This Sunday, the Miami Dolphins' defense will line up against the daunting Denver Broncos' offense led by future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning. This is one of the biggest challenges and tests that the Dolphins defense will face all year. Will Miami's defense hold strong and prove itself to be championship-worthy?
It had seemed, at least at one point during the week, that the Dolphins would catch a break when facing these Broncos.
It seemed that tight end Julius Thomas, who has accounted for 12 touchdowns this season, and receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was officially laid to rest via Wikipedia after receiving a gruesome hit last week against the St. Louis Rams, would miss Sunday's game. Unfortunately, it now seems like both will suit up for the game. This makes Miami's defense's job a much more difficult as two very dynamic players will now be available to Manning.
Nonetheless, Miami must find a way to shut down (or slow down) the Broncos defense. These three key things have to happen on defense for the Dolphins to find success against a high-powered offense.
1. DOLPHINS MUST CONTROL THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE
Miami's front seven needs to control the line of scrimmage against a struggling Broncos' offensive line. This will ensure that the Dolphins will make the Broncos one-dimensional, which has been the Dolphins key to success. The Dolphins are 4-0 in games where the defense allows less than 60 yards rushing.
Stopping the run should not be a difficult task considering the Broncos are without their top two running backs and have a questionable offensive line.
Shutting down the run will also allow the Dolphins to put pressure in Manning's face. Manning, like most quarterbacks, is most vulnerable to mistakes when the pressure is bearing down his neck.
The Dolphins will need big games from all of their defensive linemen because the Dolphins need to get pressure without blitzing. If Miami blitzes, they leave themselves susceptible to being beat by a quick throw because Manning always knows where the hole in a defense is.
The Dolphins need to manifest interior pressure for much of the game, as this is what makes Manning most uncomfortable, so look for defensive tackle Jared Odrick to have a big impact. If the Dolphins do blitz, look for Koa Misi to be coming up the A-gap. Misi is a terror when blitzing and is exactly what the Dolphins need to be barreling full-speed ahead at Manning. That, my friends, would make anyone uncomfortable.
2. SECONDARY NEEDS TO BRING THE BOOM
Denver's offense is least effective when it gets pushed around, so Miami must do that on all levels of defense. Luckily, the Dolphins have the personnel to accomplish that task. Mainly from the safety spots as Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas are two physical safeties.
Jones and Delmas need to be ready to lay the wood against the Broncos offense. I suspect the Dolphins to play a lot of Cover 1 in the secondary (single-high safety) to allow Jones to roam the intermediate parts of the field.
Jones will need to be ready to set the tone on defense. A few head-cracking hits on crossing routes, such as what Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor did in last year's Super Bowl, could turn the tides of the game and give Miami's defense a psychological edge.
3. PERFORM ON THIRD DOWNS AND IN THE REDZONE
This also goes for Miami's offense, but I will touch on that in my weekly "What to Watch For" article tomorrow morning.
The Dolphin defense needs to get off the field on third downs when they have the opportunity. Miami's defense is currently allowing 38.9% of third downs to be converted, good enough for 10th in the NFL. Denver's offense is currently converting 43.8% of their third downs, which is also 10th in the NFL.
Miami has to get off the field when the opportunity arises, and they can help their chances by limiting the Broncos' gains on first and second down to force long third downs.
If they fail to get off the field, however, they must tighten the performance in the redzone.
The Broncos are ridiculously good in the redzone, converting 77% of their possessions inside the opponent's 20-yard line into touchdowns (which has them ranked number one in the NFL). Miami's defense allows 50% of opponent's redzone possessions into the endzone. If they want to beat the Broncos they will need to force that high-powered offense to settle for field goals.
- The Dolphins must disguise their true post-snap intentions pre-snap. If Manning gets a clear painting of what Miami's defense is trying to do before the play begins then he will know where to go with the ball, get it out quick and tear the Dolphins' defense to shreds.
- The defense needs to make clean form tackles to prevent any extra yardage.
- It will be interesting to see how well Miami defense bubble screens, a favorite of the Broncos' offense, considering how much cushion Miami's cornerbacks generally give receivers.
- The Dolphin defense has forced 14 turnovers in the past five games. The Dolphins must be on the positive side of the turnover margin to pull out a victory at Mile High, where Manning is 19-2 in his time as Denver's quarterback.
TO WRAP IT UP:
The Dolphins defense will need to play smartly, soundly, physically and cohesively. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle needs to call a phenomenal game in an attempt to confuse and disrupt Peyton Manning.
The Dolphins defense, similar to what Seattle's defense did in last year's Super Bowl, need to go on the field with the mindset that they are going to beat up this team.
Of course Denver being at home complicates things, but if Miami's defense focuses on what needs to be done, and gets some help (lead-wise) from the offense, then this daunting task becomes much more manageable.