Miami Dolphins

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill MIAMI HERALD STAFF


Alex Smith has never played against the Dolphins despite being in his 10th NFL season. And the quarterback the Dolphins will see for the first time is having a hard time this season after posting a good season with the Chiefs last year. Smith has had very little protection from an offensive line that has been rebuilt. That line lost three starters to free agency. Eric Fisher, who was the No.1 overall pick a year ago but is moving from right to left tackle for the first time, has not been good. Behind shaky protection (six sacks in two games), Smith’s accuracy has suffered. The Chiefs do have a very good tight end corps, led by former Dolphin Anthony Fasano, that also includes Travis Kelce, who leads the team with an 18.6-yard-per-catch average. Fasano has caught a touchdown pass in four of the past six games. The Dolphins had a great pass rush in Week1 against New England but did not muster a sack against Buffalo last week. They want to get back to their New England level of performance.


That sound you’re hearing is the Miami defense exhaling because Jamaal Charles, one of the most explosive runners in the NFL, has an ankle injury and might not be playing. That means Knile Davis would carry the brunt of the running game. Davis isn’t fast like Charles, but he is bigger (227 pounds) and more physical. The Chiefs were the 22nd-ranked running team with Charles. And the 4.2 yards per rush is helped by the fact Alex Smith has averaged 7.1 yards per rush, mostly on scrambles. The Dolphins are middle of the road against the rush. They’re ranked 13th in the NFL while allowing an average of 101 yards per game. The key to having any success against the Dolphins, however, is patience. That’s because teams are averaging only 3yards per rush against Miami and that means the Dolphins are tied for fourth in the NFL in that category.


The Miami passing game is not in sync for one reason or another. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has strung together four subpar games dating to the final two games last season. Receivers are not consistently running precise routes. The interior offensive line has been inconsistent, particularly in pass protection. It just has not been very good, which is one reason the Dolphins are 31st (next to last) in the NFL with a 5.17-yards-per-attempt average. But Mike Wallace is playing well. He consistently gets open deep and has six TD catches in the past eight games. The Chiefs pass defense has been, how to put it delicately, atrocious. Opposing QBs are completing 72.9percent of their passes. They have allowed five TD passes and have zero interceptions. Opposing QBs have a 126.9 rating against Kansas City so far. That’s really good — for the opposing quarterbacks.


Knowshon Moreno is out and that hands the reins of the Dolphins running game to Lamar Miller, who is clearly not as good instinctively as Moreno and doesn’t run downhill as much as Moreno. Making the handoff a bit more cringe-worthy is that a sore ankle slows Miller some. The interesting question comes in what the Dolphins do behind Miller. Wisdom suggests the carries will go to rookie Damien Williams, who has 22 runs so far this year and has averaged 4.8yards per rush. The question here is whether exposing Williams to more prime-time playing time will be too big a stage for the rookie. That’s where the lesser possibility of giving recently re-signed Daniel Thomas work could factor in. Thomas is not a better runner than Williams. But he’s more experienced. The Dolphins will go with Williams. We’ll see how that works. The Chiefs have a solid front seven, which belies the fact they are yielding 125 yards per game.


The Dolphins last week had a punt blocked when Damien Williams declined to block his man. They muffed a punt. They yielded a 102-yard kickoff-return touchdown. And to top it off, usually reliable punter Brandon Fields sliced not one but two punts off his foot to give Buffalo good field position. After a solid game against New England, this was a meltdown and one that cannot be forgotten unless the Miami special teams redeem themselves. For the Chiefs, rookie kicker Cairo Santos, an undrafted rookie free agent acquisition, has missed two of his four field-goal attempts so far with both of those misses inside 50yards.


Andy Reid turned the Chiefs around last season as they went from a team that had the No.1 overall pick based on their record in 2012 to a playoff team that won 11games. Unfortunately, Reid has not stopped turning the team around, as they are now winless. This game tests the coach’s mettle as his team faces an urgent situation, on the road, against an arguably more talented team. Joe Philbin has to find a way to get the Dolphins started more quickly as Miami has trailed at halftime of both games it has played. Dolphins coaches this week have tried to address issues with the passing game, the interior offensive line and with the nickel defense.

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