Before the Dolphins embark on the second half schedule of the 2009 season today, I wanted to take one last look back on what has transpired in the first half.
And frankly, almost nothing of what has happened has surprised me.
I've seen some bloggers talk about how Miami's 3-5 record at the halfway point should mark a shift in expectations for the rest of the year - a tempering of playoff expectations if you will. But if you have been a realistic fan and observer of this team, you shouldn't have to change your expectations because this team is pretty much exactly where we expected them to be at this point.
But of course, those same people who call for a lowering of expectations only now, after the fact, are the same ones who were pumping this team up to be another double-digit win squad before the year began. That's because it's easier to ignore all the critical signs about a team and only accept the reality of the situation when the outcomes inevitably match the rational predictions.
And injuries are no excuse. Chad Pennington has never had two healthy or effective seasons in a row. Absolutely no one should have been banking on him playing up to last year's level or remaining healthy for the whole season. And guess what, he did neither. That's just what the tea leaves wrote, and anyone could have seen it coming if they opened their eyes to it. Same thing goes for Channing Crowder, Jason Ferguson, Justin Smiley, etc. These players have all been hampered recently by injuries. An incredible run of injury luck last season was not going to carry forward into this year.
Also, a lot of people simply wrote off the talk of Miami having a brutal schedule this year by saying, "Well, you can't judge a team based off last year's record, blah, blah, blah." But if you use a more predictive tool like DVOA, you'd have gotten the same prediction. And so, of course, Miami has indeed faced a brutal schedule up to this point. In fact, according to DVOA, Miami has played the toughest schedule in the league thus far. Their average opponent DVOA is 12.4%, which means Miami's schedule has been 12.4% harder than the average schedule so far. Compare that to New England, who has the 17th hardest schedule so far at 0.5% DVOA.
Thankfully, the schedule eases up considerably from here on out, with Miami's remaining opponents having an average DVOA of -2.0%. They are going to have to take advantage of that schedule if they are to have any chance of contending for the playoffs once again.
But there have been plenty of positives about this season too. Most notably has been the extensive run of play the rookies and youngsters have been receiving. That's a good sign for the future.
Let's move on to some half-season awards:
Offensive MVP: Ronnie Brown - this one's pretty obvious. The running game is this offense's weapon, and it's lead by Brown's powerful running and expert handling of the Wildcat package. The craziest thing may be that, as good as Brown's been, Ricky Williams has been nearly as good. I'd also give an honorable mention for this award to Justin Smiley who is, without a doubt, one of the premier interior linemen in the NFL. He is a joy to watch play.
Most Improved - Offense: Not really a whole lot to pick from here, but I'd go with either Chad Henne or Donald Thomas.
Most Regressed - Offense: Ted Ginn. Everyone expected some measure of improvement from Ginn this year, but he has regressed as badly as anyone on the team.
Best Rookie - Offense: Brian Hartline
Defensive MVP: Randy Starks. He's the only player putting consistent pressure on the QB, easily leading the team with 12.5 combined sacks+QB hits. He's making big plays for a defense that is sorely lacking in them. Honorable mention goes to Jason Ferguson.
Most Improved - Defense: Randy Starks
Most Regressed - Defense: Joey Porter. Just to show how far he's fallen, Tony Sparano has benched him for this week's game, and not because of injury. Porter's flat-out sucked this year. It's quite a fall from 17.5 sacks last year to this sorry output.
Best Rookie - Defense: Vontae Davis. Some will say Sean Smith, and while I won't argue with it (because I think he's been quite good) something just really bugs me about how scared of contact he is and just how much he shies away from hitting or getting hit. Also, he's yet to pick off a pass, and that was supposed to be his strong point. Davis, on the other hand, in less playing time has made some huge plays and also is not afraid at all to shed blocks and make huge hits near the line of scrimmage.