FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
All football talk today:
It’s way premature to make conclusions about Ryan Tannehill; despite his recent slump, there’s reason to feel hopeful about his future. Nevertheless, Tannehill eventually must elevate his late-game play to address questions that Jon Gruden and others previously raised red flags about.
Gruden said in August his “big concern” with Tannehill at Texas A&M is “you would like to see a quarterback that finished games better, that dominates in the third and fourth quarter.” That has remained an issue in his rookie season, though he is hampered by factors beyond his control: personnel shortcomings around him and shaky pass protection. Consider:
### Over the past 15 months, Tannehill is 3-9 in games decided by seven points or less: 1-5 at Texas A&M, 2-4 with the Dolphins. And his teams had double-digit leads in all three of those wins, including 17-6 fourth-quarter cushions against the Bengals and Rams.
In his defense, Tannehill put the Dolphins in position to win the first Jets game in overtime, but Dan Carpenter missed a 48-yard field goal. He helped Miami tie that game with a late fourth-quarter field goal but was 2-of-8 for 13 yards on that drive.
### As a rookie, Tannehill is completing just 49.1 percent of his passes (26 for 53) in the fourth quarter of games with a margin of seven or less, including two interceptions in the final two minutes against Buffalo.
In that situation, his 62.5 rating trails the other rookie starters: Robert Griffin (88.8), Russell Wilson (87), Andrew Luck (81) and Brandon Weeden (71.6). It’s well below the likes of Christian Ponder (121.9) and Sam Bradford (119.7) and ahead of only Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez and John Skelton.
For perspective, last season at Texas A&M, Tannehill completed only 14 of 36 passes in the fourth quarter with a margin of seven or less, with one touchdown, one interception and a lost fumble.
### The Dolphins thought playing in a no-huddle offense would make Tannehill more proficient in two-minute drills. But Tannehill has the league’s worst numbers in the final two minutes of halves: 8 for 24 for 102 yards, no touchdowns, four interceptions and an 8.0 rating. He has a 45.8 rating in overtime.
“That’s the thing that makes quarterbacks [great] – at the end of the half, at the end of the game,” said Colts interim coach Bruce Arians, talking about Luck and not Tannehill. “You will your team to win. All-Star players have it.”
ESPN analyst and former Colts general manager Bill Polian said off the air that “you look past” Tannehill’s late-game struggles “for two reasons: One -- he’s a rookie and has to learn in those situations. And two – you have to protect him.”
So when it is fair to expect him to engineer game-winning drives? “When he has a complete team,” Polian said. “When he has smooth protection and receivers who can get open and make big plays. Coaches would tell you he’s playing with a short stick at receiver. They need a speed receiver.”
Former Browns scout and Sporting News draft expert Russ Lande said Tannehill’s late-game play, going back to college, “is a concern, not as consistent as you would like, but you sort of have to give him the benefit of the doubt it will improve.”
Actually, Tannehill’s biggest problem has been on third down, where his 56.8 rating is next-to-last, ahead of only Skelton (42.5).
With Jabar Gaffney cut, we get to see more of receiver Rishard Matthews (who debuted against the Bills), and Dolphins cornerbacks say everyone will be surprised how good he is. “He made this diving one-handed catch for 40 yards in practice,” Sean Smith said. “He’s been making plays all year in practice. He’s got size, speed, strength. It’s crazy he was [only] a seventh-round” pick. He caught 91 passes for 1364 yards at Nevada in 2011.
### Dolphins’ local TV ratings have plunged again; the 12.3 against Buffalo (which combined the cable and non-cable audiences) was by far the lowest for any NFL home market last week and one of the team’s lowest ratings in years.
### Former Hurricanes are lashing out at the NCAA for threatening to believe Nevin Shapiro if ex-players don’t talk to the NCAA. “The NCAA is a joke,” Greg Olsen, who wasn’t accused of violations, said on Twitter. “Assume guilt if kids don’t agree to talk to you? Are we not still in America?” Olsen’s tweet was re-tweeted by Jonathan Vilma and Kellen Winslow Jr., who were accused of violations by Shapiro and Yahoo!
Packers executive and Canes great Alonzo Highsmith ranted on Twitter: “Trying to understand why Miami is allowing the NCAA to run roughshod over the program… At some point, [UM president] Donna [Shalala] needs to take a stand. Amazing a school like Miami won’t stand up to the cartel and tell them to bring it! Now it’s time to tell them what you think and fight.
“The NCAA hates Miami anyway, so why would you think they were going to be fair to Miami? They [couldn’t] care less about self-imposing and they want our [butt]. Bet Vilma is glad he didn’t listen to all those jack offs [in the NFL bounty base] about sitting and not fighting? Some people have no balls.”
Olivier Vernon, who served a six-game suspension last year after meeting with the NCAA, said: “They’re believing a liar, and to do this during the season? It’s ridiculous.” Said Lamar Miller, who wasn’t accused of violations: “It’s unfair. It’s crazy.”
### Though he will be rumored for several jobs, Al Golden sounds genuine when he says: “The thing people don’t understand and accept is I want to be here for a really long time. We’re destined for great things here. I like the people, diversity, climate, urban setting, [proximity] to the Keys. My kids enjoy it. My wife is happy. Miami fits who we are.” He’s signed through Feb. 1, 2020.