The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

LET THE OFF-SEASON MOVES BE-GINN WITH TED

In the wake of the Fins’ disappointing 7-9 finish, Dolfans should expect a number of off-season moves that will reshape the roster for 2010. And may those off-season moves be-Ginn with Ted.

As deserving as Ted Ginn is of criticism, he does not deserve to be the whipping boy for the entire 2009 season. Injuries were a lot more responsible for this season’s downturn than the play (or lack thereof) of Ted Ginn. With Pennington, Cobbs, Brown, Grove, Allen, and others going down, it was certainly a busy year for the team doctor and training staff. And there were certainly other roster deficiencies that contributed to the Fins’ 7-9 record.

Before looking at the anticipated off-season moves, however, let’s look at some of the statistics behind their 7-9 record. Those statistics seem to confirm the belief that the two major problems the Fins had in 2009 were turnovers and what Coach Tony Sparano calls chunk yardage plays.

Turnovers are easy to understand.   They often lead to points against and always change field position.  In 2009 the Fins were a minus 8 in the turnover dapartment (bad enough for 14th in the AFC), coming only one year removed from when the Fins led the entire NFL in that department.

The chunk yardage problem was significant and can be understood through an analysis of first downs and overall yardage numbers.  The Fins had more first downs than their opponents in 2009 (333 to 297) and they held that advantage in both the rushing (128-88) and passing (188-184) phases of the game. They out-rushed their opponents (2231-1835) and had a higher average per rushing attempt (4.4-4.2). They were more effective than their opponents in converting third downs (49% to 35%), too. They also ran more total plays than the teams they faced (1088-968). However, opponents averaged more yards per play than the Fins (5.8 vs. 5.0). And don’t overlook that the Fins were 13th (out of 16 teams) in pass defense in the AFC.

So what does all this tell us? It tells us rather clearly that although the Fins enjoyed success in terms of grinding out yardage, opponents had more success getting chunks of yards on offense. When you get those chunk plays, it is easier to score than when you have to run 16 plays to do so. Although long scoring drives are good clock killers, short scoring drives are easier to sustain.

Plain and simple, the negative turnover margin and the deficit in chunk yardage plays are why the Fins were outscored by their opponents (390-360) en route to their 7-9 record this season.

Improving the turnover margin in 2010 will start without a roster change for it will start with Chad Henne who will benefit from his first real year of playing time.  Henne’s 2009 experience alone should cut down on his turnovers next season.  Hopefully, the experience gained by rookie cornerbacks, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will enable them to get more picks in 2010.  Although Vontae held up his end with 4 in his rookie season, Smith should have no problems doing better in 2010 because he was shut out in 2009.  In 2009 the Fins got only 3 picks combined from starting safeties Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson, all of which were made by Bell.  Although he was signed as a free agent before the 2009 season, Gibril Wilson simply didn’t give the Fins any measurable return on their sizeable investment.  More on Gibril later.

The lack of a real number one receiver obviously was a significant factor in their overall deficit of chunk yardage plays. But jettisoning Ginn is only the first step in the upgrade process at the wide out position, because without acquiring a true number one receiver, the Fins will be relegated to the short end of the chunk yardage stick next season. That is why they need to find that true number one receiver to lead the rather credible possession receiver corps of Camarillo, Bess and Hartline. To fill this need they will have to look to the draft or the free agent market.

The other side of the chunk yardage deficit coin is on the defensive side of the ball. Plainly, the Fins need help at safety as the Gibril Wilson experiment was not a 2009 success story. He let far too many receivers make catches (and runs after catches) for chunk yardage. As a result, his job is anything but secure.  Rookie Chris Clemons, who appeared to have been given more snaps in the season finale than he had in any other game this season, may still blossom into the player they hoped when he was drafted, but he is not there yet.  Look for the Fins to acquire another safety this off-season.

Although running back looked like a very strong position before the injury bug hit this season, there is no guaranty that Ronnie Brown can come back as well from his Lisfranc fracture as he did from his knee surgery the year before. And don’t overlook Ronnie’s contract status.  He may be a free agent and thus far no contract extension has been worked out.  That might leave Ricky Williams, who says that 2010 will be his last season, as the number one back. Patrick Cobbs has talent, but he also needs to recover from his season-ending injury and even so, he is not an every-down back along the lines of either Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams. Lex Hilliard has shown some positive signs, but at this point it would be a stretch to call him a suitable replacement for either Ronnie or Ricky.  So don’t be shocked if the Fins select a running back in the draft.  If a strong back is still on the board when their turn comes this April, the Fins might not be able to resist building for the future.  

And there’s the matter of a back-up to Chad Henne. Pat White still appears to be an undeveloped situational player rather than a true NFL starter and his play in the season finale really showed that he is just not ready to be a QB at the NFL level. The question is will he ever be ready; the answer appears to be no. At this point it looks like he may prove to be the biggest draft-day bust of the Czarcells’ administration. And K.C. cast-off Tyler Thigpen, who was signed as a stop-gap measure after Chad Pennington went down, is still very much a work in progress as evidenced by his 2 killer interceptions following his impressive first 2 drives in the game against the Steelers.

Turning again to the defensive side of the ball, the Fins need help at linebacker. Channing Crowder is, at best, adequate and Joey Porter is not the player he once was. Even if Jason Taylor is extended a contract, he figures to continue to be only a situational player in 2010. And let’s face it, somewhere the Fins need to find someone who can cover a tight end or a back down the middle when it’s third and seven.

Another aged player who might find himself on the outside looking in is Jason Ferguson, but even in the unlikely event that he is brought back in 2010, more help is needed at the defensive tackle position. Paul Soliai simply does not look like the every-down answer going forward. And even if, by default, he is the one who will have to anchor that position next season, more depth is needed as no one can realistically play that position every down for an entire season.

And so it will be interesting to watch the Czarcells’ team navigate through the off-season as it moves to upgrade the roster before the start of the 2010 campaign. The Fins will be drafting in the 12th draft spot and with that kind of draft position they should be able to pick up a real quality player in the first round.

The off-season moves may be dependent upon what happens with the NFL labor negotiations because unless a new labor deal is reached, there will be no salary cap for next season. Without a salary cap it would be easier to jettison unproductive players who previously received a large signing bonus (because the team would not face the consequence of having that signing bonus being accelerated and applied to the 2010 salary cap).

And when it comes to unproductive players, the name of Ted Ginn comes instantly  to mind. The Fins’ have given Ted Ginn the benefit of the doubt for 3 long seasons now. At this point, doubt is all that remains, so let the first off-season move be-Ginn with Ted.   [Maybe the Fins can trade him to No-Cam-Do’s Ravens for 19 drops and a family to be named later!]

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