FanPost

State of the QB Race: "The People's Choice" takes a step forward then avoids taking a step back

While the WR battle will continue until the fourth preseason game, making speculation at this point premature, the QB battle will hopefully be over in the next few days, although Coach Philbin said he wasn't sure he could confidently make a choice even after 2 preseason games.

Given that we may have a winner of the QB battle in less than a week, I'd like to review my thoughts of the current state of the QB battle, as well as discuss WHY the QB battle should be resolved soon. This is a lengthy fanpost because I began writing it after pre-season game 1, then was distracted by the Chad Johnson situation as well as my "real-life" responsibilities. It's amazing how quickly our plans have changed.

Consider this: 10 days ago, David Garrard throwing passes to Chad Johnson was set to become a major part of our offense.

So the story of preseason game 1 was Ryan "The People's Choice" Tannehill's very solid performance, with 2 key caveats:

1. It was against the second-team defense of Tampa Bay.

2. Because it's pre-season, opposing defensive coordinators were using "vanilla" defenses, not wanting to reveal their exotic blitz packages before the regular season, so Tannehill didn't have to deal with complicated pre-snap reads.

Tannehill had 1 TD, 1 near TD, and 1 near INT while running the second team offense - that's a very good but not spectacular debut.

Generic stat lines from pre-season games are near worthless However, looking at Tannehill's performance, I saw several encouraging things:

1. Poise/Confidence - Dolphins OC Mike Sherman said he was impressed Tannehill didn't demonstrate "happy feet" in his first NFL game action. Tannehill didn't take off and run at the first sign of trouble. He stood tall in the pocket and made throws as the pocket was collapsing. He wasn't afraid to make throws like the successive throws like this one to Pruitt and this one to Wallace in traffic.

2. Decisiveness - He avoided the common rookie mistake of hanging onto the ball too long. I watched the game twice, the second time counting how long it took for Tannehill to get rid of the ball. Very rarely did I count to "Two-Mississippi" before the ball was out of his hands.

3. Variety of throws made - His standout throws to me include the 19 yard sideline throw to Roberto Wallace (excellent touch with nearby defenders), his backshoulder throw to Julius Pruitt (seen here, demonstrating trust*), a perfect throw to Charles Clay on a rollout to the right following a fake handoff, and great execution of a screen pass to Lamar Miller (hit Miller in stride).

* Pruitt was described as making good plays in camp, and he showed us fans a good reason why QBs trust him - if you watch closely, Pruitt is forced to make a one-handed grab because the CB is holding Pruitt's left arm (no flag was thrown, so thanks for nothing, replacement referees....) There's a lot to like about him, but others have already sung his praises, so won't go into it. Note: Pruitt's impact in game 2 was limited by an undisclosed injury (per Omar Kelly's Twitter account) that left him limping on the sidelines, and Tannehill did worse without him.

4. Accuracy - A key thing as I watch these games is ball placement. I'm more impressed with a 9 yard incompletion thrown to a spot where only the receiver could make a play on the ball than a 40-yard completed pass that bounces off a defender's hands before the receiver makes a lucky grab. Good ball placement takes luck out of the equation (mostly). Having watched first and second pre-season games twice, I believe Tannehill has demonstrated savvy ball placement. Even SB Nation's Van Bibber, who is infamously pessimistic about the Dolphins, thinks Tannehill has very solid ball placement. Aside from the near pick-six in the redzone, you'd be hardpressed to name a throw that could have been picked off. Tannehill wasn't perfect - he was guilty of an overthrow his very first attempt and on his throw to Egnew and was responsible for a couple of passes that were slightly underthrown, but overall Tannehill did not take unreasonable risks with the ball.

ProFootball Focus also had some very nice things to say about Tannehill: "He showed touch on deep throws, getting a pass over Marquese Wheaton on a long pass to Roberto Wallace in the third quarter and didn’t make a mess of his short passes, allowing the likes of Charles Clay to collect a lot of yardage after the catch. Probably most impressive, however, was his passing against zone coverage. Considering his inexperience and the relative inexperience of his receivers, there were a number of passes completed to hitch routes against zone coverage, throwing receivers open from behind a defender. Such passes are often a mystery for young quarterbacks but Tannehill made them his own."

