BY SEAN DONOVAN
The game was a case study in how poorly-timed mistakes can erase even the most complete game of football by one team.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill set the Dolphins' rookie record with 431 passing yards, 253 of which went to wide receiver Brian Hartline, which was also a Dolphins' single-game record. All while facing a talented, blitz-happy Arizona defense.
In fact, Tannehill's most effective work came in the face of extra pressure. But it would also result in his most egregious errors.
The Cardinal's run a 3-4 scheme, and it's typical that four rushers are sent on a passing down. But Arizona sent five or more rushers 26 times, out of 46 total QB dropbacks. Tannehill was able to not only complete passes, but he also converted nine first downs and scored one touchdown in these situations.
His proficiency under pressure relies not only on his ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly and accurately, but on his ability to anticipate the pass rush and adjust his protection.
For most of the afternoon, he did a stellar job. But when he made a mistake, Arizona took advantage.
With a 21-14 lead with a 3:05 left in the 4th quarter, Tannehill and the Dolphins were in postion to run down the clock and seal the game.
After a short Reggie Bush run gave them a second-and-8 on Arizona's 42-yard line, the Dolphins dialed up a short passing play. After snapping the ball, Tannehill would immediately look right towards Legedu Naanee running a short out pattern.
Before the snap, both of Arizona's outside linebackers showed blitz, meaning five pass rushers were coming. But, as the play clock wound down, Arizona inside linebacker Daryl Washington slowly crept to the line and joined the blitz.
Either Tannehill completely missed it, or left guard Richie Incognito or center Mike Pouncey botched the assignment. Washington was able to run through the A-gap untouched and drilled an oblivious Tannehill, who fumbled the ball.
Cardinals' defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday recovered and Arizona marched down the field for the tying score.
Fast forward: Now in overtime, the Dolphins had the ball and an opportunity to win the game. On this drive, Tannehill displayed exactly how he had been able to shred the Cardinals secondary all day in the face of the blitz.
In the shotgun on first down, Tannehill recognized that Arizona will be sending six pass rushers again. He adjusts by moving Bush into better blocking position.
Tannehill is able to then find Hartline on a slant for 9 yards.
On the next play, the Cardinals send five rushers, and Bush is set to join the pass protection. Bush's awful attempt at a block doesn't so much as slow Arizona linebacker Paris Lenon down, but Tannehill is decisive and gets the ball to Anthony Fasano for a first down as he is hit.
Tannehill's play was rendering the Cardinals blitz schemes useless, and he was actually able to take advantage of the one-on-one coverage it created. But, as was demonstrated three plays later, just a little hesitation or an unaccounted-for pass rusher can do just as much damage to the Dolphins.
It was third and 6, and Arizona had two down lineman and four other potential blitzers that are standing and moving around the line of scrimmage. This is to make it difficult for Tannehill to adjust his protection, as he doesn't know which denfenders will blitz and which will drop into coverage. Either way, he knows he has Hartline one-on-one on the outside (top of the screen).
When the ball is snapped, all six Cardinals rush the passer. Tannehill has already made his decision to go to Hartline, who will need a second or two to beat the cornerback on his go route. By then, a pass rusher that had not been accounted for hits Tannehill while he is throwing the ball.
The pass floats into the arms of safety Kerry Rhodes, and the Cardinals take over in Miami territory. They would then drive into field goal range, and Jay Feely kicked the game-winner.
Tannehill and the Dolphins played more than well enough to win this tough road game. But knowing how to manage the game and deal with a constant blitz is still something the rookie is learning.
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