Well I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. Now it's back to work and time to turn our attention to the St. Louis Rams. And the Rams, despite their 2-9 record, are not a team to be taken lightly. This is a team that knocked off the Redskins (in Washington) and the Cowboys in back-to-back weeks. And that Dallas game was also the last time both Steven Jackson and Marc Bulger started together. Well it seems like the Rams might be healthier than we thought on Sunday - with Bulger, Jackson, and Orlando Pace all back at practice this week.
Onto the burning questions:
How will the Dolphins respond after last week's letdown?
This is the question on everyone's mind. We all witnessed a total collapse lat week during the final quarter and a half against the Patriots. We saw fights break out, dumb penalties being committed, dropped passes left and right. We watched the Dolphins' best defensive player directly disobey his coaches and their most productive wide receiver suffer a torn ACL. It wasn't a very pretty thing to witness.
And now, with this young team coming off a devastating loss to a division rival in their biggest game of the year, the Dolphins have to head into St. Louis to play a team that, on paper, isn't very good. Oh, and let's not forget that looming ahead next week is another big game against a division rival in Toronto.
This is a true test for both the coaching staff and the players. Will they take out their frustrations on a team that is down and out? Or will they let last week's game linger and cause the team to crumble?
Will the Fins be able to run the ball?
The Dolphins exploded two weeks ago against the Raiders for 200+ yards on the ground. But last week, the Dolphins only ran the ball 17 times (not including Pennington's scramble) for 59 yards. And with the season entering the month of December and the Dolphins having some cold-weather games remaining in KC and in NJ, it's going to become more and more important that the Dolphins get back to running the ball effectively...out of their base offense.
Listen - I love the Wildcat. And I still hope to see it run a few times per game. But it's getting to the point where this offense has got to be able to simply line up in a normal formation and pound the ball with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. To do so, the onus falls on the offensive line. To say I've been disappointed with their play this year would be an understatement. I had high hopes for an offensive line that I thought we be a bulldozing unit that created running lanes for our backs. But it hasn't really happened consistently yet.
The Rams are very bad at defending the run - ranking 30th and surrendering 162 yards per game on the ground. And their 4.9 yards per carry against is the 2nd worst figure in the league. So this week is the perfect time to get back to the basics and build some momentum on the ground for the rest of the stretch run.
Who replaces the production of Greg Camarillo?
It still pains me to think about what happened to Greg. And I think it especially hurts because of the kind of person/player he is. He practices every day as if he might get cut. He was legitimately a "nobody" and suddenly became the team's most productive wide receiver. And yet, he remained as humble as anyone. So his injury just really irks me, both as a Dolphin fan and an NFL fan. Camarillo's an example of all that is right in the NFL - and to see him suffer that kind of injury is tough.
But life goes on - and the Dolphins have to find a way to replace the production that Camarillo gave this team week in and week out. He had at least 4 catches in every game this season but two and led the team in receptions and receiving yards - and 31 of his 55 catches went for first downs. His 66% success rate also shows that he was indeed QB friendly.
So how do the Dolphins replace this kind of production? If I had to guess, I'd say it'll be a combination of more running and using different packages at wide receiver in different situations. What I mean by that is it wouldn't shock me to see guys like Davone Bess, Brandon London, Patrick Cobbs, and even Ernest Wilford out as the receiver opposite Ted Ginn - depending on the particular situation.
Will the Dolphins have a solution to the "spread" offense?
The NFL is a copycat league - and there's no doubt that opposing teams will not try to spread out the Dolphins. For the Rams, it might not be a good idea just because they could get their QB, whether it's Marc Bulger or Trent Green, killed behind the Rams struggling offensive line. But Jim Haslett is a desperate man, and he has the "skill position" personnel to spread out the Dolphins if he chooses.
Torry Holt, Donnie Avery, and Dane Looker would be the primary 3 receivers in St. Louis's spread. They then could line up a guy like Antonio Pittman as the 4th receiver and leave Steven Jackson (who is likely to play) in the backfield as a dual-threat. He could take the hand-off up the middle - which has killed the Dolphins in "spread" situations - or go out on a route.
If the Rams do indeed try this, will the Dolphins actually have an answer?
How will Joey Porter respond?
We all know about the "insubordination" last week by Joey Porter, refusing to come out of the game after committing two dumb personal foul penalties. This week, Porter not only apologized to Tony Sparano, but also to his team.
But that's not enough. I think Porter needs to explode for a big day. I think he needs to channel all of his pent-up anger over last week's game and just take it out on whoever is under center for the Rams. St. Louis has allowed the 4th most sacks in the NFL (37) and their QB, whether it's Bulger or Green, is not mobile at all.
Considering how last week went down, and remembering that Porter is still chasing Michael Strahan's sack record of 22.5, Porter could use just a monster game - one of those 3 sacks and a forced fumble kind of performances that quiets his critics and gets his teammates to forget all about last week.