With 6:08 remaining in last Sunday’s game, the Miami Dolphins were leading the New York Jets 20 to 16 and looking to run some clock. Two plays earlier, running back Jay Ajayi ran for four yards, taking the clock from 7:00 down for the play to 6:16 before quarterback Ryan Tannehill snapped the ball on second down. That play featured an attempted screen pass to wide receiver Jakeem Grant, who could not make the catch and the referees allowed the play to continue through to completion when they did not make an immediate ruling of an incomplete pass and not a backwards pass for a fumble and a Jets recovery.
Which brought up 3rd-and-6. Tannehill, took the snap, felt the pressure, stepped up and then rolled left, looking for someone to get open. Ultimately, he drilled a pass to tight end Dominique Jones, who had a good game, but not in the moment. The ball hit Jones in the chest and was dropped, right at the sticks and would have been a first down if caught.
Immediately, Twitter erupted with complaints that Tannehill should have run the ball rather than make a throw. Of course, most of those complaints were from people who likely would have complained that Tannehill should have thrown the ball if he had run it and failed to get the first down. Tannehill extended the play and put the ball exactly where it needed to be for a first down. But, it was Tannehill’s fault the Dolphins had to punt.
And that punt was the one Matt Darr fumbled, leading to the Jets’ go-ahead touchdown two plays later.
Should Tannehill have run the ball?
The play starts with Leonte Carroo spread wide to the top of the screen, DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry to the bottom of the screen with Landry motioning back into the slot, Kenyan Drake in the backfield and Jones on the offensive line to the top of the screen.
As the snap occurs, Carroo is running a deep-in route, Landry is running an out-route, Parker has a post route, Jones has a hook route in the middle of the field, and Drake is coming out to the flat.
The pressure is going to come from up the middle, where the Jets are running a stunt. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James tries to get a hand on one defender even as he is engaged by the other. Center Mike Pouncey starts to move over to pick up the free rusher, but is not going to be able to complete the block.
Switching over to the coach’s film, from the endzone, the stunt can be seen and where the pressure is going to be coming from.
The progression of the play clearly begins with Tannehill looking to his right, which can be seen in both of the last two images.
As the pressure starts to get toward Tannehill at the back of his drop, the path for him to move up into the pocket, and ultimately roll out, opens up as well. Left tackle Branden Albert has pushed his defender deep enough that, as Tannehill moves up into the pocket, he will not factor into the play.
Tannehill’s progression seems to be coming back to the middle, which means he is looking directly at the pressure he will be avoiding.
The endzone angle shows exactly where the escape route is, and from where the pressure is going to come.
As Tannehill is reaching the end of his drop and just before he starts to scramble, the “All-22” film shows exactly where the receivers are and the lack of separation any of them have achieved. Drake and Jones are not running routes that reach the sticks, so the three wide receivers have to be the priority on the play, and all of them are well covered.
Tannehill begins to scramble to his left, with Jones immediately seeing his quarterback is in trouble and beginning to work toward the sideline, giving Tannehill a chance to still complete the pass for a first down. Tannehill is clearly keeping his eyes downfield.
Jumping back to the All-22 film, Jones is the only player who is going to have a chance to make the play here. Carroo does not appear to immediately recognize the pressure on Tannehill and break off his route. Everyone else is on the other side of the field.
Just before Tannehill throws the pass, he essentially has the yellow highlighted area to try to pick up 11 yards to reach the first-down marker. There are five defenders who could factor into the play, though the ones behind Tannehill are likely too far behind him to catch him if he does run for it. Tannehill also has the option of throwing the ball - the option he takes - into the blue area where Jones can convert the first down.
The endzone view shows the area Tannehill could have used to run. The two linebackers near the top of the screen both could factor into where Tannehill had available near the end of the run, especially if Jones had not been able to turn around and block in time. Laremy Tunsil also had to maintain his block, which could dangerously become a hold as the defender attempts to disengage and move toward Tannehill.
Tannehill chooses to throw the ball rather than run for the 11 yards. With the ball in the air (right at the orange line), this clearly appears to be the correct call. Jones caught three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown during the game.
The ball reaches Jones with a yard to spare past the first-down marker and about two yards between him and the defender. Tannehill threw the ball exactly where it needed to be, a tough throw for a right-handed quarterback rolling to his left, but he did open his hips and get the pass to the only open receiving option he had.
The ball hits Jones in the chest, where he is able to get both hands on it. Unfortunately, this is the only pass that is targeted to Jones that he does not catch.
The ball bounces off Jones’ chest and up and away from the tight end.
Then falls to the turf out of bounds.
Tannehill made the smart play here, throwing the ball to the open player at the first-down marker, giving his team a chance to convert on third down. Was there a possibility to run for the first down? Perhaps, but the throw appeared the much easier choice, and one that should have been successful. Defenders would have had an influence on the run attempt, while no defender influenced the pass - Jones simply dropped it.
The Dolphins’ quarterback obviously has the legs to be able to pick up chunks of yards, and it is something that, at times, Tannehill and the team do not fully exploit. In this case, however, Tannehill using his arm to make the throw does appear to have been the right choice.