The Super Bowl being played in Miami this season doesn’t mean Miami will be playing in the Super Bowl.
Far from it.
Funny, this whole NFL thing. Well, brutal, actually, in that the pressure for a team to constantly prove itself never lets up.
The Dolphins lose two defensive mainstays in Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor last year and go from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 and the AFC East title, winning nine of their last 10 games.
BF’nD, the league says. Just try doing it again.
Though master rebuilder Bill Parcells was pulling the strings behind the Dolphins' revival, there’s room for argument that Miami’s 2008 season could be dismissed as a fluke. Weak schedule. Tom Brady was hurt. Brett Favre folded.
It’s like that in the NFL. Last year’s success doesn’t mean anything this year—and so it goes for the 2009 Dolphins.
You do your job, do it very well, in fact, and you’re met with more questions and doubt.
Are the Dolphins legit?
With one of the league’s toughest schedules, Miami might have to face up to some harsh answers.
1. Who is Tony Sparano?
Well, after last season’s success, we definitely know he’s not the de facto head of a north Jersey crime family. But is he a second-year flopper, like Eric Mangini or Sean Payton, or does he got some Mike Tomlin in him?
Sparano’s crew will be tested immediately in its first five games: at Atlanta, Colts, at San Diego, and then two home division games against Buffalo and the Jets before the bye week. The last five games are rough too: Patriots, at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, Houston, and the Steelers.
It’s conceivable to see Miami going 3-7 in those games, not leaving much margin for error. It’s also conceivable the Dolphins could go 7-3. That’s where coaching comes in.
Can Sparano have his guys on point every week? Is he a good coach? Definitely. Is he a “next level” coach? This season will go a long way in revealing the answer.
Also, it being Miami and all, and with Parcells’ inability to stay off the sidelines, despite his protestations, the question must be asked: Could we see a Pat Riley/Stan Van Gundy-type power move?
2. Will Chad be bad?
Chad Pennington goes from Jets chicken wing to Miami QB king, winning Comeback Player of the Year as he steadily guided his team with 19 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
But can he do it two years in a row? History would indicate no.
After all, the comeback award has its dark side. To win it, things had to go wrong the season before.
What did Pennington come back from anyway in 2008? Oh yeah, sucking in 2007. Remember, he won the award too in 2006 after shoulder surgery the year before. Dolphins fans are hoping he won’t be eligible to win it again in 2010.
3. In Miami’s Defense
All this doom and gloom—tough sched, untested coach, possible QB issues. Well, the bottom line is, personnel-wise, the Dolphins got better in the offseason, especially on defense.
Miami finished in the top 10 in interceptions, sacks, and points allowed last season, while recording the best takeaway/giveaway ratio at +17.
Joey Porter re-emerged as a pass-rushing terror from his right outside linebacker position last year with 17.5 sacks. Now add Jason Taylor to the left side, and former Nittany Lion Cameron Wake, a free agent pickup who led the CFL with 23 sacks last year, and the Dolphins are going to get after the opposing quarterback.
The secondary, the unit’s weak link last season, got an offseason makeover. Miami went for cornerbacks in the first two rounds of the draft, choosing Vontae Davis of Illinois with their No. 1 pick and 6'4" Sean Smith out of Utah in the second round. Miami also signed hard hitter and proven winner Gibril Wilson to shore up the safety position.
4. The Cat’s Meow
The Wildcat. Some say it’s the greatest offensive innovation since the West Coast offense. Others say it’s fugazy. The Dolphins shredded New England with it in the third game of the season last year, making it all the rave and Ronnie Brown a fantasy stud. Teams quickly instituted versions of the offense in their game plans with varying degrees of success.
Is it a fad? Perhaps in other parts, but in South Florida it’s not—the Dolphins' pick of West Virginia QB Pat White in the second round tells us so.
With Pennington and QB-of-the-future Chad Henne already on the roster, Miami, desperately in need of wide receiver and cornerback help, went with White, the all-time NCAA leading rusher for a QB. As Don King would say, no trickeration in that move.
Expect to see lots of Wildcat 2.0 from Miami in 2009. Can they do enough with it to keep fooling the league? If yes, Dolphins go to the postseason again.
If not, there’s always 2010 to prove themselves all over again.