With Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Pro-Tannehill types point out that he is on pace to set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. That his completion percentage and passer rating are both right around his career averages.
And yet he has regressed — at least according to the number-crunchers and film-watchers who go beyond the top stat lines.
The advance stats crew used to be Tannehill’s people. For much of his career, they have argued, with empirical evidence, that he was playing better than his numbers.
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Those days are over. Rather, a deep dive suggests that Tannehill is playing worse than his statistics (3,077 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) say.
And even Tannehill all but agreed that his progress, at the very least, has plateaued in his fourth season.
When asked if he has taken another step forward in 2015, Tannehill responded: “I don’t know. This year has been a crazy year for a lot of different reasons. It’s tough to say. At this point, we have four games left, and I’m going to have to play well so we can win those games.”
Put another way: He will probably need to play much better, beginning Monday night when the New York Giants come to town.
Tannehill completed just nine passes for 86 yards in the Dolphins’ win over the Ravens a week ago Sunday — and 38 of those yards came on one pass to DeVante Parker.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Tannehill said of his 19 passing attempts last week. “I’m in the business of winning. I think we all are here. So whether it’s 40 or 15, whatever it takes to get the win, that’s what we’ll do.
“There were some things we didn’t do well. There were some passes that were misses, some communication issues that we had. But those are going to be cleaned up.”
The truth is, however, that he has missed those passes for much of the season.
Football Outsiders has a whole batch of ways to analyze quarterback statistically. But two of their advanced metrics — defense-adjusted yards above replacement and defense-adjust value over average — stand out because they level the playing field.
An example: a quarterback throwing for 300 yards against the Giants, who have the league’s worst pass defense, is not nearly as impressive as one who throws for 300 against Broncos, who have the best.
And in both DYAR and DVOA, Tannehill lags behind the field. On the season, he has thrown for 77 fewer yards than what a replacement-level quarterback would have (ranking 27th among all quarterbacks). And, on a per-play basis, he has been 13.7 percent less effective than average (also good for just 27th).
Then there’s ESPN’s QBR. Its opinion of Tannehill is even lower. He ranks 30th this year among NFL starters, with a QBR of just 34.
By way of comparison, here are Tannehill’s rankings from 2014: 12th in DYAR (630), 18th in DVOA (4.1 percent) and 16th in QBR (59.1).
But Zac Taylor, Tannehill’s position coach and replacement playcaller, disputed the narrative that his quarterback has plateaued.
“I’m sure that if you look at stats it would tell you that,” Taylor said. “[But] I don’t feel like he has regressed in any way shape or form. I still think he’s making progress. I’m excited about his future potential and the direction he is headed.
“There is no cause for concern. I’m still excited about the things that he does that I see every day in practice and that I see in the games. We just have to find a good rhythm as an offense.”
There are some external reasons for Tannehill’s diminished play this year. The Dolphins have had both of their starting tackles on the field for just three full games this year; Ja’Wuan James will miss his sixth in a row Monday night with a toe injury.
Plus Tannehill and former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor had their issues; he now is far more involved in the game plan and has the ability to audible with Taylor in charge.
Still, by any measurement, Tannehill has not lived up to the $96 million contract extension he signed in the spring.
Perhaps 2016 — with a stable coaching staff and perhaps a little luck — will be different.
“I hope so,” Tannehill said, “but right now I’m just focused on the next four games. Just doing what I have to do to continue to improve these four games and doing what it takes to win.”
Parking: Lots open at 3 p.m.; six free lots for guests without season ticket parking passes.
Tailgating: From 6-8 p.m. with cheer and alumni autographs at the Joe Robbie Alumni Plaza.
Pregame: Laser show, Dolphins greats spotlighted on the field; national anthem by Melissa Etheridge.
Halftime: Ceremony honoring the Dolphins Top 50 Greatest Players