Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 15
Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 15
In the tightly contested fight for the AFC's final playoff spot, the Miami Dolphins haven't left themselves much room for error during the final month of the regular season.
Even running the table doesn't assure that Miami will play its first postseason game since January of 2009, but winning all three of their remaining games is the most the Dolphins can do to improve their chances. And if they're able to win out, they'll more likely than not get the little help they need to claim the sixth seed.
It appeared to be a long shot two weeks ago, but with a win over the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon, the Dolphins' prospects of ending the season on a five-game winning streak wouldn't look so improbable. Miami will be the favorite on the road against the Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and at home versus the New York Jets in Week 17. Neither one of those games will be handed to the Dolphins, but losing either one would be a major disappointment.
Winning out will only become a possibility if the Dolphins can take care of business against the Patriots. Miami certainly has the talent to beat New England, but Bill Belichick's club will have some extra incentive by playing for the AFC East crown and to take sole possession of the AFC's No. 1 overall seed. If the Dolphins are going to win they'll likely have to withstand the Patriots' A game. That A game isn't what it once was without several key starters, including tight end Rob Gronkowski, though.
Let's take a look at the Dolphins' five keys for a victory in Week 15.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Sound Tackling
The Patriots' up-tempo rushing attack and quick-striking passing game could give the Dolphins' linebacker corps fits. Philip Wheeler ranks second in the entire NFL among 4-3 outside linebackers with 17 missed tackles, and Dannell Ellerbe ranks sixth among inside linebackers with 13.
The two and the rest of the Dolphins' defense must fly to the football on Sunday afternoon, limiting New England's yards after the catch and the damage its productive running game is capable of inducing. Sound tackling will go a long way in allowing the Miami defense to bend but not break. That's been its specialty all season long and could be a key ingredient to upsetting the Patriots.
4. Most Dominant Rushing Performance of Season
It's no secret that the Patriots have struggled to defend the run in the aftermath of losing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo for the season. New England currently ranks 31st in run defense through 13 games having given up an average of 135.8 rushing yards per contest.
Even the Dolphins were able to gash the Patriots for 156 rushing yards on 5.0 yards per carry back in Week 8, and that was before Miami's rushing attack began to find its stride. The Dolphins have rushed for over 100 yards in three of their last four games and produced a season-high 181 yards on 7.2 yards per carry in Week 14.
Daniel Thomas has run with authority in recent weeks, and Lamar Miller should be cleared to play after suffering a concussion this past Sunday. There's no excuse as to why the two shouldn't tear up the Patriots with their best combined effort of the season. Doing so would give quarterback Ryan Tannehill the assistance he needs to outscore Tom Brady if need be.
3. Ryan Tannehill: Prove You're the Division's Future
Tannehill's first three games versus the Patriots weren't anything to write home about. With only two touchdown passes to three interceptions and an 0-3 record, Tannehill has yet to impress against the team Miami has set out to best in the AFC East. On Sunday, he'll have the opportunity to finally show why he's the division's future while simultaneously strengthening the Dolphins' playoff hopes in the present.
Tannehill is beginning to turn the corner in the second half of the season with an 84.0 quarterback rating or better in seven consecutive games. There's reason to believe he'll be able to build off of that success in Week 15. New England was able to sack Tannehill six times back in Week 8, but the Dolphins' offensive line is beginning to gel late in the year and should do a more adequate job of limiting pressure.
If Tannehill has time in the pocket and the aid of a productive running game, he could have the ammunition he needs to out-duel Brady for the first time, earning the signature win of his young career.
2. Introduce Tom Brady to Improved Pass Rush
The formula for neutralizing Brady has always been harassing him with a consistent pass rush. The Dolphins sacked Brady three times in Week 8 and held him to a season-low 116 passing yards. Similar success will be in order if Miami hopes to keep him check once again.
The Dolphins' pass rush projects to be more lethal on Sunday, too. Back in October, Cameron Wake still wasn't 100 percent after returning from a knee injury, as evidenced by him only playing 50 percent of Miami's defensive snaps. He's back to his old self now, though, and should be able to tee off on the Patriots who have two banged up offensive tackles at the moment. Left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Marcus Cannon have been limited at practice this week. If either one is a no-go or isn't 100 percent, Wake and Olivier Vernon, who has seven sacks in his last four games, could be in Brady's face all game.
Of course, Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time for a reason. He does such a great job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly that it will be difficult to get to him Sunday. When he does hold it for that extra split second, though, the Dolphins must make him pay.
1. Don't Let Up Until Fat Lady Sings
Even if the Dolphins take a double-digit lead at any point on Sunday afternoon, there isn't one fan at Sun Life Stadium who should feel overly confident that victory is imminent. The Patriots have made their living coming from behind this season and have erased double-digit deficits in each of their past three wins. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have blown two-score leads four times in 2013, once being in Foxboro back in October.
A consistently effective ground game would go a long way in staying in command as would avoiding costly mistakes that could spark a New England comeback. But the Dolphins can't afford to get too conservative in an effort to avoid turnovers. Staying aggressive offensively should be a priority throughout. Also, the Dolphins' defense must pride itself in playing well for 60 minutes. It's a unit that hasn't been able to finish otherwise stingy performances on multiple occasions in 2013.