Ryan Tannehill knows football is a team sport but because he’s the quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, practically everything the team accomplishes or fails to do reflects on him.
So last week the Dolphins gave up 266 rushing yards, and fans are calling for Tannehill’s head. The interim coach blew a couple of in-game decisions, but folks are wondering why Tannehill didn’t put the team on his shoulders and author a comeback.
“What they say is true — the quarterback gets too much praise when things are going good and too much blame when things are going bad,” Tannehill said. “But I accept that. That’s the way it is.”
The way it is means if the Dolphins are losing (which they have been), the player under the most scrutiny for that failure is the quarterback. And so with a 3-5 record at the midpoint of the 2015 season, is Ryan Tannehill failing?
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Sure he is.
And, no, he isn’t.
That’s the curiosity about these Dolphins. There are no definitive answers. There is not one glaring, obvious problem. Neither is there one glaring team strength — such as, say, a Wildcat package — upon which a late-season rally can be built.
If losing is a disease, it is hard to pinpoint which the most afflicted areas within the body of this organization are because, well, there’s a little over here and a little over there and some over there.
The folks convinced the firing of coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle would solve it all because they were the malignancy that was rotting the season have had to take a step back the past couple of weeks as the Dolphins have gotten blasted in consecutive division losses.
There are no easy answers to the Dolphins’ problems, folks.
So let’s blame Tannehill!
The problem with that is that although Tannehill hasn’t been consistently great and definitely has not gotten the offense in the end zone nearly enough, to put it all on him is lazy.
So why are the Dolphins languishing in last place in the AFC East, the only team in the division that would miss the playoffs if the season ended today? Why are the Dolphins worse this season while everyone else in the division seems to be better?
“You know, it’s tough to say one reason — there’s five games we lost and probably five different things that happened,” Tannehill said. “But at the end of the day, we have to find ways to win games. Whether it’s the offense scoring points, the defense making a big stop, complimenting each other, it’s a team sport and we have to feed off each other and find a way to win.”
The Dolphins cannot win if Tannehill isn’t great, apparently.
He had that outstanding afternoon against Houston, completing nearly 95 percent of his passes and throwing four touchdowns, and the Dolphins rolled. But last week he completed 75 percent of his throws. He threw for 309 yards. He did not throw an interception.
But neither did he throw a touchdown and the Dolphins got crushed, 33-17.
So where does that leave Tannehill at the halfway point of the season? What’s his midseason grade?
He’s a B-minus player right now. He has improved his deep-ball accuracy, his footwork is better, and his release is quicker. But he doesn’t always manipulate the secondary and move well within the pocket.
He laid an egg against the Jets and during the first loss to the Bills. But he was good against Jacksonville (359 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) even as the Dolphins lost.
“I’ve done some good things,” Tannehill said. “As an offense, we’ve done some good things. But we haven’t put a consistent product on the field, and that’s the biggest thing — being able to perform consistently at a high level.”
In many ways, Tannehill is a reflection of the entire organization. Everyone, for the most part, has enjoyed some individual victories. But mostly everyone has also suffered some scorching defeats.
And like the record, the defeats so far outnumber the victories.
Consider the midseason grades throughout the rest of the organization:
Stephen Ross is a good man. He gives away millions to charity every year. He recently has started an initiative to help stamp out racism. But as a team owner, the record is mixed. On the plus side, he mostly stays out of the way, he has refurbished his stadium at no public cost, and is willing to spend the money to provide resources for his football people. But he cost the Dolphins a home game against a division rival when he agreed to play the New York Jets in London. And he made a terrible, terrible mistake last year keeping Joe Philbin as coach when change was necessary — an error that stained the fabric of the entire organization and 2015 season. Grade: D.
