These are difficult days for the Miami Dolphins and their fans. The team failed to meet the fan base’s playoff expectations, and now we are all stuck with two meaningless games to finish out the year.
The Dolphins’ fate of a disappointing 2010 may be sealed, but you can argue that there will be plenty to play for from an individual standpoint as several job statuses remain up in the air. With so many crucial decisions pending for Stephen Ross to make, these last two games could make or break tenures in Miami.
1. Chad Henne’s last chance?: With how inconsistent Chad has been this season, we may be on the verge of witnessing his final two games as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback. Fans have already begun to throw out possible replacements like Donovan McNabb in free agency or Cam Newton in the draft, but I still feel like Henne could save his job with back-to-back impressive showings.
Mostly, I’m just a little reluctant to give up on the kind of potential Henne has shown when I think we can all agree that he hasn’t been giving the best chance to succeed this season with Dan Henning calling the shots. To get a definite answer on whether or not they should bring Henne back for a fourth season, the Dolphins should really let him off the leash in these last two games. This football team doesn’t have a whole lot to lose, and conservative play-calling will only be a waste of everybody’s time. It’s time to see Henne air it out early and often.
2. Can Sparano afford to lose to the Lions?: Fans are pretty split on whether or not the Dolphins should fire Tony Sparano for such mediocre results this season. But it’s fairly obvious Sparano’s approval has dropped considerably after the losses to the Browns and Bills. The Patriots are the best team in football right now and if they play their starters I don’t think losing to them to close out the season is going to lead to any firings. But a lose this Sunday to the Lions, which would make three losses in four weeks to an inferior opponent and would drop the Dolphins to a tie with the putrid 07’ squad for a franchise-worst 1-7 at home, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Well another disappointing, heartbreaking season is just about in the books. What makes things even more sickening this time around is that we all know the Dolphins have the pieces to be much better than 500.
Their fourth overall defense tells us this team should be right in the thick of things. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that the Dolphins would be 6-1 on the road with one trip to Foxboro remaining, I would have said it would be unfathomable for this team to already be eliminated from playoff contention.
Yet here we are. Wildly inconsistent quarterback play, horrendous play-calling on Dan Henning’s part, disastrous special-teams play at times, and the falloff of what was one of the league’s elite ground attacks has ultimately doomed the Dolphins. With more questions than answers, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, should the Dolphins stay the course, or is it time for change once again in Miami?
I’m still very indifferent about Chad Henne. This Sunday’s loss against the Bills pretty much summed up his career so far. Did we see some good things? We saw a pretty solid fourth quarter, where Henne was in a great rhythm that was only interrupted by a mind boggling wildcat call and Dan Carpenter’s nightmare afternoon.
But we saw yet another costly mistake, where Henne tried to force in a dump off to Patrick Cobbs and was picked off on third and long. We also saw Henne look incapable of managing the football game with a wasted timeout late in the fourth quarter and a couple little dink and dunks with no timeouts and less than a minute left to play.
Part of me says that there is absolutely no way somebody who is on the verge of blossoming into a franchise quarterback would ever make some of those silly mistakes. The other part of me is still curious to see how Henne would perform with better coaching and an offensive coordinator who understands how the game of football is played these days.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, though. The Dolphins would only be doing a disservice to their elite defense and solid receiving core if they put off replacing Henne and he never turns out to be the guy. Because if they give Henne another chance and 2011 goes the same way this year has gone, they would have only wasted another season with a defense that is capable of winning now.
Personally, even though these final two games are nauseatingly meaningless, I’m interested to see if Henne can put together a strong couple games. If he does just that, I think the Dolphins should consider giving him another chance with a credible offensive coordinator if a quality starter doesn’t become available in free agency and Ryan Mallet doesn’t fall to them in the draft.
A year ago, the Dolphins collapsed down the stretch by losing their final three games, but many fans pointed to their 31-14 embarrassing loss to the Bills in Week 12 as the game that killed their playoff push.
It's a·few weeks later·in the year this time around, and the Dolphins' playoff hopes are a little more bleak, but once again, the Bills have a great opportunity to play spoiler to their AFC East rival.
If you've paid attention to this Bills' team ever since their bye week, they·have been·playing pretty solid football and have unanimously earned the respect of being a better team than their 3-10 record suggest.
