The NFL is a fickle beast these days. One minute you're on top of the world and the next you're the media's whipping boy. The duo of young quarterbacks facing off on Halloween for Thursday Night Football know this better than most other NFL players.
The Bengals' Andy Dalton and Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill have had their share of detractors and critics in their young careers. Dalton has been said to not have enough physical tools to lead Cincinnati to a deep postseason run, while Tannehill, who has all of the physical traits that media members drool over, doesn't have enough overall experience at the position because of his being a wide receiver in the early part of his college career.
Both have had their moments of proving those criticisms correct this year, but coming into week nine, both are moving in opposite directions.
Dalton has been superb the past three games and has his team on a four-game winning streak. Tannehill is trying to right the ship with his team losing the last four after shooting off to a 3-0 start. Not surprisingly, Miami's streaky 2013 season directly coincides with Tannehill's play. Let's take a look at the averages between the Dolphins' two streaks:
|Weeks||Yards Per Game (Avg.)||Completion Percentage (Avg.)||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Fumbles Lost||Rating (Avg.)|
Two things need to be noted here: first of all, the Dolphins had a bye week in the sixth game around the NFL. This is noteworthy because the team was in the midst of their skid when the bye hit and have not recovered in the games since. Though the teams that the Dolphins have played during this losing streak have been tough (Saints, Ravens, Bills and Patriots), their three wins came against decent foes as well (Browns, Colts and Falcons).
Secondly, and likely most importantly, is the inordinate amount of sacks that Tannehill has incurred this year. A whopping 32 of them to be exact, making him the most-sacked quarterback in the league this year. Miami attempted to help the situation by trading for left tackle Bryant McKinnie with Baltimore, but the damage has been done. Even though the Bengals come in with a severe limp on defense, the pass rush could be the key to this game.
Too boot, Tannehill is on pace for a worse rushing season than last year as a rookie. Though he isn't the scrambler that Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton are, Tannehill has some mobility, given his collegiate history as a wide receiver. He ran for two touchdowns, 16 first downs and 211 yards in 2012. At the midpoint of this season, Tannehill has zero touchdowns, only five first downs and 82 yards on the ground. He has also lost the same amount of fumbles while running this year as he did last year with one.
The bottom line is that it is likely that a number of factors are at play here. Tannehill perhaps hitting a version of "the sophomore slump", combined with poor offensive line play and a season-ending injury to a significant offensive playmaker in Brandon Gibson. Perhaps Tannehill is a bit of a streaky player like Dalton and if that's the case, he will need to wake out of this slumber soon or else he will see his team slide out of the playoff race.