It was supposed to be a new year in Miami. The Dolphins sank tons of money into their team this offseason – specifically into the offense. They signed tight end Dustin Keller as well as wide receivers Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace. This was supposed to be an offense and a team that would compete with the Patriots for the AFC East division title. Despite the 17-3 lead they were able to build this past Sunday, the Dolphins were not even close to seriously competing with the Patriots. The reason for this is their quarterback.
Granted, Miami lost Dustin Keller for the year back in August. Additionally, Brandon Gibson went down early vs the Patriots on Sunday with a season-ending patella-tendon injury.
But quite frankly, you could surround quarterback Ryan Tannehill with Calvin Johnson and Jerry Rice and it wouldn’t make a difference. The Dolphins are 3-4 because their quarterback cannot play the position like the top signal-callers in the league.
Ryan Tannehill’s best assets are his strong arm and quick release. Neither are Marino-like, but they’re capable of getting the job done. Unfortunately, the rest of his game isn’t up to par for a franchise quarterback.
Tannehill is more than competent when the Dolphins spread the defense out and he can throw the ball quickly. The majority of Miami’s passing game involves quick throws. It’s either catch-rock-and-throw out of shotgun, or 3-step drops from under center. This works great when Tannehill’s first read is open. If it isn’t, the Dolphins have problems.
Tannehill has shown no ability to win late in the down. He’s shown no ability to progress to his 2nd or 3rd read consistently. He moves unnecessarily when his first receiver isn’t available. And since that first read is generally off a quick drop, this pretty much negates anything Mike Wallace can contribute to Miami’s passing game. The Dolphins don’t attempt enough downfield passes, which means they’re not utilizing the talents of their biggest free-agent signing this offseason. Wallace’s frustration is warranted because what makes him dangerous is his ability to attack defenses with deep, vertical routes. He’s not a great receiver when it comes to working the short and intermediate levels.
More worrisome, though, is Tannehill’s inability to handle blitz pressure. The Patriots spotted this on Sunday and attacked accordingly.
In the third quarter, Miami led 17-3 with the ball at the Patriots’ 19-yard line on a crucial 3rd down. The Patriots brought double-A-gap pressure (2 linebackers blitzing on either side of the center). This forced the right guard and right tackle to pinch down inside, leaving the defensive end to that side with a free rush at the quarterback.
Tannehill’s first read wasn’t there. At that point, he should have thrown the ball at his receiver’s feet, bringing up 4th down and a 36-yard gimme field goal attempt. Instead he held onto the ball, tried to scramble, and was dropped for a 9-yard loss. The ensuing field goal try was no good.
On the Dolphins’ next drive, now only leading 17-10 and with the ball at their own 23, the Patriots brought more pressure. They aligned their right defensive end on the outside shoulder of the left tackle. A safety lined up just outside that defensive end. Based on the fact that the left tackle had to block that defensive end, and the rest of the line and running back had to take care of rushers to the right of the left tackle, that meant the safety outside the left tackle was TANNEHILL’S RESPONSIBILITY if he blitzed. It’s the job of the quarterback in this case to either throw quickly on a hot route if it’s built into the concept of the play, or sight adjust. This involves the QB communicating the sight adjust with his receiver before the snap.
But Tannehill did not sight adjust. He did not throw quickly. Instead, he took a 5-step drop with a hitch, as if his protection had the numbers to pick up the pressure, completely unaware of the safety rushing his blindside unblocked. The result of the play was a strip fumble that the Patriots recovered, turning the game in New England’s favor.
For the rest of the game, the Patriots played man-free-press coverage, challenging Tannehill to make tough throws into tight windows. They brought lots of pressure, challenging him to read the blitz and react accordingly, something he hadn’t shown the ability to do.
You don’t have to take our word for any of this. However, this is the best part about watching the film. You don’t need to hear a Bill Belichick press conference to know what he thinks of an opponent. Just pop in the tape and see how he decides to play against them.
In this game, Belichick was not worried about Tannehill’s ability to make stick throws into tight windows or handle the blitz. That’s not just this website’s opinion. That’s how the Patriots played on Sunday, and it might as well have been straight from Belichick’s mouth.
Tannehill’s weaknesses were severely exposed on Sunday. And if we know about them, you can bet the rest of the league does too.