The NFL calendar is just like any other time-tracking device. It’s full of holidays that create buzz and anticipation – something to count down towards.
Kickoff weekend, the start of free-agency, the Mecca that is the NFL draft, some days hold more importance than others for a football fan. Though it may be comparatively miniscule at its conclusion, the Hall of Fame game offers fans the first look at NFL football back on the television – a welcome return after a seven-month hiatus that leaves us watching baseball or Cavs-Warriors for the fourth time.
What began as a day of celebration in 2017 quickly took a turn down a road no Dolphins fan wanted to travel. A non-contact knee injury to the team’s quarterback, that was originally feared to be season-ending, but was later revealed to be just a partial tear.
Jerking the emotions of an entire fan-base one last time, the Dolphins finally disclosed that Ryan Tannehill would miss the entire 2017 season.
Since, it has been an arduous twenty-month-stretch for fans of the finned. The initial sting was eased by a pair of noteworthy performances from Matt Moore that ultimately secured the Dolphins first playoff berth in nearly a decade.
The playoff game in Pittsburgh was an abrupt, unwelcomed wake-up to the reality Miami would unknowingly have to face for another season.
Matt Moore’s 2017 campaign, largely in relief of the miserable Jay Cutler experience, made those Jets and Bills victories from 2016 seem like distant memories.
Hindsight tells us that the best part of the 2017 season was observing Tannehill run the stadium stairs before any impending national television beat down.
Those clips would serve as foreshadowing for the 2018 season ahead.
Despite countless reports that the Dolphins were in on the rookie draft class, Adam Gase doubled-down on the quarterback that led a lowly-projected team to a .662 winning percentage in the Head Coach’s rookie season.
Tannehill is back. The knee is at pre-injury health. The organization has plastered Tannehill’s likeness in the faces of the fan-base whether they wanted to see it or not. Just log onto the Dolphins official team site and you’ll see the quarterback gracing the page as a watermark.
Why the confidence in Tannehill? What has he done to this point to earn this type of admiration? Sure, injured players are often left on a shelf in the daft basement and forgotten about, but Tannehill’s 2016 season (his first in Gase’s complex scheme) should command optimism.
Through the summer, I charted Tannehill’s 2016 season. Going game-by-game, throw-by-throw, I created video cut-ups, diagramed throws and charted every instance imaginable from that campaign.
The game-by-game pieces are up on the site (they will be linked later in this column), but let’s look at Tannehill’s cumulative.
Removing throws behind the line-of-scrimmage, this is Tannehill’s accuracy chart to all levels of the field from that 2016 season.
A primary reason for hope around the Dolphins quarterback is an improved offensive line in front of him. Nobody took more sacks in the first five years of a career than Ryan Tannehill, but things improved in 2016.
Tannehill’s passer rating was fourth best in football behind Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Dak Prescott in 2016 when the quarterback was free from pressure.
Tannehill tossed 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions and completed 82% of his passes in those instances.
On play action, Tannehill’s passer rating was 112.8 – seventh best in all of football.
His accuracy, deep ball, poise, and ability to deal with the rush all improved in year-one under Adam Gase. The hope is that two full off-seasons in the program, and a full spring/summer program working with his new toys, will cause yet another uptick in his game.
After all, 2016 was pretty special.
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 10, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 11, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 14, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 16, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 18, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 21, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 23, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) May 25, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) June 1, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) June 5, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) June 6, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) June 12, 2018
— TannehillGIFs (@TannehillGIFs) June 15, 2018
Miami Dolphins Place Jake Brendel on IR; Sign Hroniss Grasu
Their players don’t just go on injured-reserve, they do it twice in the same season.
The Miami Dolphins official social media account announced that the team has placed center Jake Brendel on injured-reserve, ending his 2018 season. To fill the available roster spot, the Dolphins signed offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
We have signed center/guard Hroniss Grasu and placed center Jake Brendel on injured reserve.
Full Release: https://t.co/hjVo1uaU4I
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 12, 2018
Brendel was first placed on injured-reserve with a calf injury prior to the start of the season. He was one of two players that received the IR tag with the ‘ability to return’; this meant that Brendel was eligible to return after Week 8. Since his return, Brendel started 3 games and was active for 4.
