Two of the NFL’s up-and-coming teams are ready to square off this Sunday.
The St. Louis Rams are coming into Sun Life Stadium 10 days after their 17-3 destruction of the Arizona Cardinals, and the Dolphins are looking to build on their 17-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Miami has improved since its Week 1 debacle—a 30-10 drumming at the hands of the Houston Texans—and Joe Philbin has the opportunity to lead his team to a .500 record (3-3).
Miami is looking to avoid its third-straight loss heading into a bye week and these are the keys in order for them to do so.
The Rams defense has vastly improved from their putrid effort last year, but it is still heavily reliant on their pass defense.
The 4.4 yards they allow per rush—this coming after the 4.8 yards they allowed in the 2011 season—continues to be the Achilles heel of their defense.
It is one the Dolphins must exploit.
Reggie Bush’s contribution is an obvious necessity, but may be limited due to his injury (left knee sprain).
With Bush reporting he is not 100 percent—and Daniel Thomas officially ruled out with his second concussion of the season—it is the productive carries of rookie Lamar Miller that will be the determining factor in Sunday’s game.
The Dolphins should follow the blueprint that led to their 35-13 drumming of the Oakland Raiders in Week 2.
By running the ball 30-35 times, the Dolphins will force the Rams to put more defenders in the box and leave their corners without help on the outside.
Rookie CB Janoris Jenkins has been impressive thus far for St. Louis, but he has not fared well on the road.
Leaving him on an island opens up the potential for a big play in the passing game.
With an established run game, the Dolphins will find themselves in 3rd-and-short situations more often than not.
The shorter the distance on third down, the more proficient Ryan Tannehill and his offense will be.
When facing a 3rd-and-long this season, Ryan Tannehill’s QB rating is a disastrous 52.6 with three interceptions—compare that to his 90.4 QB rating on 3rd-and-short.
The Rams’ prolific pass rush will be chomping at the bit if Tannehill finds himself in 3rd-and-long situations.
Kevin Kolb is still having nightmares of Robert Quinn—tied for third in the league with six sacks—and he will be looking to add to his total.
Converting third downs will be instrumental if the Dolphins plan to walk away with a victory.
Sustaining long drives will leave the Rams—a dome team used to playing in room-temperature conditions—on the field in the sweltering Miami heat.
More often than not, the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game—no other team embodies that statistic better than the Dolphins.
The Dolphins are 2-0 when they win the turnover battle and 0-3 when they do not.
If the Dolphins plan on punishing the Rams with a run-oriented attack, they must hold on to the football.
The Rams are currently ranked last in forced fumbles—with only one—so it should not be such a daunting task for Miami’s short-yardage backs to hold on to the football.
With Tannehill improving, Miami should be able to play 60 minutes of mistake-free football.
Miami is only allowing 2.7 yards a carry this season.
By continuing to stuff the run, more of the onus will be on Sam Bradford’s arm.
Danny Amendola’s injury—a dislocated clavicle sidelining him for the rest of the season—leaves Bradford with few options against a stout Miami defense.
Forcing the Rams to be one dimensional will bring added pressure from Cameron Wake and can lead to some costly mistakes by Bradford.
Since his rookie season, he has turned the ball over 28 times—he has only started in 31 games—so Miami will have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of his inclination to turn the ball over.
Two years ago Dan Carpenter was considered the only offensive weapon the Dolphins had. He was reliable as a kicker.
This year, fans cringe at the site of Carpenter jogging onto the field—only converting 60 percent of his field goals—worried he will cost the team another victory.
The Dolphins are a 2-3 team, but could have been 4-1 had Carpenter made a pair of kicks versus the Jets and Cardinals.
Miami has the blueprint to make this as much a one-sided affair as it did versus Oakland in Week 2.
The only contribution that the Dolphins should need from Carpenter this week is adding the extra point to their long, sustained touchdown drives.
Asking him for anything else is a risk every Dolphins fan is not willing to take.