Sunday, January 31, 2010

Favre: The Sucker Punch

I'm pretty sure I've never ever written anything positive about Brett Favre on this website. I'm just not a fan, essentially for three reasons: (1) Favre extended his career past its natural limit (or so I thought) to break the career passing records of my favorite player of all-time, Dan Marino; (2) the media lauded Favre far far beyond what his on-field play warranted; (3) the annual Favre Retirement Show got old several years ago. Past Interference doesn't dispute Favre's a great player. But surely the countless postseason meltdowns of the past decade should have clued everybody in that Favre's just nowhere near being a contender for the greatest quarterback of all-time.

But PI now admits that Favre's play in 2009 necessitates a reassessment of (some of) the negative words previously posted on this blog, at least in regards to reason one above. After observing Favre's play the last few years, especially down the stretch last year, a ton of people thought the guy was finished. And PI was among that ton. But that ton was clearly, emphatically, demonstrably wrong! Favre posted perhaps the best season of career, at age 40 no less. Dude shut up all the retirement advocates especially the Green Bay management team that got rid of him. Nobody can now dispute that Favre, even at 40, remains one of the league's best quarterbacks and that he was right and everybody else was wrong when he insisted he could still play. Favre knew Minnesota was the perfect destination for him and you have to give him credit, he shrewdly managed to work the system to make that happen.

More credit accured after the Vikings convincingly demolished the Cowboys in the divisional playoff round. Favre stood just one game away from returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years and a Super Bowl ring to cap a great season would have to put him back into the Best Ever conversation right?

I watched the NFC Championship with no real rooting interest but as the game went on PI began to gain new appreciation for Brett Favre. I couldn't help it. Despite taking tremendous punishment Favre kept making big third down throws. I guess the Saints strategy was to pound Favre into the turf but it wasn't working. Sure he was hurting but his team was dominating in yards and first downs. Watching Favre pick himself up over and over after another brutal hit while throwing great pass after great pass for another first down was truly unbelievable. What can I say? He earned PI's respect. Just an amazing performance for anybody. But this guy is 40! The only real problem was this strange football allergy they developed. Favre himself threw a pick but it should have been nullifed after a cheap shot on his lower leg. And despite all the mishaps Favre had the Vikes just shy of field goal territory as the game entered his final minute. His recent past was about to wiped from our collective memory. And then...

Well, we all saw it. The bad play calling, the 12-men-on-the-field-blunder, and then, the piece-de-resistance, Favre's pick. Despite his unmatched history of critical interceptions he might have topped himself with this one. An absolutely inexplicable throw. A horrible horrible throw. All he had to do was just stumble forward for a few yards and his kicker might have pulled it off. I don't believe any of Favre's prior season killers ever prevented a game-winning kick attempt. Nor did they come for a team that had never won a Super Bowl. A true never-to-be-forgotten-as-long-as-they play-football disaster for Minnesota fans. So what do we conclude? Is throwing horrible INT's at the worst possible moments something encoded in the guy's very DNA? Is that possible? Apparently he can't help himself. I just can't believe I didn't see it coming. I thought this time at least, at that moment, the Vikings had the mojo. That Favre had the mojo. He was still playing well. He knew what he had to do. And then he threw a pick anyway!

Favre suckered me. I thought he was going to pull it off! How did I not see it coming? I admired the grittness and the toughness, ignored the very real history and consequently never saw the inevitable ending coming. Favre's season ended the only way it could. If he wants to come back for another year he should come back but he's never going to win another Super Bowl. He can't overcome his fatal flaw. I should have known that. I blame myself.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: The Wrap-Up, Part I

7-9. Obviously a disappointment coming just one year after an 11-5, division-winning, ten-game turnaround season. But not totally unexpected. The 2008 team saw lots of things go their way, especially the injury bug. The team repelled it in 2008. I guess the normal thing to do here is to analyze the performance of each unit of the team and assign it a grade. But I refuse to do that. I don't feel qualified. I'm not any kind of personnel expert. I'm just gonna give my general impressions of what I saw this year. Quarterback's the one position I have the most to write about as I'm your typical football watching fan who mostly just follows what the QB is doing until he lets go of the ball. So I'll long-windedly address that position in this post and talk about the rest of the team next time.

Alright, in 2008 the Dolphins got MVP-type quarterbacking from imported free agent veteran quarterback Chad Pennington. If you needed an adjective to describe Pennington than you could do worse than "oft-injured". In 2008 he stayed uninjured. In 2009 we got the "oft". But even when Pennington was healthy the team dropped all three games he started. So the organization might have been considering making a quarterback change anyway but once Pennington was relegated to the sidelines for the year Miami was forced to unwrap their 2008 2nd-round pick Chad Henne and thrust him into the starter's role. So how'd he do?

