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Friday, September 5, 2014

QB Corner: Ryan Tannehill (Week 12 SD @ MIA)

Are you ready for some football!? After a summer filled with basketball free agency, it's nice to be writing about something else. Tomorrow, I'll post my NFL over/under picks. Today, I wanted to continue in my QB Corner film study series. I've looked at film of some exciting young QBs in QB Corner. This time, my subject is Ryan Tannehill, starter for the 8-8 Miami Dolphins. I think he's an especially interesting case because of his conversion from receiver to QB in college. In my mind, that should put him behind many other QBs in footwork, pocket presence, and other throwing mechanics. I still expect him to have a good understanding of offensive and defensive concepts since A) receivers often know more about coverages than QBs and B) many QBs don't learn an advanced progression-based offense in college anyway. Basically, I expect him to know where to put the ball but have occasional accuracy issues and have a tendency to want to escape the pocket.

I always start with the numbers, and they aren't pretty. Miami as a team were 22nd in both total and weighted DVOA last year (per FootballOutsiders.com, with weighted DVOA placing emphasis on the last few games). The team were the definition of mediocre and didn't improve much through the year, eking out 8 wins by virtue of a weak schedule playing in the AFC East. I expect with Cameron Wake their defense would be the strong suit of the team, and that proved true with total/weighted defensive DVOA rankings of 14th/18th, respectively. But the offense ranked only 22nd/17th. Breaking the offense down reveals the passing game produced a 4.0% DVOA (20th) while the run game posted -4.3%/18th. Tannehill specifically was -9.8% on the year, or 26th among all QBs, sitting behind the likes of Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mike Glennon (!), Matt Cassel (!!), Jake Locker, and Kellen Clemens (!!!). Basically, this puts Tannehill in career-backup territory. If you think Football Outsiders are wrong, ESPN has him 26th in total QBR.

Comparing his individual numbers to the other QBs I've analyzed looks like this:




That is a really ugly. His yards/attempt figure and relatively high completion percentage (for a young QB) suggest an offense that dinks and dunks its way down the field. But if he really is getting the ball out quickly, why is he throwing a lot of picks and getting sacked on 9% of dropbacks? Guys like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson spend a ton of time in the pocket, accrue a bunch of sacks, but also make play with their feet. Tannehill has a strong yards/rushing attempt figure but doesn't get many opportunities to run.

The things I will look for in the film are:

  1. Why the sacks? I know the Dolphins had possibly the worst offensive line situation in the league last year, but is there something Tannehill is doing wrong?
  2. Why the low yards/attempt?
  3. How effectively is he identifying coverages?
  4. How consistent are his mechanics, including footwork, accuracy, and ball placement?

1. Nice quick out for five yards, good placement on the shoulder away from the defender results in 11 YAC (yards after catch). Tannehill does a good job flipping his feet to the right (a bit harder to go right than left) and his shoulder and feet are both aligned. The line does a nice job picking up five rushers.


2. Nicely thrown on a dig for another 5 yards and 11 YAC. The Dolphins have a tight end clear the linebacker up the seam and bring in two digs behind him. It's a classic route concept that produces an easy read on one side of the field. Tannehill's mechanics are again excellent.


3. After a few shorter throws, the Dolphins catch San Diego in Cover-1 with zone underneath and man coverage on the outside. Tannehill does a great job drawing the safety to the right with his feet - check out frames 4 and 5 how he flips back to the left side. His receiver has good separation and this is a terrifically thrown go that travels 30 yards in the air. Brian Hartline gets one hand on it but can't reel it in - I don't think you can throw it better than this, however, and I pin responsibility on Hartline for missing the catch. A 4-man rush is handled easily.


4. Quick out from the slot. Tannehill throws immediately at the top of his drop - I'm liking how strong his timing is and how crisp he looks on these short passes. The ball comes out a little high but he had to throw away from the defender and it's a good completion.


5. Another quick throw to the curl on the left sideline. Again, excellent mechanics, this time with some chaos in the pocket. I also like how the throw is beyond the first down line. An on-time throw leads to 14 YAC.


6. Another curl on the right. The offense so far looks like a lot of simple, quick reads on perhaps only 1-2 defenders each play, helping Tannehill get the ball out. The ball is thrown right before the receiver breaks, showing great anticipation. You can't see it in the stills, but Ryan actually hops forward in the pocket for a beat to give his receiver time to get into the route - this is really advanced stuff, knowing how much time your receiver takes to run to a spot and turn around. It's called chemistry.


7. Similar concept as the second pass. The tight end clears the linebacker and they have a slant fill in the middle. The linebackers are in zone coverage and he actually has his tight end (Charles Clay) open for a split-second near the goal line. It's a big boy throw to go over the linebacker and in front of the safety, but also one that elite QBs make. Clay actually had the most TD catches of any Dolphins receiver last year, so they will go to him from time to time. Tannehill's mechanics are fine but the ball comes out a little hot and is dropped. Still, I assign most of the blame on the receiver.


