In the wake of Silver-gate (I toyed with the idea of Prostitute-gate, but decided the former would be more family-friendly), we have lost touch of what truly deserves the media and fan attention: the 2010 NFL Draft, undrafted free agents and the rookie mini-camps (as well as invitees), newly assigned numbers and those rescinded, etc. Even more still, there are hints of tweaks to the current defensive schemes, arguments of tradition vs. business, bold predictions, and the like.
Lost in these various topics is the subject matter of Brandon Marshall and what he actually means to this offense. Sure, when he was acquired, we all made a fuss. Siestas were taken, condoms were bought and used ferociously (hat tip to Fr8Train), alcohol was consumed in large doses, and yet the surface of his impact was merely skimmed by fans and analysts alike.
Let's break away from the stories that just don't cut it during the summer doldrums, the stories that just don't deserve the myriad attention they're receiving. Hop, skip, and make the jump to read some of what I find news-worthy when everything else in the media seems contrived and repetitious.
Brandon Marshall, #?, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins
Let me preface this by stating that I would be glad to see Rex Ryan dial up the blitzing even more than last season. Please, go ahead. Send all you've got on passing downs. Brandon Marshall caught 31 balls for 451 yards against the blitz. 14.5-yard average, 75-yard long, seven scores. Bring it.
Marshall is in his fifth year out of the University of Central Florida, a 6'4", 230 lbs. monster. A beast, you might say. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning, maligned as he may be due to fan perception, knows what to do with beasts. He's never had a monster like Marshall, but he has made a masterpiece out of 5'9", 185 lb. Steve Smith. If Smith was a beast in Henning's offense, consider Marshall your new Leviathan.
And that's why you should love the acquisition of Brandon, if you don't already. Regardless of whatever you may have against the man's off-the-field issues or his well-documented history of poor decision-making, you cannot deny his talent or the obvious asset he immediately becomes to Chad Henne. If Jake Delhomme can feed the beast, and Kyle Orton can feed the beast, Henne can certainly feed the Leviathan.
But you know, it's rather easy to over-estimate what a new toy will bring to the table, the amount of production he'll find himself creating. There are over/under posts asking fan opinions, analysts stating he won't drop off in statistical output, and all sorts of biased information regarding just what he'll do in his first season as Miami's #1. Until you read and analyze the facts and trends, however, a lot of that just seems rather weak.
What can we reasonably expect Marshall to do in his first year as a Dolphin? Well, it's not so much what he can do for our team, but what our team can do for.. oh, nevermind. Here's how I see Brandon affecting our offense:
- Ronnie and Ricky will run up the middle early and often. 38.13% of Marshall's yardage came on the left/right sideline last season. Another 38.57% came on the left/right side (not as far as the sideline, but not down the middle). That's 76.7% of his production. He commands attention on the outside, and if you let him make a move in that direction, you better have him double-covered or he will be a menace in the open field. He just opens up the middle. His blocking is vastly underrated; he loves engaging defensive backs. Combine that with a mauling middle-line (LG, C, RG) and you have a punishing running game that cannot be stacked to stop.
- Shotgun and lone-setback formations will be more prevalent than in the previous year. Brandon did not record a single catch when Denver ran the I-formation, perhaps an additional testament to Brandon's willingness to block in power run formations. I think you should expect an increase in the obvious passing formations because of the title and the person whom it references: Dan Henning feeds the beast. He knows what he has on offense, and he knows the offense needs to display different looks. Marshall recorded 64 catches under shotgun, and 88 with one back in the backfield. Though we passed more than we ran last season, a lot of those passing plays involved multiple tight end sets. This year, expect Henne to see a lot of favorable passing formations in 2010.
