Can the Dolphins win with Ryan Tannehill?


We learned a lot about the Miami Dolphins on Sunday even though they didn’t play. One of those was about Ryan Tannehill. Can the Dolphins win with Ryan Tannehill as the quarterback? The offense almost seems stagnant with him as quarterback.

Now this is not a serious indictment on Tannehill and it’s not a diss on him either so don’t crucify me for stating the obvious. For those of you who don’t like Tannehill, this is not intended to add more fuel to your hatred. It’s an observation and nothing more.

The short answer is yes. The Dolphins can win with him at quarterback but Tannehill needs a lot more around him to be successful. For starters, he needs a very good offensive line and we will start there.

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The offensive line in Miami  has played pretty good over the last three weeks, even on Thursday night. They are far more physical than they were in the first four weeks but there is a definite drop off in production when compared to many other NFL teams. The problem with Tannehill is that he holds the ball far too long and a lot of sacks he takes are his own fault. Making the issue a little worse is the fact that he has little to no pocket presence and that too is a problem.

Top quarterback in the league are more aware of what’s around them. They understand where the pressure will come from and they will “feel” that pressure and move away from it. Perhaps Tannehill isn’t allowed to move out of the pocket although that’s ridiculous to think that. The reality may be far simpler.

When it comes to a folding pocket and pressure, Tannehill stays in the pocket. He is not afraid to take a hit and will more often than not release the ball just before he gets hit but the problem is he isn’t that accurate when he stands under pressure and there is a reason for that which we will address shortly down the page. Tannehill can scramble and he can get out of the pressure. Sometimes. Many times however he either tries to get rid of the ball from within the pocket or folds up and takes the sack.

This becomes a bigger problem when he can’t anticipate the pressure which will put him in position to lose the ball on a strip sack. Tannehill has gotten better at this but he still has problems. Rolling him out seems to help the situation for Tannehill. He is very accurate when he is on the move but that is not something the Dolphins take advantage of. That leads to him staying in the pocket where his “pocket presence” lags behind many other NFL quarterbacks.

When it comes to accuracy Tannehill is typically very good. That being said he is very good within a certain range. He can make every throw within 20 yards but his accuracy begins to wane the minute he is required to throw the ball beyond 20 yards. In the game at home two weeks ago against Houston Tannehill had three touchdown passes over 50 yards but every throw was less than 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. The same did not work against the Patriots.

This is where Tannehill’s biggest issues are and where he hinders the offense. Miami has a lot of talent at wide-receiver and for the most part Tannehill has had very good receivers over the last few years. His inability to throw deep balls and accurate ones over 20 yards didn’t add up to success with Mike Wallace. Brian Hartline was his top target for his first two seasons in the league and Hartline was a possession guy who ran the 0-20 route almost all the time. We have seen the same target preference in Jarvis Landry the last two seasons.

Whether by design or by inability, the Dolphins rarely try and air the ball down field. Part of that problem is the offensive line who can’t hold their blocks long enough for the play to develop. The other issue is Tannehill’s inability to sense the pressure and avoid it to allow the players to get down field, and finally his inability to accurately get the passes to the player deep is an issue.

To me the biggest issue with the Dolphins offense is because of the areas that Ryan Tannehill struggles the game plan can’t be as open as it could or should be. The Dolphins offense is typically open to 5-15 yard routes that take advantage of Tannehill’s accuracy but teams like New England found how easy it is to take away those short routes and once that is done, Tannehill has nowhere else to throw.

I suspect that Miami’s opponents this season will try to do the same. In order to take away the short game teams will have to have success in putting pressure on Tannehill and that hasn’t been a major problem thus far. It all goes together. Pressure Tannehill and you can take away the short routes. The side effect to this is that teams are playing the Dolphins offense closer to the line of scrimmage which hinders the running game as well.

I think Tannehill can be a good quarterback in the NFL and frankly I already think his is good. For what he can do but he needs to get much better in the areas that is not good at. The Dolphins offense will never get better regardless of the talent if Tannehill can’t get better down field. Miami traded for Kenny Stills this off-season to provide a deep threat but to date, Stills has been a non-factor in games and is being asked to be another possession receiver. The Dolphins offense is far too one dimensional in the passing game.

Every week we hear the calls for better pass protection and to some degree that is correct but Tannehill’s slow release and slow decision making compounds the problem. As I watched Derek Carr on Sunday for the Raiders, it was clear that Tannehill can’t carry this team on his shoulders. Tannehill needs all of the pieces working just right in order to be successful and when they are not, Tannehill becomes an expensive member of the team and nothing more.

I’m not sure how long it will take Tannehill to develop the skill set needed to be more than what he is. A game manager. He needs to start taking over games and the team needs to begin putting the game on his shoulders whether that exposes his weaknesses or not. He can’t get any better at what he doesn’t do well if the team doesn’t put him in a position to learn.

Tannehill’s future in Miami is dependant on whether he can grow as a quarterback. He has grown in so many different areas but it’s the areas of release, presence, and accuracy beyond 20 yards that is holding the Dolphins offense from being explosive. He doesn’t need to be great in those areas, just better than what he is now.