20 percent of his 80 misfires were on passes he either threw away, spiked, had batted down or were altered by a hit.
“Accurate; that’s the best word I can describe,” receiver Marlon Moore said. “If we can get down there and get in any type of position for him to make the throw and make the play, it’s just an accurate deep ball.”
Moore has a recent end zone celebration to prove it.
The last time the Dolphins played — two Sundays ago against St. Louis — Moore used a double-move to beat man coverage, and was all alone when Tannehill found him for a 29-yard touchdown strike.
Two weeks earlier, another blown coverage left Brian Hartline all alone for an 80-yard bomb.
“He works at it on a daily basis,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “His accuracy is improved, I think. The more he’s around his receivers, and gets a sense of how they compete for the ball down the field. … I think he’s worked at his trade and has gotten better.”