Having said that, the Dolphins are the favorite for good reason, and they should keep their season alive for at least one more week with a win tomorrow if they can avoid the kind of mistakes that cost them two weeks ago against the Browns.
Run, Run, Run
I don't think the game plan offensively has been this obvious all season long. Chad Henne is playing the worst football of his young career, the receiving core will continue to miss the presence of Brian Hartline, and the Bills have the league's 32nd ranked run defense.
If that doesn't scream run Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams all game long, maybe Dan Henning really has lost his mind. The Dolphins' ground attack has yet to return to form, largely because of the struggling interior offensive line, but I think we saw some positive signs last week against the Jets.
They averaged well below the four yards-per-carry benchmark last week, but Ronnie and Ricky combining for 89 yards against the league's third best run defense is certainly something to build off of.
The R&R Express' glory days are a thing of the past, but as long as the Dolphins' remain disciplined and committed to the run, this running game is going to begin to have some much needed success. It may serve as only fool's gold, but I see Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams looking like their old selves for one day tomorrow afternoon.
Protect the football
Two weeks ago against the Browns, we saw firsthand what can happen when a superior team turns the football over. No disrespect to Cleveland, a win is a win, but let's be honest, it was clear who the better football team was that day.
The Dolphins were dominate on defense and moved the ball enough to win the game on offense, but three Chad Henne interceptions later and the Dolphins had themselves another home loss.
At the beginning of the year, we all called for Chad Henne to come out of his shell a bit and for this offense to be less conservative. With how dominate this defense is playing now, how poor Chad Henne had been, and how productive the running game projects to be, it may be time to return to Henne's afraid to make a mistake ways.
If the Dolphins can protect the football and run it consistently, the defense should be able to carry them the rest of the way. Sure, Henne is going to have to make some plays here and there to keep drives alive and to remain somewhat balanced offensively, but priority number one should be protecting the football.
No time for a setback on defense
With how dominate this defense has been in recent weeks, the future of this football team is suddenly starting to look a little more promising. What a difference a week could make, though, if the defense takes a big step in the wrong direction against an injury depleted Bills' offense.
With no Lee Evans, the Dolphins' biggest responsibilities will be shutting down receiver Steve Johnson and running back Fred Jackson. Johnson has quickly emerged the Bills' go-to receiver as he is narrowing in on the 1,000 yard mark and has already contributed nine touchdowns.
Jackson on the other hand, has historically been a pain in the Dolphins' side, but with the way this run defense has been coming together lately, I personally don't see him continuing that trend.
Still though, consistency is what separates the good defenses from the truly elite. And although we've seen about three straight weeks of dominate defensive football, Mike Nolan's unit still has a lot to prove.
Let’s kick start our previewing for the Dolphins-Bills game this Sunday, by welcoming in Joe Pinzone from Buffalo Wins. Joe and I exchanged a Q&A segment before the Week 1 matchup in Buffalo, but since then, the Bills appear to be a completely different football team.
They have only accounted for three wins on the season, but they are finally getting solid play at the quarterback position and have given Super Bowl caliber teams like the Ravens and Steelers a run for their money. Let’s see what new insights Joe has on the improvements the Bills have been making. Also be sure to check out the questions I answered for Joe regarding the Dolphins right here.
Phins Phocus: What is the biggest difference between the Bills' team that started the season 0-8, and the team that has currently won three of their last five games?
Buffalo Wins: I know this will sound bad, but I think the schedule getting easier has a little to do with it. The 3 teams that the Bills have beaten have a combined 10 wins. On the other hand, the team has remained very competitive against the likes of the Patriots, Ravens, Chiefs and Steelers. I think a lot of the credit goes to the way the Bills have balanced their offensive attack. Fred Jackson is running the ball hard and has gone over a 100-yards in each of the Bills three wins. When the Bills were 0-8, the team seemed to rely to heavily on Fitzpatrick, as during a three game stretch, the Harvard product attempted 143 passes. That’s just too much of an omen to put on Fitz’s arm. In the Bills three wins, the QB has cut down on his throwing attempts to 27 per win, while the team has averaged 27 rush attempts. Again, it’s all about balance. The defense still has issues, but over the last 5 games, they have only given up an average of 16 points. I guess they have a bend, but don’t break defense.
Phins Phocus: Ryan Fitzpatrick has turned some heads as the starting quarterback. Do you think he can be the long-term answer or will the Bills look to invest their first round pick into possibly finding their guy?
