Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 10
Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 10
The Miami Dolphins received a little help in their bid for the franchise's first playoff berth since 2008 in Week 10, as the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans each lost their fifth game of the season on Sunday.
The Chargers and Titans were considered two of the Dolphins' biggest competitors for the AFC's final playoff spot before Sunday's slate of games. Now, with a win on Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami can tie the New York Jets, who currently own the AFC's sixth seed, with a 5-4 record on the season.
Being that the Dolphins play the Jets twice in December, Joe Philbin's club would be in ideal position to make a playoff push despite what has been a roller-coaster season. But Miami can't get caught looking ahead.
Tampa Bay, while 0-8, has been competitive at times this season and will surely be desperate to pick up the team's first win of the season against Miami. Seeing as how the previously win-less Jacksonville Jaguars were able to pull off an upset in Tennessee on Sunday afternoon, the Dolphins should be wary of a similar letdown on Monday Night Football.
A win would also get Miami back on track after a week of scrutiny pertaining to bullying allegations and locker room issues. The Dolphins are undoubtedly eager to put the controversy to the side and do what they get paid to, which is play football.
It should be fascinating to see how the team responds to a week of turmoil. Will it bring them together or tear them apart? We'll find out soon. In the meantime, let's take a look at my five keys to a Dolphins' victory on Monday night.
5. Play with controlled emotion
It's no secret that the Dolphins are an angry football team. The players feel as though the media's criticism of their locker room is unfair, and the team has seemingly taken on a "us versus the world" mentality.
That mindset could certainly be beneficial to the Dolphins. For one, they could potentially play like a united group whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts on Monday night. They also won't be overlooking the 0-8 Buccaneers simply because they feel so much is at stake in this game regardless of who the opponent is.
But, there is a possibility that playing an emotional brand of football could be detrimental to Miami. Some players have a tendency of doing too much when emotions become a dominant factor, including making foolish penalties or putting too much pressure on themselves. There is also a chance that the Dolphins will exhaust their energy early in the game and play flat down the stretch.
The key for Miami will be playing with a controlled passion. They should want to win more than Tampa Bay, who will be eager to taste victory for the first time of the season. They should fly to the football, run hard when they have it and celebrate as a team after big plays, but they can't sacrifice their composure in the process.
4. Force Mike Glennon to make plays
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is 0-5 as an NFL starter, but he's having a solid season statistically and currently owns a better quarterback rating than Miami's Ryan Tannehill. Most encouragingly for Tampa Bay, Glennon hasn't tossed an interception in nearly a month.
With that said, however, the Dolphins still must force Glennon to win the game for the Buccaneers. In Week 9, Tampa Bay's running game came to life as Mike James torched the Seattle Seahawks for 158 yards on the ground. The Dolphins can't allow James to get going like he did a week ago.
Defensive tackles Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick must continue to dominate in the trenches, while linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler must do a better job of tackling and shedding blocks as opposed to attempting to run around them.
If the Dolphins are able to keep James in check, they'll force Mike Glennon to make big throws and lead the Buccaneers to a victory, which is something he's yet to prove he can do.
3. Feed Lamar Miller
The Buccaneers possess a solid run defense which ranks 12th in the NFL after conceding 107.5 rushing yards per game during the team's first eight games of the season. But, that doesn't mean the Dolphins should deviate from their refocused effort to run the football.
Over the past two weeks, running back Lamar Miller has produced 194 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry. He's finally beginning to showcase the burst as a runner that enticed the Dolphins to entrust him with the starting job and to part ways with Reggie Bush during the offseason.
But, it's time to see some consistency -- not only from Miller, but from offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Sherman has been too quick to abandon the run at times this season.
On Monday night, there is a good chance that Tampa Bay will play stout run defense early on. Sherman would be wise to keep calling Miller's number, however. Doing so will help an offensive line that struggled to pass protect before it lost two starters in Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
2. Protect the football
The Dolphins have already learned their lesson this season when it comes to playing an inferior opponent, or, at least they better have.
In Week 7, the Dolphins handed a game to the Buffalo Bills with three turnovers. Two of said turnovers resulted in 10 Bills points including the game-winning field goal, while the third turnover transpired in the red zone and likely erased at least three points from Miami's total.
It was why the Dolphins lost to a team they should have beat at home. And if they miss the playoffs this season, it very well could be the game they look back at with the most regret.
A similar letdown against the Buccaneers as a product of giveaways would be difficult to withstand if Miami hopes to make a legitimate push for a postseason berth in the second half of the season. The onus will fall on Tannehill, who has thrown an interception or lost a fumble in six games this season, to protect the football.
Tampa Bay has generated eight interceptions, which is the 16th most in the NFL, and forced 10 fumbles, which ranks 12th.
1. Expose flaws in Tampa Bay's pass defense
The Buccaneers have the best cornerback in the entire NFL in Darrelle Revis, who should be able to keep speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace under wraps. They also have Gerald McCoy, who grades as Pro Football Focus' top pass-rushing defensive tackle despite only two sacks on the season.
Still, there are some clear holes in the Buccaneers' pass defense that can be exposed by Tannehill and the Dolphins. For starters, Miami's porous offensive tackle combination likely won't be abused on Monday night being that both of Tampa Bay's starting defensive ends currently have a negative pass-rushing grade according to Pro Football Focus.
Adrian Clayborn is currently slotted as the NFL's 41st 4-3 defensive end, while Daniel Te'o-Nesheim ranks dead last at 48th. That means Tannehill should have a decent amount of time to throw on Monday night, assuming the offensive line can contain McCoy on the interior. McCoy should see plenty of guard John Jerry, who has a +4.0 pass blocking grade this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
At cornerback, the Buccaneers will start rookie Johnthan Banks, who will be matched up with Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline on many snaps. Banks has been one of the most victimized corners in the entire league, as only 10 eligible players at the position grade out worse on Pro Football Focus.
Nickel corner Leonard Johnson has also struggled for Tampa Bay and has given up 264 receiving yards in coverage so far this season. Slot receiver Rishard Matthews could see his most productive game to date.
The bottom line is, in a quarterback's league, the Dolphins should have the clear-cut best quarterback on the field on Monday night. Will that be enough for a comfortable victory?