Ryan Tannehill is thriving in Bill Lazor's new offense
By DAN BERNSTEIN
College Contributor Network
Before a Week 4 matchup against the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin considered benching quarterback Ryan Tannehill after a wretched 21 of 43 passing performance against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rather than show his third-year quarterback -- a former 8th overall draft pick -- public support, Philbin undermined his team leader when asked if he was going to start Tannehill. He told reporters, "We'll decide our game plan before we leave to play Oakland." This implied that Tannehill's starting spot was under consideration, which caused understandable commotion amongst fans.
Since then, Tannehill has played at a career-best level, and he reached new heights in a dominant dual-threat performance against the Chargers on Sunday.
Tannehill's improvement coincides with the hiring of Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator, who replaced Mike Sherman in the offseason.
High tempo and athleticism were supposed to be the two keystones of Lazor's offensive system, however, the Dolphins' tempo this year has remained constant despite their switch in offensive coordinator. This season, the Dolphins average 26.42 seconds per play, while last year they averaged 26.66 seconds per play. It should be noted though, that in 2013 the Dolphins were already above average in terms of tempo, and this year has been a continuation of that trend.
The main source of offensive improvement for the Dolphins this season comes from Lazor's second keystone -- the use of the team's athleticism. The pieces were already in place for an athlete-oriented offense to work -- Lamar Miller, Mike Williams, Charles Clay, and Jarvis Landry are all explosive talents.
More importantly, Tannehill provided Lazor with a versatile quarterback to build his system around. Under Lazor, the Dolphins frequently utilize the read option, which maximizes Tannehill's mobility while spreading the ball out to other athletic skill players in space.
Tannehill, who played receiver in college for two seasons, has improved dramatically on the ground because of this system. In his first two seasons combined, Tannehill rushed for 449 yards and averaged 5.04 yards per carry (YPC). In this season alone, Tannehill is on pace to rush for 490 yards and is averaging 7.9 YPC.
The Dolphins' overall run game is also much better this season, with speed back Lamar Miller experiencing a break out year. In 2013, the Dolphins averaged 4.1 YPC and 90 yards per game (YPG), whereas this season those numbers have jumped to 4.8 YPC and 137.3 YPG.
Despite having many of the same athletic pieces last year, Miami struggled to create big plays. After the offensive scheme change there has been significant uptick in yards per play, as the Dolphins jumped up to 16th place in that department after finishing 27th last season. They have also moved from 22nd to third place in the number of running plays going for 20+ yards -- further emphasizing improvements in both their run game and big play ability.
With defenses focusing more and more on stopping the run against the Dolphins, Tannehill is having an easier time throwing the ball. His pass completion percentage this season is 63.3%, and since the benching controversy, it's an even better 68.7%. Take almost any measure of quarterback performance and Tannehill has a career high in it -- his QBR is 15 points better than ever before, and his DVOA, a measure of player efficiency relative to replacement level performance, has risen from an ugly -9.8% to a more respectable -0.03%.
The Dolphins have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and the way that they're winning games is perhaps more impressive than their 5-3 record. There's an identity to the offense now, a dynamic edge brought on by the Lazor-Tannehill union that threatens to steamroll unsuspecting opponents. Last Sunday, the Dolphins beat the Chargers 37-0 after accumulating 441 total yards. Tannehill threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 47 yards on four carries.
In the middle of the benching controversy before the Raiders' game, Lazor was asked if he had doubts that Tannehill would start. He responded, "No. Is there any doubt I'll be the offensive coordinator?"
Dan Bernstein is a freshman at the University of Maryland. He is romantic about the Oakland Coliseum (where he grew up) and Anfield (where he's never been). Follow him on Twitter: @danbernsteinUMD