As for Tannehill's game two performance, despite the discouraging stat line of 11 of 23 passing, for 100 yards, I actually did see similar positive signs. He led a 15 play drive, and when I say, "led," I mean he completed 7 of 11 passes, while Mike Sherman called just 4 run plays that averaged a pathetic 1 yard-per-carry for that drive. An important thing to keep in mind when judging Tannehill's performance is that by the end of the first half, our running game had given him 10 yards on 6 carries. That's a 1.7 yards per carry average. He had also suffered dropped passes by multiple pass catchers including the normally reliable Anthony Fasano (who had just 1 drop in 2011 according to ProFootballFocus). In other words - last night, the O-line and run game gave Tannehill nothing, and only a few receivers such as Davone Bess, Marlon Moore, and longtime buddy Jeff Fuller really helped him out, and he still pieced together a very respectable drive.

Now, his first pre-season game wasn't perfect, and this game wasn't either. He completed some nice passes, including one to Reggie Bush on third down literally as he was getting hit by a defensive end who beat Jonathan Martin, but after suffering repeated breakdowns by his offensive line, Tannehill did begin making only one read before locking onto a receiver. He missed a few receivers (I counted a 2 poor throws to Wallace, a poor throw to Bess that Bess only caught by reversing direction and sliding to the ground, and a throw-away that should have been intentional grounding but wasn't flagged - thanks replacement referees!). I blame 2 of the 3 sacks on the night on our two potential right tackles (Martin and Murtha), but on the other sack Martin allowed, Tannehill could have stepped forward to avoid pressure after his 5-step drop but didn't. So a few rookie mistakes, but very importantly, he continued to avoid INTs or fumbles, and kept giving his receivers a chance to make plays.

The case for Tannehill: This is a QB competition. His competitors either performed worse than him in both preseason games (Moore), are currently injured (Garrard), or are even more raw than he is (Devlin). His pre-season stats are 1 TD, 0 INTs, 0 fumbles, 57% accuracy, 267 yards, 6.1 yards per attempt (82.3 passer rating) + credit for leading one Daniel Thomas-TD drive. Not elite, but not terrible, and better than Matt Moore who gave the team 0 TDs, 1 INT, 0 fumbles, 136 yards, 44% accuracy, 5.0 yards per attempt (44.7 passer rating) + leading 3 50+ yard FG drives (Carpenter went 1 for 3). RT17 is the future - why not give him a chance to learn this year, when we have an easier schedule and low expectations? His inexperience as a starting QB is balanced out by his experience in this offense.

The case against Tannehill: This year could be pretty awful for our offense. Defenses are going to stack the box against us and blitz frequently because they will not be afraid of any of our wide receivers beating man coverage. The right side of our offensive line consists of a career backup (Artis Hicks) and a young rookie with promise who is taking time to adjust (Jonathan Martin). We need a QB who can identify blitzes and make plays while scrambling, and Tannehill hasn't proved he can do that at the NFL level. Starting Tannehill could be setting him up for failure, and there's no reason to do that with 2 veteran QBs on the roster who want to start.

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Next up is Matt Moore. I'll keep this discussion short since we all saw Moore's strengths (improvision, deep ball) and weaknesses (holding onto the ball too long, inconsistent accuracy on short/medium throws) last year.

To be blunt, Moore's lead over Tannehill was shrunk by his inability to get our team into scoring position - and no, unlike Tony Sparano, I don't consider Moore leading the team to three 50+ yard Dan Carpenter field goal attempts to be "fist-pump worthy." Moore didn't do terribly - he made some nice throws - but a couple of TD drives and no INTs would have done a lot to solidify his status as presumed week 1 starter. The opportunity was there. Instead, he had an INT after a pass was tipped at the line and a promising drive killed by a Chad Johnson drop in preseason game 1, and he was ineffective in pre-season game 2.

Re-watching the first game, if I were to grade Moore's placement on the 3rd-down throw to Chad, I would give a B. It was a little high, but the ball would have hit Chad in stride in the face - not as ideal as hitting him in the numbers, but a very catchable ball. So I don't blame Moore for a tipped INT or a clear drop by Chad, but Moore's not going to earn the starting job by simply avoiding terrible mistakes. He made some nice plays while scrambling away from pressure, but a QB gets paid to put points on the board. Matt Moore was terrible at leading scoring drives in the fourth quarter of close games last year, and he didn't get the job done in either pre-season game.

