Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

When Preseason Picks Go A Little Too Far

This is probably the first in a series of posts where I take pundits to task for predicting great things out of mediocre teams. It's starting to wear on me, this insane ritual of predicting the surprise team by placing far too much burden on them in the preseason. Today's culprit is Scouts Inc's Gary Horton, and his team is the Miami Dolphins.

In full disclosure, I should point out that Horton's already picked the Hawks to repeat as NFC Champions, and I liked that pick. So basically I'm a homer. Sue me.

"Ten games into the 2005 season, the Miami Dolphins were 3-7 and looked like a team with marginal talent. However, to their credit they somehow rallied and put together six victories in a row to finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record."

Those teams? Oakland (33-21), Buffalo (24-23), San Diego (23-21), NY Jets (24-20), Tennessee (24-10) and finally New England and Doug Flutie (28-26). This is why these arguments NEVER should be made in the history of postseason retrospective. The Dolphins played a bunch of bad teams (outside of San Diego, who inexplicably lost games like this one to erase their playoff hopes). Oakland, Buffalo, the Jets, and Tennessee were all T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E, and if we remember correctly the Patriots weren't even trying in that last game. They wanted to go play Jacksonville, and it turned out pretty well for them. And so, like Buffalo and Arizona the year before, a good finish against bad opposition makes Minnesota and Miami favorites to exceed expectations. In my opinion, it means they are a little better than mediocre, but nothing to get excited about. Let's continue...

"There is now rampant optimism in the Dolphins' camp and some believe they are poised to replace the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. Are the Dolphins that good or are we overrating them as we head into training camp?"

Yes. Yes you are. Also, please try avoid using terms like "rampant optimism". Put away the thesaurus, you're only hurting yourself.

"It all starts with head coach Nick Saban, who has total control of this organization in both coaching and personnel and is not afraid to make tough calls. Much like his friend, Bill Belichick in New England, Saban makes decisions based on facts and not emotions. He knows exactly what he needs to build this team and nothing will make him waver from what he thinks is right."

Oh Christ. Here we go with the ball washing. Gary, if you want to bear Saban's progeny, just ask him, don't make a freaking Craig's List ad. Nick Saban has coached for one season. One. How does that equal "total control" and generally isn't "total control" something to be avoided? Perhaps like his friend, Bill Belichick, who has this one guy named Scott Pioli around? Remember him Gary? Also, who exactly in the NFL makes decisions based on emotions and not facts? I would like to know, although I'm assuming it probably has something to do with anything Pete Prisco likes. Finally, the phrase "nothing will make him waver" actually makes Saban sound stupid. Just a thought.

"How many coaches have enough job security and confidence to hire two ex-head coaches as coordinators? Mike Mularkey (Buffalo) will run the offense and Dom Capers (Carolina and Houston) will run the defense."

Hmmm... Mike Holmgren? Bill Parcells? Bill Cowher? Just a few off the top of my head. For laughs, here's how that sentence could easily read... How many coaches have enough job security and confidence to hire two complete failures as coordinators?

"In typical Saban fashion, however, both the offensive and defensive schemes are already in place. Instead of forcing the players to adjust to a new system, Mularkey and Capers will have to make adjustments."

So how many coaches have enough job security and confidence to hire two complete failures and then castrate their effectiveness? Only "Waverless-Man", Nick Saban, knows for sure.

"Offensively, success revolves around the health of new quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He is coming off a devastating knee injury, but the medical reports out of South Florida are positive. He is participating in throwing drills and his mobility and movement are way ahead of schedule."

Hey, the reports are good! Success! Look, if this is what it means to be a part of Scouts Inc, sign me up. I can read and jump to wild conclusions as well as anyone (read: anything I write).

"There is quiet optimism that Culpepper will be ready to play on opening day."

As opposed to rampant optimism. Apparently Miami insiders are slightly more tempered in their assessment. Either that or Gary Horton decided that the thesaurus was only making his writing appear worse than it already was.

"If that's the case, which Culpepper will we see? Will it be the one who threw only six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions before his injury a year ago, or the player who threw 39 TDs in 2004? If we get the latter, the Dolphins will be off and running."

Again, terrific job scouting. Rampant guessing. Yes, Culpepper is a crap shoot. Who really knows how good he'll be? I'm just curious if he's going to bring that whole rotating-arms-dance-craze with him to Miami. Oh, also, Gary? Remember that Randy Moss guy? Hmmm?? Oh... right... that might involve research. My bad.

"The offense will be balanced, with a strong run game led by Ronnie Brown. However, they will take more vertical shots in the passing game to stretch the field and soften up defenses."

Look, I know I'm anal. This has been shown multiple times. That's why the use of "However" bugs the heck out of me. Does the use of vertical passing denote an unbalanced attack? In which universe? The ones with NFL Executives who use emotions instead of facts? Also, this is the first note of the running attack, with little mention given to the rather large loss of Ricky Williams. Let's just gloss over that for now... it messes with the central thesis of this poorly written monstrosity.

