The Miami Dolphins only won one game in 2007, among the worst teams in both point scored and points allowed. They are 5-4 this season with a 2-1 divisional record including a big 38-17 win over the New England Patriots in Foxboro. That game, by the way, knocked me out of my suicide pool. That was 20 bucks down the chute.
Biggest off season change was the acquisition of knew director of football operations Bill Parcells. Parcells brought his type of football attitude to South Florida, getting bigger and tougher. He started the trend by having the newly appointed GM Jeff Ireland hire former Dallas Cowboy offensive line coach Tony Sporano as the new Dolphins had coach. Sporano brought his tough as nails attitude to a team which sorely needed a new direction. Sporano is such an important coach, that I believe when Sporano left the Cowboys, it hurt that team to where the offensive line is not the same as it was last season. The made necessary, but emotionally charged improvements. Former Dolphins stalwarts on defense, Zach Thomas and defensive end Jason Talyor were sent packing to the NFC East and a much youger (and hungrier) team emerged.
But, this younger team went in a different direction with the offense. Afer the Brett Favre fiasco finally concluded in New York, the Jets released Chad Pennington, who was immediately picked up by the Dolphins. Pennington quickly learned the offense and started the team's opener (against the Jets, no less!), almost leading them to victory.
Parcells and company knew that the team was young but needed an experienced signal caller to provide direction. Despite the success of first year quarterbacks Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Joe Flacco in Baltimore, it is very difficult for a young QB to have immediate success, and most need to sit a year or two behind a veteran, learning the NFL way of doing things. The biggest difference from college to the NFL is the speed of the game, and constant intense competition every week. Most young QB's need time to adjust and learn, and that is the step the Dolphins are taking with their young QB Chad Henne, who has backed up Pennington all year.
The Dolphins are doing it on both sides of the ball, too. Their defense was ranked dead last in the AFC last season in both rushing (153.5 YPG) and scoring (27.3), but those numbers have improved in 2008 to 5th in rushing (93.7 YPG) and 4th in scoring (20.2), a full touchdown per game better than 2007! On offense, the veteran leadership of Pennington, continued health of RB's Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, plus the introduction of the "Wildcat Formation" has boosted Miami's putrid offense from a year earlier. After an AFC ranking of 14th in total offense a year ago, the Dolphins are 3rd overall this season, with equal improvements in rushing and passing. The two headed monster that is Ronnie and Ricky have combined to score 12 touchdowns on the ground, equal that of the running machine New York Giants. While the Dolphins passing TD's are middle of the pack with 9, Pennington has efficiently guided the team, as the team has only 6 turnovers this season!
And things are getting better for the Dolphins. Their schedule is very soft the second half of the season with extremely winnable games left against the Raiders (home), Rams (away), 49ers (home) and Chiefs (away). No way the Raiders and Niners come close to winning, as this season has proven that West Coast teams do not fare very well when traveling East, going 0-12 this season. The Dolphins have benefitted from the last place schedule (because they were so bad in 2007) and going head to head with the lowly NFC West this season. Winning those four remaining "gimmes" would put the Dolphins at minimum 9 wins. I say gimmes because in sports it doesn't matter what team you play, IT MATTERS WHEN YOU PLAY THEM, and those four teams have already packed it in for the 2008 season. And all but the Chiefs are playing under interim head coaches. Not a good scenario when you are playing a young, playoff hungry team like the Dolphins. The Fins also have New England at home, and Buffalo and the Jets on the road. The Jets game finishes up the season and could decide the AFC East title.
Conceivably, the Dolphins could have 10 wins heading into the Meadowlands on December 28th. Favre versus Pennington for the AFC East title. The Dolphins road is easier than that of the Jets, who still have games at New England tomorrow night and at unbeaten Tennessee next week. They also have two west coast trips to San Francisco and Seattle, not two good teams, but those long trips make supermen mere mortals. For an indication, just check out the Jets' performance at Oakland last month.
Miami is in the drivers seat, with a young team sprinkled with the right amount of veteran leadership and a no name head coach the players believe in.
Bill Parcells has done it again.