8. On 3rd and goal from the 11, the Dolphins chalk up a little comeback route at the 6 yard line. Wait, what? The Chargers drop 8 into coverage and have everyone doubled except for the deep receiver on the right. In fact, Tannehill does have the deep corner open, but like the last pass, would have required a perfect throw. Instead he settles for the underneath man and by the time the ball is in the air, two defenders are closing on the receiver. This ball never had a chance and I don't understand the call at all. They are already in comfortable FG range - why not try something that actually goes to the end zone? Tannehill doesn't even look for that pass to the corner.


9. Tannehill begins the next series by throwing a deeper comeback. Again, the timing on the ball is excellent - in frame 1, you can see him rearing to throw before the receiver is even in the break. The Chargers bring an extra rusher but the line handles everything well and there's plenty of room forward in the pocket.


10. Miami try a bubble screen to the right. The pulling linemen never get on their blocks and San Diego snuffs it out easily. A lot of short passes to the edges.


11. This one should have been picked (see frame 2). The throw is on-time but Tannehill telegraphs the target (comeback route on left sideline) and never should have thrown the ball. The Dolphins play-calling seems completely vanilla. There is some misdirection built in as we've seen Tannehill manipulate safeties with his eyes feet, but thinking about it more, those seem like mechanical components of the play. It's easy to tell a QB: "look here to draw the safety over but your real read is this linebacker on the backside." It's harder to have QB read multiple parts of the field in true progression manner where multiple options are built into the play. To me, the Dolphins' offense seems more like the former.


12. Mechanically, still sound. Tannehill is reading left but keeps his feet down the middle until the last moment before shuffling his feet nicely to throw left. Problem is on 3rd and 14, the Chargers know where the ball has to go. Tannehill telegraphs the pass (another deep comeback on the left side) and this time, it is picked.


13. This is one of Tannehill's best throws on the day. He gets some pressure on the blind side but senses it and realizes the other blockers have maintained the pocket in the middle. He steps up and shifts to the right. I love how in frame 3 he has his dump-off available, but with a defender closing hard, he elects to keep his eyes downfield. A lot of QBs panic in situations like this. Tannehill's athleticism certainly helps - he knows that if nothing clear downfield, he can always take it himself for a handful of yards on the sideline. Slot receiver Rishard Matthews does come open and he throws a strike that produces 10 YAC.


14. Deep pass on the left sideline. Tannehill identifies single coverage on that side with the safety coming up on the tight end. A subtle double move by the receiver results in him being wide open - he has a full 2 yards separation in from 3, a chasm in the NFL. Tannehill's mechanics are fine but he underthrows the ball; his receiver has to slow up and the corner easily catches and deflects the pass. Poor execution on what should have been an easy completion, possibly a touchdown.


15. Play action, roll to the left. On 2nd and 5, the safe pass for 4 yards is still a win, putting Miami in a favorable 3rd down and 1 situation.


16. Didn't get video - this was a big completion on 3rd and 2.

17. In the red zone, Tannehill quickly recognizes a classic 2-high safety look that eliminates the sideline routes.Instead, the Dolphins have 4 receivers against only 3 men in coverage in the intermediate area of the field between the hashes. I really like how in frame 2, Tannehill has stepped up in the pocket to give the route time to develop. Good anticipation and good ball placement leads his receiver for an easy first down (and almost touchdown) into an area vacated by the defense. Hartline actually fumbles at the goal line but the play is overturned on a roughing penalty.


18. P/A roll to the right; notice how in frame 1 the play-action has totally frozen the linebacker. Tannehill doesn't panic with a rusher in his face and does a good job getting square and putting the ball in the right place. Notice how in frame 3 his receiver doesn't have to leap or stretch for the ball. This goes for 14 YAC.


19. His right tackle gets beat on an inside move and Tannehill escapes to the left. I like how he eliminates his guy on the near sideline - some QBs panic in these situations and try to flip it to the first white jersey. Tannehill gets 4 yards on the scramble and while I would love for him to get down earlier, these plays show his athleticism. So naturally the Dolphins' call only one more play for Tannehill to move outside the pocket the whole rest of the game. It's logic.


20. Everyone misses the corner blitz from the left - horrible pre-snap anticipation. Tannehill should have realized where the pressure is coming from and passed to the open man in that area. He recognizes it, but way too late and is sacked. And who is the running back (yellow circle) blocking here? How did he miss a free blitzer?


21. San Diego gets pressure with just 4 this time; Tannehill check's down behind the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 12. Not saying there's more he could have done, but the offense just seems unprepared for pressure.