"The Dolphins were 18th in the NFL in 2005 in average gain per pass play and would like to improve on that, especially with Culpepper's gifted deep arm."

What's that? A statistic? You have to be kidding me! A real statistic... from the head of SCOUTS INC. Culpepper's gifted deep arm might also have had a little something to do with who he was throwing it to (Randy Moss... yes, that guy again) who can pretty much make anyone look good, even Kerry Collins (if Oakland fans ever want to admit it).

"Another tweak to the passing game might be more roll-outs and bootlegs to pressure the perimeter of opposing defenses. A year ago that was a non-factor as part of the playbook because of quarterback Gus Frerotte's limited mobility. Both Culpepper and backup Joey Harrington are agile and will add another element to the offense."

That's right, campers. This "expert" just called Joey Harrington "agile". This is what passes for analysis. Here's my analysis... more roll-outs and bootlegs do not single-handedly help one attack the perimeter of opposing defenses. Playmakers do, and there is not yet substantial proof that Culpepper is ready to be that again... and from what I recall, Culpepper wasn't exactly great throwing on the run. Maybe that's just me.

"Culpepper has decent weapons to which to throw, but there is an alarming lack of depth at wide receiver. After Chris Chambers and Marty Booker, the Dolphins do not have a legitimate No. 3 or No. 4 threat. As a result, tight end Randy McMichael might have to assume a bigger role, although there is hope that rookie wideout Derek Hagan will develop quickly."

Waiiiiiit a sec. So Culpepper has decent weapons, but then he doesn't? Should anyone legitimately call Marty Booker a threat? Will Derek Hagan learn how to hold on to the football? So the point is... the Dolphins have one great WR. Still not exactly advancing the ol' thesis there, Gary.

"As good as the running game can be, Miami's coaching staff has to be concerned about depth. Brown gained 907 yards as a rookie, but he ran the ball only 207 times. Although he's added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and seems motivated to be a workhorse, you cannot expect Brown to carry the ball 300 times. With Ricky Williams now playing in Canada as a result of his one-year suspension, the Dolphins must find someone in training camp capable of giving Brown a rest."

Aha! He mentions the loss of Ricky! And mentions the lack of depth at this key position! All great points... unless you're trying to prove that the Dolphins are poised to take out New England. Then you're not exactly making sense.

"Miami's offensive line, a huge success story in 2005, returns intact. Offensive line coach Hudson Houck took a group of no-names and turned it into a very respectable unit. This group cut its sacks allowed total from 53 in 2004 to 26 in 2005 and helped the run game improve from 3.2 yards per carry in 2004 to 4.3 in 2005. The addition of blocking fullback Fred Beasley from San Francisco was more good news for Miami's skill-position players."

A cogent point, although normally no-names have a tendency to fall back to earth a year after surprising teams (see: Falcons defense in 2005). Fred Beasley is a good addition as well.

"The biggest challenge for Miami's offensive coaching staff will be improving red-zone efficiency. In 2005, the Dolphins were 26th in red-zone touchdowns, converting only 21 of 52 opportunities. Mularkey is known as a creative play-caller who loves trick plays, which should make the Dolphins fun to watch in the red zone."

Didn't Gary just write above that Mularkey can only make adjustments, because the players aren't learning something new? Let's check. Really, I'll wait. Go for it. Hmmmmmmmmm......... M's are up 1-0 already. Nice. Are you back? Yes, I agree, these would appear to be in DIRECT CONFLICT WITH EACH OTHER. I'm starting to hate gloating after Horton picked the Hawks to go to the Super Bowl. To touch on the red zone offense, adding zero offensive weapons other than Culpepper isn't exactly going to put that on the fast track to happy-ville.

"Defensively, the Dolphins were rock solid last season in the front seven, but the secondary was another story. Saban is a secondary coach by trade and employs a very complicated scheme with a combination of coverages, but his personnel wouldn't allow him to integrate those schemes. A year ago, the lack of speed in the secondary made it difficult to play tight man-to-man coverages and blitz because Miami's defensive backs could not be trusted on an island."

Oh, this is rich. Rich I tell you. I'll explain in after he continues. Suffice it to say for now that if Saban was a good secondary coach he would be able to get good performances from the personnel he had. It's like Horton's so fully attached to Nick's posterior he can't comprehend that sometimes change in football takes time for players to adjust.

"Miami was 20th in the NFL in 2005 in passing yards allowed per game despite the fact that it produced 49 sacks up front, which tied for second in the league. To Sabans' credit, he has given his secondary a complete makeover. Gone are defensive backs Sam Madison, Reggie Howard, Tebucky Jones and Lance Schulters. The new arrivals are Will Allen, Andre' Goodman, Renaldo Hill, Deke Cooper, and rookie first-round pick Jason Allen. This new group has more speed, versatility and playmaking possibilities and should be able to handle Saban's multiple schemes."

