BREAKING DOWN THE GAME | BY SPORTSWRITER ARMANDO SALGUERO
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
Nothing happens. Well, at least that was the story last week against the Browns. The Dolphins left that game last in the NFL in rushing the football. Miami offensive linemen and running backs have promised improvement this week. Makes sense. How can there not be improvement from terrible? Running back Lamar Miller said the Colts are similar to the Browns except faster. Yes, they might be faster, but they’re not nearly as stout up front. This week is a much better matchup for the Dolphins than a week ago. ADVANTAGE: Even.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
Mike Wallace had better get the ball early and often, otherwise the Dolphins risk losing their alpha receiver for the second consecutive week. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman talked to Wallace about getting him the ball more often, so that should happen. It remains clear, however, that quarterback Ryan Tannehill feels a tighter kinship with Brian Hartline and so it’s doubtful the quarterback will simply disconnect from Hartline to feed Wallace. The Colts secondary seems susceptible to the pass because left cornerback Greg Toler is merely mediocre and free safety LaRon Landry is excellent in supporting the run but his lateral movement against the pass is sometimes a step slow. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.
WHEN THE COLTS RUN THE BALL
This team passes to set up the run instead of the other way around. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a little shocking when starting running back Vick Ballard, a solid, workmanlike runner who is in his second season and gained 814 yards last season, injured his knee in practice Thursday and was lost for the season. The Colts now have to overcome that loss by asking Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw to play more and do more. Bradshaw is still coming back from foot surgery but seems the most likely next man up. The Miami front seven was so effective last week, the Browns basically quit running the ball in the second half. The Colts offensive line is a zone-blocking unit that includes Dolphins castoffs Samson Satele at center and Donald Thomas at left guard. Each is on his third team. That doesn’t suggest they are dominant. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.
WHEN THE COLTS PASS THE BALL
This is a not a good matchup for the Dolphins defense, particularly with starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson slowed by a groin injury. Even with Patterson healthy, the Colts receivers corps that includes Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey is a combination of speed and experience that might be the best the Dolphins face this year. A hobbled Patterson against the speedy Hilton in the slot is not a good matchup for Miami. Andrew Luck has directed eight come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter, which is a ton considering he has started only 17 NFL games. That means he’s dangerous with the football late in a game that has yet to be decided. The Dolphins must avoid this situation at all costs. ADVANTAGE: Colts.
Adam Vinatieri continues to be among the best clutch kickers in the league. He has kicked 24 game-winning field goals inside the final minute of a game during his career. T.Y. Hilton is a major weapon on returns. The Dolphins have the second-rated punter in the NFL because Brandon Fields is second in both net and gross average. And rookie Caleb Sturgis has shown no sign of struggle. The Dolphins are looking to improve their kick and punt coverage this week. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Chuck Pagano is healthy now, which is great news but the emotion and motivation of rallying behind his fight against cancer last year — a palpable advantage for the Colts as it happened — has faded. Pagano also lost offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who got the head coaching job in Arizona. That is a loss. Dolphins coaches need to make sure they avoid the drama that followed last week’s victory. They need to find a way to keep Mike Wallace happy and keep Randy Starks playing well while also overcoming a talented Colts team. ADVANTAGE: Colts.