Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

How big of an impact will Chad Pennington's injury have on Miami's offense? How is the Wildcat doing in year two? Get these answers and more in Part I of our Behind Enemy Lines look at the Dolphins with Alain Poupart of Dolphins Digest...

Q: First, the obvious. Miami recently traded for Tyler Thigpen and already has Chad Henne. How will the Dolphins react to Chad Pennington's season-ending injury. Do you think either Thigpen or Henne can right the ship on offense?

A: Let me start by saying that Chad Pennington was not -- in any way, shape or form -- the reason for Miami's problems on offense. The biggest issue, as we knew it would be heading into the season, is the lack of a game-breaker. Here's a stat that should blow you away: In their first three games, the Dolphins' longest play from scrimmage is a 27-yard completion from Chad Henne to Ronnie Brown in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's game at San Diego.

The Dolphins are third in the league in run offense, third in time of possession and first in third-down conversions, yet they can't score much because it takes them soooo many plays to drive down the field. The perfect example was the opening drive at San Diego when the Dolphins marched 94 yards, only to see a botched handoff go through the end zone for a safety. Henne will get his big chance starting Sunday. The Dolphins drafted him to be the quarterback of the future, but he really doesn't look ready to be a difference-maker just yet and his lack of weapons at wide receiver won't help, either. I would expect the Dolphins offense to be mediocre at best through the entire season.

Q: Speaking of Pennington, how much did he mean to this team -- on and off the field?

A: Only about everything. On the field, he was the guy who made the offense go. Just look back at last year when he finished second in the MVP voting and became the first quarterback in NFL history with at least 3,500 yards passing in a season with no more than seven interceptions. That's pretty heady stuff. But it's only part of what Pennington meant. From the moment he got to Miami last year, he became a leader. He made it a habit to stay late after practice to work with his receivers, call impromptu meetings and even had teammates over at his house for a barbecue. He was elected a team captain both years he's been in Miami, and while the defense has three captains this year, Pennington was it on offense. His injury really was a devastating blow is so many ways.

Q: I'm sure you're tired of the word "Wildcat" by now. But how has the offense Miami made famous been so far in year two?

A: Wildcat? What's that? Just kidding, obviously. The Wildcat has been doing great, and is a big reason the Dolphins have that ranking of third in the league in rushing. If you saw the Monday night game against Indy, you saw the Dolphins just carve up the Indy defense with it. In that game alone, the Dolphins ripped off runs of 9, 13, 15, 14, 19 and 8 yards out of the Wildcat, and that led to them rushing for 239 yards and controlling the ball for a whopping 45:07. What the Dolphins haven't done out of the Wildcat yet this season is throw the ball, and that better be coming because opposing defenses are going to start stacking the line and blitzing mercilessly whenever they trot out the Wildcat.

Q: How demoralizing was Miami's loss to Indianapolis a couple weeks ago? Did you sense a hangover the following week at San Diego?

A: I'm not sure there's a word to describe the heartbreak of that loss, although devastating and crushing would be a good start. This was a game that was big for so many reasons, not the least of which was giving the team a shot of self-confidence after the bad showing at Atlanta in the opener. That said, I'm not convinced there was a hangover at San Diego because the Dolphins easily could have beaten the Chargers had Pennington not gotten hurt. That game is totally different if Ronnie Brown doesn't mess up the handoff at the goal line on the first drive. As it was, the Dolphins still led 6-3 after Pennington went out, but once the Chargers took a 10-6 lead, it seemed unlikely that Henne would be able to lead them back to victory.

Stay tuned for Part II Saturday.


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