Every Friday I break out my "keys to victory" post and hope for the best on gameday. Last week the Dolphins hit on two of the three keys I highlighted. But the one that they didn't hit on was one of the biggest issues. The Dolphins weren't the "aggressor" on either side of the ball. I wanted to see the Dolphins take some chances on offense and defense. But on offense, the Dolphins were anything but aggressive. Don't get me wrong - I loved the gameplan. But the big decision on 3rd & 6 to run the ball - which was Chad Pennington's call on an "either or" play at the line of scrimmage - was a disappointment. They also decided to hand the ball off earlier in the game in Colt territory on a 3rd & 7 play and settle for another field goal attempt. Those would have been great times to be aggressive. It cost them.
With that said, here are my "keys to victory" for Sunday's game in San Diego against the Chargers.
Feed Ronnie early and often
Yes, we all know that the Chargers will focus their defense around stopping the running game. But the Dolphins have got to employ a similar gameplan to that of last week. More importantly, they need to make sure they pound the rock with Ronnie Brown. We saw what he can do when the offense is centered around him. And I've never understood why three different coaching staffs refuse to give Ronnie the kind of workload he should be getting on gameday.
Interesting stat - Ronnie Brown has only carried the football 20+ times in a game 13 times in his career. That's insanely low considering he's been the best offensive weapon this team has had since his rookie season in 2005. That has to change - especially with the kind of runner Brown is. He's physical and will wear down a defense. He also seems to get into a rhythm when he gets a lot of carries. In those 13 games where Brown has gotten at least 20 carries, he averages 109 yards and 4.65 yards per carry. And only twice has Brown been held under 85 yards rushing when he's gotten at least 20 opportunities to carry the ball.
Some might say that I'm being a bit bias here because I'm a huge Ronnie Brown fan. That's true - he's my favorite Dolphin currently on the roster. He has been for a while now. But you've all seen what he can do when given the chance. He runs like a man possessed when there are actually running lanes available. Do I wish he would dance behind the line less when there isn't a hole? Sure. But that's just how he is. And that patience - as I will call it - was a positive last week as Brown always waited patiently for the hole to open - especially out of the 'Wildcat' - before attacking like a mad man.
Feed Ronnie the ball and let him do his thing against a Chargers defense that is without their massive nose tackle and is questionable - to say the least - against the run.
Attack the middle and the flats
When the Dolphins do go to the air, Chad Pennington needs to attack two distinct areas - the middle of the field and the flats. San Diego's cornerbacks are very talented, cover well, and make big plays. However, their safeties and linebackers are not exactly great in coverage.
The Chargers surrendered 6 catches for 96 yards to Raiders TE Zach Miller in week one and gave up a touchdown pass to Ravens TE Todd Heap last week. There's no reason why Anthony Fasano shouldn't finally put together a solid game against San Diego's defense.
The Chargers also give up a lot of receptions to the running backs out of the backfield. Last week, for example, Ravens running backs combined for 9 catches and 72 yards receiving. And we know that the trio of Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and Patrick Cobbs can catch the football well for backs. Chad Pennington needs to make use of these guys out of the backfield - especially when San Diego brings their blitz.
Contain Gates and Sproles
Call me crazy, but I'm mildly optimistic that Sean Smith and Will Allen will be able to mostly contain Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers. They don't really worry me. But Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles both scare me to death.
We talked about this - Gates in particular, yesterday. There's not much more to say about defending Gates. The Dolphins just have to find a way. They did a great job on Gates last year when these two met. But Gates was also slowed a little by nagging injuries. Regardless, though, that was last year and we've seen what top tight ends have done to the Dolphins in 2009. Hopefully Paul Pasqualoni and company are coming up with something.
But not to be forgotten is Darren Sproles. At this stage in their careers, Sproles scares me far more than LaDainian Tomlinson does in terms of receivers out of the backfield. Seeing as how Tomlinson likely isn't even going to play, Sproles will be on the field even more - which is bad news for Miami. He's electrifying with the ball in his hands and we know that Miami's linebackers cannot cover. There's no chance they'll be able to cover Sproles. To be honest, I have on idea what the Dolphins plan to do to prevent Sproles from catching the football and making big plays. But the Ravens saw last week that it's not easy to do - Sproles went for 124 yards receiving and a touchdown.
I'll call it now - if one player is going to kill the Dolphins on Sunday, it will be Sproles. Let's hope this defense has a solid gameplan for containing the pesky 5'6 running back who can change the game in a moment's notice.