Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 11
Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 11
The Miami Dolphins will look to put the tourniquet on in Week 11 in order to stop the metaphorical bleeding that has ensued after losses in five of their last six games to beat the 4-5 San Diego Chargers.
Despite everything the Dolphins have been through, a win on Sunday would arguably make the team one of the favorites to claim the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot.
Miami's two dates with the 5-4 New York Jets will prove crucial in December, but Sunday's matchup with the Chargers is arguably one of the team's most important remaining games. The winner will either keep on the Jets' heels or move into a tie with them for the conference's second wildcard spot.
The Tennessee Titans have already lost in Week 11 after giving up a 17-6 halftime lead to the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night. The Titans were also a 4-5 team heading into the week, so the winner of this Dolphins-Chargers matchup could potentially begin to separate themselves from the pack of playoff pretenders.
The Dolphins played on Monday Night Football in Week 10, so the Chargers catch them on a short week. The Chargers are making the cross-country trip to Miami Gardens, Florida from San Diego, however, which is an aspect of the game working in the Dolphins' favor.
Neither team will have any excuses on Sunday evening, though. One squad will be sitting in an opportunistic position to make a playoff run while the other will continue its descent into the depths of mediocrity and will most likely be watching football on the couch come January.
Here are five keys to a huge Dolphins win on Sunday.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Start Fast
The Dolphins have been held scoreless in the first quarter during their past two games as the offense has come out of the gates looking flat and sluggish. That caught up to them in Week 10 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers jumped out to a 15-0 first-half lead.
Miami was able to battle back and took a four-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins seemingly exhausted all of their energy climbing out that first-half hole and were dominated offensively and defensively down the stretch. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense needs to set a precedent for the game by driving down the field on a suspect San Diego defense during one of the team's first two drives of the game. Establishing a rhythm early on could allow Tannehill to have one of his best performances of the season.
4. Get Ground Game Going
We've seen the Dolphins run with success at times this season. In fact, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas combined to produce back-to-back 150-yard outings heading into Monday night's game. Then came the franchise's lowest rushing output of all-time.
Some of the team's struggles to run on the Buccaneers can be attributed to the suspended Richie Incognito, who was one of the line's better run blockers. Nate Garner struggled to pass protect and run block filling in at left guard.
Some of the blame is on offensive coordinator Mike Sherman as well. When Sherman dialed up runs in Week 10 he repeatedly attempted to challenge the edge, which Tampa Bay did a great job of setting on every down.
The Chargers don't own a very stout defensive line. Defensive ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes as well as nose tackle Cam Thomas each possess a negative run defense grade this season according to Pro Football Focus. There's reason to believe the Dolphins have the ability to exploit the three with a concerted effort to run the football.
3. Tighten Screws on Run Defense
Perhaps the most surprising revelation about the 2013 Dolphins is the defense just isn't very good at defending the run. A stout defensive line suggests they should be, but porous play from linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler has made the Dolphins vulnerable on the ground.
The Chargers don't possess one of the league's most productive running games, but after third and fourth string running backs gashed Miami's front seven down the stretch of Monday night's game, Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown surely have the ability to do the same.
Defensive tackles Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Paul Soliai should take it upon themselves to dominate an injury-riddled San Diego offensive line because there is no relying on the team's linebackers to fly to the football or make tackles.
2. Force Chargers to Kick Field Goals
It seems likely that Philip Rivers and the Chargers' offense will be able to move the football consistently against the Dolphins on Sunday. There's a reason San Diego ranks ninth in total yards and fourth in passing yards, after all.
Rivers is in the midst of one of his best seasons as a pro, and the quick-passing scheme the Chargers have employed this season has been difficult to contain. Tight end Antonio Gates and running back Danny Woodhead in particular pose unfavorable matchups for the Dolphins.
Wheeler at outside linebacker and strong safety Reshad Jones have struggled mightily in coverage this season. The two could be exposed by Gates and Woodhead.
Needless to say, the Chargers are going to move the chains many times on Sunday, but the Dolphins' defense will have the opportunity to stiffen in the red zone.
San Diego has only scored a touchdown on 51.5 percent of their red zone trips this season, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. If the Dolphins can force the Chargers' offense to stall a few times deep inside Miami territory on Sunday they'll give themselves a chance to win this game.
1. Expose San Diego Secondary
If the Dolphins' depleted offensive line can give him time to throw, Tannehill will have every opportunity to tear up the Chargers' secondary. San Diego ranks 28th in the league against the pass this season.
Through nine games, starting cornerbacks Derek Cox and Shareece Wright are slotted No. 99 and 106, respectively, out of 107 eligible players at the position according to Pro Football Focus. In Miami, Cox will likely take on the challenge of containing the speedy Mike Wallace while Wright will have his hands full with Brian Hartline.
Nickel corner Johnny Patrick has also struggled this season, which means slot receiver Rishard Matthews could be in store for another productive game. Even former Dolphin Richard Marshall, who the team released during the preseason and is now working into the rotation in San Diego, has been victimized. Despite being the team's fourth option at corner, Marshall has given up 325 yards and two touchdowns in coverage so far this season.
It starts up front for the Dolphins, who must do an adequate job in pass protection, but Tannehill appears to be poised for a prolific day.