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First-Quarter Review: Offense

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So we're now at the quarter-pole of the season.  That seems like a good time to do a review of the team.

We'll start with the offense.

I'll just provide some talking points.  Then I'll leave it up to you guys, the great community members, to tell us your thoughts.

QUARTERBACKS
What a difference a year makes.  At this point last season, Miami's starting QB - Trent Green, who was supposed to be a stabilizing force for the offense - had completed just 60% of his passes and had thrown 7 interceptions.  Not exactly a stabilizing force, right?

This year, Chad Pennington was brought in to be a similar player - the veteran leader of the offense.  And he has completed 67% of his passes and has only thrown 1 interception.  More importantly, Pennington has actually been what we had hoped to have in Green last year.  He's been the true leader of this offense.  And statistically speaking, he's on pace for a solid season: 300/448, 3268 yards, 12 TDs, and 4 interceptions.  That works for me.

But perhaps the most interesting stat is how good Pennington has been when faced with the blitz.  Against a blitz, Pennington is 35/47 for 363 yards and a touchdown.

We also need to talk quickly about the one drive that Chad Henne has led.  He's clearly the QB of the future for this team and he went 7/12 for 67 yards, leading a drive that resulted in a Ronnie Brown TD run.

All in all, I've been pleasantly surprised with the play at QB.

Grade: B+

RUNNING BACK
After a slow start where the Dolphins were only able to run for 121 yards combined in their first 2 games, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have exploded.  Thanks in part to the "Wildcat" formation, the Dolphins have rushed for 383 yards in their last 2 games.  For the season, Miami's rushing offense is ranked 10th in the league and Ronnie Brown is tied for 1st in the NFL with 6 rushing TDs.

Speaking of Ronnie, I'm not sure what more I can say.  He's proven all the doubters wrong and is only just now beginning to get back to where he was before his torn ACL.  He's only going to get better - and that's a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.

Meanwhile, Ricky has been a bit overshadowed.  But it's his presence that really allows the "Wildcat" to work as effectively as it has.  The defense has no choice but to respect the possibility of Ronnie handing the ball off to Ricky as he comes across from left to right.  But as the season progresses, I expect Ricky to get more involved.

Grade: A

WIDE RECEIVER & TIGHT END
Heading into the season, the big question facing the offense was which receivers and/or tight ends would step up and make some plays in the passing game.  As it turns out, the Dolphins actually have had multiple players step up in different situations and make some plays for Chad Pennington.

Anthony Fasano probably sticks out the most.  His acquisition from Dallas was an absolute steal.  He's made some big plays in key moments for this team and is on pace for 50+ receptions for 700+ yards and 8 touchdowns.  Miami hasn't had a season like that out of a tight end since Randy McMichael back in 2004 when he caught 73 passes for 791 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Greg Camarillo has been the other key pass catcher for this offense.  I don't think anybody saw this coming, but Camarillo leads the Fins in receptions (17) and receiving yards (214).  And the comparisons to Wes Welker are becoming more and more relevant.  After four games in 2006, Welker had 18 catches for 222 yards but was without a TD.  Camarillo's numbers are eerily similar and he does have a TD.  Beyond just the numbers, Camarillo's style of play is also eerily similar to that of Welker.  He's been another pleasant surprise for this Dolphin team and it'll be interesting to see how he progresses.

On the other hand, Ted Ginn has been a little bit of a disappointment.  He is yet to flash that game-breaking talent that he possesses.  Sure, some of that could be due to Pennington's inability to throw the deep ball consistently.  But many of us did expect more from Teddy.  On the positive side, he has shown improvement these past 2 weeks, catching 12 balls combined.  And he is on pace for a 60 catch season.  But he's only on pace for 520 yards due to his disappointing 8.7 yards per catch average.  One thing we know for sure, though, is that much attention will be paid to how Ginn progresses from this point forward.  Will be improve as a route runner?  Can he make some game-breaking plays the way we all thought he would?  Those are key questions moving forward.

Even with that said about Ginn, he has made some crucial receptions - like his 3rd down conversion on the game-sealing drive last week.  And you can say that about a lot of the receivers.  The stats of guys like Davone Bess and David Martin might not be impressive, but each have made plays at different times that have contributed to the success of the team thus far.  I guess that's all you can ask for.

Overall, it's been a mixed bag of surprises (Fasano, Camarillo) and disappointments (Ernest Wilford, Derek Hagan).  But one thing to know for sure is that the progress of this unit will be a critical component of this team's success as we move forward.

Grade: C+

OFFENSIVE LINE
Miami's offensive line has been a unit that has progressed nicely through 4 games.  When Donald Thomas went down for the season, we all wondered how Ike Ndukwe would play filling in.  Many thought it was only a matter of time before recent signing Evan Mathis would take over that RG spot.  But Ndukwe has improved dramatically since his first start against Arizona.  In fact, I was very impressed with him this past Sunday.  He seems to be improving each week - which is probably why the starting offensive line, as a whole, has also been improving.

The pass protection alone has been fairly consistent.  They've only allowed 7 sacks through 4 games, which puts them on pace to allow less than 30 for the season - a feat that only 13 teams accomplished last year.  Miami, last season, actually allowed 42 sacks.  Now some of the success in pass protection has to be credited to Pennington's terrific pocket awareness and his quick decision making.  But even still, this line has held up well and has generally done their job of keeping Chad Pennington off of his back.

They've also progressed nicely in run blocking.  The season started out kind of grim, with the line not creating any holes for Ronnie and Ricky.  But, as new offensive lines often do, they've gotten better each and every game.  To use an overused word, the line is beginning to "gel" very nicely.  Football Outsiders, the best statistical football site on the internet, ranks Miami's offensive line 9th in the entire NFL in terms of run blocking - using a slightly complex formula that you can read about at their site. 

And in two key areas of run blocking, the Dolphins grade out well.  One is the "power success" - which is basically the percentage of runs on 3rd or 4th downs with 2 or fewer yards to go in which the Dolphins successfully ran for the first down.  With a 77% success rate, the Fins rank 7th in the league.  The other stat, referred to as "stuffed percentage" - which is a measure of both runs on 1st down that result in no gain or a loss of yards and runs on 2nd through 4th down that result in less than one-fourth the yards needed to go - ranks the Dolphins 2nd in the entire NFL, with a "stuffed percentage" of just 16%. 

Any way you slice it, this unit has been good and will only get better.

Grade: B

So that's all for the offense.  Be sure to leave your thoughts below and check back for the defensive edition of this on Thursday.