The Miami Dolphins are one game away from finishing the 2017 season with a losing record, failing to backup last year’s playoff appearance with another winning season. Miami dealt with a myriad of issues this year, from injuries to hurricanes to more injuries to no bye week. This season was all over the place for the Dolphins, and the 2017 season results reflect that.
Everything started with Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury. The one he sustained in December, then listened to every doctor recommendation that he rehab the sprained ACL with rest rather than surgery. That same ACL finally completed the tear at the start of training camp, leading to season-ending surgery.
Miami’s season was essentially on a downward spiral from the moment Tannehill fell without contact in practice.
Miami Herald writer Armando Salguero wrote on Tuesday that Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is headed down the same path as former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano. He pointed to the two coaches having winning seasons in their first year with the team, Sparano taking over after a 1-15 season in 2007 to then win the AFC East at 11-5 in 2008, while Gase took over a 6-10 team from 2015 to reach 10-6 and a Wildcard berth in 2016. Both coaches then saw losing records their second season, with Sparano going 7-9 in 2009, and Gase either ending this year 6-10 or 7-9. Both teams also lost their starting quarterback, Sparano seeing Chad Pennington injured three games into the 2009 campaign, while Gase lost Tannehill this year.
Salguero writes, “I believe Sparano was a solid football coach save for one major flaw: He never got himself a good quarterback he could use for years and years.”
He continues, “I see Adam Gase’s Dolphins career arc starting to resemble that of Tony Sparano. I’m not saying history is about to repeat. But the threat is definitely evident to me.”
He later writes, looking back at the 2008 season, “The Dolphins were that good in 2008 because of the Wildcat, yes, but because quarterback Chad Pennington played like an NFL MVP. And, this just in to Miami Herald headquarters, MVP quarterback play will get you a winning record and into the playoffs.”
He turns to Gase, writing, “Fast forward to 2016. Gase came to South Florida young and brash and full of confidence. And then he promptly lost four of his first five games. His first team was sucking wind early in the year just like Sparano’s did.”
He then points to the changes for the Miami offense, with Jay Ajayi breaking out, Tannehill becoming “a good game manager rather than a player on whose shoulders the offense rested.” The defense improving. A last-place schedule.
Salguero then turned back to the comparison between the two coaches:
“But here’s the bigger issue and, I tell you it is franchise defining and will determine whether Gase goes on to become a successful NFL head coach or is back as someone’s offensive coordinator in couple of years:
“Tony Sparano came off that 2009 season bruised by not battered. He still had a reservoir of good will with the fan base on which to draw. But he misspent that good will.
“He went into his third season believing in a quarterback that didn’t merit the confidence -- Chad Henne.”
“And that is what Gase has been doing with quarterbacks and is going to continue doing for the foreseeable future with Tannehill unless he WAKES THE HECK UP from his current stupor!
“Gase, you see, trusted last offseason that Tannehill would be back to 100 percent this season. So the Dolphins didn’t go get a quarterback in the draft. They stuck with Tannehill, coming off an ACL injury he didn’t have surgery to repair, and they stuck with 33-year-old Matt Moore as the backup.”
Salguero continues, turning to Tannehill:
“And again, this is not casting aspersion on Tannehill. He is way, way better than Henne. But he is also now way, way less durable than Henne.
“Tannehill has had consecutive ACL tears in the same knee a mere nine months apart. You folks that wave that off as if it’s an inconvenience simply have no idea how serious that is. You fans love the repeating team, so repeat this:
“Two ACL tears in the same knee in nine months.”
He concludes his article, explaining:
“Or Gase can be wiser.
“He can think about getting himself quarterback insurance in the next draft. He can start considering his and his franchise’s future by looking to that draft for a good quarterback that will be so talented he can play fairly quickly if needed.
“That would change things. It would stop the repeating. It would give Gase and the Dolphins a chance to succeed even if Plan A (Tannehill) fails.
“Or Gase can keep following the Tony Sparano career arc.”
Except, Adam Gase is not Tony Sparano, no matter how much Salguero wants you to see parallels. These Dolphins are not on the same path as Sparano’s Dolphins.
Sure, things could take a turn for the worst and everything falls apart. That can happen to any team...except the New England Patriots, apparently.
Except, Adam Gase did not rely on a gimmick like the Wildcat to get into the playoffs. He relied on his quarterback, his running back, and his offense.
He has not stood pat on what worked last year - trading Ajayi this year because he felt the team would get better without their 2016 leading rusher, and Kenyan Drake has turned out to be capable of carrying the load as a top running back.
Yes, he lost his quarterback just like Sparano. The difference? Sparano came to Miami looking for a quarterback, drafting Chad Henne and having Chad Pennington fall into his lap unexpectedly. Gase came to Miami knowing Tannehill was in place and choosing to come coach him. The Dolphins have the quarterback Gase wanted. He is not trying to “get himself a quarterback he can use for years and years.” Gase believes he has his quarterback. He saw the improvement that Tannehill could have when, in 2016, the offense started to get onto the same page and that “game manager” label Salguero throws at Tannehill like it is a bad adjective, came about as the team started to click.
Remember, Tannehill was second in the league in 2016 in deep throw accuracy, according to the Deep Ball Project. They wrote then, “Despite suffering from some receiver drops, Tannehill’s accuracy and placement were astonishingly good. We’re talking throws that rival the ones Aaron Rodgers makes on a daily basis!” Tannehill also led the league in 2016 with a touchdown on 17 percent of his passes that traveled 16-yards or more in the air, as the Palm Beach Post’s Joe Schad wrote back in May.
