Saturday, September 25, 2010

Your 2010 Miami Dolphins: Week Two

Wow. A truly stellar defensive effort by the Miami Dolphins. Shutting down the Vikings in Minnesota, forcing four turnovers, and knocking Bret Favre into next week and possibly an early retirement (we'll see). It's been a few years since Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Sam Madison were playing together for Miami and now we're starting to at least see the possibility that the Dolphins may be able to once again field a defense with a number of true stud defenders. Dansby, Vontae Davis, Koa Misi. They all played tremendous football. And look who joined them: Jason Allen. We might finally be able to remove the "Perennial Disappointment" tag from his name. Sometimes you can take a player perceived as a disappointment, surround him with other quality players, give him some good coaching and direction, and lo and behold it turns out the guy's a pretty good player after all. Maybe it was the organization all along.

The offense struggled again unfortunately. They started off promisingly with the bomb to Marshall and the TD to Hartline, but they just couldn't get into a consistent rhythm after that. I'm sure some of it was a conscious decision to go conservative after taking the early lead. But it would be nice to see the passing game start to click a little. In Henne's defense he hasn't thrown a pick yet and his completion percentage is still over 60%. He's not doing anything to put the Dolphins in position to lose games at least unlike a certain two running backs who almost gave away a big win.

Alright, 2-0 is 2-0 and 2-0 on the road is even better. Henne showed what he was capable of last year in primetime against the New York Jets. I'm expecting more of the same Sunday Night.

Earl Morrall Revisited

A while back Past Interference devoted a lengthy series of posts to the career of former NFL quarterback Earl Morrall.  And it's very possible those writings will turn out to be the most important pieces ever posted to this blog, simply because very little has been written about Earl Morrall, a singular figure in NFL history.  A 21-year career.  Started games in 18 different seasons.  Quarterbacked two of the greatest teams in NFL history, the 1968 Colts and the 1972 Dolphins.  A Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the 1971 Colts.  Won an MVP award with one franchise and was NFL Comeback Player of the Year with another.  Yet, as I said, very little attention has been paid to his career. And that little attention paid has mainly concerned Morrall's unfortunate performance in Super Bowl III.  He may not be one of the all-time greats but the rest of Morrall's long and unique career deserves some attention!

When this blog chose to pay some attention to that career what I wrote was not as complete as it could have been and in the interests of historical accuracy I'm going to correct that right now.  Three years ago I did not know Morrall's career record as a starter.  But now, thanks to the invaluable website
, I do.  It's a very good 63-37-3.  A winning percentage of 0.626.  Obviously Morrall didn't win 63 games by himself.  In fact he played for some excellent teams with some stellar teammates and someone might well argue Morrall's success as a starter was due mainly to the quality of his teams.  So how much credit should he get?

What I had done in my earlier posts was take the won-loss records for Morrall's teams in those seasons where he was the primary starting quarterback, add them up, and then compare that won-loss mark to the cumulative records of his teams the year before he became their primary starter (he was never a starter for back-to-back seasons).  No need for such crude methods now.  Now, I can simply compare that 63-37-3 mark to his teams' cumulative won-loss records in the games where Morrall didn't start.  He started at least one game in 18 different seasons.  His teams' cumulative record in those 18 seasons was 145-87-10.  Subtracting the games Morrall started leaves a non-Morrall record of 82-50-7, a winning percentage of 0.615.  So Morrall clearly played on above-average teams, but those teams slightly improved with Morrall as the starting QB. 

I also found out something else new from Pro Football Reference.  I had thought Morrall started the majority of his teams' games in five different seasons3  (1957 Steelers, 1963 Lions, 1965 Giants, 1968 Colts, 1972 Dolphins).  But it was actually six.  Johnny Unitas threw more passes than Morrall for the 1971 Baltimore Colts, but Morrall started more games, 9 (he went 7-2).  So if we add up the games he won and lost as a starter for those six seasons, it totals 46-21-1, a fantastic 0.684 winning percentage.  In the games he didn't start in those six seasons, his teams went 9-5, 0.643.  So again we see Morrall improved his team's record. 

Almost three quarters of Morrall's career wins came in those six seasons and interestingly he was just a perfectly average QB in the rest of his career starts: 17-16-2.  Clearly Morrall's game benefitted when he got to start on a regular basis. 

