Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reader Questions 11/17

I got some good questions from a reader that I'd like to address here today:

How do you rate the Dolphins offensive line? Is the NT position a need for the 2010 draft? Do you think that Cameron Wake will continue to improve? If Ronnie is out for a while isn't that a major problem for the offense?

Let's take them one-by-one.

1. The offensive line
Just looking at how successful the running game has been overall this season, I'd have to say that the unit has been pretty good. Of course, we've seen the running game stall on more than one occasion, which has led to the offense completely bogging down. So consistency is an issue that must improve. But let's look at the unit's numbers (through Week 9):
  • 4.42 Adjusted Line Yards (4th best in NFL)
  • Power Success - 81% (1st)
  • Stuffed - 14% (1st)
  • Adjusted Sack Rate - 9% (26th in NFL)
Well, those numbers paint a pretty clear picture don't they? Miami's offensive line is an elite juggernaut in the running game. Those Power and Stuffed percentages are pristine, and are huge reasons why this offense is able to sustain long drives without a dynamic passing game. If your running game can always be counted on to convert short yardage situations and likewise never get stuffed behind the line, you have a scary rushing attack.

Now the pass protection is another story. Miami's QBs have been sacked 23 times this season and the adjusted sack rate of 9% is atrocious. The offensive line definitely has played a part in this mess, but I think a lot of blame has to lie with Chad Henne's inexperience and inability to make quick reads and get rid of the ball quickly when the pocket is collapsing. He seems to be getting better in that regard, but it will take some time to develop his pocket awareness.

I will say this as well: I absolutely hammered the team's decision to sign Jake Grove this offseason. So far, he's proven me dead wrong. He's been a pleasant surprise. Of course, a lot of that has to do with him bucking a career-long trend of injury woes, so we will have to wait and see how long that continues. But right now, I'm more than happy to eat crow.

2. Nose Tackle
Although Paul Soliai has definitely made vast improvements in his play this season, the nose tackle position remains a high priority for this year's draft. That's because Miami's 3-4 defense requires a stud at the position and can't get by being simply average. Hopefully, Jason Ferguson will decide to play another year for Miami so that the team is not pressured into reaching too highly in the draft for his replacement. There will be plenty of top prospects at the position, so one or two should inevitably be available when Miami is picking. Of course, there's another scenario that Miami could explore should Ferguson decide to hang up his cleats after this year, and that's free agency. Possible nose tackle options that may be available on the free agent market include Vince Wilfork, Casey Hampton, Ryan Pickett, and Aubrayo Franklin among others. If Miami could land any of those guys to pair with Soliai, they could save that draft pick for some other position (cough*receiver*cough).

3. Cameron Wake
Wake's already made visible improvements from game to game this season, so I would expect that to continue. The question I have with him now is what is his ceiling? Can he be a future starter at OLB or at least a primary backup? That's hard to answer, because unlike so many first-year players, Wake is already 27 years old. He turns 28 in January. So he still definitely has plenty of good years left, but it will be critical to see how high he can push his abilities.

4. Ronnie Brown
Losing Brown hurts. He's been the team's best player this season. So his loss will obviously affect the offense, but I don't think it will hurt as much as some are fearing. And that's solely due to who his backup is. You see, according to DYAR, Ricky Williams is only trailing Ronnie by a count of 124 to 120. Those numbers are essentially equal and are good for 7th and 8th best in the league. And Ricky is actually beating Ronnie in DVOA (24.3% to 12.7%). So while we may be losing an elite running back for a game or more, we are replacing his carries with another elite back. The big problem comes when you take the leftover carries that Ricky can't take all by himself and spread them among Lex Hilliard and possibly Lousake Polite. The Wildcat will also be hindered since Ricky is not nearly as good a triggerman in the formation as Ronnie is, and someone new will have to take over Ricky's role as the Wildcat coming around on the sweep. So Brown's loss will hurt, but it's not nearly insurmountable.

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