Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why the Fins Can Repeat as AFC East Champs

It was just last season that the Miami Dolphins were AFC East Champions and resurrected a failing franchise into a winning team. Now football season is waiting at our doorsteps and talks of projected standings come into play. The Dolphins may have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, but the team has only improved from last season. They may not surprise many this time around, but they may prove their doubters wrong and repeat as AFC East Champs.

Some say the Fins' 2008 success was "luck" - citing Tom Brady's injury and New England's subsequent downfall as a big factor - and dismiss Miami's accomplishments altogether. In an effort to put things in perspective for the critics, here's a few reasons why next season could be as successful as last year's.

Defense On Demand

For one thing, the Dolphins defense has only gained steam and added some important upgrades. In particular, the secondary additions will be a great help for a Miami team that was ranked 25th in the passing yards allowed category. This means that the Dolphins are less likely to be torched by passing-minded teams like they were in week two of last season against the Arizona Cardinals.

The Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts are the first two match-ups for Miami in 2009 and will be early indicators as to if the secondary is more than just better on paper. Gibril Wilson and Yeremiah Bell will be formidable at the safety positions along with the "Allen Brothers" (Jason and Will) at the cornerback slots. Let's not forget about the two savvy DBs that the Fins acquired through the draft in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith - they could have an impact if they develop quickly.

The defensive front line was also improved with Jason Taylor's homecoming (for a cheap price we may add) and is looking meaner by the year with linebackers to the likes of Joey Porter, Channing Crowder and Matt Roth. Pass rushing and run stuffing should be a few other improved statistics this upcoming year. Last season the Dolphins were ranked 10th in rushing yards allowed and 9th in points allowed. Once again, the defense has only improved from last year to this year. The challenge will be in the defense's performance against some tougher opponents.

Dynamic Offense

Once the defensive evaluation is over there is the dynamic offense that Miami bring to the field. Chad Pennington isn't a long ball, slinger-type of QB, but he does have a stellar completion percentage and can make the important plays. With the implementation of the Wild Cat offense on a larger scale, Miami should be a difficult assignment for many NFL teams. Ronnie Brown may not be able to make great passes from the Wild Cat when opponents rush, but Pat White sure can. The creativity that will imbue this season's Miami offense will overshadow the lack of star players on the roster.

Ted Ginn is entering his third year as a WR, which is historically the "break out" year for receivers, and should be ready to step in as the number one guy in the passing game. Ginn had almost 800 receiving yards last season and averaged 14.1 yards per catch. This season he will be asked to do more, but will approach the game with more poise and experience now that he's past his rookie and sophomore years.

The Rest of the AFC East

New England Patriots

Tom Brady may be back on his feet and ready to start the season, but a torn ACL is no joke. Patriots fans are expecting a Tom Brady similar to the one that won three Super Bowls for New England. That will be a tough expectation to meet for Brady, 32 years of age, coming off one of the most debilitating injuries in professional sports today. Limited movement will be the biggest issue to overcome for the All-Star QB and may infringe upon his scrambling abilities.

Besides Brady's knee worries, New England was ranked only one spot above Miami in points allowed and did not make any major improvements this off season to their defense. It's safe to say that there has been a drop off in the Pats' D in recent seasons after their Super Bowl XLII appearance. In that time they've fallen in points allowed ranking from 2nd to 8th. The Pats also face offensively adept teams similar to Miami in the Falcons, Colts and Saints, which will prove how well their defense really performs. With that said, it's a bit comical to see how the Patriots still rank in the top three of most pre season NFL rankings out there (such as this one and this one).

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo may be getting some air time on various sports networks thanks to Terrell Owens, but they have quite a few other holes to fix on their squad. Trent Edwards is still an unproven QB in the NFL and has not displayed throwing skills equal to that of Tony Romo - who had plenty of issues with T.O. in Dallas. A receiving duo made up of T.O. and Lee Evans may be enticing, but potentially troubling if the ball is not landing in their hands. Who knows what will happen once the season begins and the Bills go through offensive droughts. Will T.O. then act up like he did in Philly and Dallas and begin to affect yet another lock room? More questions than answers there.

On top of that, the Bills' defense has slightly improved in the past couple years, but still ranks in the middle of the league's defensive statistics. Buffalo was 22nd in rushing yards allowed and 14th in both total yards allowed and points allowed in 2008. It's difficult to get excited about Buffalo's defensive potential and effectiveness as they are still in the air.

New York Jets

Not to leave out the least favorite of Miami's rivals, the New York Jets are coming into the season with what they tout as "the next Joe Namath" (prior to Joe's drunk on MNF incident). Of course we are talking about USC's very own Mark Sanchez. Being a rookie is hard enough, being a rookie QB is even harder. Now being a rookie QB in New York, that's madness. Good luck to Sanchez as he goes through the motions of being an NFL QB and faces the tough crowds that inhabit the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

The Jets will need to improve on their defense if they want to be taken seriously in 2009. Being ranked 29th in passing yards allowed is nothing to cheer about, and when coupled with 18th in points allowed and 16th in yards allowed there are definitive issues to be addressed on the defensive end of things. Their line backing unit has improved with the addition of Calvin Pace and Bart Scott, but Pace is now out on a 4-game suspension and cohesion may take longer to establish. In the grand scheme of things, the Jets still are not considered a dominant defense in the league.

The Bottomline

This may be a short and sweet version of the argument behind a Miami AFC East title repeat, but it's fair to say that these reasons leave the AFC East up for grabs. New England is the obvious favorite, but Miami is known to play well against the Pats and will be a worthy opponent for them.

Many DolFans have faith in what Coach Sparano, Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland preach to the organization. The attitude that this trio has instilled in the Miami Dolphins has united the team and is the primary factor behind Miami's 2008 success. How else can one explain the Fins resurrection with the limited talent pool they utilized last year?

With an improved team and an intact core, Miami only has room to improve. Nobody is saying that it will be easy, but neither was turning a 1-15 team into a 11-5 division champion.

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