There is a growing group of Miami Dolphins faithful who, after 26 games, are ready to give up on starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
While this group is the minority among Miami’s fan base, the majority has grown increasingly skeptical of Tannehill being the long-term answer for the franchise. Look no further than the Dolphins’ opponent this coming Sunday in the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton to see why it is beyond premature to throw in the towel on Tannehill.
Newton had an awe-inspiring rookie season highlighted by AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl berth. His sophomore campaign was considered a disappointment by comparison.
In year two, Newton saw a drop-off in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes and rushing touchdowns from his rookie season. Beyond the numbers, the Panthers struggled to a 7-9 record, including a 3-9 start. As the team’s perceived leader, Newton wore much of the blame. The media questioned Newton’s ability to handle adversity and claimed his poor body language was negatively affecting his team.
Carolina finished the 2012 season winning five of its final six games, and that momentum has carried over to 2013. The Panthers, winners of six straight, are 7-3 and arguably playing the best football in the entire NFL. A defense that has surfaced as an elite unit deserves a great deal of credit, but the Panthers wouldn’t be where they are without Newton taking the next step as a quarterback.
Newton is currently completing a career-best 63.2 percent of is passes and is on pace to throw for 25 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions. His 91.8 quarterback rating is also a career high. Newton’s passing yards are down, but the Panthers have won five games by 15 or more points, which means he hasn’t had to throw the ball late in half of his team’s games.
Tannehill, like Newton, had an impressive rookie season. It wasn’t on Newton’s level, but given Tannehill’s lack of experience in college and a pedestrian group of receivers to throw to he showed enough promise to inspire hope in Miami.
Unlike Newton, Tannehill’s numbers are not down in most statistical categories during his second season, but he hasn’t taken the leap many Dolphins fans hoped he would. Some blame Tannehill for that. Others point to an offensive line that has conceded more sacks than any other team and a running game that has been nonexistent more often than not.
I tend to side with the latter group, as I believe the shortcomings of Tannehill’s supporting cast have impeded his development to a degree. But that doesn’t pardon all of Tannehill’s faults. He’s still thrown a poor deep ball and lacked ideal instincts for the position at times.
Still, Tannehill is on pace to throw for nearly 4,000 yards, 22 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. In today’s pass-happy league, those aren’t spectacular numbers, but they are solid. And Tannehill’s current clip puts him on pace to throw for more yards and touchdown passes than any quarterback not named Dan Marino in team history.
Something still isn’t clicking for Tannehill. He’s too talented of a passer to be missing on some of the throws he has this year, but there’s a very good chance the light bulb will eventually turn on. With better protection, the prospects of it doing so increase. With a more reliable running game to lean on those chances increase even more. But maybe just another year of experience is all Tannehill needs.
It is surely difficult for Dolphins fans to have patience at the game’s most important position, especially when the franchise hasn’t possessed a legitimate franchise quarterback since the great Marino retired in early 2000. Having some with Tannehill, though, could lead to a breakout season in 2014 similar to what is transpiring in Carolina with Newton.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.