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Mark Gaughan's X's and O's: Loss to Bills would be nail in coffin for Ryan Tannehill

Seven years.

That's how long the Miami Dolphins have been waiting for Ryan Tannehill to prove he is The Answer. And they're still waiting.

It’s another example of why missing on a high first-round draft-pick quarterback is so costly.

It’s not the draft pick — or picks — that it costs. If the guy is good enough, it’s worth any draft cost.

It’s not the money. The top 18 QBs this year all have a cap hit of $18 million or more. Most of the contenders are spending big at QB.

It’s the time you waste if the guy doesn’t pan out. The sand in the hourglass is almost out for Miami’s No. 17.

Last week’s loss to Indianapolis put the sliding Dolphins (5-6) on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. While they are only one game behind the Colts and Ravens in the race for the sixth wild-card spot, and are tied with Titans, Bengals and Broncos, with five games left in the season, the prevailing opinion is Tannehill needs to look spectacular the rest of the way to keep his job. Spectacular as in go 4-1 and light up the Patriots next week. A loss to green Bills rookie Josh Allen on Sunday could be an exclamation point on the end of his tenure.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase was all-in on Tannehill when he took the job in 2016. The QB showed progress that year, going 8-5, completing 67 percent of his passes and helping Miami make the playoffs.

Bills-Dolphins Scouting Report: LeSean McCoy has run hot and cold against Miami

But Tannehill hasn’t stayed healthy. He missed the last four games that year, all of 2017 with a knee injury and five games this season with a shoulder injury. He has missed 25 of a possible 44 starts since Gase was hired.

You still get the sense Gase thinks he can win with Tannehill.

“I thought he played well, he executed what we asked him to do,” Gase said after the loss Sunday to the Colts.

And Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains gave a strong endorsement of Tannehill’s skills last week.

“Ryan has the ability to make all the throws,” Loggains said. “I think he does a really good job. The thing that’s impressed me the most is how much he’s improved as a deep ball thrower since when he came into the league. I’ve seen a noticeable difference watching tape when I got here going back all the way to his first years in the NFL. I think we miss that part a little bit of our game. Hopefully Ryan can get that going. He was doing a good job earlier. I think he can make all of the throws. I think he has every club in his bag, and he’s a good deep ball thrower.”

With a superb cast, you can win with Tannehill. But by now, it’s clear none of his individual traits is so elite that he can lift a team onto his back.

Tannehill turns 31 before next season. He has a cap hit of $26 million in 2019 with a base salary of $18.7 million. The best-case scenario for him is that he plays well enough to let the Dolphins bring him back at a reduced salary while they draft a quarterback in April.

More realistic? Miami moves on and he plays next year on a one-year prove-it deal with somebody else.

The 30,000-foot view: Miami exorcized Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey and Jarvis Landry last season in a bid to have better team chemistry. The issue is Miami doesn’t have enough elite talents on the roster to “drive the bus.” The best Dolphins under age 30 are CB Xavien Howard, S Minkah Fitzpatrick, OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Albert Wilson and maybe LBs Jerome Baker and Kiko Alonso.

The Bills are in better shape from that perspective. The promising players under 30 are CB Tre White, S Micah Hyde, LB Tremaine Edmunds, QB Josh Allen (they hope), LB Matt Milano, DT Star Lotulelei and LT Dion Dawkins.

Bills' pass rush has impressive effort against Jaguars, moves back inside top 10

Weak link: The Dolphins have been devastated at receiver. Their top three are expected to be out. Danny Amendola (48 catches) hurt his knee last week and is unlikely to play. Albert Wilson (26) and emerging speedster Jakeem Grant (21) are on injured reserve. Ex-No. 1 pick DeVante Parker has been dinged up (shoulder) and is having a poor year. That leaves Kenny Stills (20 catches, 232 yards) as the top threat. He has been dinged up, too. Look for Gase to use a lot of two-tight end sets. The three TEs are rookies Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe and ex-Bill Nick O’Leary.

Matchup Watch

LeSean McCoy vs. Kiko Alonso. The Dolphins rank 29th in the NFL in run defense and are vulnerable up the middle. They sorely miss Ndamukong Suh. In fact, they miss Jordan Phillips, cut in October and signed by the Bills. And linebacker coverage has been an issue with Alonso. He’s coming off two sub-par games. Sunday will be Alonso’s 60th NFL start and his 43rd straight for Miami.

(Below is a play on which the Packers used double-team blocks on the defensive tackles, while Alonso picked the wrong gap and got blocked by the tight end. Aaron Jones ran for 67 yards on the play.)

Cameron Wake vs. Jordan Mills. Wake turns 37 in January, yet he’s still getting it done. He has 4.5 sacks and ranks fourth in pressures per pass rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Wake has made six sacks in the last four games vs. the Bills. Mills played well vs. Wake in Buffalo last year, allowing no pressures. Mills gave up two sacks to Wake in the second meeting.

(Below is Wake against Green Bay, showing he's still too good for most tight ends on the edge.)

Kyle Williams vs. Miami’s middle three. The Dolphins lost their best guard, Josh Sitton, and starting center Daniel Kilgour for the season in September. Backup center Travis Swanson (ankle) is likely out. Right guard Jesse Davis and left guard Ted Larson are in the top 10 in the NFL in pressures allowed at guard, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bills should cause problems up the middle.

Stats for the road: Miami ranks 31st in red-zone offense and 32nd in goal-to-go situations. Conclusion: The offensive line is not winning the line of scrimmage and the outside receivers aren’t dominating. The Bills need to force Miami to kick field goals.

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