Commentary: Slightly Past the Quarter-Pole Review By RoninFin4 aka Kevin Dern Hello Dolfans, I’ve known many of you from our time at other sites, and given all that’s gone this season, and in light of the Henne Era taking flight, I think it’s time that I followed suit and made a new home for myself right here. I’ve been a columnist at FH for the last year or so writing periodically as working for Anthony Munoz, grad-school, and other things have kept me from writing as much as I’d like to, but I figured I’d start off with some commentary here at The Phins and being that I already know the quality of the posters here, I’m ready for this to be a new, permanent home. I hope you all enjoy my writing style, and I look forward to the conversation over here! I’ll admit right off the bat I’m a bit long-winded sometimes, so hopefully it makes for some interesting bathroom reading. I originally started this article after the “1st quarter” of the season when Miami stood at 1-3, but after talking to my former University of Dayton Flyers (Ranked 23rd in the preseason!) roommate and New York Jets fan (don’t ask, it happened, I don’t know how…) all weekend, I decided I’d wait until after the Monday Night Game to post this. And man, am I glad I did. Probably one of the top 5 entertaining Dolphins games I’ve witnessed. Obviously there’s room for improvement on defense, but man, Chad Henne! I think he’s for real, and I can’t wait to see what a bye week does for this offense as we get ready for one of the best teams and toughest stretches in our schedule coming out of the bye (New Orleans, then back to back road games against the Jets - I’ll be at this one myself, and New England), I hope that Miami can keep on this role a la last year after starting 2-4. Let’s take a look back at each position over the first four games of the season, followed by a mini-preview of what might happen the rest of the way. Overall: “You are what your record says you are.” - Bill Parcells. In that case, we’re one 1 of 4, or 25%, and that’s an F for sitting at 1-3, just based on the percentages. That’s how I originally intended to start the bulk of this article, but upon further review, the 2009 Miami Dolphins may be one of the most dangerous 2-3 teams the NFL has seen in a long while. With the league’s top-ranked run offense, a top 5 run-defense (thanks to 38 yards given up on two fake punts), and a very potent 3rd down conversion rate, Miami, especially now with the Henne Era as I like to call it, in full swing, we definitely have something to build upon going into the bye week. I usually don’t like a bye week to come until after 7 or 8 games have been played, but I think this year’s comes at a great time. Sitting at 2-3, but with a 2-0 AFC East record, having the Saints, Jets again, and Patriots to close out the first half of our season, I’d argue that Miami needs to end up at 4-4, hopefully 5-3, heading into the 2nd half of the season in order to position ourselves for a playoff run. But before I get too far ahead of myself, there have been some major concerns. As good as our O-line has been, and how much they’ve progressed from that stink in Atlanta in week 1, I still had my doubts about their pass-protecting skills going into the Jets game. For all the bluster and hype about the Jets “vaunted” defense, to not allow a sack, and rarely was Henne knocked down, the O-line was absolutely superb, and I’ll have to borrow a tidbit from my old VIP Contest competitor Conuficus for this, but they’ll only get better as Jake Grove and Donald Thomas have played exactly 11 combined games for the Dolphins. Jake Long is only a year and a quarter into his NFL career - I smell an even brighter future for this unit, especially if they keep progressing at the pace they’ve done so at over the last month. Defensively, however, are where I believe most of the concerns are at at this point in time. Where have Joey Porter and Jason Taylor been? What do you make of Gibril Wilson and Yeremiah Bell’s play so far? Is Channing Crowder really fit to be the leader of this defense or would he look better playing in Akin Ayodele’s spot with Brandon Spikes or one of my favorites, Rolando McClain playing next to him? It hasn’t been all bad though as our front 3 have been excellent, and we’ve seen pretty nice play from Phillip Merling and Tony McDaniel in spots. Sean Smith has been a stud as far as rookie corners go, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to me if Vontae Davis overtakes Will Allen before the year is out. Our special teams units remain an enigma of sorts. Our kick and punt coverage units have been pretty decent, but our return units, uh…well you know the story by now. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that sadly, Patrick Cobbs will be shelved for the rest of the season. Is Kory Sheets that guy? Guess we’ll find out when New Orleans comes to town. Going back to that Parcells quote, yeah, our record says we’re 2-3. Say what you will about Chad Pennington - he was an absolute warrior and leader for us in 2008, but let’s be reasonable, how far could he have really taken us in 2009? We had to play perfect football on offense just to score (as evidenced in the Indianapolis game) and couldn’t put up more than 23 points. In two games with Henne at the helm, and a new found ability to stretch the field, we’ve put up 38 on a bad defense, followed by 31 on “one of the best defenses in the NFL” according to pretty much anyone on the Jets roster or in the ESPN buildings. I like our style the rest of the year, and if, big IF, the defense can start to figure out how to get to the QB and cover the deep ball, I’m inclined to give us a solid C+ for right now. Now, for the individual positions. Quarterback: Incomplete - what do we really know until we see more of Chad #2? In 2008 Chad Pennington had one of, if not the greatest season a quarterback not named Marino has had in franchise history, at least in terms of statistics and leadership. It’s too bad the Not For Long league is a “what have you done for me lately league?” isn’t it? It should be abundantly clear by now that the Miami Dolphins probably weren’t going to ever get past the first round of the playoffs with Pennington at the helm - even if he’d have had a big-time receiver to throw to. Just looking at the murderer’s row of a schedule Miami’s got ahead of them (side note: yes, I think it matters. Just look at the 2008 team - we barely eeked out wins over teams led by Seneca Wallace and JaMarcus Russell, a win is a win, but some of last year’s sure didn’t look too impressive), the playoffs are still very questionable, but a win Monday would right this ship to some degree. As for Pennington this year, there’s nothing to sugarcoat. He simply didn’t get the job done. 0-3 is 0-3 no matter how you slice it. The two-minute drill against the Colts was by far the worst I’ve seen in a long time. It definitely wouldn’t inspire any confidence from me if we were say, down 6 with less than a minute to play and 80 yards to go in a Super Bowl game - it’s over at that point right there. You have to wonder, had Pennington not been injured this year, at what point would Henne have entered play? If we still had beaten Buffalo with Pennington at the controls and were to lose to the Jets and gone 1-4 into the bye - I think you’d have no choice but to get Henne ready at that point right there. Pennington’s leadership will be missed, don’t get me wrong - 2008 was easily one of the most enjoyable Dolphins seasons in my lifetime, but I think the time is right for a change. Let’s see if it’s Chad Henne. So far, Henne’s put together two pretty good games. The 4th quarter against the Jets was damn near magical. That said, he’s only had two starts and I think it’s far, far too early to rush to judgment. However, I do like his odds to dare I say it, knock on wood, be that franchise QB we’ve been missing since ole #13 hung up the cleats. For now though, this position gets an incomplete until we know more. Running Back: A I don’t think there’s enough that you can say about the Dolphins running backs and their collective performance this year. Ronnie Brown is already more than halfway to equaling his TD total from last year and he and Ricky Williams are on pace for 1,000 yard seasons. As a unit, Miami’s running game is on pace to become the 2nd best rushing attack in the last decade (only to Atlanta’s 2006 total) as we’re averaging nearly 180 yards per game. Patrick Cobbs hadn’t contributed as much as he did last year prior to his injury, but he was still an integral part of the Wildcat and sub packages this year. I worry a little about who will replace him as the wingback in the Wildcat package to help seal the edge. Lex Hilliard? Kory Sheets? Do you activate John Nalbone? It remains to be seen. Speaking of blocking, Lousaka Polite had a tremendous game against the Jets - definitely one of if not the best he’s had in a Dolphins uniform. Those bone-crunching blocks he leveled against Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes, and others in that Jets game were devastating. If he can keep this effort up, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams may very well duplicate what Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward did last year for the Giants in both totaling over 1,000 yard season. Many people say that Adrian Peterson is the best runner in the NFL, and I agree - I think there’s several backs still ahead of Ronnie Brown in terms of running, but none are as versatile, and if lost, not many would negatively impact their team as much as Ronnie would. Until proven otherwise, this unit may be the best in football, so an A is in order here. Receivers & Tight Ends: C A lot of people had Miami pegged at taking a WR in the draft like Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt, or even a TE like Jared Cook whom they were high on early in the draft, but they ended up with Patrick Turner, Brian Hartline and John Nalbone. To this point, neither Turner or Nalbone have played a down, and Hartline has had his moments - both good and bad. Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo remain models of consistency as possession receivers. Ted Ginn continues to remain a mystery, but I think we all saw a glimpse of what might be with that bomb from Henne against the Jets. Perhaps the coaching staff and front office see the potential and didn’t pull the trigger for a Dwayne Bowe or Steve Smith before the deadline. If Ginn continues to progress along with Henne, we might have the makings of a dangerous tandem into the future. I really like Davone Bess as a slot guy, but I still think we’re a solid starting WR away from having a dangerous unit. Hartline has good hands, but has dropped a few here and there. It still amazes me that Camarillo was out there the first week of the season starting after tearing his ACL last year. Fasano looks to have a nice rapport with Henne and was involved in the offense for the first time since the Atlanta game. However, losing his counterpart, David Martin, I think has hindered the offense with no one possessing the same ability to run up the seam and open things underneath. Joey Haynos has been an effective blocker in the Wildcat, and we saw some of that as he came on down the stretch in ‘08. Hopefully we’ll see Turner and Nalbone develop, but barring injury, I’d be surprised to see either active this season. All in all, the group has been average, but I think a lot of that can be attributed to the play of Pennington and the offensive line early on and our propensity to run it against Indianapolis (though Ginn had his best game tarnished because of a late drop) and the San Diego game was odd all-together with Henne coming in off the bench. In two games with Henne as the starter, we’ve seen a few more shots taken downfield. The throw to Camarillo on 3rd and 7 against an all-out blitz was a thing of beauty; so was the bullet to Camarillo again on 3rd and 10 a few plays later. Lasers to Fasano and Haynos over the middle of the field helped open running lanes, and the bomb to Ginn, whom beat Darrelle Revis AND Kerry Rhodes on the play was just a thing of beauty. Hopefully it continues, but based on the results so far, you have to give this group a C. O-Line: B+ Still trying to come up with a solid nickname for this unit. They’re downright nasty in run-blocking, as evidenced by leading the NFL in rushing at just under 180 yards per game through 5 games - incredible, especially after last year. They’ve made the Wildcat into a potent offensive formation - it’s not a gimmick in Miami - and the old Power O play has become our staple as Justin Smiley might be one of if not the best pulling guards in the league. Jake Long struggled against Atlanta and a little bit against Dwight Freeney, but he’s looked better since. I think some of that is the new techniques brought in by Coach Gugs, as well has being on tape of veteran pass-rushers to see. Now that he’s found out what his “weaknesses” are, he’s been playing better, and aside from Ryan Clady of Denver, there may not be a better young tackle in the NFL. Donald Thomas and Jake Grove are pretty stout inside - I can definitely say why this regime paid Grove the big bugs. Correctly diagnosing all the Jets fancy blitz packages and not allowing a sack was brilliant. Vernon Carey’s had some lapses in pass-blocking, but like Long, and the rest of the O-line has been dominant in the ground game. The unit as a whole has definitely progressed since that week 1 showing in the Georgia Dome. This group has a chance to be the best all-around league in the NFL. I’d argue that Denver is up there now, but Miami’s got a chance to surpass them if they keep their effort up. Well, I think that’s it for the offensive review. I’m anxious to see how the defense plays against the Saints tomorrow, and I think I’ll post my defensive review after I see the team play in person in two weeks at the Meadowlands against the Jets. But for right now, I’m very happy that Chad Henne has proven his worth so far, and that the running game can pretty much control the clock and help our defense out. Hope you enjoyed my first column, and I’m open for any suggestions about future topics, so PM me if you have any ideas. Let’s go Dolphins!