Dolphins O-Line Holding Back Entire Miami Offense
These Dolphins are good. They've already knocked off two playoff teams from a season ago and held their own for much of Monday night's game against a New Orleans Saints team that appears to be championship-caliber.
The offense, led by second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is scoring points, and the revamped defense is creating pressure and making plays.
However, there is one area on this team that has given legitimate cause for concern, both for this season and for the continued development of the offense.
Miami's offensive line, to put it bluntly, is simply not playing well, which is keeping the Dolphins from being great.
Despite using high draft picks on center Mike Pouncey (first round, 2011) and left tackle Jonathan Martin (second round, 2012) in recent years, the Dolphins have only managed to assemble an offensive line that could be considered serviceable, at best.
At worst, Miami's line could be considered a liability, and for a number of reasons.
The most obvious issue is the frequency with which Tannehill has found himself under pressure while under center this season.
Not only has Tannehill been victimized by a league-high 18 sacks, including four on Monday night, but he has consistently been rushed, hit and forced to hurry throws.
Through Week 4
This has led to a number of mistakes by the former Texas A&M star, including five interceptions and six fumbles.
At the current rate, Tannehill would finish the season with 24 interceptions, 12 fumbles and an incredible 72 sacks.
No matter how much talent the Dolphins have assembled at other positions, it will be difficult to win over the long haul if the offensive line allows these types of mistakes.
Compounding the issue is the fact that Miami's line has been equally disappointing in the running game.
After averaging just 3.2 yards per rush and 70.3 yards per game (27th in the league) through the first three weeks, the Dolphins did manage to top the 100-yard mark against the Saints. However, much of that yardage came against a New Orleans defense playing with a large lead and primed to defend the pass.
The lack of a truly threatening ground game, of course, puts much of the pressure right back onto the shoulders of Tannehill.
While Tannehill may have the talent, the athleticism and the mental capacity to overcome the pressure, there are going to be games, like the one on Monday night, where the mistakes are simply too numerous to overcome.
Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times. Threw three interceptions. 57.9 passer rating. It was a learning experience, folks.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) October 1, 2013
Perhaps even more concerning is the effect the constant pressure is having on the development of Tannehill and the dolphins offense in their second year of the Joe Philbin era.
Tannehill may be familiar with the offense of coordinator Mike Sherman, who was his head coach at A&M, but he is not yet fully adapted to life in the NFL, and even less familiar with his new cadre of pass-catchers.
During the offseason, Miami brought in free agent wideouts Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace, along with tight end Dustin Keller.
Keller, of course, was injured during the preseason and replaced with fullback/tight end Charles Clay.
To his credit, Tannehill has developed some chemistry with both Clay and Gibson, but he continuously appears to be on a different page from Wallace.
Part of the reason may be because Wallace is intended to be the team's deep threat, and the offensive line is not giving Tannehill time to deliver the deep ball.
Another part of the issue is that Tannehill simply is not being given enough time to overlook the entire field and find the right matchup in the secondary.
Tannehill is frequently forced to dump the ball off to a quick outlet receiver like his tight end Clay. This would explain why he averaged just 5.5 yards per pass attempt on Monday night.
This poses a huge problem for Tannehill's long-term development, as the only way he can really grow as a passer is to see the field and learn from what is presented to him.
Thanks to the shaky play of the offensive line, Tannehill doesn't have this opportunity, which is why he very much resembles the same player he was as a rookie.
If things do not improve along the offensive line, Tannehill is likely to see very little improvement as a quarterback this season, if he can even stay healthy for its duration.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Dolphins offense is going to have a difficult time functioning any better than it is at its current state if offensive line coach Jim Turner cannot find a way to shake things up.
If the Dolphins cannot find help from within their own locker room, they may need to seek offensive line assistance through free agency or via trade.
Otherwise, Miami is going to remain a good team, just not a great one.
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