Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Biggest question facing Dolphins is whether Ryan Tannehill could reach another level

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has remained even-keeled this season when he could go the other direction and show fire and passion when things are not going as planned on the field and following losses off the field.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has remained even-keeled this season when he could go the other direction and show fire and passion when things are not going as planned on the field and following losses off the field.

When I was growing up, local youth curfews were not uncommon, and I seem to recall a related public-service television ad that went something like, “It’s midnight. Do you know where your children are?”

(Yes, wiseguy, TV had been invented when I was growing up.)

I would adapt that ad slogan to Miami pro football fans in 2015.

“It’s midseason. Do you know where your Dolphins are?”

You don’t. You can’t. It’s unknowable.

Good NFL teams all seem to have answers or instill faith they know where to go find them.

In Miami, the questions about this team — its players, coaches, leadership and direction — could fill a book. It would be a thick book. A thick, sad book.

The Dolphins were uncommonly boastful as a franchise entering this season. The signing of Ndamukong Suh and a well-received draft filled the air with bravado. Club owner Stephen Ross even publicly declared that, post-LeBron James, the Heat was vulnerable and that it was time for the Dolphins to roar back and retake the town.

Heat potentates Micky Arison and Pat Riley privately were miffed at Ross. But Dolfans, so hungry for new good-old days, ate it up.

Now, half a season in, only questions. Again.

Is the well-meaning Ross a good owner?

Is the management team led by Mike Tannebaum capable of assembling a championship roster?

Who will be the next coach and will Miami ever hire another great one?

Under the umbrella of all these broadest questions comes a parade of more fundamentally specific ones. Such as why can’t a team with Suh stop the run? And why is a team that is second in the league in yards per carry (4.9) next-to-last in the league in rushing attempts?

Of all of the questions big and small, though, one rises clearly above all of the rest.

We should have an answer by now, and thought we would, but we do not.

“How good is quarterback Ryan Tannehill?”

There should be an exclamation point where that question mark is, based on the promise he showed last year that led to the six-year, $95 million contract extension he was given before this season.

“You’re our guy,” the club told Tannehill with that franchise-QB deal. “The Dolphins are yours.”

This is not by any stretch to suggest Tannehill isn’t any good or that, at age 27, he won’t get better.

He has had five solid-or-better games this season and three poor games. That’s an OK ratio.

That would be fine for a team with other strengths that served to place less dependence on the quarterback. Carolina, for example is, 8-0 even though Cam Newton’s passer rating is lower than Tannehill’s. Denver has only one loss despite aging Peyton Manning having his worst season since his rookie year.

That’s because Carolina leads the league in rushing and Denver plays great defense. Miami is not great in any one area; hence, the demand and onus on Tannehill to drive, not be a passenger. To win games, not be a caretaker or manager of them.

Tannehill has regressed this season to midpack in the league by most measures. He is 14th in yards per attempt, 17th in completion percentage and 19th in passer rating.

He is putting up productive numbers overall because he throws so much — your team could do worse for a fantasy QB — but he has yet to prove,  3 1/2 years into his NFL career, that he has the greatness to carry a team above and beyond where it otherwise would be.

Part of that quality is intangible, conveying leadership. I’d love to see Tannehill be a little less even-keeled publicly, taking losses harder and displaying more passion and fire on the field. Everybody is different, but Dan Marino used to melt the face masks of receivers who dropped passes or ran the wrong routes.

I’d like to see Tannehill demand more of his teammates in that way, even as he demanded more of himself.

Individual stats won’t measure Tannehill, though. This will: His career record is 26-30. More important, barring a huge second-half rally from Miami’s current 3-5 midseason hole entering Sunday’s game in Philadelphia, he will be 0 for 4 on reaching the playoffs.

Again, to emphasize: This isn’t to say Tannehill is bad. He isn’t.

It’s that we still wonder: Is he capable of transcending, of finding another level and sustaining anything close to greatness?

A fourth consecutive season out of the playoffs would itself seem to be an answer.

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