Former general manager Jeff Ireland hurt his own cause by drafting players with injury histories. The Dolphins, under executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Dennis Hickey, did the same thing with DeVante Parker, the first-round pick who came to the team with foot issues that have hampered his growth to the point he isn’t a significant contributor. A lot of work was done to “fix” the wide receiver room, but production hasn’t improved to any tangible degree. There is more peace within the unit but not more production. The signing of Ndamukong Suh glows in neon as questionable because the Dolphins paid $114 million, with $60 million guaranteed, to add a good player, but so far, not a difference-maker. Grade: C-minus.
So Philbin and Coyle were fired and the team is 2-2 since the change. Miami fans don’t want 2-2 and so barring a rally, there will be a new coach and probably new staff next season. As for this staff, why sign Suh if you’re not going to let him do the exact same things that brought success in Detroit? Why has this “upgrade” resulted in a worse run defense? Why not run the ball more? The excuse about trailing in games doesn’t always ring true. Last week, Miami trailed Buffalo 9-0 when it got the football. The Dolphins, in shotgun, passed six of the next nine plays in a game they averaged 4.6 yards per run. It was the first quarter. Grade: C-minus.
Dallas Thomas has been solid. Yeah, I said it. The right guard spot has been and remains a problem regardless of who plays there. Branden Albert has been great at times (Buffalo last week, Tennessee) and not so good others (New England). Mike Pouncey, the leader of the group, is also its best player. Grade: C-plus.
When offensive coordinator Bill Lazor gives Lamar Miller enough carries, something good generally happens. He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry, which is among the NFL leaders and better than last season’s 5.1. The flashes by rookie fifth-rounder Jay Ajayi also are encouraging. Seriously, why are the Dolphins not a running team? Grade: B-minus.
Dion Sims sustained a concussion in the opener, missed multiple games, and that hurt the running game. He has been, however, virtually a non-factor in the passing game. Jordan Cameron is a seam-threat tight end the Dolphins don’t employ down the seam nearly enough. They should also be using him more in the red zone because that area of the field was made for players such as Cameron. Grade: C-plus.
Parker and Greg Jennings have been disappointments so far. Rishard Matthews has been a revelation, coming from the bottom of the roster to average 15 yards per reception. Kenny Stills took a while to get going, but he has been a good deep threat. And Jarvis Landry has been consistent in being Tannehill’s go-to receiver. Grade: B-minus.
The Miami defense is broken. What else to say about a unit that has allowed 95 points in the past 10 quarters and is 31st in the league against the run?
After battling a slow start caused in part because of a hamstring injury, Cameron Wake was having a career sack year, with seven in seven games. Wake is gone now, and so far the void is enormous. Players not named Wake have combined for nine sacks, which matches the New York Giants — who are last in the NFL in sacks. If Suh were an $8 million-a-year player, it would be right to say he is holding up his end of the contract bargain. But averaging $19 million per season, everyone expects a difference-maker, and Suh taking up blockers and collecting 13 solo tackles and three sacks has made zero difference in the outcome of any game. Olivier Vernon, in a contract year, has not helped himself so far. Earl Mitchell started strong but has faded of late. Grade: C-minus.
Jelani Jenkins, the only starting linebacker to be involved in a turnover of any kind, is not the problem. Koa Misi played well early in the season but that Dion Lewis moment seems to be lingering because he has turned in two subpar games in a row. Kelvin Sheppard wanted to prove he could be the Dolphins’ middle linebacker for today and tomorrow but, so far, has not successfully made that case. The Dolphins will be looking for a MLB in the offseason. Grade: C-minus.
Brent Grimes helped save the Washington game and has been solid in practically every other game save last week’s terrible individual performance at Buffalo. Jamar Taylor and Brice McCain? McCain is a slot corner and the Dolphins were forced to play him outside because Taylor wasn’t ready early in the season. Neither has played great. Reshad Jones has at times been better than last season (Tennessee, Houston) and at times has struggled (New England), but right now he is Miami’s most impactful defender. The other safety spot must be addressed in the offseason. Grade: C-plus.