Offensive coordinator Dan Henning talks to the media once a week for 10 minutes and in at least two of the last four times he did that, he mentioned how the loss of tight end David Martin has hurt his offense.
It is an interesting comment because the Dolphins put Martin on injured reserve at the beginning of the regular season without really making too much of a big deal about it.
They put him out for the season and, as I reported in September, he had surgery Sept. 9. His agent told me at the time that Dr. James Andrews was of the belief Martin could be ready to play again in six to eight weeks. Guess what?
It's been seven weeks.
Best case scenario, Martin might have been ready to play last week. Worst case, he might ahve been ready next week.
That, I guess, is water under the bridge. The Dolphins made the decision they thought was best and are now living with it. But I bring up Martin more to plant this seed in your minds: Martin is unsigned for 2010.
It will be interesting whether the Dolphins, who often lament the Martin injury, make any attempt to re-sign Martin. His agent Terry Williams, told me that while neither he nor Martin were happy with being placed on injured reserve, that will not affect their decision in free agency.
"That will be a decision we will evaluate based on the financial considerations at that time," Williams said.
So we shall see if the Dolphins value Martin as much as they say they miss him. The Dolphins this season are trying to fill the Martin void with Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos. So far, the void ain't filled too good, if you get my drift.
Fasano, coming off his two most productive pass-catching games of the season, still has only 11 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Haynos has two catches for 38 yards.
Haynos obviously hasn't been the down-field threat Martin was. Neither has Fasano. In fact, Fasano hasn't been the threat he himself was last season when he finished with 34 receptions for 454 yards and seven touchdowns.
Coach Tony Sparano explained Thursday that Fasano's diminished numbers aren't all a result of something he is doing wrong.
“I think it matters a little a bit with the quarterback, whether he is comfortable throwing the ball in the middle of the field, I think because that is where most tight ends work," Sparano said, starting to list the reasons Fasano has not been as big a factor so far. "At the same time, I think our run game has a little bit to do with the lack balls that are out there that way."
Sparano explained that the Dolphins have seen a lot of defenses creep their safeties up in order to help stop Miami's outstanding rushing attack. That has, in turn, made the middle of the field a very crowded place for Fasano and Haynos to work.
"What I mean by that is you are not getting the middle of the field open against us," Sparano said. "The middle of the field is closed."
And that explains some things. But it doesn't explain everything.
It doesn't explain how Fasano had two receptions in the regular-season opener and fumbled both. It doesn't explain how he had a 19-yard reception in his hands against the Saints off a Ronnie Brown throw from Wildcat, and dropped the ball.
It doesn't explain his other drops this season. Fact is, Fasano is second on the team in drops this season, behind Ted Ginn Jr.
And, finally, the fact the middle of the field is closed is normally a good thing. You see, teams with passing games that are even mediocre, rarely see safeties playing like they were hybrid linebackers because no one in the pass-happy NFL is stupid enough to gamble like that on defense.
The gamble is your safeties crowd the line of scrimmage, most teams will be able throw the ball over the top for TD after TD after embarrassingly long TD.
But defenses have gambled like that against the Dolphins, hoping to shut down the run, because they have little or no fear of those embarrassing passes. Defenses close the middle of the field because they think they can matchup man-to-man on the outside and usually not get burned.
Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they don't fear a playmaking tight end will run up the seam, past the safety, and into the end zone. Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they believe the quarterback is more comfortable and confident throwing to the outside or to the checkdown running back than zipping a seam pass past a safety's earhole.
So it's wrong to blame the success of the Miami running game for shutting down the middle of the field. It is more correct to blame an ineffective receiver and tight end corps for not winning one-on-one matchups and not forcing defenses to respect them and open up the area.