As a Miami Dolphins fan, this is a tough column to write this week. Not simply because of the loss last week to the Baltimore Ravens - yes, that was a difficult pill to swallow, eh? But mostly because, as a fan, you want to highlight the positives of your team, however the Miami Dolphins are maddeningly inconsistent!
It's difficult to pick out a single aspect of the team that is consistently good - but the other side of that coin is that - at times - each different aspect of the team can look very good.
So, I thought we could take a look at the three major questions surrounding the team at mid-season, and discuss the status of each situation.
First of all, let's talk about Chad Henne. Let's get this one off the table right away!
The question that is being asked in various formats is: "Is he THE guy?".
I have read most of the arguments on both sides on that debate, but the truth is that, right now, NO ONE KNOWS. Like most Miami fans, I just don't know what to think of him yet, because:
- A) It takes most QBs more than a single season of playing to develop their game and reach their potential, and
- B) Because of the inconsistency of the Dolphins play this season, in general, it is difficult to assess his ability in the games we HAVE seen Henne play.
Henne has had a few interceptions that were clearly not his fault, and I have seen a significant number of mistakes on the part of the wide receivers to know that Chad Henne's numbers could look a lot better with better play from his team mates.
But we have also seen him make some wildly inaccurate throws, and some mistimed throws in which he was just slow getting the ball to the WR. I think we have all seen enough of these types of things to legitimately question whether or not it is a fatal flaw in his game, or is correctable.
And the thing that is probably the most frustrating to watch (the thing that I have no way of knowing whether it is Henne's fault or the play calling) is the lack of using the one asset that makes Henne worth the experiment - his arm! I don't know if Henne is throwing check down passes because of the play call, or because he is coached that way, or if it is because he doesn't make the right reads, or if it's because he is just afraid to take a risk. But I DO know that I agree with those of you who have said that "if they aren't going to use Henne's big arm, they might as well put Chad Pennington back in."
Here's the punch line: If Henne is NOT THE GUY, then who is?
I think most everyone can agree that it isn't Pennington. And there are a bunch of folks (myself included) that think Tyler Thigpen has potential to be good. BUT, Ron Wolf, former GM of the Green Bay Packers (among other things) who used to subscribe to the belief that you draft a QB every year, whether you need one or not. And it doesn't have to be with a high round draft pick. The point is, that you take some guy with potential and work him out to see if you can develop him. This concept is infinitely more important to a team who does not have a firmly entrenched and proven starting QB.
The Dolphins struck out with Pat White, and then did not pick up anyone else in last year's draft. And while keeping Chad Pennington around in a glass case, to be used in case of emergency, might be a good strategy for a team expecting to make the playoffs with their starting QB - it is a terrible strategy for a team that has spent the better part of three seasons rebuilding, and has not yet comfortably settled on the long term answer at the most important position on the team.
I'm not saying Henne is a bust, but I AM saying that if they decide after this season to go another direction, they are a year behind in the development process by keeping Pennington rather than getting another young guy to work with this past offseason.
It is starting to make me wonder if there might have been some truth to that report a couple of months back saying that Parcells was "disappointed with Henne's development".
Second, what's with the play calling on BOTH sides of the ball?
I mean, I don't get it.
I am not going to rehash the arguments about not using Brandon Marshall; or why did they get away from Ronnie Brown when he was so effective last week in the first series.... those topics have already been beat to death this week.
I mean, Albert Einstein said that, by definition, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is INSANE! And yet, I keep seeing the strategy and the same failures, week after week, on both sides of the ball.
On Defense, lack of gap control when they KNOW the other team is running the ball. Lack of pressure on the opposing QB in 3rd and long situations. Come on! I haven't looked up the stats, but the Dolphins have to be near the bottom of the league on allowing opposing offenses to convert on 3rd and 10 or longer! What happened to all of those "exotic blitzes of Mike Nolan" that I kept hearing about in the offseason?
On Offense, can you say vanilla, with vanilla on top? The Fins run when they are expected to run (except when it actually works - sorry, couldn't resist that one). And I understand the argument about Marshall being covered, but when does that become a problem with the play designs, and game planning? After the first 3 games? 4 games? Does anyone think that the Tennessee Titans are going to suddenly forget to cover Brandon Marshall this week?
Hey! I wonder what would happen if the Fins would put Henne in the shotgun, and line up in a spread formation with 4 WRs and 1 RB? Oh, and then how about running it out of a hurry up Offense, just to change the tempo? OH, and HOW ABOUT they actually RUN the ball once or twice out of that formation?
Would it work? Probably, but that's not my point. My point is that if what you are doing IS working, keep doing it til they stop it; and if what you are doing AIN'T working - DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT!
Which brings me to the 3rd, and most important question:
HOW MUCH OF THE FINS TROUBLES ARE SPARANO'S FAULT?
This is an interesting question, because the easy answer is to say "ALL of them, since he's the head coach". And that would be true.
But if you asked this same question during Sparano's first year, pretty much everyone would agree that it was not really his fault, due to the overall lack of talent on the roster that he inherited.
The Miami Dolphins are currently fairly talented, but not quite as talented as I anticipated at the beginning of the season. Part of that is due to injuries. But most of any questions you might have about the talent level of the team can be laid at the feet of Jeff Ireland. For those of you that wanted to take a chance with Randy Moss, talk to Ireland. Same for Vincent Jackson, or lack of a NT in the draft (yeah yeah, Parcells, decisions, words, blah blah). But I, personally, do not believe the Fins are failing due to the lack of talent on the team, and am pretty content (overall) with how the team has been put together. There are still a few soft spots in the roster, but the biggest question mark is at QB, and that is something we will (hopefully) get answered by the end of the season.
So if the Fins problems are not due to lack of talent, but is primarily execution.... or preparation.... or play calling.... or game planning.... doesn't it all come back to Sparano?
Here's the problem I have: If Mike Nolan is restricted in his play calling because of Sparano's preference to be conservative, then it is hard to blame Nolan for not blitzing more on 3rd and long, or for the Defense not being more aggressive in general. But how much of the problem can be blamed on Sparano when the problem is the lack of player execution? It is still up to Sparano to fix it. Seriously, halfway through the season and you still want to whine about the players not executing? Sparano, yes. But a little more of the responsibility on Nolan?
Same with the Offense, but I didn't want to bring that up first because many of us (myself included) have already blamed Dan Henning for the Offensive doldrums. But what if Sparano is the one scripting the game plan? And even if he isn't, don' you expect Sparano to take over the play calling if Henning can't get it done?
Do we need MORE Sparano, or LESS Sparano?
The BEST head coaches KNOW their team; they look at the strengths and weaknesses of each unit, and each player in each unit. And then they build the game plan around what the team can do well, and find ways to compensate for areas of weakness. Talent-wise, I have no problem blaming Jeff Ireland for disassembling an Offensive line that was solid in run blocking. So maybe now Sparano can't lean on the run game as in previous seasons. But they seem to be pretty good at pass blocking, and so you have to expect Sparano to use that unit's strength more effectively. Right?
And here is one bonus question to think about:
If Sparano isn't calling the offensive or defensive plays, then exactly what is he doing over there on the sidelines?