Adam Gase, Ryan Tannehill and Realistic Expectations
Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times through the first three games of this season. Five of those sacks came in Week 1 against the Seahawks in Seattle. The Miami Dolphins rebuilt offensive line that features four offensive tackles and one center when healthy appeared to be doing its job.
In fact, Tannehill was’t sacked at all in Week 2. He has played 69 games in his career and that was only the fifth time that had happened. The first time since 2014.
The Dolphins’ newfound competence on the offensive line disappeared after Week 3. Without Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey in Week 4, the Dolphins were forced to move Laremy Tunsil to left tackle while brining in backup Billy Turner to play left guard and third-string center Kraig Urbik to play center.
Tannehill was sacked five times and the offense couldn’t function as its offensive line was repeatedly exposed.
Pouncey returned in Week 5 but Albert remained out. Tunsil suffered an injury when he slipped in the shower on the day of the game so he was also made inactive. Without Tunsil or Albert, the Dolphins were forced to start Billy Turner at left tackle, a player who was inadequate at his actual position of guard, while Dallas Thomas was drafted in to start at left guard. Thomas has been one of the worst linemen in the NFL getting significant time over recent years.
Tannehill was sacked six times, threw two interceptions and once again, the offense couldn’t function because its line was being exposed over and over again.
Adam Gase understood this. The very next day he presented a quote that appeared to reflect some exasperation and frustration with the Miami media who default to blaming the quarterback whenever anything goes wrong. From James Walker of ESPN, “Well, I know when we have 18 drop-back passes and he’s hit or sacked on nine of them, and then the completions we do have, he’s got guys in his face. So I’m supposed to blame [Tannehill] for that? …Everybody wants to blame that position. It’s the easy one to do because you can see completion, incompletion, interception. When you hit your back foot and you get sacked, there’s not much you can do about it.”
Gase backed up his words on Monday by releasing both Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas on Tuesday.
We don’t really have any reason to question Gase’s motivation. He isn’t tied to Tannehill. He wasn’t there when the team drafted him. He is a renowned quarterback coach with a five-year deal who would fall into another job if the Dolphins forced him out because he didn’t want to work with Tannehill. Furthermore, he didn’t immediately arrive and commit to Tannehill and talk him up for the sake of talking him up. He waited until he had actually had time to go through the quarterback’s tape before commenting on who he had inherited.
Such is the nature of NFL media and especially team-specific media that has watched a quarterback on a failing offense for five years, Gase isn’t necessarily going to be taken at his word. So lets look at the tape and see why Gase is vehemently defending his quarterback, so much so that he has already committed to Tannehill as his starter for the remainder of the season.
For his first sack of the game, Tannehill was trying to throw a screen pass. It wasn’t a slow developing screen but it wasn’t a play where he could catch and release the ball either. Devante Parker is the target at the bottom of the screen and he is lax in his route. He shows little explosiveness or physicality to get off the defensive back covering him so he can run back underneath Jarvis Landry’s incoming block.
When the above gif freezes, Tannehill is looking to throw the ball but he can’t because Parker isn’t close to being in position. This shouldn’t be a major problem because it’s still a relatively quick play.
The problem comes when you combine Parker’s lax effort with a blown assignment in the protection. Tannehill executes a quick play fake to Jay Ajayi when he catches the ball. Ajayi should pick up the incoming defensive end as soon as he passes Tannehill but instead he fans outside to avoid him. Ajayi shouldn’t even have been in that position as right tackle JuWuan James let the defensive end go so he could position himself against the further afield rusher who the tight end was already blocking.
Derrick Morgan got a free run at the quarterback and blew through Tannehilhl for a huge hit.
The next sack came late in the second quarter when the Dolphins were trying to run their two-minute offense. Tannehill audibles to a seven-man protection while the Titans only rush four players after the quarterback. This should give him time to take a shot downfield. The blocking doesn’t hold up anywhere close to long enough for the number of players committed to it. Turner at left tackle is easily brushed aside by Jurrell Casey on his way to the quarterback.
