Trying to Make Sense of Sparano’s Decision to Bench Henne, Start Pennington

I think I speak for everyone when I say I didn’t see this coming. Not even the majority of irrational, impatient fans were ready to call for Henne’s head after his disappointing three pick performance against the Ravens, which could just as easily been blamed on his receivers.

Yes, the offense has been lackluster the past few weeks, especially in the red zone, but it’s hard to point the blame squarely on Henne’s shoulders. Who would have envisioned the running game, which was this offense’s identity a year ago, dropping off the way it has? Dan Henning was far from brilliant last season, but I don’t think anyone guessed he would lose his mind the way he has despite finally having adequate weapons to work with.

Then again, Sparano reportedly explained the situation to Henne by saying the offense needed a “spark.” That’s hard to argue with considering this offense has only scored one touchdown in each of the last three weeks. But is starting Chad Pennington really the answer to the offense’s struggles? And if he is, is winning now even worth compromising this franchise’s future?

First things first, you can count on Pennington making fewer mistakes and displaying the leadership qualities Henne just doesn’t seem to have. When you think about watching both quarterbacks leading the offense, there is a certain trust level there with Pennington and obviously the coaches feel the same way.

Having said that, the ceiling this offense has is now considerably lower. Henne has the arm strength to make any throw in football, which in theory should completely open up the offense when he is able to make sound decisions. With Pennington under center, though, the Dolphins will be playing ball-control offense by eliminating mistakes and shortening games.

If you can limit mistakes on offense and play solid defense, you should be able to compete with most teams. That is the same formula that won the 2008 AFC East championship after all. But with that style of play, comes a limit to how far this team can go. They may be even more capable than they were with Henne to sneak in as a wildcard with a late season playoff push, but it’s hard to imagine a Pennington led offense knocking off an elite team unless the defense can somehow emerge as dominate overnight.

And it’s Pennington’s “noodle arm” that really restricts what he can do as an NFL quarterback. It’s just a whole lot easier to play defense when you know the majority of the game is going to be played in a 15-yard box. That extra safety can creep up near the line of scrimmage, making it that much harder to run the football for a struggling ground attack, and corners can feel free to jump out routes, comebacks, and quick slants knowing there isn’t much of threat that they will be beat deep.

And it was that way before Pennington had yet another season-ending shoulder injury last year. He looked pretty decent in the preseason, but I don’t think we’ll know until this Sunday if he’s the same quarterback that led this team to 11 wins in 2008. With the same token, though, I’m pretty sure Pennington has never had a target quite as talented as Brandon Marshall to work with either. So there are still plenty of uncertainties about what we’re going to get on Sunday.

I have too much respect for Pennington to even comprehend him going out and performing dreadfully. He’s just too smart, too much of a competitor not to go out and do what he’s always done. The bottom line is, speaking strictly about the short-team, Pennington very well could be this team’s best chance at making the playoffs.

But when your dealing with a young, promising team like the Dolphins, the long-term outlook is also a big part of the equation. This isn’t a team full of a bunch of veterans who’s championship window is on the verge of closing. This is a very young team, who’s future is much brighter than their present, in my humble opinion.

Why completely compromise the bright future this team has by possibly ending Henne’s hopes of emerging as a franchise quarterback, when he’s clearly showed enough potential for that to remain a possibility? The skeptic inside me sees how this could be an incredibly selfish move by Tony Sparano.

Hopefully this isn’t the case, but if Sparano is feeling like his job is on the line this season and this is purely a stint to try and salvage the best possible record this year and ultimately lead to him keeping his job, that really isn’t looking out for the best interest of this football team. The best interest of this football team would be to help establish a foundation for future success, unless of course Sparano feels like this current Dolphins team has what it takes to win the Super Bowl THIS season with Pennington at the helm.

That would be about the only way this makes sense in my mind. If you feel like your capable of winning a Super Bowl, you have to go all in. Things immediately become almost exclusively about the present.

And while the road to the Super Bowl is as wide open as it’s ever been this year, and if the Dolphins can get hot here in the second-half of the season, who knows, they very well could put themselves in the title discussion. But going all in with this Dolphins’ team is a pretty big gamble in my opinion considering they are two games back to the Jets and Pats in the division and have already lost to both at home.

Super Bowl caliber teams are at least very good if not great on at least one side of the ball. The Dolphins have all the potential in the world on defense, but they haven’t given us any reason to believe they are ready to establish themselves as consistently one of the elite units in the league. Offensively? Well, there is a reason we’re in the midst of a heated quarterback controversy in November.

That is the main reason why I’m not behind this quarterback change. I’m going to remain hopeful that Pennington leads this team back to the playoffs, but it’s not like Henne wasn’t capable of doing the same thing.

Yes, it’s been frustrating that the Dolphins can’t seem to take the next step as a football team and emerge as one of the league’s elite teams, but come on now, the guy lost to the Jets, Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens- arguably the top four teams in the league. And he played winning football in two of those games.

Are the Dolphins really this impatient? Have they ever heard of the term “stay the course.” Yesterday this team was headed in a clear direction. A direction that was currently frustrating because of underachievement, but one with hope for the future. Now though, I’m not so sure where this team is headed.

I’m not overly concerned about Sunday, or the rest of the season for that matter, but just the thought of starting the hunt for a franchise quarterback all over again when it seemed Chad Henne was so close on several occasions is just sickening. Maybe he will get another chance with this football team, and maybe he can still be that guy. But something tells me we’re going to regret this day when we’re stuck in another two to three year developmental stage with another rookie quarterback a year or two from now.

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