When the Bears pass the football
Brandon Marshall is 6-4 and 230 pounds. Alshon Jeffery is 6-3 and 216 pounds. The Dolphins cornerbacks, meanwhile, are elves. Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan, both 5-10, will be physically overmatched against Chicago’s starting receivers, and to make matters worse, both defenders are coming off tough games against Green Bay last week. So do the Dolphins play more zone rather than matching up man-to-man as much as they tried to do last week? Do the Dolphins try to integrate the taller but less experienced Jamar Taylor into the mix in the nickel package? The issue is problematic. The only way around it is to address the passer and not so much the receivers. If the Dolphins’ defensive front, led by Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, can pressure quarterback Jay Cutler so much that he hasn’t the time to wait for his redwood receivers to come open, the Dolphins have a chance. Oh, by the way, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett is 6-6 and also a significant mismatch against Miami’s linebackers and safeties. ADVANTAGE: Chicago.
When the Bears run the football
The overall statistics say running back Matt Forte is an average runner, averaging 4 yards per carry. But at home, Forte is much better. He is averaging 99.7 yards rushing and a touchdown in the past five home games. In those games he is averaging 159.7 yards from scrimmage, including 60 passing yards per game. The Chicago offensive line is getting healthier. Michael Ola is back on the bench because Matt Slauson is healthy again. The Dolphins’ run defense has been ranked lower than the pass defense (13th vs. seventh), but it has actually been more consistent, offering solid resistance in all but one game — against Kansas City. The important issue in this game is the Dolphins being able to stop the Chicago running game without committing an extra defender into the tackle box. That defender can then be deployed against early down passes. ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Dolphins pass the football
Ryan Tannehill has to avoid the terrible start (he didn’t last week) or the inconsistency from half to half (he didn’t last week), because he truly does hold the key to his team winning — as most NFL quarterbacks do. When Tannehill posts a rating of 90-plus, the Dolphins are 13-1. So he must find a way to play well if not outplay Jay Cutler. One statistic that suggests this might happen is Tannehill has completed 69.4 percent of his passes the past two games. It would not shock to see more and more and more of Jarvis Landry because he is getting better and is the future at wide receiver for Miami. But the Dolphins have to also find a way to integrate Brian Hartline into the offense more because ignoring a two-time 1,000-yard receiver is no way to succeed. The Bears defense is not as strong as it once was — except against the pass it has players to be wary of. Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller leads the NFL with three interceptions, and defensive end Willie Young leads the NFL with seven sacks. ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Dolphins run the football
It is Lamar Miller’s show now. With Knowshon Moreno out for the season, it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins commit more carries to Miller or instead keep Miller at his current rate of use (averaging 12 rushes per game) and give more carries to either rookie Damien Williams or Daniel Thomas. If the Dolphins are wise, they will do both. Miller, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, should rightly be a bigger part of a running game that should rightly be a bigger part of the offense. The Dolphins expect improvement from their offensive line, as Mike Pouncey, who started his first game last week, will get better. But again, this team must run the ball more often. Last week, the Dolphins faced the No.32 run defense in the NFL and ran the ball only 23 times while passing against a better pass defense 31 times. The Bears have the No.10 rush defense in the NFL. So is Miami going to test them even less? That would be a mistake. By the way, Ryan Tannehill should run the football more often. ADVANTAGE: Even.
The Dolphins have to do some serious improvement on both their punt-return and punt-coverage teams. The team is last in the NFL, yielding 15.7 yards per punt return. That average is obviously affected by last week’s crucial 17-yard return that set up the Packers at their own 40-yard line. That cannot continue in crunch situations. The Dolphins are not much better on kickoff coverage, yielding 28.2 yards per return, which is fifth worst in the NFL. The Bears, meanwhile, have covered kicks well. They’re No.4 in the NFL on kickoff coverage. Chicago’s punt coverage isn’t quite as proficient, yielding 9.9 yards per punt return, which is seventh worst in the NFL. Miami punter Brandon Fields, who has averaged more than 40 net yards per punt each of the past three seasons, is averaging 31.3 net yards per punt this year, a career worst mark. Not good enough. ADVANTAGE: Chicago.
Marc Trestman, a gifted offensive mind, has come a long way from being a Dolphins quarterback coach. He’s won a Grey Cup in the Canadian Football League and now has his own team. It is illustrative of how poor some of the decisions made by Dolphins coaches have been. In 2004, then coach Dave Wannstedt wanted to promote Trestman to offensive coordinator but changed course when another assistant — offensive line coach Tony Wise — suggested there would be an offensive assistant mutiny as a result. Trestman was one of the most gifted coaches on the staff but had to stay in the shadows. The Dolphins stunk that year — Wannstedt’s last in Miami. What does that have to do with this game? Didn’t I mention Trestman is a gifted offensive coach?