The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

THE PROGRESS STOPPER

Wasn’t it only 6 months ago that Tony Sparano showed future Ring of Honor Member Jason Taylor the door because he was a progress stopper?  Surely you remember the Company line that keeping Jason Taylor around would thwart the progress of younger players needing to develop.

Just halfway into the season the very same man is making a very different decision.  He is benching Chad Henne, the third year QB who has started the last 21 regular season games, who only a season ago was tabbed the QB of the future for this franchise by none other than Coach Tony Sparano.  Make no mistake about it, Henne has not yet proven himself as a top-half NFL starting QB.  His horrendous throw to a wide-open Anthony Fasano and his 3 INTs against the Ravens are still too fresh in the mind to overlook.  But one must evaluate Henne from the standpoint of his entire first-half performance and his potential rather than a few misfires last Sunday.  And 2 of the 3 INTs this past week were equally the blame of the receivers, Brian Hartline (who fell down and did not knock the ball away from the defender) and Brandon Marshall (who let the ball go off his hands to an awaiting defender).

Let’s take a look at Henne’s numbers for the first half of this season.  He has completed 176 passes in 277 attempts. His 1900 yards passing is 12th in the league.  His completion percentage, a very respectable 63.5%, is 9th in the league.  His per completion average is 10.8 yards; his per attempt average is 6.9.  While neither of these will earn him a Pro Bowl invite, both are respectable.  And both of these averages have been hurt by drops.  That is not to say that Henne is not without his deficiencies at the half-way mark of this season of mediocrity.  He has more INTs (10) than TDs (8) and his QB rating is only 78.2 (24th in the league).  However, his QB rating is still better than those of both Brett Favre (75.7) and Sam Bradford (75.9).  And winning football games in not just about your QB’s rating as evidenced by the fact that Mark Sanchez’s Jets are 6-2 and tied for first place in the AFC East while his rating of 79.4 has him only one spot above Chad Henne.

The truth is that the Fins’ 4-4 record cannot be placed squarely upon the shoulders of Chad Henne.  Special teams have lost games for the Fins this season and Henne can’t be blamed for those miscues (unless he was the one who failed to cover the flyer on the punt coverage team last week). The defense has been up and done this season and the Ronnie & Ricky Show has been unimpressive as well thus far.  You can’t blame Henne for these problems either. 

You also can’t blame Henne for the Fins’ lack of a receiver who can stretch the field.  Brandon Marshall is a bona fide star, but he has never been the serious deep-ball threat in his career.  His career average per reception is only 12.2 yards, and that is due in part to his ability to gain yardage after the catch.  Chad Henne has not held him back this year.  Marshall is on pace for 104 receptions (well in line with his prior years’ numbers) and his 11.9 yard average per reception is close to his career average.

So why is Henne suddenly out?  Why risk damaging his psyche when the book is still open on him, when there is still more to learn about him.  Why do so when there is still hope that Henne is the QB of the future?  Why do so when sending him off to the scrap heap leaves the Fins in the same desperate long-term QB situation they have been in since Marino retired. 

While there is little doubt that Chad Pennington may give the Fins a better chance to win this week against the Titans, does pulling Henne in favor of 34 year old Pennington (who has shown difficulty staying healthy throughout his career) give the Fins a better chance to go deep in the playoffs in 2011 or 2012?  And that is the real question for the Fins.  But it might not be the real question for Tony Sparano whose benching of Chad Henne may have more to do with his visions of Bill Cower standing on the Fins’ sideline next year, than Chad Pennington standing there the rest of this season.   

The mantra that Pennington gives the Fins a better chance to win this Sunday is simply not enough.  If that were the only question, then wouldn’t you want Jason Taylor on the field wearing orange and aqua when the Fins desperately need a big play on defense in the waning moments of the 4th quarter against the Titans this Sunday?  If you are in it for the long haul, then this Sunday (or, for that matter, any Sunday this season) is not all the Coach needs to consider in benching his QB.  In the wake of this decision perhaps the real question is:  So, Tony, who is the progress stopper now?

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