22. Tipped at the line of scrimmage. I do like how he stands tall in the pocket instead of retreating.


23. Nicely thrown deep out to the left. Again he does a good job of keeping his feet neutral as he makes his read, then flipping them to throw. He's correct to open his hips a little as you want this ball to draft left away from coverage.


24. Pressure up the middle, Tannehill throws it away. I don't hate this throw with only 41 seconds in the half and little likelihood of scoring - you just want to prevent mistakes. But they did have the checkdown open in the middle of the field with a timeout to stop the clock with.


25. Sack to end the half. Lucky it wasn't a strip, the left tackle gets completely turned around. The San Diego pass rush is weirdly looking stronger. It's not as if the Dolphins didn't have blocking success - so far in the game, they ran 9 times for 51 yards (including a 1 yard TD plunge, so really 8 for 50) and would end with 5.5 yards/carry on the day.


26. After the half, Tannehill recognizes soft zone coverage, with the corner handing off his receiver about 7 yards deep of the line of scrimmage. I like how Tannehill keeps his feet pointed downfield as long as possible. An easy pass to the flat produces 6 YAC.


27. Again, good recognition that the coverage is deep and he only needs 3 yards for a conversion. He's a bit deep on a 5 yard drop even though pocket integrity is fine and I don't like how he's leaning away from his target on the follow through. Still, it's an easy pass for 6 YAC considering the nearest defender is 9 yards away.


28. P/A roll to the right, this time the shorter routes are covered - San Diego are learning. Would love to have the All-22 of this pass to see what was available down field - my guess is with 6 Chargers in pursuit and two covering the receiver in the flat, the Dolphins had 3 on 3 deeper in the secondary. Tannehill throws it away.


29. A screen to Lamar Miller is expertly blocked and results in a 22 yard gain.


30. For most of the game, tight end Chris Clay has been playing up the seam against the linebackers. This time he runs a deep out from the slot. Tannehill's mechanics and timing are again strong, allowing Clay to turn easily with the ball once caught. A few broken tackles later and Clay is in the end zone for a 30 yard TD.


31. Tannehill follows a great pass with a horrible one on the next series. The Dolphins have max protect - 7 men back including a tight end and running back. The Chargers are rushing five. The initial read is a double move on the right sideline, but it's well-covered. Tannehill does have the seam open over the zone linebackers, but can't pull the trigger fast enough and is sacked. To me, this one is 50/50 on Tannehill and the protection.


32. Another screen, this time three blockers fail to account for one linebacker and Lamar Miller loses 2 yards.


33. Going left the whole time. Nicely thrown deep out is placed perfectly but dropped by Hartline. Hmm, that's two on Brian.


34. Miami try another quick out on 3rd and 2. Notice a theme here? Lots of quick passes, especially to the sideline, with nothing in the middle of the field? The Chargers defense has noticed to. They have 5 guys stacked on the line to prevent easy conversions. This pass is the tiniest bit late and is batted away. And why is Rishard Matthews the Dolphin's go-to guy on 3rd down?


35. Good mechanics and timing on another comeback route, 5 YAC. Getting really vanilla.


36. Zone coverage, looks like Cover-3 with linebackers covering the short flat and the corner dropping deep. The pocket holds but Tannehill doesn't even look to his check down before throwing it away. A checkdown probably yields 5 yards, a win for the offense on 1st and 10, but Tannehill isn't able to get through the progression.


37. The Chargers have one deep safety and an elephant of room in the middle of the field. Seriously, look at how empty that circle is! San Diego are wisely playing the receivers tight and predictably, everything is a short route on 3rd and 4. What is the plan here!? The pocket is fine, they have favorable coverage, and in the red zone, space is only going to shrink with a conversion as the defense will have less ground to cover the closer they get to the end zone. And Chris Clay is a big body to throw this ball to, but that applies to passes to the middle of the field to. The Chargers have clearly figured out the Dolphins' timid, unimaginative, offensive play calling.


38. This is another quick pass but I like the concept better. The Dolphins are backed up but leading by 4 with just under 4 minutes left. It shows a lot of trust to put the ball in Tannehill's hands, since a sack hands the game to the Chargers. Tannehill makes a good read and good throw and is rewarded with 10 YAC. Not sure what the Chargers' CB was trying to to here.


39. Nothing open left, escapes the pocket to the right, good awareness to stay inbounds and slide.


40. I like the three straight throws with a lead. And finally a slant to the middle of the field! See, it's possible to attack that soft spot in the zone where nobody is standing! Tannehill shows strong form and fits the ball perfectly between defenders and gets the 1st down.


41. Just misses on a comeback to the left sideline. Again though, he's reading left the whole way.


42. Tannehill caps otherwise fantastic series with a boneheaded play. He's rolling to his right and with nothing open, just runs out of bounds. This was a horrible, horrible decision. Slide to a halt inbounds and he loses maybe 4 yards, not enough to sway field position, but forces San Diego to use their last timeout (or lose the 2 min. warning). For a QB that has shown otherwise good awareness, it is inexcusable to miss details like this. Someone had to have been telling him: limit incompletions and stay inbounds.