Buffalo Wins: Worst case scenario, he can keep the seat warm for a year or two. The thing I’ve been preaching about the Bills rebuilding process is that it’s going to take 2-3 years to really turn this thing around. The Bills will be picking in the top 10 come April and have a lot of holes to fill. The one thing I don’t want them to do is reach for a QB. If their draft board has a QB listed as the top player for their selection, then they should draft one. If it doesn't, see you next year. I think the Bills need more defensive help than anything else right now. As for Fitzpatrick, he’s been a better game manager of late and I’m willing to be more patient with him because he’s only started a little more than 2 seasons worth of games. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Fitzpatrick gives them options.
Click "Read More" to continue reading and see Joe's prediction for Sunday
Once the euphoria of beating the Jets wears off, the reality of the playoffs being on the brink of out of reach once again sets in. Sure, Sunday’s win in the Meadowlands prolonged the Dolphins’ slim hopes, and at least prevented next week from being meaningless, but as long as there is hope, nobody is going to be satisfied with anything short of the postseason.
Those slim hopes may have become a tad more realistic if the Texans would have pulled off a win against the Ravens last night, but as we stand now, the Dolphins best chance of sneaking into the playoffs would be to win out and hope the Jets continue their late season skid.
Let’s take a look at the Dolphins’ playoff scenarios.
-Dolphins win out
-Jets lose to Steelers in Week 15 and Bills in Week 17 (Week 16 against Bears would be irrelevant in this scenario)
-Chargers lose one more game (vs. 49ers, at Bengals, at Broncos)
-Colts lose one more game (vs. Jaguars, at Raiders, vs. Titans)
-Dolphins win out
-Jets lose to Bears in Week 16 and Bills in Week 17 (under this scenario Week 15 against the Steelers would be meaningless)
-IF Chargers win out, Chiefs would then need to lose to either Titans in Week 16 or Raiders in Week 17
-IF Colts win out, Jaguars would then need to lose to either Redskins in Week 16 or Texans in Week 17
-Dolphins win out
-Ravens lose out (vs. Saints, at Browns, vs. Bengals)
+ Two of the following three
-Chargers lose one more OR Chiefs lose in Week 16 or 17
-Colts lose one more OR Jaguars lose in Week 16 or 17
-Jets lose to Steelers/Bills OR Bears/Bills
-Dolphins beat Bills and Patriots but lose to Lions
-Jets lose out
-Colts finish 9-7
-Chargers finish 9-7
*All scenerio's possibly subject to current common opponents winning percentage and strength of victory tie-breakers holding up
Is there any doubting how far the Dolphins’ defense has come this season? Despite arguably the most inept offensive performance of the year, the defense rose to the occasion time and time again and helped the Dolphins keep their dismal playoff hopes alive for at least one more week.
Chad Henne completed a miserable 27 percent of his passes, the running game may have been slightly more productive than expected but that’s not saying much, and the offense fumbled the ball over to the Jets three times. Overall, just about as ugly of a performance as you can have on the offensive side of the football.
But how about that Dolphins’ defense? They set the tone early on with Nolan Carroll’s pick and Quentin Moses’ fumble recovery, which led to the only points the Dolphins’ needed in the first quarter, and they didn’t give up a touchdown the rest of the way.
With the playoffs being such a long shot and Chad Henne struggling as much as he has these past two games, fans may still want to focus on some of the negatives, and understandably so, but this defense deserves all the credit they get for how dominate they have been in recent weeks. And the good news is, they’re young, and arguably a couple key resignings away from sustaining this level of play for years into the future.
The playoffs may have to wait due to the struggles on the other side of the ball, but let me just defy logic for you and proclaim that the future isn’t nearly as dire as some fans have been saying lately when the Dolphins have found themselves a defense like this.
Another unit that put in a good days work was the Dolphins’ special-teams. And when I say special-teams I’m mainly just talking about Brandon Fields on this day. The coverage units were fantastic as well against a dangerous return team, but Brandon Fields was my MVP in a game that was a virtual field-position battle from start to finish.
The Dolphins’ offense didn’t help out the defense much at all buy going three and out inside their own twenty on several occasions, but each and every time Brandon Fields sent off a boot that prevented the Jets from taking over in great position to put points on the board.
Overall, this may just be another up in what has been a roller coaster of a year, but it’s always a little higher up when it’s the Jets who the Dolphins have beaten. Enjoy the win!
