WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
The Dolphins are a running team. They average 175.7 rushing yards per game, which is third-best in the AFC. And Reggie Bush is a huge part of that because he’s averaging 111.3 yards per game. But once the entire league is aware you are mostly a running team, opponents load up to stop the run. The issue then becomes whether the Dolphins can run when everyone expects them to. The Dolphins also face a question about Bush’s health because he sustained a minor knee injury last week that forced him to miss the second half of the New York Jets game. This week, assuming Bush plays, expect the Dolphins to share the load a bit more. Expect them to distribute carries to Daniel Thomas and even Lamar Miller. Yes, the Dolphins are expected to have all three of their primary ball-carriers active for the game. That’s another sign they are a running team. The Cardinals are better against the pass than they are against the run. They are ranked only 17th in the league against the run, which is clearly mediocre. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
There are questions about Ryan Tannehill’s accuracy, and the concerns are practical and anecdotal. He is completing only 53 percent of his passes so far this season, which is a disappointment because coaches expect their starting quarterback to complete 60 percent of his throws. Last week, he threw one pass nearly two feet over the head of a wide-open Anthony Fasano and had another deep throw to Brian Hartline come nowhere near the receiver who was open along the sideline. So the question is whether Tannehill was just having a tough day or whether he was showing who he currently is. The Cardinals boast one of the better secondary units in the NFL. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is a very good cover corner, and on the back end, Kerry Rhodes and James Sanders are established playmakers. Last week, Rhodes had a sack and forced a fumble and Sanders had a 93-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. The Cardinals have two-plus sacks in nine consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL. ADVANTAGE: Arizona.
WHEN THE CARDINALS RUN THE BALL
The formula for success in Arizona is to hand Beanie Wells the football at least 17 times and watch the wins pile up. The team is 7-3 such games. But that’s a problem now because Wells is on Injured Reserve. It will be up to Ryan Williams to carry the load. Williams had a career-high 83 yards last week and averaged 6.4 yards per rush. Despite this success, the Arizona offensive line remains something of a question mark. The Miami defensive line is haunted by no such questions. Although the unit is producing only modest pressure on the passer, the Dolphins have been stout in winning the battle along the line of scrimmage three consecutive games. Miami is No.3 against the run in the NFL and the game plan this week is to make the Cardinals prove they can move the football effectively when they’re turned into a one-dimensional offense relying mostly on throwing the football. The Dolphins like their chances if they can make that happen. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE CARDINALS PASS THE BALL
The Cardinals are 10-2 in the past 12 games dating to last season, and that baffles experts who believe a team must have an elite quarterback to post such results. Kevin Kolb, signed last year to be Arizona’s elite quarterback, failed in the assignment initially but has recovered nicely. He was still a backup to start this season, but when he was called upon late in the season opener, he rallied his team for a victory and hasn’t looked back. Kolb has a 108.6 quarterback rating, and last week completed 70.8 percent of his passes, his second-best career mark. Larry Fitzgerald is still Arizona’s Alpha receiver. He was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after catching nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. ADVANTAGE: Arizona.
If Jay Feely were writing the script, this game would come down to one of his field-goal attempts, thus giving him an opportunity for revenge against a team that waived him four years ago. Feely has connected on 17 consecutive attempts and needs one more to tie his 2010 mark for second-longest streak in club history. Miami kicker Dan Carpenter is hoping to overcome a nightmarish game last week in which he missed two game-deciding kicks. The Dolphins have been good on kick and punt defense and will be tested by Peterson this week. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Ken Whisenhunt has gained a reputation for doing an outstanding job of preparing his players. He took a suddenly hot team to the Super Bowl in 2008 and has shown an ability to maximize limited talent. The Dolphins staff must overcome the puzzling play-calling of last week’s fourth quarter, in which they held a lead forged on good defense and running, then suddenly stopped running. Good coaches do not go away from that which is working. ADVANTAGE: Arizona.