I thought he played fairly well all things considered. His stats aren't great but they're not bad at all for a first-year starter. What I saw in general was a QB with a strong arm, who can make tough throws when necessary, and who doesn't panic when a play breaks down. Sure he made obvious mistakes but Henne didn't go the Rob Johnson/David Carr route and hold onto the ball taking unnecessary sack after unnecessary sack. Henne ranked a solid 12th in sack percentage. Nor did he do the other worrisome thing a young QB will do, repeatedly force the ball into a crowd creating interception opportunities rather than throw the ball away or take a sack. Not that he never did these things. But to my eye he showed good pocket presence given his inexperience.

His TD/INT ratio was poor but nobody should make too much of that. The current Dolphins team prefers to run in the red zone and once Henne took over the team would make a special effort to limit opportunities to throw interceptions in scoring position. The more important stat to look at I think is interception percentage. And there Henne ranked 23rd. Not great but just a hair behind the Mannings, Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan. And well ahead of the disastrous numbers of a Jamarcus Russell, a Matt Sanchez, or a Josh Freeman. You can't say Henne had an INT problem last year. It was the same story with his yards per attempts. Again ranking 23rd. Below average again but given his inexperience and the team's desire to play conservative football it's understand something to build on. It should also be noted that the Dolphins played an extremely difficult schedule in 2009. That's got to be factored into any evauation of Henne. And the super-smart guys at Football Outsiders do factor that into their year-end QB ranking and they've got Henne ranked 17th for the season. The middle of the pack. Not bad for a first-season. Check out just how much better he played than 2009's other QB newbies Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and Matthew Stafford. And Henne wasn't that far behind Second-year starters Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.

The FO rankings have Ryan 13th. In 2008 he was an incredible 7th in his rookie season. Miami passed on Ryan to take Jake Long and when Ryan lit up the NFL right away you had to wonder if that would be one of the organizations all time draft-day blunders. Jake Long looked solid as a rookie but you never want to pass up a franchise QB if you don't already have one. You just don't. Miami's been lookoing for one for a long time now. But Ryan regressed in his second season, Henne showed promise, and Long made the Pro Bowl. So for the moment PI can scratch the "Jake Long over Matt Ryan: Dear God Why?" entry off its list of future blog posts.

Maybe Henne's most impressive feat were the three fourth quarter comebacks he engineered. Henne led a game-winning drive in all three. It might not sound like a lot
but if you can do that every year for 15 years you're up there with some all-time greats. We can't say yet if Henne's the long-term solution at quarterback. But I certainly saw enough to say it's more of a possibility than it was one year ago. Progress!

The true disappointment at QB in 2009 was the play of Pat White. Miami drafted him to be a major cog in its Wildcat offense. But all we got was a minor ineffective cog. He missed on all five of his passes and averaged only 3.9 yards a carry on his 21 rushing attempts. With a QB back there running the offense with the supposed threat of the pass the Wildcat should be even more dangerous. But with White so useless on offense the team had to keep running the Wildcat almost exclusively through Ronnie Brown and when he went out for the year they simply scrapped it when neither White nor Ricky Williams could properly execute it. White cost Miami a second-round pick and it's too soon to write him off but we didn't see one thing yet to justify the pick. So the in-season trade for Tyler Thigpen looks pretty shrewd. He showed real ability in 2008 and some more in the 2009 finale. As I said in my last post, he might be the viable backup the team needs.

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Week 17

The pain of the Dolphins' disappointing season has finally subsided, finally allowing PI to return and chronicle it's bitter ending. However, illness prevented me from watching all but the final minutes of the Week 17 finale so I don't have much to offer. I do know that for the third week in a row the Dolphins came out flat, got way behind early, made a huge comeback to get back in the game, and still lost. If they could have won two of those games they make the playoffs. (And made my preseason 9-7 prediction look Brilliant!). Instead, the season's bookended by 0-3 losing streaks, the team finishes four games worse than last year, they're only the third-best team in its division, and we're all left to wonder if we should be optimistic or pessimistic about the team's future. I'll have some thoughts on this soon, but needless to say the regular season ended far less happily tha it did just one season ago.

If I had to find a bright spot in the loss to the Steelers, I suppose it would have to be the play of third-string QB Tyler Thigpen. From what I saw of him back in 2008 he showed some potential while playing for a terrible team. And he showed a little more of it against the Steelers in the Dolphins' finale. Of course potential doesn't actually mean good and Thigpen thwarted his own comeback story with a killer of an interception that essentially cost Miami the game. But Thigpen showed a lot more in one half of football than we've seen from Pat White all year. With Pennington's future in question and White yet to show anything (more in my next post on this) Miami needs a viable backup to Henne next year. Thigpen might be the man.