Thursday-and-Long: Chad Henne Victim of NFL's Mediocrity
But beyond the fact the decision isn't fair, it's also dangerous to the future and direction of the Miami franchise. The message it sends to the team -- that the guy they've been told was and would be their leader isn't good enough to help them win games right now -- is confusing. The message it sends to Henne -- that the organization no longer has as much faith in his abilities as it claims to have -- is devastating. With one sudden and unnecessary move, the Dolphins have thrown both the present and future of their team into chaos and cast serious doubt on the long-term prospects of a young man in whom they've invested much.
The only reason this decision makes any sense at all is if the Dolphins have decided it's the only way they can contend for the playoffs this year. And if that's why they made it, then Henne has the NFL at large to blame. Because if this year's NFL weren't so powerfully mediocre, the Dolphins could not have reached that conclusion.
No one could have watched the Dolphins lose to the Ravens last Sunday and thought they were a contending team. Not in any kind of decent football league. They were disjointed on both sides of the ball. They didn't run the ball well. They got outplayed man-to-man on defense. Put simply, they didn't have enough good players on the field to win the game. They are not a legitimate Super Bowl contender by any reasonable measure, and they look like no threat whatsoever to the Jets or Patriots in the AFC East.
However, the math says different. This is the first NFL season since 1959 in which every team lost at least two of its first eight games. Only four teams in the AFC have a lower win total than the Dolphins' four, but since no one has more than six, Miami must consider a playoff spot a possibility. And the Dolphins owe it to themselves and their fans to pursue it. So they signed Al Harris and they switched quarterbacks, and whether it works out or not, at least they've made a show of trying to contend in a year when it seems to take more effort not to.
It's a shame, because if the NFL were actually any good, the Dolphins would be operating differently. They'd still be pumping up Henne, working to make him better in the short- and long-term, actually showing confidence in him instead of offering hollow, meaningless verbal expressions of confidence that isn't there. They'd be better set up for next year and the years beyond, creating a quality team built to win every season rather than patching together a team that might be good enough to win nine games in 2010.
But the dirty little secret of the NFL -- the thing nobody wants to say because the league is so "popular" -- is that it's not good. It's a mediocre product -- a hype-driven league in which the quality of the product doesn't match up with the promotion. Each week brings a good game or two -- or, perhaps more accurately, a thrilling finish or two. But for the most part, even those games with great endings are, for the first 45-50 minutes, poorly played, poorly coached and not very entertaining to watch.
The end result is mediocrity -- an inescapable truth that the league and its apologists somehow succeed in painting over with the word "parity." The NFL has convinced its audience that it's a good thing there's so little separation between the teams, because it gives each fan base hope. But what it actually does is reduce the incentive for anyone to get better. It encourages mediocrity and short-sighted decisions such as the one the Dolphins made Wednesday. The right thing for Miami to do is develop its talented young quarterback and build the team around him.
Instead, they've decided that it's more important to be a little bit better than average for the next two months, because that might be good enough to get them into this year's playoffs.
The victim here in the short term is Henne, who's got to be wondering today what he did wrong. Chad, the answer is: not much. You were done in by the intrinsic failings of the overrated league in which you play. It's not that you're not good enough to play in the NFL. It's that the NFL isn't good enough to earn you a real chance.
Three for the Road
NFL road teams went a respectable 6-7 last week to improve to 49-68 for the season. Sadly, I was just 1-2 with my road team picks, hitting with the Giants in Seattle and losing with the Colts in Philly and the Chiefs in Oakland (and no, overtime is not a moral victory -- I need to be better!). I am now 11-13 this year picking three road teams per week, and I need a hot streak. To wit, the three road teams I like this week:
1. Ravens at Atlanta. I know, risky, taking the Thursday night game. I could be in an 0-1 hole before anybody even reads this column. But I was in Baltimore last week and saw a Ravens team that is jelling everywhere. Love the Falcons as the NFC's best, but I think the full-strength Ravens make a case as the league's best. And with Roddy White banged up on a short week, I smell road win.
2. Lions at Buffalo. The Bills seem to get closer each week, and the Lions seem to find fun new ways to lose each week. But now that Buffalo's banged up at receiver, they get worse, which is hard to believe was possible. Detroit's not as bad as its record. This is the week they break a 24-game road losing streak.
3. Vikings at Chicago. Oh that's right. They're not dead yet! Favre and the Vikings may turn out to be a horror-movie zombie before this is all said and done.
It's Just a Fantasy (Or, Three guys I wish I had on my fantasy team this week)
1. Chris Johnson, RB. I watched Ray Rice torch the Dolphins running and catching the ball last week. I'm betting Johnson has watched that game at least once. And I'll bet he's fired up about what he saw.
2. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB. Dallas doesn't just have a new head coach this week -- it has a new defensive coordinator, too. And the new head coach is an offensive guy. Soft target for Bradshaw and the Giants' offense.
3. Eli Manning, QB. See above.
The Traveling Man heads this week to Pittsburgh for the big Sunday night matchup between the Patriots and the Steelers. Life seems good in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger back and Mike Wallace catching touchdown passes from him and everyone else. But preseason questions about the offensive line deepened this week with the news of Max Starks' injury, and we'll see if that line can hold up enough the rest of the year for the Steelers offense to do its thing. As for the Pats ... sheesh. Not much of a schedule break. Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Browns in Week 9, they are tasked with turning things around against the Steelers' defense. Could be one of Belichick and Brady's best tricks yet.