Earlier this week in practice, Brendel re-injured the same calf that originally put him on IR. Strategically speaking, we’re at the point in the season where players will be placed on IR simply due to the fact that they’re unable to recover in time to effectively play again this season. Miami has three games remaining and they essentially have to win out (or only lose to the Minnesota Vikings next week) if they want to make the playoffs. The team can’t afford to hold a roster spot hostage for a player who’s less-than 100%.
With Brendel hitting injured-reserve, the Dolphins now have 12 players out for the year. It’s too bad we’re talking about the number of players on injured-reserve and not 12 Angry Men, because the only thing we can speculate at this point is how unlucky the Dolphins’ health has been this season.
The empty roster spot left by Brendel has been filled by former Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
Grasu was selected by the Bears with the 71st-overall pick (3rd-round) in the 2015 NFL draft. He started 8 games that season for Adam Gase‘s offense, but since then has only started 5. He played for the Bears from 2015-2017, though he missed the 2016 after being placed on injured-reserve. Grasu was signed by the Ravens this past September and was active for 3 games (making 1 start). He was released by the team on November 24th.
From one Hr to another: cheers, mate!
Squeezing Miami’s Tight Ends for Anything They’ve Got
Adam Gase, a hobbled Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been tasked with operating an offense that has received minimal production from its tight ends. As the team is currently constructed, the playbook, in essence, centers around their two starting running backs, the three starting wide receivers that are healthy and that’s it.
That’s all they can scheme around.
As an opposing defense, you’re well aware that the tight end position is effectively eliminated in Miami’s offense – it’s not a personnel group you have to scheme for.
- You have a banged up Kenny Stills you have to watch, though you really only need to keep him in your peripheral vision as Miami isn’t going to maximize Stills’ speed and Tannehill’s deep ball with the quarterback’s injured shoulder.
- You can monitor DeVante Parker, but his lack-of-enthusiasm helps keep his freakish athleticism at bay.
- You can be on the lookout for Danny Amendola, but you’re probably content allowing the underneath reception (though at 9.8 yards per reception, why aren’t we getting Amendola the ball more on those crucial 3rd-down plays?)
All of the injuries aside, it’s hard to discount the voids created by Miami’s nonexistent production from the tight end position. When Laremy Tunsil goes down in the Cincinnati Bengals game, it’s the perfect time to utilize a tight end for quick passes. All those 3rd-and-short situations – where Miami runs a mind-boggling play – could be eliminated if Miami had a legitimate tight end that could box out an opposing defender on a quick hit. At the very least, a tight end that poses even a minuscule threat would make a defense hesitant to send an extra blitzer or blanket a receiver.
Mike Gesicki catches the ball at the 33 facing sideways and winds up at the 31 facing backwards. pic.twitter.com/aGrzIF3jR8
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 26, 2018
Running this offense without your tight ends is like trying to drive your car without power steering. Of course you can do it, but you’re going to have a difficult time driving it.
The fall of this position started back in training camp, when one of the most underrated Dolphins, MarQueis Gray, suffered a torn achilles and was placed on injured-reserve.
Fans initially thought this was an omen for Mike Gesicki, as they clamored for the possibility of having an Olympic-caliber tight end playing with Ryan Tannehill – a quarterback known to utilize the tight end position well.
At a glance, you would think Miami’s tight ends were going to be extremely productive. Up to this point in 2018, Miami rewarded one of their tight ends with a contract extension and spent 2nd and 4th-round assets to bulk up the position. How could this season have gone so poorly for a group that, at the very least, was supposed to be average?
Tight ends predominantly see a spike in production from their rookie years to their sophomore seasons, and this is the one saving grace each of us optimistically have for Gesicki to turn it around. On tape, he doesn’t look the part. But you don’t want to write a player off this quickly. Check out some active tight ends and their growth from Year 1 to Year 2:
When going through the list, the only tight end I came across that saw a dip in production from Year 1 to Year 2 was Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins. His stats were: 45/499/3 in 2017 and 50/465/0 in 2018…really not the biggest dropoff (I’m sure there are other tight ends who saw a drop in production, but after going through half the league, Reed was the only one that applied).
Problem is, are we confident Mike Gesicki is going to be a tight end that makes this jump? Look at where Gesicki (and Durham Smythe) stack up with other rookie tight ends:
We all thought Miami was going to have a 1-2 punch with Gesicki as a receiver and Smythe as a blocker; and so far, half of the duo has held their end of the bargain. Smythe has performed very well when asked to block on the line. He’s had some misses this year, but for a rookie tight end being tasked with blocking an elite defensive end at times, we can’t really complain much. What the team is missing is the other half of that duet.
