Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thoughts on Raiders game; Reader Mailbag

There may be no such thing as an ugly win, but there certainly are causes for concern when a team makes too many mistakes and nearly hands games away against clearly inferior opponents.

Here's an email I received after the Raiders game:
Well, that was another close game the the Dolphins were expected to dominate. Lat year in close games like this one they would have lost. What is the difference ....... better coaching? Once again, the defense looked great. What are your thoughts on Channing Crowder? I don't think he is someone that the Phins should allow to become a free agent.
One of the consistent marks of the best teams is their ability to dominate the softest teams on the schedule. It generally is not, as many people believe, their ability to pull out close wins against good opponents. This idea was first explored by the guys at FootballOutsiders in 2005, and summed up eloquently as such:
Football games are often decided by just one or two plays -- a missed field goal, a bouncing fumble, the subjective spot of an official on fourth-and-1. One missed assignment by a cornerback, or one slightly askew pass that bounces off a receiver's hands and into those of a defensive back five yards away and the game could be over. In a blowout, however, one lucky bounce isn't going to change things.
Now, there's obviously no reason to complain about these past two wins against the Seahawks and the Raiders, but there are legitimate causes for concern.

The difference between this year's team and last are stark. And coaching is one of the first places I'd point to to explain why this year the team has a chance in these close games (another reason: Chad Pennington). It also just helps that the team is still playing relevant games, thereby preventing anyone from simply rolling over and giving in.

But coaching can only explain so much. It may not be pleasant, but I think we have to admit that some of these close wins against quality teams have come about with a healthy heaping of luck. Make no mistake, this team is better by leaps and bounds than the group that went 1-15. But these past two weeks serve as a barometer, and perhaps a wake-up call, to this group's chances of contending for a title this year. At this point, it looks as if this team has improved enough to make a serious run at the playoffs this season, but a conference championship game may have to wait.

Now this may seem like an overly dour post up to this point, but go back and read that last sentence (go ahead, I'll wait). This team won a single game last year, and less than a year after that history-avoiding win, we are already talking about playoff possibilities.

That itself is a beautiful testament to how far this team has come, blowing out its opponents or not.

Then again, Miami still has the easiest schedule remaining of any team in the league, so it'll have more opportunities to blow out some cream-puffs. And if they can do that at the end of the year, I'll have much more hope for their potential playoff success.

As far as the question about Channing Crowder goes, I think this team should re-sign him. Granted, the lingering questions about his play-making ability remain, and they become less a question and more a simple fact every year, but he has been more active on defense this year, and amazingly he's still only 24 years old.

Crowder has done an admirable job taking on a leadership role on this defense, especially wearing the radio helmet and getting the calls in quickly and clearly. He's solid against the run, and while he doesn't get any sacks, he has shown the ability to pressure the QB every now and then. I'm not too concerned with his lack of big plays because in this defense those plays usually fall on the outside linebackers. Crowder represents stability in the middle, and I'd rather see Akin Ayodele get replaced in the middle with a younger playmaker next season than Channing.

The 3-4 defense requires a lot of starting-caliber linebackers, and it'd be a stretch to get four on the same team that are all big play threats. Channing has done enough to warrant getting re-signed and it would probably be a good idea to do it before he hits the market and a possible bidding competition erupts over him.

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