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Dolphins close but not quite there in the red zone

I was watching Monday Night Countdown on ESPN the other evening when Trent Dilfer and Steve Young began talking about Sam Bradford and his struggles in the red zone. And, of course, I brought the conversation home to South Florida.

To Chad Henne.

To the Miami Dolphins' offense.

And to their red zone problems so far this season.

"You don't make your money in between the 20s," Dilfer said of playing QB. "You make your money from the 20 in against pressure."

Young, a Hall of Famer, agreed.

"The easiest thing to do is go between the 20s [but] inside the 20s is graduate work," he said. " .. you got to realize that for a lot of players that's the final step for them -- how to put it in the end zone. Because nobody is really ever open in the red zone. It's not just against the blitz but also zone.

"A lot of times young quarterbacks will say, 'Read the defense, do a nice job, drop the ball down, and kick a field goal.' And after about 16 field goals in a row you realize that's not the job. You have to throw somebody open."

Again, they were talking about Sam Bradford. But it all applies to Henne and his play so far in 2011. He's had relatively high success moving the team up and down the field between the 20s. But inside the 20s, the Dolphins are ranked No. 31 in the NFL with an unacceptable 60 percent scoring percentage.

Henne has to learn to throw receivers open. He has to learn to make precise, accurate throws and make them with anticipation -- something he's struggled to do at times. Against the Texans, Henne completed 3 of 8 passes inside the opponent 20 yard line for 16 yards and 1 TD. Not very good.

So there is that.

But ...

Miami's struggles in the red zone are not all Henne's doing. Not by a long shot. The Dolphins have struggled the first two games to rush the ball when it counts most. That is very frustrating.

And Dolphins' receivers haven't exactly helped Henne, either. No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall has had two opportunities in the end zone that have hurt his team because he had two drops of potential touchdowns -- one against New England and one against Houston.

One of those at first to me seemed like a late throw by Henne. I said as much on the live blog. But I was wrong. Looking at the throw in the following series of screen shots sent to me by reader Justin Reader, it is obvious Henne threw an amazing pass to Marshall from the 16 yard line in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

Miami was trailing 16-10 at the time. Matched against former Dolphins DB Jason Allen, Marshall is in man-to-man coverage:

Marshall drop 1
Marshall beats Allen (no surprise) and the ball is in the air with about eight yards to spare between the players and the end line.

Marshall drop 2
Ball's almost there. Five yards to spare between players and the end line. Allen is watching helplessly.

Marshall drop 3
Marshall's got it. The ball is in his grasp. Now he must hold on and get both feet in bounds. He's got about four yards to work with.

Marshall drop 4
Still looking good. He's got three yards to secure the ball and get his feet in bounds. Allen? Helpless.

Marshall drop 5
This is now looking like a TD. Just hold on, Brandon Marshall!

Marshall drop 6
Whoops! Ball is no longer in Marshall's grasp. He basically flipped it away as he was trying to secure it.

Marshall drop 7
Yup, this is not going well. Now we have to hope Allen doesn't catch the rebound for an interception.

Marshall drop 8
Incomplete pass. Marshall had it in his grasp. He would have had room to tap his feet in. It could have, should have been a touchdown that put the Dolphins ahead 17-16.

Instead Dan Carpenter had to kick a 34-yard field goal to make the score, 16-13 in Houston's favor.

Marshall completes this catch, the game changes. The mood changes. Momentum shifts. Miami's red zone results change.

Instead, I'm writing about the team's red zone problems. Bottom line:

Somebody's got to make a play. Miami's playmakers have got to make a play. If they don't, we shouldn't call them playmakers any more.