Joe Philbin went through it for three-plus seasons. Now it’s Adam Gase’s turn.
Call it the Three Stages of (Ryan) Tannehill.
First comes the honeymoon phase, generally before the season starts. As a coach, you see Tannehill's size (6' 4", 216 pounds), arm strength, athletic ability and his quick motion, and dream about the future and all that you can accomplish with him. No huddle. Zone read. Play-action bombs. It all seems possible on first glance.
In the second stage, the actual games start and things just don’t work out as you envisioned. Something is missing, and the offense flounders. You say to yourself, “Ryan has all these gifts, it can’t be him.” So you find excuses on film—the offensive line, inconsistent drops from the receivers. “We need to play better around him, it’s not all Ryan’s fault, he’s our guy,” you finally declare.
The third stage is when reality sets in: Tannehill, for all his talents, just doesn’t have the instincts for the position. If they ever come, it will be later in his career, like Rich Gannon. But you won’t be around to see it.
It only took five games, but Gase is already elbow-deep in Stage 2 mode and the prognosis isn’t good.
“He’s not coming out,” Gase said this week. “You can ask me 100 times. He’s going to be in there the rest of this season.
“I know when we have 18 drop-back passes (in Sunday’s 30–17 loss to the Titans) and he's hit or sacked on nine of them, and then the completions we do have, he’s got guys in his face, so I'm supposed to blame him for that?”
Gase is absolutely biased when it comes to Tannehill. The former Bears offensive coordinator was hired so quickly because he told the Dolphins that he could fix Tannehill, their prized possession who last year they made the sixth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. He counts $11.64 million against the cap this year, and then $20.3 million in 2017 (but the Dolphins can get out). Gase was the quarterback whisperer. He made Jay Cutler a viable NFL quarterback. Certainly Gase could work wonders with Tannehill, who is a much better person and more diligent at his craft.
After going 7–9, 8–8, 8–8 and 6–10 in Tannehill’s first four seasons, the Dolphins are off to a 1–4 start with the Steelers and Bills up next on the schedule. Tannehill’s 83.6 passer rating is No. 21 in the league. His seven interceptions are tied for third-most in the league. When compared to the rest of the league through FootballOutsiders.com’s computations, Tannehill is No. 31 in defense-adjusted yards above replacement, No. 31 in defense-adjusted efficiency and No. 30 in ESPN’s QBR.
Since Gase is biased, what is the actual truth about Tannehill? How much is on him and how much has to do with his surroundings?
I watched all 17 of Tannehill’s sacks and his seven interceptions, the kinds of plays that absolutely kill an offense. I wasn’t even grading that strictly and the final tally showed that Tannehill was mostly at fault on 15 of the plays (62.5%), his teammates didn’t give him any chance on eight (poor pass protection and/or poor routes or execution by receivers), and one play was too close to call either way.
That is way too many plays being the quarterback’s fault for an offense to properly function. Yes, pressure on Tannehill aside from the sacks has been a problem. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Tannehill has felt pressure on a league-high 43.3% of his dropbacks. Pressure speeds quarterbacks up and throws off their rhythm. But that is not Tannehill’s issue, and that’s the biggest problem.
On a vast majority of the sacks and interceptions that are his fault, the same issue keeps coming up. Tannehill gets to the top of his drop (when the ball is supposed to come out), none of his downfield options are open, and instead of maneuvering in the pocket to buy more time, or quickly coming to his checkdown (Gase does a great job of giving Tannehill a fail-safe), Tannehill stays in the pocket, doesn’t feel the rush coming and gets hit. It’s maddening. The best quarterbacks in the game have an innate feel for the rush and can make subtle movements in the pocket to help his line and receivers. Tannehill possesses neither of those important tangibles, and it’s his biggest barrier in projecting future improvement.
The one thing going for Tannehill is that it sounds like he’s being told what the issue is.
“I have to find a way to get the ball out,” he said this week. “Receivers have to be able to get open quickly. I have to see them get open quickly and use my feet, if necessary.
“You have to be able to move. Some of it is … You have to have time to move. If your eyes are downfield and you’re looking at one [receiver and] you get hit from behind, it’s tough to move at that point. As a quarterback—as a guy who has the ability to move—I feel like I need to be able to escape the pocket some and get out of harm’s way.”
Other quarterbacks with athletic ability, like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, play behind poor offensive lines but find a way to perform at a high level because of their natural instincts in and around the pocket. Tannehill is at the other end of the spectrum. It would be one thing if this was his second or third season. He’s in his fifth. Tannehill is what he is at this point, and it’s not good enough.
Go crazy, folks
It’s official, no one knows what a catch is. Awesome: With the Cowboys traveling to Green Bay this week, there’s been a lot of talk about Dez Bryant’s non-catch that really was a catch in the 2014 playoff matchup between the two teams. This week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on his radio show that nothing has been cleared up in the 21 months since. "Since that play," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan's Shan and RJ show, "I don't believe they've been able to say it in a way that any of us understands yet." That’s one of the most powerful owners in the sport saying that…and people wonder why NFL TV ratings are down. I don’t know, call me crazy, but being able to correctly identify one of the most frequent plays in a football game would seem to be important. Call me crazy.
Sensitive McCarthy: Packers coach Mike McCarthy has always been a little sensitive to criticism about his offense, but his usual private feelings came out in public on Wednesday. “You know, we had 400 yards of offense, so I don't know why the hell I've got to come in here and answer questions about the things you think that went wrong,” McCarthy said. Yikes. Should we count a few of the ways? McCarthy’s offense is 25th in total yards, 27th in passing yards, 18th in interception rate, 23rd in first downs, and Rodgers is 31st in completion percentage and 18th in passer rating. So, yes, the Packers are 3–1, but it’s not exactly a smooth-sailing ship, Mike.
