Breaking down the Ryan Tannehill “breakout” performance and where he really took steps of progression by looking past the stat line, analyzing the receiving corps and how they were so successful against the Cardinals, and why three of the defensive backs and holding this team back from a 3-1 record.
MDD Lead Editor: Eric Galko
Ryan Tannehill Took the “Next Step”, But Look Past Stat Line
431 yards. 26 for 41. Averaged nearly 17 yards per completion. Tannehill’s stat line indicates he had a fantastic day. And he did. But it goes much past his yards or completion average that is beginning to look more and more like a young Aaron Rodgers stat-line.
There was some bad signs he showed in this game. He still has hesitation in some of his levels reads, especially on the outside. He doesn’t have a great feel for pressure yet as a pocket passer. He still could improve overall his pre-snap recognition, especially against the pass rush. And of course, he could finish the game off when the Cardinals changed up a bit what their game plan was late in the game. He’s raw. This will all come.
But the positives certainly outweigh the negatives. Tannehill showed his velocity, his willingness to make 15+ yard touch throws on the sidelines, and improved timing across the field, especially 10-15 yards downfield. While his read of the pass rush improved this game, it was his ability to not be overwhelmed by that pass rush within the system and still get the ball out efficiently. His four sacks and one of his interceptions were frustrating yet not entirely his fault thanks to inconsistent blocking by his linemen.
We’ll end this segment on the stat from ESPN on the bottom that maybe shows the most impressive area for Tannehill and why he is much further along than most could have predicted.
“Ryan Tannehill faced extra pressure on 25 of his 44 dropbacks and completed 16-of-22 passes for 306 yards, a touchdown and an interception against at least five pass rushers. Tannehill’s 306 passing yards against at least five pass rushers is the highest single-game total by anyone since the start of the 2008 season. More impressive for Tannehill is who it came against–entering Sunday, the Cardinals’ defense led the league with a 34.1 completion percentage and 3.6 yards per attempt allowed when sending at least five pass rushers.”
And Now There Were Three: Hartline, Bess, Fasano are Tannehill’s ONLY Options
As a Dolphins follower, I KNEW Davone Bess would be a legit NFL receiver. I felt pretty good about Anthony Fasano fitting into this Joe Philbin offense as a short-area version of Jermichael Finley. I hoped that Brian Hartline would be Tannehill’s primary outside weapon. And I prayed that some other receiver option would step up.
While the final “prayer” didn’t happen, it seemed clear after this past weekend’s game that Tannehill now knows he has three options to consistently target every play. Brian Hartline had a fantastic day (253 yards, 1 TD on 12 catches). That was in part thanks to two things: One, Tannehill trusted him and fed him the ball for nearly half of his pass attemps (19 targets). And Two, Hartline’s subtle separation when the ball is in the air allowed him to be in ideal position to secure the ball. Hartline showed why that subtle separation can lead to big chunks of yards on a day where he averaged over 20 yards per catch.
As for Bess, he had a fantastic day as well, attacking the 15-20 yard area almost every catch. The offense is starting to be more vertical than the first few weeks (more like the 2011 Packers), and if Bess can be successful there on the inside, Tannehill can have an inside option for the future. And Fasano seems destined for 5-6 catches and 30-70 yards every game. They ask him almost every time he goes out to get just past the linebackers or just in front of them to move them how the offense would like, and then have Tanehill read off them. It seems like it should be successful all season, and it’s a gameplan that has slowly allowed Tannehill to thrive.
Pass Defense The Only Thing Holding this Team Back
The Cardinals had five receivers with either 4+ catches of 45+ yards. Andre Roberts torched them for 118 yards and 2 TDs. Despite catching 8 passes, Larry Fitzgerald finished with just 64 yards and a redzone pick-play touchdown thanks mostly to the play of Sean Smith. Smith also had 2 interceptions on the day alone.
But the problem with the Dolphins stems from the inability for Richard Marshall to get vertical in coverage and the safeties reacting far too slowly and poorly to run plays and pass coverages. Marshall may be the best option for the Dolphins now (man do I wish they still kept Vontae Davis), but outside of a nickel set outside receiver or in any Cover 2 looks, he struggles mightily.
As for the safeties, this stat may be all you need to know (via ESPN): “Kolb finished 5-for-5 for 115 yards and two touchdowns on play-action passes.”. The running game for the Cardinals was non-existent. They finished with just 15 carries and 28 yards (man that run defense is good). Why are the safeties biting on play action?
Also not speaking well for the safeties reaction to the play, Cam Wake finished with 4.5 sacks, Koi Misi had 1.5, and Karlos Dasby had a great inside rush sack against his former team. They sacked Kevin Kolb 8 times, hit him 10 times total. He was battered and many of his passes past 15 yards weren’t all that great. The Dolphins need to do a better job of capitalizing on downfield passes without the help of Sean Smith. And that’s mostly on Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons.
Quick Week 5 Preview
The 1-3 Dolphins (losing in back to back overtime games) now have to travel to Cincinnati to play the 3-1 Bengals. The Dolphins are the leagues best run defense, allowing just 56.8 yards per game (including under 30 to Darren McFadden and Ryan Williams), which means stopping BenJarvus Green-Ellis shouldn’t be all that difficult. But allowing 297.8 yards passing per game (30th in the NFL) is certainly concerning, especially since they’ll be taking on one of the NFL’s (surprisingly) best this year in Andy Dalton.
While I’m still confident that if Sean Smith can stick Larry Fitzgerald, he can play against AJ Green, the play of Andrew Hawkins and the tight end Jermaine Gresham is certainly worrisome. The Dolphins need to get after one of the most sacked quarterbacks this year along with making plays when the ball isn’t going to AJ Green, especially from the safeties.