The Miami Dolphins travel across the Atlantic Ocean to take on the Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium, London on Sunday, desperate to turn around a disappointing start to the season. Having started the campaign with an impressive 33-20 win over the Patriots, the Dolphins have now lost two games straight - including a humbling 34-15 defeat to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday. With the desperate search for answers as to what has gone wrong at the Sun Life Stadium now underway, fingers are being pointed at out-of-form Quarterback Ryan Tannehill as the man who could be sacrificed in an offensive shake-up.
Despite the criticism that the 26-year-old Texan has been receiving in the media and from fans, head coach Joe Philbinhas listed Tannehill as his starting quarterback in the Dolphins latest depth chart and he appears to be determined to stick with his man. When asked if Tannehill would be benched for the game in London, Philbin maintained the line that he would continue to select his 46 best players. ”Really, what we do every single week is the same,” Philbin said. ”We take a look at our roster, we decide who are the 46 players that we can take to the game that can help us win the football game, and how can we best utilize them. So we’ll do that again.”
Philbin may be keen to stand by the Dolphins franchise Quarterback having picked him to start in every single game since he was drafted in 2012, but the stats from the first three games of the season don’t lie and it may not be long until Tannehill’s 35 game streak comes to an end. So far this season the former Texas A&M man has completed just 70 of 124 passes (56.5%), throwing for 624 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. After three games he sits way down at 25th in the NFL passing list, having thrown less than 2/3rds ofthe yards that current leader Nick Foles of Philadelphia has (978), and averages just 5.03 yards per throw attempt.
Despite the mounting criticism aimed towards Tannehill and the obvious defects in the Miami Dolphin’s offence - their points for (58) is currently the fourth worst in the AFC - Joe Philbin was keen for his players to share the responsibility. ”I’m not offering any excuses,” Philbin said. “I don’t think Ryan offers excuses. We’re three games into it and we have to play better as an offensive unit,” the 53 year old added, hinting at his disappointment with receiver Mike Wallace’s form (currently 22nd in receiving yards) and the team’s inability to make up for running back KnowshonMoreno’s injury absence (he is hoping to recover from an elbow problem by week six). “He’s (Tannehill’s) part of that. I don’t view it as a one man issue. The offense has to play better. The offense has to score more points,” he said.
As for offensive co-ordinator Bill Lazor, he was crystal clear about the need for the Dolphins attack to turn their form around and even hinted that he may be under some pressure himself if results don’t improve soon. When asked if Tannehill would start against the Raiders he replied “No, is there any doubt that I’ll be the coordinator this weekend? We all rent these seats. So it’s a production business. That’s what we’re here to do - to produce,” he added, suggesting that he and Tannehill could both be sitting out if the run of poor form continued. Despite this he was bullish about sticking with the recognised starter and warned fans and the media not to pay too much attention to the numbers. ”We don’t grade based off of statistics. We grade them based off of what we see on every single play,” the former Redskins and Seahawks coach said. “We grade off of what he’s supposed to do and it’s an 11-man game so sometimes he does it exactly right and it doesn’t show up on the statistics. But we’re working hard to correct the ones that he’s wrong on,” he added, clear in his mind that the only number that matters is the final score on Sunday.
As for alternatives to Tannehill, the Dolphins aren’t blessed with much strength in depth. With Matt Moore, the second choice Quarterback, having played just one game in 2013 (a 19-0 defeat at Buffalo) and made just two appearances in 2012, it would take real bravery to bench Tannehill now. Moore would come into the side with no form whatsoever after failing to hold down a place in the team since his run of 13 games (throwing for 2497 yards and 16 touchdowns) in 2011. Given this lack of back-up it is unsurprising that the Dolphins coaches seem so keen to stick with Tannehill as a starter, but they may give serious consideration to bringing Moore off the bench if Sunday’s game doesn’t start well.
The Dolphins may go into Sunday’s game at Wembley in disappointing form but they couldn’t hope to be meeting any opponents more than the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have started 2014 in even worse fashion than the Dolphins, losing all three of their opening AFC West games and, remarkably, scoring 21 points less than the Dolphins in the process. Last time out the Raiders were narrowly beaten by the New England Patriots (16-9), extending their run of straight defeats when playing in the Eastern Time Zone to 15. The additional five hours that the Raiders will lose on their travels to London could do them no favours at all. The Dolphins will go into Sunday’s game as heavy favourites – currently priced at around 1/2 - and fans can keep track of their odds at Betfair. If Ryan Tannehill and his offensive teammates can find some form at Wembley then coach Philbin will be confident of a big win. Should the Dolphins start poorly however, then he must turn to Matt Moore to ensure that his side avoid an embarrassing defeat.