Hours after another disappointing loss and the surprise announcement by Adam Gase that he’s sticking with Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback the rest of the season, the Dolphins brain trust gathered last Sunday evening at the team’s Davie training facility, 16 miles or so north of Hard Rock Stadium, and tried to make sure the coach’s decision was the right one.
Gase, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of assistants, pored over the tape of the 30-17 loss to Tennessee.
And, according to people familiar with the organization’s thinking, although that study led the coach to want to cut a couple of offensive linemen, it had the exact opposite effect on the way he and the Dolphins view Tannehill.
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Gase actually emerged from what everyone acknowledged was a bad Ryan Tannehill game last week more certain than ever he can fix Tannehill and turn him into what those within the organization say is a winning quarterback on a dominant NFL offense.
(More on that in a second but first what happened soon after that conclusion was reached …)
Gase, one-on-one with Tannehill and during tape sessions in front of other players last week, lit the quarterback up with criticism.
Tannehill, after all, threw two interceptions. And as offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen later revealed, Tannehill was told to throw a pass on a certain play ahead of DeVante Parker but instead threw behind the receiver and it resulted in one of the interceptions.
Tannehill also was criticized and coached about not finding lanes in the pocket to throw the ball, and not moving around to avoid the pass rush.
“You’ve got to be able to step up,” Gase said. “Sometimes it might not be directly right in front of you. You might have to slide and find those lanes between the guards and tackles.
“It’s one of those things you’re always trying to work on, and when you go back and watch some of the film, there might be a couple of times where maybe he could’ve stepped up.”
So that needs improvement. Also needing improvement: throwing more accurately and in front of receivers and showing an innate feel for pressure.
And despite the quarterback having to improve all that, Tannehill continues to have the Dolphins’ commitment and the club isn’t coming off the idea he can be really good.
In fact, speaking to people within the organization, there’s a concern that if this team gives up on Tannehill now, he would go elsewhere and in the years to come would be a good quarterback.
Some other team’s good quarterback.
But why do the Dolphins believe this? What do they see that 89.34 percent of the planet’s population (rough estimate) does not see?
They see Tannehill being really good when given a fair chance to succeed.
When the Dolphins study their tape they have an advantage Joe Amateur Scout doesn’t have. They know everyone’s assignments. They know what the players have been coached to do. They know what it should all look like.
They know that so many times so far this season, players are simply not doing what they were coached to do. So the offense rarely looks as it should.
Offensive linemen are sometimes reverting to techniques they learned elsewhere. Receivers are sometimes not running the right routes or not blocking downfield as they should. Running backs are gaining 9 yards on slip screens, as happened in the Tennessee game, but stepping out of bounds 1 yard shy of a first-down marker that would reward the team with a new set of downs.
In truth, the measure of the Dolphins’ failure is often how limited the success is. In other words, plays that are designed to gain 15 to 20 yards are often gaining 6 or 7.
That becomes the difference between the quarterback going 4 for 4 for 80 yards and a touchdown to start the game or being 2 for 4 for 15 yards after a couple of three-and-out series.
Beyond those details, the Dolphins have bigger problems getting Tannehill right. Much bigger problems. Behemoth problems.
It seems Miami’s pass protection is not very good. This is not breaking news. Tannehill has been sacked 201 times since he entered the NFL in 2012 and the 17 sacks the offense has yielded this season are tied for second-worst in the league.
That’s a catastrophic problem for the Dolphins because Tannehill is a bad quarterback when he’s under pressure.
Tannehill has a 47.4 completion percentage this season when he’s under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus.com. His quarterback rating when under pressure is 31.1.
That’s not a new problem, either, although the issue is more acute this season. Last season, Tannehill completed 51.3 percent of his passes when under pressure and had a rating of 76.8.
But what makes the Dolphins continue to believe in Tannehill and project a turnaround is that he’s a great quarterback when he has time. Yes, all quarterbacks are better when they get time, but time apparently makes Tannehill one of the NFL’s best.
In 101 dropbacks this season, Tannehill has completed 73.7 percent of his passes when he’s not under duress. His quarterback rating in that situation is 116.6.
Tannehill is also outstanding against the blitz as long as his protection holds up, so this isn’t an issue of him being confused or afraid of pressure. It’s an issue of being allowed time to throw the ball.
So when teams blitz Tannehill but don’t get there, they face a quarterback who completes 62.5 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 111.8.
That leaves the Dolphins believing their quarterback problem is to a large extent a protection problem rather than a Tannehill problem.
They think if they can get the pass protection straightened out and eliminate some other mistakes by other players, Tannehill will perform like a top-tier quarterback.
Those are the reasons Ryan Tannehill remains the Dolphins’ quarterback.