Last night I broke down Tannehill vs LSU in the 2011 Sugar Bowl – easily the best defense he faced as a starting quarterback. Tonight I’ll break down his performance against Arkansas. While the Razorbacks don’t compare to LSU, they were the top rated pass defense Tannehill faced in 2011.
Below are my notes on the game, and here is an excel sheet charting each of his dropbacks (excluding designed runs) from the game…
Comeback Routes – Tannehill and Jeff Fuller picked apart the Razorbacks secondary, connecting nine times for 82 yards. However, Tannehill was not pressured consistently (just six times) and each of Fuller’s receptions came on comeback or curl routes (and one drag), which presented Tannehill with a large target and plenty of time to get the ball to his top receiver. There’s no reason to criticize Tannehill for this – he took what the defense gave him – but it also don’t allow us to say anything positive in terms of his NFL potential. His favorite route to throw to was Fuller’s comeback routes, which are relatively rare and far more difficult to complete at the next level. Due to the small hashmarks in the NFL, this is a longer throw and NFL cornerbacks are often playing tighter coverage against such routes – especially when a team continues to go back to the well as A&M did in this game.
Deeper Routes – On a positive note, Tannehill twice connected with Ryan Swope on a hitch-and-go down the sideline and both were beautiful touch passes. On both throws Tannehill dropped the ball into a relatively tight space between defensive backs in zone coverage. These were easily the two most impressive throws I’ve seen from Tannehill, and throws which were not made against LSU.
Hitting WRs in stride – However, when Tannehill attempted to hit a receiver in stride moving across the field, he showed the same inaccuracy as he did against LSU the previous season. At one point in the red zone in the 1st half, Tannehill throws behind a wide open Swope who was running a drag route toward the sideline. Let’s break down this particular play…
Swope (#25) immediately recognizes that he’s unaccounted for and signals to Tannehill, but as you can see in this frame Tannehill is still focused on Uzoma Nwachukwu who ran a comeback route down to the five yard line.
A few steps later, Tannehill sees Swope and rifles a pass which ultimately ends up sailing behind him. But take a look at the field. You can’t see it from this angle, but there is no one over the top of Swope except the two defensive backs in the opposite corners of the screen. Tannehill has no reason to fire a bullet at Swope, he has a clear path in every direction. No. 8 (in front of Swope) is focused on No. 19 and doesn’t appear to be aware of Swope. No. 9 (bottom left corner) is focused on Nwachukwu, who is standing on the five yard line. Tannehill can lead Swope to the sideline for an easy first down, or attempt to lead Swope toward the end zone with a slightly deeper throw.
Later in the game the same issues arise on similar routes; Tannehill throws wide to a diving Fuller who tips the ball, which is nearly intercepted. And on the final drive of the game, he again throws behind Swope on another drag route. By my count, Tannehill completed just two of five passes to receivers cutting across the middle of the field, or toward the sideline. If he cannot make these throws, that all but eliminates him from playing in a West Coast offense.
Confidence? – Another potential issue this raises – and this is strictly reading between the lines – is that Tannehill may simply lacks the confidence (or his coaching staff lacks confidence in him) to throw to these types of routes. Of his 27 aimed passes (not thrown away, spiked, etc), 22 were targeted at receivers who were essentially standing still (curls, comebacks, screens, etc). These types of passes aren’t always easy, but they’re more about timing than anything else. To Tannehill’s credit, he does have the timing down. However, it appears that Texas A&M’s offensive coaching staff carefully designed a game plan to highlight Tannehill’s strengths and mask his issues with leading receivers across the field.