Twenty offensive points in total over the course of two games is not what
anyone expected out of an offense loaded with skill position talent and
buttressed by a strong offensive line.
As always, the quarterback is an easy target. Chad Henne understands this
all too well. And while the stats strongly suggest that the offense is indeed
playing down to his level, the issue is not that clear cut.
Where it comes to the passing game, it doesn’t matter that the Dolphins
have a very good offensive line.
It doesn’t matter that they have two Pro Bowl caliber runners.
It doesn’t matter that they have one of the best receivers in football, a
Pro Bowler coming off of three consecutive 100 catch seasons.
It doesn’t matter that they have a seasoned offensive coordinator.
It only matters if all of those pieces are working well together. Through
the preseason and halfway into September, they haven’t been.
Case in point: Against the Buffalo
Bills, a bottom third defense, Henne was allowed to throw 34 passes. The good
news is that the Bills didn’t catch any. The bad news is that the Dolphins
didn’t, either…not for touchdowns anyway. Thirteen offensive points is all the
offense could muster, thus keeping the Bills in the game throughout.
In the big win at Mall of America Field, coach Tony Sparano inexplicably
junked his balanced attack philosophy to force the run against one of the
toughest run defenses in the league; this he demanded at a two-to-one ratio
versus the pass, citing “run-first philosophy” and other such bravado.
The plan was a failure, akin to beating one’s head against a wall. Aside
from Ronnie Brown’s one long run of 51 yards, which ended up going to waste
scoring-wise, the Dolphins gained just 69 yards on 28 carries (2.5 yard
average). Meanwhile, Henne set a new low for pass attempts in a half (5) with
two first quarter plays representing 45% of his overall yardage. In summary, it
was mostly dink and dunk, ground and pound to the tune of seven lousy points.
The effort was unwatchable.
I know; this all sounds like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth. They
won the games, didn’t they? Who cares how they did it?
Objectively, it would be foolish to credit the wins to anything other
than good fortune and a lights out defense that could end up ranking among the
best in team history. That’s a nice combination, but it won’t get the Dolphins
to the postseason.
To my untrained eye, there are two primary reasons why the offense is
The first is Henne. He still isn’t comfortable reading defenses and making
quick decisions. For those of you who don’t have an appreciation for this
process, let me say that it is one thing to do it in practice, with a
non-contact jersey on, and quite another to do it at game speed with over a
thousand pounds of malice trying to tear your head off. Think about that,
because in the course of gaining that comfort Henne has to also worry about not
doing anything to hurt the team (i.e. interceptions).
Unfortunately, Henne’s average yards per pass completion (6.0) and the
percentage of passes that are being caught for first downs (28.6) are among the
worst in the league right now. Not surprisingly, the number of punts ranks
among the most.
The encouraging news is that a) the receivers are getting open,
especially Brandon Marshall who has yet to be single covered, b) the offensive
line is giving Henne ample time to throw, and c) Henne isn’t throwing
The second reason is that playing safe with a lead, any lead, seems to be
the philosophy of this coaching staff. Essentially, Sparano wants the other
team to prove to him that he needs to take chances. Objectively, it makes
sense; rely on the strengths of your offense which are the running backs and
the offensive line. The Dolphins are also the least penalized team in the NFL
and possess a Top 5 defense. On the road, in a hostile environment facing QBs
with issues, the odds are on Sparano’s side.
But this conservative approach won’t stand up for the duration. Sooner or
later, the offense will have to start producing more than six yard check-down
passes on third and long to keep the chains moving. That means a mid to deep
passing game, which Henne has the arm to promote. Until this happens, however,
points will continue to be scarce and losses will start to mount.
A worried Sparano knows it, too.
“I’m concerned, yeah”, confessed Sparano. “Hey, I want to score more
points than that, no question about it, and I think we have to. I have great
confidence that this group will continue to get better. I just don’t have a crystal
ball in front of me here, and they have to understand the urgency right now in
that we are really close in a lot of situations, really close. We’ve got to get
over the hump in some of those situations, and I think we will.”
That’s good, positive talk from a man who must convey that face to the
public. Behind the closed doors in Davie, the answers must be fleeting or it
wouldn’t be taking this long.
Clearly, Sparano and Henning can open up the playbook IF the offense
proves they are ready for it. This brings us back to Henne. Is HE ready for it,
especially against an aggressive blitzing scheme like the Jets use?
Ideally, enough wins keep coming so that the Dolphins can afford to be
patient with Henne’s growth process. That patience has a limit, as it does with
any player. While Sparano is clearly worried about Henne’s slower than hoped
pace, he understands that it is essential for team’s long term success that
they stay the course with him until they find out if he has the goods.
In the meantime, Sparano would be less than human if he weren’t thinking
how much easier things would be with Chad Pennington running the show.
I know I am.