Every Friday I break out my "keys to victory" for the Dolphins. Last week, the Dolphins hit on only one of those keys - and I think it hurt them. Either way, though, I still think they would have lost simply because something that I didn't think would happen - San Diego's receivers abusing Miami's corners, especially Will Allen - occurred time and time again.
So let's get to my week four keys:
Protect and support Chad Henne
The big story of the game for the Dolphins - win or lose - will be how Chad Henne performs in his first career start in the NFL. One interesting note that somebody on the board pointed out this week - Dan Marino's first career start was also at home against the Bills. I'm just sayin'...
Since this is Henne's first career start, the Dolphins must do their best to protect him. The offensive line has got to prevent Henne from taking a beating back there. I'm sure the Bills will bring some different blitz packages into this game in hopes of confusing and flustering the young quarterback. It'll be up to the $150 million offensive line to keep Henne upright and protected.
At the same time, though, the Dolphins need to support Henne. Dan Henning has to call plays that are to Henne's strengths - not to Chad Pennington's strengths. He's not out there anymore - so don't rely on short passes in which hot reads and very accurate throws are necessary. Open it up a bit - let it fly. Let Chad Henne do what he does best and don't try to force him onto being a CP10 clone because that's the offense that has been run for over a year.
Of course, the receivers, running backs, and (especially) tight ends have also got to help Henne out. Ted Ginn can't go around dropping pass after pass like he did last week once Henne came into the game. Davone Bess, the team's top possession receiver, will be a key. He needs to continue his "quarterback friendly" ways underneath out of the slot. The running backs must make the right blitz pickup reads when necessary as well as give Henne a place to dump it off if nobody is open down field. And the tight ends - which are a young quarterback's best friend - have got to actually show up and make some plays on Sunday.
All of these thingsare very important - not just for this one game but for Henne's confidence moving forward. We all want to see him succeed. And he needs to get off on the right foot.
Make a big play defensively
I don't know what's been more frustrating this year. Has it been Miami's tendency to give up big plays to opposing teams through the air or Miami's inability to make a big defensive play of their own? The Dolphins are dead last in the NFL in takeaways - they have one through their first three games. That's unacceptable.
The Bills have turned the ball over five times in their first three games. Their quarterback - Trent Edwards - has just two fewer career interceptions than touchdown passes. And I'll be quite frank - I don't think Edwards is any good. I know Bills fans will argue with me - but I was dead-on accurate with J.P. Losman. Many Buffalo fans called me a "Dolphins homer" for saying Losman wouldn't not be a good quarterback. Well I feel the same way about Edwards. I don't think he'll flame out as bad as Losman did - but I don't think Edwards is anything special at all. At best, he's an average starting quarterback.
The Dolphins need to get to Edwards and make him uncomfortable. Do that and Trent will make some poor throws. Then it'll be up to the secondary to actually make some plays. Will Allen, Sean Smith - I'm looking at you guys. We know Smith can catch the football - but it's hard to intercept passes when you are hardly targeted.
The Dolphins need to get to the quarterback - even if Joey Porter doesn't play - and force Edwards to throw the ball before he wants to. It's about time for a big defensive game-changing play. Can we get one? Please?
Protect the football
The Dolphins have turned the ball over seven times in their first three games - a far cry from how well the Dolphins did last season protecting the football. But time and time again, the Dolphins have shot themselves in the foot in 2009.
Let's be honest - Buffalo's defense isn't very good, especially with their now depleted secondary. The Dolphins should be able to move the ball against them. But they can't continue to make costly mistakes that kill drives. So far through three games, the Dolphins are only scoring touchdowns on 50% of their redzone trips while turning the ball over on 25% of their redzone trips. Not good.
All of these Dolphin turnovers also help the opposing offense. It puts Miami's defense in tough situations and shortens the field for the opponent. The Bills haven't exactly been a high-powered offense this year. The Dolphins can't afford to help out the Bills by providing them with good field position thanks to turnovers.
Let's get the "Chad Henne era" off to a good start on Sunday. Play smart, protect Henne and the football, and head into next week's Monday night game against the Jets with a win.