NFL Awards Watch: Week 5
As the Dolphins expand their playbook, it's becoming more apparent their intent is to develop an offense that revolves even more around the versatile talents of Ronnie Brown.
The second overall pick of the 2005 Draft has become the triggerman in Miami's version of the "Wildcat" offense, and the results have been staggering. Brown has scored five times, thrown a 19-yard touchdown pass and twice topped the century mark in rushing in back-to-back upsets over the Patriots and Chargers.
The plan to cleverly deploy Brown was formulated in training camp, but his thumb injury delayed the process. With Brown healthy, the team is maximizing his unique set of skills by using him in various ways as the point in the single-wing formation.
In the Dolphins' version of the "Wildcat" offense, Brown takes a direct snap from center, and runs a read-option with the wingback (Ricky Williams), who is often in motion prior to the snap. The Dolphins further complicate the read by using one or two pulling linemen from an unbalanced formation.
The exotic formation puts defenses in a quandary. If they focus exclusively on Brown, he simply hands the ball off to Williams on a fly sweep around the corner. If they pay too much attention to Williams on the fly sweep, Brown keeps the ball and picks a hole up the middle. In addition, the Dolphins have sprinkled in some misdirection plays that allow Brown to run away from the side of the motion. Thus, it's not surprising the Dolphins have totaled 167 yards and five touchdowns in the 16 plays that have featured the formation in the past two games.
"We did it out of what we think is necessity and utilization," said offensive coordinator Dan Henning. "When you think about what Ronnie did, Ronnie didn't just run for touchdowns, Ronnie handed the ball off, Ronnie threw the ball. You just don't drop off the back of a pickup truck and do that. You've got to be talented."
However, Brown's success should not be overshadowed by the Dolphins' use of the exotic formation. The fourth-year pro was coming into his own last season and had a streak of four consecutive 100-yard rushing games prior to his suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 7. In his return to the lineup, Brown has shown the same burst and explosiveness that was on display last season. And the hard-nosed runner is showing no ill effect from the knee injury as he relentlessly plows through defenders on tough, inside runs. That ability has endeared him to the coaching staff, and led them to use him exclusively as the team's feature back.
"I think that's his ability," said head coach Tony Sparano. "To make you miss, to do those things, but more importantly, to play physical."
After struggling during the first two weeks of the season (47 rushing yards on 17 carries), Brown has found his stride while directing the team's "Wildcat" formation, and the surge in production has catapulted him into the conversation as a candidate for the Offensive Player of the Year.
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (1): He continues to put up astronomical numbers as a passer this season, having thrown for over 300 yards in four of the Saints' five games. He has a solid 97.7 passer rating.
2. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (NR): The venerable playmaker has been outstanding during the first month of the season. He leads the NFC in passing yards (1,472), and has the Cardinals atop the NFC West.
3. Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins (NR):
4. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (5): The league's rushing leader has run for over 100 yards in each of the Falcons' wins. He's living up to his reputation as a big-time playmaker.
5. Reggie Bush, RB, Saints (NR): The electrifying multi-purpose threat has silenced critics with his scintillating play this season. With three punt return touchdowns, a league-leading 38 receptions and 212 rushing yards through five games, Bush has shed the "bust" label.
1. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos (1): The third-year pro is developing game management skills that rival his physical tools. With four victories in his first five starts this season, Cutler has a division title squarely in the Broncos' sights.
2. Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers (2): He's finally getting his due with the Panthers' offense exceeding expectations. Once regarded as a careless gunslinger, Delhomme is managing the game well and providing timely playmaking for a surprisingly explosive unit.
3. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (NR): He has stepped his game up during the team's four-game winning streak. His back-to-back 100-yard rushing games have led the 'Skins to surprising road wins in Dallas and Philadelphia.
4. Eli Manning, QB, Giants (NR): His numbers are not eye-popping, but he is leading, arguably, the league's best team in terrific fashion. With the Giants off to an unbeaten start, Manning deserves recognition for his outstanding play under center.
5. Trent Edwards, QB, Bills (2): The Bills desperately missed their leader in the 41-17 loss to the Cardinals. The second-year pro had rallied the team from behind in three of their four victories, and his replacement (J.P. Losman) lacks Edwards' penchant for timely playmaking.
(For all of the readers who have commented about possible MVP candidates being considered as NFL Offensive Players of the Year, I will eventually consider MVP candidates for both awards, but I have chosen to shed light on more players given the early nature of the season.)