Much has been made about the struggles Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has consistently throwing deep passes. Tannehill has shown to be proficient in the shorter and intermediate ranges, but the big play deep pass still seems to elude him. With an elite deep threat in Mike Wallace, the ability for those two to connect on a deep pass is a necessity for the offense to become more potent.
To offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's credit, he has curtailed the deep pass in lieu of more intermediate and shorter routes which has helped Tannehill improve statistically and play more effectively. But he can't shelve it forever and against Jacksonville, Miami fans got to finally see a deep pass completed to Wallace from Tannehill. Now Tannehill has had other moments: a good pass to Wallace against New England where Wallace couldn't quite get his other foot down in bounds and in the same game, a beautiful deep pass to tight end Dion Sims that he just dropped. But in this game, fans got what they wanted. On cue, the Dolphins turned around on the next play and produced an incomplete deep pass to Wallace. The microcosm on full display, it was as if the offense wanted to taunt fans: you got one, you can't have another. Even more frustrating is that had Tannehill connected with Wallace, it would have been a touchdown. The Dolphins eventually scored a touchdown a few plays later, but how nice would it have been to hit two deep passes back-to-back, completing a 90+ yard drive in two plays?
So I'm reviewing the All-22 film of the game and I come across this play. When I saw this play during live action, I felt that had Tannehill been throwing to bigger target, one that can ‘climb the ladder' and win jump balls, that it would have been a touchdown. After reviewing the film, I felt that my original theory would have been correct. You will read that while Tannehill hit a deep pass, the other deep attempt was overthrown. That is not accurate in my opinion. However, there are some other factors that I believe caused this play to fail and it wasn't all on the quarterback. So let's go to the film.
This is point where the receiver could have made a play for the ball. You can see the ball as a blurry image just about the 'S' in Jacksonville. From this angle, it appears that Wallace could gotten to the ball. All he has to do is jump. Of course, that is not his game, so a pass like this to him has to be placed a little better. Here's the end zone angle.
From this angle, it appears the pass is not overthrown, but thrown behind Wallace. That's not entirely accurate and from both pictures you can envision that if Tannehill was throwing to a bigger more physical target, that receiver would make the catch. I mean I can absolutely see Larry Fitzgerald making this type of catch.
But that kind of overlooks the underlying point: the pass could have been better. This is just another case of Tannehill missing the mark on a deep pass to an open Mike Wallace... right? I watched this play numerous times and I kept getting frustrated with the lack of accuracy from Tannehill... until I watched the entire route from the sideline angle. That's where it got interesting. Let's set it up first.
From here, you can see the alignment. The Dolphins have Dion Sims lined up outside of right tackle Ja'Wuan James. Clay is lined up outside of Branden Albert, off the line of scrimmage. Miller is the single back behind Tannehill, who is under center. Wallace is lined up just outside the numbers with either Gibson or Matthews lined up in the slot (it difficult to tell which player it is). Jacksonville appears to be in a Cover 1 look (single high safety) with the other safety lined up in between the two cornerbacks. The corners are playing off with the outside corner Demetrius McCray (Go Appstate!) lined up with outside leverage, suggesting bail technique. At the snap, Tannehill runs a play action to Miller. Here he is at the top of his drop.
You can tell from this picture that McCray is in bail technique and the safeties have switched duties, with the underneath safety dropping back into zone and the deep safety picked up the crossing slot receiver. The slot corner is running up to cover Miller in the flat. The main thing to notice here is Wallace. The corner was playing bail technique which is played with outside leverage. That simply means that the corner is aligned in such a way to try and force the receiver either back inside to the safety or work harder to get outside, thus affecting the timing. This technique also allows the defender to better cover deeper routes than he could in a standard backpedal. You can see Wallace here facing outside, attempting to get the corner to flip his hips so he can move back inside, gaining separation. Tannehill saw the single high safety and went for the big play as opposed to the checkdown option in the flat. Here is the moment Tannehill sets to throw the ball.
Tannehill has read this correctly. The deep safety is now covering the slot on the post and the underneath safety is too shallow at this point to catch up to Wallace. It is essentially single coverage on Wallace which is what you want and Tannehill lets it fly. I can only guess as to the actual route Wallace is supposed to be running, but by the looks of it, he should be running a go route up the seam inside the numbers. Wallace is supposed to have turned his defender, gaining the separation he needs for that route. But he never does that and McCray is able to stay with him.
This picture here is critical. Tannehill has already released the pass. You can vaguely make out the ball as a faint shadow above the linemen around the 44 yard line. Tannehill is throwing to where he believes Wallace should be going. Assuming Wallace was open, he could have ran straight up the seam, tracking the ball positioned inside of the defender and then he just has to focus on completing the catch. But as you can see, he is unable to fully shake free of McCray and is forced to take a sharper angle inside to create separation. But the ball has been released so Tannehill cannot adjust to the play now. Perhaps Tannehill could have seen that Wallace hadn't cleared his defender. But I would assume he expected Wallace, being a premier deep threat to get open. The ONLY other option here is the checkdown. The slot receiver becomes free moments later, but from these two pictures you can see he is not yet open. If Tannehill attempts to throw to where Wallace is running based on this picture, then the safety covering the slot receiver can drop off coverage and would be in position to make a play on the ball, as you can see from the previous picture. Maybe he doesn't get there in time, but it's still a riskier throw.
In this picture, you can see Wallace altering his course running back up field tracking the trajectory of the ball. But now, due to his sharper inside cut, he is forced to look back over his right shoulder while running left. This will also take him into the path of the defender.
Here you can see Wallace now having to ward off the corner while tracking the ball at an odd angle relative to his motion and that combination typically equates to an incompletion. Wallace and McCray never really make contact, save for some slight hand-fighting until about the 3 or 4 yard line. You can see how the timing would have been thrown off due to this contact that shouldn't have happened. Thus the ball appeared to be overthrown. Had Wallace not been forced to alter his route, the ball likely would have arrived at the right place at the right time, possibly even underthrown. However, since the ball hit the turf above the "C" in Jacksonville, a yard or less from the back of the end zone, it's unlikely the pass would have been underthrown or that Wallace would have had to wait for it.
I will conclude this post by saying it is not my intent to place or absolve blame on any of the players involved. I simply wanted to generate some discussion about it. With a cursory glance, it's easy to chalk this play up to just another poor deep pass from Tannehill. However, looking more in depth at the play suggests that there was more involved that created the result, from defensive technique to route running to play recognition. There were a lot of factors that didn't add up the way they needed for Miami to have a big play. Let's hope they can resolve these issues so fans can see the explosive offense we all want to see.