- Three-receiver sets and single tight end sets will be far more prevalent this year. Much like in the previous bullet, Marshall thrives in these pass-favoring formations. Three-receiver sets saw Marshall accumulate 58 receptions for 531 yards and seven scores. His long was 40 yards. Four-plus receiver sets saw an additional 17 catches for 238 yards and another touchdown. This long was 51 yards. We heard Sparano himself indicate that the team would use less multiple-tight end sets this year, and this is partially why; we have Marshall to feed, but we have Hartline who will also pick up chunks if you double Brandon, and Bess who will move the chains all day long if either of the aforementioned receive too much attention. In these sets, you cannot double any one guy without giving our other two (or more) receivers a chance to beat you across the middle or on a twenty-yard out. We're also likely to give our tight end(s) more looks in the passing game. Steve Smith saw a lot of his production come on the outside (particularly the sidelines), and ran with two other receivers often. Expect Henning to reproduce the game plan that made Smith such a force to be reckoned with. Not to mention, we all know Parcells and co. would like to salvage the seemingly useless pick they invested in Pat White. An offense that resembles more of a "spread" will certainly benefit him as this is his comfort zone. Some well-timed White-led plays will certainly be featured. I'm hoping they will only be at the most opportune (read: not drive-stalling) times.
- Marshall will average 12-plus yards once again, but may not reach 100 receptions. Steve Smith was a smaller receiver who could ill afford to take the beating Marshall can, but neither Carolina circa 2005 nor Denver last year had the running game that we boast. I should expect his catches to be closer to the low-to-mid-90s than over 100. However, his average will creep back up to 12-plus. Eddie Royal was supposed to be for Denver what Davone Bess actually was for Miami this season. He was held in check early and often, making life difficult for Brandon. In 2008, when Eddie came in as a rookie and did perform like the admirable possession receiver he will eventually become, Marshall was able to accumulate 12.2 YPC. Not only that, but Jay Cutler's arm allowed Brandon to average around 12.6 YPC between 2008 and 2009 (13.0 and 12.2 respectively). Expect Henne's live arm and Bess' active and sure hands to give Marshall the opportunity to make more plays down-field. And, that's not even mentioning the Jabar Gaffney/Brandon Stokley combination that is Brian Hartline.
- Marshall will repeat his double-digit touchdown performance in 2010. But, not by much. Give or take one score. When Steve Smith entered his third year and became the beast, he averaged 7.83 touchdowns per season (counting only seasons in which he played 14+ games). A 5'9", 185. man averaged nearly eight touchdowns per season. Why? Yes, he was dynamic. But, Dan Henning helped. Most of these weren't even full seasons. We've all seen how the Dolphins utilize their big targets (tight ends), especially in the red zone. Combine that with Marshall's size and strength, ability to break tackles, YAC, and Henning's play-calling. Marshall has only done it once before, but these are prime conditions for between nine and 11 touchdowns.
- Marshall will be a road warrior until Winter hits. Here's a sobering fact: Marshall had eight catches for 101 yards in 80+ degree weather. By my math, this occurred in weeks 2 and 3 against Cleveland (at home) and Oakland (on the road). Even more sobering, Revis comes to town when we're playing in our hottest weather. We saw what the Island did to Brandon last season; combine these factors, and we will be relying on what we utilized to sweep them last season if we want to do it again. It will be much more difficult this time around. On the flip side, Marshall posted 15 receptions for 158 yards in weather below 40 degrees. Unfortunately, I cannot figure out which games this included. Alas, it's relatively irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, he's almost our anti-home-field advantage.
- The Dolphins have one of the strongest third/fourth-down receiving tandem in the league. Davone Bess caught 48 balls for first down last season (tied for 23rd), while Marshall caught 56 such balls (tied for 13th). New England was dominating that category until Welker got hurt, and Indianapolis is probably the top as of now. We are certainly no worse than top three, and will certainly improve on that ranking this season.
This is a very rough overview of how Marshall will mix up the looks we give opponents and how Henning's influence is a solid predictor of what that entails. It does, however, give us more than a brief summary or biased predictions.
Considering these trends and statistics, it becomes more fair to project his stats in aqua and orange. Here goes a very rounded line:
95 Rec., 1,200 yards, 10 TD.
This is by no means outside the realm of his abilities, but I think Henne's development will hinder Marshall from turning in a 100+, 1,300+ yard season just yet. It will come in time, but let's give the young gun time to fall in love before we legalize the marriage.
P.S. Get excited.