Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chambers and Ginn: The saga continues

I wrote not too long ago that the big difference between the failures of professional athletes and the failures of the rest of us is that our failures don’t play out in front of millions of people. Ted Ginn seems like a nice young man. I have no reason to question his work ethic, his heart, his desire, or his will to win. I’m sure he’s trying his absolute best. But he is failing. He just can’t catch, at least not consistently enough to be a reliable receiver for his football team. Hopefully it’s something that’s correctible. (I’m sure it’s not but I’m going to keep hope alive here). Anyway, some clever person has made a Greatest Drops compilation for Mr. Ginn and even more cleverly that person has set it to the tune of Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. I do feel a little guilty about linking to it but (1) it’s funny; and (2) if and when Ginn has another good game it’ll help us put it in perspective.

As for the man Miami hoped Ginn would replace (and surpass) as their number one receiver, his amazing mini-comeback continues. Chris Chambers didn’t just put up a nice game last week, he was the big hero in the Kansas City Chiefs upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now PI doesn’t necessarily want to be the fly in the Chris Chambers ointment but check out the highlight of his big catch that set up the game-winning field goal (it’s at about the three-minute mark). He did a great job taking advantage of a blown coverage to motor down the field but what the hell was he doing at the end there? Doesn’t it look like he could have scored if he’d put his head down and tried to plow into the end zone? Why’d he just nonchalant it out of bounds like that? Get it over the goal line man, this is football! I know he’s apparently rejuvenated with the Chiefs but when I see something like that I can’t say I’m too sorry he’s not a Dolphin anymore.

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Weeks 10 and 11

Two games. Two double digit leads nearly squandered. But two wins.

Unfortunately, the biggest story of the Tampa Bay game turned out to be the loss of Miami’s best player, Ronnie Brown. This just sucks. For the second time in three years the guy gets wiped out in the midst of a phenomenal season. “They” say he should be fully recovered from his lis franc injury by next year. Let’s hope so. But he will be 28 any week now and has now suffered two serious injuries. We know Ricky Williams’ next season is his last so the Dolphins could be looking at the running back position in the 2010 draft.

Other than Brown, the big story from the Week 10 win was the team’s last-second comeback. Miami admirably played aggressively late in the game, throwing on third down in an attempt to get the first down that would all but assure victory. However, Chad Henne made one of the single worst throws I have ever seen, well behind the Miami receiver, into a crowd and into the unfriendly arms of a Tampa Bay defender. Honestly, I just can’t fathom how Henne made the decision to throw the ball to that location at that moment. You could watch that play a hundred times in a row and you would never ever fail to be shocked at what happened. But despite his all-out effort at earning goat horns the Bucs scored fast enough to give Henne a shot at redemption. And he came through! That’s big take away from the game. With the game on the line Henne made two big-time key throws to Bess and made another throw that drew pass interference. Very clutch. And Ricky Williams and Dan Carpenter did the rest. An ugly win. You shouldn’t need a last-second comeback drive at home to beat a terrible team but a win’s a win and the experience should serve Henne well.

Against Carolina the Dolphins didn’t need a comeback drive. They were able to hold off the Panthers late comeback. A strong performance from the defense and running game but the team’s knack of giving up fourth quarter points is becoming a little disturbing. The D should be getting stronger as the game progresses when the offense dominates time of possession. But they’re not. Henne continues to impress with his arm. He’s still not posting big numbers but he’s getting key third-down conversions when the team needs them. I don’t know what to say about Ricky Williams. (I do know I’m going to have to revise my Worst Trade in Miami Dolphins History series of posts when this season’s over). How this guy can play this well at age 32 is beyond me. If he’s this dominant now you almost can’t help wondering what kind of a career he might have had without the mental health issues getting in the way. As a bonus Lex Hilliard looked good in limited action. He needs to be good; Ricky can’t carry the entire load. The coaching impressed me. Despite offensive line injuries that forced a lot of shuffling the line was still able to block effectively. While you can question many of the team’s in-game tactical decisions to date the Dolphins remain a well-prepared disciplined team that sticks to its strengths. Hey, just contrast that with Carolina. Can anybody explain why that team refused to ride Deangelo Williams in the second half?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fourth and Two

