Written by Steven Wilson at 4:05 PM EST | Twitter: @stevenjwilson11
Through 29 minutes of the first half against the Chicago Bears, Ryan Tannehill was on fire! The third-year quarterback completed each of his first 14 throws for 176 yards and two scores – a big reason for his success was the play of his offensive line. For example, with a little more than five minutes left in the second quarter Tannehill was given roughly six or seven seconds to survey the field and find an open target – Mike Wallace, whom he hit for the touchdown.
Last season when the line allowed a league-high and franchise-record 58 sacks, those plays may not have happened with the team decimated at tackle. But fast forward 12 months and the team has stronghold left tackle Branden Albert anchoring his quarterback’s blindside.
“I think we are just working every day,” said big No. 71. “Like I said before, this was going to be a process and we are making progress every game and every day. We are just gelling together, and coaches are coaching us. Whatever schemes the coaches are drawing up, we just execute.”
Most times, that execution has been acceptable – not always flawless, but good enough to give Tannehill time to find an open receiver. But other times, like the video below, there have been communication breakdowns.
On this play, tight end Charles Clay should contain the end. With a designed Quarterback-rollout to his side, it’s up to him to seal the edge, but Clay whiffed, didn’t block anyone and the play resulted in a sack.
When asked about the reason for the sacks allowed this season, Head Coach Joe Philbin said, “[It’s been] a little bit of everything. I think we have 14 sacks [allowed]. Usually, just like I watched all of Jacksonville’s 22 (sacks) and some of them were because they had unblocked guys on a blitz, maybe the receiver didn’t look hot. Some were one-on-one guys who won a matchup. Some of it was the twist game. Not unique to us is we have 14 sacks, and I would say, again don’t quote me on these exact numbers, but I think you can spread them out a little bit. Some of them have been [because] we didn’t handle or respond to pressure very well potentially. Some of them have been [because] we should have gotten the ball out quicker. Some of them have been [because] we should have picked up the twist quicker. Some of them have been [because] we lost the one-on-one matchup, so I think there’s a variety of things.”
Regardless of the outcome, it’s been a bit of a surprise how well the Dolphins offensive line has played together. Mike Pouncey was the only starting holdover from last year’s group.
“We have some guys who are talented,” said Albert, who joined the team this summer. “We have some guys who have been playing football for a long time. We have guys who have been there (and) done that. I think guys are not selfish, just like (Mike) Pouncey with his unselfishness to play right guard. That’s big for us. He’s doing everything possible, and the rest of us are doing everything possible to help this team win.”
Pouncey’s shift to the middle was in part because Samon Satele has been playing so well at center and there was a need at guard for an experienced player like Pouncey.
“It’s been fun man,” said Pouncey after practice this week. “Just all of the different guys we have in the room, the different traits they bring, the different attitude they bring in every day. It’s been good to know these guys, to have them come to our football team and the biggest thing has been helping our football team improve. They’ve all done that.”
One player who’s stood out in particular has been rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James out of Tennessee. Through six games, James has blocked for 236 passing plays, allowed one sack, seven hits and nine hurries. His effort has earned him the 34th ranking in ProFootballFocus.com’s offensive tackle pass-blocking efficiency (94.5).
When asked how he thought James has blocked, Albert just smiled and said, “I get asked this question a lot. I think he’s doing a pretty darn good job for a rookie. I think he’s only given up one sack this year. I don’t want to jinx him, but he’s playing well. I think he’s listening, he working hard. It’s a process with him. He’s going to get better each and every day. He’s learning with what he needs to learn, and I think he’s doing a good job doing it.”
Following a season filled with controversy, drama and scandal, no one thought the Dolphins O-Line would be this good, this soon.
“I think we have to give most of our credit to our new offensive line coach John Benton,” admitted Pouncey. “He’s been doing a great job, him and Jack Bicknell. They brought in some different techniques we’ve been using and he grinds us and makes us the players we are.”
Despite the improvement, things aren’t necessarily perfect.
“I’d say that we are much improved obviously because of the way the statistics are,” said Pouncey. “We go out there and come in and work every day, try and work as hard as we can. We’ve gotten better as a group all around.”