Armando Salguero

Here’s how the Miami Dolphins can be good even if Ryan Tannehill doesn’t play great

Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill says the preseason game with the Ravens will be the dress rehearsal

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill says the preseason game with the Ravens this Saturday will be the dress rehearsal for the season.
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill says the preseason game with the Ravens this Saturday will be the dress rehearsal for the season.

It shouldn’t matter to any great degree whether Ryan Tannehill develops into an outstanding quarterback or not in 2018. So the questions that hover over this Miami Dolphins season like storm clouds -- Who is Tannehill? Is Tannehill elite? Can Tannehill carry the team? -- should by all logic be moot.

Surprised, right?

There’s much hand wringing and debating about the Miami Dolphins quarterback as he gets ready to start his seventh NFL season. The issue of what kind of player this 30-year-old is divides pundits, NFL personnel people and even the fan base.

And it’s all quite ridiculous because if you’re on either side of the Tannehill-good or Tannehill-bad debate, you’re wasting your time.

I’m not wondering about who Ryan Tannehill is or what kind of quarterback he can become. I’m not waiting for 2018 to show me.

Uncle Mando already knows.

So do you want to know?

Ryan Tannehill is a good NFL quarterback who requires managing. And when he’s managed well, the Dolphins usually win. And when he’s managed poorly, the Dolphins usually lose. Pretty simple, really.

(The Dolphins should pay me enormous sums of money for this stuff because it is genius).

The question you’re now asking is what exactly I mean by “managed well” and “managed poorly.”

This: Every week, without fail, the Dolphins should go into a game expecting Tannehill to throw no more than 30 passes. That’s the cutoff. That’s the mark.

Every other offensive play must be a run of some sort.

And voila, playoffs.

Don’t believe me? Consider that Tannehill’s won-loss record as an NFL starting quarterback is 37-40. He’s never been to the playoffs. He’s never finished a winning season.

And that riddles his career arc with question marks because folks argue about whether it’s time to move on or be patient for a coming payoff. Except no such questions marks should exist.

Because for all five seasons he’s played for Miami -- he didn’t play at all in 2017 -- Tannehill has been a winning quarterback when he throws 30 or fewer passes in a game.

And for all five of those same seasons, Tannehill’s been a losing quarterback when the Dolphins ask him to throw the football more than 30 times a game.

So the question for Tannehill in this win-or-go-home league is not who he is but more appropriately how often he’s allowed to be who he’s always been.

The numbers are eyebrow raising.

Tannehill is 21-33 in games he’s had to throw the football more than 30 times during his NFL career.

And the same quarterback is 16-7 in games when he’s thrown the ball 30 times or fewer.

Said another way, the quarterback with a career .480 winning percentage has a .695 winning percentage in games he throws it 30 times or less. And he has a .388 winning percentage in games he throws it more than 30 times.

So while the rest of you are worried whether Tannehill is about to take a new step this season or if he’s about to seem rusty because he missed all of last year with a knee injury, I’m more focused on whether the Dolphins can finally come to terms with who they have at quarterback because it’s always been the same guy.

If the Dolphins can figure this out and conduct themselves accordingly, they’ll like win this season.

And if they don’t, they’ll likely lose.

It really is that simple.

Well, if it’s so simple why hasn’t someone figured this out before now? Because NFL coaches are so brilliant they really have trouble seeing the forest from the trees.

This is true: During the Bill Lazor years in 2014 and ‘15, a lot of promises were made. And then broken. Lazor came to Miami promising to install a hurry-up offense. That promise quickly died on the battlefield of missed calls and broken assignments.

Then Lazor promised to manage Tannehill. Under Lazor and then-head coach Joe Philbin, neither the offensive coordinator nor the head coach had a ton of confidence in their starting quarterback.

So they did a lot of work during every week of preparation, promising to use Lamar Miller a lot. And promising to introduce Jay Ajayi into the running game more often (in ‘15). They did this week after week.

And on the weekend the plan coaches authored during the week got tossed aside. Now the game was in Tannehill’s hands. He would inexplicably be asked to throw almost 40 passes per game. In 2014, for example, Tannehill didn’t have one game in which he threw 30 passes or less. He had only four such games in 2015.

