After a emotional heart-breaking loss last week in overtime, Miami is looking to shake it off with a big win in Phoenix. Although Arizona was "supposedly" one of the league's bottom teams coming into the year, the Cardinals are just one of three undefeated teams remaining and they have beaten all quality opponents. Just like Miami coming into this game, Arizona is still vying for respect and will be looking to avoid a trap game against the Dolphins.
Miami lies at 1-2, which doesn't sound great... however with the parody we have seen thus far in the NFL, the truth remains that the Dolphins are still one game out of 1st place in the AFC East, and tied with those "ELITE" company such as Detroit, Green Bay, New England, Denver, and Kansas City. And of course, I can't forget the 0-3 Saints! Despite the record, and I know fans won't want to hear this, but perhaps Miami's 2012 record may not be the most important thing for this franchise in the long run.
However, a win every week is the ultimate goal and although Miami faces an undefeated team on the road, there is no reason why they can't steal a victory this week. Below are 3 of Miami's BIGGEST keys to victory this week; if they can excel at all of them then I think Miami stuns Arizona in their house.
Generate Pass Rush
Miami's run defense has been downright dominant, only allowing a rushing average of 2.4 YPC in their first 3 games. Our run clogging has easily been our best team attribute on defense. And although Miami has provided some pressure to opposing quarterbacks, they have been underwhelming for the most part to complete plays and collect sacks. The Dolphins currently have 4.0 sacks on the year (3 being from Randy Starks), which is only better than 3 teams: the Jets, Jaguars, and Raiders. Cameron Wake has seen a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines' and has no sacks to his name, however his play has been continuously rated as one of the highest in the league. Below is an excerpt from today's article from Pro Football Focus in regards to DL position rankings:
As usual, the top five features some very familiar names with Jason Pierre-Paul, Jared Allen, J.J. Watt, Julius Peppers, and Trent Cole, respectively. Cameron Wake is still without a sack this season, however, he still occupies a top ten spot, coming in at No. 10. Owners of Wake should remain patient. He is PFF's highest graded 4-3 DE thus far this season, and his stats will begin to show that soon enough.
Arizona has a suspect offensive line and Miami has got to pick up the tempo this week on the road. Wake needs to finally 'get off the schnide' and collect his first sack and we will need players like Starks, Vernon, Odrick and even Shelby to make a name for themselves at University of Phoenix Stadium. Due to the injury of Richard Marshall (his status for Sunday is questionable, but he should play), our already depleted defensive backfield gets even thinner. Arizona will look to pick us apart and if we don't fluster Kolb, their receivers will have a field day with our defensive backs.
Simply put, for Miami to have a shot they will need to be in Kolb's face all day long. Providing pressure will stall drives, limit their one-dimensional offense, create turnovers, and swing momentum in our favor. The strength that Miami has is the confidence in the ability to stop the run, so if they can pressure Kevin Kolb into looking like preseason Kevin Kolb, hopefully our secondary will be bailed out and Miami can end drives with turnovers and/or punts. If Kolb is comfortable back in the pocket than he will tear us up; trust me, Miami does not want to deal with a long flight back East knowing that they got obliterated by Kevin Kolb.
There are probably less than 5 wide receivers that I can name that can single-handedly beat this Miami Dolphins defense if they got a chance; unfortunately for the Dolphins, the guy atop that list is Larry Fitzgerald, and he is going to try and prove on Sunday why he is the top paid receiver in NFL history.
Honestly, I'm a bit scared.
Without a shutdown elite corner, you have zero chance that you are going to completely stop Larry Fitzgerald. Zero. Your only goal is to try and contain him. This game will most likely have a completely different outcome if #11 finishes with 5 catches for 68 yards, instead of 9 catches for 188 yards and 2 TD's.
The fact that our defensive personnel is a nightmare scenario against an elite WR like Fitzgerald, is EXACTLY why the previous key to GENERATE PASS RUSH should be our number 1 priority. Flustering Kolb will be our best bet to try and keep #11 in check as much as possible. Although Sean Smith has played "average" thus far, he still is our most consistent DB, and luckily for us has the height to match-up better with a taller receiver like Fitzgerald, who still can jump through the roof. Pressuring Kolb, and having Sean with constant safety help to pester Fitzgerald, will hopefully throw off the rhythm for Kolb to find his top target.
Our defensive pressure will dictate the game. I would like Miami to blitz early and often, and double Fitzgerald as much as possible. The last time these teams played, Anquan Boldin scorched us as their #2, and no disrespect to Andre Roberts or Michael Floyd, but they are not Anquan Boldin. The most Miami can ask for is to limit Fitzgerald, and allow guys like Roberts, Floyd , Doucet or Housler try and beat you. If Kolb is comfortable they will, but if they keep him on the turf all day, Miami could get a chance to keep Arizona's offense from moving the football for the most part.
Develop Play Action
I think Miami's defense is under the most pressure this week, however Miami will still need to put points on the board at the end of the day. Judging by how the Cardinals defense has looked in their first three games, this might not be an easy task. The good news, is Reggie Bush has practiced today with the first team, and according him, he WILL play this week.
Arizona is riddled with injuries as well, and if Arizona DE, Darnell Dockett, can't suit up, than Miami's chance of developing some big running lanes just got a lot easier. Arizona's 3-4 is controlled by two stellar ILB's: Daryl Washington & Paris Lenon. However, if Miami can get the offensive push they have gotten so far this year, there may be lanes to open up for Miami's talented backfield.
I look for a heavy dose of Daniel Thomas regardless, and if Reggie isn't 100% , look for Lamar Miller to get some carries as well. Establishing the run game will help Miami control the clock, possession and also keep the pressure off Tannehill against a ball-hawking secondary. Miami can definitely pound the rock; they are currently 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 175.7, which is more than double Arizona's (81.3 YPG)!
Developing the rush will creep Arizona's two solid safeties (Adrian Wilson & Kerry Rhodes) up in the box to help stop the run. This will allow some open lanes for Tannehill to help spread the ball down the field. I would shy against CB Patrick Peterson all together, who some Cadinals fans say, may already be an elite shutdown corner. Bess and Fasano, should be somewhat active this week, and although we have grown not to expect much, it would be nice for another WR to finally step up.
Paging Armstrong, Nannee, Moore... it would be really great if you can make a catch or two. That IS your job isn't it?
Ultimately, this should be primarily be a defensive game, however Arizona has more of the big-play ability than Miami does. However, if Miami can keep the Cardinals offense off the field and ground and pound to tire out the defense, don't be surprised if Tannehill walks out of Phoenix with his first multiple passing TD game AND his first road victory of the year.
The bottom line is Arizona is playing great ball, and Miami will need to bring their A-game to walk out with a win. This game may be alot closer than many people think, but Miami needs to rely on the three keys above- if they don't it could get out of hand in a bad way. I think Arizona has the edge in this one, but I am hoping Miami comes out firing on all cylinders and surprises the Cardinals, and the NFL, proving that this Dolphin team really can play some ball.