5 Ways Joe Philbin Can Take Pressure off Ryan Tannehill in 2013
Tannehill's pressure will stem from the fact that to many fans and experts, he has to lead the Dolphins into the playoffs. The table was set well for him to do that as Miami went to work this offseason by making their defense younger and faster, while their offense has more weapons than they did last season.
Sure, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III will be facing some pressure of their own, but barring injuries, those three are almost guaranteed to be starters in 2014 due to their 2012 success. And at least one of them is expected to lead his team into Super Bowl contention (which would be Wilson, who does have the best team set up around him).
With Tannehill, nothing is guaranteed unless he gets into the postseason. For all of his moves, Jeff Ireland is still a potential lame duck this year, with his future hinging on the results Miami brings. If Ireland is out, a new general manager can take his place and decide that Joe Philbin isn't fit to be his head coach, and Ryan Tannehill isn't fit to be his quarterback. That might be a bit unfair, considering that both are only their second season, but it's the reality of changes to such an important part of the staff.
So what can Coach Philbin do to minimize Tannehill's pressure and allow him to play within himself and to the best of his abilities?
Set Up the Passing Game with the Running Game
Just a good guess that many of you readers (well, one of you readers), might not like what I'm about to say: Miami needs to run the ball.
There's no reason why Miami's running game can't work. The backfield looks strong with second-year player Lamar Miller, rookie Mike Gillislee, and even third-year player Daniel Thomas if he does well during training camp.
At fullback you might even see Charles Clay get a few carries, as well as Jorvorskie Lane coming in when Miami needs those short-yardage plays.
How many carries would Miami's backs need to be successful? Here's a stat line Miami can emulate to have a successful running game: 523 attempts for 2,184 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 25 touchdowns.
That might seem like too many attempts for most of you, which I guess is a fair criticism. After all, you wouldn't want Miami's offense to become a stagnant ground-and-pound team like the New England Patriots. (New England finished second on the season in rushing attempts to Seattle. Also worth noting is the fact that of the top 10 teams in rushing attempts, seven of them were playoff teams.)
Can all three of Miami's backs emulate those numbers? Yes, they easily could; but also keep in mind that Tannehill is quite good on his feet (more on that later), and at times Miami could use Mike Wallace on reverses as well.
The reason why Miami's running game needs to be effective is, well...
Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace on Play-Action Touchdowns
The numbers say it all: Ryan Tannehill is among the best NFL quarterbacks when using play action.
Of course, while Ryan had Julio Jones and Roddy White to chuck it to in those situations, Tannehill never really had a deep threat. Sure, he did have Brian Hartline on the touchdown shown in the video, but that was Hartline's only touchdown of the year.
Thankfully for the Dolphins, Hartline won't be needed to go long too often, not with Mike Wallace around.
Per ESPN, despite the lack of weapons around Tannehill, he did complete 45.7 percent of his passes 21 yards or more in 2012, which was third in the NFL behind only Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning, and ahead of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Having Wallace around should only improve upon that number.
Make the "Wallace drop" jokes all you want (only Steelers fans seem to do that) based off of one season with a new offensive coordinator that was a bit of a down season for the Steelers as a whole, but Wallace does deliver on long passes, scoring four touchdowns on passes of 20 yards or more with the Steelers. In all, he caught six passes of 20 yards or more.
The long ball with a play action, like seen in the play above, is now a dangerous weapon for the Dolphins, and one that should be used this season.
Let Tannehill Use His Feet
Let's not confuse Ryan Tannehill with Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III, but Miami should definitely design some run plays for him.
Tannehill has the speed and athleticism, and should be free to use said speed and athleticism at quarterback. The Dolphins did design some run plays for Tannehill to a mixed effect, but part of the reason for that was the lack of weapons around him, making a designed run look a tad too designed.
This season Miami had already stated that they wanted to use the read option more with Tannehill (per SI.com), so expect more designed runs.
