The Miami Dolphins will take on the Arizona Cardinals, one of the three remaining undefeated teams in the league, at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The other 3-0 teams being the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans.
Miami will be looking to bounce back from last week’s heartbreaking 23-20 overtime loss against the rival New York Jets and even their record to 2-2. The Dolphins looked like the much better team for most of the game however a missed game winning field goal by Dan Carpenter prevented them from moving into a tie for the AFC East division lead. Despite a 1-2 record, the team led by rookie QB Ryan Tannehill has played very competitive football and has exceeded the expectations of many experts in the early stages of this NFL season.
On the other hand, the Arizona Cardinals are a surprise 3-0 team after shocking upset victories against the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Cards’ offense has yet to fire on all cylinders, the play of their defense has led them to the NFC West division lead seeing as they have only surrendered 13.3 points per game.
With the first three games in the books, here’s a look at the keys to victory for the Dolphins Week 4 matchup against the Cardinals:
1. Get consistent pressure on Kevin Kolb.
Although Arizona is undefeated, their offense lacks explosiveness despite the contributions of Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals rank 19th in points per game, 31st in total yards per game, 29th in pass yards and 26th in rushing yards. The one way to keep this trend going is to get Kolb on his back as often as possible and ensure he does not find a groove throughout the game. In order to do this Miami must take advantage of the Cardinals weak offensive line. Left tackle Levi Brown is out for the season and Bobby Massie, a rookie fourth round pick is starting at right tackle. This situation puts Cameron Wake in prime position to record his first sack of the season.
2. Double-team WR Larry Fitzgerald.
Larry Fitzgerald is virtually the Cardinals only threat on offense with Beanie Wells making another trip to injured reserve, leaving an inexperienced Ryan Williams as the starter. If the Dolphins can manage to shutdown the six-time pro bowler they will have a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset. The rest of the Cardinals offensive weapons have put up pedestrian numbers at best including WR Andre Brown’s 111 yards on 9 recpetions and TE Todd Heap’s 95 yards on 8 catches. With Heap missing practice, the Dolphins may have one less option to worry about in the passing game. CB Richard Marshall’s availablilty will be something to monitor as he would provide a boost for Miami’s secondary if he is able to play.
3. Play to your strengths.
There’s no question that the strength of this Dolphins team is their ground game consisting of the Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller trio. Miami’s backfield stacks up with the best in the league and ranks an impressive 4th in the NFL. Dolphins fans took a collective sigh of relief when news broke that Reggie Bush is expected to play this Sunday. His return will be crucial in efforts to have any success against a talented Cardinals defense, however Bush can’t do it alone. Thomas and Miller will have to step up their game especially if Bush is not yet at 100% health wise and the passing game continues to be less than impressive. Miami may catch a break with the possibilty of Cardinals’ DE Darnell Dockett missing the tilt due to a hamstring injury. He is currently listed as doubtful.
4. Limit the turnovers.
In both of the Dolphins losses, against the Texans and the Jets, turnovers proved costly. Early in the season opener in Houston, Miami was contolling the pace of the game and were out to a 3-0 lead. However, the second quarter was a nightmare as Miami turned the ball over four times on route to a 30-10 Texans win. A similar outcome happened last week as the Dolphins began the third quarter with a 10-3 lead only for Tannehill to throw a pick six, allowing the Jets back into the game. Miami must duplicate their performance in the home opener against the Raiders in which they won 35-13, and coincidentally had zero turnovers. Keeping Tannehill upright will also be a point of emphasis for the Dolphins seeing as Arizona is third in the NFL in sacks with 12 in three games. Miami, though, has not allowed a quarterback sack in two weeks, a stat that has gone unnoticed by many.
In order for the Dolphins to hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season, they must play a near perfect game. Miami is a solid team when they limit their mistakes, and for this reason I see them leaving the desert with an upset win and an even 2-2 record on the year.
PREDICTION: Dolphins 20 Cardinals 17
Follow @Phins_Phocus on twitter for all the latest leading up to and during the Dolphins vs Cardinals matchup.