The case for Moore: As I stated earlier, the offense is in a dire situation, so why not turn to last year's Miami Dolphins MVP? He has a proven ability to make plays despite a terrible offensive line (see last year), and he's the only QB on the roster who combines veteran experience with good health. Our situation looks bad, but maybe a mobile veteran can salvage the offense.

The case against Moore: Also as stated above, he hasn't exactly lived up to his reputation as a "gamer." The tipped interception isn't his fault, but it gets harder and harder to just blame bad luck when he leads the first-team offense to two 50+ yard field goal attempts, then when up against easier competition with the second-team offense, manages just 1 drive leading to a 50+ yard field goal attempt. Moore's upside is way less than Tannehill's at this point, so giving Moore an additional year to prove himself is very unlikely to reveal an elite QB in waiting. A guy who practices poorly and plays poorly in games can't reasonably expect the starting job.

Also- a key part of Moore's game is the deep ball. He's a guy who will poorly throw the occasional quick slant or screen pass, but can deliver a 30 yard pass with touch and accuracy. Unfortunately, we really don't have the personnel to take advantage of that skill without Brandon Marshall or Brian Hartline, our two deep threat wide receivers from last year. Moore attempted 3 deep passes in game 2 - one was well thrown but Clay couldn't make the catch, one thrown to Clyde Gates drew a long pass interference call, and one was thrown to a WR who couldn't shake either the nearby safety or CB. In other words, without a 6 foot 4 guy with 4.45 speed (Marshall), or Hartline's ability to make acrobatic sideline catches, Moore doesn't have viable deep targets to throw the ball to. That means Moore has to try to make a living throwing 5 to 15 yard passes, which are NOT his strength. Moore had real chemistry with Marshall and leaned on him, but Marshall is gone. Hartline's rehabbing the WORST CALF INJURY EVER, and I have no idea when he comes back anymore. It's not Moore's fault, but that's the situation.

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Last but not least is David Garrard, who as recently as 9 days ago was our presumed regular season starter. He had a good training camp, reflected by his status atop the depth chart and the plan to start him in game 1 of preseason. Things have changed for two reasons.

1. As of last weekend, Garrard is out for 2-4 weeks, meaning at best he misses the next preseason game, and it's possible he's out for game 1 of the regular season. Garrard at this point only wins the starting job if both Moore and Tannehill struggle during the rest of pre-season. Garrard had a clear lead over Moore and Tannehill based on training camp, but it would be ridiculous to give Garrard the starting role week 1 if he doesn't play in a single pre-season game. That only happens if Moore and Tannehill look awful in the next preseason game, doing so poorly that the coaching staff feels more comfortable going with the veteran coming off knee surgery than the guys they've seen in pre-season action.

If this was the only factor against Garrard, him being named starter would only be "unlikely." However...

2. Secondary to the injury issue is the possible attempt by the Dolphins to begin "talking down" their once presumed starter.

"Source close to the #Dolphins QB competition shed an interesting light on David Garrard, who had been leading the battle after 2 weeks.

While Garrard looked the best of the three QBs, he also had some trouble grasping the playbook. When the Dolphins run their no-huddle, up-tempo offense in practice, Garrard would sometimes need QB coach Zac Taylor to call in the play two or three times, or have a teammate explain the play to him, before recalling the play and everyone's responsibility." - Ben Volin's Twitter account on Saturday, 8/11/2012

There was a scene in episode 1 of Hard Knocks in which Garrard needed help recalling a play during practice, so us fans have some evidence to support this. So, you could say, "No big deal, it's a random member of the Dolphins organization remarking on a weakness of Garrard." However, I feel like that's a very interesting choice of timing - right after Garrard gets surgery for a knee problem that only became an issue in training camp, suddenly we start hearing not so nice things about Garrard's performance in training camp, when earlier he was being praised as a perfect fit for the WCO. NFL teams leak player critiques to the media for a reason.

Regardless of whether you view that "leak" to Ben Volin as coincidental or telling, Garrard's lead over the other two QBs isn't huge. An inability to evaluate him in pre-season nearly kills his chances of being the starter - the Dolphins organization now disparaging him to the media makes it "extremely unlikely" he's the starter.