As this is a football blog Past Interference was probably remiss in not throwing in its two cents in the matter of the most controversial play call of the year. So here’s PI’s belated take. Man, you would have thought Bill Belichick ran over somebody’s grandmother the way he got slammed for going for it on fourth-and-two from his own 30. Trent Dilfer, Rodney Harrison, and Tedy Bruschi angrily ripped him. Tony Dungy quietly ripped him. And the avalanche of rippery that followed the next morning was divided between those who attributed the gamble to a Belichick brain cramp and those who chalked it up to pure Belichickean arrogance. PI buys neither idiotic “explanation”. Analogize it to a baseball manager who walks a hitter who’s in the zone even if it “the book” says the hitter should be pitched to in that situation. Belichick simply decided his best chance to win was to convert then and there rather than turn it over to Peyton Manning. Even if the Pats don’t convert Belichick probably figured the Colts would score a TD regardless of field position so giving them a shorter field would at least give the Pats some time to come back.

So it was the right call? Obviously no. It didn’t work. Duh. But was it a defensible call? Well in the wake of the post-game vitriol tossed Belichick’s way, up popped a few people a lot smarter than me who coldly analyzed Belichick’s options instead of talking out of their ass and (surprise!) concluded Belichick wasn’t gambling at all. His decision made all the sense in the world. The percentages actually supported it or at least showed Belichick’s decision was a close call.

When New England’s offense came out for the fourth-and-two play I assumed they were going to try and draw the Colts offsides (a stupid assumption as NE had just burned their last time out and couldn’t afford a delay of game penalty). I just couldn’t believe they would actually go for it. You can’t ever truly know the percentages on any given play but at that time the chances of converting had to be less than what the percentages say. Yeah, the Pats have far better personnel than your average team but the Colts knew NE was going to throw. Especially once they lined up in the shotgun. Plus I don’t think the Colts chances of successfully executing a long TD drive if NE had punted were anything close to a sure thing. Manning might be having his best year ever but he was not at his best that night. He mixed in some horrible throws in with his great ones. But while I thought Belichick screwed up I was glad to see a coach rolling the dice like that.

The biggest post-game head-scratcher was Brushci saying his old coach disrespected his defense by going for it. Huh? What if the Pats got the first down? Wouldn’t the defense have appreciated getting to watch the final moments of a win from the comfort of the sideline? If that dissed D hadn’t allowed the Colts to get back in the seemingly over ballgame in the first place Bill B wouldn’t have to make the controversial move. And by letting the Colts easily move the 30-yards needed for the TD didn’t the defense provide ammunition for any belief by their coach that they couldn’t stop Manning? When a coach has to make a key decision with the game on the line must he also now consider the feelings of a key unit of his team in addition to trying to win the game? I’m just trying to imagine this alternate scenario where the Pats convert, win the game, and the defense can take no solace in the huge win over their arch-rival because their feelings are hurt.

Unfortunately for our society it’s now considered normal to turn over valuable television time to people who lack expertise on virtually any subject of importance (i.e. economics, foreign affairs, military matters, social sciences, environmental sciences, technology, psychology, etc.) and allow them to spout their ignorance on everything under the sun and misinform us all. I’d hate to see sports coverage, an easy enough area to develop some expertise in, following the same pathetic path.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy Thanksgiving. And what better Thanksgiving memory could there be for a Dolphin fan than the team's classic 1994 comeback win over the Cowboys in the ice and snow. Enjoy seeing Jerry Jones prematurely raise his arms in triumph and TV analyst Bob Trumpy's realization of which player made the blunder that gave the Dolphins a second chance at victory ("it's Leon Lett. Noooo!").

You know, all Dolphin fans really do have something to be thankful for this year. Just two years ago this team might have been the worst in football. Right there with the Lions, Browns and Raiders of the world. But while those teams remain among the league's worst organizations the Miami Dolphins are defending AFC East champs and right now they're back in the hunt for the playoffs despite an 0-3 start. With the right people in charge things can change quickly. So to Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano, thanks.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Week 9

