Barry Jackson

Tannehill returns to the field ranking among the worst in the league in these two key areas

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) throws as the Miami Dolphins practice at Baptist Health South Florida Training Facility in Davie on Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) throws as the Miami Dolphins practice at Baptist Health South Florida Training Facility in Davie on Wednesday, November 21, 2018 adiaz@miamiherald.com

When Ryan Tannehill returns to the Dolphins’ lineup Sunday after missing five games with a shoulder injury, he essentially has six games to convince the Dolphins to keep him next season and pay him $19.2 million with a $26.6 million 2019 cap hit.

The other alternatives: Ask him to take a pay cut or cut him, pay him nothing and carry a $7.9 million dead money cap hit in 2019 (with a post-June 1 release designation) and a $5.6 million dead money cap hit in 2020.

This much is clear: The Dolphins need to see a better Tannehill to convince them to keep him.

Tannehill ranks average to below average in key statistical categories this season that can be measured while taking into the account the fact he has missed five games. He’s 20th in average passer rating (92.9) and 16th in completion percentage (65.9).

But here’s what’s more troublesome: Tannehill ranks at or very close to the bottom in two key categories where he has been well below average for most of his career: fourth-quarter performance and third downs.

Let’s take a close look at both:

Fourth-quarter play

Among 25 qualifying quarterbacks from the time Tannehill came into the league in 2012, his 79.6 passer rating in the final 15 minutes of games ranked 23rd of 25 at the time of his shoulder injury, ahead of only Ryan Fitzpatrick and Blake Bortles.

During his career, his 57.5 percent completion percentage in the fourth quarter is worst among those 25, according to Anthony Frascone of 3oh5sports.com.

There have been a few sterling fourth-quarter moments — including the comeback victory in 2016 at the Rams, but not nearly enough of them.

What’s more, Tannehill has been even worse than usual in the fourth quarter this seasons, with a 65.4 passer rating — ahead of only two starters, rookies Josh Allen and Sam Darnold. By contrast, 17 quarterbacks have a fourth-quarter passer rating above 100 this season, led by Drew Brees’ 133.9.

And Tannehill’s 9.4 fourth-quarter interception rate and 53.1 completion percentage (17 for 32) are worst among current NFL starters this season.

Yes, it’s only five games. But it’s reflective on his whole career, where he does some of his worst work in the final 15 minutes. That simply cannot continue.

Third-down performance

In his career, only 36 percent of Tannehill’s third-down passing attempts resulted in first downs, among the worst for quarterbacks who have been starters the last few years. This seasons, Tannehill is even worse than normal at 29.7 percent.

And there’s this: For his career, Tannehill has a 75 passer rating on third down, 12 points below his career average passer rating. And this year, Tannehill’s 57.4 third down passer rating is worst among current starters, with Brees (121.3) more than doubling that number.

On third-and-long, needing between 11 yards and 15 yards, Miami has gotten a first down only 12 percent of the time with Tannehill under center, worst among multiyear starting quarterbacks since 2012, per Frascone.

This year, on third-and-anywhere from 8 to 15, only one of Tannehill’s 12 throws resulted in first downs, that 8.3 percent conversion rate tied with Cam Newton for worst at the time of Tannehill’s injury.

Now let’s be clear: This last stat cannot be blamed entirely on Tannehill, because Adam Gase calls a lot of third-and-long passing plays that are short of the third down yard marker. Miami’s offensive line also deserves a share of the blame.

But if Tannehill wants to convince the Dolphins he’s worth the punitive $26.6 million cap hit next year, improving appreciably in those two categories — along with, you know, winning — would be a good place to start.

One area where Tannehill has improved is deep ball passing, where he was top 10 in the league’s metrics before his injury. “We missed that part of our game,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.

THIS AND THAT

Why are the Dolphins playing Nick O’Leary and A.J. Derby more than second-round pick Mike Gesicki at tight end?

Three reasons:

O’Leary “does everything well,” offensive coordinator Loggains said; because Gesicki’s blocking remains a shortcoming and because “A.J. has more short-area quickness, the savviness in zones [as a receiver],” Loggains said. “Mike is better when you get him on the move running away from people.”

Loggains said “we need to do a better job” of getting more work for rookie running back Kalen Ballage.

“He had a really good run a couple weeks ago at home that got called back because of a holding call and they had time to change and they got to a Cover 0 blitz the next time we did it,” Loggains said. :He’s someone that we’re trying to work into the rotation more.”

Loggains said new receiver Brice Butler has picked up the offense quickly. “Really impressive,” Loggains said. “It’s hard coming in doing those things, but you can tell the guy has played in the NFL, which gives you a huge advantage. Everyone’s offense is similar.”

CBS is sending Sunday’s Dolphins-Colts game to 13 percent of the country, with most of the nation getting Pittsburgh-Denver instead. Here’s a map. Greg Gumbel, Trent Green and Bruce Arians announce.

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