With Sunday’s win over the Titans still fresh in our minds, it doesn’t seem real that tomorrow is game day already. Considering all the players that got dinged up on Sunday, the short week couldn’t have come at a worse time for this football team. Thankfully, though, the Dolphins injury situation isn’t nearly as bleak as it once looked. Cameron Wake turned out to be just fine, Chad Henne hasn’t even been ruled out for tomorrow night’s game, and Jake Long will reportedly try to play through that shoulder injury.
Even at full strength, the Dolphins would still likely have their hands full against this tough 6-3 Chicago Bears team. Some may argue that the Bears aren’t quite as good as their record suggest, but their defense is good enough to play with anybody and could cause fits for an offense starting a third string quarterback. It won’t be easy, but back-to-back wins over playoff caliber teams would be just the spark the Dolphins need to make a serious playoff run down the stretch of the season. Let’s take a look at the matchups.
Dolphins running game (19th) vs. Bears run defense (2nd)
After watching the Dolphins’ inept running game against the Titans on Sunday, I think it’s finally official that this offense is now pass-first and are mediocre, if not bad at running the football. Kind of a shame when you think about how the Dolphins are essentially wasting what is likely Ronnie and Ricky’s last season together. Yes, the Dolphins did get Ricky going on a few outside runs out of the Wildcat, but their inability to run the football out of base formations will surely put a lot of pressure on Tyler Thigpen.
And I haven’t even mentioned that the Bears have the league’s second best run defense, yet. Having held opponents to a mere 3.5 yards per carry, only the Pittsburgh Steelers have been stouter against the run. That will undoubtedly lead to more wildcat this week, especially after finally seeing it succeed a couple times against the Titans. If I was Dan Henning, I would also try to switch up the running style a little bit. The Dolphins tried to go heavy with only one wide receiver on several plays against the Titans, in an attempt to run the football right down their throats. But their offensive line just isn’t creating enough push for a power running game to work. Why not try to run the ball out of three and four wide receiver sets to see if a little more space is all Ricky and Ronnie need to get going again?
Bears running game (23rd) vs. Dolphins run defense (16th)
Even after seeing Chris Johnson go over the century mark last week, I still think this Dolphins’ run defense is better than their ranking suggest. Chris Johnson is just a tough matchup for this defense. They don’t contain the edge particularly well and often get caught over pursuing, which isn’t a good formula for a speedster like Johnson.
But the Bears’ offense on the other hand, is having their fair share of troubles getting their ground attack going. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor are a good one-two punch in theory, but the Bears’ blocking woes are the main reason why both average well short of the four yards per carry benchmark. With that said, I would be very disappointed if the Dolphins’ front seven doesn’t make significant strides against the run tomorrow night, and force the Bears to be one-dimensional offensively.
Dolphins passing game (13th) vs. Bears pass defense (15th)
For the second straight week, the Dolphins enter the game with a new starter at quarterback. Tyler Thigpen’s 64-yard, 1 touchdown performance against the Titans on Sunday has fans buzzing and the organization comparing him to Tony Romo. Personally, I think it’s a little premature to make those types of comparisons, even if Mr. Romo is one of the most overrated quarterbacks in football.
One thing I would bank on, though, is this guy making plays. He’s an athletic gun-slinger, who can make things happen with his arm or his legs. He isn’t necessarily going to put up great stats on the ground, but he’s going to keep plays alive and utilize his ability to throw the football on the run. What we didn’t see on Sunday, though, was the mistakes. And don’t kid yourself, if Thigpen sticks around as the starter long enough he’s going to make a few. He’s a gambler, and eventually that’s going to cost him and this offense. If he makes enough plays, though, and continues to give this offense the spark they desperately needed, we will just have to take the good with the bad.
Thankfully, all indications are pointing to Jake Long getting the start. The Bears have only registered 13 sacks on the season, but I think it’s safe to say Julius Peppers would abuse Lydon Murtha. Overall, if the Dolphins want to move the football consistently against this tough Bears defense, they’re going to need a great game from Thigpen. A tall order for a guy making his first start in two years, but a great opportunity for a player who’s eager to prove that he’s starting material.
Bears passing game (21st) vs. Dolphins pass defense (6th)
What has been the Achilles’ heel of this football team in years past, has quietly become their strength this season. The Dolphins are pressuring the quarterback well, and are covering better and better each week. Vontae Davis has hit a couple bumps in the road the past couple games, but he’s clearly showed signs of an emerging young corner. Sean Smith has played very well since taking over Jason Allen’s staring spot in Cincinnati, and now has the veteran Al Harris to split snaps with.
Speaking of Al Harris, what a pleasant surprise he was last week. Nobody even really expected him to play, let alone get the opportunity to cover Randy Moss. It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins rotate their corners tomorrow night, but Al Harris definitely gives this secondary solid depth and a much needed veteran presence.
At free safety, Reshad Jones is scheduled to make his first career start. The kid did a great job last week getting his first sack and interception, but I have the feeling the Dolphins are going to miss Chris Clemons’ speed against the Bears’ fast receivers.
One thing they won’t miss is Cameron Wake’s ability to get after the quarterback. After giving us a little bit of an injury scare against the Titans, Wake is now all set to tee-off against the Jay Cutler. The Bears have conceded a league-high 34 sacks, and shouldn’t fare too well against Wake or Mike Nolan’s exotic blitz packages.
Even if the Dolphins outplay the Bears offensively and defensively, the outcome of tomorrow night’s game may be decided on how well the Dolphins can cover kicks and punts. The Dolphins have improved a bit covering kickoffs the past few weeks, but continue to do a sub-par job of covering punts.
Well, Devin Hester has already returned two punts for touchdowns this season, and is virtually a missed lane assignment or tackle away from taking one the distance. Throw in Daniel Manning’s 62-yard and Johnny Knox’s 42-yard kickoff returns, and the Bears clearly have the league’s most dangerous return game. The Dolphins need to avoid the big letdown in the kicking game more than ever tomorrow night. It may just make the difference between a win and a loss.