The Miami Dolphins are returning to Sun Life Stadium this Sunday after being trampled by the Bills in Buffalo last weekend. The Dolphins will be taking on the Kansas City Chiefs, who the Dolphins hold a 16-12 advantage over in a series that dates back to 1966. The Dolphins currently hold a three-game winning streak over the Chiefs.
Besides the sea of aqua that will be in the stands and the beautifully painted aqua endzones, what should you be watching for when the Dolphins take on the Chiefs this Sunday at 4:25 pm ET?
1. Dolphins offensive line
This is a weekly thing to watch because it's a work in progress that is being tested every Sunday.
LT Branden Albert will be focused when he faces the team that drafted him into the NFL in 2008, the Kansas City Chiefs, this Sunday.
When asked what it'll be like to go against his former teammate, Tamba Hali, Albert said, "Oh man, you know me and Tamba had some classic battles in practice. Now this one counts. So it’s going to be an interesting battle. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s something I look forward to because we all know Tamba is a hell of a player. I’ve got a lot of respect for Tamba. I’ve seen his work ethic through the years. Ever since I was a rookie to see what type of player he has progressed, and vice versa. He’s helped me be the player I am now, going against him in practice. So now it’s live action. This one counts. It’s going to be a good battle."
Albert will be all business against his former team, and will be counting on his linemates to help turn in a dominate performance in the trenches.
However, the Dolphins interior line is a huge uncertainty at this point.
Right guard Shelley Smith is out with a knee injury. Smith, who was mauled by the Bills' defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus last week, is a liability in pass protection. Smith is also the Dolphins' best interior run blocker and puller though. Miami's running game was stagnant until Smith was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 3 of the preseason.
Smith's replacement, Dallas Thomas, held the starting RG spot for most of training camp. Thomas showed throughout preseason that he wasn't starting material and was put on the bench after being mauled by Tampa Bay Buccaneer DT Gerald McCoy.
Thomas's issue is that he doesn't play strongly, aggressively or with much leverage as a lineman. Thomas, who is now wearing number 63, will need to improve upon his past struggles as he'll be against one of the best DTs in football, Dontario Poe, this Sunday.
Daryn Colledge, the left guard, and center Samson Satele also played subpar against the Bills. The Dolphins will need them to perform at a higher level and work tandem blocks effectively. The Dolphins may look to use more cut-blocking to take out the legs of the Chiefs' defensive linemen.
2. How Dolphins respond from last week's adversity
The Dolphins got crushed last week by the Bills. But it was just one game in a season of 16. The Dolphins' response from the embarrassment that occurred last week will speak to the type of team this is.
The difference between the 2013 Dolphins, who were also beat down in Buffalo in Week 16, and the 2014 version is monumental talent-wise. This team now has the ability to respond from that game, but do they have the mental make-up?
Will this loss impact the minds of the players and inspire another mistake-filled performance at home to follow up the bad loss (similar to Week 17 of 2013 against the New York Jets when the Dolphins scored only seven points and had 3 turnovers)?
A big component of this offseason was the acquiring of leaders such as left tackle Branden Albert, safety Louis Delmas, running back Knowshon Moreno and cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
The thought was that the presence of these leaders, with their experience and maturity, would not only help the team overcome adversity and focus on the game at hand every week, but also provide much needed energy, passion and leadership to this young squad.
That notion will be tested this week.
If the Dolphins come out respond from this adversity with another flat performance then it might be time to hit the panic button. Which brings me to my next point....
3. Will Dolphins be able to up the energy level at home?
The Dolphins came out flat in Buffalo against the Bills and lost embarrassingly. The team displayed this same apathy in Week 16 of 2013 when they lost 19-0 in Buffalo.
Now these Dolphins must reverse that trend and flood the field with intensity this Sunday against the Chiefs.
Miami will be without it's Energizer Bunny on offense, Knowshon Moreno. Moreno provided a spark that the entire team fed off of, but the Dolphins must find a way to play with a high energy level despite Moreno's absence.
After the beating from the Bills, the Dolphins must now re-focus and bring back the intensity that was flowing through this team in Week 1 against the New England Patriots when they return to Sun Life Stadium this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The leaders on this team must ensure that this team doesn't repeat the drub performance of last week and play with some passion and fire this week. The team has to look, and play, like they want to win.
The home crowd will need to be an advantage for Miami like it was for the Bills last Sunday. Joe Philbin, when asked about crowd noise, said "Absolutely, a crowd can impact a football game."
If you are going to this game, I encourage you to get loud (especially on third down) and make yourselves a twelfth man who wreak havoc on the Chiefs.
4. The down & distance situations and the amount of mistakes
Miami was consistently in third-and-longs last week against the Bills. The Dolphins didn't face a manageable third down (six yards or less) until the end of the first half of that game.
In order to win this game and produce successful offensive possessions, the Dolphins must continue to gain positive yards and stay out of third-and-long situations.
Limiting mistakes is crucial to keeping drives moving and keeping out of third-and-long. Penalties, drops and missed assignments all contribute to long third downs and stalled drives.
The Dolphins offense could greatly benefit from...
5. Explosive plays
The Dolphins were plagued by a lack of impact plays against the Bills (and, really, this season as a whole). The Dolphins longest pass this season went for 24 yards and their longest run only went for 15 yards.
Long sustained drives that end in points are great, but explosive plays can energize a team (the importance of energy cannot be understated).
The Dolphins have enough home-run threats- Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Charles Clay- to be able to create a handful of explosive plays.
So how can the Dolphins gain these chunk yardage? Joe Philbin believes that it starts with broken tackles.
"When we get a back or a receiver in space, we’ve got to break a tackle. We have to get some yards after contact. We’ve got to make somebody miss us. It’s not always, certainly we would love to hit a 50-yard pass in the air. That would be great, but we want to get the ball to our players in space on the move when they can run with it. Then they have to do something, too. That’s where you really get the bonuses when you throw a 12-yard pass and it turns into a 30-yard completion because you break a tackle and make somebody miss."
The Chiefs will be without safety Eric Berry and linebacker Derrick Johnson, both Pro bowlers, so the Dolphins may be able to attack the middle of against Kansas City to achieve these chunk yardage plays.
It will be very interesting if the Dolphins can create some electrifying plays this weekend to ignite the offense after a stagnant day against the Bills. A deep ball from Ryan Tannehill to Wallace would definitely help on that front...
6. Special teams
Koa Misi out again means that Jason Trusnik, a key special teams contributor, will be start at middle linebacker. The absence of Trusnik on special teams against the Bills (coaches didn't want to overload him) compromised the unit and led to the worst special teams day for Miami in recent memory.
Head Coach Joe Philbin feels that the Dolphins simply lacked fundamentals on special teams against the Bills.
"We really just put a focus on fundamentals. I thought Coach (Darren) Rizzi was in the special teams meeting today and he made a point that he and (Coach Marwan) Maalouf had watched, there’s been 15 blocked kicks in the National Football League in two weeks, punts and field goals. And their assessment was 14 of those were just a lack of fundamentals and execution. There was no magical double criss-cross, jump-over schemes where they freed somebody up. It was a lot of things that looked like were in the control of the kicking team. So really the point we’ve been emphasizing is we have good schemes. It didn’t feel like we got out schemed on those particular mishaps, so to speak, but we are clear that we have to execute better."
Trusnik secretes fundamentals. Trusnik is all about fundamentals and technique, and it's why he thrives on special teams. It's likely that the Dolphins will elect to use Trusnik on special teams Sunday. Limiting Trusnik to defensive snaps would bee a huge hindrance to a struggling unit.