While the numbers look somewhat pedestrian, Ryan Tannehill and company had a very productive first half in the Dolphins' third preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons last night in Orlando. Tannehill didn’t throw for a touchdown in the game but the offense was effective and efficient, finding a rhythm from the very first offensive series.
Had it not been for a few dropped passes, a badly botched field goal and a fluke tipped interception, we might be talking more about how good the first team has looked these past two games.
Even Arian Foster got into a bit of a groove, catching a few passes out of the backfield; one of those on a key third down play, keeping the drive alive. His run at the goal line was vintage Foster, showing patience and excellent vision to cut back to his left and run into the end zone untouched for the first score of the game.
Tannehill ripped off a 22-yard run on a designed read option play, showing the athleticism he’s displayed since his rookie year—a trait past coaching staffs have been loath to exploit.
Tannehill is also the rare quarterback who excels throwing on the run. Gase and company understand this and appear to be including it in Tannehill’s arsenal—which should satisfy fans who watched in frustration as Tannehill was not used nearly enough in designed rollouts, for fear of cutting off half of the field.
Gase, with his innovative play calling, has an ability to scheme his players open, often setting up situations where a receiver is being covered by only one man, thus simplifying things for Tannehill as he continues to go through the process of mastering Gase’s complex offense.
Like Shula before him, coach Gase realizes that maximizing his player’s strengths and adjusting his system to them are the keys to winning football. Past coaches have been much more stubborn, insisting players fit into a particular system which often put the front offense and coaching staff at odds. Gase’s philosophy improves the team’s chance of success, thus empowering them and allowing them to play with confidence.
When asked about Tannehill’s performance, Gase said, “He’s doing what I’ve seen all training camp, all spring. Nothing is a surprise. It’s unfortunate we had a tipped ball pick, but that’s what happens when the defensive line gets tired and they just have to throw their hands up and hope they can do something. I thought he did a good job. His reads were good. He was very quick as far as getting the calls out and getting his guys lined up. He played at a great tempo."
We all know now how fractured Tannehill’s and ex-head coach Joe Philbin’s relationship had become—even to the point of Philbin asking the team to draft David Carr, even though Tannehill was only going into his second season as a pro. And we all remember the disaster of the week prior to a game in London where Philbin failed to endorse his signal caller, refusing to name Tannehill the starter for that game and forcing him to deal with the distraction for the entire week leading up to the game.
One of the most refreshing things about the head coach is his honesty—he doesn’t sugarcoat things—not with his players and certainly not with the media, often calling beat writers out when he doesn’t agree with something that has been said or written about his players. It’s no wonder the team has been buying into what the coach has been selling—he’s a leader of men who has the back of his players and Ryan Tannehill in particular has taken notice.
When asked about his relationship with coach Gase, Tannehill had this to say: “I’m really comfortable with coach Gase. It’s an open line of communication on what I’m seeing (and) what he is seeing and what we’re trying to accomplish. He did a good job tonight of getting us in a position to succeed, and that’s what you want. You want the coach to put you in a place where you can make a play, and he did that a lot and I’m excited (about) what he’s doing and what he continues to do.”
This year, it might even be possible for the quarterback to get past his first read before running for his life or being slammed into the turf because of protection issues. Tannehill dropped back 29 times in the first half and was not sacked once. The quarterback has taken notice: “It’s nice, the guys did a really good job giving me a pocket, giving me room to throw and getting the ball out fast into our play makers hands and giving them the opportunity to work.”
Not all things were rosy, however. The tight end position continues to be a concern, especially in light of how Gase has been able to maximize that position in both of his stops in Denver and Chicago. Former Pro Bowler Jordan Cameron’s performance has been especially head scratching, especially from a player who should be the perfect athlete to take advantage of Gase’s offense.
Tannehill, when asked about Cameron’s struggles said there’s still time to get in synch with his tight end and expressed confidence in Cameron’s ability to bounce back from his struggles: “He has had a couple of mistakes but we have all had some mistakes, It’s the pre-season and we are all working through those, that’s just a visible one we have all had our mistakes were still going to give him the ball and keep going back to him."
Newly converted center Anthony Steen had a good game—showing the ability to both call plays for the line as well as doing more than an adequate job blocking. Tannehill also had praise for the young lineman and hinted that as he grows into the position can get even better.
“Steen did a good job. He’s got an opportunity when we lose Mike Pouncey, which is tough, but someone has to step up. That’s the nature of the game we play. Injuries are a part of the game and you have to have your second and third groups step up and replace them. He did a good job and kept our guys on the same page up front, and we got to continue to get better.”
This should comfort fans as losing Pouncey for extended stretches in past seasons has had a significant impact on the overall line play.
Sure, the offense has more work to do and it may take well into the regular season before Tannehill and company hit their stride; but fans can rest easy after watching the past few preseason games. The offense has gotten progressively better, Tannehill may actually have time to throw the football and a healthy Foster could be just what the running game needs. Things might finally be looking up down in South Florida—which would be welcome news to this long suffering fan.
This story was written by Richard Wilt. Follow him on Twitter: @richardactor71
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