Breaking Down How Mike Wallace Completely Changes Miami Dolphins Offense

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on from the sideline during the game against the New York Jets on September 16, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

There may not be a more intriguing roster in the NFL right now than that of the Miami Dolphins. With his job potentially on the line and just one winning season over the last seven years for the franchise, Jeff Ireland was allowed to be very aggressive with his moves this offseason. Perceived key players from the previous head coach's regime were let go, while vast sums of money were committed to big-name free agents and the biggest trade of the 2013 NFL draft brought back a top-five pick.

Ultimately, key figures such as Jake Long, Karlos Dansby, Sean Smith, Reggie Bush, Davone Bess, Kevin Burnett and Anthony Fasano found new homes, while Dion Jordan, Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor, Brandon Gibson, Tyson Clabo and Mike Wallace were the most celebrated additions. With such turnover, the Dolphins are hoping to usher in a completely new era for Joe Philbin's second season as head coach, but just as important will be the development of young players such as Ryan Tannehill, Jonathan Martin, Koa Misi, Jared Odrick and Lamar Miller.

Come Week 1 of the regular season, the Dolphins could feel very much like an expansion team.

Of course, expansion teams don't get to inherit the kind of talent the Dolphins are carrying over from their 2012 defense. Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones will continue to set the tone on that side of the ball. Instead, the unfamiliar feeling for fans will emanate from the offensive side of the roster. The side of the roster that is shifting its identity onto the shoulders of its young quarterback.

Last season, the standards for rookie quarterbacks were not just elevated to new heights, the game itself completely changed. By the standards used before the 2012 season, Tannehill had an impressive season last year. Yet, because Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson rewrote the book while the Dolphins quarterback was still reading it, many have overlooked his achievements.

Statistically, Tannehill did struggle last year. He threw only 12 touchdowns and had 13 interceptions while completing 58 percent of his passes with nine fumbles. Compared to the other starting rookie quarterbacks, those numbers were damning. Fortunately, those numbers don't accurately portray the potential that the then-23-year-old showed on the field.

Tannehill's positive statistics were limited by the offense around him, while his negative statistics were a result of inconsistency rather than a lack of ability.

Many of the Dolphins' moves this offseason were made to reverse that situation. Instead of hindering his development with subpar skill-position players as a rookie, they will be hoping to accelerate his ascension towards his full potential because of those second-year additions. That said, it is still unclear if the overall talent level is significantly greater than it was last year, because the offense appears to have improved in some areas but worsened in others.

At the very least, there is a style of personnel on the field that should take some pressure off of the quarterback position. At the center of that style will be the team's new starting wide receiver.

The Mike Wallace Dimension

Since being drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wallace has built his career on one thing and one thing alone: speed.

Wallace doesn't have deceptive speed. He's not quicker than fast. You don't need to quote his combine time to reinforce your own exaggerations of what he can do on the field. No, Wallace has the kind of speed that needs no justification. The type of speed that is obvious to fans in the stands and fans in front of their televisions. The type of speed that scares defensive backs so much because even when they see it coming, it alone can still make them look like even greater fools.

Some players have speed that doesn't translate to the field. Others have the speed, but don't know how to use it within a position. Wallace has functional speed, but that term alone doesn't do justice to the destruction he causes to opposing secondaries. Back when he was a rookie, it was that functional speed that allowed him to immediately contribute for the Steelers offense.

Wallace sometimes lined up inside, sometimes outside, but no matter where he lined up, he was filling the field-stretcher role that had been vacated by Nate Washington. He averaged 19.4 yards per reception, finishing the season with over 700 yards and six touchdowns. Back then he was benefiting from players such as Heat Miller, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes who were drawing coverage. Without much attention from the defense, he was able to consistently come free down the field, finishing the season with longest receptions of 60, 54, 51, 47, 45 and 40 yards.

Once 2010 came, Wallace was elevated to a starting role and he quickly became the team's primary receiver. Despite catching 21 more passes, his average per reception somehow rose to 21.0 and he reached double-digits in touchdowns. It was clear at this point that the then-24-year-old wasn't just going to be a role player who could stretch the field while occupying a lower rung of the depth chart.

He was going to be a star.

