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Thursday, November 11, 2010
Deep thoughts with Chad Henne

By Tim Graham

A couple of years back, when Dolfans envisioned their offense eventually switching from Chad Pennington to Chad Henne, it was easy to imagine a stronger downfield passing attack.

For whatever reason, that hasn't materialized.

Chad Henne
Chad Henne is among the quarterbacks who have thrown the fewest deep passes this season.
Whether offensive coordinator Dan Henning refuses to stretch the field, the coaching staff doesn't have the faith in Henne to let him try or Henne has the opportunities and doesn't pull the trigger, the Dolphins have gone deep less than any other team.

An inability to score is one of the reasons the Dolphins demoted Henne on Wednesday and returned Pennington to the helm.

Pennington provides numerous assets, but arm strength never has been among them. He helped the Dolphins win the AFC East title in 2008 mostly with a menagerie of possession receivers (plus the underwhelming Ted Ginn) and a forceful ground game. But Pennington wasn't a threat to go deep.

Henne would be different, it was believed. When Pennington suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 3 of the 2009 season, Henne took over and went 7-9 with Pennington's receivers.

Henne needed a go-to target to open up the passing attack and showcase that right arm. Henne even lobbied publicly for help, and the Dolphins traded for superstar Brandon Marshall.

So what? The terrible Carolina Panthers are the lone NFL team with fewer touchdowns this year. Marshall has one touchdown.

ESPN Stats & Information notes that 31 quarterbacks have attempted more throws that have traveled longer than 20 yards in the air than Henne has. He has completed four of 14 attempts of that distance. A dozen quarterbacks have thrown at least 30 such attempts.

A breakdown of Henne's attempts by distance shows how much the Dolphins have remained a dink-and-dunk passing team with Henne.

If that's the way the Dolphins insist upon operating, and defenses know it, then reinserting Pennington's leadership and decision-making could make a positive difference. The Dolphins are 4-4 and see their season getting away from them. Pennington could provide a spark.

For perspective, let's take a look at how other AFC East clubs have chosen to attack downfield.

The New York Jets aren't afraid to let Mark Sanchez throw bombs, and they have benefited greatly. Not only are the Jets scoring touchdowns, but those types of plays also create more space for running backs and underneath routes by loosening up defensive formations.

Even the winless Buffalo Bills go deep more often than the Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a career backup, has 33 attempts of 21 yards or farther -- in just six games.

Based on this data, we can see the Dolphins won't miss Henne's big arm by taking him off the field.

But that's because it never was flexed in the first place.