Tannehill's ability on his feet won't just make him a threat to run but will also allow him to make a play when a play isn't there to be made. At least one person believes that Tannehill has the ability to do so, and was even asked about the comparison between Tannehill and Wallace's former teammates, one of the best quarterbacks at turning nothing into something (per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald):
“Definitely. It’s funny; they both played receiver at the beginning of college. They both know what we [receivers] like to do out there, so the chemistry is there already. Both have strong arms. Ryan has a cannon, can really fling it.
Ryan may be able to throw the ball a little farther than Ben. Obviously, Ben is more experienced in game time experience. The way it’s going, it won’t take long for Ryan to be one of the great quarterbacks. I feel like we can make a lot of big plays.”
Given Tannehill's numbers under pressure last season (Tannehill completed 72.9 percent of his passes under pressure, according to PFF), I could see where the comparison would be made, and also why Tannehill should be allowed to attempt to make plays (both passing and running) on his feet.
Use the Tight End(s)
Not breaking news: A tight end is a quarterback's best friend.
Miami had Anthony Fasano and Charles Clay as their primary tight ends last season, and combined the two would catch 59 passes for 544 yards and seven touchdowns.
The position, however, was upgraded, as Charles Clay will likely find himself as Miami's fullback/H-Back, while Fasano is in Kansas City. In comes Dustin Keller, fourth-round pick Dion Sims and (hopefully) redemption story Michael Egnew.
Keller was a steal to me because at times he made Mark Sanchez look somewhat effective as a quarterback. Last season did see Keller struggle with injuries, but in five seasons with the Jets he did manage to catch 241 passes for 2,876 yards and 17 touchdowns.
As for Egnew and Sims, both have tremendous upside. Egnew's actually a good receiver at tight end, but didn't get playing time due to his issues blocking. With a full season to work his blocking, Egnew should be at least improved enough to get playing time, which makes him the wild card of this scenario.
As for Dion Sims, I don't think I have to tell you how high I am on his drafting (I already did that here); I actually thought that for the Dolphins—if they didn't go after Tyler Eifert in the draft—Sims was the best tight end they could've picked up.
Sims should be an integral part of Miami's offense. And if he is, the sky is the limit for Tannehill.
Back to Those Running Backs: They Can Catch Too, You Know...
We already talked about how Miami should set up the pass with the run, specifically the play-action pass. We mentioned how letting Tannehill use his feet (and even improvising a bit) could allow him to make something out of nothing.
We also discussed how important his tight ends will be to the passing game. Now we're going to talk about how the running backs should be used as receivers more frequently than last year.
And why not talk about Hartline or new wide receiver Brandon Gibson or any other receivers? It's a given that they have to step up, too; however, the other wide receivers benefit more from from the steps mentioned.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Dolphins will have five eligible receivers on each play. You know the wide receivers will be eligible, as will the tight ends, but don't over look the running backs as well as what could happen if Tannehill can pass the ball to Lamar Miller, getting him into space.
One of the most maddening things about last season was you didn't see too many passes to Bush (or Thomas or Miller) with either of them out of the backfield. Nor did you see either Reggie or running back and return man Marcus Thigpen line up in the slot, which considering the speed of both, was confusing to me.
This year, Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has to design more plays like that. More passes to Miller out of the backfield are a must. In fact with the drafting of Gillislee (who on some NFL teams could actually start), it wouldn't be too farfetched if the Dolphins lined up Miller out of the slot yet still called a running play.
Marcus Thigpen was mentioned earlier, and for good reason. He doesn't have to just be a return man; he can be used in a Randall Cobb/Darren Sproles role out of the slot and even out of the backfield.
For the first time in a while Miami has talent on offense and a quarterback capable of utilizing this talent. They also have two good offensive coaches who have done this in the past and are more than capable of doing so again.
There is no reason why they shouldn't fail to do so in 2013. After all, their jobs and the job of the man that hired them depends on it.