Patriots looking to contain mobile Tannehill

Patriots looking to contain mobile Tannehill
October 24, 2013, 5:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- For the second consecutive Sunday, the Patriots defense will see a quarterback who can run.

Dolphins signal-caller Ryan Tannehill is 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, and he can motor. He has rushed for 70 yards on 20 attempts so far this season for a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. However, he has broken one run for 26 yards and last year had a long run of 31 yards.

A receiver for a little more than two seasons in college at Texas A&M, Tannehill was one of the fastest quarterbacks in the 2012 draft, running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash at his college pro day, which put him behind only Robert Griffin III (4.41 seconds) and Russell Wilson (4.65).

The Dolphins have some recognizable names on their offensive line like guard Richie Incognito and tackle Bryant MicKinnie, who Miami traded for this week in order to help keep Tannehill better protected. (Miami has allowed 26 sacks and 39 quarterback hits this season.)

But Chandler Jones explained on Thursday that it's not the offensive line he's most worried about. It's Tannehill's speed.

"The biggest thing is not the front, it's Tannehill," Jones said. "He's a guy that can make big plays, not just with his arm but with his feet as well. It will be our job as defensive linemen just to keep him contained."

The Patriots failed to keep Jets mobile quarterback Geno Smith contained at a critical juncture and paid the price in last week's 30-27 loss.

To show just how important it will be for Patriots edge defenders -- Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchannan and Andre Carter to name a few -- to keep Tannehill in the pocket, here's a quick look at what happened on Smith's third-quarter touchdown run last week that gave the Jets a 24-21 lead.

As the ball is snapped on second down from the Patriots 8-yard line, Marquice Cole follows Jets slot receiver Jeremy Kerley in motion across the formation (from the bottom to the top of the photo), signalling that the Patriots are in some kind of man-to-man scheme. Devin McCourty is lined up across from tight end Jeff Cumberland, while Alfonzo Dennard checks Stephen Hill at the top of the screen, and Logan Ryan matches up with David Nelson at the bottom of the screen. Brandon Spikes draws running back Tommy Bohanon in coverage while Dont'a Hightower appears to have the zone in the middle of the field to himself. The Patriots bring a four-man rush with Ninkovich and Jones coming off of the edges.

Ninkovich makes what appears to be the first Patriots mistake on the play by losing contain coming off of the left edge. From his left defensive end spot, Ninkovich flies up the field to pressure Smith, but is pushed past the quarterback and gives Smith wide open lanes on that side of the field. Smith now has almost the entire right side of the field to maneuver freely. Meanwhile, near the goal line, Patriots defenders do a good job of sticking with their assignments, not allowing Smith to throw to an open receiver. Cole is slightly behind Kerley in this shot, but he is in the process of passing the slot receiver off to safety Steve Gregory, who is not pictured.

This is the moment where Smith goes from passer to runner. By losing contain, the Patriots have given Smith a dangerous amount of space to do what he wants. With Patriots defensive backs concerned with Jets receivers in the end zone, Smith has room to run almost all the way to the goal line unencumbered. Though the Patriots covered well, Smith had no plans to throw out of the back of the end zone and move on to third down. Both Cole and Hightower make their move toward Smith as they see him start his sprint. What isn't pictured here is that during the split second before this frame, Hightower turns his head away from Smith to see if he should help on a receiver behind him. That perhaps gives Smith an extra moment of separation that will benefit the Jets at the end of the play.

The last two shots show what Smith is able to do in the open field. In the first image, he forces Cole to completely miss one touchdown-saving tackle. In the second, Hightower catches up to Smith before the goal line, but Smith's momentum and size allow him to plow two more yards into the end zone with Hightower on his back.

As is always the case, there was not one play on which the entire outcome of this game hinged. Yet, by losing contain of a mobile quarterback at the wrong time, the Patriots helped cost themselves a game against a divisional opponent. Against the Dolphins on Sunday, they'll do what they can in order to not make same mistake twice.

"He's definitely improved, running and passing," Jones said of Tannehill, who the Patriots beat twice last year as a rookie. "He pulls the ball down, and I feel like he's gotten faster for some reason. We'll see if we can contain him and get the win."