Breaking Down Ryan Tannehill's Breakout Performance vs. Cardinals

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IOctober 1, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 30:  Quarterback Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins throws a pass during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 30, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Carindals defeated the Dolphins 24-21 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins lost their battle with the Arizona Cardinals, but they may have finally won the war at the quarterback position.

You know, the war they've been fighting with 17 starting quarterbacks since Dan Marino retired in 2000.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's performance was mired by two late-game interceptions and a fumble, but if there were ever such a thing as moral victories in football, the Dolphins would be hanging a massive "W" on the refrigerator after Sunday.

"He made some good throws and he made some good plays, he really did," Philbin said, via MiamiDolphins.com. "He made some big-time throws, threw the ball pretty accurately it looked like and I think he had a good demeanor during the course of the game. I was pleased with what he did."

We have seen glimpses of Tannehill's big-league capabilities through four games, but never more sustained than they were against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals, a team that still boasts a top-three scoring defense and the No. 6 defensive passer rating in the league.

The Cardinals didn't make life easy for Tannehill, blitzing him early and often. He told the media, (per MiamiDolphins.com):

You get a sense of what the game’s going to be early on and just going back to what they had done in previous games. The last time they played a rookie quarterback they brought a lot of pressure and did the same thing this game early on, bringing a lot of pressure, so you get a sense of what the game is going to be like early on.

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Blitz beaters were part of the game plan coming into the game. We saw the Dolphins attack the blitz in a very similar way to how they attacked the Texans blitz, with short quick passes over the middle.

This 3rd-and-10 play early on gave the Cardinals a great opportunity to get off the field, and they eagerly jumped at the opportunity by blitzing Tannehill.

Some rookie quarterbacks would buckle under the blitz, making an errant throw in an effort to get the ball out quickly. Not Tannehill, who stood in and delivered a decisive strike to wide receiver Davone Bess. The wide receiver came open over the middle of the field and made a spectacular catch, picking up some bonus yards to go with it.

The game plan was executed well, with Tannehill getting the ball out quickly and staying composed in the pocket in the face of the blitz. Clearly, though, he got a huge assist from Bess and, of course, Brian Hartline, who set a Dolphins record with 253 receiving yards against Arizona.

But make no mistake: When handing out Moral Victory Pie, Tannehill gets a substantial chunk for himself. 

Why? Simply put: poise.

The poise he showed on the play to the left, where linebacker Daryl Washington got through the pocket and forced Tannehill to scramble to his right. The rookie quarterback was able to hit who else but Brian Hartline for a 30-yard pick-up.

Or the poise he showed in the frame on the right, where the pass rush worked its way through the pocket once again. Instead of scrambling, as he may have done at Texas A&M, Tannehill stood in, stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike to Hartline that picked up 57 yards.

Or like this blitz through the A-gap, where Washington has a free lane to rush Tannehill and nearly got there, but not until after Tannehill had delivered a beautiful sideline throw to Davone Bess that picked up 17 yards.

His ability to make those plays has given the Dolphins reason to trust him. In the first four games of his career, Tannehill has dropped back 151 times, and never more than his 45 drop-backs against the Cardinals.

In a game where Miami led most of the way, that is a truly startling number of pass plays. Where most coaches might have gone soft and conservative, hoping to conserve a win, the Dolphins stuck to the game plan and kept throwing. Tannehill rewarded them time and time again with big throws.

Too bad all this had to happen in a losing effort. And that also falls on Tannehill to a degree for his pair of late interceptions and his late fumble.

The Dolphins may not have picked up the win, but if Tannehill can sustain the level of play that he showed for 57:09 against the Cardinals' top-ranked defense, those wins will come soon enough.

Perhaps not soon enough to spell a 2012 playoff berth for the Dolphins, but soon enough that Dolphins fans don't have to worry about which quarterback they should select in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. 

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 firsthand.


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