WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
Reggie Bush was asked earlier this week if he’s 100 percent healthy again after sustaining that minor knee injury two weeks ago. “100 percent?” Bush repeated, “no.” And that is the case at the top of the Miami running back corps because Daniel Thomas spent the week nursing a concussion — his second in four games this season. That will press Lamar Miller to get significant snaps for the second time this season. He responded well against Oakland when Thomas missed the game, rushing for 65 yards on 10 carries. Despite that performance, coaches have been restrained in giving Miller more carries. The unspoken reason is Miller remains a liability in pass protection on pass plays. The Rams feature good personnel against the run — including inside linebacker James Laurinitis, who leads the team in tackles by 20 tackles. But the Rams are still adjusting to their new system, which is perhaps the reason they rank a below average 18th in the NFL against the run. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
Not sure what this means because of the names involved, but Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 1,269 yards in his first five games and that is third most by any NFL rookie ever. Only Cam Newton and Brandon Weeden threw for more yards in their first five games. It does matter, however, that Tannehill is the only one of the three to win two games in their first five games. The Dolphins expect to continue relying on Brian Hartline and Davone Bess to do the majority of the heavy lifting downfield. The club is hopeful recent addition Jabar Gaffney, inactive last Sunday after being signed Tuesday of that week, has shaken off the rust and learned the offense sufficiently to start contributing. The Rams do a great job of pressuring the QB with Robert Quinn (six sacks) and Chris Long (three sacks) mounting most of the pressure. ADVANTAGE: Even.
WHEN THE RAMS RUN THE BALL
This is going to be Steven Jackson’s final year with the Rams, and he will leave as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. But only 271 of his 9,364 yards have come this year because he has been slowed by a groin injury the first month of the season. He is steadily improving because he had his best performance (76 yards on 18 carries) in the last game against Arizona. The Rams have three rookies playing behind Jackson. Stopping the run is what the Dolphins do better than anything else. They lead the NFL in that department, allowing 61.4 yards per game, and they seem to be getting better with the recent return to health of defensive lineman Tony McDaniel. The Dolphins are concerned about an ankle injury to Kevin Burnett, the team’s second-leading tackler, but he is expected to play. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE RAMS PASS THE BALL
The Rams lost their most consistent receiver last week when Danny Amendola injured his shoulder and clavicle. He will be out for some time. That shifts the focus of the passing game to relative unknown Chris Givens, a rookie who scored his first touchdown last week. Givens has had a 50-yard-plus reception in two games in a row. Despite his lack of complementary weapons, and a patchwork offensive line, Sam Bradford threw two touchdown passes last week and is now the 22nd rated passer in the NFL. Believe it or not, that makes him the highest rated passer in Sunday’s game. The game will offer welcome relief for the Dolphins because the lack of proven talent at wide receiver is a contrast from facing A.J. Green last week and Larry Fitzgerald the week before. The Dolphins secondary shut down those two stars and should be expected to do the same this game even as Richard Marshall misses another game. Marshall missed last week because of a back injury and was still suffering from the injury his week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
Rams punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein are both rookies that would suggest they are weak links, but the fact is Zuerlein won NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors two weeks ago and Hekker won it last week for averaging 56.9 yards per punt — the franchise one-game record. Hekker also had three punts inside the 20-yard line. In losing Amendola, who is their most productive receiver, the Rams also lost their leading punt returner. That job might go to Janoris Jenkins. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are still nursing the psyche of kicker Dan Carpenter. He has missed at least one long kick in each of the past three games. The team, meanwhile, is hoping for returner Marcus Thigpen to recapture the magic he showed in his NFL debut when he returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown. Since then, he’s averaging 9.2 yards per return. Thigpen is doing well on kickoff returns, averaging 25.6 yards a pop. ADVANTAGE: St. Louis.
The Dolphins went shopping for a coach last winter and picked Jeff Fisher first. Fisher, a veteran who has taken teams to the playoffs and a Super Bowl, turned the Dolphins down. The Dolphins turned to Joe Philbin. And although the Dolphins are so far content with the manner Philbin has guided the team, the current coach still comes into the game with an experience deficit to Fisher. Interestingly, Fisher is without a real defensive coordinator because Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. ADVANTAGE: St. Louis.