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