Tony Sporano needs to play smart this week if the Dolphins want to improve to 5-3
It seems as if almost every week in this 2010 season is a must win game for the Miami Dolphins. Even week 1.
If the Dolphins lost to the Bills fans would be jumping off the bangwagon left and right, but now we are at week 9 and the Dolphins have kept afloat in what is for the most part a dominant AFC conference.
The Dolphins are 4-3 and heading into their fifth road game of the year and look to go 5-0 on the road, as Miami is only the fifth team in NFL history to go 4-0 on the road and 0-3 at home in its first seven games.
In week 8 the Dolphins managed to take a 22-14 decision at Cincinnati in which the team converted five field goals for the second week in a row.
During the week the Miami front office did not go after Randy Moss who was on the waiver wire.
A victory would go a long way in the minds of the fans who for the most part felt that Randy Moss could have helped the Dolphins reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1984.
The Dolphins are the only team in the league that is 4-0 on the road and the next few keys-to-the-game are the ways that the Phins will surge on to 5-0.
Ricky Williams was the only Miami Dolphins player to reach the end zone last week, while Dan Carpenter booted 5 field goals inside the goal post on his way to winning the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month (ironically the same month in which the teams special teams coach was fired).
While teams have been able to move the ball and score on the Ravens, something not usually done in the past, the nation saw what the Ravens defense is capable of week 1 when they held the Jets to only 9 points.
Also the Ravens were missing their ball hawking safety, Ed Reed. Now they are not.
If Miami wants to secure a win and head back home victorious it must score first.
Being down to the Ravens and trying to have to come from behind against a defense that features the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed is a task that few teams have overcome. Just ask Chad Pennington and his 2008 playoff game performance against the Ravens when he tossed four interceptions.
If Miami scores early, even a field goal, it has an opportunity to control the game at their pace.
We all know how coach Tony Sparano loves to play the game close to the chest. Falling behind a team that can pound out the game and control the clock with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee spells a disaster for the Dolphins defense.
Even though the Ravens passing game hasn't kicked into high gear yet this is not the week that the Dolphins want that to happen.
With weapons like Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Todd Heap, Joe Flacco and the Ravens look to finally get their passing game in order, which leads to the next key.
While Joe Flacco is having a decent year his numbers are pretty average.
After an offseason in which the Ravens front office nabbed Anquan Boldin for a few measly draft picks, and picked up T.J. Houshmandzadeh during the preseason, the three really haven't clicked as well as everyone thought they would.
Flacco is averaging 226 yards a game and has 10 T.D.'s and 6 interceptions on the year. The stat that sticks out though is that Flacco has only been sacked 10 times in 7 games this year.
If Miami wants to stop the Ravens from going deep and having success in the middle of the field, then the pass-rush is an element that Mike Nolan and his troops need to step up.
The three and four man rushes that Nolan used last week against the Bengals didn't work. Carson Palmer wasn't sacked once for the most part wasn't pressured all game.
When the Dolphins used the blitz like they did against Pittsburgh and Green Bay they had a combined 8 sacks in those games.
While, Flacco and his wide receivers haven't gotten on the same page yet this year look for them to break out of that funk any time now.
Vontae Davis needs to be covering Boldin, if the defense leaves him only on one side as they have done in previous week look for old Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron to move Boldin on the side of Sean Smith or Jason Allen.
Dan Henning is on the hot seat, make no bones about it.
The Miami Dolphins play caller has been under fire lately with local media and fans for his extremely conservative play calling especially when it matters in recent weeks.
Chad Henne was acquired in the 2008 NFL Draft because he had an arm that could throw the ball down the field, something Chad Pennington lacked. Yet Henne has played a little more than a season with the Dolphins now and has still yet to display that down-the-field arm strength that he was acquired for, except for a handful of plays.
This season besides an attempt against the Vikings to start the game, and once against the Jets the Dolphins offense has been playing the same style of football when Pennington held the reigns as the QB.
Many fans have been calling for Pennington to be the QB if this is the style of offense the team will run.
The only thing is if the Dolphins want to spread the ball down the field it needs to be away from Ed Reed. Not only can Reed intercept the ball but he can take it back to the house for a defensive touchdown.
Last week, in Reed's first game back from injury he intercepted the ball twice and returned them back for a combined 46 yards.
If numbers indicate anything, in the Dolphins last five games Chad Henne is averaging 38.8 attempts per game.
Look to see if Dan Henning and Tony Sparano finally release the hounds on Henne and let him throw down the field and not checkdown every pass if his wide receiver is not wide open.
Some say that the reason the Dolphins and coach Tony Sparano did not put in a claim to get wide receiver Randy Moss was because he would ruin Dan Carpenter's chances at kicking field goals.
That's how bad it has gotten in Miami with scoring field goals instead of touchdowns.
Miami ranks second to last in the league in scoring touchdowns, having only scored 11 of them and is ahead of only the Carolina Panthers with 8 (lets not forget that one of the touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings was a defensive touchdown).
So in seven games this year the Dolphins offense has managed a meager 10 touchdowns but in the last two weeks Dan Carpenter has been a perfect 10 of 10 in field goal opportunities.
To make matters even worse only three of those 10 field goals were possessions in which the Dolphins offense did not make it into the opponents red-zone. So even with the ball inside the opponents 20 yard line, Miami's offense has remained stagnant.
Simply put, field goals won't beat the Ravens in Baltimore, and with veterans like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata the Dolphins offense won't be given anything, inside the 20's or not.
Miami needs to convert the red-zone opportunities into touchdowns and only score field goals when necessary.
There is a reason that the Harbaugh brothers are having success both in the college football ranks and in the pros: They don't beat themselves up coaching.
If Miami wants to win this week it won't be by rushing for 150 yards, passing to Brandon Marshall 15 times or kicking another five field goals. Tony Sparano, Mike Nolan and Dan Henning need to call an almost perfect game on the field.
In recent weeks Sparano has almost reverted to a Wannstedian type of coaching style by winning or losing games in the final minutes, and not gambling on any possession.
This shift has also come with the absence of Bill Parcels and it almost seems as if Sparano has been playing not to lose, instead of to win the game.
Ravens Offensive Coordinator is former Miami Dolphins coach Cam Cameron and every time he has seen the Dolphins since his firing after a 1-15 season, he has used trick-plays and any type of gimmick to beat the team he used to coach.
If Miami wants to win against a team that will be more physical then them, then they will have to be smarter than the Ravens.
If Sparano makes mistakes, calls timeouts when he doesn't need to and doesn't go for it on 4th-and-1 then Miami will undoubtedly lose this game as Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will make the tough decisions that Sparano won't.
Bottom line is if Miami wants to win this game it needs to play a smart and physical game.
With the right combination of smart and physical football, the Dolphins can win a game that can put them right back in the playoff race in the AFC.
The teams the Dolphins have defeated are a combined 9-20 and the teams they have lost to are a combined 18-5.
The Ravens record is 5-2 and if Miami can beat them in Baltimore on Sunday, it would go to show the media and fans, that the Dolphins do in fact belong with the big boys in the NFL.
Feel free to comment and discuss. I look forward to your reaction.
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