So is the Miami running game finally back on track? Did the interior Miami O-Line finally start creating space for Ricky Williams between the tackles? Did Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat experience a revival?
And more importantly - Did the play calling on the Miami Dolphins offensive side of the ball actually improve?
Some people seem to think so.
Dave Hyde, of the Sun Sentinel commented:
I generally like what he has to say, even though he is a "glass half empty" kind of guy. But this is just insulting to football fans who actually understand the game. He infers that because the Dolphins won (and in a convincing fashion, I'll concede that point), us fans assume the play calling was good. The corollary of which is that because the Fins have been losing (largely because of lack of offensive output), everyone jumps to the conclusion that the it is Dan Hennings fault.
I got news for ya Davie boy... you keep this up and people are going to start calling you Dave SnHyde. Those of us that actually watch the game, and understand the strategy, can tell the difference between a creatively called Offensive game plan, and a defensive collapse by an opponent.
Here's the deal: There were several factors that contributed to the result Sunday. In my opinion, play calling was NOT one of them. I will say it again, with close captioning for the hearing impaired - THE OFFENSIVE PLAY CALLING WAS NO BETTER, OR WORSE, THAN IT GENERALLY IS FOR THE DOLPHINS.
It was pretty vanilla Dan Henning, with a bit of the Wildcat sprinkled in, and a little Tyler Thigpen for some variety.
Now, that can be taken two ways - You can take the position that the problem with the Miami Dolphins on Offense is NOT the play calling, but is more a matter of execution, and when the Offense EXECUTES the game plan properly, you will most likely get a similar result. OR, you can say that the Dolphins won DESPITE the play calling, because of OTHER FACTORs.
Let's discuss the OTHER FACTORS in the win, before drawing a conclusion...
First, let me get this one off the table right away - I CAN'T STAND THE OAKLAND RAIDERS. More than either the New England Patriots, or the Buffalo Bills, even though those two teams are in Miami's division. The stinkin' New York Jets are the only team that I dislike more than the Raiders, and even though I dislike the Jets more, I also respect them more than the Raiders. Rex Ryan is a fat, loud mouth, jerk, who is a pretty good coach. Tom Cable is a fat, loud mouth, jerk (seriously, who punches their employee just because you aren't getting your way?). The Jets organization has let Ryan build his team, and execute his game plan. Al Davis is a dessicated version of Jerry Jones - without the football acumen. And I am NOT saying that I have a high opinion of J.J., but he is light years ahead of Al Davis in terms of talent evaluation and general management of their respective teams.
Hey, Raider Nation! Instead of "Commitment To Excellence", how about you just change your motto to "We Get Really Excited Over Mediocrity"?
And as far as fans go, who throws batteries at the opposing team...? I mean seriously. Or who curses out little kids for wearing an opposing teams jersey and then throws beer on them? While I am sure incidents happen at ALL stadiums, committed by fans of ALL teams at one time or another, you can count on this being the regular type of behavior from fans of these two teams. I call it "arrogant ignorance".
Can't you just picture a statement like, "We Rule, you suck, now shut the <expletive> up or I'll stab you in the heart!", coming from a fan of either of these teams? The only difference being the accent?
I apologize to the 3 or 4 fans of each of these two teams who are actually decent folks. Generalizations are not absolute.
OK, now, moving on, the point is (yes, there was a point, give me a sec to remember what it was... oh yeah - OTHER FACTORS), that this would/could have been a drastically different looking game if the Raiders had not fallen apart.
First, the Raiders coaching staff, in all of their coaching wisdom, pulled a "Miami" from last week. With an unsettled quarterback situation, instead of establishing a running game, they hand the ball to their best playmaker - Darren McFadden - eight times. Yes, just 8 times! And adding in the other two runs from their other two Backs, the Raiders only used their back 10 times for a combined 1 yard in the run game. Now to be fair, McFadden had 63 yards receiving, on 7 catches, so it's not like the Raiders completely forgot about him.
But instead of running the ball, they decide to put the game on the arm of the backup/starter/injured (I can't keep track) quarterback and let him try to win the game by himself. Sound familiar Fin fans? In fact, going into the game, I was happy to hear that Bruce Gradkowski was starting. I really thought Jason Campbell would have given them a much better chance to win. Campbell is good with screens and using the Tight Ends, but Zach Miller, who is a pretty decent T.E., only caught the ball 1 time with Gradkowski pitching. And we all know that Miami has struggled at times covering decent T.E.s.
