DAVIE, Fla. – Too often this season, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey has turned around at the end of a play only to find Ryan Tannehill sprawled on the turf.
"If he keeps getting hit like that, he won't last too long," Pouncey said. "That's something we have to correct. We've got to keep him on his feet."
While better pass protection might keep the quarterback healthy, it would also likely make the offense more robust. Tannehill has been sacked 18 times this season, more than any other player in the NFL, and hits have contributed to at least half of his eight turnovers.
He's liable to feel plenty of pressure Sunday when Miami (3-1) plays defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore (2-2). The Ravens have 13 sacks for 100 yards, ranking fourth in the league in the latter category.
At Tannehill's current pace, he'll break Bob Griese's 1968 team record of 43 sacks in the season's 10th game. He's also on pace to approach David Carr's 2002 NFL record of 76 sacks.
Coaches and players agree the situation is a team effort.
"The most discouraging thing is it's one guy here, one guy there," guard Richie Incognito said. "At times it's a breakdown with the offensive line. At times it's a breakdown with the running backs. At times it's a breakdown with the tight ends. And to protect the quarterback, you've got to have all guys in sync at all times.
"It's tough. Ryan has taken some shots. We all have to step up and get that addressed."
Tackles Jonathan Martin and Tyson Clabo, both new at their positions for Miami this season, have been the blockers beaten most frequently. But coach Joe Philbin said every player on offense has contributed to the problem. He said sometimes the tight end has missed a blitz pickup, or a wideout has been slow to get open, or Tannehill has held on to the ball too long.
"When you are in position that we are, it's widespread," Philbin said. "It hasn't been one particular individual."
While Tannehill's inexperience might be a factor in his 18 sacks, Dan Marino played eight seasons before he was sacked more than 18 times in an entire year.
Perhaps the biggest issue is Miami's inability to mount a consistent ground game that will keep defenses honest. The Dolphins have thrown the ball two-thirds of the time, which ranks eighth in the league, placing a heavy burden on their young quarterback.
The Dolphins had a season-high 115 yards rushing against New Orleans. But once Miami fell behind 35-10 in the third quarter, the Saints rushed Tannehill with abandon, and he was hit on two of his three interceptions.
Protection has been a problem from the start of the season, and Tannehill has been sacked at least four times every week. As a rookie last year, he was sacked 35 times, or once every 13.8 throws. This year he has been sacked every 7.9 attempts.
"It's something that we are determined to correct," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "To make it through this season and have the success we want to have, we certainly have to minimize our exposure to sacks — not just for the health of our quarterback, but because of the negativity it creates in the context of the game."
Even with Sunday's loss, the Dolphins are off to their best start since 2003. That won't continue if the pass protection remains shaky, Philbin said.
"Not sustainable," he said.
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