His third season saw further development, as he reached a new height in receptions with only a slight drop in yards, average per reception and touchdowns despite receiving more attention than ever from opposing secondaries. At this point, there was a dramatic difference between speed guys and what Wallace brought to the table. He was far from an all-around receiver, his consistency catching the football and inability to run a full route tree held him back. However, his speed was such that it altered the approach of the opposition defense every week and he was still able to produce when the defense set up to stop him.

Everything was going as planned until this point, but entering his fourth season in Pittsburgh everything would sour. Wallace was entering the final year of his contract and let his frustrations be known about the offers he had received by holding out for all of training camp. Wallace eventually returned late in the preseason, but it was Antonio Brown who had the comfort of a long-term deal. Wallace played out his final season in Pittsburgh knowing that free agency was impending. He was obviously distracted and it showed on the field.

Those struggles must be acknowledged, but it's unfair to solely project his play in 2013 from what he did in 2012. Wallace did too much before then to just disregard it.

It was likely those three seasons that persuaded the Dolphins to invest so heavily in the receiver. By signing him to a $60 million deal, Ireland is hoping to get a fully focused Wallace who can be a protagonist for the team's redesigned offense. The investment may become a major problem in the future, but for this season it was worth that risk because Wallace is exactly what the offense was lacking last year.

Tannehill's top three targets last season were Bess, Fasano and Brian Hartline. Outside of that trio, only running back Reggie Bush ran more than 160 routes all season long. Hartline, Fasano and Bess are not superstars, but neither are they scrubs. Each can be good players in the right situation, but as a unit together, they simply couldn't complement each other enough. None of them carry the same deep threat Wallace does, because none of them have anywhere near the same level of pure speed.

Considering that, it's no surprise that Tannehill's 51 attempts of 20 or more yards ranked in the bottom half of the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Forty of those attempts were directed at Bess, Hartline and Fasano, so even when Tannehill was throwing deep it wasn't to players who could consistently get open. Yet, in spite of that, Tannehill still had an accuracy rating of 43.1 percent, seventh- highest among those with at least 51 attempts.

With that kind of accuracy down the field, Wallace should be able to develop a nice rapport with his new quarterback.

Hartline was the Dolphins' primary deep threat last season. His raw numbers compare favourably to Wallace's, but those raw numbers are limited in what they tell you about each receiver. If you compare Wallace and Hartline on plays where they gained at least 20 yards, which is different from the numbers above that refer to passes where the ball travels at least 20 yards in the air, a stark contrast develops.

PlayerRoutes20+ ReceptionsRatioAverage per ReceptionSeparation per Reception
Brian Hartline1009222.2%34 yards2.73 yards
Mike Wallace1202272.3%37.4 yards3.07 yards

This chart is based on data gathered over the past two seasons. One would immediately think that the most important part of the above chart is the 'Ratio' section, where Wallace and Hartline can barely be separated. However, that number is completely skewed because Wallace and Hartline are treated differently by opposing defenses. That's without even considering how those big plays came about, which is also very important.

Wallace's average per reception is bloated in comparison to Hartline's because he has six receptions of 50 yards or more compared to Hartline's two, with 11 receptions of 40 yards or more compared to Hartline's four. This speaks to how hard Hartline has to work to get deep, whereas Wallace is a natural home run hitter. While Hartline's big plays are just creeping over 20 yards, Wallace is taking his passes all the way to the end zone very often.

Instead of looking at the 'Ratio' section, the most important section of the above chart is actually 'Separation per Reception." This number looks at how far the receiver was from the closest defensive back when he caught the football. It may not seem like much, but that 0.34 advantage in favour of Wallace is massive.

It's not easy to throw accurate deep passes. Even the strongest quarterbacks in the NFL can't be expected to land a football on a dime from 40 yards away on every single play. This is why separation is so important. If a receiver is consistently tight to defenders down the field, then the quarterback is forced to try and put the ball in much smaller windows to get a completion. If he even slightly misses that window, he risks an incompletion or even an interception.

With Wallace, the Steelers' quarterbacks were rarely able to overthrow him because of his speed, while the separation he gained from defensive backs allowed him to still catch underthrown passes on more than a few occasions. Wallace gives the quarterback a greater margin for error and the comfort of knowing that he doesn't have to try to force the ball into a tiny window.