Before week 9’s loss to the Patriots, you could categorize the Miami Dolphins’ 2009 losses into two groups: losses where Miami was completely dominated and outplayed (Atlanta and San Diego), and losses where Miami should have won but blew the game thanks to their own mistakes (Indianapolis and New Orleans). This one doesn’t fit into either category. Miami played fairly well but they didn’t win. They smartly stuck with the running game. They didn’t make stupid mistakes. They never played themselves out of the game. But they lost because they’re not quite as good as New England. Really, the key difference between the two teams is the passing game, specifically the receivers. Randy Moss and Wes Welker made big plays for the Patriots. No receiver made big plays for the Dolphins. Ted Ginn yet again displayed his ability to drop key passes. Brian Hartline dropped a key pass. It’s never fun to see Welker reeling them in against the Dolphins when he should be reeling them in FOR the Dolphins. I noted the other day that the Cameron/Mueller regime actually did something right in 2007 by getting a second-rounder for Chambers. But that move by Mueller hardly makes up for his asinine move to trade away Welker months earlier for a second and seventh rounder. He all but gave away an All-Pro caliber player! I’m sure when I revise and update my earlier series The Worst Trades in Miami Dolphins History the Welker deal will have a place of honor.

This loss seemingly finished off any realistic shot at playoff spot for the Dolphins but there's still half a season to go and as we saw last year football miracles do happen. The team's still playing well and hopefully Henne can continue to improve down the stretch. But his job's going to be a lot harder than it needs to be if his receivers don't start holding on to the ball. Miami ended last season with a clear need to upgrade at wide receiver. So far it appears that need's still as great as ever.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Monte Clark (1937-2009)

Monte Clark had all kinds of success in the NFL. An offensive tackle, he won a title with Cleveland’s 1964 NFL championship squad and played 11 total seasons in the NFL. He didn’t have a winning record as an NFL head coach but he managed to lead Detroit to the playoffs twice, no small feat given that franchise’s post-60’s history of failure. And of course Clark’s best known success was his six-year tenure as the offensive line coach (and later offensive coordinator) for the Miami Dolphins where he helped build maybe the greatest offensive line of all-time. Certainly the performance of that line was the key to the Dolphins’ success from 1970-1975.

A while back I gave a lot of credit to former Dolphins’ GM Joe Thomas for the all the brilliant moves the organization made in building the Dolphins’ championship teams. However, I now know I gave way, way WAAAYY too much credit to Thomas. It’s kind of embarrassing to have gotten basic facts so totally wrong (and I’ll get around to completely rewriting that earlier post at some point so I won’t link to it, just forget it ever existed!) but I’m going to get them right here. this nice Dave Hyde tribute to Clark makes it quite clear that Don Shula and Monte Clark deserve most of the credit I gave to Thomas. It was Clark who convinced Shula to sign (and start) Jim Langer (a Hall of Famer), Bob Kuechenberg (perennial Hall of Fame candidate) and Wayne Moore (a fine player). And what better evidence of Clark’s greatness as an O-Line coach than the fact all those guys were once free agents given up on by their original teams? Clark saw something in those players missed by everybody else, he got Shula to grab them for nothing and then he molded them and rest of the team’s linemen into a dominant unit.

Monte Clark’s a key figure in Dolphins history and I should also add I can't recall anybody ever writing a single negative comment about the man.

Chris Chambers Catches Up

Did I put some kind of reverse jinx on Chris Chambers? Finding himself on his third team in less than three years, his career seemingly over (or so I speculated), the guy blows up with a huge game. Or rather, a huge final three minutes. He scored two TD’s, nearly brought the Chiefs back from a huge deficit and nearly cost me a much-needed fantasy football victory (my opponent started Matt Cassell). Well, last week Ted Ginn came out of nowhere to make Week 9 headlines before going back to dropping passes and doing nothing in Week 10. Can Chambers produce two weeks in a row?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Catching Up With Chris Chambers

Just as Ted Ginn makes some national headlines so too does his predecessor as disappointing go-to Dolphins receiver, Chris Chambers. Coincidence?

Chambers made some of the most athletic catches you’re ever going to see but he just couldn’t reel in passes consistently; his catch percentages were routinely terrible each season. But I shouldn’t be too unfair to him. While he never became the dominant player Dolphin fans were hoping for he did make a Pro Bowl and he had three different seasons for the Dolphins where he scored more receiving TD’s than Ginn’s current career total of five. Maybe Chambers never broke through to become an elite player but at this point Ginn would have to make serous strides just to become as good as Chambers was in his prime.

