Analyzing Miami Dolphin QB Chad Henne

There is so much talk about Chad Henne’s mistakes that it is easy to focus on his weaknesses and overlook his strengths… In scouting Henne there is one obvious flaw in his passing, he does not throw the ball with a lot of touch. His tendency, under pressure, is to throw the ball on a straight line and lock his eyes on a receiver. His strength is his ability to throw the ball, with velocity, to placements many average passers cannot and to do so very quickly.

Many folks would call it blasphemy to compare Henne to a young John Elway but the similarities are quite distinct. Elway had the same issues early in his career. John Elway was in the NFL for 11 seasons before his TD to INT ratio was better than 1 to 1. In year 11 Elway was 158 to 157. 83.4 was his highest QB rating in that span and most of his QB ratings to that point were well below Henne’s.

In our world of instant gratification we often forget great QBs are not born, they are taught. Dan Marino was taught by the greatest QB coach in NFL history, Don Shula. Does anyone remember who Shula had as a QB coach? Probably not because he didn’t have one, he coached his own QBs. So did Joe Gibbs, Bill Walsh, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Knoll, Tom Landry, Andy Reid and many others. Each of these coaches had (has) a gift for putting their QBs in a position to be successful.

This is a simplified NFL pattern tree. The names and numbers change depending on the offense but the idea remains the same.

The receiver is lined up on the left side in this example. When you hear a QB barking out signals at the line of scrimmage the patterns he is audibling to are represented by the pattern tree. Forgive me if this is rudimentary football but I wanted to use this example to demonstrate Chad Henne’s strengths and weaknesses. In the example below, the patterns circled in blue are the routes Henne throws well and those circled in red are the routes he has trouble with.

The patterns Henne throws well are timing routes to a spot and quick hitting passes. The patterns Henne has trouble with are the deep routes that require a receiver to run under the ball and passes that must be thrown with touch over a linebacker and in front of a DB. Most of the deep passes Henne throws well are post patterns to a spot. There is a little deception here because a lot of Henne’s interceptions come on out patterns which are passes he throws well. That is because defenses know this and they bait him to throw it by hanging underneath or making a break after hanging back.

Obviously we can see why Henne does not complete a lot of deep passes and why he has been called check down Chad. The question is can Henne learn to throw the ball with touch. I will go back to my Elway reference; John Elway had the exact problem when he came into the NFL. He had a rocket arm but he could not put “air” under his passes. It took Elway 11 years to change this and it only came after he tore his biceps muscle and never had it repaired.

In my opinion Elway is extremely overrated as far as great QBs are concerned. He only won after he had broken himself to the extent that his one man show wasn’t much of a show anymore. Henne does not have the Elway “it” factor, but Henne is much more coachable. He may take a year or two more to fully come into his own, but I don’t see it taking 11 years.

Arm strength and demeanor are not things that can be taught, but putting air under the ball can be taught. Looking off defenders can be taught. This is an extremely complicated game for a QB and it happens in split seconds… Great coaches have a way of teaching a QB not only what he is seeing but how to react to it when he sees it. Only a few ever catch on in less than 3 seasons. Comparing Chad Henne or any QB to Dan Marino is not only foolish but shortsighted.

I don’t know if Henne will ever be a great QB… I have my doubts like everyone else but I think he can learn and I think he has the physical tools and the demeanor to surprise people. Does Kyle Orton have those physical tools? No… Does Vince Young have the demeanor? No... It’s obvious Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano went through this exact exercise and they came to the same conclusion. Henne’s strengths still outweigh his weaknesses and he is still the QB of the Miami Dolphins. I don’t ever see Henne being a one man show but as a team oriented QB I still think he has potential.