That was Tannehill's last throw of the game, a game the Dolphins would win to move to 5-5. After a respectable loss to the Panthers the next week, the Dolphins reeled 3 straight wins, the last against the Patriots, to put them in playoff position for the lats 2 weeks. Of course, they responded by scoring 7 points total in weeks 16/17 @ Buffalo and vs. the Jets. So after watching the film, do Dolphins fans have any hope the outcome will be in their favor this year?

CONTEXT

First, I needed to show a few clips of the Dolphins' defensive line. The Miami defense did a fantastic job holding a high-powered San Diego offense to only 16 points. The Chargers spent the whole game running away from Cameron Wake, with decent success (5.9 yards per carry). Just a few clips of Rivers being bamboozled:









Anyway a few notes about the offense:

  1. The Charger are a bad defense. They had the 32nd-ranked defense (28th using weighted DVOA) per Football Outsiders, with a run/pass DVOAs of 31st. It took them a half to figure out what Miami were doing and weren't even able to consistently take advantage in the second half. Everything Tannehill did in this game needs to be taken with a grain of salt. 
  2. The offensive game plan was crap. Sure, they trusted Tannehill with a lead, but zero creativity in the red zone and on 3rd down really hurt Tannehill's production. Maybe it's something the coaches saw in film, but they basically ignored the middle of the field altogether despite having a tight end 69 balls on the year (3rd on the team). 
  3. The offensive line was uneven but not disastrous. The interior of the line was okay but the tackles were consistently overmatched. The issues were compounded by the offense's inability to diagnose defensive pressure pre-snap. 
  4. The receivers were pretty good. Everyone was running crisp routes, they separated from coverage, and made the most of opportunities in terms of YAC. Hartline had the two ugly drops, but the group played a strong game overall.
STRENGTHS
  1. Strong footwork and mechanics. Tannehill was surprisingly strong mechanically. He had his feet, hips, and shoulders consistently facing the direction of the pass and did a good job stepping up int he pocket and into throws. 
  2. Good ball placement. I expected Tannehill to have accuracy issues due to inexperience throwing the ball. That was not the case. Tannehill consistently threw receivers open and put the ball in places where receivers could turn catches into YAC.
  3. Good timing with receivers. Tannehill threw with anticipation and good timing, hesitating when he needed to gives his receivers extra time to develop routes. 
  4. Athleticism. It's clear that Tannehill can do good things out of the pocket but was given limited opportunities to do so. 
WEAKNESSES
  1. Read progressions. Tannehill did some looking off of safeties with his eyes and his feet, but it all seemed very mechanical, like something built into the play. It's one thing to look one place when the real read is on the other side, but harder to have two reads and choose between them. He showed little ability to move beyond his first real read and no ability to truly move sideline to sideline. He missed open receivers downfield and for checkdowns. Good timing indicates knowledge of where the ball should go, but his decision making was sometimes subpar. On the pick, he was unable to diagnose that the Chargers were jumping short routes.
  2. Inconsistency handling pressure. Tannehill made some good plays with his feet under pressure, but in other places, rushed throws or threw the ball away unnecessarily. Film from other games shows he sometimes freezes when pressure closes in. 
  3. Pre-snap reads of the defense. Elite QBs know where pressure is going to come from before the snap. Miami looked confused on some blitzes. Some of that is on Tannehill.
  4. Situational awareness. Tannehill made some good decisions, such as sliding inbounds with a lead and the clock draining. But following that with a run out of bounds was borderline disastrous. He needs to make better decisions to ascend to the upper echelon of quarterbacks.
CONCLUSION

This game is obviously not a 100% representation of Tannehill's season, but answers a lot of my questions bout him. I think he's sacked a lot because of a combination of poor tackle play (esp. after losing Jonathan Martin) and blown assignments. He has a low yards/attempt number because the Miami offense didn't have him look downfield much after the first series. He has a tough time identifying coverages and getting through his progressions, taking longer than peers like Kaepernick and Newton who aren't necessarily known for that type of stuff. Conversely, his mechanics were much stronger than either of those two, showing coachability and potential as a passer. Do I believe in him as a long-term starter? It's hard to say and I initially leaned to "no." In such a vanilla, short pass offense, he should really be making better decisions and avoiding bad situations. His numbers mostly declined last year behind that patchwork line and he is already 26, so the clock is ticking. Still, I predict he'll improve behind a rebuilt line and the Chip Kelly offense should help his decision making. Despite a suspect running game, he has decent pieces around him and should continue to benefit from playing the AFC East. I don't think this year goes like Nick Foles' last year, but I think he can develop into an average starter in his 3rd year.

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