Playoff Predicament: Why Gase is Making the Right Call by Keeping Matt Moore In
For the first time in eight years, the Miami Dolphins are preparing for a football game past Week 17. This week’s win-or-go-home matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers figures to be among the most challenging Adam Gase’s unit has faced this year. Unfortunately, the team will be doing so without the services of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill’s knee is still not close to 100% even a month removed from his ACL/MCL sprain. Adam Gase has told the media that, barring any drastic changes in Tannehill’s condition today, Matt Moore will be making his 4th consecutive start for the Dolphins this Sunday. Obviously this situation is not ideal, but the decision to start Matt Moore this week is without a doubt the correct one. I’m not here to argue that Matt Moore is a better quarterback, which would be both trivial and completely asinine. Even if Ryan Tannehill does improve and manages to practice, the decision to start Matt Moore will still be the correct one for a number of reasons, even if Tannehill gives the team a better chance to win.
A Hobbled Tannehill is Likely to be Rusty
Ryan Tannehill has been inconsistent throughout his entire career, but one of his constants has been his affinity for making plays on the move. Ryan Tannehill’s athleticism is his “X-factor” and is one of the reasons that the organization never gave up on him after several stretches of incompetent quarterback play over the last few seasons. Tannehill is at his best when he rolls outside the pocket, where he has showed significant improvement on his decisiveness and decision-making under Adam Gase. His knee injury, even in the event that he is cleared by doctors, would likely damage his ability to make plays on the move and would certainly limit his ability to move the chains as a runner.
If you take away Ryan Tannehill’s athleticism and the threat his legs have made him for opposing defenses, you have a mediocre pocket passer that is prone to mistakes under pressure. While I’m sure Adam Gase and his staff would prepare the best gameplan possible for a limited Ryan Tannehill, I doubt that he would be any more effective than Matt Moore has been as the team’s field general.
Matt Moore is a Solid Quarterback:
There is a reason Matt Moore is paid like a top-tier backup quarterback – he’s a top-tier backup quarterback. Moore, while not as athletically gifted or talented as Tannehill, has proven to be a capable manager of the Dolphins’ offense. His pedestrian performance against the top-scoring defense in the NFL doesn’t change the fact that he has ably led his team to two 34 point performances, including Week 16’s instant classic that ultimately rewarded the Dolphins in a playoff berth. Though his sample size is quite small, and he has received more help than Tannehill did for much of the season, I feel that the statistics are indicative of Matt Moore’s status as a decent option going forward:
In 13 games, Tannehill averaged 230 yards per game and a 67.1% completion rate with 19 touchdowns to 12 interceptions for a 93.5 passer rating.
In 3 games, Moore has averaged 225 yards per game and a 63.2% completion rate with 8 touchdowns to 3 interceptions for a 105.6 passer rating.
Moore has certainly made his share of horrendous throws but, then again, so has Tannehill. Matt Moore is by no means the ideal starting quarterback but, considering he’s been just a slight downgrade to a healthy Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore should be just as if not more effective than an injured Ryan Tannehill.
Starting Injured Quarterbacks in the Playoffs Has Backfired in the Past
The three examples of starting injured quarterbacks in the playoffs that come to mind are Philip Rivers in the 2007 AFC Championship game, Robert Griffin III in the 2012 Wild Card and Ben Roethlisberger in the 2014 Wild Card.
After injuring his leg in the 4th quarter of the divisional playoff against the Indianapolis Colts, Rivers watched as the team held on to advance to the AFC Championship. Obviously, the AFC Championship is no joke and Rivers wanted to play despite his injury. His coaches relented, and he played against the New England Patriots for a shot at the Super Bowl. Instead of coming back against all odds, Rivers tore his ACL (though he continued playing to his credit as a competitor) and proceeded to throw away his team’s chances with a poor performance in a 21-12 defeat.
In 2012, after injuring his knee halfway through the Washington Redskins playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, Robert Griffin III re-entered the game as Mike Shanahan allowed. We all know how that ended. He tore his ACL and MC, and hasn’t been a 10th of the player as he once was.
More recently, Ben Roethlisberger’s return to the game at a critical juncture after suffering a potential concussion backfired immensely. Roethlisberger missed 3 snaps in the game against the Baltimore Ravens after a vicious hit by Courtney Upshaw, but his backup, Bruce Gradkowski, performed ably and moved the ball down the field. Shockingly, Big Ben was allowed back in the game and proceeded to throw an interception on his first play back.
The point is, these guys wanted to play, just as I’m sure Ryan Tannehill does. However, it is ultimately on the coaches to ensure that their players are put in position to succeed and remain safe. Adam Gase is wise to ere on the side of caution.
The Dolphins Are Just Getting Started:
The Miami Dolphins are not a fluke. They have talent on both sides of the ball, have a young nucleus to build around and are coached by one of the most capable coaching staffs in the entire NFL. However, if they risk playing Tannehill and he ends up tearing a ligament in his knee, their bright future would be jeopardized. Seasons are often won and lost in training camp, and the availability of the starting quarterback is integral to the smooth success of OTAs, training camp, etc. The Dolphins are a team that should continue to grow from season to season, and risking an offensive rebuild for the sake of one playoff game is ill-advised at best. Even if the season ends this weekend at Heinz Field, make no mistake, the future is bright in Miami… but only if their starting quarterback remains healthy.