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Ryan Tannehill Is Not Entirely to Blame for Miami Dolphins' Offensive Struggles

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IDecember 19, 2015

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to pass the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla.  (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

It's a quarterback-driven league, and so there's a constant rush to evaluate each game around the performance of the individual who handles the ball on every offensive play. 

For the Miami Dolphins and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, that evaluation has taken place in the media over the past four seasons, and while it's impossible to say that Tannehill is free of blame for the Dolphins' offensive woes, it's unfair to make him the donkey on whom the tail gets pinned. 

Consider the following 2015 stats, according to Pro Football Focus:

  • Dolphins receivers have dropped 31 of Tannehill's passes, the third-most dropped passes for a quarterback in the NFL. They have dropped 6.5 percent of Tannehill's pass attempts, the seventh-highest percentage in the NFL. 
  • Tannehill has been under pressure on 39.3 percent of his dropbacks, the seventh-highest percentage for a quarterback this year. He has also been sacked 35 times, the sixth-most for a quarterback.
  • That's despite ranking right around the middle of the pack in terms of the amount of time he spends in the pocket surveying the defense after the snap (15th in time to attempt, 16th in overall time in pocket). 
Pro Football Focus @PFF

Most drops suffered by QBs this season: Tom Brady: 43 Derek Carr: 34 Ryan Tannehill: 31 Aaron Rodgers: 30 Sam Bradford: 30

Let's not completely absolve Tannehill of his own flaws, though.

Tannehill has never been an effective deep passer; with the exception of his rookie year, in which he was accurate on 43.1 percent of his passes that traveled 20 yards or more downfield and ranked ninth out of 33 quarterbacks, Tannehill has never ranked higher than 22nd and has never had higher than a downfield accuracy percentage of 38. 

He's also been wildly inconsistent this year; he had less than 60 percent completions in six out of 13 games this year (tied for eighth-most games in the NFL), the same number as New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (8-5), San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (4-9) and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (6-7).

Notice there are more losing teams than winning teams in that rundown. 

He also had two or more touchdowns in just eight games (tied for 12th-most in the NFL). That's the same number of multiple-passing-touchdown games as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (13-0), San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (3-10) and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (4-9). 

I'll leave it to you to determine which of those quarterbacks is the outlier. 

What do those numbers indicate? That unless Tannehill is going to morph into Cam Newton overnight, he needs help—the kind of help that the Jets have given Fitzpatrick in the form of a top-notch duo of wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, an effective running game and a stifling defense.

The Dolphins have arguably given Tannehill one of those three things, but it's debatable. They've invested a lot of resources into the wide receiver position, and there's definitely talent on the depth chart with Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills.

However, it appears as though Landry is the only one Tannehill fully trusts out there at times, especially now with Matthews injured.

The use of the word "entirely" in the headline of this column was very deliberate.

Parker suffered a foot injury this summer that set back his integration in the offense, slowed his transition to the NFL and put his production on hold in the first couple months of the season, so his lack of involvement in the offense is understandable.

But what about Stills? This is a receiver who pulled in 63 receptions for 931 yards and three touchdowns last season and was a rising star with the New Orleans Saints. Now, with just 22 receptions for 392 yards and three touchdowns with the Dolphins, his transition to Miami has not been what was expected of him.

That lack of production can be directly attributed to Tannehill's deep ball; that's been Stills' strength throughout his career, and where Saints quarterback Drew Brees hit Stills on 9-of-14 deep passes in 2014, Tannehill has hit him on only 7-of-20.

They connect sometimes, like they did against the Giants, but it just hasn't been consistent enough.

NFL @NFL

Ryan Tannehill wanted it all. He got it. Kenny Stills --> 47-yard TD. #NYGvsMIA https://t.co/Yjp0XhBFxt

Deep passing is one area which Tannehill clearly still needs to work on, but the problem is, he can't work on some of the areas that plague the Dolphins offense—like, for example, the sudden and complete abandonment of the running game that seems to take place on a weekly basis.

Yes, every single team in the NFL throws the football more often than they run the football when playing from behind on offense, but few teams are as disproportionate in that respect as the Dolphins.

The league average is 66.9 percent pass plays to 33.1 percent run plays when trailing. The Dolphins currently sit at 73 percent pass plays and 27 percent run plays, a swing of six percent in either direction. 

On Monday against the Giants, the Dolphins did exactly what they've done so many times this season: ditched the run and started throwing the football all over the field, despite alternating between holding a narrow lead and coming back from a narrow deficit.

Neither team ever led by more than seven points, yet the Dolphins played almost the entire game as if trailing by more than one possession.

That's despite a running game that averaged 5.8 yards per carry, and despite a running back in Lamar Miller who averaged 7.4 yards per carry.

Tannehill has his share of problems, but he is not the problem that's causing the Dolphins offense to struggle.

His only hope is to finally have an offensive coordinator who knows how to run the ball effectively and commit to the running game, or at least to finally have a full complement of skill position players to help elevate his game. 

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