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Break it down all you want. Talk about the running game, the offensive line, the defense. All are important. All will have an impact on the success of this team. But all of those things pale in comparison to the importance of a third-year quarterback trying to take his game to another level.
This year, in so many ways, is about Ryan Tannehill. It’s about whether he can continue to grow, whether he can rid himself of some of the mistakes that slowed his progress in past seasons, whether he can refine his game to become one of the elite quarterbacks in the league.
We’re all carefully watching, all waiting to find out, all wondering whether the positive signs we have seen this summer can flourish into more of a finished product.
“No more rookie mistakes or second year mistakes,” Tannehill said Wednesday at his weekly press conference. “I just have to go make plays, have to find a way.”
I have carefully followed Tannehill over the past six weeks. I have seen how he has taken to this new offense. I have listened intently to his words in every press conference. He is not backing down. He is not in any way diminishing his importance. I can’t count all the times he has uttered the sentence: “This is a big season for me.”
Big and telling. The Dolphins have introduced him to a new offense, a quarterback friendly offense, with some intriguing possibilities. They have surrounded him with more talent, a proven back in Knowshon Moreno, a revamped offensive line and a deep core of receivers. All will help define Tannehill’s season.
But at the end of the day, beginning Sunday against New England, it is up to Tannehill to make everyone around him better. It is up to Tannehill to show us that he can connect on the deep ball, that he can avoid forcing errant throws and that he can develop a sense of comfort in the pocket.
I like his leadership. I like his determination. I like his work ethic. I admire his passion. None of that can truthfully be questioned. But there is more than that to becoming a complete quarterback. Tannehill must produce on Sundays. He must lead the Dolphins to touchdowns and to big plays and to fourth quarter drives that often make-or-break a season.
We’ve heard so much about the deep ball to Mike Wallace and that, you can be sure, will be held under a microscope every time they try to connect. But it’s more than that. It’s producing far more touchdown passes than interceptions. It’s sidestepping a pass rusher in order to buy another tenth of a second. It’s looking off one receiver to find another. Indeed, it’s the entire package that must improve.
I like Tannehill’s chances. I really do. You look at the things you can measure and they are all there: The size. The arm strength. The intelligence. The raw athletic ability. You watch some of his throws and you see things you can’t teach. The challenge now, the biggest challenge Tannehill faces, is finding a level of consistency and staying there.
How important is Tannehill to this offense? Consider this stat: The Dolphins are 12-1 when his quarterback rating is 90 or higher, but 1-12 when his quarterback rating is 80 or lower. It’s safe to say, as Tannehill goes, so go the Dolphins.
No, it’s not all about Tannehill. He’s got to get support. He can’t be sacked 58 times again. He must have a running game that, at the very least, can be a nuisance. His receivers must break tackles, his tight ends must find creases. But it’s got to start with Tannehill because players have a tendency to feed off what the quarterback does.
The challenge, beginning Sunday against the Patriots, is as clear as the look in Tannehill’s eyes. It has been 13 years since the Dolphins were a top 10 team in points scored, 19 years since they were a top 10 team in yards gained. Only once in Tannehill’s last 25 starts have the Dolphins scored as many as 30 points. The numbers don’t lie; the production needs to get better.
Sunday can be a springboard for Tannehill. Think of what a strong performance would mean against a Bill Belichick coached defense. Think of the confidence he could gain, the momentum he could build.
This is an important time for Ryan Tannehill, an important moment in his development. He has so many things you are looking for in a quarterback, so many things this franchise covets. Now, it is up to him to take the next step. So much is depending on his ability to do just that.
(On Friday, AC in the AM asks the question: Can the Dolphins beat the Patriots on Sunday?)
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.