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The Blame Game: Dan Henning


And there it is. The final name on our “Blame Game” tour of responsible parties for the mess in Miami.  When it comes to Dan Henning, it’s hard to pinpoint a starting point.  Do you start with his 2008 campaign that he so blatantly hangs his hat on or do you take the approach that he is one of the more highly regarded offensive coordinators in football?

When Bill Parcells took over the Miami Dolphins three long seasons ago the first person he contacted was Dan Henning.  Henning was brought in officially on February 6th a short three weeks after Parcells officially named Tony Sparano the head coach.  Sparano had no say in this.  Bill Parcells had this lined up before Sparano was brought in.

I want to be objective here, and it’s difficult but when you start looking at where to place the blame for the mistakes on the field, it’s hard not to look up to the coaching box and blame a coordinator.  Since the defensive side of things has improved considerably, that leaves only one more guy to point a finger at.  Dan Henning.

So let’s blame Dan Henning!

The blame game is one of those things that really involves all parties.  It’s a cascading water fall that starts at the top and get’s a lot less defined the further you fall.  At the top of all this Bill Parcells who hired every single person on the Dolphins staff right now.  It falls to Jeff Ireland who had a hand in or was responsible for the players on the team and those that are not on the team.  Drop a little further and you have Tony Sparano and his inability to affectively change the issues that made the team falter this season.  Then there is Dan Henning who calls the plays, and finally Chad Henne who is supposed to execute them.

It would be easy to sit here and ramble on about how bad the play calling is but it would compromise what little journalistic integrity I have.

I suppose the firs question that must be asked is whether or not you believe that the plays being called by Dan Henning are not working because of the execution on the field, the personnel he has in place to execute the plays, or the head coach for asking him to be conservative?  Or is it all of the above.

Blaming Tony Sparano for the conservative play calling is hard to digest simply for the fact that Henning has called the same style of offense at every stop with Bill Parcells so in that regard, it’s a system put in place by Bill Parcells.  The other issue comes down to QB.  Dan Henning has said that this offense isn’t built for a QB like Chad Henne and he points out how successful he was in 2008 when Chad Pennington was the QB.

The problem here seems to lie with the failure of the Miami Dolphins offense in 2008.  Yes, I said failure.  Despite the production that the Miami offense had in that playoff season, the Dolphins base offense served little in the overall success.  The Dolphins relied on the freshly introduced Wild Cat that Dan Henning still uses today, without the same success.  In 2008 it was QB Coach David Lee who introduced the formation to the team and Henning ran “wild” with it.  Leading the team to it’s first division championship in almost a decade.

The problem was and is that teams figured out how to stop it.  Dan Henning failed to get creative with the package and it quickly became stale.  In 2009, the offense sputtered from poor draft picks on the offensive side of the line and the overuse of the WC.  The team stayed competitive until the final week of the season behind a Chad Henne led offense.  Then, this year, it appears that everything went south.

Henning has failed to grasp the concept of change.  His use of plays seems to dictate more a desire to put undue pressure on the offensive players than on a creative gameplan.  Take into consideration the teams offensive play calling against poor passing defenses and strong rushing defenses.  Rather than call plays that exploit the secondary, Henning instead tries to run the ball up the middle challenging the strengths of the opposition instead of the weaknesses, usually continuing for much of the game.

Even when Henning changes it up and finds success for a couple of series doing the opposite, he reverts back to the game plan that wasn’t working by games end and at that point it takes most of the momentum out of the offense.  The same can be said about driving down the field with positive flow and rhythm only to see the team roll out a WC play or a halfback dive into the center guard gap.  Leaving the QB and the rest of the offense trying to pick up a third and long instead of allowing the momentum to continue.

All of this is not conjecture as it is very visible on the game tapes.  Again, however, it comes down to whether you believe that the execution is the problem or whether the play calling disrupts the fluidity of the team.

Throughout this year the offense has struggled with putting touchdowns on the board.  Instead, they settle for field goals.  There is a lack of urgency late in the games as well that can be attributed to the head coach as well as the players, but when you look at the body of the entire process, the play calling late in the game is far from absolved of any responsibility.  You only need to look back to last Sunday to see the proof.

In both the Sunday loss to the Lions and the loss to the Bills, the Dolphins were in a position to move the ball down field.  On both occasions Chad Henne threw numerous passes to dump off and check down options instead of throwing deep to give the team a solid chance to win.  The problem is what we tend to perceive instead of what is on the field that we don’t see.  And that again is the play calling.

In both games on those final drives, there were no wide receivers deeper than ten yards.  One Buffalo cornerback tasked with covering Brandon Marshall pointed out during a post game interview that he was surprised that Marshall and the other Dolphins receivers were not driving down field but instead cutting off their routes around 10 yards.  If a defense can read that, then they are likely to contain the coverage and blanket the receivers with their dime packages.  In those cases the only option for a QB is the max protection RB who floats into the flats, netting modest gains at best.

All of this comes back to the one man tasked with running the offense and for the Dolphins that man is Dan Henning.  What you have to decide is whether he is a product of a Tony Sparano way of thinking, a Bill Parcells way of thinking, or simply so outdated that what worked 20 years ago is now impossible to duplicate and he simply doesn’t possess the ability to adapt to those changes.

One has to wonder how much of Bill Parcells is still lingering in the Davie training center?  The reason you have to ask is if you wonder why Henning still has a job at all, that would be the one figure who would hold enough sway over Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano to not fire him.  This off-season, Dan Henning will be given that one final shot at stepping down.

So place the blame where you will.