Miami Dolphins: Breaking Down the Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace Connection
After failing to make an impact in a Week 1 matchup with the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace expressed his frustrations at how he was used. Wallace is seen as a diva wide receiver by some sections of analysts and fans, while many believe he is paid too much money to be reliant on how he is used to produce.
For any receiver, how you are used is vital. In fact, how any player in this league is used is vital for their production.
Wallace in particular needs to be used properly to maximise his ability. In Week 1, the Dolphins failed to set up the coverage with underneath passes and screens. It allowed the Browns and Joe Haden to cover him with ease as he repeatedly ran deep sideline routes. Against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, Wallace caught a crossing route, a quick slant and a screen pass that went for a touchdown early in the game.
Not only do these routes play to Wallace’s strengths and take advantage of how the defense approaches him, it also makes the defense more aggressive against those underneath routes. Once that happens, the secondary is susceptible to deep passes down the field.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, the Dolphins offense was facing a second and 10. Wallace is lined up to the bottom of the screen, the furthest receiver from the snap of three to that side of the field. The Colts have their underneath defenders lined up slightly off line against the Dolphins’ inside receivers, while the depth of the safety to the top of the screen suggests they are in zone coverage.
That safety has no reason to be that deep because Brian Hartline is to that side of the formation.
The Colts have three deep defenders in zone coverage, with four underneath. Because the Dolphins started with three receivers to one side and kept those receivers to that side, many of those zone defenders are dragged towards that side of the field.
Wallace is at the bottom of the screen and looks set to run a curl route where quarterback Ryan Tannehill would be able to find him if he works back to the ball.
Wallace fakes the curl route with one hard step infield before he explodes past Greg Toler’s outside shoulder. Toler bites hard on Wallace’s fake and completely takes himself out of the play. He slows Wallace down by pulling him back illegally. Toler is called for the penalty.
As soon as the ball gets into Tannehill’s hands he is looking directly at Wallace. At the top of his drop, he has a very clean pocket to survey the field from. Tannehill never takes his eyes off of Wallace, something that would be an issue if it wasn’t for this specific play.
The play needs time to develop, so Tannehill is forced to hold onto the ball. His offensive line gives him plenty of time, except for left tackle Jonathan Martin who allows his assignment into a position where he can knock the ball out of Tannehill’s hands. At the same time as the defender stretches out to knock the ball away from Tannehill, the quarterback begins to draw the ball back, starting his throwing motion.
Tannehill wasn’t bringing the ball back to throw it down the field, he was pump faking at the same point when Wallace was faking his curl route. The young quarterback’s pump fake was very tight, so he didn’t expose the ball to the incoming defender, and he felt his presence to step up into a clean pocket.
With Mike Pouncey giving him great protection up the middle, Tannehill continues to work forward and steps into his throw deep down the right sideline.
Tannehill slightly underthrows Wallace, something that happened repeatedly when Wallace played in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger. It’s very easy to underthrow Wallace. Had Tannehill pushed the ball further down the field, Wallace would have scored a touchdown. Instead, he catches the ball short of the endzone for a big play.
The Wallace-Tannehill connection could be massive for the Dolphins moving forward. This play showed off all the key points of the relationship.
Wallace needs to be used effectively to open up these throws. Tannehill needs to be aggressive when throwing to Wallace, but he also has to help compensate for the inability of his left tackle in pass protection. From there, the quarterback needs to let the ball go as much as possible because it’s very difficult to overthrow a receiver with the speed of Wallace.
Cian Fahey writes FootballOutisders Film Room column, writes columns for Bleacher Report and is a Staff Writer for FootballGuys. You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf