Miami Dolphins: Breaking Down Ryan Tannehill's Interceptions
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Tannehill played both the victim and the perpetrator on Sunday; while there were some rookie mistakes, there were some plays that were not his fault. Let's not forget his opponent: the Houston Texans, one of the league's elite pass defenses in 2011, primed for another fine outing in 2012.
Led by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the writing was on the wall for Tannehill's first performance.
And while it wasn't all bad,—the team's first two drives were successful, based on their goal of an uptempo offense capable of executing 90 plays a game—it's necessary to take a look at what happened on the plays that had the biggest impact on the outcome of the game.
Pick No. 1
The first pick came on 2nd-and-12 from the Dolphins 47-yard line.
Tannehill recognized the blitz, but instead of checking to a different play or looking off the defenders, he locked onto his primary target, wide receiver Legedu Naanee, before the ball was even snapped.
Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph saw this and knew to anticipate a throw in his direction.
What Tannehill should have realized, though, is that he had enough blockers (six) to account for the blitz (five defenders). That's a situation where Tannehill can afford to go through his reads, but this situation could have been avoided as a whole if Tannehill hadn't shown his hand before the snap.
This was a rookie mistake on Tannehill's part. He will learn, in time, how to get off his first read and even how to guide defenders where he wants them to go with his eyes.
Pick No. 2
On the second interception, Tannehill doesn't take nearly as much of the blame.
Tannehill was in the shotgun with five receivers split wide; one of these receivers was running back Reggie Bush, and tight end Charles Clay lined up split off the line.
At times in this game, the utter mismatch that was the Dolphins offense against the Texans defense became apparent. This was one of those plays.
Pick No. 3
A little déja vu on the third interception.
The play had potential to at least be positive, with wide receiver Brian Hartline coming open underneath on the five-yard slant route.
This marked his third batted pass on the day, and Tannehill had a total of four batted passes against the Texans, two of which were interceptions.
The batted passes are clearly at the forefront of the issue. The offensive line needs to do a better job engaging on their blocks to keep the linemen's hands down and allow Tannehill the largest windows possible.
Doing that against the Texans front seven was difficult for obvious reasons. They are among the most physically talented and well-rounded groups in the league, anchored by several top picks in defensive end Watt (first round, 2011), linebackers Brooks Reed (second round, 2011), Cushing (first round, 2009) and Whitney Mercilus (first round, 2012) and several more.
But the blame wasn't fully on the line, as Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post reminds us that tipped passes have been a problem for Tannehill since his days at at Texas A&M.
Former NFL scout Russ Lande, now a writer for The Sporting News, included this bit about 6-foot-4 Ryan Tannehill in an evaluation of the quarterback before April's NFL Draft:
"He holds the ball low on his chest while going through progressions," Lande wrote. "Further, he has a low release point at shoulder height, which causes him to pass like a shorter quarterback. Consequently, his passes get tipped at the line."
According to ESPN Stats Inc., eight of his 15 interceptions in 2011 came on tipped or batted passes. In Tannehill's first preseason start at Carolina three weeks ago, four of his passes were tipped in the first half.
The low release point is a mechanical issue that, while not quite as bad as fixing Jets quarterback Tim Tebow's delivery, could take some time to develop. It will be a conscious thought process for Tannehill at first, but as we all know, those lessons often go out the window when the bullets are real.
This is a correctable issue, but it will take some time.
For now, though, the Dolphins should look to get Tannehill outside the pocket and take advantage of his athleticism a bit more. Quick reads are good, but the windows need to be there at the line, and Tannehill needs to find them.
His improvement will mean a team-wide improvement, but the team has to help him out along the way.
Tannehill wasn't the first rookie quarterback to struggle in his first game, he wasn't even the only one to struggle in his first game this weekend, and he won't be the last in the history of the league. But it's about how he responds, whether the issues with his technique and with the offensive line get corrected, and whether the coaching staff is willing to bend the scheme a bit for his strengths.
That will gauge whether this rough outing is a learning experience or a sign for the future.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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