Second, the Raiders defense was hobbled. People talk about how good Henne looked going against a Pro Bowl Corner like Nnamdi Asomugha, but they neglect to mention that Asomugha was returning from injury and he was pulled in the second quarter for a bit, before returning in the second half. And the other cornerback, Walter McFadden, was a rookie who hasn't played much this season because of a hamstring tear suffered in training camp.
Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I am NOT belittling the play of Chad Henne. I will get to that in a moment, but let me go ahead and clearly state that I really like the way he played and thought he did a great job.
Third, the play of Chad Henne (told you I'd get to it in a moment). I mentioned last week that I liked the fire and aggressiveness that I saw from Henne in the Tennessee Titans game. Matty, just mentioned something similar in his game recap this week. Henne seems to be playing to win, and it almost looks like he is doing it in spite of the coaching. I admit that I don't know what has actually transpired over the past two seasons in terms of the coaching that Henne has received, but I think it is safe to say that Tony Sparano loves the way that Chad Pennington plays QB and has tried to encourage Henne to play the same way - conservative and mistake free. And while I think there are some good lessons to be learned from that example, I also believe that good quarterbacks play through and learn from their mistakes. With Henne being held on a tight leash with regard to not making mistakes, it looks to me as if the coaching staff might have stunted his development.
There was nothing wrong with the interception Chad Henne threw at the Raiders one yard line Sunday. Not a thing - if he learns from it and improves. Here is what he had to say about that throw:
``I was back there trying to make something happen when nothing was there. They zoned us off, and it was just a mistake where I'm thinking I can get it there with my arm. It was not a very good decision by myself.''
It was a mistake, and young QBs have to make them in order to develop. But it was aggressive, and that has been missing from Henne's game the past year and a half. I don't say this in the afterglow of a delicious dismantling of the Oakland Traitors. I said it to the guy sitting next to me, watching the game, when it happened. If Henne had thrown the exact same ball two more times in the same game? I would probably have started thinking about giving Tyler Thigpen another go. But he didn't. He came right back and kept throwing the ball down the field, and didn't throw another pick.
Oh, and did anyone notice Sparano's lips saying "Ohhh, Come on Chad!"? I personally don't think Sparano wants Henne to take the risks that are needed for Henne to develop his own game. He will never be a "Chad Pennington" clone, and it was my understanding that this is why we wanted him. We needed a guy who could make plays down the field, and you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. So I, for one, am GLAD to see Henne ignoring the coaches and taking some chances.
As skeptical as I was about the idea that benching Henne would light a fire in him, it appears that this is exactly what happened. Henne knows he has nothing to lose by taking chances, since playing conservatively is going to get him benched... and eventually replaced.
So here's the thing....
With everyone taking about the "resurgence of the running game", which came first? Did the Miami Offense win because they ran the ball, or did they run the ball because they were winning?
In the first quarter, the play selection was slightly run heavy, with 12 running plays called, compared to 7 pass plays - and Miami finished the quarter up 10 - 7 over the Raiders.
But in the second quarter, the Raiders scored first and went up 10 - 14, and Miami ended the quarter with 19 pass plays, compared to just 9 runs. Passing to try to catch up.
Third quarter started with Miami throwing 3 times and running twice before passing the Raiders with a score of 20 - 14, and THEN take a wild guess at the play selection for the rest of the game....
With Miami firmly in the lead for the rest of the game, the Dolphins ran the ball TWENTY-FOUR times, and threw it just 5 times.
And one of those runs was the 45 yard touchdown by Ricky Williams, that - let's face it - should never happened. Nothing against Ricky, but everyone and their brother knew the Fins were going to run that ball, and the Raiders had, what? like 9 guys on the line? That was just an embarrassing breakdown by Oakland. =)
Take out Ricky's 45 yard scamper and you are looking at just about 3.0 yards/carry. Doesn't really sound like a particularly scary running game, does it?
So, I ask you again - Did Miami really fix their running game, as all the sports columnists that I have been reading seem to suggest? Or was the running game simply the result of Chad Henne stepping up, and the Oakland Defense melting down?
I love the win! I am not taking anything away from it. But I just think that the O-line is still going to struggle in run blocking, and the offensive play calling is too generic to fool anyone.
But as long as the Defense keeps improving (and I haven't gotten into it this week, but it HAS improved overall through the season), I firmly believe that the Miami Dolphins will live or die each week by the arm of Chad Henne.
If he plays well, the Fins can win in spite of the vanilla play calling, and anemic running game.