The Miami Dolphins (6-4) have traveled West to take on the Denver Broncos (7-3) this Sunday at 4 pm ET. This isn't a season-turning game for Miami, but it would be a great boost to the Dolphins playoff hopes if the team could pull out a statement win against a perennial AFC powerhouse.
Here are six things to watch for as we prepare for kickoff of this afternoon game:
1. A fired up Broncos team
The energy in Denver will be electric as the Broncos return home for the first time in three weeks. The Broncos went 1-2 on that road trip, with losses coming from the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams. Denver will be looking to improve their standing within their division in the comfort of their own backyard. In fact, the Broncos are 19-2 at home in Peyton Manning's tenure with the team.
The Broncos will be playing with high-energy and intensity. The Dolphins need to match or raise this intensity.
The silver lining regarding the Broncos being at home is....
2. Peyton playing in cold weather
Manning is his most vulnerable when the weather drops below 40 degrees. The predicted high for this afternoon's game is 40 degrees.
Both of the home losses mentioned in the article above came in weather under 40 degrees, and one was against an AFC East team in Week 12 (destiny?).
We all saw what happened in last year's Super Bowl. Manning is not as effective throwing the ball in the cold. There is only one other thing that can affect Manning's performance, and thankfully the Dolphins can provide it...
3. Physical play by Dolphins defense line
Denver's offense shudders when pushed around. Physical defenses give the Broncos trouble (see Rams defense last week).
Manning is at his worst when bodies are around him. So the Dolphins need to apply consistent pressure to Manning. This will take some great play-calling by defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle in order to consistently get pressure along each gap and keep Manning and the Broncos offensive line guessing on what's coming next.
The Dolphins really need to disguise what they are going to do on defense before the snap of the ball. If Manning gets a clear picture of what will happen post-snap before the snap of the ball then he has already won the play.
4. Big game by Reshad Jones
The Dolphins truly have interchangeable safeties this year with Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas. Both can play in the box and both can play as the single-high safety in a Cover 1.
But Jones will likely be the in-the-box strong safety this week. Once the Dolphins shut down the run, which I fully expect to happen, then Jones will be focused on the intermediate part of the field, bringing to boom to any receiver who dares to run a crossing route or catch a short pass, similar to the likes of Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in last year's Super Bowl.
Look for a few big hits from Jones that affect the psychological portion of this game. Miami's defense needs to get into the heads of the Broncos offensive players, and they can do that by laying big hits.
5. Offense needs to do its part
Miami's defense has bailed out the offense in more than a few games this season. In order to produce a victory, however, the offense needs to do it's part. The patchwork offensive line will need to open holes against a defense that allows only 3.3 yards per carry. If the Dolphins cannot run the ball, and Ryan Tannehill is forced to win a shootout, then things could get ugly.
The Broncos have two very good pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. If the Dolphins cannot run the ball then the Dolphins will be thoroughly tested in pass protection. It's likely that tight end Dion Sims will be kept in to help block often against the Broncos in order to try to neutralize the pass rush. Tannehill was sacked five times last week. The Dolphins cannot expect to win if the Broncos are able to hit the quarterback that much this week.
6. Performance in the redzone
Offensively and defensively. The Dolphins must hold the Broncos, who convert 77% of their redzone opportunities into touchdowns, to field goals when Denver is threatening in the redzone. Miami is stopping opponents 50% of the time. They will need to do at least that good to have a shot at victory.
Conversely, the Dolphins cannot continue their inefficient ways in redzone. Miami is converting only 45% of their redzone opportunities into touchdowns. The Dolphins cannot settle for field goals if they want to beat a high-powered Denver offense at home and send a message to the NFL.