Some things are so obvious even the secretive men inside Stalag Dolphin have to admit to them. And the difficulty the entire NFL has witnessed Ryan Tannehill have throwing the deep ball since he joined the Miami Dolphins is one of those things.
Last year we saw Tannehill miss a wide open Brian Hartline a handful of times when the receiver was open deep behind defenders. This year, Tannehill is armed with dynamic deep threat receiver Mike Wallace. But 10 games into the season, Wallace's deepest catch went for 49 yards.
And fans have seen Tannehill miss Wallace, open behind the secondary, on at least five ocassions -- either by underthrowing the football and forcing Wallace to fight for it against defensive backs, or underthrowing it and having a sure touchdown result in a mid-range completion, or throwing out of bounds, or just missing short altogether.
“The one the other day, let’s talk about the one the other day, that’s the most recent," coach Joe Philbin said Wednesday. "The guy is open, you have to get the ball to the receiver. You have to put a little more air under it so he doesn’t slow down and the DB doesn’t have a chance to break up the pass. It’s not that complicated, throwing the ball down the field.
"It does take the right timing, the receiver has to leave enough space, especially when you’re throwing the ball outside the numbers which we had on that particular play. You have to make that throw, [Tannehill] knows that, I know that, everybody who was at the game knows that. Those are the facts, we have to keep working at it and I’m confident we will start making more of those."
Confident or not, Philbin was concerned enough about the issue to talk to Tannehill about it this week. It's become more than just a rare happenstance now. It's an issue -- one that Tannehill got advise on how to solve.
"We talked to coach Philbin yesterday and that’s one of the things he told me," Tannehill said. "Just go out there and let it rip. When a guy gets that open, sometimes you kind of tense up and you don’t want to overthrow him so you end up underthrowing him. I just have to go out there and let it rip and not overplay it."
I asked Tannehill if he's likely to take Philbin's advice and attack the situation differently this week.
"Yes, I think so," Tannehill said. "We had a couple other shots in the game where he got behind guys and one time I got flushed out got bumped and flushed out and I had to throw it to (Rishard) Matthews over the middle and another time I got sacked on it. We had a couple more opportunities where he got open, just wasn’t able to get him the ball. You’ve got to hit the ones that are there, if you only get one shot a game to get him the ball I have to just throw it out there and let him run underneath it.
"That’s what he’s here to do. He’s got the legs to run underneath it and it’s on me to just throw it out there and let him get it.”
Here's the thing: Tannehill is a young quarterback and he's still learning the job. But I get the feeling he's trying to be too fine and too perfect for his own good. He needs to trust his instincts more. He needs to use his many gifts -- one of which is the ability to throw the football a long way.
He's been aiming the ball. He needs to simply pass it.
"Yes, I think I just get conservative," Tannehill admitted. "You see a guy, like I said with so much space and separation between him and the defender, he had five yards or something on the guy. You see that space and you're thinking just get him the ball. Instead of, just throw it out there, play football and let it rip."
This can go one of two directions now.
Tannehill, reined in for too long, can feel free and start playing rather than thinking. And we'll start to see his deep completion percentage improve.
Tannehill, despite given the freedom to rip it, simply hasn't the touch or deep ball accuracy that must be inate to a quarterback to be the launching point for a deep passing game.
There is some reason for hope here. Last year Tannehill completed zero percent of his attempts of 41 yards or more. He was 0 for 3. This year he has completed 16.7 percent of his 6 throws of 41 yards or more. That still isn't good enough, but it suggests some improvement.
The question is can Tannehill make a much more significant improvement.
You have to consider that Wallace averaged eight touchdowns per season and 17.5 yards per reception his four seasons in Pittsburgh. In Miami he's basically been turned into a possession receiver who has one touchdown and is averaging 12.1 yard per catch.
But in Pittsburgh, Wallace played with a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who completed at least 33.3 percent of his passes on throws of 41 yards or more the past three years and in 2009 completed a whopping 46.2 percent of such passes.
Big Ben can wing it.
Can Tannehill match those numbers? Impossible to tell.
But he needs to bring his numbers up soon. Otherwise, what everyone sees as an issue that needs work could soon be viewed as a fatal flaw in Tannehill's game.