If there’s a quarterback controversy and nobody in the Dolphins locker room believes it, does it really exist?
That was the bizarre reality for Dolphins players Tuesday, as they fielded questions about whether Ryan Tannehill would start Sunday against the Raiders — just after he took his normal allotment of snaps with the first team at practice.
Multiple Dolphins players say nothing was out of the ordinary Tuesday. The routine was the same as any other week in which Tannehill prepared to start. Plus, in the team’s weekly depth chart, Tannehill remained on the top line.
Put differently: Joe Philbin’s actions spoke far louder than his words.
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Philbin again refused to say Tannehill, who has the league’s fourth-worst passer rating, would start in London on Sunday. He reiterated that the team will use the 46 players he believes gives the Dolphins the best chance to win.
Whether he views Tannehill or Matt Moore as that person at the quarterback position, Philbin wouldn’t say.
Why? One possibility: To motivate his struggling quarterback and show him that his spot on the field isn’t ironclad.
“Every player is different,” Philbin said. “Sometimes, you have to drive a guy and bring him up in your office one on one, communicate to him, show him the tape, ‘Look it’s not personal. We’re not attacking you or anything like that, but these things need to improve and get better.’ So I think it’s really a case-by-case basis.”
Another possibility: That Philbin is loath to name a starter at any position, and that he’s simply being consistent — regardless of the ripple effects in the media, community and locker room.
So the real question isn’t whether Tannehill will play, but whether he will play at a high level. First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor identifies yards-per-attempt a good indicator of a team’s effectiveness on offense. The Dolphins rank last in the NFL in that category, averaging 5.0 per pass.
On Sunday, they gained 3 more yards every time they called a running play than when they called a pass — an unthinkable statistic in today’s NFL.
“We’re right there,” said Mike Wallace, who leads the team in catches (17), yards (211) and touchdowns (two). “We’re a lot closer than you think we are, anybody might think we are. When you go back and look at it, one step could be the difference of you catching the pass and not catching the pass. Breaking the run or not breaking the run. Making the block or not making the block. You have to see how close those little things are.”
Tannehill must play better, no question.
So must Wallace and his fellow wide receivers — who were supposed to be the offense’s strength.
The Dolphins will pay more in base salary to their receivers than any other team in 2014 ($22.5 million). But they haven’t been getting a great return on their investment.
Miami’s five wide receivers have combined for seven drops through three games. Basically, one out of every 10 passes thrown to Dolphins receivers has been dropped.
Brandon Gibson said the solution to this troubling issue is “easy.”
“Just focus, make the play,” Gibson said. “It’s not anything, not a lot of guys here have bad hands. No one has bad hands. Just make the play. That’s all it comes down to.”
Brian Hartline’s two drops have contributed to his paltry stats (10 catches for 87 yards). But a lack of opportunities have played a role, too.
Through three games, Tannehill has targeted Wallace 31 times — 12 more than Hartline, who’s on pace for 464 receiving yards, which would be a career low.
Meanwhile, rookie Jarvis Landry has emerged as the team’s No.3 receiving option. Tannehill has targeted Landry roughly as many times (14) as Gibson and Rishard Matthews combined.
“I don’t know that anybody has really had a breakout game, if you look at where we are in yards per attempt in the passing game,” Philbin said. “I think it’s just a function of getting everybody on the same page. Getting those three phases working together, the protection, the precision in the route running and the timing, the spacing and the decision making and the accuracy, and getting all of those working together.”
Then again, the Dolphins’ ragged start might just be the result of the team still adjusting to Lazor’s offense, Wallace acknowledged. But he sees that as an excuse, not an explanation.
The play calls are good, he said. The execution is not.
“We might not like the call in the huddle, but it will be a wide-open play when you look at it on film,” Wallace said. “You’ll be ‘Oh, that actually was a good call.’ A receiver might run a route and you might not think you’re going to get open, and then you look it on film and it was wide open.”