The Miami Dolphins couldn't buy more time in the pocket for quarterback Ryan Tannehill if they had a Swiss bank account.
Tannehill has already been sacked 24 times, the most of any quarterback this season so far. That is a mind-numbing rate that puts him on pace to be sacked 76.8 times this season. David Carr was sacked 76 times in 2002 behind the expansion Houston Texans offensive line.
There are certainly times where Tannehill could get rid of the ball more quickly, but a video breakdown of his pressures and sacks from Weeks 1 through 4 of the 2013 season paints a grim picture for the offensive line.
The defenders are often found to be closing in on Tannehill within 2.5 seconds of the snap. That is not nearly enough time to go through progressions.
"2.5 (seconds) is about the right time a quarterback wants to scan three to four reads and get (a) pass off and not get sacked. Any less is tough," a former AFC scout told Bleacher Report. "If there's great pass protection and no one's open, the quarterback has to scramble after three (seconds) or so as it breaks down."
Tannehill has regularly had far less time in the pocket than he needs to reasonably go through his progressions.
According to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Tannehill has often been under pressure very quickly after the snap. He's spent 2.5 seconds or less in the pocket on 64.9 percent of his dropbacks, which is the second-highest percentage of such passes in the league.
His 4.3 seconds to scramble on average and 3.6 seconds to be sacked on average are both the sixth fastest in the league in those categories.
As mentioned above, though, it's not about his inability to get the ball out quickly. His 2.28 seconds to attempt a pass on average is the second fastest.
The limited time in the pocket may help to explain another issue that has been at the forefront of the Dolphins' season: the lack of involvement in the offense for wide receiver Mike Wallace. With so little time in the pocket, Tannehill hasn't had many opportunities to deliver deep strikes to the speedy wideout, even if they had hoped to do so. Tannehill simply hasn't had the protection he needs for those routes to develop.
Against the Browns, Tannehill might have had a chance to throw long for Wallace (lined up to the offense's right, at the bottom of the screen), but Tannehill didn't have nearly enough time for the route to develop. He was being brought down before Wallace even had a chance to come open—and from the film, it looks like he might have done just that.
Wallace has been targeted just 10 times on passes traveling 20 yards or more through the air and has caught two of those passes. For comparison, he was targeted deep 37 times in 2012 and came down with the ball 15 times.
One thing to keep in mind through all this: The Dolphins have gone up against some rugged defensive fronts this season already. The Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens all have a solid front seven that can get after the quarterback. Those four teams all rank in the top eight this season in sacks, with each team boasting 15 or more sacks apiece.
That being said, it would be foolhardy to assume things will get better simply because the competition down the line isn't as stiff as the competition they've already faced.
The Dolphins have to do something about their moribund pass protection.
"The offensive line is the key to any offense," the former scout said. "To give a quarterback more time, you can keep running backs in for max protection...or an extra tight end on the line as blocker. Also, if the defensive team (is) aggressive, screen passes are so important. ... The team can also design boots and half-rolls with short, safe passes. If your running game is established, then play action will be respected."
So many great theories here, but few if any of them look too promising from a Dolphins perspective.
Running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have regularly struggled in pass protection, as we see on this play against the Falcons. Linebacker Akeem Dent shoots the A-gap, and Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas had an opportunity to get a block on him but really didn't do much of anything to impede his progress to the quarterback; if anything, he helped by sending him inside, with a straight path to Tannehill.
Thomas and Miller have been responsible for eight pressures and three sacks of Tannehill this year.
Rollouts are a good idea, in theory, but they're not a fix-all—you can't have the quarterback roll out all the time.
"Typically, those are first-down calls when you're going to roll the quarterback out," said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. "When you do that, there's pluses and minuses. You restrict him on the field that the quarterback's able to utilize in his pass reads and so forth."
In fact, it doesn't sound like the Dolphins plan on using rollouts very much at all.
"I know we had one keeper, I think in the third quarter," Tannehill said. "Other than that, I think that was the only rollout."
He had one other rollout, whether it was designed or not, that helped buy him more time to make a throw. The problem with such a throw, however, is that, as Sherman said, you can only throw to one side of the field.
We hear all the time about a quarterback not throwing against his body when rolling out of the pocket, so as Sherman points out, the quarterback is then limited to reading just half the field. Offenses typically run a hi-low concept on rollouts to give the quarterback multiple options to throw to on that side, and the worst-case scenario should be a pass thrown away out of bounds (not a penalty since the quarterback has broken the tackle box).
If there's one major coaching adjustment to be made during the bye week, it may be to find ways to buy Tannehill more time using rollouts. These will not only help keep pressure away from Tannehill, but they could also lead to some big runs from Tannehill, who has already shown he has some wheels when he gets on the move.
They can't roll out every down, though, without risking a defense catching onto their tendency and destroying those plays before they ever have a chance to develop.
What about play action? That's one of the most tried and true methods of slowing down a defensive line. Creating the illusion of the run forces a defense to stay at home in the event that the ball is handed off. The problem with that, however, is that the run has to be a real threat that the defense has to account for.
At this point, those words couldn't be further from the description of the Dolphins running game. They attempt just 19 rushes per game, the third-lowest average in the NFL, their 69.6 yards per game is fifth-lowest and their 3.7 YPA is the 12th lowest.
Tannehill has used play action on just 15.2 percent of his dropbacks, which is tied for the sixth-lowest percentage in the NFL.
So, it looks like the answer might come down to guys like Jonathan Martin, Tyson Clabo and others stepping their games up. The two offensive tackles have each allowed six sacks this season, and according to PFF, each ranks in the bottom half among all offensive tackles in pass-blocking efficiency.
"Blocking is still the foundation," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. "Pass protection in the passing game comes down to blocking, number one. There is different timing you can use. There are different launch points you can use. There are different pass concepts. We are going to be looking at everything the next couple of days."
With so many problems and so many possible ways to fix those problems, the Dolphins will still use the bye week to get creative in how to better protect Tannehill.
"Oh yeah," Philbin said. "Again, we have a comprehensive system. I believe we have a number of different ways we can throw the ball, a number of different pass concepts. Sometimes more always isn't better, but we are going to look at every avenue possible to improve our protection."
It won't be a quick fix; there are a lot of pieces at work contributing to their struggles, but with improvement from all parties involved, the Dolphins passing offense could be firing on all cylinders.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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