The reign of error that was the 2007 Miami Dolphins season has been well-documented. But no one can deny that the Cameron/Mueller regime actually made one small shrewd move while the team collapsed around them. In the midst of disaster Miami traded their best WR Chambers away for a second-round pick. Some criticized the move but in the two years since the trade Chambers has done virtually nothing while Miami used the draft pick they got for Chad Henne. You may have heard of him. Miami got a starting QB. San Diego got a guy who they just waived.

But why’d they waive him? Well you might think it was a matter of declining skills (he’s 29 now) evidenced by an inability to produce despite the presence of an excellent QB and other quality offensive talent. But you’d be wrong. At least according to Chambers.

He claims San Diego dumped him because he’s being stalked by the woman with whom he cheated on his wife. Not sure I’m buying that. I mean, Shaun Merriman’s done worse and he’s still a Charger right? However, I suppose it’s possible Chambers’ messy home life could explain his lack of production in 2009. Surely we’ve all had bad days at work because we’re distracted or consumed by personal problems. Football players are no different. Except their workplace failures tend to play out in front of millions of people. And fans aren’t going to be very understanding either unless you consider the words “You Suck!” to be understanding. On the other hand, who’s going to sympathize with a cheating bastard?

Given that Chambers’ career arc follows a predictable pattern for an aging receiver I’m skeptical of his explanation. But as a Miami fan I rooted for him so I’m going to hope I’m wrong and that somehow, someway he returns to his old productive yet frustrating form as a newly signed Kansas City Chief.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Week 8

A disappointing day on offense and defense but who cares? Sweep baby! Three in a row! The Dolphins first season sweep of the Jets since 2003. The first time they’ve beaten New York three times in a row since 1997! What other info do we need to prove the Parcells/Ireland/Sparano troika is turning around this franchise? Jets lose. Jets lose.

Something interesting’s always going to happen in a Dolphins-Jets game. This time out it was…Ted Ginn? And in a good way? I recently read somebody’s (I forget who’s) speculation that Miami drafted Ginn because they wanted their own Devin Hester. I’m sure that’s right. When Miami took Ginn the Bears had just gone to a Super Bowl with Hester’s phenomenal season as a return-man a big reason why. Miami’s offense was, what’s the word, moribund? Impotent? Embarrassing? Pathetic? So why not draft a guy that at least shortens the field for an impotent offense? It made sense in theory but until last week Ginn was no Devin Hester. He wasn’t anything except a guy everyone hated ‘cause he sucked. No big plays in the return game. And for the most part no big plays in the passing game either. Well, not unless you count catchable balls clanking off his hands into the arms of a defender who proceeds to return it the other way for a TD.

But finally, last Sunday Ginn turned into the Devin Hester Miami was hoping for since 2007. At least for one game. Without his two spectacular back-to-back kickoff return TD’s Miami doesn’t win that game. Did getting called out by Kooch, Mercury Morris and Mark Duper provide sorely needed motivation? Is it a fluke? Who knows but hopefully Ginn can keep stepping it up in the return game. It just doesn’t look like he’s ever going to have the hands to be a dependable receiver for Chad Henne.

Two other notes. First, while so far Sparano appears to be doing a fine job of motivating and preparing his players each week I’m starting to get a little concerned about his technical in-game judgments. The questionable clock management and play-calling in the Indy game, the time out blunder in the New Orleans game, and now the crazy decision to go for two after taking an 11-point lead. It made no sense. With 8:48 left in the game who cares if the lead is 12 points or 13? The Jets needed two TD’s to win either way. But if you don’t make it, which Miami didn’t, the Jets now can tie it with a TD, a two-point conversion, and a field goal. And that almost happened! If the Jets had successfully executed that last two-point try then instead of a game-losing incomplete pass on their last play they probably would have kicked a game-tying FG. It could have been OT in New York (shudder). Sparano lucked out.

