There will come a time — perhaps in a month, perhaps in a year — when people stop grading Ryan Tannehill on a curve.
Rookie quarterbacks are, by and large, cut considerable slack. The position is so demanding and pitfalls are everywhere.
That’s why talent evaluators usually give quarterbacks a full 16 starts before making any hard and fast judgments on their long-term viability.
So in Year 1, week-to-week improvement and the long-term trend lines are just as important — if not more so — than raw stats.
The problem for Tannehill is that he appears to be regressing at the very time he should be figuring it out. And his get-out-of-jail-free card — his rookie status — has a shelf life of just a few more weeks.
After playing mistake-free football for most of October, Tannehill has had a rough November. And as he has gone, so have the Dolphins.
Miami has lost three in a row to drop out of the playoff picture, and the offense has been a major reason why. The Dolphins have scored just one touchdown in their past 10 quarters and are minus-7 in turnover ratio since Halloween.
“I hope if you would ask him, he would hope he would be playing better than he did [Thursday night], and I’m confident that he will,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Friday, roughly 12 hours after Buffalo finished off Miami 19-14, fittingly, on the last of Tannehill’s two interceptions.
“We have, what, one offensive touchdown in our last two games? It’s tough to win games,” Philbin added. “It’s not all him; this is a unit-wide issue that we are having right now, and we are looking at it as such. We will address it as such.”
For the season, Tannehill has completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,120 yards, but he has nearly twice as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes (6). That adds up to an official rating of 70.8 — fifth-worst among NFL quarterbacks with at least 266 pass attempts.
It’s also fourth among the five rookie quarterbacks who opened the season as starters. Only Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden (67.9) is worse.
Meanwhile, Andrew Luck has the Colts — the worst team in football last season — in great position to make the playoffs. Robert Griffin III has consistently ranked in the top 10 in quarterback rating all season.
And the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson — who comes to town a week from Sunday — is improving by the week. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes to just two interceptions in his past five games.
Despite all of that, Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout and current analyst on NFL Network, said Friday it is still too early to sound any alarms on Tannehill’s future.
Tannehill doesn’t have enough talent around him to make a fair assessment, Jeremiah argues.
“They can’t stretch the field at all vertically with what they have on the outside,” Jeremiah said. “The field has completely shrunk on him. While other quarterbacks are playing full-court basketball, he’s playing half-court.”
That was the case Thursday night, when the Dolphins didn’t have a single completion of 20 yards or longer. Teams have taken away the underneath routes that were successful early in the season, simply daring Davone Bess and Brian Hartline to beat them deep.
The Dolphins only tried to throw it over the top a handful of times Thursday, and on one of those attempts, Tannehill and Bess got their signals crossed. The result was a diving interception by Jairus Byrd. Tannehill’s other pick Thursday came in desperation time, when caution was a luxury the team couldn’t afford.
“I feel like I’m getting better,” Tannehill said after the game. “I feel like I’m learning a lot.
“Obviously, you can’t turn the ball over, and that’s a big problem right now.”
Now that he has identified the problem, the next step is solving it. But solving the Dolphins’ bigger issues — they struggle to block, run and throw deep — probably won’t come until free agency and the draft, Jeremiah said.
Many feared Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman was a bust at this time last year, but the Buccaneers added Vincent Jackson in the offseason, and Freeman, in turn, is having a career year. He is on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Freeman needed three full seasons and a full complement of weapons to truly develop.
Tannehill, meanwhile, is just a little bit more than halfway through his first season.
“We just haven’t made enough plays around him; he hasn’t made enough plays, players around him haven’t made enough plays,” Philbin said. “Sometimes it’s the protection, sometimes it’s the route, sometimes it’s the lack of [a] running game, sometimes [it] is a penalty.
“[It’s] a variety of issues. We haven’t discriminated in that area.”