Keys to Victory: A Formula for Beating the Lions

For the second consecutive week, the Dolphins will play a football team who doesn’t look like much record wise, but in reality is capable of playing with and beating just about any team in this league. The Lions are fresh off their first road win since October of 2007, and based on how pathetic the Dolphins have been at home this season, Detroit suddenly looks very capable of coming down to South Florida and turning the Dolphins’ disappointing season into a nightmare.

Another home loss on Sunday would drop the Dolphins to a tie with the 2007 1-15 squad for the worst home record in franchise history. And losses to the Browns, Bills, and Lions in three out of four weeks could lead to a frustrated fan base calling for Tony Sparano’s head. Let’s see what the Dolphins have to do to avoid that fate in a “meaningless” football game.

Great coverage is only half the battle
Last week we saw Dolphin DB’s and linebackers in pretty solid coverage all afternoon, but that didn’t stop Ryan Fitzpatrick from riffling in completion after completion into double and triple coverage. Let’s be honest, Fitzpatrick had no business making some of those throws, but the Dolphins let him get away with it by not being able to make plays on footballs that were mere inches away. The Lions also possess a gunslinger mentality on offense, regardless of who lines up at quarterback. Whether it has been Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill, or Drew Stanton the Lions have found success through the air this season by stretching the field vertically from start to finish.

They haven’t missed much of beat no matter who has lined up under center in large part thanks to Calvin Johnson. You could argue that Johnson is emerging as one of the top two or three receivers in all of football. The guy is big, strong, athletic and fast; the complete package. It should be interesting to see who the Dolphins stick on him. Vontae Davis is usually first in line to cover the opposition’s go-to threat, but Johnson would have a significant height advantage on Davis, which would put the Dolphins in a difficult position on jump balls. Sean Smith, on the other hand, has the height and length to go up and compete for the football in those situations, but I have my concerns if he is physical enough to handle a beast like Johnson.

The Dolphins will also have their hands full with tight end Brandon Pettigrew and running back Jahvid Best, who rank second and third in receptions for the Lions. The Dolphins have had difficulty covering tight ends and backs this season, and could be exploited even further with the possibility of Karlos Dansby, who has excelled in coverage all season long, being out of the lineup. The good news for the Dolphins is, Shaun Hill is questionable with an injured finger, so the least accomplished of the Lions’ three quarterbacks, Drew Stanton, could get the start.

Play mistake free football
If you want to know why the Dolphins have lost their last two home games to inferior opponents, look no further than Chad Henne’s three picks against the Browns and Dan Carpenter’s four missed field-goals against the Bills. The Dolphins are playing great defense right now, but when the formula for success is a low-scoring defensive struggle, the margin for error isn’t much on offense and special-teams. The Dolphins just aren’t good enough to recover from those kinds of mind-boggling mistakes. If they can manage mistake free football on Sunday, I think their defense can take them the rest of the way and pull out this W. Of course, Chad Henne and the offense will have to muster some sort of production and put up a few scores on the board, but if they don’t turn the football over the Dolphins will be in great position to pick up their eight win of the season.

Interior O-line needs to contain Ndamukong Suh
The Dolphins have done quite a few things wrong on the offensive side of the football this season, but most would agree that the origin of their struggles stem from the interior offensive line. The Dolphins replaced all three interior starters from an offensive line that plowed the way for the league’s fourth best ground attack in 09’ and the results haven’t been pretty. The Dolphins rarely get much push up front, which has neutralized what was an outstanding running back tandem in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

On Sunday, not only will Richie Incognito, Joe Berger, and Pat McQuistan need to worry about trying to handle Suh in run blocking, but they must also worry about protecting Henne from the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Suh has registered eight sacks on the season, which is usually unheard of for a defensive tackle. The Dolphins will already have their hands full on the outside with Lydon Murtha still manning the starting right tackle job, but if Suh can consistently collapse the pocket it’s tough to envision Chad Henne having a productive day where he not only moves the football but avoids turnovers.

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