With Hartline, there is no real margin for error. One of Hartline's greatest strengths is his ability to catch the ball with a defender tight to his body. He has an excellent wingspan which allows him to snatch the ball out of the air whether he is on the sideline or running down the middle of the field. However, while those plays look fantastic on the broadcast, they are still much riskier than the types of plays Wallace makes.

Because the defender is tight to Hartline's body, he is in position to disrupt the play and the pass still needs to be put in a precise area for the receiver. Furthermore, because the ball travels further on deep routes, it gives the defender more time to turn his head around to locate the football. If the defender is sprinting to get catch up to Wallace, his focus is completely taken away from the quarterback and the football in flight.

Fitting the football into this window, shown by the yellow circle, is difficult on short routes. From 20 yards away, it's just unreasonable. This pass has already traveled over 20 yards from Chad Henne. It's in the perfect spot for Hartline to make a reception, but it is a difficult reception coming off a difficult throw. In other words, it's a play with a low success rate.

We are often fooled into celebrating this play because announcers will focus on the flashy catch. Instead we should point out that the receiver's inability to gain separation earlier in the route is what forces him to have to make this difficult reception in the first place.

The red lines show just how close the defensive back is to the receiver. It wasn't unusual for Hartline's receptions to come this close to a defensive back either. Of his 22 receptions, 12 came when there was a defender within two yards of him. Only twice did he gain at least five yards of separation, once taking advantage of a blown assignment and once when Antonio Cromartie bought heavily on a double move down the sideline.

Getting big plays from blown assignments and bad coverages is fine, but being reliant on them is not. Blown assignments and bad coverages only come consistently against poor players. If you want to reach the playoffs and even think about the Super Bowl, you have to be able to beat good players. Good players don't blow assignments or play bad coverage.

This is why Hartline and Wallace are completely different deep threats. Wallace is reliant on his own ability to get free deep, Hartline is just hoping to be in the right spot at the right time. It's worked to this point, but it's not something that should be relied upon moving forward.

Primary Reason for Reception
Player20+ ReceptionsBeat CornerbackYACBroken TacklesBlown AssignmentsExtended PlaysPrevent Defense
Brian Hartline221700410
Mike Wallace271644111

This chart shows how each big play came about.

The "Beat Cornerback" section includes zone and man coverages. For a play to qualify there, there must be no obvious breakdown in the defensive scheme. The cornerback doesn't have to lose the receiver in space for the play to qualify here, he just has to give up the reception. Therefore, Hartline's plays like the one diagrammed above still count. The "YAC" section refers to plays when the receiver covered most of the yardage with the ball in his hands and when he didn't break a tackle. The "Broken Tackles" section is the same as the YAC, except it refers to those plays when the receiver breaks at least one tackle. "Blown Assignments" is self-explanatory, while "Extended Plays" must be unnaturally extended past the initial movements with "Prevent Defense" referring to plays when the defense is happy to give up 20 yard gains underneath their deep coverage.

Despite having five more big plays over the past two seasons, Wallace has two fewer plays that came because of the failings of the defense. Wallace's threat on deep routes is well documented, but his ability to turn quick passes underneath into big gains is understated. He had eight plays where he either ran underneath the coverage before escaping to space, caught a screen pass before using his blocking as a convoy or broke tackles with his deceptive power.

Hartline didn't have a single receptions underneath that turned into a big play. His 20+ yard gains were either receptions with a defender close to his body, blown assignments or crisp routes that gave him just enough separation before he was immediately tackled. Only twice did Hartline catch the ball within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, both on comeback routes against Devin McCourty when he fell forward for the final three or four yards.

As well as being a screen threat and a dynamic runner in space, Wallace is also a very dangerous weapon coming around the edge on end-arounds. He has 20 career carries for 151 yards, a 7.6 average, and long of 21 yards.

Of course, all of those aspects to Wallace's game are just the stripes on the zebra. His main act on the field is always going to be his ability to come free deep down the field.

20+ Targets
PlayerReceptionsBeat CornerbackBlown AssignmentsExtended Plays
 Average Yards Per ReceptionSeparationYards excluding Blown AssignmentsSeparation excluding Blown Assignments

This chart only considers receptions where the ball has traveled at least 20 yards in the air.

It must be always be noted that Wallace routinely overcame double teams and deeper coverage than Hartline when considering this data. That's not to say that the data doesn't already reflect very well on the receiver, but context is always important.