Coming into 2018, we understood that Gesicki would need some seasoning before he could become a legitimate blocker. And to an extent, we were quite content if Gesicki didn’t block too well, just as long as he was making plays on 3rd-down and in the red zone. We all thought he was the missing component this offense needed to finally be effective in the red zone. Instead, we’d probably be better off stacking the line with 6 offensive linemen.
Mike Gesicki’s challenging rookie season continues. He falls down, then all hell breaks loose when Tannehill tries to proceed through his progressions. Lucky not to get picked. pic.twitter.com/6mcfIU9XFD
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 27, 2018
The wildcard of the bunch is Nick O’Leary. The Dolphins have played him at both tight end and fullback, giving them flexibility and the ability to maximize his roster spot. But going into 2019, does anyone think any of these tight ends are safe? Check out the disparity in snap counts from the first week of the season until Week 14:
— Tom Kislingbury (@TomDegenerate) December 11, 2018
It’s evident which player this team trusts. Or, at the very least, which player they believe they can get any kind of production out of. He’s also the only player that wasn’t on the roster at the beginning of the season – telling you just how far the other players have fallen.
This team might need to fire Matt Burke. It might need to overhaul the defensive line or even the linebacking unit. The Dolphins might even need a new starting quarterback in 2019. But one thing we can certainly say is that Miami definitely needs a productive tight end; otherwise, this offense is about as stagnant, stale and unsuccessful as you’ve seen it this season.
— Barstool Penn State (@PSUBarstool) October 14, 2018
Ryan Tannehill’s Late Season Surge is Nothing New
Adversity is the Dolphins QB’s Biggest Weapon
The divisive topic of tanking filters its way through the fan bases of all mediocre franchises. The discussion about whether it’s healthier to lose and climb the draft board, or to establish a winning culture, reverberates for the perpetual .500 purgatory of the NFL.
Every time Dolphins fans are ready to prepare for what’s next at quarterback, Ryan Tannehill rises from the ashes and plays at an elite level.
The statistics are there. After a 1-4 start and a sub-90 passer rating in 2016, fans turned to Notre Dame tape to scout DeShone Kizer. They peeped the ultra-exciting Patrick Mahomes making jaw-dropping off-script plays at Texas Tech.
All those discussions became moot when Tannehill ripped off a stretch of eight games in which Miami went 7-1. During that time, Tannehill posted a 101.5 passer rating and fell back into the good graces of Dolphins fans.
Bruce Arians’ famous quote preaches patience while installing a new scheme. “It takes about eight weeks before things start to become second nature.”
If that’s true, Tannehill has been ahead of that curve.
Two games ahead of the pace, Tannehill finds his groove in the sixth game. In a 2016 win over Pittsburgh, Tannehill posted his highest single game passer rating of the year, and would top that high-water mark four times in the next seven games.
The 2018 season is shaping up very similarly. After a strong start, then stumbling in games four and five, Tannehill is back with a vengeance.
The Dolphins are 2-1 since Tannehill’s return and the veteran, held together by duct tape and Band-Aids, is posting career highs. His passer rating post-return is a ridiculous 129.9. He’s averaging a smidge under 9 yards-per-pass. He’s completing a fraction under 70% of his passes and throwing touchdowns at clip of 11.7%.
The numbers. The wins. The quantifiable metrics are all fun and an easy shortcut to display Tannehill’s recent success, but the it’s the complete control of the offense that best showcases Tannehill’s growth.
Watch this video with the audio on to see an example of Tannehill’s command at the line-of-scrimmage.
Alpha Louis. Alpha poker. Some new cadences and the quick count. Whatever it takes to play Sunday, Tannehill’s gotta do it. He is feeling it right now. 🔈 on. pic.twitter.com/09gyN9mKQJ
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 12, 2018
Perhaps the time away from the game, and the return from a reconstructed knee, was a detriment to his development within this offense.
Tannehill is dealing with yet another injury, but if he wants to prove this theory, he has every opportunity. Miami can run the table and jump back into the post-season under Ryan Tannehill’s guidance.
After all, last time, he wasn’t healthy enough to finish what he started.