WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
It is the easy reflex to give Ryan Tannehill the benefit of the doubt, because of the intriguing skill set, the nifty 27 to 12 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, the sporadic flashes of excellence (including the perfect passer rating against Houston), the Dolphins’ inability to surround him with a sturdy enough offensive line, and the lack of appealing, available quarterback options outside the building.
But with the Jets looming on Sunday, this needs to be asked:
When does the starting quarterback stop playing his worst against the teams he plays the most?
Tannehill travels to The Meadowlands this weekend with a 7-15 record in the AFC East and 6-15 if you exclude a win against the Jets that he missed most of. (His teammates obviously also shoulder a lot of the blame for that 7-15 record).
What's more, he has a dismal career passer rating against each: 75.7 against the Bills, 75.5 against the Patriots and 67.2 against the Jets.
If his passer rating in division games were his overall passer rating this season, it would be third-worst in the NFL, ahead of only Peyton Manning and Ryan Mallett.
Take a look at Miami’s last 12 games against AFC East teams. They’re 3-9, have been outscored 328 to 177, and have topped 17 points just three times.
Of those 12 games, Tannehill has had only one good game, two decent ones and nine bad games; his passer rating has been below 80 (usually well below) in eight of them. That’s unacceptable.
Yes, his offensive line deserves a share of the blame for Miami’s offensive shortcomings in division matchups; Tannehill has been sacked 36 times in his past 12 games against AFC East opponents.
But even though the running game hasn’t been blameless, the passing game has been the much bigger problem. Consider: In those last 12 games against AFC East teams, Miami averaged at least 4.1 yards per rush in eight of them and had 80 yards rushing in a ninth.
The Dolphins ran effectively in their last four games against the Jets, but the defense was exploited and Tannehill had passer ratings of 47.9, 77.7, 87.4 (in a loss) and 53 (in their game in London Oct. 4).
At least he probably won’t have to deal with Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who reportedly is unlikely to play Sunday because of a concussion.
So why does the Dolphins’ offense struggle so much against AFC East teams?
“All of these teams in our division have pretty good defensive lines,” interim coach Dan Campbell said when I asked the question. “They have a big front, big long guys. Two-gap guys. Buffalo is a little more penetration. I just think they make life a little bit harder to run inside for us. We’re not the biggest line up front.”
The Dolphins weren’t concerned about Tannehill’s subpar play in division games when they gave him a contract that could reach $95 million.
But they should be if he has another disappointing game Sunday, considering Miami plays 37 percent of its schedule inside the division.
Here’s the bottom line: In their past 12 games against AFC East teams, Miami has 19 touchdowns on 143 possessions (13.3 percent). Sixteen of those possessions ended in Tannehill interceptions.
You can – and should - blame his pass protection and, to an extent, his receivers for part of that.
But at some point, the franchise quarterback cannot continue to be at his worst against the opponents who know him best.
And though I'm not part of the replace-Tannehill crowd, drafting competition for him might be prudent if he fizzles over the final six games.
### One Dolphins official privately questioned whether Bill Lazor’s system is best-suited for Tannehill. With Miami 26th in both points and yards this season, another offseason offensive coordinator change would surprise nobody.
### Some fans have spoken of a longshot scenario in which Butch Davis would be UM’s coach and Mario Cristobal the coach-in-waiting, but a person in touch with Cristobal said he does not seem interested in being a UM assistant in that or any scenario, for that matter. Nor would Davis have interest in being an assistant coach. Both want to be a head coach.
### There were multiple NFL offensive coordinators on the list of 40 names that search firm Korn Ferry gave UM, including Cincinnati’s Hue Jackson (would seem doubtful he would have interest) and Seattle’s Darrell Bevell. (The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter previously mentioned Jackson as someone of interest to Miami.)
### At least three of the candidates mentioned prominently for the UM job still hadn’t been contacted for interviews as of Tuesday. Several people close to the process said they expect some interviews next week.
### UM has been waiting to see who else becomes available, such as LSU’s Les Miles, potentially. One UM official said Miami would have interest in Georgia’s Mark Richt if he’s fired but doesn’t expect that.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez could still emerge as an option for Miami. He had been heavily linked to the Virginia Tech job, but the Hokies are prepared to hire Memphis' Justin Fuente, according to ESPN's Pat Forde.
UM's preference, ideally, remains hiring an established coach who has had success as a head coach elsewhere, according to an associate of Blake James.
### Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski (who has had success as an assistant but not yet as a head coach) and Greg Schiano (who has had both) are among coaches with some support on UM’s search advisory committee.
But this is ultimately James' call, though he is considering input from the advisory committee, a few high-level Trustees and of course, the search firm.
### Mid-major coaches are being considered (including Houston’s Tom Herman), though Al Golden’s failures worry some with regard to mid-major coaches. There are unconfirmed reports elsewhere tonight that South Carolina has an agreement with Herman.
### A very expensive, pie-in-the-sky target, though he probably wouldn't be available until January, would be Eagles coach Chip Kelly. UM probably would have filled the job by then.
“I think the momentum and signs seem to be piling up against a Chip [Kelly] return to Philadelphia,” ESPN's Adam Schefter said on Sirius Radio. “I think both sides are sick of each other. I think the fans are tired of him. I think he’s tired of the situation there. That’s just my read from afar. I just think that Chip Kelly, if given a choice, might be comfortable elsewhere."
### There are a few scenarios in which offensive coordinator James Coley could remain at UM, including potentially if Cristobal is hired. But Coley said no UM coaching candidate has reached out to him.
Incidentally, Brad Kaaya told me he would not lobby a new coach to retain any offensive assistants.
"I just show up and play," he said. "It's all up to them."
Kaaya said he hasn't asked James for an update on the coaching search.
### Whenever Erik Spoelstra is asked why Justise Winslow is playing so much, he tells people to look at the scoreboard.
And consider this: Not only do the Heat’s six most successful lineups (by score difference) feature Winslow, but among the NBA’s top 12 in plus/minus, Winslow (plus 98) and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (plus 118) are the only two who don’t play for the Warriors, Spurs or Cavaliers.
Spoelstra feels confident having the 6-7 Winslow defend most any position, and Knicks 7-1 rookie Kristaps Porzingis said the next time the Heat puts Winslow on him (like he did Monday), “I have to punish him."
Winslow not only leads the Heat in plus/minus, but by a lot. Next closest: Dwyane Wade at plus 58.
### The Marlins are talking to Seattle about a trade involving outfielder Marcell Ozuna, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported tonight. As we've reported for months, owner Jeffrey Loria is down on Ozuna and wants his front office to explore trade options, though Miami won't simply give him away.
The Marlins are believed to want a quality starting pitcher in return.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz