The Dolphins have gotten off to an ideal start in 2013, beating the hapless Browns by 13 on the road in Week 1. Maintaining any momentum from that win will be a tall order, however, as the next month could be incredibly taxing, with matchups vs. four consecutive playoff-caliber teams.
It’s a week-by-week league, though, and the Dolphins must focus on traveling to Indianapolis and upsetting the Colts. Here are Miami’s five keys to another big victory on the road and a 2-0 start:
1. Start fast
The Dolphins were one of only four teams to win by double digits last week, but their sluggish start on offense, in which three Cleveland turnovers produced only two field goals, was concerning. It would be huge for Miami’s prospects of winning on the road to get off to fast start in Indianapolis.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill must be sharp from the onset if he hopes to outduel Andrew Luck, and avoiding unfavorable third-and-long situations will be crucial against an underrated Colts secondary.
Getting out to an early lead and sustaining it would also make a pass rush that relentlessly pressured Brandon Weeden to the tune of six sacks and 30 pressures that much more dangerous.
The Colts offensive line isn’t as decorated as the Browns’ line and could be even more exposed if the Dolphins are free to bring heat throughout against a Colts offense playing catch-up.
2. Frustrate Andrew Luck
The first-overall pick in 2012 dismantled the Dolphins’ secondary last November, throwing for a rookie-record 433 passing yards. Luck excelled on third downs, in particular, helping the Colts convert 13 of 19 third-down chances, many of which came on third-and-long situations.
The Dolphins’ pass rush disappeared on too many big plays, and when they did get to Luck, they oftentimes failed to bring him down for a sack. There’s hope — borderline promise — that the Dolphins will be able to generate more consistent pressure this time around.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle utilized a speed package last week in Cleveland, showcasing new additions like Dion Jordan and Dannell Ellerbe and improved players like Olivier Vernon, to harass Brandon Weeden all game. And that was against an offensive line that possesses two Pro Bowlers.
The Colts have some issues up front, with question marks at both tackle spots. The Dolphins project to exploit this and to be in Luck’s face for the majority of the game. But will it make any difference?
Luck is a much more capable passer than Brandon Weeden in virtually every circumstance, but none more so than when pressured. The face of the Colts’ franchise completed 10 of 11 passes against the blitz in Week 1.
And if the Dolphins hope to frustrate Luck throughout the game and prevent him from establishing a rhythm like he did last November, getting to the quarterback quickly and consistently will be in order.
3. Revive running game
There’s no hiding how horrendous the Dolphins’ running game was last week in Cleveland. But it’s a new week against a new defense. And while the Colts held Darren McFadden to under three yards per carry last week, they struggled to contain Terrelle Pryor in the pocket and likely won’t sell out to stop Miami’s ground game like the Browns did by remaining in their base defense all game.
This Dolphins offense needs balance however they can get it. Whether it’s employing more read option this week to potentially take advantage of the Colts’ inability to stop a running quarterback or it’s using fullback Tyler Clutts more often as a lead blocker, Miami must avoid becoming one-dimensional against a playoff-caliber team.
And if the Dolphins are able to establish a lead in this game or in future weeks, not being able to run the football will seriously limit their ability to keep the clock moving and to put away an opponent.
4. Make Colts offense one-dimensional
Just like avoiding becoming one-dimensional will be crucial on offense, forcing the Colts to become such should be the goal on defense. There’s one sure way to slow down a lethal pass rush, and that’s to induce hesitation with a balanced offensive attack, which is certainly something Indianapolis will try to do on Sunday.
Running on the Dolphins’ front seven will be no easy task for the Colts. But for the Dolphins, stopping this rushing attack, which averaged 4.9 yards per rush vs. the Raiders last week, presents a different challenge than slowing down Trent Richardson and the Browns.
Unlike Cleveland, the Colts will run the ball more frequently with three or more receivers on the field, which means the Dolphins’ nickel defense must be wary of the run and the pass. In the nickel, stout run defenders like Paul Soliai and Koa Misi might not be on the field, so the Dolphins will be forced to rely on other players to stuff the runs of Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw.
But I certainly believe Kevin Coyle’s defense is equipped to do so. And if they can force the Colts to abandon the run early, pressure on Andrew Luck and his offensive line will be amplified against a swarming pass rush.
5. Take what Colts defense gives them
I’ve been an advocate all week of the Dolphins getting wide receiver Mike Wallace a touch or two early on with some quick-hitting routes or a bubble screen. But that doesn’t mean quarterback Ryan Tannehill should force feed Wallace the football throughout.
If the Colts sell out to prevent a deep completion to Wallace with a safety over the top of the $60 million receiver all game, Tannehill should take advantage of single coverage elsewhere.
I feel as though Tannehill is poised for a big game vs. a Colts pass rush that was mostly non-existent last week against the Raiders, even if Indy’s secondary is improved. Robert Mathis could be a difficult matchup for left tackle Jonathan Martin, but the Dolphins will have the luxury of double-teaming Mathis without another proven pass rusher to scheme for.
And if Tannehill has time, I think he can at least find Wallace underneath the safeties for several completions. The Colts will try to take away the home run ball, but Wallace can use his speed to run off his man deep and come back to the football for some pitch and catch with Tannehill.
Then, once the defense begins to bite on the underneath routes from Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, Tannehill should have more success taking shots downfield.