Power Rankings: Preseason: 16. This week: 17.
Where they stand: The Dolphins are 3-5, tied with the Buffalo Bills at the bottom of the AFC East. The Dolphins are better than that, but there are no columns in the standings for bad breaks, bounces and calls. The reigning AFC East champs began the season with three straight defeats and then lost last year's MVP runner-up Chad Pennington for the year with another shoulder injury. As bleak as that start was, they have pulled together and remain competitive on a weekly basis and have a chance to make a run with a soft second-half schedule.
Disappointments: Aside from Pennington's absence, Miami's inability to acquire help at receiver has been detrimental. Ted Ginn Jr. has proven time and again he's not capable of being a No. 1 receiver. He's one of the NFL's fastest players, but he can't catch and wilts to avoid contact. The rest of Miami's receiving corps is comprised of reliable pass-catchers with marginal big-play abilities. On defense, inside linebacker Channing Crowder has been all talk, little action. He can tackle, but players at his position need to make plays. Crowder has no sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles or recoveries. Free safety Gibril Wilson, one of their big free-agent signings, has been an abysmal tackler.
Surprises: Ricky Williams is keeping up with the much younger Ronnie Brown. Williams has 644 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Brown has 648 yards and seven touchdowns. But Williams has 46 fewer combined carries and receptions (can't say touches when you're talking about a Wildcat guy). Rookie receiver Brian Hartline was the second receiver the Dolphins drafted in April, but the third-rounder from Ohio State has supplanted fellow Buckeye Ginn in the starting lineup. Although Hartline has only 11 receptions, he owns the Dolphins' longest reception so far and is averaging a team-high 15.9 yards a catch.
Outlook: The Dolphins can make some noise down the homestretch. Remaining opponents are 29-35 for a .453 win percentage. Their next three games are against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Bills. The Dolphins could have a winning record heading into December. But Dolfans likely will look back on 2009 as valuable experience for core players such as quarterback Chad Henne, defensive lineman Randy Starks and cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. Henne, the quarterback of the future, was pressed into service a few months earlier than the front office wanted. But the experience Henne gains this year and what the Dolphins learn from watching him will put them that much farther ahead.