Cold Hard Football Facts: With Pennington, Fins win QB shell game

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Bill Parcells has overseen more rehabs than the Betty Ford Clinic. But his effort with the 2008 Dolphins may prove his best work yet.

Much of the credit for Miami's ascension -- the 'Fins have already tripled their 2007 win total -- goes to a single acquisition: Chad Pennington, the woefully underrated quarterback whose historic efficiency far outweighs his reputation as a noodle-armed parabola-tosser.

As we enter the halfway mark of the 2008 season, Pennington has proven the single greatest acquisition Parcells (or anyone else for that matter) has made this year, while the Dolphins are the clear winner in the high-stakes quarterbacking shell game they played with the Packers and Jets back in August.

The Dolphins acquired Pennington this summer almost as an afterthought. The Packers had rejected Brett Favre after his ill-fated fling with retirement, while the Jets couldn't resist the time-honored allure of the old gunslinger or his quest to pad his all-time INT record (now at 299, including a league-high 11 here in 2008).

So the smitten Jets outbid everyone for Favre's services, while Miami's famed coupon-clipping, grocery-shopping vice president of football operations saw an opportunity to upgrade the most important position on the field and handed Pennington the starting gig.

The Dolphins have improved dramatically in almost every area over the pathetic 1-15 team of 2007. But nowhere has the improvement been more dramatic than in the passing game.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts rate passing attacks by adjusted yards per attempt, which accounts for sacks and yards lost on sacks. It's an incredibly telling indicator that has a direct correlation to winning football games. And Miami's turnaround in this area has been nothing short of stunning.

• The 2007 Dolphins ranked 31st in passing, averaging just 5.05 YPA each time one of their quarterbacks stepped back to pass.

• The 2008 Dolphins rank 3rd in passing, averaging a very impressive 7.65 YPA each time Pennington drops back in the pocket.

To put Miami's 7.65 YPA into perspective, keep in mind that New England's historic passing game of 2007 averaged just 7.79 YPA.

Jets and Packers fans can only wish they've witnessed that kind of productivity out of Favre and Aaron Rodgers this season.

• The 2007 Packers averaged 7.26 yards per attempt, 3rd in the NFL, with Favre at QB.

• The 2008 Packers average 6.67 yards per attempt (13th) with Aaron Rodgers at QB, a decline of more than a half-yard per attempt.

• The 2007 Jets averaged 5.33 yards per attempt (26th) with Pennington and Kellen Clemens at QB.

• The 2008 Jets average 5.88 yards per attempt (20th) with Favre at QB, an improvement of little more than a half-yard per attempt.

What's most surprising about these trends is the fact that Pennington, whose clearly had the greatest impact on his team, was the odd man out in the quarterbacking shell game back in August.

Consider that the Marshall product has completed 66.0 percent of his passes in his career, making him the single most accurate passer in NFL history (Arizona's Kurt Warner is second, at 65.5 percent; Hall of Famer Steve Young is third, 64.3 percent). Pennington's career passer rating of 90.0 is seventh best in history, one spot behind Joe Montana (92.3) on the all-time list.

In fact, if not for a series of injuries that have hampered Pennington's career, or the Stone Age offensive theories that seem to consistently plague the Jets, we might be talking about him in the same breath as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

The best part for 'Fins fans is the brightest days of 2008 may still be ahead. Miami's next three games are against the Broncos (31st in defensive passer rating), Seahawks (29th) and Raiders (14th), three of the NFL's worst pass defenses or, in Oakland's case, worst teams. Future opponents include the Rams, 49ers">49ers and Chiefs, teams that afford plenty of opportunity to pad the passing stats, not to mention the win totals.

It's a favorable schedule that could make Miami a contender in December. If that's the case, it would be a rehab success that not even Parcells himself could have envisioned when he took over the dreadful Dolphins less than a year ago.