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Tannehill's Cool Under Pressure Getting More Noticeable

Posted Oct 17, 2012

Blitzing the rookie quarterback proving to be unwise

It’s time to step back and look at what Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has done through six regular-season games, particularly the last three, as defenses continue to try and rattle him.

Without a doubt the one aspect of Tannehill’s game that cannot be overstated is his poise no matter the situation. The Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals and most recently the St. Louis Rams put that to the test and judging by Miami’s 2-1 record in those three games (with an overtime loss at Arizona), the youngster passed with ease.

All Tannehill did on the road against the Cardinals is set a franchise record for passing yards by a rookie in a single game (431), and 306 of his passing yards came against the blitz. He followed that up with an efficient outing at Cincinnati in a 17-13 win, completing 17-of-26 passes for 223 yards and a passer rating of 92.3 with no turnovers, and then had a career-high 112.0 passer rating after going 21-of-29 for 185 yards and two touchdowns at home against the Rams.

“We have a great running game and some great backs that are able to do some things,” said Tannehill, who after throwing three interceptions at Houston in his NFL debut has only been picked off three times in five games since. “Reggie (Bush) and our offensive line have done a good job if you look at our first six games, so they know it’s a big part of our offense and they want to take it away and make me beat them. I don’t take it personal, but I look forward to the challenge.”

Time and again, Tannehill’s teammates bring up his calm and steady demeanor and the fact they can never tell whether he just threw an interception or a touchdown. From a physical standpoint, the Texas native has proven he can take a hit and bounce back to his feet like he did last week after getting drilled in the back from the blindside by Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

Veterans like Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long and left guard Richie Incognito have run out of adjectives to describe their young signal caller. They have now gotten to the point where if they see the defense load the box and show the blitz there is little concern and very little doubt that Tannehill will not be caught off guard.

“It’s impressive to watch and it’s good that he’s comfortable that he knows what he’s doing back there,” Long said. “He knows the offense and how to get us into the right plays and we can beat team when we have to pass the ball. That just builds confidence and that’s a great thing to have. We know if we can keep him clean, unrattled and guys off of him and make sure he doesn’t get hit, he can throw on anybody.

“I haven’t seen him get frazzled yet and he’s taken some shots and every now and then you’re going to take some shots. It’s just inevitable. He does a great job of getting up, shaking it off, going to the next play and not getting rattled.”

Progress can be seen in the numbers, especially in Tannehill’s passer ratings as he went from an 86.5 at Arizona to a 92.3 at Cincinnati and finally that 112.0 against the Rams. His overall passer rating right now sits at 76.5 and his completion percentage has crept up to 59.6, with an average of 7.34 yards per completion.

Perhaps nobody else on the team can appreciate more what Tannehill is doing than backup quarterback Matt Moore, who was the team’s Most Valuable Player last year after engineering a 6-3 finish down the stretch. He’s in the quarterback room everyday with Tannehill and has watched the rookie gain more confidence with each practice and with each game.

“He’s prepared, he understands, he knows what he has to do and he reacts great under pressure,” Moore said. “So if he has to throw the ball to win there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that he can. It’s just real impressive to watch and I’ll say it again, he’s not your typical rookie. Other teams maybe don’t know that but obviously we realize that, so if teams think, ‘Oh, let’s blitz the rookie quarterback,’ his preparation and just his background has him prepared and it’s been awesome to watch.”

Besides Moore, second-year center Mike Pouncey probably has the most interaction with Tannehill being as he snaps him the ball on every play. He has vowed to get the rest of the offensive line going again in the running game so as to take some pressure off of his quarterback.

“Once they start respecting Tannehill’s passing game because they can see that he can throw the football now, they’ll stop putting as many guys down there and our running game will get back up,” Pouncey said. “He’s doing a phenomenal job right now for us.”

Head Coach Joe Philbin likes what he sees out of his quarterback, specifically against the blitz and he wants Tannehill to continue to study film during this bye week so he can keep that momentum going.

“I think he has a reason for why he does some things,” Philbin said. “I think he knows where he’s bringing people and who’s going over there and, once again, as importantly why. He knows some of the things, the other troubles. You always rob Peter to pay Paul. You can’t always be right. He’s decisive. He makes a decision. He gets people on the same page and then you live with the decision. That’s good. That’s better than, ‘Oh, coach I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know.’ You do it. You make a decision and you live with it.”

That decisiveness is what Tannehill is bringing to the line of scrimmage and he knows exactly what the end result will be if the blitz comes.

“I think if teams are bringing that kind of pressure at you and you can pick it up, then they are vulnerable down the field and you can make some big plays downfield,” said Tannehill, who did just that with his 29-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Moore last week. “We don’t want to be checking to a pass every play. Teams want to bring seven or eight guys in the box, depending on the set, and make us throw, but we don’t want to be checking to a pass every play. It’s just about finding that balance of checking to a pass when we need it and going over to a run so we can still establish a run game throughout the course of the game.”

Next up for Tannehill are the New York Jets and this will be his second time facing Rex Ryan’s defense. Whether or not Ryan chooses to test him like those other three teams did, the kid will be ready.
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