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Dolphins vs Cardinals: 5 Burning Questions

Thank goodness that it's finally Friday.  This has been a long week following that loss last week to the Jets.  But now we are just a couple of days away from the big Dolphins/Cardinals match-up on Sunday - with "big" being a relative term, of course.

No doubt, there are a ton of questions that hang over the Dolphins as they look to move on from that "near-victory" last week.  Think about how different things would be right now if Ted Ginn had caught that lob pass that Chad Pennington just threw up there into the corner of the endzone.  The Dolphins - not Brett Favre - would have been a national story.  Chad Pennington would be loved by Dolphin fans across the country.  Ted Ginn would be a hero - not a "bust."  And the Dolphins would be a 1st place team - if only for one week.

Eh.  That's football for ya, I suppose.  Now onto some of the questions that this Dolphins team must answer:

Will Miami's receivers actually show up to play on Sunday?
This has been the talk all week, and for good reason.  And we'll have to start with Ted Ginn - who may or may not have been dropped down the depth chart for Sunday's game (though Tony Sparano says Ginn is still his starter).  This has been a tough week for Teddy.  He's been criticized left and right and he even has some of his biggest supporters (like me) beginning to question him.  How will he handle this adversity?  You'd like to think that he'll come out on Sunday determined to make some plays and quiet the cynics.  However, there's honestly no reason to believe that will indeed be the case - mainly because we've never seen him come out and have that kind of game in his 17 games as a Dolphin.  So any way you slice it, this is a big week for Teddy.

But let's not put all the emphasis on Ginn.  The other receivers also didn't do a thing last week.  Derek Hagan was non-existent, being targeted one time.  Ernest Wilford wasn't even active.  And Greg Camarillo was the most impressive receiver last week - but that's like saying Greg was the skinniest kid at fat camp.  Basically, questions surround each and every wide receiver on the roster and it's getting to the point where these questions must get answered sooner rather than later.  The Arizona secondary isn't a top secondary or anything, so opportunities will be there.  It's up to these players, though, to go out there, seize the moment, and make some damn plays.

Can the Dolphins stop the run?
It's funny how it's apparent that the preseason means absolutely nothing.  In the preseason, the run defense of Miami looked outstanding.  Then they let Thomas Jones - who isn't even a top 15 running back - rush for over 100 yards and a touchdown.  Simply unacceptable if you want to be a winning team in this league.

Now the Dolphins will get Edgerrin James, a guy who isn't what he once was, but can still run the rock effectively (he even picked up 100 yards last week).  Considering how explosive this Cardinals offense can be with wide receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, the Dolphins must stop the run and make the Cards a one-dimensional offense.  This Dolphins defense must put Arizona in 3rd and long situations and you can only do that if you can shut down the ground game.

Can anyone make a play?
When you're a team like the Dolphins and you lack the talent that good NFL teams have, certain players need to make that big play to change the game.  If you look around the league, you'll see this everywhere.  Eddie Royal, a rookie WR, made big play after big play for the Broncos.  The Falcons, who lack top talent, had Michael Turner turn out a number of big plays.  The Bears lack offensive talent, but rookie Matt Forte was huge in their upset win over Indy.

Who on the Dolphins will make those plays?  Which player will rise to the occasion to make something happen; to spark the team either on offense or defense?  Could it be Davone Bess or Ted Ginn, whether in the return game or as a pass catcher?  Can Ronnie Brown take another step towards regaining his '07 form and be that guy the offense can lean on?  Perhaps these plays will come on defense, with Will Allen or Yeremiah Bell picking off a pass in a key spot.  All I know is that winning teams - even ones who lack top talent -  have players who make plays.  Who's it going to be?

Can the Dolphins get off the field on 3rd down?
This was another problem that plagued the Dolphins a lot last season.  And if you look at the box score from last Sunday's game, you'd see that the Jets were only 5/13 on 3rd down - a 38% conversion rate.  But if you break it down, the Jets were 5/8 on 3rd down with 5 or fewer yards to go - a 63% conversion rate.  That's not very good, especially when you consider that 2 of those non-conversions were late in the game when everyone in the stadium knew the Jets would just run the ball.

Last week against the 49ers, Arizona converted just 5 of 16 3rd downs (31%) and still managed to put up 23 points.  That's how good this Cardinals' offense is.  If the Dolphins plan on staying in this game, then their defense must be able to get off the field on 3rd downs and not allow Arizona to sustain long drives.

Will Tony Sparano and the coaching staff show improvement?
Yes, it was Tony's first game as an NFL head coach, so we'll cut him some slack.  But he did make a few questionable decisions - most notably might be the decision to have Ernest Wilford inactive.  And there were also some other questionable persennel decisions as well as a few head-scratchers with the play-calling.

So in game #2 of his head coaching career, will Tony Sparano show that he's learned from his (minor) mistakes?  Or will he, like Cam Cameron last season, make the same mistakes week in and week out?  You see, every rookie head coach has a learning curve.  And I'm willing to give Sparano time like I was with Cam.  But what killed me with Cam was that he didn't learn from his mistakes - instead, he repeated them.  So let's hope the same thing doesn't happen with Sparano.

Those are my "5 burning questions."  Let me know what you think below.  Did I leave any out?  Tell us...