Second, I grew up in South Florida and suffered through many TV blackouts of Dolphins home games. So I listened to lots of Dolphins games on the radio as a kid (Rick Weaver was the man). And there’s nothing like the thrill of the hyperactive radio calls of a biased home-town announcing team. Former Fins Jimmy Cefalo, Joe Rose and the great Jim Mandich did the honors last Sunday. I could listen to these over and over again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Weeks 5-7

Overdue for some quick recaps

Week 5

I know it was just an early regular season game but this Monday Night win against the Jets had to be one of the greatest wins of the decade for Miami. No really. I'm not kidding. First of all, beating the Jets is never a bad thing. That makes a game great in itself no? And doing it on Monday Night just adds to the thrill. Can you ever think about these two teams playing in prime team without thinking back to their most memorable Monday Night game: that horrific 2002 collapse when Miami blew the 23-point fourth quarter lead and lost 40-37 in OT. (The defining game of the Wannstadt Era). I still have post-traumatic Dolphins stress syndrome from that game. Finally some payback! Driving the length of the field to break Jet fans hearts with a game-winning TD in the final seconds. Awesome. And maybe the best part was just how great and how clutch Chad Henne played. We’ve been waiting this entire decade for Marino’s successor to show up and in his first start Henne sure looked like he might be that guy. That perfect bomb to Ginn was kind of a shock and everyone took notice when Henne zipped in those critical third down throws to keep that last drive alive. Actually Henne’s performance was the second-best part. The best was the pre-game Jets hype getting flushed down the toilet. “How are the Dolphins and their rookie quarterback going to be to able to handle that Rex Ryan defense?” Oh, we’re so scared. Not a Rex Ryan defense. Just forfeit the game right now. Jaws says they're too good.

Well, everybody got their answer didn't they. Miami handled that Rex Ryan defense by kicking its ass! A great night to be alive.

Week 6

Bye Week

Week 7

The high lasted all of one week. Miami faced an upgrade in quality of opponent in week 6: the undefeated New Orleans Saints. A powerhouse offense led by the man who could have and should have been quarterbacking the Dolphins for the last 9 years, Drew Brees. A surprising defense stifling its opponents weekly. Most were skeptical of Miami’s chances against the Jets the week before. Everybody thought the Saints were taking this one. And surprise! Miami, not New Orleans, looked like the Super Bowl favorite. They outplayed them. They outscored them. They throttled them. They crushed them. Unfortunately I’m only talking about the first half. Miami’s offense kept matriculating the ball down the field and the defense wasn’t letting Brees do anything. And then three disastrous mistakes somehow worked in tandem to turn the game around in New Orleans’ favor just as the first half ended.

First, leading 24-3 with less than two minutes left, the Dolphins had the ball at the Saints’ 40. Another score, especially a TD, probably puts the game out of reach so I understand Coach Sparano’s decision to aggressively press his team’s advantage. But he might have been better served keeping the ball on the ground. Given their remaining time outs Miami still had plenty of time to score. And they didn’t need that many more yards to get into field goal range. But they decided to try to pass it down the field. First play—sack, necessitated a second-down pass, a pass caught by Devone Bess and promptly fumbled. Blunder Number One. Scoring opportunity gone. The focus shifts from scoring to just stopping the Saints and preserving the still fat 21-point lead. Bress did manage to drive the Saints to the Miami 21 and field goal range with no time outs left. But the Saints got greedy. They took a shot at a TD with only 12 seconds left. Brees hit Colston inside the five, not the end zone! Two Dolphin defenders dragged him down at the one before he landed over the goal line and the clock ran out before the Saints could try a FG. 24-3 halftime lead. Scratch that. The clock didn’t run out! It SHOULD have but the refs never saw Colston’s knee hit and so they ruled the play a TD. The worst call in a game filled with bad ones. Blunder Number Two. A replay review correctly overturned it but the game stoppage gave the Saints time for the one-yard field goal attempt they didn’t deserve (there needs to be a rule tweak to address this; maybe some sort of time runoff). Ok, 24-6 is still a three TD lead. Still good. But enter Blunder Number Three (can you enter a blunder?) Sparano called time out! WTF? Given the time to talk about it and the Saints decide to go for the TD and of course they get it. 24-10 at the half. All momentum to the Saints. Second half? Brees picks up where he left off, on fire. Miami made some stupid mistakes (and got screwed by a Saints INT TD return that should have been a touchback for Miami). And so the game was lost. The Dolphins had that game. They should have won it. It could have been their defining game of the season. But they blew it.

Beyond the screwed-up end of the first half, the biggest problem, the biggest disappointment was the offense’s struggles to hold onto the football. The 2008 Dolphins were practically mistake-free. This year’s model keeps turning the ball over and dropping passes. And the biggest offender? Ted Ginn. He just can’t reel in perfectly catchable balls. Between Ginn and the already waived John Beck it’s looking more and more like that 2007 draft was almost as big a disaster as that season itself was.