After two less than entertaining offensive efforts to open the 2008 season, the creativity of Miami Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach David Lee and Offensive coordinator Dan Henning allowed the Dolphins’ offensive to flourish beyond anybody’s expectations.
Despite personnel shortcomings, Henning’s play calling and skill to put players in the right situations maximized the talent on the roster.
Of course, having a legitimate veteran quarterback such as Chad Pennington fall onto their laps helped, but Henning’s ability and brashness to call on the Wildcat and use misdirection plays helped catapult the Dolphins to an unlikely division title.
Here’s a look at Henning’s five most effective plays in 2008.
In Miami Dolphin land, 2008 will forever be known as the year of the Wildcat.
After unleashing the single-wing formation on the New England Patriots, the Dolphins were able to use a variety of plays from the formation to help jumpstart an ineffective running game.
From running back Ronnie Brown throwing a touchdown pass to running back Patrick Cobbs catching a long touchdown pass off a flea flicker, the success of the Wildcat helped turn around Miami’s 0-2 start.
An inability to create holes among the interior of the Dolphins’ offensive line led to the creation of the Wildcat.
Using an unbalanced line, the formation permitted Ronnie Brown to use his ball skills to run, throw or handoff to Ricky Williams or Cobbs.
Defenses had to wait to see what Brown did with the ball before committing to a ball carrier. This allowed the line more time to set-up the blocks and let Brown choose which hole to exploit.
As a result, the Dolphins gained nearly two more yards per rush (6.1 to 4.2) than they did from their basic formation.
While the play was never as effective as it was the first time against New England, it did have its moments throughout the year. It not only gave the Dolphins a respectable running game, it’s a play that will live in Dolphins’ lore forever.
Thanks in part to Pennington’s lack of arm strength and inability to consistency threaten deep down the field, the tight end position became a critical factor to the Miami Dolphins’ success in 2008.
With a lack of experienced receivers, the Dolphins often turned to two tight end sets to offset the team’s need for veteran pass catchers.
Together, Anthony Fasano and David Martin combined for 65 receptions, more than 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. The two finished with the most productive season from the tight end position in the franchise’s long history.
Using seam routes and crossing patterns over the middle, the Dolphins were able to cater to Pennington’s strength–his accuracy—to get the passing game in motion.
Neither Fasano nor Martin had a particularly impressive season individually, although Fasano’s seven touchdowns proved he can be a productive NFL starter.
Together, however, they became a strength in the Dolphins passing game that will again be counted on this year to perform.
When the Miami Dolphins needed a short yardage conversion last year, they turned to an unlikely source, a middle of the year acquisition.
After signing Lousaka Polite as a free agent in October, due to injuries to the fullback unit, Polite became Tony Sparano’s go to choice on short yardage situations.
Polite converted his first eight attempts on third-and-fourth-and-one-situations in 2008. Seven of those conversions led to scores and were also critical in sustaining long fourth quarter drives to seal victories.
Polite only had 23 carries during the year, but he made the most if it, averaging 3.7 yards a carry, mostly in short yardage situations.
Along with his short yardage attempts, Polite proved to be an invaluable midseason pickup as he also paved the way to open holes for the running game.
Even when the Dolphins used a traditional formation, Henning was still able to disguise their intentions, enabling them to exploit their opponents’ over-aggressiveness.
The Dolphins twice faked a traditional handoff to Brown out of an I-formation and gave it to Ted Ginn on an end-around, resulting in critical touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Ginn also averaged 14.6 a carry.
Rookie receiver Davone Bess was also effective with 54 receptions for 554 yards. He only scored one touchdown, but was able to move the chains as he converted 30 first downs.
Out of the shotgun formation, the Dolphins would line three receivers to one side, make a quick pass to Bess, which let the team use his elusiveness to pick up additional yardage.
As Ginn and Bess become better route runners, receptions totals should increase yearly. But look for the Dolphins to continue using quick slants, screens and end-arounds, so the speed of Bess and Ginn can be utilized to the fullest.
Without the ability to gain significant yardage on traditional run plays, Henning also used misdirection to help establish the running game.
With two tailbacks split in the pro set formation, Pennington would take the snap, fake a toss or handoff to the running back that was traveling away from the play, and then hand it off to the running back closest to him.
The hesitation from the defense would allow just enough time for the offensive line to set their blocks and thus open the holes they couldn’t using traditional run plays.
The Dolphins in 2009 will no doubt depend on the Wildcat, trick plays and misdirection to keep defenses guessing, but as the coaches and players continue to develop, the team should be able to depend more on traditional passing and running plays to score points.