The Miami Dolphins return to Sun Life Stadium for their first home game in October. Miami is looking to put together their first consecutive win streak after an upset of the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Miami had only one winning streak since last year, when they won 3 consecutive games from Week 9 to 11 (crushing Kansas City, Washington and Buffalo for our first 3 wins of the year.)
The Rams have a young team, similar to the Dolphins, and the focus of the media will most likely be on young quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill, although this game should be more of a defensive battle. The (2-3) Dolphins are favored in this match-up, yet St. Louis has talent on both sides of the ball and Jeff Fisher will be looking to walk out of Miami with a win. The Dolphins meanwhile are looking to reach .500 for the first time since 2010.
For Miami to stay ahead of the Rams and put together back to back wins, look for these THREE keys in Sunday's game:
Bend, but Don't Break
Miami caught a break by catching the Rams on a week without their best wide receiver, Danny Amendola. Amendola reminds me of a hybrid of Miami's top receivers; he is shifty and QB-friendly like Davone Bess but also has great speed and hands like Brian Hartline. Amendola accounted for 38% of all catches from Sam Bradford, and that insane target rate is likely to have St. Louis scrambling to see which of their receivers, if any, can step up to fill Amendola's shoes.
Although no receiver looks to be as talented as Amendola, and probably isn't... I worry Miami NOT to get caught sleeping on St. Louis' receiving core. While Steven Jackson will likely have his hands full with the league's top rush defense, Bradford will look to take to the air early and often on Sunday. Though the Rams might not a possession monster, they do have a handful of young talented wideouts who are looking to make a name for themselves in Amendola's absence.
I don't expect any of the receivers to get first down after first down on us, but Miami needs to be weary of the big play. I am looking with extra caution to speedster rookie Chris Givens, who burned an Arizona cornerback for a long TD last week. This is exactly the type of play that can swing the momentum of the game and force Tannehill into trying to do too much on offense.
Tight end Lance Kendricks, and wide receivers Chris Givens, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick may not sound like much, but Miami needs to play similar to how they did last week and limit big plays in the air. With Richard Marshall missing his second consecutive game, look for Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson to be tested; their play could easily dictate the outcome of this game.
Sean Smith, and the safety duo of Jones and Clemons should play well though, so as long as they play smart, Miami should be able to provide pressure on Bradford to prevent him from getting comfortable. Limiting big plays on deep passes and screens out of the backfield will be crucial. Miami's secondary needs to build on an impressive performance in Cincinnati and bend, not break this weekend.
Control the Field
The Dolphins desperately need to be weary of field position this week and look to control the field position battle. Their rookie kicker, Greg Zuerlein, awesomely nicknamed by Rams fans as "Legatron", has proved to be able to kick sixty yarders in his sleep. Knowing the Rams can essentially put points on the board from as far as midfield makes it that much more important to try to pin them in their own endzone throughout the day. Just like the Rams, one of Miami's best players is on their special teams as well... We will need Brandon Fields to continue with his all-pro year and look to continue to boot the ball out of harms way and give our D room to breathe.
Kick coverage can also play a big role and Miami needs to continue to play well in coverage on special teams. Rookie, Janoris Jenkins, is a shifty returner and could set up the Rams with good position if Miami misses assignments or tackles. Rely on Field's boot and bottle up returners to limit as many opportunities from Legatron as possible. I feel alot more comfortable with making Bradford have to go 50 yards to get into field goal range, than 20.
Of course, the best way to cancel out Zuerlein's opportunities is to get a big jump early so that the other team abandons the field goal game all together. This was how Miami essentially shut down Sebastian Janikowski- by controlling the clock with their running game and ultimately blowing out the Raiders. A few quick touchdowns early won't hurt guys, so take notes!
Protect the Ball
As much of an improvement Miami has made in creating takeaways this year, they continue to show times where they need work in preventing turning the ball over. Although, "Winning the Turnover Ratio" is essentially your top GOAL every week, it is especially important against a team like the Rams, who rely mostly on their defense to win games.
The Rams are tied for 6th (with Miami) in the NFL in sacks, with 15, and are 3rd in the NFL (and one above Miami's 7) with 8 interceptions; they rely on creating turnovers and big defensive plays to swing the control of the game. Additionally, Miami has shown how important winning the turnover battle is so far this year. The Dolphins are an unimpressive -4 in turnover ratio on the year, however in both of their wins (against OAK and CIN) they have been +1 and Tannehill has thrown zero interceptions in both victories.
Protecting the rock and keeping the ball from the feisty Rams defensive backs will be Miami's best chance of winning.
In conclusion, this should be a great match-up between two good football teams. The Rams will look to stay above .500, but Miami is out to prove that they are a much better team than their record shows. If the Dolphins can limit the big play in the secondary, control the field position and win the turnover battle, I can't see how they can lose this football game. We should see a defensive-heavy battle, but I look for Miami to finish the game with a W, 17-10.