In January of 2015 after the New York Jets hired Todd Bowles, the new head coach cast his eyes on a friend and Bill Parcells disciple to become his new defensive coordinator.
Bowles wanted to hire then Miami Dolphins defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers. Rodgers, after seven years in Miami, left for his promotion
And that decision, while it has nothing to do with the current Dolphins administration or coaching staff, has had a significant effect on current Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill the past few years.
The Jets, you see, have riddled the Dolphins’ offense in general and Tannehill in particular since 2015.
Tannehill has played against a Rodgers defense three times. And the numbers are depressing if you’re a Dolphins fan.
How does a 53.1 completion percentage combined in those games sound?
How does a 74.4 combined passer rating in those games sound?
How does a 1-2 record in those games, with the offense never scoring more than 20 points sound?
Perhaps it’s Rodgers’ knowing something about Tannehill after watching him in Miami practices for three years. Perhaps it’s Rodgers and Bowles, himself an excellent defensive coach, finding ways to knock the Miami quarterback off his game.
Whatever it is, it’s been tough treading for Tannehill.
In one 2015 loss, Tannehill completed 19 of 44 passes (43.2 completion percentage) for 198 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. That second touchdown pass came when the Dolphins trailed 27-7 in the fourth quarter.
The next game in 2015, Tannehill threw the football 58 times. He threw three touchdown passes. But if you’re thinking that sounds competitive and the performance was good, understand the Dolphins trailed 35-7 in the fourth-quarter before Tannehill threw his final two touchdowns -- the last one coming with five seconds to play.
In 2016, the Dolphins got a victory against the Jets with Tannehill at quarterback. But Miami needed a fourth-quarter 96-yard kickoff return touchdown from Kenyan Drake to erase a 23-20 deficit to pull it out.
Tannehill that day completed a modest 17 of 28 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown.
So why the struggles?
“They show you a lot of looks,” he said of the Jets defense Wednesday. “They do a good job of mixing things up up front. They play physical within the box. Then you add [safety Jamal Adams] who they added on last year, who’s a strong, physical, fast player. He generates a lot of pressure from the edge, does a good job whether it’s rushing tight ends, rushing backs, finding a way to get around the edge and be disruptive.
“They do a good job of matching their personnel with their pressures and giving you a bunch of different looks. Third down, I feel like there’s always something you haven’t seen on tape. They’re going to mix it up, do something you’re not prepared for and see how you respond. As a unit, we have to know our roles and be clean on how we respond to that.”
The Jets seemed to be doing all those things well in their 48-17 season-opening win against Detroit on Monday Night Football. They intercepted Lions quarterback Matt Stafford four times and allowed the Detroit offense to score only one touchdown.
The Jets didn’t collect a sack against the Lions. But the Dolphins aren’t necessarily encouraged by that statistic.
“When you’ve got a defense that plays as fast as they do, as physical as they do, they create pressure on the quarterback,” coach Adam Gase said. “It might not always be about sacks; it’s really about pass disruption.
“And when you make the quarterback throw the ball earlier or get them to where he’s off-balance and he tries to force the throw where his feet aren’t set, that’s when turnovers occur. That’s what these guys do. They create a lot more pressure than what anybody really realizes, because everybody always just wants to look at sacks and it’s not always about that.
“It’s about how many times you’re hitting the quarterback, how many times are you creating pressure, how many times are you making him move out of the pocket. They basically did that the entire game.”
None of this suggests an especially awesome time in store for Tannehill. Not what the Jets put on tape their first game. Not Tannehill’s history against Rodgers and Bowles defenses in past years.
I would tell you this thus becomes the perfect game for Tannehill to prove how much better he is (if he is) than he was in 2015 or even 2016 under Gase.
The Dolphins have talked about how much Tannehill has improved since that time. They’ve explained how Tannehill’s time away from the game in late 2016 and all of 2017 helped refine him and improve him as a player.
This game will be a barometer of that improvement.