We're getting closer and closer to Sunday's huge game between the Dolphins and Texans down at Land Shark Stadium - a playoff elimination game, in fact. There is one small scenario that gets the Dolphins into the playoffs with an 8-8 record, but it's highly unlikely. So to keep their postseason dreams alive, the Dolphins must win this game on Sunday.
To do so, these are my three keys for the Dolphins on Sunday:
Protect the football
I can't believe I even have to type this about this football team. But last season's terrific job of protecting the football has not carried over to 2009. The Dolphins led the NFL in turnover ratio last year with a +17 - committing just 13 turnovers in the entire season. The '09 Dolphins, however, have turned the ball over 12 times in just their past four games and have 25 turnovers on the season. Totally unacceptable.
Now when you go from a Chad Pennington at quarterback to a young kid with no career starts, it's expected for there to be an increase in turnovers. But that's not the troubling part. What bothers me most is the ridiculous amount of fumbles by this football team. The Dolphins have lost 10 fumbles this year after losing only 6 in 2008. Worse yet, Miami has put the ball on the ground a whopping 25 times this year - the fifth most fumbles in the NFL. They have just been lucky that 15 of those were recovered by a Dolphin or went out of bounds.
The two biggest culprits of fumbling have been Ricky Williams and Davone Bess. Ricky has four fumbles in his last two games - including two lost. Bess, meanwhile, has fumbled six times and lost three of them a year after just fumbling once as a rookie. Considering how good Davone's hands are, that's the really surprising part of all this.
Regardless of who it is, though, the Dolphins can afford to squander away opportunities by turning the ball over. They need to score some points on Sunday and to limit the number of times they let Houston's offense get their hands on the football.
Limit Andre Johnson's opportunities
This one is really a no-brainer and was highlighted in my post yesterday. For the second week in a row, this Miami defense has to deal with another "Johnson" on the field. This time, though, it's a receiver who may be the most dominant receiver in the game right now. Andre Johnson leads the NFL in receiving yards and is just 67 yards away from becoming only the second player in league history to have back-to-back 1,500 yard receiving seasons (any guesses as to who is currently the only player to achieve such a feat?).
Johnson is also a Dolphins killer. He's played in three career games, including his NFL debut back in 2003, and averages 8 catches for 118 yards and has two career touchdowns against the Dolphins. Only in his NFL debut did Miami hold him to fewer than 9 receptions and fewer than 101 yards (he had 6 for 76 that day). And last year, Johnson was a one man wrecking crew, tallying 10 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown en route to a last second win. In that game, Matt Schaub completed 22 passes and 10 were to Andre.
We know that no player in the NFL has more passes thrown his way than Johnson does. In fact, in the last three weeks alone, Johnson has seen 42 balls thrown his way. If the Dolphins want to win this game, they have got to find a way to minimize Andre's impact on Sunday.
Don't fall behind early
Last week the Dolphins did something we haven't seen much of the past few years - they came back from a large deficit to tie it up. But we know that this offense isn't exactly suited to coming back from behind. What the Dolphins have excelled at under Tony Sparano these past two seasons is winning the tight games. In games decided by seven points or less, the Dolphins are 13-4 the past two seasons, including a 6-2 mark in 2009.
That, to me, is how you beat the Texans. You keep it close and force Houston's offense to have to execute plays late in a game. This season, Houston is only 3-5 in games decided by seven or less. And with the way Houston can score points, an early deficit could just be the beginning to a nightmare afternoon for the Dolphins.
The Fins need to run the ball, win the time of possession battle, and make sure they convert in the red zone - something this team didn't do so well last week.