Can Philbin and Tannehill Make Miami Relevant?

There is little debating, success in the NFL comes from the marriage of a head coach and QB. Given all things equal or close in the competition between Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill, the logical selection was the rookie. Joe Philbin is well aware of this coach - QB connection, just like Tony Sparano knew he was in trouble when Chad Henne proved incapable of being an NFL starter after Chad Pennington could not stay healthy.

Philbin also knows three years is probably all he has to show there is potential for greatness in Miami or he will follow Sparano’s footsteps out the door. It’s almost like this season is a free pass and Philbin knows, what he develops now will carry him later. Perhaps for these reasons, he made critical decisions now without worrying about the results this year.

Two plays… A missed 48 yard field goal and poor coverage on a fourth down 10-yard TD pass are the difference between 1-3 and 3-1. There were a lot of great plays leading up to the ultimate coup de grĂ¢ce as the Dolphins jumped on their own swords and allowed the Jets and Cardinals to squeeze out victories. The silver lining is, Miami outplayed both teams and is poised to overcome the mistakes in route to a transformation every Dolphin fan can sense, if not yet see.

Some of the numbers do not equate to the confidence emanating from the Miami locker room, with a 66.4 passer rating, Ryan Tannehill is the 31st rated QB in the NFL. But the team has rallied around the rookie with the number 1 rated rushing defense, the top rated receiver and the 6th rated rusher. A closer look shows the numbers don’t lie and the confidence is justified. Miami is ranked 9th in total offense and 17th in total defense.

The rookie has only 2 TDs with 6 INTs and is still feeling his way in the NFL, but the optimism comes from Ryan Tannehill’s ability to recognize his mistakes and rapidly correct them. The best example of this is when the Houston Texans timed up his release and batted balls down like they were using ping pong paddles. Since then, Tannehill has had no significant reoccurrence and has found passing lanes with the help of his offensive line.

The common stat circling the media is the 306 yards passing Tannehill threw while under pressure against the Cardinals. The poise is there, but the attempt to rescue plays when the blocking scheme breaks down has led to compounding errors. If these issues are as rapidly assimilated and rectified as the batted balls, the wins will begin to accumulate.

The need for scoring will be paramount as offenses begin to attack Miami’s Achilles Heel in the secondary. Richard Marshall and Nolan Carroll have both spent more time in the training room this week than on the practice field. The number 1 rated rushing defense is a product of great play by the front seven, but also is an indication of teams exploiting Miami’s 30th rated pass defense.

Trading Vontae Davis may now seem like a mistake, but the voice of Mike Singletary lashing out at Vontae’s brother Vernon, reverberates in Joe Philbin’s decision. “I would rather play with 10 people and get penalized all the way until we've got to do something else. Rather than play with 11 when I know that right now, that person is not sold out to be a part of this team. It is more about them than it is about the team.”

“Cannot play with them… Cannot win with them… Cannot coach with them… Can't do it…”

Philbin made the decision, he could not coach Vontae. Davis may come round like his brother, but it was Singletary who paid the price and Philbin was not going to allow his team to be brought down before he had a chance to build it in his image. Teams will attempt to exploit the Miami secondary and there are not a lot of options for the Dolphins except perhaps to match scoring, until new bodies are acquired next season.

Without the poor example of Vontae Davis, Sean Smith finally had the breakout game Dolphin coaches have been waiting for. Smith will be tested for the remainder of the season and it will make him understand that games can be lost by getting beat on any single play. Smith could not celebrate a two interception performance when one missed coverage ultimately lost the cardinal game for Miami. This is an upside for the Dolphins, Smith was not reaching his potential and part of that was the backseat he had taken to the underachieving Vontae Davis.

The strategy this season must move toward a pressure defense, with press coverage on the corners and an assortment of blitz packages designed to force 3 step drops and create turnovers. The pressure must lead to QB hits and sacks, or there will be a potential for big plays. Points by the Dolphins also helps to make opposing offenses one dimensional, but unfortunately they will be forced to play into Miami’s weakness in the secondary. The Dolphins could be in-line for some shootouts.

The Dolphins are a work in progress, playing at high level for a coach and QB the team is rallying around. They are not ready for primetime, they are a few players away, but the expectations are always high in Miami. The joy may not come in victories for Dolphin fans as much as it will come from watching the growth of a rookie coach and a rookie QB as they begin the journey.

The feeling is definitely different than in past attempts, this is no Cam Cameron – Trent Green, Nick Saban – Daunte Culpepper or Tony Sparano – Chad Henne relationship, Philbin and Tannehil have the feel of something special. Fans have a front row seat to watch what could quite possibly be the return to prominence of the Miami Dolphins.

Buckle-up Fin Fans, this is going to be fun to watch…