Miami Dolphins

Numbers illustrate Miami Dolphins offense’s notable progress

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks on from the sidelines as the New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks on from the sidelines as the New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014 MIAMI HERALD STAFF

For the first time in a long time, the Dolphins, at least on paper, look like a productive, functioning, credible NFL offense.

Lamar Miller is 79 yards from 1,000 on the ground.

Mike Wallace has 10 touchdown catches.

And Ryan Tannehill is 214 passing yards shy of 4,000 for the first time in his career — and for the first time by a Dolphins quarterback in two decades. (Dan Marino is the only other Dolphin to reach that benchmark; he did it eight times.)

It’s an impressive offensive triple play that only five other teams have a chance of completing: New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Baltimore and Chicago.

And it’s a long way from the clunky offense Joe Philbin inherited in early 2012.

“I always think you can always do better, No.1, but I think there is clear progress that we are making,” Philbin said. “We still have another chapter to write Sunday before I would say I make any final evaluations. I do think we’ve made progress, but certainly there are plays we’ve had out there that we’ve had opportunities to make that we didn’t. I see development, and I see a future with this offense.”

Nowhere was that progress more evident than in last Sunday’s rollicking victory over the Vikings, in which the Dolphins overcame deficits of 14 points in the first half and seven points in the final two minutes.

And anyone who still doubts that Tannehill has arrived as a top-15 quarterback, simply pop in the tape of that game.

He completed 35 of 47 passes for 396 yards and a career-high four touchdowns — the last of which was thrown to Damien Williams to tie the score with 1:11 left in regulation. (The Dolphins won it on a safety just 30 seconds later.)

Tannehill has now proven, once and for all, that he can lead the team down the field with the game on the line.

His challenge for 2015?

“I want to do it on a regular basis,” Tannehill said Wednesday. “Nothing on the outside is going to put more pressure on me than I put on myself to make plays and lead the team to wins.”

With Miami’s once-dependable defense in a free fall the last half of the season, the biggest reason the Dolphins have as many wins as they do is Tannehill.

In his third NFL season, he has completed 67 percent of his passes — tied with Philip Rivers for fourth in the league — despite having a throw either dropped or batted down once every 13 attempts.

If you factor in passes thrown away, dropped or batted down, Tannehill’s accuracy percentage is 76.3, behind just Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Matt Ryan, according to Pro Football Focus.

Tannehill is 15th in passer rating (93.2).

And he has done all this despite not getting dependable pass protection. Tannehill has faced pressure on 37 percent of his drop-backs this year, making him the seventh-most harassed quarterback in the league.

Granted, much of Tannehill’s success this year has been tied to the Dolphins’ improved ground game. Miami is tied for fifth in yards per rush (4.5), forcing teams to respect both the run and the pass.

Not surprisingly, one out of every four Tannehill drop-backs in 2014 have been play-action — the seventh-highest rate in the league.

And then there’s the matter of 4,000 yards, an artificial, yet not insignificant, way to separate NFL quarterbacks into tiers.

“It wasn’t a goal,” Tannehill said of the benchmark. “Most important is to win this game. Getting in the playoffs and going to the Super Bowl was the goal.’’ Obviously, we have to play well to get there. But at this point, my only goal is to win the game.”

None of this should be taken to mean that Tannehill is a finished product. Despite recent success, Tannehill is still average, at best, when throwing deep. He has completed just 13 of 45 attempts of 20 or more yards for 411 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

On deep passes, he has a passer rating of just 61.4. Yet on all other throws that rating is 96.1.

The good news: He will likely have another full offseason in Bill Lazor’s system to improve.

“I push myself to get even better each and every day,” Tannehill said.

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