Now it might look like Tannehill has a checkdown option to his right, but realistically he shouldn’t be looking to his checkdown that early in the play. The checkdown options were both actually blockers who leaked out when they couldn’t find anyone to pick up. The tight end isn’t even looking for the ball and the running back is actually covered by a defensive back waiting out of shot.
Now, the other question: Was there anyone open downfield?
In short: Nope!
Kenny Stills might look like he is open in the flat to the top of the screen but the defensive back to that side is following the quarterback’s eyes. By the time Tannehill moves his eyes and throws the ball from close to the far hash the pass would be more likely to be returned for a pick six than caught for a first down. The corner route is covered by two defenders. Where the intrigue comes is with Jarvis Landry running down the seam.
The play design created a scenario where Landry was running one-on-one with a middle linebacker deep down the middle of the field. Landry needed just a moment more to get level with the linebacker and clear the last line of defensive backs. Had Turner held up even for a split second longer, Tannehill would have had a chance at throwing a 68-yard touchdown. His deep accuracy this year has mostly been on point too.
This one is simple. The Titans rush three and JuWuan James is beaten immediately. A three-man rush should give the quarterback time to sit back and survey the eight-man coverage. Not if you’re starting a right tackle who has regressed since he entered the league. James gets a great jump off the line but continues to drop deep instead of meeting his edge rusher. That edge rusher swats him aside so easily that James didn’t even really slow him down.
Obviously in this situation it’s not the quarterback’s fault, but for the cynical amongst you…
There is not a single receiver who is even close to being open. Nobody that Tannehill could realistically throw open even.
The fourth was a coverage sack, Tannehill was caught before he could break the pocket.
The fifth saw the left side of the Dolphins line collapse. Turner offered no resistance to give up the sack while Thomas at left guard was pushed back so far Tannehill couldn’t step up.
Again, the final sack was Turner’s fault. It’s possible he didn’t know the playbook as someone who was asked to play tackle late in the day. He’s so badly beaten here it looks like he was waiting for the running back to be on his outside shoulder. Regardless, Tannehill never had a chance.
Tannehill threw an interception on that final drive when Turner failed to adjust to a stunt and he was hit as he forced the ball into tight coverage downfield out of desperation. It was essentially a hail mary interception.
His first interception of the game was more interesting.
There’s no question that this was a bad play for Tannehill. He reacted poorly to pressure that came up the middle as he released the ball. He moved his feet to avoid the hit instead of stepping into the throw. His pass wasn’t way off target though. The broadcast angle can be deceiving on these types of plays but the broadcaster did offer a replay angle that showed the ball hitting the body of Parker. The endzone angle shows that too.
Although the ball was thrown behind Parker, the receiver didn’t have to reach back for it. It connected with his chest/shoulder initially so Parker only needed to secure it. Instead he let the defender trailing him wrestle the ball free from his grasp.
Parker has proven to be soft against contact and his explosiveness doesn’t make up for it. He has offered all the flaws that Mike Wallace offered without as many big plays.
Mike Tannenbaum drafted Parker so he could offer his quarterback a greater margin for error at the catch point. They hoped he could be an accuracy-erasing receiver, someone who snatched balls that were thrown in his vicinity, not someone who relied on perfect passes to be effective. This slightly off-target throw from Tannehill should still have resulted in a completion. At that point we could still criticize Tannehill for the throw but also understand that it wasn’t an interception worthy ball.
Now if he had thrown the ball there and the defensive back was waiting for it, that would have been a different situation but that’s not the kind of coverage he saw when he released the ball.
Adam Gase is a relatively-new head coach. He doesn’t have a track record of success in the role but does have a track record of success as a coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He doesn’t douse himself in cliches and offer vague answers like his predecessor, Joe Philbin. Gase is offering explanations and information to explain his actions, when you examine the evidence that he is using to create his verdict, it’s hard to argue with him.