In his third year as an NFL starter, Ryan Tannehill is finally finding success getting the ball downfield.
He's carrying it.
With the Miami Dolphins in need of big plays, Tannehill has rushed for gains of 40 and 30 yards in the past two weeks. He has proved to be a talented triggerman on the read option, which the Dolphins are incorporating into their offense with increasing effectiveness.
"It's a good change-up," Tannehill said. "It adds another element to our offense, keeps the defense honest and slows down the defensive ends. And it picks up some big yards for us. We've had some big plays with me running the ball."
Tannehill has rushed for at least 35 yards in each of the past three games, and the Dolphins (3-3) are averaging nearly 30 points during that stretch. His season total of 150 yards rushing ranks second on the team and fourth among NFL quarterbacks, behind only Russell Wilson, Colin Kapernick and Cam Newton.
Entering Sunday's game at Jacksonville, Tannehill is on pace to break Jay Fiedler's franchise record of 321 yards rushing by a QB, set in 2001.
"It gives the defense something else to think about," receiver Mike Wallace said. "And Ryan gets to show off his legs a little bit."
Ryan's Express has brought a breakaway threat to an offense long plagued by a lack of big plays. While leading rusher Lamar Miller is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, his long gain is only 24 yards.
And Tannehill's inaccuracy on deep passes remains a problem. While he has passed efficiently in recent weeks, he has rarely thrown long in recent weeks, and his longest completion this season is just 35 yards. He's 4 for 15 on passes traveling more than 20 yards, and in his career he's completing only 28 percent of those throws.
With the deep threat missing, the read option gives Miami another way to stretch the defense.
"It's not the magic pill," coach Joe Philbin said, "but it's something that can be a positive thing."
Any increased risk of injury to his quarterback with the read option isn't a concern, Philbin said.
"We have to do whatever we have to do to move the ball," he said. "If we feel like that's the best way to do it, then we will call it a bunch of times."
Perhaps it's no coincidence Tannehill has started to throw better since he began to run more. In the first three games he averaged 5.0 yards per pass, worst in the NFL, and in the past three games he has averaged 8.5.
Has the read-option success helped?
"It helps us move the ball," Tannehill said. "When you're moving the ball, that's when you get in a rhythm. You're getting first downs and staying on the field."
The athletic, 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tannehill was once a receiver in college, and he has always displayed a knack as a ball-carrying quarterback. He ran for five scores in two years as the starter at Texas A&M, and had runs of 65 and 48 yards.
His career rushing average with the Dolphins is 5.4 yards per carry, and he had a 48-yard run last year, when he totaled 238 yards rushing.
This year good things are happening when Tannehill hands off — the Dolphins rank third in the league at 4.8 yards per carry. But more and more, he fakes to a running back and then takes off on a keeper.
In Sunday's victory at Chicago, he ran six times for 48 yards.
"I think he's enjoying it, but we don't want him to enjoy it too much," Wallace said. "We don't want him to get hit hard."
On fourth and 1 against the Bears, Tannehill carried two defenders for several yards at the end of a 30-yard run that set up a touchdown.
"I loved that. I thought it was great," Philbin said. "I think he was smart. He had good ball security and was able to drag guys. Those types of runs, we show the whole team. When you break tackles or carry guys 5, 6, 7, 8 extra yards, I think it's a momentum-builder for the whole team."
Tannehill said he picks his spots trying to gain yards after contact.
"If there's some space and I'm able to get a few extra yards and not take a big hit, I'm going to do that," he said, adding with a chuckle, "I'm not looking to run anybody over."
He's still more quarterback than fullback.
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