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A breakdown of Miami's passing game troubles

The Dolphins passing game is in trouble and not just because inexperienced quarterback Chad Henne is taking over this week.

The Dolphins passing game the first three weeks of the season is ranked 30th in the NFL, averaging a paltry 155.7 yards per game. The Dolphins have only four pass plays of 20 yards or more and only St. Louis has fewer. The Dolphins have zero pass plays of 40-yards or more and that ties them with eight teams for the fewest.

It is no small wonder the Dolphins are struggling now because in today's high-flying NFL, where most teams throw more than they run, the Dolphins aren't throwing the football very well.

Many people believe that will change with Henne at quarterback because he has a strong arm that Chad Pennington did not even before he went on the injured reserve list Tuesday.

I've been telling you and will continue repeating it -- yelling from the mountain tops if I must -- that Miami's receiver corps is more the issue than the QB.

I gave the rundown of Miami's receivers yesterday and intend to do so again today to make more clear to you why this group is not good enough to give the Dolphins an excellent pass offense.

Look at it from a scout's perspective. As Nick Saban used to say, every position has "critical factors" that a scout should weigh to decide if a player can play the position successfully. Since there are no perfect players, no one achieves all the critical factors. But the blue chip players come close.

The critical factors for receivers?

They need great hands: A receiver is nothing if he cannot grasp and hold on to the football.

They need great speed: A receiver must be able to threaten the defense and not only close distance between himself and a backpedaling DB, but then create separation from that DB.

They need great quickness: A receiver must be able to turn and change direction quickly.

They need great ball skills: A receiver must be able to come down with the football when it is in the air and he is being challenged for it by another player, or often, two other players.

They need football intelligence: A receiver must be smart enough to learn the offense, learn the philosophy behind the passing game, learn defenses and recognize coverages. Then he must put all those together instantly on the field -- sometimes before the snap -- so he can adjust and overcome situations accordingly.

They need toughness: Football is a blood sport and everyone has to gut things out at one point or another. A receiver needs to stay on the field when he's hurt. He needs to be willing to block, because a great blocking receiver can turn 12-yard running plays into 62-yard running plays. He needs to be willing to expose his body against bigger players across the middle of the field when necessary.

So let's go to the elite, the best of the best, and see how that kind of player sizes up. Let's break down Andre Johnson, who I believe is among the best if not the best WR in the NFL today. He's also a fellow alumnus of Miami High and the U so I have to show him respect for that.

Hands? Johnson has good hands. Yes, he's had a couple of fumbles in his career, but never more than one per season. He typically catches with his hands and not his body and when the ball touches his hands, it typically sticks. 

Speed? Johnson runs in the low 4.4s He has no issue getting behind defenders. He never gets caught from behind.

Quickness: Despite his size, he can change direction and it does not take him forever to get started, something a certain Miami receiver has issues with.

Ball skills: Seldom is there a ball in the air that he must fight for, that he doesn't claim. Ask Yeremiah Bell about that one on that fateful fourth-down play last year.

Football intelligence: The Hurricanes ran a pro-style passing game and he had no problems picking it up. The Texans run a fairly complex pass game and Johnson is nails at recognizing adjustments and blitzes. He gets it.

Toughness: Johnson has had some injury issues, but not lately. The guy is 225 pounds of chiseled flesh that imitates granite. His downfield blocking is one reason rookie Steve Slaton gained 1,282 yards last season. And yes, Johnson goes across the middle and often initiates the contact with defenders.

So that's the breakdown of an elite guy. Now let me give the breakdown of Miami's top three receivers so you can understand why the Dolphins are struggling with their passing game and desperately need upgrading here.

Ted Ginn Jr.

Hands: Good until this year, but lately inconsistent. He dropped two touchdowns vs. Indianapolis, including the game-winner and let two balls get into his body, rather than catching them with his hands vs. San Diego. Those resulted in drops. So this season he's average here at best.

Speed: Ginn has elite speed and easily breezes through the 4.3 range. But it takes him a while to get going. He's a long-strider.

Quickness: Very little here. Ginn doesn't change direction like, say, Davone Bess. Study them together. The gulf in quickness between them is startling.

Ball skills: Offensive coordinator Dan Henning said something telling last week when he claimed Ginn would come down with the game-winner vs. Indy "five out of 10 times." You want a receiver who is better than 50 percent. You want 70-80 percent.

Football intelligence: We are in Year 3 and Ginn is said to still be perfecting the art of running routes. Enough said.

Toughness: If you've seen him play, I don't need to say anything here, you know the deal.

Davone Bess

Hands: The guy caught 293 passes in three seasons at Hawaii. He had 54 catches as a rookie and there was never a complaint about how he caught the ball. Great!

Speed: Bess is a 4.6 to 4.7 guy in the 40-yard dash. And that is the reason he's not an elite receiver. He will catch every ball and make somebody miss. But he can't run away from defenders.

Quickness: I just told you he'll make somebody miss. That's because he can change directions on a dime. Very good.

Ball skills: Above average in that Bess comes down with his fair share of contested passes.

Football Intelligence: Ace again. He's human and he misses some reads, but the guy knows to find an open area in the defense.

Toughness: Bess was a street kid, so he obviously doesn't back down from people. But his size limits his blocking. He's got the want-to, though.

Greg Camarillo

Hands: Ace here. Camarillo will catch the balls he's expected to catch and catch some balls that are improbable catches.

Speed: The big flaw again. He ran a 4.6 on a really, really good day before his knee surgery. He won't often get caught from behind, but he's not often behind the defense to test that.

Quickness: OK but not great. Camarillo can change direction but he is taller and lankier so it takes a millisecond longer to get that body moving in a different direction.

Ball skills: While there is no defining catch over a defender that I can remember, neither can I remember a moment Camarillo failed to come down with a catch he had a chance to make. So good enough.

Toughness: He never stops. He's always chugging. He fought back from a serious knee injury and is starting again in less than one year. And he has the desire to block and isn't afraid to run routes across the middle.

There you have it. Miami's top three receivers have traits that keep them on the roster and make them effective in some situations. They are all complementary players. But none is elite. And none is likely to become elite because they all lack important critical factors for that to happen.

Miami needs to add one elite receiver to this group of complementary players to turn this receiver corps from average or below average to very, very good.

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