A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

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It may be too early to make any legitimate judgments. After all Chad Henne has started just two games for Miami, BUT after last night’s game the Dolphins have to be feeling good about what they have in their heir apparent at quarterback.

Coming into last night the storyline was Mark Sanchez. And why not? Sanchez was the 5th overall pick by the Jets and had led them to a 3-1 record thus far. More than that, he was the poster child for the NFL’s campaign geared at Hispanic-Americans and was coming to play in Latino-friendly Miami on a Monday Night stage. Things literally couldn’t have been scripted better for Sanchez who was seemingly on camera for the entire pre-game show. Meanwhile Chad Henne was either hiding or the cameras simply couldn’t find him because ESPN didn’t seem too terribly interested in what he was doing before the game.

The nice part about the NFL though is that you still have to play the game. Once the game began the rest of the league was served notice, last night the better quarterback was on the Dolphins. For all the hype Mark Sanchez was alright. He connected on a few big passing plays, most notably he made a couple of very nice throws to David Clowney and Braylon Edwards down the stretch on his way to 12 of 24 for 172 yards and a touchdown pass.

But he also had the benefit of being picked up by the announcers frequently and a few very spotty officiating decisions. For as much as being an NFL quarterback is difficult, I for one don’t think a rookie deserves credit for checking down to a dump-off route. Yeah, maybe once mention that it was a smart play or talk about something nuanced he did during the throw, but to somehow claim it shows what a good quarterback he is just on the basis he can check down completely baffles me. By that logic, the Dolphins made a grievous mistake in releasing John Beck.

To his credit, Mark Sanchez did do a number of things extremely well. He has a fairly high level of fluidity in the pocket, moving freely without necessarily appearing to have the happy feet that plague a number of quarterbacks. He throws a good ball. Frankly, the Jets do seem to have a quality starter for the foreseeable future and Braylon Edwards is as talented as he wants to be, when he wants to be.

But you can’t win on prospects, and at least judging by last night, Miami may have the edge under center. Chad Henne was stupendous. How stupendous? How about a number to quantify it. 130.4, in Dan Marino’s entire career he posted a higher passer rating only once.

Chad Henne did have the benefit of a game plan that protected him extremely well. Miami utilized their wildcat package with a very high degree of success and the run game continued to be solid out of the base formations. But when he needed to throw, Chad Henne proved he can do it like a man. Henne went 20-26 for 241 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

I actually messaged Brian during the game that I was unimpressed with Henne thus far, but admittedly by around the 4th quarter I couldn’t have been happier to be eating those words.

Henne did a ton of impressive things, large and small, to win this game. In the first half he faced down a swarming eight man blitz, stepped up and hit Ricky Williams on a screen that went for 59 yards. The throw was nothing special in terms of skill, just a simple dump off to a back, but the ability to face down the rush and throw despite knowing you’re going to be hit shows a degree of toughness you love in a quarterback.

On first down, Henne was 9 of 10 for 114 yards and also connected on a beautiful long pass to Ted Ginn for a touchdown. Let’s just pause on that and let it resonate.

Ok, got it.

On his own 47, Henne went off play action and connected on a deep 53 yard pass to Ginn. There was so much to love about the play, hell just the concept. For starters Henne was 7 for 7 on play action passes for 140 yards and two scores. Considering the Dolphins sport the number one rushing attack in football that kind of proficiency off the play action is absolutely lethal.

Then toss in the ramifications of a Ted Ginn deep pass on the running game… hell, I could write a whole post just on this one play. Ginn finally showed up on a deep route like we all hoped he would for the last three years and Chad Henne got to demonstrate just how good his arm is. Not to mention Ginn put a beautiful double move on Darrelle Revis, whom Jon Gruden hadn’t stopped talking about the whole night. The play put the threat of the deep pass in the back of the Jets mind, not just for the rest of the 4th quarter but for the game in a few weeks up in the Meadowlands. It’s a lot harder to load the box when you know your best corner can be (and has been) shredded deep by Ted freaking Ginn.

And now Miami has a quarterback who can make that throw. Not that Chad Pennington wasn’t capable, but it’s a good sign with the game on the line that Chad Henne hit the pass so perfectly. But for as much as I love the vertical passing, the two most impressive passes Henne threw were on third downs on the last drive, both to Greg Camarillo.

On the first, Henne faced down the rush and delivered a beautiful touch pass over Camarillo’s shoulder to move the chains. The toughness and moxie to stare down the blitz and throw a beautiful ball notwithstanding, just the touch on the pass alone was remarkable. A lot of quarterbacks couldn’t make that throw without the Jets pass rush in their faces, let alone with it.

The second was to get Miami inside the five. Rolling out on third and ten, Henne stepped up and fired a ball low and away for Greg Camarillo. A perfect situational throw, a smart decision and frankly a hell of a play that I wouldn’t have expected from a guy making only his second start. In years past, Miami’s quarterbacks would have missed both of the throws and Miami would have been forced to kick a field goal. In completing both, Henne demonstrated he is the type of quarterback who can go out and make throws to WIN you a game.

Also, wasn’t this supposed to be one of the best defenses in the NFL? Rex Ryan was a genius who was supposed to be able to stop the Wildcat. Well it’s funny what a big difference not having Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis up the middle makes. But beyond just that, the Jets came into the game with a top five defense and a secondary that had just held Drew Brees without a touchdown and under 200 yards. Whether or not Rex Ryan thinks it was coaching deficiency on his part (quick aside, I liked he took accountability, I don’t like that I just complimented Rex Ryan) or a problem with preparation, Chad Henne carved up that defense.

The numbers are all very impressive for Henne. Mark Sanchez had a decent day, but he also ended his day with the same passer rating as Ronnie Brown (87.5) while Henne looked the part of a franchise quarterback. It’s important to proceed with caution, it’s just one game, but for Henne to make just his second start on a Monday night against a division rival with a more highly-touted young QB and look that good is extremely promising. There were countless number of things that could have gotten into Henne’s head or thrown him off but he put on one hell of a performance, helped lead a game-winning drive and just pulled Miami back into the thick of the AFC East race.

At least for one night, Chad Henne looks like he may just be the guy.

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