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.

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