All year long, the Miami Dolphins took care of the ball. 13 turnovers in 16 games, matching a mark previously set by the Bill Parcells-coached New York Giants. But against Baltimore, Miami, particularly quarterback Chad Pennington, seemed to be in the spirit of giving.
4 interceptions and one fumble doomed the Dolphins. All 4 interceptions were uncharacteristic of Pennington, who had 7 interceptions all year long. Pennington seemed to be trying to attack the Ravens defense deep, again, uncharacteristic for a quarterback who made his living completing short and intermediate passes all season long. Pennington forced passes into double coverage several times and overthrew his receivers other times. He was also hit and sacked all day long as the Dolphins offensive line seemed to be unable to contain the 4 man rush of the Ravens.
But as bad as it is for a QB to be hit and sacked, it is even worse for a QB to throw an interception, and even worse to throw one that is returned for a touchdown. If Pennington had taken sacks instead of thrown interceptions, the Dolphins could be heading into the 4th quarter up 9-6, or at worst down 13-9.
Both much better than being down 20-9.
While Chad Pennington was the biggest reason the Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5 and an AFC East division crown, he was also the main reason they lost 27-9 to the Baltimore Ravens, whose offense was just as inept as the Dolphins, but whose defense was able to capitalize on Pennington's (once again) uncharacteristic desire to attack deep and throw into double teams.
So now the Dolphins head into the offseason. What do they need?
Most notable was the lack of a consistent pass rush on Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Actually, the entire year the pass rush, outside of Joey Porter, was lacking. Porter had 17.5 sacks. Coming in a distant second was Matt Roth with 5. This team needs another pass rusher to compliment and eventually replace Porter.
Offensive line is a need as well. The Dolphins have begun building the line, but one or two more pieces are needed. Throw in some young players into the secondary. While Andre Goodman and Will Allen are good players, they are both 30. So is Yeremiah Bell. The Dolphins can survive with those three guys for another couple of seasons, but there need to be youngsters ready to take their place. Free safety is an immediate need as Reinaldo Hill seems to be a better back up and Jason Allen just isn't getting on the field.
How about linebacker? Is Channing Crowder worth keeping? And what about some additional help on the defensive line?
It would also be nice to get another receiver or two, so that this team can spread out defenses in the future. There are still a lot of needs on this team, but 2008 was definitely a good start.