Once again, this chart shows how Hartline's deep receptions were nowhere near as devastating as Wallace's. His average is a full 10 yards lower than Wallace's on his big plays, while that average extends to nearly 15 yards when you remove any blown assignment plays. Wallace's average actually grows when you remove his one blown assignment play from the past two seasons, but much more important is the difference between his separation and Hartline's without blown assignment plays.

Wallace's average separation grows a full 0.66 yards per reception. Now, again, that may not seem like a lot, but for a quarterback looking to find him over 20 yards down the field, it can be huge. This number also isn't adjusted for plays when Wallace has to work back to underthrown passes that ultimately take away the separation he created on the play.

It should also be noted that Hartline had only one touchdown last season, a result of an 80-yard reception against the Arizona Cardinals. That reception came about because of a blown assignment. Wallace hasn't had that issue throughout his career. He had eight touchdowns last season, during a supposedly down year, with eight the previous season and 10 the year before.

Defenses don't all handle Wallace in the same way, but they do all focus on taking away his deep threat. Typically, they either keep a safety deep to his side of the field or drop the cornerback very far off the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, teams even do both. That is just how terrifying his speed is.

Hartline doesn't affect the defense in the same way. When Hartline was making big plays, they were more often than not against standard coverages or even against single coverage with the defense shifted to the other side of the field.

This is an excellent example of the type of coverage that defenses would rarely, if ever, use against Wallace.

While the Dolphins invested in Wallace for his individual ability, his impact on how defenses lineup will be vital for their offense moving forward. Wallace isn't Calvin Johnson, he won't do everything for your passing attack, but when put with the right receivers around him the unit as a whole can flourish. Much like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did with Vincent Jackson 12 months before, the Dolphins are investing in Wallace with the idea that he will improve the rest of the receivers on the roster by proxy.

Congruity of the Receiving Corps

When Bess was traded to the Cleveland Browns, the Dolphins were left with no natural heir for their slot receiver role. The roles within a wide receiving corps are more important today than they ever were. With passing records falling on a yearly basis and coverages becoming more and more complex, the most successful offenses will be the ones that can stretch the defense in multiple directions on any given play.

This puts pressure on general managers to build their passing attack with not just the most talented players available, but the most talented players who complement each other enough to create a diverse, strong unit. There is no set way of doing this.

Some teams are fortunate enough to have talented and versatile receivers from the top to the bottom of their depth charts, as the Green Bay Packers have had in recent years. Others have to find players who excel at specific facets of the game and look to put them in positions where their strengths are highlighted, something the New England Patriots have done to great effect over the last few years.

With the signing of Wallace, the Dolphins have given themselves a deep threat, something they didn't have last season. Not only will Wallace light up the statistic sheet with his big plays, but his presence alone will push defenders deeper down the field and pull safeties out of the box. This not only helps the running game, but it also creates space over the middle and underneath for the team's possession receiver(s).

Hartline will never be Wes Welker. He's not going to be solely a possession receiver even though he could fill that role adequately. That said, there is a certain element of Hines Ward to his play because he can have the odd big play down the sideline while still showing off the strength and agility to make receptions over the middle of the field. Unlike Ward, however, Hartline has a taller frame with a wide wingspan that works in his favour outside the numbers.

Below Wallace and Hartline on the presumed depth chart is another offseason addition: Brandon Gibson. Whether by coincidence or design, the Dolphins have signed the player in the league who most closely resembles the skill set of Hartline. Neither is truly a great athlete, but both have enough athleticism to do a variety of things. Gibson is slightly shorter than Hartline, but he is heavier and has that same ability to pluck the ball out of the air at full extension.

Just like Hartline, Gibson isn't going to be a possession receiver in the way the term is typically thought of. Most think about short slot guys who average 10 yards or less when they think of possession receivers. Instead, Gibson and Hartline's standard plays should see them attacking the intermediate level of the secondary. This is something both have done expertly throughout their careers. Their route running, size, agility and catch radius allows them to come free between the 11-16-yard section of the secondary. It's no coincidence that they have both averaged in that range throughout their careers.

The only issue with having the Dolphins' top three receivers on the field together is that none of the trio are proven slot receivers. Wallace can move inside, but he will still only be looking to stretch the field from that spot of the field. Hartline and Gibson saw the same number of targets from the slot last season, a paltry two all season long.