Here's what I love. One of those slow, awful players was one Sam Madison, who went to the NY Giants. One of those incredible fast amazing players was one Will Allen, who came from the NY Giants. Let's take a look at the ol' archive for a particular article one Gary Horton wrote on May 25th... "The rest of the Giants' free-agent acquisitions revolved around their desire to rebuild the secondary. They were 27th in pass defense in 2005 and recorded only 17 interceptions. Corners Sam Madison, Jason Bell and R.W. McQuarters and safeties Will Demps and Quentin Harris not only improve depth but also make this secondary better in matchup scenarios." So in the span of three whole weeks, Sam Madison becomes a liability instead of a prominent addition. Congratulations, Sam. Congratulations, Gary, for admirably sucking up to whatever team suits your purpose. And when Will Allen, Andre Goodman, Renaldo Hill, Deke Cooper and a rookie are what you think will take your pass defense to the next level, you've missed out on some scouting.

"Up front, the Dolphins quietly are implementing a lot of 3-4 alignments. Even when they are in a 4-3 front, they tend to line up the big Keith Traylor at nose tackle. Speaking of Traylor, he is a big key to this defense. When he is right, he is an unmovable object and can neutralize the inside run. However, he is aging, gets nicked a lot, wears down and recently was arrested with a DUI charge. There is virtually no depth behind him and if Traylor struggles, this interior run defense could suffer."

Interesting that Gary should point out that, yet again, the Dolphins struggle with depth at a key position, this time defensive tackle. This is generally not the hallmark of a division winner, friend.

"Left defensive end Kevin Carter can play on the edge in both fronts and can move easily inside to defensive tackle in pass-rush situations. This is a perfect example of a defensive front with a lot of interchangeable parts."

Just no depth. This means to me a bunch of mediocre players who should be making the league minimum can play a lot because no one stands out. Or they're amazing interchangeable LEGOs that combine to make a cool looking pirate ship. Either way.

"Although Capers has the title of special assistant to the head coach, his real job is to make this Miami defense even more productive and unpredictable. He is a defensive guru with great experience in the 3-4 defense and will add some unusual blitzes and new looks out of the varied fronts to confuse opposing offenses."

So is Capers a coordinator or special assistant? Is he castrated or a guru? If the answer is "guru", can you explain how that guru helped the Houston Texans look absolutely abysmal on defense this past season, all the while looking like a monster ate his only child? His unusual blitzes and new looks sure rattled Hasselbeck... all the way to the bank!

"So how good will the 2006 Dolphins be? In my opinion, they will win the AFC East if Culpepper is healthy."

Ummm... why would you say that Gary? Nice instant caveat, though.

"They do have the challenge of adjusting to two new coaches (Mularkey and Capers), they must survive depth issues at running back and linebacker, and a totally revamped secondary must jell quickly. However, when you look at this division, the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have new coaches and a lot of personnel questions, while the Patriots did little in the offseason to improve."

So... they have challenge one of learning (or not learning, if he's to be believed before in his "suck up to Saban" paragraph) a new system, challenge two of surviving depth issues EVERYWHERE (he didn't even talk about linebackers the entire friggin' article), replace EVERY member of their secondary, and beat the Patriots. Oh, but at least the Bills and Jets are pushovers.

"Miami has a favorable schedule, with no tiring West Coast trips and has only one cold weather game (at Buffalo on Dec. 17). The Dolphins' other cold weather trips, to New England, N.Y. Jets and Chicago, all come before the bad weather hits the East."

Again, this is what's called analysis? Discussing the weather patterns of road trips? Yes, because Miami might not have a snow game, they definitely will win the division. Your logic grabs me like a steel trap and won't let go, then steals my wallet.

"With Saban in charge, there are no gray areas in this organization. Players know what is expected of them and they either live up to those expectations or they are gone. Saban preaches conditioning in the sweltering summer Miami heat and the Dolphins test for body fat, muscle mass, and they even conduct hydration tests with all of their players. As a result, this team will be in great physical shape in September and October and should get off to a quick start."

Look out for the Dolphins! They're hydrated! Woohoo! I'm sure that gives them the edge on opening day... in Pittsburgh... maybe not.

"The AFC East race likely will come down to the Pats and Dolphins and I predict both finish with 10-6 records. Miami will win the division because of tie-breakers, while New England will make the playoffs as a wild card. A lot of people think the Dolphins are still a year away from being a legitimate playoff contender. I think they are ready now. This will become a model organization that a lot of teams will try to copy."

Here's where Gary and I agree, Miami can be a legitimate playoff contender. There is a heap of a lot of difference between legitimate playoff contender and AFC East champion. While Colin and I criticize and will continue to criticize the Pats offseason (much to the chagrin of one reader Tash), there is absolutely no way a team with Tom Brady, Corey Dillon, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour, etc is less talented than the Dolphins.

And Gary, when making "bold" predictions, stating that the Dolphins will win the division because of tie-breakers seems really weak... like you couldn't quite find enough rampant optimism to finish this article. Probably a good move.

posted by Gavin @ 6:30 PM  1 comments


At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to have you back Gavin!


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