And since I now know about Morrall's starts in 1971, I might as well more accurately revisit what I did before and compare the records of his teams when he was their starter with how they performed in the year prior to his arrival.  Again, 46-21-1, 0.684 for Morrall.  The cumulative year before (minus Morrall's one start for the 1970 Colts):  49-26-6, 0.642.  So whatever method you choose, you'd have to say Morrall's teams were at least a little better with him then without him.  And overall those teams performed quite well.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Your 2010 Miami Dolphins: Week One

Win number one is in the books and while Miami probably should have whipped the Bills by more than 5 points, let's remember that Miami got their butts handed to them the last time they travelled to Buffalo. The defense played especially well. Dansby was a force. Koa Misi looked. And so did Jared Odrick before his unfortunate injury. The front seven harrassed Trent Edwards all game and, as we saw, he is most definitely not a guy who handles pressure well. It would have been nice if Miami could have stopped that 4th-and-11 and avoided the need for a final defensive stand but for the most part they throttled the Bills.

The offense was more of a mixed bag. The running game was fairly effective but the passing game was very inconsistent. Henne avoided the big mistake at least but the team had no real success with the long pass though Marshall was probably more responsible than Henne on the drop of that sure thing underthrown 50-yard bomb. The toss to Fasano to set up the Ronnie Brown TD was perfect but then Miami settled for FG tries way too many times when they had chances to take control of the game. But watching Edwards crumble under pressure followed by Mark Sanchez' pathetic effort the following day has to make any Dolphin fan feel better about our QB situation.

This week's game in Minnesota's going to be a lot tougher. If Miami can take it then we might really have something going with this team.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The 2010 Season Is Here!

Finally, the NFL is back and the Miami Dolphins will soon be taking the field. Should be Dolphin fans be optimistic? Sure, why not? Parcells and Sparano have methodically jettisoned the mistakes of the Wannstadt/Speilman/Mueller/Saban/Cameron eras and slowly replaced the players from the earlier regimes with better ones (for the most part). The team lacked star players though and recognizing this, the organization traded for Brandon Marshall and signed Karlos Dansby in free agency (and I’m kind of liking the Clifton Smith pickup; he’ll be a better returner than Ginn). Of course not every personnel move made by the Parcells/Ireland/Sparano trio has paid off. Witness the recent waiving of last year’s second-round pick QB Pat White and third-round pick WR Patrick Turner. And Peter King went a little over the top calling Miami’s 2009 draft “disastrous”. Ok, two picks busted but first-rounder Vontae Davis fourth-rounder Brian Hartline are starters and second-rounder Sean Smith will still see the field a lot even if he’s lost his starting gig for now. (You want a disastrous Dolphins draft? Try 1984 or 1987 or how about every draft from 2000 to 2004?

Nobody hits every pick. Not Bill Walsh.  Not Bill Polian.  Nobody.  But you have to like how Parcells/Ireland/Sparano have logically addressed the teams needs over the past two years after taking over a team with a hollowed-out talent base. And not everyone would have approached things the same way. Witness the Denver Broncos shedding quality players from their roster while passing up can’t-miss prospects in the draft to take “character” guys instead. Or how about the Redskins, forever mortgaging their future, trading away draft picks, and year after year riding that veteran free agent train to nowhere. Miami fans have been down that track and we never want to go back.

So I’m not going to lie to you, I’m excited about the Dolphins this year. Mainly it’s going to come down to Chad Henne. I liked what I saw him do last year, the way he approached the game. He rarely did stupid things, he never panicked and he throws a nice deep ball. He looks like a guy who's very confident in his ability.  Hopefully he builds on all that and takes the team to the next level. Having Brandon Marshall around should make that a lot easier. Let’s say 9 wins and a wild card.

I love this time of year. Everybody’s still got a chance. Miami could be the surprise of the league. And all my fantasy football teams can still win it all. I can’t wait for kickoff.

PI does want to note here the departure of one of my favorite Dolphins of the last few years, Greg Camarillo. After unwisely trading away Wes Welker, the Dolphins needed some receiving help in 2007 and picked up Camerillo off of waivers. He only caught 8 balls that year but one of them became one of the great plays in Miami Dolphins’ history, his 64-yard game-winning TD in overtime that saved Miami from going 0-16 season. 2007 was such an awful, awful season and Camarillo’s play gave us the one and only highlight that I never ever get tired of watching. Watch it for yourself

It’s got me in the mood for some NFL football! Go Miami.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't Hate The Raider Hate the Blame: Part Three

Well, Past Interference took a more-than-fair look at each of the Raiders prime Hall of Fame candidates and we’ve come to the only conclusion possible: Raider fans have nothing to complain about. Not one of the 9 candidates has anything like an overwhelming case for the Hall of Fame. No bias. However, I can see how you might cry about exactly two of the players on the list: Tim Brown and Ray Guy.

