By Lori Chase - Staff Columnist
Published: November 29th, 2009
DOLPHINS OVERVIEW (2009 RANKINGS)
The Dolphins began the season 0-3, but have rebounded to win five of their last seven games. They probably won’t catch the Patriots for the division crown, but even with their starting quarterback and running back on injured reserve, they’re in position to make a run at a wildcard.
OFFENSE (#23 total yardage, #4 rushing, #30 passing, #11 scoring):
Chad Henne hasn’t been spectacular since taking over for the injured Chad Pennington, completing
127 of 218 passes for 1,337 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 77.7 quarterback
rating ... but in the only statistic that really counts, he’s 5-2 as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback.
The one-two punch of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams is responsible for a good part of that success, but Brown is gone for the season with a foot injury. The 32-year-old Williams responded to the challenge of taking over as the featured back by topping 100 yards in each of the Dolphins’ last two games, but with rookie Lex Hilliard backing him up, how well he’ll hold up remains to be seen. So far, so good – he’s averaging over five yards per carry.
Former top-ten pick Ted Ginn was relegated to a reserve/kick-return role at one point, with Davone Bess (46 catches-397 yards), Greg Camarillo (28-281), and rookie Brian Hartline (14-239, 1 TD) taking over at wideout. Tight ends Anthony Fasano, Joey Haynos, and Kory Sperry have combined to catch half of Miami’s eight touchdown tosses, with Williams accounting for another two.
Compared to the Bills, Miami’s offensive line has remained healthy, but they’ll have to shuffle their lineup this weekend. Center Jake Grove has been ruled out with an ankle injury, which means Joe Berger, who’s been battling knee issues himself, will make his first NFL start at the position. Next to him, Nate Garner has filled in at left guard for Justin Smiley for the last two weeks, but would shift to center if Berger can’t go.
DEFENSE (#19 total yardage, #11 rushing, #22 passing, #27 scoring):
The defense suffered a devastating blow when nose tackle Jason Ferguson was placed on IR with a quadriceps injury. Randy Starks and Paul Soliai will have to step into that massive hole, with Kendall Langford and Philip Merling taking most of the reps at end. Of course, Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake – who had a career day against the Bills in Miami, notching 2.5 of the team’s six sacks that afternoon – can also step into the rotation, especially if the Dolphins opt for a four-man line.
Taylor and Joey Porter lead an experienced group at linebacker, with Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder manning the inside. After DE-turned-LB Matt Roth missed the entire preseason with a supposed groin problem which landed him on the non-football injury list, he managed just four tackles in limited action before the team gave up and released him.
With Will Allen on IR, Sean Smith has joined fellow rookie Vontae Davis in the starting lineup at cornerback. There’s significantly more experience at safety, where Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson are the team’s top two tacklers.
Dan Carpenter is having a solid sophomore campaign, missing just one of 17 field goal attempts this season. Punter Brandon Fields is booming the ball to the tune of a 46.3-yard gross average and a 40.0-yard net, one of a remarkable 10 players at or beyond that benchmark in 2009.
Ginn responded to being benched on offense by shredding the Jets special teams for two 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns – just the eighth time in league history that’s happened – and his 30.4-yard average leads the league. Bess is the lead punt returner; the coverage teams are merely average.
With two rookie corners for Terrell Owens and Lee Evans to pick on, they could put up some big numbers against the Fins ... if Ryan Fitzpatrick can find a way to get the ball to them. The Bills’ decimated offensive line will have to keep the pass rush away from him to manage that, though, and that may be too much to ask at this point.
On the other side of the ball, reuniting Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams at tackle would be a welcome sight for Bills fans. They won’t have Brown to worry about, of course – but Williams doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon, and forcing Henne to throw still seems like the best option.