Let's continue our look at Sunday's big battle put in Denver by talking a little bit about 4 of the most critical matchups that could decide the outcome and who has the advantage heading into the game:
MATCHUP #1: Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams vs Broncos' Front 7
We talked yesterday about how bad the Broncos are in stopping the run. I highlighted how Denver is 30th against the run and are surrendering 5.4 yards per carry. But the stat I really wanted to highlight here - one that I did point out previously, but deserves extra attention - is that the Broncos, in their 3 losses, have given up an average of 208 yards per game and 5.95 yards per carry. That's ridiculous - and almost comical.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have struggled to run the ball over the past 3 games and need to get back on track. This is the opportunity that Ricky and Ronnie have been waiting for. But we also can't forget that Miami's offensive line needs to play better in terms of creating holes for these 2 talented backs to run through. Denver's defensive line, from what I've seen, seems like it's built more for pass rushing than for stopping the run. They don't really get much penetration in run defense. So it'll be up to guys like Jake Long, Justin Smiley, and Vernon Carey to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and give Ronnie and Ricky room to operate. Advantage: Dolphins
MATCHUP #2: Joey Porter vs Broncos' Offensive Line
While many are putting a lot of emphasis on how Miami's secondary will deal with Denver's receivers (and we'll get to that), I think that is matchup is just as important - if not more. The Broncos have done a terrific job in keeping their quarterback upright. They've allowed just 5 sacks all season and Football Outsiders have Denver's OL ranked 4th in the NFL in "adjusted sack percentage." That means, in a nutshell, they do a good job of keeping their QB clean.
Of course, the Broncos haven't gone up against a pass rusher like Joey Porter this season. Porter, leading the league with 10.5 sacks, is on pace to potentially have a record-setting sack season. It'll be interesting to see how Paul Pasqualoni use Porter. Will he rush the left side of Denver's line, being matched up with rookie Ryan Clady? Or will they let Porter rush over on the right side of Denver's line against 2nd year tackle Ryan Harris? Either way, though, both are inexperienced. Considering that Porter dominated pro-bowl LT Jason Peters last week, I really don't see how these two young tackles would be able to consistently keep Porter away from Jay Cutler. Advantage: Dolphins
MATCHUP #3: Brandon Marshall vs Dolphins' Secondary
I said it yesterday and I'll say it again: Brandon Marshall gives me nightmares. The Texans run a very similar offense to the Broncos and their big, physical, talented WR gave the Dolphins fits all game long - especially in critical situations. So what do the Dolphins plan on doing to stop one of the game's top receivers?
Well we know that Tony Sparano and company have been preparing for Marshall all week. Sparano has even confessed that the thought of defending Brandon Marshall has kept him up at a little bit at night. So if the Dolphins do struggle to contain Marshall, it won't be for a lack of preparation - that much we know for sure. In practice, the Dolphins are using 2 big receivers - Derek Hagan and Brandon London - to imitate Marshall on the scout team so that the defense can get a feel for what they want to do. But what will they do? Call it a hunch, but I get the feeling the Dolphins might try putting Will Allen over on rookie Eddie Royal and Jason Allen - who is taller, at 6'1 - on Marshall with a safety over the top. Advantage: Broncos
MATCHUP #4: Tony Scheffler/Daniel Graham vs Dolphins' Linebackers and/or Safeties
If the Dolphins do indeed keep a safety over the top of Brandon Marshall for most of the game, that means that some of Jay Cutler's other options could be available to him. Denver's tight ends, Tony Scheffler (who has been limited in practice this week and hasn't played since week 5) and Daniel Graham, have combined for 26 catches, 379 yards, and 4 touchdowns. They are both talented and will pose some problems for Miami's defense. Now while the Dolphins did a good job defending Antonio Gates, the Chargers also lacked a big, physical receiver like Marshall. But the Dolphins didn't fare as well against the Texans, who run a similar offense and have a Marshall-like receiver, and their TE Owen Daniels. Daniels made some key receptions and totaled 70 yards on just 4 catches.
This matchup worries me. First, we know that the Dolphins' linebackers aren't exactly good cover linebackers. Channing Crowder isn't good in space when trying to cover a tight end or running back. So that means Yeremiah Bell could see a lot of action defending Denver's tight ends - most likely leaving Renaldo Hill back as the deep safety shadowing Brandon Marshall. Ugh.
Indeed, Paul Pasqualoni, Todd Bowles, and company sure have their hands full this week. Advantage: Broncos
So those are my four key matchups to watch. Tell us what you think of these or bring up any matchups of your own that you feel will be critical in the outcome of Sunday's game.