Tannehill’s Triumph: How Adam Gase Leveled the Playing Field & Unleashed Ryan Tannehill
It’s the Dolphins’ second possession, and they’re already down by 7 at home against the 1-9 49ers.
On first down, Ryan Tannehill evades the rush and scrambles for a solid gain; thanks to a holding call against the defense, the team has a new set of downs. Then, Tannehill uncorks a bomb that travels deep towards DeVante Parker, only to fall incomplete.
However, the tone was set. It was going to fall on Ryan Tannehill to lead the charge against a surprisingly energized 49ers offense.
Much talk during the Dolphins’ winning streak has been centered around the rushing attack, and rightfully so. Jay Ajayi has become one of the team’s biggest stars, powering his way through defenses and keeping pace towards over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. The Jay Train, a moniker that earned him a loud train horn that booms even louder than the fans’ thunderous applause when No. 23 is introduced, is rolling down the tracks and carrying the Dolphins with him.
The ignited rushing attack has created opportunities that Ryan Tannehill has never had in his career; under previous coaching regimes, the run was abandoned even if it was somewhat effective. Defenses never had to guess, leaving seven men in coverage on almost every play. Now, Tannehill has the luxury of working against stacked boxes and has been granted a legitimate play-action threat.
While this had been a huge help for Tannehill, it isn’t the sole driving force behind his recent success.
When examining the Dolphins’ past and present, you could consider the team’s current situation as simply leveling the playing field for Tannehill. He has the ability to audible, which he has desperately needed for years. He now has a legitimate threat to run the ball out of the backfield. (It isn’t even about having a back as dynamic as Ajayi – it’s simply a matter of making defenses focus on the run enough to account for it.) He has a coaching staff that changes playcalls to help balance out issues along the offensive line.
Oh, and when they’re healthy, he has an offensive line.
What Ryan Tannehill has this year is what most NFL quarterbacks are granted within 2-3 years of entering the league.
Consider players like Carson Wentz, Derek Carr, Trevor Siemian and Andy Dalton. All of these quarterbacks have at least one of the following:
A stable offensive line.
A legitimate rushing threat. (Once again, it doesn’t have to be good, just present.)
A group of high-level receivers.
A coaching staff that helps adjust the game towards their strengths and provides opportunities to succeed.
For the first four years of Ryan Tannehill’s career, he didn’t have any of those team qualities that allow a passer to succeed.
In year five, it finally has arrived.
Ryan Tannehill is surrounded by good conditions for quarterback success at this point; he isn’t the sole driving force behind the culture change in Miami. However, Tannehill is capitalizing on the opportunities that he is being afforded, and the ability to cash in on those chances is nothing to be scoffed at.
On Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, Ryan Tannehill showed that, with a levelled playing-field, he is capable of being the impetus that drives the Dolphins towards winning performances.
During the team’s third possession, Tannehill rocketed a pass deep down the middle of the field for DeVante Parker. The Dolphins’ second-year WR laid out for the pass, hauling in the well-placed throw.
Some would say that this is an overthrown pass, but the fact of the matter is that it’s better to place the ball too far ahead than it is to risk having it fall short. Tannehill knows that if the ball sails a bit, there’s a chance that his 6’4” receiver with 66.5-inch wingspan can make the grab, while there’s no chance that it’ll be picked off.
The foundation of the play is Tannehill’s ability to trust DeVante Parker. Due to Parker’s lackluster route running, it will almost always be necessary to throw into traffic when targeting him. With pass protection, Tannehill is able to place the ball in a spot where Parker is the only one who can bring it down.
Good play design, play calling and pass protection; once again, the playing field is being leveled for Ryan Tannehill.
Later, Tannehill made another excellent throw to DeVante Parker. While the play was called back after official review, the ball placement from Miami’s quarterback shows just how much he has improved under a new coaching staff.
Immediately after the ball is snapped, Tannehill recognizes that the safety won’t be in position, giving DeVante Parker a one-on-one matchup. Tannehill again trusts DeVante Parker’s wingspan and puts the ball in a perfect spot: high towards the outside shoulder on the way to the pylon.
We’ve seen Tannehill struggle with delivery of this throw in the past; even in training camp, I recall a day when Tannehill must’ve thrown this route 15-20 times in a row only to complete it once.
Again, Ryan Tannehill shows that he is growing as a passer.
Adam Gase is also calling plays that allows the Dolphins’ QB to zip the ball into tight spaces within the 15-20 yard range, which has been Tannehill’s bread and butter.
The 49ers actually have strong coverage on this play. However, Tannehill has seemingly infinite confidence in his ability to deliver the ball within this designated area of the field.
Thanks to coaching that actually considers the QB’s strengths, he is afforded an opportunity to do what he does best in key situations, such as the 3rd & 12 showed above.
Ryan Tannehill has also found success throughout his career when asked to make plays with his legs. Thanks to the presence of a rushing threat, Tannehill has had chances to deliver the ball while on the move and make plays purely with his feet.
On this play, Tannehill shows growth in his decision making. In the past, he has struggled to make the right call when rolling out, often growing indecisive and eager to get the ball out. On this play, he demonstrated patience and confidence in his arm when finding the best possible pass-catching option.
Instead of taking off with the ball himself, Tannehill waits for the best read to appear, sneaking the ball between two defenders to Jarvis Landry for the first down.
