Yesterday we took a look back at the first half of the Dolphins' season and I tried to help ease some of the pain by highlighting many of the positives to come out of the first half of the season. Today we take a look ahead as I highlight just some of the story lines to watch in the second half of the season.
But before I do that, I just want to quickly state the obvious. I know that some fans will respond by saying that the only thing to watch for is if the Dolphins can make the playoffs. But let's be real for a moment. The Dolphins are 3-5 and I think it's pretty fair to say that it will take at least 10 wins to make the playoffs in the AFC. Some will argue that 9 wins can do it and will break out the remaining schedules of other teams and begin forecasting wins and losses to compute a way that a 9 win team can make the playoffs. And while it's possible, I'm simply not counting on it. That means the Dolphins will have to go 7-1 to have a real shot at a second consecutive postseason. That's a huge task - and I'm not counting on it at all, really.
But with that said, we can all hope. After all, you never know...
Other than an unlikely playoff appearance, here are some other story lines - in no particular order - that should make the second half of Dolphins football very interesting.
Is the 'Wildcat' finally beginning to lose its teeth?
I really hope it's not because it's become part of who the Dolphins are now. And it sure did look great for the first five games of the season, averaging 6.6 yards per play out of the formation. But in their last three games, the 'Wildcat' has been rather ineffective. One can't help but wonder if the formation is beginning to hurt this team more than help it at this point.
Of course, we also now have the 'WildPat' - when rookie quarterback Pat White takes snaps and executes a spread option type of offense. I'm fairly confident that we haven't seen the last of that formation, either. But the 'Wildcat' - as defined by having a non-quarterback take the snap from center - is either going to rise up from the ashes yet again or is going to continue to slowly die a quiet death. Which one will it be?
Can Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams become just the fifth running back duo to each rush for 1,000 yards?
Three games ago, it looked like Ronnie and Ricky had a very good chance to pull off this feat - an accomplishment that former Giants' teammates Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward achieved just last season in New York. But suddenly, it's not looking as good. As it stands, Brown is on pace for 1,132 yards while Williams projects to just 912. But with four of the team's remaining eight games against teams that rank 22nd or lower against the run, this dynamic duo could still pull it off. But it all has to start this week with strong showings by both players against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their 30th ranked rush defense.
Of course, for this to happen, Miami's $150 million offensive line has to start playing better than they've performed in these last three weeks. This unit looked like it was on its way to becoming one of the league's most physically dominant offensive lines. But they've looked average at best since the bye back in week six. Hopefully they get things back on track, beginning this week.
Will Chad Henne continue to improve?
Back in week five against the Jets on Monday Night Football, Chad Henne gave Dolphin fans everywhere a huge reason to be optimistic about his future. Making just his second career start, Henne completed 20 of 26 passes for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns as he lead the Dolphins to a fourth quarter comeback win over a hated division rival. But since then, Henne has looked pedestrian at best - completing just 54% of his passes for 542 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions over his last three games while being sacked 9 times. Granted - it's not all his fault by any means. His receivers don't get much separation and, when they do, are prone to dropping passes. His offensive line has also struggled at times to protect him.
Even still, I'm hoping to see continual positive progression from Henne over these final eight games of 2009. He needs to be a little bit more decisive in his reads and does need to improve his accuracy as well. With that said, I'm slowly becoming a true Chad Henne believer. Hopefully these final eight games seal the deal for me.
Can we get a little bit more Wake?
It was understandable at first. Cameron Wake was a very raw former CFL standout who needed to learn how to play the game at this level. Plus, we also had two veterans who have proven track records of getting to the quarterback. But I think it's finally time to let Cameron Wake get more and more snaps now. After his 2.5 sack performance against Buffalo, many of you wanted to see more of Wake. But I understood the coaching staff's decision at the time. Buffalo's offensive line is probably the worst in football's, so that could have contributed to the success Wake had. And like I said, we didn't realize at that point how ineffective Joey Porter (and to a lesser extent Jason Taylor) would become.
But against the Patriots last week, Wake saw 11 snaps and had a sack and a quarterback pressure. And just from my hazy memory, I do recall noticing Wake was a step or two away from getting to Brady at least one or two addditional times. Porter, meanwhile, suddenly looks old. I think it's time for Wake to see a major bump in his playing time.
How much better will the three rookies in the secondary continue to get?
One of the things to amaze me this season has been how - despite all the passing yards this team has surrendered - I don't cringe whenever the opposing quarterback drops back to pass. I imagine this has a lot to do with how well rookies Sean Smith and Vontae Davis have been performing. Have they made some mistakes? Yes. Have they gotten beat for big gains and touchdowns? Of course. But you can just tell that both of these guys are going to become excellent players very quickly, giving the Dolphins an outstanding young cornerback tandem. Sure, they will continue to surrender big gains at times throughout the remainder of the season. When that happens, just think of it as a good learning experience for these two kids. After all, the future is very bright for these two.
There's also a third rookie in the secondary, though, that I think will continue to see his playing time slowly increase as the season goes on. His name is Chris Clemons. The rookie safety out of Clemson finally got on the field three weeks ago, even starting the game against the Saints at free safety in place of Gibril Wilson. And let's be honest - if Gibril doesn't pick up his game as a cover safety, then we are likely to see more and more of the speedy rookie. That would be fine with me.