On Sunday the Dolphins play what is essentially their second consecutive playoff game when they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. In reality, every game from here on out is a playoff game for the Dolphins. One slip up and their playoff chances take a serious hit.
So with that said, let's talk about three critical matchups for Sunday's game:
Mike Sims-Walker/Torry Holt vs Vontae Davis/Sean Smith
Every single week it seems like I start off this post by highlighting our two rookie corners. So why stop now?
Truth be told, this is a very interesting matchup. Why? Because this will be an excellent measuring stick to see how far Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have come. They've had to go up against some of the game's best receivers over the past two months (Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Steve Smith, Marques Colston, etc...). But this week they get to face an up-and-coming star, Mike Sims-Walker, and an aging but crafty veteran, Torry Holt - which should make for some interesting moments.
Last week we saw Vontae Davis really play well. Yes, he was burnt on that early first quarter bomb from Tom Brady to Moss. But he showed how resilient he is by bouncing back and really defending Moss well from that point on. Davis shadowed Randy wherever he lined up - a first for the young corner - and he held Moss to just one more reception - for only eight yards - the rest of the game. And who could forget his huge interception in the endzone?
Meanwhile, Smith didn't have such a great day himself. He let Sam Aiken out-jump or out-wrestle a ball away from him, resulting in an 81 yard touchdown for the young receiver. He let Aiken get about five yards in front of him late in the game as well but lucked out when Brady just overthrew the open receiver. And then on that final Patriot possession, Aiken again narrowly missed a big reception when he beat Smith and got two hands on the ball only to not bring in the tough catch.
With that said, though, I'm still not worried about Smith. I'm every bit as confident in him as I was before the draft when I highlighted him as the number one guy on my wishlist. And I expect a bounce back performance on Sunday out of Smith - who has tweeted how excited he is for this game on Sunday.
It'll be very interesting to see how the coaching staff decides to match up our young corners. Which one gets the 6'2 Sins-Walker, who is quietly having a big season? And which one gets the 6'0 Holt, who remains a factor even at the age of 33?
Jaguars offensive line vs Dolphins front seven
One of the things I've been most impressed with this season has been the play of Jacksonville's two rookie tackles. That's right - they start rookies at both left and right tackle. Not too often you see that.
But from the games I've watched - which, truth be told, is not too many - Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton have been playing some good football. And that is part of the reason why the Jaguars have the 7th ranked rushing offense in the NFL. Of course, the biggest reason for that is the explosive Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew is having an outstanding season in his first year as the full-time back in Jacksonville. He's fourth in the NFL in rushing yards, leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns, and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Not too shabby.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have been struggling of late against the run. Earlier this season, the Dolphins were one of the best in stopping the run. But thanks to many factors - injuries included - the Dolphins have fallen to 14th in the league against the run. And in their past 5 games, the Dolphins have allowed 127 yards per game on the ground and are surrendering 4.9 yards per carry. Not good.
However, two rookie bookend tackles does mean that the Jaguars are prone to surrendering sacks. The Jags have allowed 34 sacks this season - the 5th highest total in the league. Of course, the Dolphins didn't exactly do a great job of getting to Tom Brady last week. But Cameron Wake did make a play with under a minute left to force that errant throw by Brady that landed in Channing Crowder's arms. But outside of that play, Brady was pretty well protected.
What I'm hoping here is for Paul Pasqualoni to dial up some blitz packages designed to confuse these rookie tackles, keeping David Garrard uncomfortable all game long.
Dolphins wide receivers vs Jaguars cornerbacks
Last week the Dolphins went into that game against the Patriots with every intention of letting Chad Henne air it out. Against the NFL's 13th ranked pass defense (statistically speaking), Miami's receivers did an excellent job of giving Henne places to go with the football.
On Sunday, the Dolphins will face the NFL's 23rd ranked pass defense - a unit allowing 242 yards per game through the air and letting opponents complete over 65% of their passes. They will still be without their top corner - Rashean Mathis - meaning Tyron Brackenridge will get the start again opposite of Derek Cox. Neither of those two corners are very good. Cox is allowing 64% of the passes thrown his way to be completed while Brackenridge allows over 15 yards per reception.
Let's see if this group of receivers can again come up big in a big game and put some points on the board in Jacksonville.