According to Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly, Gibson is setting up to be the slot receiver this season. Gibson will probably spend a lot of time inside, but crucially the piece also says that the Dolphins want to move away from specific roles for players. This means that each of their three receivers should see time at various spots in the offense.

With a fully healthy Dustin Keller, that should only be beneficial for the Dolphins different formations. Moving Wallace into the slot before having the two intermediate specialists coming from outside the numbers puts a lot of pressure on the defense's safeties and linebackers.

No matter where the pieces line up, the Dolphins will be trying to avoid situations like this one in 2013:

The Dolphins ran play action to try and pull the Cincinnati Bengals' linebackers close to the line of scrimmage, creating a hole between the linebackers and the safeties. The linebackers did step forward, but because the Dolphins had no deep threat, the safeties were sitting right behind them in the space where Hartline was running into. Hartline made the reception, but it was a difficult one and he took some punishment for it.

When Wallace is lined up inside, the safeties will have no choice but to drop deeper at the snap and be wary of him running directly down the middle of the field. This should isolate the linebackers in space over the middle of the field, with Keller, Gibson and Hartline working the other levels of the secondary.

When Wallace stays outside, he should still create some space inside before the snap, but he is much less likely to occupy both safeties. Unlike last season when the Dolphins primarily had just Hartline and Bess outside, there is now a legitimate threat to run passed cornerbacks down the sideline. This should make safeties line up a little deeper and make them more hesitant to come forward.

It should also be noted that both Hartline and Gibson run outstanding comeback routes. With Wallace pulling safety help elsewhere, cornerbacks will have to be more accountable for potential deep passes. This should make it easier for the other receivers to come free on those comeback routes as the threat of going deep forces them to hesitate. Furthermore, the potential for trailing a cornerback underneath a receiver with safety help over the top is all but quashed with Wallace on the field.

If they commit that much to either receiver, they expose themselves to leaving just seven defenders in the box or giving Wallace a better chance to get free deep.

Hartline should benefit more from this because Gibson played with faster receivers last season and was already consistently creating more separation on his comeback routes. 

Although Gibson gained more separation, Hartline was able to come free consistently because he almost always works back to the football. Many receivers wait for the ball too often and that allows defensive backs to get their hands to it with relative ease. The comeback routes have been talked about a bit this offseason, but they are only part of the intermediate package that Gibson and Hartline promise to deliver.

Each of the Dolphins' top three receivers will have to contribute in situational football, but much of the workload on shorter routes will be put on the shoulders of Keller and the running backs. Charles Clay should also still be involved, but he is much more of an explosive option than a trusted underneath target like Keller.

Lamar Miller will be expected to be a factor as a receiver coming out of the backfield. Miller is the key to pushing the congruity of this unit over the top. They don't have superstar players littered through the depth chart, but if Miller is a threat to turn screens and passes into the flat into huge gains, it will be just another area of the field the defense can't discount.

If teams overplay Wallace's deep threat, Gibson and Hartline should be able to do enough on intermediate routes to consistently move the chains. If teams then flood the intermediate and deep routes, Miller and Keller will become the focus of the play. Of course, that is presuming that the quarterback can make the right read on those plays.

Regardless of what Tannehill does, something will have to give against the Dolphins offense this year. The unit doesn't have an elite piece, outside of maybe Mike Pouncey, but they now have a functional structure of congruent receiving options. That's not to say those who departed the Dolphins this offseason were bad players, but rather it says Ireland and Philbin had a vision and understanding of what was needed to better their offense as a whole.

Working with Ryan Tannehill

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac for 2013, the Dolphins had the "league's third-biggest gap between performance with play action and performance without." This makes sense in terms of stretching the defensive spacing. On play-action passes, the secondary will typically be dragged out of position more than they are on plays without play-action. That's not insightful football knowledge at all, it's obvious.

However, when your rookie quarterback is using play-action to create that space opposed to throwing into tight windows because of a receiving corps that has no congruity, that large gap in performance is going to be created. Tannehill wasn't perfect last season, but he had to deal with an awful lot that should disappear this year.

Big plays will be expected with his new supporting cast. He did throw 40 passes that were completed for a gain of 20 or more yards last season. That number was good enough for 14 percent of his completions and 8.3 percent of his attempts. For the sake of comparison, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers had 38 passes that were completed for a gain of 20 or more yards, 13.4 percent of his completions and 8.46 percent of his attempts.

