It's week nine of the NFL season and the Miami Dolphins take their three game winning streak to Indianapolis to take on the Colts in a game that was not expected to have much significance. However, those expectations are three months old and the matchup that was projected to decide which team would likely land the first overall pick in the 2013 draft now has massive playoff implications. With both teams entering the weekend with identical 4-3 records and currently sitting as the 5th and 6th seed in the AFC respectively, the team that comes out victorious on Sunday not only improves to 5-3 but also claims a crucial tie breaker over the other. This game is by far the most meaningful on the Dolphins schedule thus far as it will resemble a playoff intensity considering that a win would provide a huge boost in any attempts of making a run at the postseason.
The most surprising element of the success of both team is that they each start a rookie at quarterback. Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck has surpassed the expectations set for his rookie season and has made the most of the weapons at his disposal. Luck leads the group of five rookie quarterbacks that start around the league in passing yards with 1,917, passing first downs with 96 and 28 passes of twenty or more yards. Although Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill sat out most of the Dolphins win last week, he has the same yards per attempts average as the elite Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers at 7.3 as well as being the most efficient signal caller when facing the blitz. Tannehill has also impressed many with his quick grasp and control of the no huddle offense.
The Dolphins and Colts match up very well against each other therefore there will be several occasions where each team takes advantage of the other's weaknesses. In order for Miami to emerge with the win, the following key's to victory will need to be executed on the football field.
1. Get consistent pressure on Andrew Luck
It is crucial that Luck doesn't find a rhythm against this Dolphins secondary or he will likely have his way with the defense. Like most other quarterbacks, Luck's performance decreases when under constant pressure which has proven to lead the rookie to making poor decisions. The Dolphins front seven is one of the best in the league with 22 sacks on the season and led by Cameron Wake who has registered 7.5 sacks of his own. The Miami defense should overmatch a fairly inexperienced offensive line who have already surrendered 18 sacks this year. Putting pressure on Luck will also put the Dolphins secondary in an excellent position to succeed and generate turnovers. With Luck under fire, his connection with Reggie Wayne becomes less effective, taking the Colts top weapon out of the equation.
2. Take advantage of a weak Colts run defense
This could be the game that Reggie Bush gets back on track and returns to his early season form against the league's 27th ranked run defense. Indianapolis has allowed an average of 137.4 rushing yards per game along with 8 touchdowns on the ground to opposing backs. This works well for the Dolphins as one of their main strengths as a team, albeit not in the past few games, is running the ball. If Miami can utilize both Bush and Daniel Thomas they should carve up huge numbers as well as allowing the team to stretch the ball down the field. Whether it's Ryan Tannehill or Matt Moore under centre, this may be the game to be aggressive when calling the passing plays. With Colts cornerback Vontae Davis sitting this game out due to injury, Indianapolis will be starting Cassius Vaughn and Jerraud Powers at the position. In seven games, the Colts secondary has registered a measly two interceptions. The run game will be crucial in the Dolphins success this Sunday, if they can run effectively they may find themselves in the midst of their best offensive performance of the season.
3. Hold on to the football, don't give the Colts opportunity
A turnover at any point in this game may very well turn out to be the deciding factor in this matchup. The Dolphins must continue to capitalize on their chances, as they've done the past few games, and find the end zone as opposed to settling for field goal attempts on promising drives. Miami must get out to a quick start, similar to a week ago, in order to take the home crowd of the game early and avoid having to play from behind. Indianapolis has showed that they are content on hanging around in games, which means that they will always have a shot at a win in the fourth quarter. If the score is close and the Colts have the last possession, they will likely win. The team is confident in Andrew Luck's ability to run the two minute drill even if they are out matched in talent by their opponents. Miami can not afford to give the Colts added life if they are to come out on top.
While there is certainly a significant amount of time until the playoffs, a win in this game will go a long way in efforts to be playing football in January. The team that comes out on the losing end of this matchup will have an uphill battle to climb to reach the playoffs, but despite it being a challenge it is definitely possible. The key for the Dolphins is to play to their strengths as opposed to their opponents weaknesses and in this case it bodes well for the 'Phins. If Miami does get the win in Indianapolis, they can be considered serious post season contenders in the AFC as they will be tied for the division lead.