The case for Garrard: He's the most experienced QB on the roster and by all accounts was the most impressive in the offseason including training camp. He has experience in a WCO offense, and earned the top spot on the depth chart before his injury. He's been pretty good at avoiding turnovers his entire career, and even at his current age, he is well suited to a game-manager role. He'll be able to mentor and guide our very young skill players at WR, TE, and RB, and he'll be able to help our offensive line through his pre-snap reads and quick decisions.

The case against Garrard: If Garrard were making an extremely speedy recovery, Joe Philbin would have heard about it, and he told the media that he has no word on Garrard's progress (which is a pessimistic sign). He earned a ton of plaudits at training camp, but we have yet to see him in a pre-season game (and there's a big difference between looking good in training camp and performing well in pre-season games - just ask our defense). Realistically, Garrard MIGHT be able to get one preseason game in before he's up against the Texans as a starter, and that's only if he makes a speedy recovery.

Committing to Garrard could mean a QB carousel: We might have to start Moore for game 1 against the Texans before switching to Garrard for game 2 or 3. Garrard's worrisome injury history (serious back injury, a non-contact knee injury that occurred while he was watching his children play in the pool) means there's a high risk he could get injured again, leading to a switch back to Moore mid-season. Then, if we fall out of the Wildcard race, we could have a third QB switch to Tannehill late in the season. As a fan, I'm tired of the QB carousel, and it won't help our offense perform in a new system to have a new starter every few weeks.

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The case for a QB decision to be made ASAP: Philbin has repeatedly said when choosing a starting QB, he's looking at who can guide the team to wins. When you think of rookie QBs who had successful rookie seasons (in term of wins/losses), you think of guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and Andy Dalton. They all had excellent defenses (Steelers, Ravens, Jets, etc.) and very good running games (led by guys like Ray Rice, Michael Turner, etc.).

Cam Newton had a fantastic rookie season, but ended up with a 6-10 record due to a poor defense. The only QBs who can lead their teams to wins despite no help from the run game or defense are guys like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers (probable first-ballot Hall of Famers, not rookies). So for Tannehill to lead this team to wins, he needs help in the run game and defense. If we keep relying on 15 play drives in which Tannehill has to throw 11 times, we're going to lose a ton of games.

The run-game needs to be a point of focus. Overall, the Dolphins have called 113 passes and only 25 rushes through two games. Joe Philbin has admitted that the focus on evaluating 4 QBs and 11 WRs under the limitations of the new CBA has meant less practice time for the run game, and that's alarming for multiple reasons.

1. The entire right side of the offensive line has been rebuilt, with one guy being a career backup (Hicks) and the other being a rookie making a position switch (Martin). I believe both will be an upgrade over what we had last year, but they need reps in the running game to get better.

2. The entire offensive line has to adjust to switching to a new blocking scheme. And after two-preseason games, we still have not run the ball effectively against a first-team defense. We've had zero success so far establishing the run game.

3. Our defense needs practice against the run - it was their strength last year, but they haven't looked solid this year. Our front-7 has to adjust to stopping the run on first down in a base 4-3 (as opposed to a base 3-4).

The ongoing QB battle only serves to distract the team from focusing on other areas. No matter who is taking snaps at center during the regular season, this team will only go as far as the run game and defense take them - those two areas are where the money and draft picks have been spent for the most part. We have no big-name WRs and no big-money QBs, just cheap veterans (Naanee, Moore and Garrard), guys drafted in the lower rounds (Cunningham, Matthews, Hartline), UDFA's (Bess, Pruitt, Wallace, Hogan, Devlin, etc), and Ryan Tannehill. The burden is on the defense and run game to carry us, and neither looks up to the task. There's still 3 weeks to go, and no reason to panic now, but the offense needs to move past this QB battle, if only so that the team can hopefully focus on other areas.

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Just over a 2 weeks ago, I wrote how unlikely it was for Tannehill to win the starting job and that we should get ready to rally behind David Garrard and keep Moore as insurance. Now, I'm contemplating us trading Matt Moore to a team like Arizona where he could eventually win the starting job, and for the Dolphins to go with a Tannehill-Garrard-Devlin QB depth chart, but only if Garrard makes a full recovery.

Things have changed quite a bit...

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.

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