So coaches who didn’t really believe in Tannehill and tried to diminish his role during the week of preparation would then ask that same player to carry the team on game day.

Craziness.

In Miami’s terrible 2015 season, in which the Dolphins were 6-10 and Philbin was fired after a month and Lazor was fired a couple of weeks later, Tannehill had a 3-1 record in the four games he was limited to 30 throws or less.

He was 3-9 in games he threw more than 30 passes.

The men who were supposed to know their talent best -- the coaches -- didn’t have a clue how to manage their guy.

As a rookie, Tannehill helped the Dolphins to a 7-9 record in 2012. His record in games he had to throw more than 30 passes was 0-7. His record in games he threw 30 passes or fewer was 7-2.

Philbin had these facts in front of him. And still the Dolphins asked Tannehill to throw 588 passes in 2013, and 590 passes in 2014 and 586 passes in 2015.

With Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi and Knowshon Moreno on the team those years the Dolphins relied on a young quarterback the coaching staff didn’t really love.

Adam Gase, bless his heart, came to the Dolphins largely to save Tannehill. He came to the Dolphins to lift Tannehill.

But it didn’t work so well early in 2016 when the Dolphins were 1-4 and last in the AFC East.

That soon changed. We all know the story. We know Ajayi became a thing. Tannehill became less of a thing. And the ‘16 Dolphins took off.

Tannehill’s record in games he threw 30 or fewer passes in 2016 was 5-3.

You know what that projects to over a 16-game schedule? Yeah, 10-6.

Raise your hand if you’d take a 10-6 season from the 2018 Miami Dolphins.

(This is the part in this column where Dolphins coaches, staffers and personnel people shake their heads and get all frustrated and disgruntled because Salguero knows nothing about football and he doesn’t understand there’s a lot more to it than scripting 30 or fewer Tannehill pass attempts in a game. If it was easy, we would have done it by now, daggumit!)

Well, I get it, some games play out in a weird fashion.

But the truth is every single Dolphins game starts with the same basic facts intact.

Fact 1: The offensive play-caller doesn’t have to feel compelled to pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass. It is within his power as a human being, to call an equal number of runs and passes. It is within his power to, oh noes, run the ball a lot.

Last season the NFL’s top 10 running offenses were Jacksonville, Dallas, Philadelphia, Carolina, New Orleans, Buffalo, Minnesota, the Rams, Kansas City and New England. Nine of those 10 teams qualified for the playoffs.

Running the football is smart football, folks.

Fact 2: The Dolphins have been a more consistent running team than passing team the past few seasons. The fact is Jay Ajayi averaged 4.9 yards per rush in 2016 and when he got hot that’s when the Dolphins went on their playoff push.

Last year, Ajayi struggled with issues within the building, and with coaches, as well as on the field. But when he was traded and the Dolphins plugged in Kenyan Drake, the run game took off again. Drake averaged 4.8 yards per rush last year.

Fact 3: The Dolphins are potentially a better run team this year. Right now, through two preseason games, the Dolphins lead the NFL, averaging 5.2 yards per rush. That suggests things.

“It shows the type of talent we have in the room, the type of expectation we have for ourselves,” Drake said. “It shows how the oline is blocking...”

Fact 4: Drake has the potential to be a dynamic player. His speed and explosiveness can turn bad plays into big gains and he seems to be getting better. Frank Gore, who is expected to make his preseason debut Saturday evening, happens to be the NFL’s active rushing leader and No. 5 on the all-time list.

Gore’s had a good training camp and has looked spry and active and able to do damage.

So use both these guys -- a lot.

Can you imagine if the Dolphins had the NFL’s fifth leading passer on the roster and chose to run the ball instead? That’s how ridiculous it seems to have the fifth-leading rusher and call yourself a passing team.

To be fair, the Dolphins are not claiming to be a passing team.

“I’m all for whatever wins the game,” Gase said Tuesday.

Everyone knows Gase loves to throw and wants to throw. He would joke about wanting to call passes even during Ajayi’s big run in ‘16. But forget that fact. Let’s take him at his word.

Well then, I expect Gase would be for limiting Tannehill and managing Tannehill.

Because the evidence shows managing (limiting) Tannehill helps the Dolphins win more games.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero
Follow Armando Salguero on Instagram: thearmandosalguero

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