2011 Preview: Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins’ offense had two major problems in 2010:  bad playcalling and quarterback Chad Henne.  The Dolphins’ playcalling was too predictable and conservative in 2010, which made it easier for defenses to key in on Ronnie Brown (now with the Philadelphia Eagles) and Ricky Williams (now with the Baltimore Ravens).  After successfully stopping the run, defenses waited for Henne to make mistakes in obvious passing situations.

Chad Henne must improve his decision-making if the Dolphins are to make the playoffs.

One half of the offensive problems may be solved this season, as it appears that the Dolphins will open up the playbook this season and be more aggressive on offense.  A more aggressive approach will not only make the Dolphins an unpredictable offense, it will also utilize the talent of superstar wideout Brandon Marshall and make the game simpler for Henne.

The other half of the offensive woes lies on the shoulders of Henne himself.  Henne is a talented young quarterback with the ability to make any necessary throw; however, he had a tendency to make bad decisions and throw interceptions.  For his career, Henne has 27 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.  His decision-making must improve this season to improve upon that TD/INT ratio; otherwise, Henne may lose the job to Matt Moore.  This may be Henne’s make-or-break season with the Dolphins; if Henne falters, the Dolphins may explore other options at quarterback.

Henne must reduce his sacks and his interceptions this season and develop more consistency in his play.  Displayed below are 2010 comparisons between Henne and several elite quarterbacks.

Attempts per sack in 2010, (career)
Peyton Manning:  42.44 (31.21)
Tom Brady:  19.68 (19.30)
Chad Henne:  16.33 (17.02)
Aaron Rodgers:  15.32 (12.99)
Philip Rivers:  14.24 (17.54)

Although Henne gets sacked less frequently than Rodgers and Rivers, his decision-making is not on par with theirs.  Below are the attempts per interceptions by these quarterbacks.

Attemps per INT in 2010, (career)
Tom Brady:  123.00 (45.73)
Aaron Rodgers:  43.18 (50.34)
Philip Rivers:  41.62 (42.33)
Peyton Manning:  39.94 (36.41)
Chad Henne:  25.79 (28.88)

Henne throws interceptions at a much higher rate than the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.  Until Henne reduces his interceptions and improves his decision-making, he will never reach his full potential.

In his NFL career, hall-of-fame quarterback Dan Marino averaged 30.96 attempts per sack and 33.16 attempts per interception; these numbers are virtually a mirror image of Manning’s career.

While it would be unrealistic to ask Henne to become another Marino or Manning, it is still necessary for him to improve in reducing his sacks and interceptions this season and beyond.

Reggie Bush

Although I believe the Dolphins made a big mistake in letting Brown and Williams go, their running game has the potential to be strong and help balance the offense.  Newcomer Reggie Bush is an excellent pass-catching running back with the athletic ability to turn short passes into big gains.  Throughout his young NFL career, Bush’s rushing game never materialized; however, he played in a pass-happy New Orleans Saints offense.

With the balanced offense the Dolphins may show this season, Bush’s rushing game might finally reach its potential.  This season will be Bush’s chance to prove he can be a feature back in the NFL.  Regardless of whether or not his rushing game amounts to anything, his athleticism will improve the Dolphins’ play on special teams (if they use him in that capacity) and create mismatches in the passing game.

Newly signed running back Larry Johnson was a good move for added depth at the position.  At one point, Johnson was one of the best running backs in the NFL, having rushed for more than 1,700 yards in back-to-back seasons (2005 and 2006).  Since then, Johnson has failed to amass 1,000 yards rushing in any season.

While I do not expect Johnson to play a significant role in the offense, he adds depth to the position and could be useful in power running situations and goal line situations.  Using Johnson as a bruiser along with Lex Hilliard could limit Bush’s carries a tad and help keep Bush healthy throughout the season.

Defense

The Dolphins had a pretty good defense in 2010 and have the potential to be an elite NFL defense in 2011.  Led by linebackers Karlos Dansby, Cameron Wake and back-again Jason Taylor, the Dolphins have the potential to create havoc for opposing offenses.  Dansby is a superb tackler who can shut down the run (95 tackles in 14 games); Wake is as talented as virtually any pass-rushing linebacker in the NFL (14 sacks in 2010) and may be more dangerous with Taylor’s presence on the field this season.

While Taylor has not put up elite numbers in years, he is still an extremely talented defensive player with great speed and instincts.  Taylor could play a significant role on the defense and possibly return to double-digit sacks this season, especially if Wake and the front defensive line draw double teams to open up the lanes for Taylor.

Prediciton

The Dolphins have more talent than they are given credit for; however, they are a very unpredictable team.  Talent-wise, this is a team that should win nine, 10 or 11 games this season; if Henne falters and Bush struggles or suffers injuries, this team could easily screw things up and win only 6 or 7 games.

I believe the Dolphins will finish 10-6 this season and clinch a wild card berth.  The keys to success this season will be consistent play and mistake-free football from Henne, improved playcalling on offense and sustaining a strong pass rush presence on defense.

Although the Dolphins are not the most talented team on offense, they have enough playmakers to score points.  Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are underrated players.  The more aggressive playbook should lead to more catches and game-breaking performances by Marshall; furthermore, Bush’s presence will create mismatches that open up the field for his teammates (including Marshall).

The Dolphins must improve against their AFC East rivals this season.  The Dolphins were only 2-4 against the AFC East in 2010; their schedule will be tougher this season as they also face the NFC East.  If the Dolphins falter against division rivals again this season, they could fall to only five or six wins (if not less).

The Dolphins’ success or failure this season may ultimately rest on the shoulders of Henne.  If Henne shows significant improvement in his decision-making, the Dolphins will be a playoff team this season.  The talent is there to help Henne produce.  The Dolphins are not talented enough to win on talent alone; however, they are talented enough to win plenty of games with proper execution of their play.  Henne’s execution – or possibly his lack of – this season will be front and center in determining the Dolphins’ record.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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