Dolphins Bench Henne for Pennington

Like most Dolphins fans, I was surprised (somewhat pleasantly) by Coach Tony Sparano’s announcement that quarterback Chad Pennington will start over Chad Henne going forward.

chad-penningtonA little over a year ago, when Miami started 0-3 and Pennington averaged only 138 passing yards per contest while committing four turnovers, the fans wanted him benched in favor of the up-and-coming Henne.  21 games later, there’s a growing sense of excitement about Pennington’s return to the field as a 4-4 team clings to its fading Playoff hopes.

According to beat writer Omar Kelly, the coaching staff felt that “Henne had become extremely predictable,” leading to decreased confidence in locker room.  Henne made too many bad decisions and committed far too many costly turnovers, throwing four interceptions without a single touchdown pass in Miami’s last two games.  Whether he’s still the Dolphins QB of the future remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not inconceivable that Tyler Thigpen will get an extended look later this year or during the offseason.

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning’s play calling has certainly raised a lot of valid questions, since his system has been more tailored to Pennington’s “water pistol” arm all along.  Henne averaged 6.9 yards per pass attempt and 10.8 yards per completion his season, both of which are below Pennington’s career averages.  After three surgeries on his throwing shoulder, Pennington doesn’t have the arm strength to throw deep passes, but then again, Henne has only two completions of over 40 yards in eight games.

One factor that can’t be understated is Pennington’s accuracy, which is miles ahead of Henne’s.  Pennington holds the highest completion percentage (66.1%) in NFL history among players with at least 1,000 pass attempts, and led the NFL in that category during his last full season in 2008 (67.4%).  He has the 12th-best career Passer Rating (90.1), and ranked second in the league behind Phillip Rivers two years ago.  While Henne has thrown four more INTs than TDs, Pennington has nearly twice as many scores as picks over 11 years (though it should be noted that he threw four costly INTs against the Ravens in Miami’s last Playoff game).

It’ll be interesting to see how the 34-year-old fares against the Tennessee Titans defense, which has given up the 10th most passing yards but leads the league with 3.3 sacks per game.   If Pennington improbably leads Miami back into the postseason, he deserves to win an unprecedented third Comeback Player of the Year Award.

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