In addition to making plays with his arm while running, Ryan Tannehill has been able to make things happen with his legs when asked to do so.
Given the Dolphins’ addition of a legitimate rushing threat, and the presence of a QB who has the ability to send the ball downfield, throwing the possibility of a quarterback run into the mix is too much for a defense.
There is no way for a defense to distribute their men well enough to perfectly defend the run, downfield pass and QB rush on one snap. However, the Dolphins’ coaches have created a situation in which all of those things could theoretically occur on any snap.
By setting two receivers out wide and giving Ryan Tannehill the option of running the ball off of the fake, the Dolphins give Miami’s quarterback an opportunity to make a huge play for the team.
While these plays certainly help move the ball, Tannehill’s best play with his feet came on an incomplete pass to DeVante Parker.
With the knowledge that the Dolphins went on to win this game, it’s easy to appreciate how spectacular this play was despite having it overturned. Containment on the defensive ends completely breaks down, leaving Ryan Tannehill with no choice other than to escape the pocket.
Tannehill keeps his eyes downfield once he’s out of the pocket, in addition to checking his surroundings to avoid a sack or fumble. Then, as DeVante Parker makes an improvised cut back towards the ball (something WRs are coached to do), Tannehill shows faith in his receiver and lets it rip downfield.
The play above was everything that Dolphins fans have asked for from Tannehill for years. He stayed on his feet in the face of pressure, escaped the pocket, avoided a sack/fumble, kept his eyes downfield and let the ball fly deep.
Even if it wasn’t a completed pass, Ryan Tannehill checked everything off on the wish list with his well-placed bomb to Parker. Very few QBs in the NFL could do what Tannehill did on that play.
While the play above was the complete package (well, for Tannehill at least), another snap for the QB showed his best throw and read of the afternoon.
It doesn’t get much prettier for a passer than that. Ryan Tannehill delivers an absolute laser on the play, zipping the ball to Kenny Stills before the safety can get there to make a play.
While Tannehill made the play happen, the running game can shoulder some of the responsibility for this TD. On 3rd & 3, the defense maintained their focus on the backfield and created a sliver of an opportunity for Tannehill to make something happen.
Tramaine Brock stays close to the sticks, maintaining his focus on shorter routes. Ryan Tannehill recognizes this quickly, but also knows that the safety will be making a break for Stills on the play. It’s important for Miami’s QB to put the ball in a location where Stills could shield it from the safety, or where it would be difficult for the defender to reach in time to break it up.
Had Ryan Tannehill placed the ball inside, or had he made the read a fraction of a second later, it would’ve been a pick. However, he played this one perfectly. Tannehill dropped back, recognized a gap in coverage, knew where he needed to put the football and delivered a strike to Stills.
Once again, Tannehill made a play thanks to a luxury that most passers in the NFL are afforded at a much earlier point in their career.
Ryan Tannehill’s team-leading performance against the 49ers (according to PFF, it was a league-leading day, earning Tannehill the top grade among QBs for Week 12) wasn’t the first time that he has been the difference maker for Miami.
Incredible throws downfield?
Game-winning drives showing a pure will to lead his team to victories?
Week 12’s game was not a mirage for Ryan Tannehill. No, he won’t post a QB rating above 140 every week, but big throws in big moments are becoming the norm for Miami’s fifth-year passer.
Heading into the 2016 season, I pinpointed Week 9 as the time that we should start to see serious improvements from Tannehill within a brand-new system. While I might have been a week off, we’re finally seeing why the Dolphins decided that Adam Gase was the man to lead this team to success with unexpected quickness.
Earlier in Ryan Tannehill’s career, he was able to show flashes despite being at a distinct disadvantage in a league with 31 other teams seemingly working to make life as easy as possible for their signal caller. In Miami, those same efforts did not exist.
There was no consistent threat of the running game, even though it was obvious that the running game was required to spark the offense.
There were no efforts to shuffle up an offensive line that allowed Tannehill to be sacked more than any QB in the league over three years.
The coaching staff was too stubborn to give Tannehill the authority to make calls at the line of scrimmage, leaving him hanging defenseless against blitzes and completely vulnerable in the backfield.
However, that was in the past.
Throughout the Dolphins’ six-game winning streak, the Dolphins’ QB has showed that he is fully capable of leading winning efforts. Between making plays in the biggest moments, delivering throws that few NFL QBs can make and capitalizing on the presence of intuitive coaching, Ryan Tannehill has been able to put it all together in the month of November.
Right now, Ryan Tannehill is playing his best football. The best part of this stretch is that, based on the changes that ushered in his high-level play, there’s no reason to believe that there’s an expiration date on the level of play we have seen from Tannehill in recent weeks.
As tests loom against teams like the Ravens, Cardinals and Bills with playoff positioning on the line heading down the stretch, we’ll see if Tannehill can continue to lead his team to big plays in the biggest moments.
Based on the games we have seen in the month of October, there’s no reason to believe that Ryan Tannehill can’t step up and help Miami rise above the December competition that they have been unable to defeat in recent years.
With a leveled playing-field, a long-awaited ground game and a group of intuitive offensive-minded coaches, it looks as if the Ryan Tannehill of late could be here to stay in Miami.