Miami Dolphins: Why Ryan Tannehill's Athleticism Is Key to His Development

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Miami Dolphins: Why Ryan Tannehill's Athleticism Is Key to His Development
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Let's start by declaring one ironclad truth about the standout performance by Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars: It came against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It was his finest performance of the year in nearly every way possible—he set new career marks for completion percentage and passer rating, and he threw for a full yard per attempt more (7.9) than his season average (6.9)—but it was to be expected given the circumstances.

Make no mistake, Tannehill looked much improved on Sunday. But that's to be expected with help from a weak opponent, as well as an offensive game plan which (finally) maximized Tannehill's strengths.

It was a near-perfect performance for Tannehill, who completed 22-of-28 pass attempts on Sunday, but it might have been even better if Tannehill had placed a few passes in a better spot for his receivers.

Take the deep bomb to wide receiver Rishard Matthews, for example. On 3rd-and-5 from the Jaguars' 36-yard line, Tannehill took the shotgun snap and threw a bullet high and over Matthews' head.

The ball hit Matthews square in the hands, so the receiver is credited with the drop here, but with a more accurate throw, this could have easily been a touchdown. Matthews had a step on his man, and the safety did not have a good angle to stop him from getting into the end zone.

It's not as though this was the only place Tannehill could have thrown the ball where it would be caught; a throw in between the numbers would have done just fine.

Tannehill needs to improve as a pure pocket passer, but perhaps he's not meant to be one. Tannehill entered the NFL with praise aplenty for his athletic ability, but we had yet to see the Dolphins fully take advantage of that athleticism yet this year. On Sunday, Tannehill rushed eight times for 52 yards, both season highs, and made several impressive throws on the move.

They made a notable adjustment at halftime, calling a few of those bootlegs as drive-starters to get the offense in rhythm, and it worked to perfection.

The Dolphins' first play of the second half was a 37-yard completion to wide receiver Brian Hartline on a bootleg, and they got the third drive of the half started off in much the same way, with a 17-yard completion to Hartline.

Tannehill took the ball to his right on a play-action fake with a rollout, getting the linebackers (yellow) to drift to the offense's left and opening up a void in the right side of the defense.

There was a problem, however, when the receivers were mainly covered. Jaguars defensive end Austen Lane gave chase to Tannehill, but the rookie kept the play alive and, with some help from Hartline finding a soft spot in triple coverage...

...the two were able to hook up for the big gain and get the drive started right. 

The accuracy to fit the ball into that window while on the run is remarkable, and it should give the Dolphins plenty of confidence in Tannehill's ability to hit those throws if they call them again.

It should be noted, too, that not all of the Dolphins' offensive success was relative to the playcalling. 

Tannehill put his mobility on display in a different way on a 22-yard completion in the fourth quarter, with a quick move up in the pocket to buy time for his tight end to find the soft spot in the zone coverage and get wide open.

If we're picking nits, a throw to the outside shoulder would have caught Fasano in stride, and he might have been scampering up the field untouched and into the Jaguars' red zone. Instead, Fasano had to stop and turn around to make the catch. Either way, it was enough to keep their drive alive, and they eventually scored anyway.

Credit to Tannehill for keeping the play alive there, but he's not the only one deserving of praise for his throws on the move.

The assist goes to the coaching staff for calling the plays to take advantage of Tannehill's strengths as a passer.

It's not often a 277-pound fullback gets wide open in the end zone, but Jorvorskie Lane was the beneficiary of the Dolphins' misdirection.

Running back Reggie Bush sprinted across the formation with Tannehill in the shotgun, giving the illusion of a running play to the left. Instead, Tannehill kept the ball and rolled to his right.

The play design set Tannehill up with plenty of options: lane in the end zone, tight end Anthony Fasano in the flat or wide receiver Marlon Moore in the deep end of the end zone (bottom of the screen shot).

The misdirection, however, opened up a huge hole on the right side of the offense as the defense drifted to the left (to the left...).

Once Lane got open, though, there was no reason to hang onto the ball and wait for the play to develop. 

They even took advantage of his athleticism by drawing in some plays from the read-option. 

With Tannehill lined up in the shotgun and Bush lined up next to him, Tannehill faked the handoff to the speedy back and kept it himself, running off left tackle when he saw the entire defense drifting to the offense's right.

Getting to the void in the defense before any defenders could get there, Tannehill was able to scurry for nine yards.

Without creating an unnecessary level of hype for Tannehill, what he did well on Sunday was largely what has made Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a nightmare for defenders. His ability to extend plays with his legs (on the Fasano and Hartline completions) is reminiscent of Roethlisberger's.

The fact that he was able to find the holes in coverage and the open targets bodes well for his future if the Dolphins' coaching staff is willing to work with that skill set to expand their offense.

Tannehill's big game came as a result of a lot of great play calls, drawn to maximize his athleticism. It wouldn't hurt for Tannehill to improve in areas such as ball placement and reading coverages, but going forward, the Dolphins would be wise to continue to make the most of Tannehill's legs if they want to continue to be successful on offense.

 

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 first-hand or via team press releases.

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