Game Ball: Brandon Fields, 10 punts, 49.6 yard average, long of 69no comments
Unfortunately the blog had to take a little bit of a hit this week, as all my procrastination near the end of my college semester finally caught up to me. That’s something that won’t happen often, as I usually like to post something just about every day. But nevertheless, I thought I should at least get in my keys to victory for this always pivotal division rivalry.
The Dolphins’ slim playoff hopes all but ended on Chad Henne’s third interception against the Browns last week, but as long as they’re still mathematically alive, Dolphin fans have no choice really, but to keep on believing. After all, we did see these New York Jets sneak into the playoffs last season only a couple weeks after Rex Ryan conceded in a press conference that they weren’t going to the playoffs that year.
Although, the Dolphins have no choice but to win their remaining four games and get a whole lot of help along the way, if they can take this thing one week at a time and keep their slim hopes alive for at least a couple more games, we could be in for, at the very least, an exciting finish to the season. And while an exciting finish doesn’t guarantee anything, and in all likelihood won’t result in a playoff berth, anything beats meaningless December football.
A game against the Jets will always have plenty of meaning to it regardless of the standings, but a loss tomorrow in the Meadowlands would officially end any small hopes the Dolphins have and would turn the final three games of the season into preseason like exhibitions. So let’s see what the Dolphins have to do to avoid that fate.
Put the ball in Sanchez’s hands
If there is anything to be excited about in Dolphin land these days, it’s how dominate this front seven has been against the run in their last two games. The Dolphins engulfed Darren McFadden and the formally second overall rated Raiders’ rushing attack two weeks ago, by holding them to a mere 16 yards on 12 carries. Then, last week, the Dolphins held the second coming of Larry Csonka, Peyton Hillis, to 57 yards on only 3.2 yards per carry.
For the Dolphins defense to continue to quietly emerge as one of the league’s elite units, they are going to need another big day from their front seven. The Jets currently rank fourth in the league with nearly 150 yards on the ground per game. With the weather projecting to be cold, wet, and windy, the Jets will likely make a concentrated effort to pound the football early and often.
If the Dolphins can shut down the run off the bat, though, Mark Sanchez will be asked to make some big plays for the Jets’ offense. We saw last week how much he struggled when the Jets were forced to become pass happy playing from behind. Sanchez typically doesn’t play well in poor conditions, and the Dolphins could sure use a few turnovers to jumpstart an inconsistent offense. Now, let’s just hope the Dolphins’ DB’s can hang on to the football.
Chad Henne: continue stellar play against the Jets
Say what you want about how inconsistent Chad Henne has been, but two of his best performances as a pro have come against the Jets. Of course I’m referring to last year’s epic last minute drive on Monday Night Football and Week 3 this season when he threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Jets will have Darrelle Revis back this time around, but fortunately for the Dolphins, Brandon Marshall will likely make his return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him two weeks. In a couple other injury blows, Brian Hartline and Vernon Carey didn’t make the trip up to New York, so Henne will be without his other starting receiver and starting right tackle. But in order for the Dolphins to win on Sunday, we will likely need to see another big game and bounce back performance from Henne that just may save his job in Miami as the starting quarterback.
We know the Dolphins probably won’t be able to establish much of Ronnie and Ricky against the Jets’ defense which ranks third against the run. So Chad Henne is going to need to play consistent, mistake free football in order for the Dolphins to have a realistic chance at winning this game. Not exactly the easiest person to trust nowadays, but there is no doubting how much the Dolphins need him tomorrow evening.
Have a big day on special-teams
Thinking back to last year’s win in the Meadowlands, it wouldn’t even have been possible, if it weren’t for a couple jaw dropping Ted Ginn Jr. kickoff returns. Obviously, we probably should never expect that type of performance ever again from the Dolphins on special-teams, especially this year when they have been disastrous at times, but a solid outing in the kicking game will do wonders for the Dolphins’ chances.
I would love to see Nolan Carroll finally break out for a big return, as he’s been oh so close on several occasions, but in reality, I would be perfectly content if the Dolphins limit the impact Brad Smith has on this game. Smith is one of the league’s top kickoff return men this season, with four 40+ yard returns and one touchdown.
With how poorly the offense is playing, the Dolphins must keep this game low scoring. Their defense is certainly capable of doing that, but one or two mishaps on special-teams would likely be too much to overcome.no comments