During the off-season, I went over a few criteria that the Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had to meet in order to consider his 2014 season a success. I set the criteria for Tannehill to pass for around 4,200-4,400 yards, 24-28 touchdowns, keep his interceptions down to around 8-12, have his quarterback rating about the 85-87 rating level, and raise his completion percentage up to about 63 percent.
Tannehill's final stats for the 2014 season were as follows: 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 92.3 quarterback rating, and a 66.4 completion percentage, which met four of the five criteria I set for him in the season and he even outperformed in the quarterback rating. Tannehill clearly showed improvement this past year and the arrow is trending up for him and the offense. So all-in-all, Tannehill had a very good year, especially considering the offensive line and the lack of a big-play wide receiver.
But there is one more criteria I should have added to the list for Tannehill and that is yards per attempt. In his three years in the NFL, Tannehill's yard per attempt have been 6.8, 6.7, and 6.9 this year. Compare that to a guys like Andrew Luck, who had a 7.5 this year, Aaron Rodgers, who had a 8.3, and Tony Romo, who had 8.6, and 6.9 is pretty poor.
When you combine the fact that Tannehill had a 66.4 completion percentage but only 6.9 yards per attempt, it is pretty obvious to conclude that the majority of his passes were shorter passes. When you look as "Passes by Direction" from Pro Football Focus, you can see that 362 of his passes came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage or less, meaning either he was not very aggressive with his passes or the play calling was not aggressive. I would tend to lean towards that Tannehill was just trying for the easy completion.
Tannehill's completion percentage, quarterback rating, and touchdowns were all at a great level this year, meaning all of those numbers indicate that he has improved on his efficiency, but in order for him to be in consideration to be on the same level as guys like Luck or Romo or Matt Ryan, or any of the upper echelon players, he will need to start taking more risks.
The elite quarterbacks in the league, like Aaron Rodgers, take chances and produce big plays for their teams. For example, Aaron Rodgers had a quarterback rating of 104.8 on passes of 20 yards plus down field with 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions. While Tannehill is not an elite quarterback like Rodgers is, his quarterback rating of 66.9 on passes of the same distance is not any where near where it needs to be. The Dolphins were 28th in the league in passing plays of 20 plus yards with only 41, while the Indianapolis Colts led the league with 78.
The saying "high risk, high reward" is cliche but it is very true, especially when it comes to the NFL. While Tannehill's 12 interceptions looks good on paper, it starts to not look as impressive when you see that 362 passes, which is 61.4 percent, came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. That means that Tannehill threw 10 of his interceptions within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, which means he wasn't as efficient as the numbers say he was.
In order for Tannehill to improve, he will need to cut down his interceptions that he throws in the short to intermediate range, keep his completion percentage up in those areas, and start taking more risks with throwing the ball down the field more often. While he doesn't have that big play receiver that can go up and catch the ball in jump ball scenario, he does have arguably the fastest receiver in the NFL in Mike Wallace. He needs to uses that to his advantage and test the defense more often with those longer passes.
By throwing and completing these longer passes, it does a few things. First, it raises his yards per attempt number, which is a good indication of the kinds of passes a quarterback is throwing. Second, it creates more explosive plays for the offense and forces the defense to keep two deep safeties back and not crowd the box. Finally, it allows the running game to open up and create more lanes for Lamar Miller, Damien Williams, etc.
When all three of those things are working together, it makes an offense almost impossible to stop because the defense doesn't know which one to stop. This also masks some of the offensive line deficiencies that hinder an offense.
If Ryan Tannehill can keep his yards around the 4,000 yard mark, his touchdowns around 25 range, his completion percentage at 66 percent, his quarterback rating steady in the 90 area, and finally, raise his yards per attempt up to the 7.5 range like Andrew Luck had this year, then this offense will much more explosive than it has been. It will also demonstrate that Tannehill has continued to improve and that he does deserve that long-term contract that the Dolphins will have to pay him after this next season.
This column was written by Seth Fisher. Follow him on Twitter: @SethAFisher13