Miami Dolphins Analysis: Dissecting Ryan Tannehill's Batted Balls
Alarm bells have been ringing for months in Miami after an underwhelming offseason and abysmal preseason, but a new set blared after Sunday's season-opening loss.
Ryan Tannehill's debut in aqua and orange was a rough one as the Texans welcomed him to the NFL with hands raised to the air like they just didn't care. The week after Miami's 30-13 humiliation in Houston has been fraught with finger-pointing, mainly attempting to assign blame for four batted balls Tannehill threw, three of which resulted in turnovers.
What happened on those plays? Let's dig into them and see.
First Tipped Pass
The broadcast was actually too slow on the draw, missing this play entirely as a result. Miami lined up quickly to run this play and CBS was busy showing something else.
Hence, the only shots available are from the All-22.
Just before the play, we see what might have tipped J.J. Watt off. Ryan Tannehill either thought he saw Kim Kardashian over to his right, or he saw this:
Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano had a lot of space to operate. It was a good read on Tannehill's part; if he completed this pass, Hartline likely would have gotten seven or eight yards in a chunk play, possibly more if he broke a tackle.
Unfortunately, Watt saw Tannehill's eyes get big when he looked over to his right.
Watt clearly knew what was about to happen. His first step was up the field and slightly to the outside, assuring that he would be clear of Jonathan Martin and maximizing the amount of space he would take up in the passing lane.
Martin was, for some reason, taking a step in the wrong direction at the same moment, completely taking himself out of the play. If this was not a quick pass, Watt would have practically had a free release to the quarterback.
Taking the wrong step allowed Watt to position himself perfectly for the batted ball. Martin might have been able to push Watt further up field and out of the throwing lane had he fired outside and engaged the defender.
For all the talk about Tannehill's release point, it looked just fine here. How, exactly, was he supposed to throw the ball over that without sailing it, though?
Granted, he probably should have noticed the hulking lineman directly in front of him when he cocked his arm to throw. He could have pump faked or hesitated, though that would have been enough of of a delay for Texan defenders to close on Hartline.
The bottom line on this play is that Tannehill gave his read away before the snap and Watt was smart enough to do exactly the right thing. Martin's fateful misstep sealed the play's fate.
Second Tipped Pass
Watt is highlighted here as he is going to stunt his way to the middle, running right into the passing lane. He may or may not also be in Kaio-ken mode.
This was a good defensive call and excellent work by Watt, fooling the offensive line into thinking he was crashing through to his left. Both Mike Pouncey and John Jerry were engaging Antonio Smith, leaving Watt free to cut behind and fill the hole in the middle quickly.
Pouncey could not disengage Smith quickly enough to get to Watt, who made a beeline to the quarterback. As you can see, Brian Cushing was already in the air attempting to bat the ball while Watt has one hand up.
Was Tannehill tipping his passes? More on that later.
An interesting note here involves Tannehill's decision-making. Smith was being brought to the ground and Watt's momentum coupled with Pouncey's late push meant Tannehill could have had a lane to his right to run. Unfortunately, Jonathan Martin did not push Tim Dobbins up the field for that to be obvious.
Had Tannehill tucked and ran, he might have squeezed through and found some open field. Alas, pump fakes do not seem to be in Tannehill's arsenal at the moment.
Here we have our first "HD" shot from the game, showing us where Tannehill was releasing the ball. It seems pretty clear his release point is not the issue on his batted balls. One or two inches higher is not going to get the ball over the defensive line if they are jumping at the right time in the passing lane.
Third Tipped Pass
Once again we find Tannehill was staring down his receiver. This is a problem he showed throughout the preseason and will need to kick if he is going to progress in the NFL.
The Texans were in a zone and Hartline looked like he would have some decent yardage if Tannehill got him the ball. Not a bad decision, but unfortunately...
This highlights another developmental issue for Tannehill: throwing motion. It's not that his motion is terrible, but the time it takes for him to cock and throw is less than ideal. Maybe Dan Marino can come mentor the rookie on how to fire the ball quickly.
Tannehill is still winding up at this point, and the defense has had time to react. J.J. Watt is simply too good to give him this kind of notice. On the flip side, Martin could have done a better job of keeping his hands on Watt to limit his motion or drive him to Martin's right, which would have left a clean lane for Tannehill.
Fourth Tipped Pass
Another telegraphed pass, another batted ball. That may not have been Tannehill's only giveaway, however.
As you can see, Tim Jamison was jumping before Tannehill was even winding up. Even if he was staring down his receiver, Jamison took a bit of a risk by jumping up if he was not sure Tannehill was going to throw.
Why was he jumping early? Well, in my quest to break these tipped passes down I found another possible reason why defensive linemen might be getting the jump on Tannehill's passes: he pats the ball before he throws.
He didn't do this on every throw, but patting the ball before throwing it is like tipping pitches. It can have disastrous results.
On this occasion he did just that, which seemed to be why Jamison reacts so early.
By the time he did get the ball off, Jamison was at full extension and easily batted the ball down. Again, getting the ball over mammoth lineman without throwing it through the goal posts would have been a bit of a feat. Of course, Tannehill should have, you know, seen he was about to throw a pass into a brick wall.
You may have noticed that nobody was open on that play either. This could simply be fantastic Texans defense, but the play-calling must be better than this on fourth down. Tannehill throws well on the move, but the Dolphins failed to call plays that got him out of the pocket, or at least had one that was moving.
This play was no different and the Texans could sit back in their coverage, comforted in knowing what was coming.
So who was to blame?
Like Joe Philbin said, there was culpability across the line here. Tannehill cannot stare down receivers or otherwise give anything away. The offensive line must have proper footwork, keep passing lanes clear and stay engaged. Mike Sherman needs to get the defense out of their comfort zone with his play-calling.
Then there is the fact Houston had J.J. Swatt manning the line. The Texans happen to be good at this sort of thing.
The truth is that Tannehill had this problem in college, where Sherman was his coach. Some of it can be attributed to the nature of the game, but at some point this leaves the realm of "freak occurrence" and enters the "real problem" zone.
Is it as troublesome as it seems? Probably not. The Dolphins can certainly do things to correct it, and Tannehill will not have four batted balls per game.
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