When the Vikings pass the football
Former Miami Northwestern High star Teddy Bridgewater is a rookie starting quarterback but he seems to be maturing quickly and has won five starts. He is unlikely to take a lot of risks so that he can limit the turnovers that hamper so many young QBs. So Bridgewater will throw check-downs, and shorter, quicker routes, which is one reason he’s aiming for his third consecutive game with a 70 percent completion mark. Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jairus Wright, who has eight catches the past two games, make up a solid nucleus to a receiver corps. The Dolphins need more pass-rush production from their front four, particularly Cameron Wake (11/2 sacks the past five games) and Olivier Vernon (one sack in the past four games). ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Vikings run the football
The Dolphins and every Vikings opponent have escaped a potentially tough day because running back Adrian Peterson was suspended earlier this season for hitting his son with a switch. So the Vikings have turned to Matt Asiata, who is not a star but knows how to find the end zone. Asiata has scored 11 touchdowns in the past 15 games. Asiata is versatile in that he caught seven passes last week. (Told you Bridgewater checks down to safer passes.) The Dolphins last week put a tourniquet on the bleeding of rushing yards allowed. They allowed only 108 yards against New England after allowing 661 yards in the previous three games. Progress! Miami is nonetheless 22nd in the NFL against the run. Miami will see the return of starting linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi this week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Dolphins pass the football
The story goes that the Dolphins could not throw deep because the offensive line didn’t give Ryan Tannehill enough time to wait for those long plays to develop. Then, last week, the Dolphins threw deep and the reason stated was that the team can do it, but only when the defense is in man coverage. So what’s wrong with dictating to the defense rather than allowing things to be the other way around? Anyway, the Dolphins will face a defense that plays some man, some zone, some off-man. Sometimes it blitzes. Sometimes it does not. Mike Wallace, Miami’s most explosive receiver, says he can get open against any defense and has been open more than 80 percent of the time this season. Well, last year Captain Munnerlyn, playing for Carolina at the time, was unable to stay anywhere close to Wallace. Miamian Xavier Rhodes starts at the other cornerback spot and last week did good work shadowing Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. The Vikings are sixth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game and can get after the passer with DEs Everson Griffen (121/2 sacks) and Brian Robison (four sacks in past seven games). ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Dolphins run the football
The Miami run game has averaged under 4.0 yards a carry the past two games and no time this season has it been under the 4.0 mark in three consecutive games. The Dolphins hope that isn’t the case as they face the No.23 run defense in the NFL. One of the reasons the Dolphins stuck with Dallas Thomas at right tackle even as he was allowing seven sacks in five starts is because he is an underappreciated run blocker. But he is doubtful for this game, meaning Jason Fox will start. The Dolphins’ running back rotation might be shorter this week with Daniel Thomas likely not playing because of a knee injury. If Thomas doesn’t play, that could thrust LaMichael James back on to the active game day roster. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
The Vikings last week had a 26-yard field goal blocked in a game that was decided by two points. The Dolphins last week had a field goal blocked on their first series and the loose football was picked up and returned 62 yards for a touchdown. So it is fair to say everybody is seeking redemption. Do not be surprised if this game comes down to a field goal. The Dolphins have played three games decided by three points and are 1-2 in those. The Vikings have lost all three of their games decided by three points or less. ADVANTAGE: Even.
First-year coach Mike Zimmer has his team pointing in a good direction late in the season. The Vikings have won two of three games and gave the Detroit Lions a tough time until succumbing, losing 16-14 last week. The defense Zimmer has installed is taking root and should be familiar to Miami fans because Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle learned under Zimmer and uses many similar concepts. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are having a bad December. They have lost two big games in a row and are this close to being out of the playoffs. Joe Philbin asked his team to play 60 minutes this week — something the team hasn’t done this year except in a couple of games. ADVANTAGE: Even.