I have not checked this site since the Texans loss, specifically because I have come to expect the same whining from the "fanbase" since Henne overtook Pennington. The Phinsiders used to call such whining fans "chicken-littles". Out of a purely emotional reaction to losing, some fans genuinely believe that the sky is falling, and that sabotaging the season to draft a top QB is the best course of action because our team is not capable of winning, or second-guessing using the perfect 20/20 vision of hindsight as a means to criticize the team. How retarded.
This article is not written to convince those who still don't think Henne is good enough even after throwing for 400+ yards in a game and who has a near-identical career trajectory as Drew Brees. He will never be good enough in their minds. You are allowed to be skeptical of Henne, and I am not saying Henne is the next Manning. But the following analysis, which I have similarly done in a previous fan post, attempts to indicate that (i) Henne is good enough to win frequently, (ii) why we haven't won a game, (iii) and what we might be able to do about it. To place the failure of the team to win on the shoulders of Henne is abominable and is just pure emotional overreaction.
Why, then, are we 0-2? Two simple reasons: (a) pathetic red zone conversions and (b) sloppy defense. Put another way, our poor pass defense so far -- which highlights how critical Chris Clemons is to the secondary, and how poorly conditioned our defense is entering the season -- has not been able to hide behind the scoreboard because we have not been able to score enough touchdowns. The Patriots, for instance, have been able to mask their weak pass defense (they are ranked 31st, we are 30th) with a monster offensive attack, and that is why no one is panicking that they have given up so many passing yards in two games and instead are crowning Mr. Ugg (Tom Brady) the MVP and the Patriots as super bowl favorites.
The points on the scoreboard do not prove our offense to be top-10 caliber, but it is. Even behind a mediocre offensive-line, and a paltry 3rd-down conversion percentage (3rd-last in the NFL), we are offensively successful. We are ranked 10th in yards/game; practically 10th in first downs per game (10.5 1stdowns/game where 10th place is 11 first downs/game); and 7th in the league in red-zone attempts per game. The change in offensive coordinators has been a boon to the offense, and to Chade Henne. Also, judging by Daniel Thomas's success last week, Sparano should be credited for building a tolerable o-line that he believes will only get better as o-lines do -- this is from Sparano, who was an o-line coach in the NFL; in other words, as expert opinion as there can be (something to consider for the chicken-littles).
So what's the problem on offense? We are 22nd in red zone scoring percentage. This wonderful article illustrates how much we have struggled inside the 20. What is especially troublesome are the two inside-the-five possessions that amounted to zero points. If we convert those drives, we add an additional 14 points to our bottom line. Good enough for 11th place in scoring, but more importantly, completely different games against two playoff contenders.
Our red zone woes are nothing new. But at least we are finally getting there now, higher than any season under Sparano -- evidence that Henning was what was stalling our offense from last season. How, then, do we convert?
1) Daniel Thomas. Contrary to popular belief, with drafting Thomas, the Front Office has shown that it has the capability of finding talent every once in a while. I'm sorry, but how many rookie running backs hit the century mark in their first game behind a suspicious offensive line?
You might be thinking to just throw Daniel Thomas at the end zone and hope his sexy yards per carry will lead us to glory, like how we grinded out TDs at a phenomenal red zone conversion rate in 2009. Looking back at the play-by-play, our OC Dabboll completely ignored this strategy against Houston. I think this will definitely be tried now, giving us another attacking dimension, despite my belief that it was ignored because the o-line cannot get a push against an over-stacked box like they can at the 50 yard line where the pass has to be respected. Yeah, you heard me chicken-littles. Thomas got his yards partly because of Henne and that air game (when was the last time the Miami Dolphins drew a 40 yard pass interference penalty, like Gates did?).
2) Anthony Fasano.The top TE's in the league earn their money in the red zone. Fasano has had amazing success there when used, like in 2008 when 5 of his 7 tds were from inside the 20 on ONLY 11 TARGETS. That is elite. Last season, he had 3 tds in the red zone on 8 targets through week 15, and he accounted for almost 20% of our total TDs. His high red zone TD percentage shows the miss-match potential he has. The question then is: why isn't he used in the red zone more? I honestly don't know. But my guess is that he has been used to block against blitzes.
3) Reggie Bush. Theoretically, short passes to Reggie are what he is supposed to excel at; or having him move into the slot from the backfield. Also theoretically, screen plays should get him in the end zone. In short, how many times has Bush been the number one option in the red zone? I only count once. Screen plays may be an issue for our slow o-line, however. See Vernon Carey running (now you know why he's at RG now):
As implied with my listed options not being incorporated, Dabboll and Henne have been heavily relying on Marshall and the WRs in the red zone. Brandon has 9 red zone targets already, out of his 23 overall targets, but only one TD. It isn't a bad thing to target your No. 1 receiver so often, but I suggest a "less-is-more" approach, because the defense knows what's coming, and is forcing Henne to make difficult or next-to-impossible throws to Marshall. Using our other non-WR weapons in the red zone will actually give him more opportunities to score on single-coverage.
So having suggested what can be done on offense, what can be said about the defense? Other than being ranked dead-last in yards allowed per game? Conditioning is basically the problem.
1a) We have a battered secondary, which I believe is caused by poor conditioning and which have been exposed to be extremely thin; basically, we have been burned every time our 2010 starters are subbed out.
1b) While I don't think Reshad Jones is a bust (his timing is exponentially off, but that just shows you how fast the NFL is versus college), Chris Clemons is a superior player for the time being. He does not let receivers get behind him. I strongly believe that when he returns, our secondary problems will be solved.
2) Our front 7 is not getting any sort of attack (when vontae davis has to blitz, you know that's not a good thing) and tires quickly in the 4th quarter. Two games in a row running backs have been able to gash us at ease right up the gut.
3) The tackling has to improve, but this is all a function of conditioning.
Clearly, the lockout has hurt Mike Nolan's aggressive scheme. You cannot underestimate poor conditioning. But by week 4, our defense will be back in shape. Staying healthy is another issue.
So there you have it. Our secondary has killed us, and our offense has stalled. This secondary is not like 2009 because we know what they are capable of from last year (8th in the league in pass defense). It will be further helped by a fitter defensive front getting pressure on the quarterback (10th in the league last year with 39). Our offense is also vastly improved, and it is an extremely positive sign to see us in the top 25% of the league in red zone visits. Finishing off those last 20 yards can be fixed by trying a different solution besides "Marshall-chucking".
I root for every player to succeed and help us win. Instead of lashing out emotionally at the coaches or players for failing, as is easy to do and is now commonplace, I try to take an objective approach to the team. This team has talent. Add another red zone TD conversion a game (from 2 per game as is to 3), and a stronger secondary, and a 10-6 finish is definitely possible.