Cian Fahey of PreSnap Reads wrote in August:
“Instead of having perfect deep throws dropped or lost in the air, Tannehill’s ability to throw receivers open with precision and velocity deep downfield was reaping actual rewards. Stills caught deep shots against the Patriots, Browns, Bengals, Bills, Chargers, 49ers and Cardinals.
“On a few of those plays Tannehill showed off his ability to not only complete the ball deep downfield but to make throws that few quarterbacks can make....
“Sam Bradford was the best deep passer in the NFL last year. Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Cataloguecharting revealed that Bradford was accurate on 65.85 percent of his passes that travelled further than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Andrew Luck was second at 62.50 percent, Tannehill was third at 55.56 percent. He was far behind Bradford and Luck but roughly 15 percent over the league average.
“Without Tannehill in the lineup, the vertical element of the Dolphins’ passing game will disappear. Finding a quarterback who can push the ball downfield is difficult. Finding one who can do it in suboptimal conditions the way Tannehill has is extremely rare...
“Only three quarterbacks had a higher overall accuracy percentage than Tannehill last year, Sam Bradford, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. His numbers aren’t warped by a reliance on shorter throws either. Tannehill was the third-most accurate passer on throws that didn’t travel further than five yards downfield and the eighth-best passer on throws that travelled further than five yards downfield.
“Tannehill’s 78.26 percent rating on throws to the 16-20 yard range is notable for a couple reasons.
“Firstly, he is only slightly less accurate to that area of the field than Carson Wentz is on throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage. That’s outrageous. Secondly, 22.38 percent (12th in the league) of Tannehill’s throws went into the 11-20 yard range last year. He allows the offense to attack the intermediate level of the defense on a consistent basis.
“Intermediate routes are the biggest challenge for quarterbacks to live off of because there is a higher likelihood that a defender is waiting just out of sight to break on the ball before it reaches the intended target. Tannehill being top 10 in accuracy behind the line of scrimmage, in the 1-5 yard range, at one of the intermediate levels and on deep throws means that the defense is being picked apart at every level of the field.”
But, yeah. let’s limit Tannehill to the “game manager” title because...you know...storylines.
And, Tannehill’s injury is not “two tears” of his ACL, but it is rather a re-tear of an injury. ACLs do not heal themselves. A partial tear can be rehabbed and the knee strengthened to ward off further injury, but, when Tannehill’s failed in training camp, it was just a continuation of the injury that was sustained in December - an injury that would have cost Tannehill at least a part of this season, if not the majority of it, if he had the surgery at the end of last year when he first injured the knee.
Tom Brady tore his ACL and MCL in 2008 - seems to be playing pretty well since then. Phillip Rivers has town his ACL. Joe Flacco, yep. Sam Bradford and Carson Palmer have done it multiple times. Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in 2014 while in college and seems to have come back fairly well, given he was a top Rookie of the Year candidate this year (before, unfortunately, tearing the other ACL this year).
Carson Wentz tore his ACL this year, so I guess it is time for the Eagles to draft a quarterback early since clearly ACL tears are the end of careers.
Teddy Bridgewater dislocated his knee and tore his ACL in August 2016, an injury that was so severed it was thought to be career ending. He played in his first game back this month.
In 2007, before being drafted by the Dolphins, Henne had a PCL tear at Michigan. He has also had shoulder A/C joint dislocations in his career, and has dislocated his knee. Not sure that makes Tannehill, the quarterback that had not missed a game before his knee injury including playing in games where there was blood in his urine, “way, way less durable than Henne.”
I am not someone who is against drafting a quarterback this year. I would do it late in the selection process, giving them team someone to groom and to serve as Tannehill’s backup. Matt Moore is a solid backup quarterback who can come into the game and win it for you. He is not someone you want to rely on for multiple games in a season.
Tony Sparano’s NFL career leading to his time as Miami’s head coach was an offensive quality control coach for the Browns in 1999 then as their offensive line coach in 2000, followed by a year as the Washington Redskins’ tight ends coach, then a year as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ tight ends coach, and then the 2003 and 2004 seasons as the Dallas Cowboys’ tight ends coach before being promote to the offensive line coach and running game coordinator in 2005 and 2006, then the assistant head coach and offensive line coach in 2007. Since being fired by the Dolphins in 2011, Sparano spent one season as an offensive coordinator with the New York Jets before returning to being an offensive line or tight ends coach. He is currently the offensive line coach for the Minnesota Vikings.
Gase’s NFL career started as a scouting assistant for the Detroit Lions in 2003 and 2004, then as an offensive assistant in 2005 and 2006 before becoming their quarterbacks coach in 2007. In 2008 he was an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers before becoming the Denver Broncos’ wide receivers coach in 2009 and 2010, then their quarterbacks coach from 2011 to 2012, and their offensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014. He was the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015.
Essentially, as much as Bill Parcells liked Sparano from their joint time with the Dallas Cowboys, Gase is better prepared to be a head coach, and one that quickly learns from a down year to come back the following year better, than Sparano was. The jump from offensive line coach to head coach is a much larger jump than from offensive coordinator to head coach.
Tannehill’s injury is a concern, and it should be. He has to prove he is ready. But, to somehow say his “second” knee injury and Gase’s need to “WAKE THE HECK UP” lands the Dolphins and Gase on the Tony Sparano story arc is false.