Slow your roll
Falcons pass rush still needs work: One of the weakest parts of the Falcons, the pass rush, seemed to be solved with six sacks in the upset over the Broncos. Well, not exactly. Of the six sacks, two were on rookie Paxton Lynch for holding the ball too long (one near the end of the game in desperation mode). And while Vic Beasley’s 3.5 sacks were legitimate (not coverage sacks), three came against backup RT Ty Sambrailo, whose shoulder and elbow injuries kept him out of the weight room and off the practice field the entire off-season through the first two games of the season. His play wasn’t even average. And the half sack (that should have been a full one) was against RG Michael Schofield, who was moved to RT after Sambrailo was benched.
Ok, Brett Favre: Seemingly everyone has an opinion on the pending QB controversy in Dallas between injured incumbent Tony Romo and upstart rookie Dak Prescott, so why shouldn’t Hall of Fame Packers QB Brett Favre chime in? Favre told SiriusXM NFL Radio that Romo should take it slow. “Hypothetically thinking, if you are Tony you say, ‘You know what, as much as I want to play, I don’t want to press the issue. I want to play, but I’m going to let it play out right now and it is probably better if Dak starts struggling and then they bring me in rather than they put me in and then all of a sudden we’re not hitting on all cylinders and everyone’s like, ‘Ah, they should have got rid of Tony, blah, blah.' You know what I mean?” Favre said. This is the same Favre who, after retiring in 2008, tried to come back to the Packers and was told he could if he competed with Aaron Rodgers. Instead of doing that (and Rodgers did struggle), Favre demanded a trade to the Jets for one year, retired again, was released by the Jets, and then unretired to play for the Vikings in order to stick it to the Packers. So, yeah, sure, Favre is somebody to take advice from on this.
10 thoughts on Week 6
1. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan showed off his brilliance against the Broncos, and may have exploited a weakness in the Super Bowl champions. Can others in the AFC (Steelers, Patriots) take advantage? Atlanta played almost exclusively out of base personnel with TEs Jacob Tamme (67% of snaps), Levine Toilolo (66%) and Austin Hooper (27%) splitting up time with FB Patrick DiMarco (40%). The Broncos had no choice but to counter with their 3-4 base defense (nickel CB Bradley Roby only played 28% of snaps), and the Falcons used their speed advantage at RB to jump on top of the Broncos 10–0. RBs Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and DiMarco accounted for an astonishing 67.4% of Matt Ryan’s 267 passing yards.
2. Wonder if Shanahan got the idea for that from the rivals Panthers’ gameplan in the Super Bowl. It was a sound plan, except that the Panthers couldn’t block in the pass game. I bet Bill Belichick noticed what the Falcons did, or is mad Atlanta showed his cards before he could play them (the Patriots meet the Broncos on December 18.) New England tried and failed miserably at running against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game even when Denver was in subpackages, which contributed mightily to New England’s defeat. This is why Martellus Bennett is so important to the Patriots this season. If the Broncos want to play Bennett and Rob Gronkowski with nickel, the Patriots should and must be able to dominate on the ground. If the Broncos answer with base, then the Patriots will use the TEs and RB James White to expose the Broncos’ LBs like Atlanta did.
3. Speaking of the two-TE approach, expect the Patriots to use that in heavy doses against the Bengals this week. All three of their linebackers, Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby are on the slow/aging side and the Patriots would like nothing better than to match up Gronkowski and Bennett against them in the passing game.
4. Expect the Ravens to ride the running game against the Giants. Coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman in good measure because he didn’t run the ball enough. Not sure that’s the way to go given the state of the left side of the Ravens’ offensive line (rookie LT Ronnie Stanley has been injured), especially against this Giants’ defensive line, but Baltimore almost has to try given the reason for Trestman’s dismissal.
5. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles, coming off their first loss of the season against the Lions, struggle a little bit offensively against the Redskins. After giving up at least 27 points in the first three games, Washington has averaged 17.5 points per game in the last two games.
6. I don’t think the 49ers could have picked a worse team for Colin Kaepernick to start against than the Bills. Kaepernick has struggled mightily in his career at reading coverages and then quickly getting rid of the ball. Rex Ryan’s Bills defense is all about confusion and illusion. Kaepernick could be in for a rough outing and the fact that Bills LB Zach Brown is running down everything might not help.
7. Must-see matchup of the Week I: Raiders WR Amari Cooper vs. Chiefs CB Marcus Peters. I like Peters in this matchup because he’s a little bit more quick-twitch than the silky smooth Cooper.
8. Must-see matchup of the Week II: Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham vs. Falcons SS Keanu Neal. The Seahawks have functioned so well offensively over the past two weeks because Graham has finally started to look like his former Saints self with 12 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown combined against the 49ers and Jets. This type of matchup is why the Falcons drafted the hard-hitting Neal 17th overall this year.
9. If Texans QB Brock Osweiler can’t settle down and have an efficient game against the Colts at home, it’s going to get ugly quickly with the boos. That’s not fair just six games into his tenure, but that’s the way it is. The Texans should be able to go up and down the field against the Colts defense.
10. Little bit fearful for the Cardinals heading into this matchup with the Jets. Not because Arizona won’t win (it should), but because of the ramifications from a possible victory. If the Cardinals’ deep passing game doesn’t pop against this sorry Jets secondary then they’re done. But if the Cardinals do get their big chunk plays, hopefully they don’t let it go to their heads. Everybody is torching the Jets these days.