Ryan Tannehill has been an inconsistent and polarizing player in his time in Miami. Tannehill has experienced moments of great triumph as a Miami Dolphin, such as comeback wins against the Seattle Seahawks (2012) and New England Patriots (2013). But he has also had his share of brain-dead mistakes and awful games in his tenure as the Dolphins' starting quarterback.
In Tannehill's defense, he has not been used to his full potential (until recently). That may sound odd considering the Dolphins former offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman, had been with Tannehill since 2007, dating back to their days at Texas A&M. Why didn't Sherman use Tannehill to his full ability?
Not every tool in Tannehill's arsenal was being used because the coaches were trying to develop and implement the core skills of being a quarterback into Tannehill's head, such as pocket play, reading a defense and knowing where to throw the ball.
And, since it seemed that these abilities will only get him so far, it was time for the unveiling of the skill that was formerly in the "break in case of emergency" case.
So what's the big tool that Tannehill has been limited in use? His legs.
Yes, the use of his legs could be the difference between becoming a forever-mediocre quarterback and becoming a consistent playmaker. Would Colin Kaepernick be considered a top quarterback in the NFL if the use of his athleticism was limited?
Having an offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor who is smart enough to take advantage of every tool his quarterback brings to the table is a big help for Tannehill and the Dolphins as a whole.
By the way, using his legs is not just the act of running for yards. It also refers to his ability to escape the pocket, extend a play and find an open receiver downfield (actually, it's mostly that).
The most memorable instance of Tannehill using his legs in 2013 was a fourth-and-ten play against the Baltimore Ravens. Tannehill escaped the pass rush, rolled left, then threw a 40-yard strike downfield to a diving Brandon Gibson. The play was beautiful and gave the Dolphins hope to win that game. What happened next... well let's just say the past is the past (it's a painful memory).
In order for Tannehill, and the team, to be most successful he must use his legs. Tannehill gained multiple first downs and thrown at least one touchdown this season on plays where he was able to evade the pass rush using his legs. Tannehill is also one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL at throwing on the run.
Tannehill has 132 rushing yards on 14 attempts over the past three games. Tannehill had passer rating of 109.3, 83.3 and 123.6 in these games and the Dolphins record over this frame is 2-1 with the only loss being the last-second crushing defeat against a very good Green Bay Packers team. Tannehill extended plays with his legs during these games and was sacked only five times.
Tannehill rushed for only 18 yards on eight attempts in the first three games. Tannehill's passer rating was in the 70s in each of those games and the team went 1-2. Tannehill's pocket presence and proper use of his athleticism were not present in these games and as a result Tannehill was sacked nine times.
Tannehill seems to be at his best when he gets into a rhythm in the short/intermediate passing game and when he is using his legs. It almost seems that contact downfield helps his in-game focus intensify.
Being a coach is about doing whatever it takes to make your players succeed and you team win. Tannehill having the green light to use his legs when he wants shows that the Dolphins coaches are progressive and know what they're doing.
Tannehill, as well as the entire team, must now continue on a path of consistency, something neither has been able to do, but the blueprint that has been laid down will make consistency a more attainable goal (though it still comes down to on-field execution).
Whether it's coaching, experience/understanding of the game or a combination of the two, the Dolphins and Ryan Tannehill have found a strategy that works. Get Tannehill in a rhythm in the short/intermediate passing game and let him use his legs in any scenario where it's necessary. Keeping the down-and-distances short will allow the entire playbook to be used, the first downs to keep coming and points to be put on the scoreboard.