The Miami Dolphins will put their four-game winning streak on the line against the Los Angeles Rams later today, looking to continue to fight their way into position for the AFC playoffs. They will be doing it at the end of an 11-day stretch in which the team will have spent the entire time in California with the NFL scheduling the South Florida club with back-to-back games in SoCal. After beating the San Diego Chargers last week, Miami will now look to complete the SoCal-Sweep against the Rams, who will be starting rookie quarterback Jared Goff for the first time.
What do the Dolphins have to do to win this game? We take a look at three items/players to watch for Miami in this afternoon’s contest:
Offensive line shuffle
The Dolphins’ four-game winning streak has coincided, in large part, to their offensive line finally getting healthy. That changes on Sunday when left tackle Branden Albert will miss the game with a dislocated wrist and center Mike Pouncey appears set to miss the game with a hip injury. The Dolphins will move rookie left guard Laremy Tunsil to his college position of left tackle, with Kraig Urbik coming in at left guard, then have Anthony Steen play in place of Pouncey if he cannot go. The offensive line has to be able to perform against one of the top defensive lines, with defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive end Robert Quinn headlining the Rams’ front, and they have to do it with several adjustments. Protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and finding running room for running back Jay Ajayi will be critical to any success the Dolphins have, and both of those things are reliant on the offensive line.
So much of the talk heading into this game - and probably any Rams game - is about how great defensive tackle Aaron Donald is. He is clearly a dominant player. But, the Dolphins have a dominant defensive tackle of their own, one who has been great this year, and is on a mission to prove he was a Pro Bowl snub last year.
“Elite defensive tackle,” Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said this week when asked about Donald. Plays hard. I’ve seen him a little bit. I met him this past summer. Good dude. But I don’t go against him, so at the end of the day, I’ll be watching while I’m on the bench rather than going against him or worrying about anything he’s doing.”
There may not be a true head-to-head meeting in this game between Miami’s Suh and Los Angeles’ Donald, but you have to believe Suh wants to prove Donald is not the only great defensive tackle in this game.
Pressure on Jared Goff
Suh is a part of this, but the defensive line as a whole has got to shake up the rookie quarterback as early as possible. Jared Goff is making his first start in the league, and he has to face Cameron Wake, Suh, Earl Mitchell / Jordan Phillips, and Andre Branch / Mario Williams. There is no way the defensive line is not looking across the line of scrimmage and believing they are going to feast. Now, they have to do it. Force the rookie to make decisions faster than he should, and the secondary can continue to find the interceptions on which they feasted last week. Make the Rams have to turn to a run-only team, where they are handing the ball to running back Todd Gurley, who is not exactly having a great year.