There’s no definition of a Hall of Famer, no specific list of statistical accomplishments or awards won that automatically open the Hall’s doors to a player. A player just needs to have the kind of career resume that convinces enough voters that he’s one of the best ever at his position. Funnily enough, Guy and Brown kind of have resumes that are the polar opposite of each other. In Guy’s case it’s all about the awards. He was the consensus All-Pro punter six times and he’s the punter on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. No other punter’s ever come close to the kind of recognition Guy received for his punting career. Now, as I’ve already noted, no statistical measure supports the belief that Guy’s the greatest punter ever. But I can see how a fan of Guy could legitimately think the man’s been robbed for years now.

Unlike Guy, Tim Brown’s all about the numbers. Over 1000 catches. 101 TD’s. Almost 15,000 yards receiving. Oh, and commenter JA Morris notes that all of Brown’s punt returns can't be forgotten either (326 punt returns to be exact). And while Brown never made an All-Pro team it’s not like he went unrecognized all those years. He made 9 Pro Bowl squads and got selected as a second team wide receiver on the 1990’s NFL Team of Decade. So while Past Interference’s own opinion may be that as a player Brown’s a cut below Chris Carter, Michael Irvin, Sterling Sharpe, and Mark Clayton, a Tim Brown fan can certainly ask what more was the guy supposed to do to be a Hall of Famer?

Here’s how PI ranks them in Hall of Fame worthiness:

1) Cliff Branch
    Tim Brown (Tie)

I’m having a hard time figuring out which of these receivers deserves the honor more. In my heart of hearts I feel that Branch at his best was better than Brown at his best. But it’s hard to ignore Brown caught over twice as many passes as Branch. However, Branch has got those three Super Bowl rings and was the superior postseason performer. On the other hand, Brown made 9 Pro Bowl teams to Branch’s 4. But, Branch made All-Pro three times to Brown’s none. I don’t know. I lean to Branch but both have solid cases for the Hall.

3) Ken Stabler
4) Lester Hayes
5) Todd Christensen
6) Tom Flores
7) Jim Plunkett
8) Ray Guy
9) Jack Tatum

And here’s PI ranks them all in order of their chances for election:

1) Tim Brown
2) Ray Guy: He’s been a finalist 7 times and a semi-finalist 5 times. At some point the voters are going to get sick of hearing about him and they’ll vote him in just to shut everybody up. Like what happened to Art Monk.

3) Ken Stabler: PI’s as surprised as anyone that Stabler’s not already in. As soon as he became eligible he was a Hall of Fame finalist for two straight years, then dropped off the Hall of Fame map altogether for over a decade. A finalist once again in 2003, Stabler then hit another wall; he’s only made it to the semifinal stage every year since.

He was one of the most famous players of his time. He certainly had a flair for the dramatic (“The Sea of Hands”, “Ghost to the Post”, the last-second 1976 playoff win over the Patriots, the (ugh) “Holy Roller”).  He won two MVP awards. He won a championship. And he won period.  96 games to be exact, still 14th-most all-time by a QB and his winning percentage is higher than all but three (Manning, Montana, Brady) of the guys ahead of him. In fact, of the top 50 winningest QB’s of all-time only five guys have posted winning percentages than Stabler (the above three guys plus Staubach and Jim McMahon). On the flipside he turned the ball over too much, he was immobile, and he went 1-4 and AFC Championship Games but still, it seems like he did more than enough to make the Hall. But he’s not in. Why?

In comments sptfrn writes In comments sptfrn writes that sportswriters have focused too much on Stabler’s off-the-field activities. And I completely agree this focus had helped keep Stabler out of the Hall to date. But I’m not sure the off-the-field stuff is completely irrelevant. If, as legend has it, Stabler studied his playbook by “the light of the jukebox” then can’t we say his off-the-field activities interfere with his on-the-field play? Stabler played with an extremely talented bunch of teammates and a brilliant coach, yet kept coming up short in conference title games. Maybe a certain lack of dedication to football was in fact to blame. I don’t know. It’s possible.

But Stabler probably won enough on the field to justify his induction. Winning and playing in just the one Super Bowl is probably what’s kept him out so far just like it’s what kept John Madden waiting for so many years. Seems like if Madden’s in now though that the QB who won all those games for him ought to be in too. Stabler’s a senior citizen now and if the voters do plan on getting him in someday they really ought to do it while he’s alive. I think he’ll get in soon.

4) Lester Hayes: Might benefit from the concerted effort voters are making to get more defensive players in
5) Cliff Branch
6) Todd Christensen: Doubt he ever makes it
7) Tom Flores: Never
8) Jim Plunkett: Never
9) Jack Tatum: Never