Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins offense — and specifically Ryan Tannehill — has to get better

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) sets up to pass as the Miami Dolphins host the Baltimore Ravens at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, December 6, 2015.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) sets up to pass as the Miami Dolphins host the Baltimore Ravens at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, December 6, 2015. adiaz@miamiherald.com

DeVante Parker leaps into the air, a defender helplessly and haplessly draped around his waist, then extends his hands to the sky to catch at its highest point the pass Ryan Tannehill has floated perfectly to the receiver.

Touchdown, Dolphins.

This is the picture of future possibilities, folks.

This must be your singular moment of hope that you cling to beyond this season.

And this is what can happen when the quarterback is finally given a chance to have a say in the game plan, because Tannehill suggested that very play to coaches early last week. This is what can happen when a rookie with so much talent and potential is finally given the chance to play a lot in a game.

Wonderful. Good. But the Dolphins need so much more of that Tannehill-to-Parker jolt because while it was just enough offense in Sunday’s 15-13 victory over the diminished Baltimore Ravens to help squeeze out a victory, that great picture was also a lone snapshot.

And a lone snapshot is not enough to carry any team the season’s final month any more than one offensive touchdown is enough to pound one’s chest and claim any sort of success.

Of course, that is what several Dolphins players did Sunday.

“A win’s a win,” cornerback Brent Grimes said. “It felt good for us to get big stops in crucial situations, so a win’s a win.”

That’s fair for a Dolphins defender to say because the defense this day played perhaps its most effective and complete game of the season. The defense dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting Baltimore runners to only 3.6 yards per rush, and on passing plays turned the Ravens into their own worst enemy.

Led by Olivier Vernon, who had 2 1/2 sacks, and Derrick Shelby, who had half a sack and scored a touchdown on a pass he tipped, intercepted and returned 22 yards for score, the defense was everything we expected when the season began.

It was dominant.

It owned the Ravens on that goal-line stand. It turned the ball over on a Reshad Jones interception. The defense won this game.

The offense not so much. The Dolphins offense is lost. Last week interim coach Dan Campbell called his offense “anemic” and that was after the unit scored three touchdowns against the Jets.

But after the unit was revamped last week with a new approach in preparation, a new play-caller in Zac Taylor and a balanced philosophy for running and passing, the unit scored only one touchdown.

One.

That’s the reason it was curious hearing left tackle Branden Albert dismiss that lowly output. Albert is among the best at his position because he tirelessly hones and perfects his craft, but he seemed to accept a one-touchdown performance as good enough.

“We won the game. We got a W,” he said, interrupting questions about the modest production. “That’s all that matters. As long as we win games, I don’t care what we do. We kept getting W’s on the board, I don’t care if we call a pass. We won.”

Albert knows better. Of course it matters what his unit does because what happened Sunday — getting shut out in three of four quarters, passing for 86 measly yards, punting nine times — is a recipe for one improbable afternoon of happiness and a season of misery.

Stated differently, if the Dolphins do not get more production out of all that change and new approach they’re taking, the change will be moot.

Because while coaches Sunday could be confident the Miami defense could hold off a Baltimore offense missing its starting quarterback, staring left tackle, starting tight end, starting running back, best wide receiver and first-round draft pick, the opponents the rest of the season might not be quite as ravaged and weakened by injuries.

Thankfully, the Dolphins know that.

They understand an offense now bent on running the football and having balance cannot put one lone touchdown on the scales.

“Yeah, who are we kidding,” Tannehill said, “not many games are you going to win with 15 points. We have to find a way to get in the end zone. I don’t know how many three-and-outs we had, but we had a lot. We have to find ways to convert those third downs, stay on the field and sustain drives, get in the red zone and score.”

Two things:

For the record, the Dolphins punted on their first four drives, had the touchdown in the second quarter then finished with a whimper, punting five times in six second-half possessions.

Running back Lamar Miller lost a fumble on that sixth possession.

That is not winning football in 90 percent of the games the Dolphins play.

Second thing is Tannehill is starting to frustrate. He can be a good quarterback. I am certain of it. He has a great arm, and if you disagree, please read the first paragraph of this column again because that pass traveled 38 yards as if shot from a laser cannon. He is smart. He works hard. He wants to be good.

But lately, something has been lacking.

(Some people close to Tannehill might argue the right kind of coaching.)

Tannehill would never say that. And indeed, Campbell is trying hard to protect Tannehill and not have him get hit as often. Campbell is not asking Tannehill to carry the team. Campbell is emphasizing the running game.

So Campbell is basically managing Tannehill like Tony Sparano managed Chad Henne after the former coach realized Henne wasn’t very good.

But despite this careful management, Tannehill completed only 9 of 19 passes. It’s not that he failed to play like a franchise quarterback. He failed to play like a mediocre quarterback.

This has to stop. Somehow Tannehill has to find his schwerve. The offense has to find its footing. That picture of Tannehill to Parker?

The Dolphins need an album of those.

Armando Salguero: 305-376-4993, @ArmandoSalguero

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