A slow shift in offensive philosophy for Dolphins?

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There was a blog post by beat writer Mike Berardino of the Sun-Sentinel on Monday that I feel isn't getting the attention it deserves. In it, second-year receiver Brian Hartline is quoted talking about what his goals are for 2010 on a personal level. Hartline boldly states that he wants to put up a 1,000 yard receiving season this year - despite the fact that there's a new star receiver in town named Brandon Marshall.

That's all well and good. I like a kid with some lofty goals because it makes you believe that he has been working his tail off to prepare for the upcoming season. The interesting quotes from Brian, though, come after he declares his personal goal:

"I want to throw the ball this year. I hope the coaches do too. That’s kind of my mindset...There should definitely be more of an emphasis on the passing game. That’s what attracted me the most about [the Marshall deal]. I love the Wildcat. I love what that brings. That’s part of our DNA. We’re always going to have that. But as a receiver we want the ball in the air."

Perhaps Hartline is just stating the obvious. After all, the Dolphins went out and gave up two second round picks to acquire a legitimate number one receiver and then handed that receiver a huge mega-deal contract extension. You don't do something like that if you don't plan on passing the football at least a little bit more than in the past.

But that's just it. What is so interesting about Hartline's comments is that we've already been witnessing this slow shift in offensive philosophy.

Don't believe me? That's fine. After all, the Dolphins were just one of five teams to run for over 2,200 yards as a team in 2009. Clearly they still believe in the ground game. Who can blame them? Despite the acquisition of Marshall, this team's most talented position remains the running back position.

Still, we saw a little bit of a shift last year in the offensive philosophy - especially later in the season once Chad Henne gained more experience.

Consider this: In 2008, the Dolphins passed the 54% of the time and averaged 32.3 pass attempts per game. In 2009, the Dolphins passed the ball just under 54% of the time but averaged 36.1 pass attempts per game.

But let's go one step further into last season. In the first eight games of 2009, the Dolphins literally had a balanced 50/50 run/pass ratio. But in the final eight games of '09, the Dolphins passed the ball 57% of the time and averaged just under 40 pass plays per game.

Of course we need to keep in mind game situations. Late in the '09 season, the Dolphins were playing from behind more often than not - resulting in more pass attempts. But you also cannot question the fact that this league has become a pass-first league. Four of the past six Super Bowl participants were pass-first teams while eight of the top ten passing teams in the league last year reached the post-season. On the flip side, five of the top ten rushing teams in 2009 failed to reach the post-season.

The bottom line? As long as Tony Sparano is head coach, there's no reason to think the Dolphins won't emphasize the power running game. But it's also clear to see that we should probably expect to see a more open offense. I'm a firm believer that Dan Henning and the offensive coaching staff will take to the air more often than they ever have since coming to Miami. They are going to let Chad Henne show what he can do. He has the weapons on the outside and versatile backs out of the backfield.

Very quietly the Dolphins had a top ten passing offense back in 2008. I'm looking for a similar performance in 2010 - just not quite as quietly. The game itself is has evolved. I believe this regime has recognized that - which is why Brandon Marshall was brought in.

Now Chad Henne just has to prove he's up to the task of leading an offense that will put more pressure on him.


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