The Miami Dolphins will face the Dallas Cowboys in a Week 11 contest in which both teams are hoping to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Cowboys are coming into his game with quarterback Tony Romo under center for the first time since breaking his collarbone in Week 2. The expectations for the Cowboys, and their fans, is all the offensive struggles will disappear this afternoon now that Romo is back.
How can the Dolphins beat the Cowboys and pull themselves back to an even 0.500 on the year? Here is what Miami needs to do on Sunday to come away with the win:
When the Dolphins have the ball:
Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball
The Dolphins have a habit of giving up on the running game way too early in games. If they fall behind early, or they struggle to get moving on the ground, they turn to the passing game almost exclusively. This allows defensive lines to simply pin their ear back and attack quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That adds stress to the offensive line, a line that already has their own struggles, and means Tannehill will not have time to complete his drop before someone is hitting him in the chest or back. Getting Lamar Miller and rookie Jay Ajayi involved in the game plan early, and keeping them in it throughout the game, will give Miami the full use of the playbook, open up the passing game with play action passes, and force the Cowboys defense to respect the run and give Tannehill an extra second or two to complete his drop, find the open receiver, and put the ball on target.
Third down conversions
Saying Miami struggles on third-down is an understatement. The Dolphins are 31st in the league on third down conversion, in part because the abandon the run, throwing on first- and second-downs, and leaving themselves in third-and-long way too often. Keeping the running game in focus will help the third-down conversion rate, but so will just being smart with the play calling and the execution. Too often the Dolphins will run a five yard play on third and seven, settling for the punt. A wide receiver running a seven-yard route on 3rd-and-7 would be a huge step in the right direction.
When the Cowboys have the ball:
Unleash Ndamukong Suh
Last week, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh took over the game starting with the first snap of the second quarter, and he was a menace the rest of the contest, getting into the Philadelphia Eagles' backfield seemingly at will, and even chasing down receivers for the tackle downfield. Suh looked like the player Miami wanted when they signed him this offseason, and they are going to need that each and every week from here on out. Against the Cowboys last year int he playoffs, Suh, then with the Detroit Lions, recorded two sacks and three tackles, repeatedly disrupting the Dallas offense. Miami is going to need something similar from their star defensive lineman this week.
Covering Jason Witten
The focus of fans will probably be on the Brent Grimes versus Dez Bryant showdown, but the story of the passing game may be how well Miami can cover tight end Jason Witten. The Dolphins have, for years, struggled to contain tight ends - and when you are in a division with Rob Gronkowski, you would think that would be a priority. For whatever reason, it has not been, and the Dolphins continue to give up big games to tight ends. Last week, Brent Celek caught four passes for 134 yards before Miami figured out that they needed to focus on stopping him. Zach Ertz then got involved in the game and caught seven passes for 68 yards. Tight ends are weapons the Dolphins cannot handle and the Cowboys bring a dangerous one to the game this week. If Miami is going to stop the Dallas offense, they are going to have to keep someone on Witten and they are going to have to do it with someone who can actually break up passes coming his direction.