Tannehill Sophomore Slump Or Jump?
By Drew Cathey
After the comment from Mike Sherman in the off-season in which he said, "This young man will be the most improved quarterback in the National Football League from year one to year two this year — I promise you that," it seems as though Dolphins' fans would be eager to see improvement right from the start of game 1. Maybe it was the relieved pressure of playing the Cleveland Browns who haven't had a record better than 5-11 over in the last five years or maybe it was just that the Dolphins really do feel that they are that much of an improved team. Whichever it was, it showed when the Dolphins came away with a 23-10 victory on opening day.
A year ago we saw Ryan Tannehill's debut as the Miami Dolphins quarterback. The game could be seen as nothing less of a struggle, not just for Tannehill but for the Dolphins as a team. Against the Texans, Tannehill was 20 of 36 passes for 219 yards with not one touchdown and three interceptions. Clearly this was not what Dolphins fans were hoping for from their first round draft pick. The final result was a 30-10 loss and a good idea of what the season was going to be for Tannehill and the Dolphins. That idea was that this is going to be a process and a learning experience.
Move forward one year later and Dolphin's fans finally got what they were expecting: 24 of 38 passes for 1 touchdown and an interception. Most of all it was a 23-10 victory and a start to a season where expectations are beginning to grow after a lot of off-season moves that leave the Dolphins with a roster that is expected to have the talent to finally compete for an AFC East title, if not more.
However, as it seems with every team, no matter how many moves a team makes in the off-season the quarterback always carries the burden of the team's losses and the praise of the team's success. Should we really expect anything less from them though? At a position where you're basically the face of the team, unless maybe you're Christian Ponder in Minnesota with possibly one of the best running backs to ever play the game behind you, it's usually the quarterback who receives most of the attention on the offensive side of the ball. For the Dolphins that man is Tannehill.
So, how much success did Tannehill actually have in his sophomore year debut? Well, for one he got the first win of the season under his belt which is always good especially when it is on the road even if it was against the struggling Cleveland Browns. However, there were more numbers that can be looked at to judge Tannehill's performance and see how much he really has improved apart from the ones on the scoreboard.
A year ago Tannehill came away with no touchdown passes and three interceptions against Houston who we have come to know as one of the elite teams in the AFC. This wasn't good for the turnover battle and if you know anything about football you know that turnovers usually don't result in wins. Against Cleveland on Sunday Tannehill only had one interception and it could be argued that it wasn't even his fault after it came off a deflection on a throw over the middle of the field. Regardless of who's fault it was the turnover ratio ended with the Dolphins being at a +2 as opposed to their -4 from a year ago at Houston. It was only a small victory but it added up to the victory that mattered the most.
In addition to the turnover battle, there is one statistic that could possibly shine over all others from Sunday's win against the Browns. It is a statistic deep in the box score that many people might overlook. It was the fact that the Dolphins had 18 first downs on Sunday. A year ago they had 15 against Houston. However, the difference was the fact that a year ago only 7 of those first downs came from the arm of Ryan Tannehill and this past Sunday 15 of them came from his arm. What does this mean? Well it can be seen in multiple perspectives. You can say the lack of the Dolphins running game showing up forced more passes from Tannehill or you can look at it as the coaching staff having a lot more faith in Tannehill and his handle and understanding of the offense. The best thing to take from it all is that he produced and that always results in success. In a league where we see the elite quarterbacks being leaned on heavily by their teams to produce at big points in the game, we may be starting to see Ryan Tannehill"s small blossoming into one of those elite quarterbacks.
In contrast to all the good things that Tannehill did on opening day, we must not forget that he did not play a perfect game and made some mistakes. Aside from the one interception, Tannehill was also sacked 4 times which was 2 more times than he was in last season's opener. The Dolphins were able to not let these affect the outcome of the game, but it is still something to look at in the coming games when they play teams with a much better and more experienced defensive line. It can not be completly pinned on Tannheill that it was his fault, nor can you simply blame the offensive line, but what it comes down to is 4 sacks is 4 sacks and in order to have the success and improvement that Sherman predicted for Tannehill these numbers must go down.
As a whole though it doesn't seem like Dolphins fans could be much happier at this point. It was an exciting way to kick-off the 2013 campaign. It was an exciting off-season in which they saw many players leave and be replaced by new ones. Star players from other teams put on the aqua and orange and came onto a team that seems to be on the fence about whether it wants to make that jump into the elite group of teams in the NFL or stay stuck at the mediocre level of play. Tannehill remains the leader of the teeter-tottering team and showed Sunday that maybe the destiny of the Miami Dolphin's season really does rest on his shoulders. If Sunday was any foreshadowing of how the season is going to play out, Dolphin's fans might have something to start cheering about late in the season, other than who they're going to draft come April.