The Miami Dolphins are preparing to face the Arizona Cardinals in a 4:05pm Eastern game. The Dolphins are looking to bounce back after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the AFC East rival New York Jets, while the Cardinals are trying to stay undefeated, moving to 4-0 on the year. All week, the focus of this game has been on the Dolphins' wide receivers and if they would be able to beat Arizona's defense, led by cornerback Patrick Peterson. However, the key for a Miami victory will actually be on the ground.
The Cardinals are allowing 106 rushing yards per game this season, 18th in the league. In comparison, Arizona is 9th in the league in passing yards allowed. Clearly, the way to attack the Cardinals are on the ground.
Which plays straight into the Dolphins' strength. Miami is currently 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, with over 175 yards a contest. Meanwhile, they are 25th in passing yardage per game. The Dolphins are a rushing team, despite being a pass first West Coast Offense team. And, if Miami can get it going, it's that rushing attack that will carry the Dolphins to a win this week.
Miami running back Reggie Bush has 50 carries for 302 yards this season, giving him a 6.0 yards per carry average. He currently sits fourth in the league in rushing yards, and is averaging over 100 yards per game. And that's all despite having to sit out the entire second half of last week's game after injuring his knee. Bush is listed as questionable heading into this game, but he expects to play. How effective he will be, or if the team will limit the number of touches he will get, remains to be seen, but if Bush is able to go at 100-percent, he could be in for a big day.
Behind Bush, the Dolphins have second year rusher Daniel Thomas and rookie Lamar Miller. Thomas has 22 caries for 80 yards on the season, for a 3.6 yards per carry average. Thomas, unfortunately, has had fumble issues this year, already putting the ball on the ground twice. One of those fumbles came on a Week 1 hit that gave Thomas a concussion, resulting in not only the fumble, but caused Thomas to miss a game-and-a-half.
Miller, meanwhile, has been explosive this year, showing why the Dolphins traded up in the fourth round of last April's' draft to select the former University of Miami running back. On just 19 carries, Miller has 113 yards, giving him a 5.9 yards per carry average, just a tenth of a yard behind Bush. Miller, who was inactive for the team's first game of the year, is averaging 56.5 yards a game, and his play has forced the team to keep four halfbacks active on game day (fourth string running back Marcus Thigpen is the team's primary kick returner).
Maybe the most important advantage a strong running game will bring to the Dolphins will be the freedom to operate the team's passing attack. If Bush, Thomas, and Miller can run against the Cardinals, play action passing will be an effective weapon throughout the day. A strong running attack will open up passing lanes, and holes in coverage, which will make rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill's day that much easier.
And, of course, if the Dolphins are able to establish a passing attack, it will open up the running game even more, as the Cardinals will not be able to stack defenders into the box to stop the run.
The Cardinals have an incredible defense. They are ranked 10th overall through three games this year. They have not allowed more than two touchdowns over their last 12 games, going back into last season. They are ranked third in the league with 12 sacks already this year. Arizona's defense is clearly the strength of their team, and will be looking to carry the team to their fourth win in four games this season.
However, they can be beat. And, it's going to be up to Bush, Thomas, and Miller to make that happen. If they can do it, the Dolphins could come away with the upset win.