In tonight's contest against the Bears, the Dolphins have a key player on both offense and defense with the potential for a breakout game. As anyone who isn't living under a rock is aware, the first is quarterback Tyler Thigpen. Thigpen has the tougher game here, but a strong performance from him will say a lot more. This is because he faces a Bears defense that has been absolutely outstanding this year. The Bears are giving up only 82.3 rush yards per game, good for the 2nd best run defense in the NFL behind only the Steelers. This is bad news for a Dolphins O-line that has looked very poor when run-blocking compared to the past two years. With the injuries to Joe Berger, Vernon Carey, and Jake Long (even if Carey and Long start), it's looking like Ronnie and Ricky will again be kept in check this week. This means that the success of the offense will likely rest on the arm of Thigpen. Thigpen faces a Bears secondary that has racked up 14 picks on the season, tied with several teams for second in the league. With the success the Bears have been having against the run, I don't think they will be afraid of the Dolphins ground game, so I expect to see lots of double coverage on Marshall and even Bess. This could easily result in Thigpen out-Cutlering Cutler by throwing even more picks than he does. However, Thigpen's elusiveness in the pocket combined with his great ability to read the field and find unusual targets like Anthony Fasano could be a recipe for success. The Bears are only middle of the pack in pass yards allowed at 219 per game - 15th in the league. This means that if Thigpen can stay accurate with his passes (and his receivers actually catch them rather than tip them to the defense), he could have a good day. And if Thigpen can come out and have a big game against this stalwart Bears defense, he will quickly become the talk of the town.
The second player with the potential to hit the spotlight is rookie safety Reshad Jones out of Georgia, getting his first NFL start stepping in at free safety for the injured Chris Clemons. At 6'1 214 lbs, Jones is huge for a free safety (he alternated between FS and SS at Georgia, and is probably being groomed to take over the SS position once Bell departs the Dolphins). Jones possesses excellent ball skills, check out the second link at the bottom of this post. The guy can ball hawk; in three years at Georgia he racked up 11 interceptions. But his real gift to this team will be the big hit. Jones packs one hell of a punch, evidenced by the first link at the bottom of the article. I truly believe he can bring big play potential to the secondary. He was thrust into the Titans game on Sunday after an injury to Clemons in the fourth quarter, and he immediately went to work. He started out by making a play on a badly thrown ball by Vince Young, racing across the field and catching the ball with ease, only to land out of bounds on the sideline. On the next play, Jones came clean into the Titan backfield on a safety blitz and slammed Young down by the jersey. This is Vince Young we're talking about folks, he isn't easy to tackle, let alone toss down like a rag doll. And on the next play, Young heaved a ball to the endzone on 4th down and Jones was ready for it, getting his first career interception the play after his first career sack. This guy plays with sheer intensity and is always hungry to make a play. I think he's exactly what we need in this secondary.
Jones faces a Bears offense helmed by Mr. Interception himself, Jay Cutler. Cutler has thrown six picks in his last three games, and has been notorious the past few years for throwing picks in the red zone; he leads the league in that distinction over the past few seasons. The Bears are 21st or worse in all four major categories of offense, averaging 200 pass yards per game. This stat comes even after facing the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Redskins, all among the worst in the league in pass defense. The sputtering Bears pass attack faces a Dolphins pass defense ranked 6th in the league, allowing just 203 pass yards per game. With the recent addition of Al Harris and dismissal of the wildly inconsistent Jason Allen, the Dolphins are now top-tier in the league at the corner position with Davis, Smith, Sapp, and Harris. The Fins' corners should have no problem locking up receivers, and, if healthy, Cameron Wake should be terrorizing Cutler all game, as the Bears O-line has been absolutely putrid this year, making Cutler the most sacked quarterback in the NFL. Cutler has been sacked 33 times on 246 pass attempts, resulting in him being sacked every 7 dropbacks! So, with Cutler likely under constant pressure and the corners likely playing well, Jones should be free to roam around in coverage and get some jumps on a few balls from Cutler. If he is able to haul them in and create much-needed turnovers, Jones can cement his status as an up-and-coming safety and begin a fantastic relationship with Mike Nolan.
Reshad Jones demolishing LSU quarterback Russell Shepard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1su79vloRNg
Reshad Jones highlights from Georgia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R1Ryqw3k5Y