As the quarterback goes, so goes the offense. That's why, although the Miami Dolphins have done all they can to take the pressure off of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and make his job easier, they've also subsequently raised the expectations around their second-year signal-caller.
But are those expectations too high?
If you're looking at just the stats, Tannehill was one of the six worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of passer rating and one of the 10 worst in completion percentage. He threw 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and was one of just five starters (along with Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden, Mark Sanchez and Jake Locker) to throw more interceptions than touchdowns last year.
Company like that and numbers like that from Tannehill in 2013 will not cut it.
That being said, Tannehill was in good company in two areas he'll be tested the most in 2013: Deep passing and throwing under pressure.
Tannehill was not asked to throw deep much—probably because the Dolphins lacked a deep threat in 2012. He only attempted 51 passes of 20 yards or more, and at just 10.1 percent of his attempts, his was the third-lowest percentage among qualifying quarterbacks last year.
In terms of accuracy, though, he was toward the top of the scale, ranking seventh with 43.1 percent of his throws hitting their target (either caught or dropped).
For example, Tannehill put his arm strength on display with a 29-yard throw against the Seahawks.
The Dolphins had just run the ball for eight yards to set up 2nd-and-2. Miami came out in an offset "I" formation, with tight end/h-back Charles Clay (circled in yellow) lined up as the fullback. Circled in red is linebacker Leroy Hill, assigned to Clay in man coverage, and the man in blue is safety Earl Thomas.
Tannehill and running back Reggie Bush set up the play-action fake, with wide receiver Brian Hartline faking a reverse as he runs full speed across the Dolphins' backfield.
Perhaps it was the fake which causes Leroy Hill to fall asleep in coverage, but Clay had little trouble getting right past him.
Tannehill delivered a beautiful throw on the money, which hit Clay in stride between Hill and Thomas for the touchdown.
That, despite defensive end Chris Clemons putting the pressure on Tannehill in the split second before Clay came open.
He kept both hands on the ball while Clemons came within fingertips of getting the sack, and made a subtle step up in the pocket to evade the pressure as he found Clay downfield.
Even if the offensive line underperforms, Tannehill could still be effective. He was the second-most accurate quarterback in the NFL when under pressure last year, behind only Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Tannehill's poise under pressure is important, because the Dolphins have been criticized for failing to address holes on the offensive line this offseason. They signed right tackle Tyson Clabo, who should help a dire situation at offensive tackle, but with the departure of left tackle Jake Long, Jonathan Martin could be thrust into a full-time role on that side.
One of Tannehill's biggest throws of the year came on 3rd-and-10 against the Bengals in the second quarter. The Dolphins came out in the shotgun with the 11 personnel grouping (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers).
The Bengals came out in a 3-3-5 nickel package (three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs) with an overload blitz from the offense's left.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict got a good lick on Tannehill, but not before the Dolphins quarterback could unload the pass.
Twenty-four yards later, Tannehill was able to fit the pass in to Clay despite three or four defenders in the vicinity of the throw. And with Rey Maualuga's back turned in coverage, Clay was able to climb the ladder and make the difficult catch.
All this is well and good, but what does it mean?
We know Tannehill can throw it deep, and we know he can throw it under pressure, but expecting him to be a top 10 quarterback simply because of the weapons around him may be a lofty standard.
If he plays like Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who had similar numbers as a rookie (except those ever-so-important touchdowns), that would be a great scenario for the Dolphins. If he can't reach that level of play, he's probably not fit to the be franchise quarterback.
Regardless of expectations, if Tannehill remains as accurate as he was under pressure, and remains as accurate as he was on deep throws, the Dolphins offense could be in store for big things in 2013.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network or ProFootballFocus.com's premium section, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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