By all accounts, Roethlisberger had a better year than Tannehill in terms of big plays, but not dramatically. At least, not dramatically until you look at how those big plays came about. Fifteen of Tannehill's 40 big plays came from defensive breakdowns, extended plays or in prevent situations when the defense happily gave up at least 20 yards willingly. In comparison, only eight of Roethlisberger's 38 plays came when there was either a breakdown in coverage or he had to extend the play.

Remembering that Tannehill had the seventh highest accuracy rating from Pro Football Focus on deep passes amongst those with at least 51 attempts and his overall adjusted accuracy percentage was 72.1, 13th in the league, it's hard to blame the quarterback for those shortcomings.

Relying on play-action and defensive mistakes for big plays is no way to build an offense. It's impossible to say that Tannehill will consistently create big plays this season just because he now has the weapons to, but it's also impossible to say that he he won't. The impact of better receivers on the play of a quarterback can be huge.

This season Tannehill will be throwing into wider windows, have more experienced receiving options on the field and the benefit of his own individual experience that was garnered last year. He has all the tools to star, but he needs to show it on the field consistently.

Coming up with big plays will be important for the Dolphins, but if they are to feel comfortable shifting the focus of their offense onto the shoulders of their young quarterback, it'll be more important for him to take care of the football.

Rookie mistakes will always come during a quarterback's first season as a starter, but considering the context, Tannehill's mistakes were very few last season. Tannehill threw 13 interceptions to his 12 touchdowns. He attempted 484 passes, giving him an interception ratio of one per every 37 attempts. He had the 20th most attempts for any quarterback in the league, but crucially he was second only to Andrew Luck amongst the rookies.

The Dolphins didn't ease Tannehill into his role. They asked him to do everything they would have asked of a proven veteran. When defenses set up to stop the Dolphins, they prioritized the pass as much as they did the run. While the exceptional play of the other rookie quarterbacks can't be denied, it must be acknowledged that both Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III played with exceptional rushing attacks that took some of the pressure off of their shoulders.

Tannehill's 13 interceptions came in spurts. He started the season off with six interceptions in his first four starts, before not throwing another pick until his ninth start. He hit somewhat of a rookie wall at that point, throwing six interceptions in his next three games, before finishing the season with one interception in five games. 

Interception Log

TimestampCoverageDepthThrown FromReason
HOU, Q2, 07:35.ManShort(1-6)PocketCornerback Play
HOU, Q2, 04:06xShort(1-6)PocketTipped at LOS
HOU, Q2, 01:44xShort(1-6)PocketTipped at LOS
NYJ, Q3, 14:26ZoneIntermediate (7-19)OutsideBad Decision
ARI, Q3, 03:48ManIntermediate (7-19)PocketReceiver Fell
ARI, OT, 12:03xxPocketHit During Release
TEN, Q2, 14:17xIntermediate (7-19)PocketTipped at LOS
TEN, Q2, 02:00ZoneIntermediate (7-19)PocketBad Decision
TEN, Q4, 11:24ManShort(1-6)PocketBad Decision
BUF, Q4, 02:00ZoneDeep(20+)PocketBad Decision
BUF, Q4, 00:50ZoneIntermediate (7-19)PocketBad Decision
SEA, Q1, 08:12ZoneIntermediate (7-19)OutsideBad Decision
NE, Q1, 07:23ZoneIntermediate (7-19)PocketBad Decision

Of Tannehill's 13 interceptions, six can be somewhat excused as plays that weren't totally his fault. His first interception of the season was an exceptional play from Jonathan Joseph against Legedu Naanee. His other two against the Texans were passes that fell victim to the swatting ability of J.J. Watt. Against the Arizona Cardinals Hartline fell down on a comeback route before the ball arrived, while Kerry Rhodes was able to pick off a lame pass in the same game when Tannehill absorbed a powerful blindside hit during his release. A tipped pass against the Tennessee Titans also pushed one of his passes into the grasp of a defender.

Excluding the plays where Tannehill's passes were altered at the line of scrimmage or with a monstrous hit, most of his struggles came against zone coverage. Six times Tannehill either forced the ball into a window that was too tight, misread where the defender was going to be or overstated his ability to win a one-on-one matchup. As a rookie those are things he should get better at with more experience. However, that's not to say there weren't scenarios that showed off how his limited weapons manipulated the coverages he faced.

