breaking down the game | by sportswriter armando salguero
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
The Dolphins have been a poor rushing team for a month now, but the good news is their best game in that span came last week against the Jets. Miami gained 97 yards on 33 carries in that victory. Yes, the 2.9-yard-per-carry average was poor, but it represented a willingness to stick with the run. Miami hasn’t averaged 4 yards a carry in a game since September. Defenses simply are stacking the tackle box and daring Miami to pass instead. Nonetheless, the Dolphins have a clear advantage over the Colts that involves their size and strength at the line of scrimmage, which the Colts will counter with agility and speed. The fact is the Indianapolis front has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks but this week expects the return of outside linebacker Robert Mathis and tackle Fili Moala. However, Mathis isn’t a run-stopper but is considered more of a pass rusher. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
Ryan Tannehill is a question mark for this game. He has been nursing a swollen knee for a week after sustaining a bruised and hyperextended knee against New York. Tannehill has been able to practice throughout the week, albeit on a limited basis, but he clearly will not be 100 percent even if he does play. His mobility will be compromised some, although that isn’t a huge problem for the pocket passer. If Tannehill cannot start or cannot play the whole game, Matt Moore last week proved himself capable of leading the team to victory. The Colts will come at the Dolphins’ passer with former Pro Bowl players Mathis and Dwight Freeney. It is the best outside rush combination the Dolphins have faced all season. The secondary? That’s a different story. Vontae Davis was acquired from the Dolphins to shore up a leaky pass defense, but he has been injured much of the season and will not play this game because of a knee injury. ADVANTAGE: Even.
WHEN THE COLTS RUN THE BALL
The Colts have two Miami offensive line castoffs — guard Joe Reitz and center Samson Satele — starting for them. Neither is exceptional. Running back Donald Brown’s statistics look very good because he’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 319 yards. But consider that he gained 80 of those yards on 14 carries in one game against Tennessee, and outside of that performance, he’s averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. That is a truer picture of the Colts running game. Backup Vick Ballard is averaging only 3.4yards per carry. And against this mediocre run game, the Dolphins match up with their strength, which is the No. 3 rush defense in the NFL. The Dolphins are diminished somewhat in that backup Tony McDaniel is banged up, although he is expected to play barring a setback. Regardless, McDaniel is more of a luxury than a necessity. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE COLTS PASS THE BALL
One could say Indianapolis’ passing game revolves around Andrew Luck and be correct because, he is, after all, the quarterback and the franchise’s future. But the truth is Reggie Wayne is the straw that stirs this drink. He is a future Hall of Fame candidate, crafty and intelligent, and arguably the best wide receiver the Dolphins have faced in a month. Wayne isn’t as fleet now as he was during his University of Miami days, but the Colts move him around to get him man-coverage looks. Luck is a prodigy who has not disappointed as the No.1 overall pick. He isn’t Peyton Manning good, but he’s good enough to do damage, and he has been stingy with his mistakes. Indianapolis will be without tight end Coby Fleener, a security blanket target for Luck. The Dolphins are coming off their most complete game as a secondary, and the pressure up front has been good. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Adam Vinatieri is among the NFL’s most clutch kickers and in the dome he is money — connecting on 91 percent of his kicks. But that’s where the Colts’ advantage ends. The Dolphins have been blocking kicks, blocking punts, getting timely returns on punts and kickoffs from Marcus Thigpen, and last week they scored a touchdown on a blocked punt then recovered an onside kick. Miami has built momentum on special teams and doesn’t intend to stop. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
Miami’s coaching staff has been aggressive all season — on offense, defense and special teams. Sometimes it has hurt. Mostly it has paid dividends. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano has been away from the team while undergoing cancer treatment. Bruce Arians has taken over and gone 3-1, while Pagano has served as an inspiration first from his hospital bed and then last week sitting in on a coaches meeting. Do not underestimate the emotional edge another Pagano visit would bring. ADVANTAGE: Miami.