This is a terrible throw from Tannehill. It goes straight to Bobby Wagner for an easy interception. There is no denying that. It appears that the ball comes out of Tannehill's grasp lame as he is attempting a difficult throw on the move.

However, even if Tannehill had got everything he wanted on the pass, his margin for error was so minuscule that it likely would have been intercepted either way.  

As the all-22 angle shows, there was next to no window where Bess could have caught the ball. The smaller receiver was caught in behind Wagner, while Richard Sherman (circled in blue) was leaving Hartline to his safety help to move into the space circled in red. This means that Tannehill somehow had to get the ball over Wagner and still have it land in the area circled in green.

This is a product of a squashed field.

If you replace Hartline with Wallace, then Sherman is at least three or four steps further down the field by the time he passes the receiver onto his safety. This would give Tannehill an area of the field to lead Bess into. It would still need to be a much better throw, but it would also give Tannehill more of a margin to push the ball over Wagner rather than being forced to try and be so precise.

That was Tannehill's second last interception of the season. His last interception of the season showed off the inability of his receivers to consistently win on routes.

Tannehill actually makes an outstanding throw under pressure here to a receiver running a deep post route to the sideline.

The first thing that must be noted about this play is the players who are involved. It's true, Tannehill is throwing the ball into double coverage to Rishard Matthews. You can blame Tannehill for forcing the ball to a bad receiver all you like, but the reality is bad receivers were what he had to work with. The cornerback running against Matthews trails underneath well, but he's not the defender who we need to know.

Instead, the important defender to know is Steve Gregory, the safety who ultimately intercepts the pass. Gregory is a very limited safety. He is not exceptionally athletic which normally makes him very hesitant on the field. Against average receivers, he is often slow to react. More often than not, Gregory is just making a sure tackle rather than a play on the football.

However, when Matthews is Gregory's assignment, his athleticism isn't an issue. Gregory is able to jump in front of Matthews because he's not worried about the receiver's deep threat. Despite being the deepest defender on the field, he is coming forward even before Tannehill lets the ball go. If this was Mike Wallace, Gregory would not only still be on his heels, he would likely have been lined up in a deeper position from the snap.

Despite throwing the ball off his back foot, Tannehill's pass didn't float. It didn't hang up in the air to make it easy for the defensive back. Gregory simply was able to be very aggressive because of the personnel on the field. This is the kind of play that Wallace prevents defenses from playing.

Although Tannehill made some bad decisions and had some horrible outings when it comes to turnovers, it should be noted that his stretches without interceptions featured some very strong opponents. Tannehill didn't turn the ball over against the Bengals in Cincinnati, the St. Louis Rams, the Patriots in their first matchup and the 49ers in San Francisco. He averaged over 29 attempts during those games also.

An Achilles Heal on the Offensive Line?

There is a line of thinking in today's NFL that the left tackle is no longer the most important position on the offensive line. With the variety of blitz packages and depth of pass-rushing talent throughout the league, some say the center is now the most important position on the offensive line.

The Miami Dolphins will certainly be hoping that is the case.

With Jake Long leaving in free agency to sign with the St. Louis Rams, the Dolphins are entering this season with the unproven Jonathan Martin as their starting left tackle. Martin played right tackle for the Dolphins last season, but struggled severely earning a -22 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. For an offense that is likely going to be throwing deep more often this season, that simply won't be good enough.

Tannehill needs to be able to trust his blindside protection if he is going to hang in the pocket long enough for his receivers to get free down the field. The Dolphins don't have the personnel to run a quick passing attack in the style of the New England Patriots or Buffalo Bills, while they can't expect Tannehill to extend plays like Ben Roethlisberger every week.

Helping Martin as much as possible this coming season will be a priority until he proves that he can be a high-quality performer on his own. For that reason, the performances of free agent addition Tyson Clabo on the other side of the field will be crucial. If Clabo can handle his assignments without any help, then the Dolphins will have an easier time setting up for Martin.

The Dolphins should be okay on the interior so long as John Jerry is able to hold up with Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey. Pouncey is on track to be the best center in the league sooner rather than later, while Incognito has enjoyed himself since joining the Dolphins. Jerry was inconsistent as a rookie, but showed flashes of his ability that will make the coaching staff optimistic.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf


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