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Last week I wrote how Miami is playoff worthy and bringing the fight to every game. The Ravens defense and Joe "I Barely Had an 80 QBR" Flacco made them turn into a puddle. Hopefully they put that one behind them and continue the one week at a time approach. This week brings a tough test in the visiting Arizona Cardinals. They may not be the Cardinals of last year but they have an arsenal of weapons on offense and a highly ranked defense. 1 PM game in Miami where the Dolphins are -2.5 with and O/U of 44.

Miami really took one on the chin last week. It's one game and that should not define who they are or what they are capable of...but so many bad things happened. Tannehill looked shaky at best, the defense could not cover the middle of the field nor tackle, and worst of all it almost looked like guys began to quit. The defense never put Flacco on the ground, let alone sack him (according to Barry Jackson). They also didn't record a single TFL. Those are all serious concerns heading into the final quarter of the season. When breaking it down by quarters Miami is 1-3, 3-1 and 3-1. Will this final stretch be like 2014 when the Denver game just sunk the team? Or does Adam Gase have it in him to keep Miami fighting?

I normally start by reviewing the opponent but let's focus on what can't happen for the Dolphins today. Ryan Tannehill cannot regress. His first interception wasn't his fault, the line allowed him to get hit at least 9 times and the field conditions had his receivers falling down. But as Sgt. O'Neil so eloquently said the movie Platoon "excuses are like buttholes, everybody's got one." Tannehill is going to have accept that his line is going to leak. Anthony Steen isn't good while Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil are playing hurt. If he has to be Alex Smith instead of the hero then so be it. He cannot throw the game away because Arizona's offense has all the makings of a 30 point performance. Tannehill needs to be efficient.

Run the darn ball and run it some more. I realize Miami was playing catch up after about 30 seconds against Baltimore but Jay Ajayi makes this offense move. Like Tannehill, he'll have to accept that the highway lanes opened by the five starters probably won't be there any more. He did a great job of breaking tackles anyway and should be getting 20 carries. Arizona ranks near the bottom of the league with 14 rushing TDs allowed (more on that later) so once inside the red zone try to pound the ball.

Miami's defense (tugging my collar and saying yeeesh), where to begin. Carson Palmer has had a down year but he's still capable of carving up a defense so watch out. John Harbaugh and his offense clearly had no respect for Miami's LBs or safeties yesterday. They targeted the middle of the field with ease and even successfully went for it on a few 4th downs. Arizona certainly is taking note of this and is going to attack that area. Vance Joseph is going to need his guys to disrupt Palmer's timing while simultaneously trying to contain RB David Johnson. Johnson is a threat both on the ground and as a receiver. Good luck attempting to cover him.

Let's just hope the Baltimore game was necessary wake up call and that the players respond by protecting their home turf. Arizona will be tough.

Arizona is 5-6-1 and haven't really strung anything consistent together so far. A couple of wins followed by a couple of losses, wash-rinse-repeat. Part of the problem is Carson Palmer's play has dropped from MVP level in 2015 to an 85.8 QBR this year. He has thrown multiple TDs in 6 games this year but has mixed results in many of his games. He had a really nice game yesterday by airing it out against Washington. Given what we saw with Miami's defense he's probably licking his chops to attack the secondary with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown and recently awakened Jermaine Gresham. Hey, Dennis Pitta scored his first TD in years so why shouldn't Gresham expect to torch Miami's LBs and safeties. By the way, Larry Fitzgerald has 88 catches for 880 yards and 5 TDs. He gets targeted A LOT.

The really scary player is RB David Johnson. As I mentioned earlier he can split out wide and be dangerous as a receiver - 64 catches for 700 yards and 4 TDs. On the ground he has 1005 yards, a 4.4 YPC and 11 TDs. This guy could single handedly destroy Miami's defense the way Jay Ajayi destroyed the Steelers earlier in the year. Miami's defense has slowed down some good running backs this season but you have to be nervous about Johnson's dual threat ability (ground/receiving).

Arizona's defense is no joke. They are 2nd in yards allowed (behind Baltimore), 3rd in passing yards allowed (only 10 TDs allowed), and tied for 11th in rushing yards allowed with 3.8 YPC and 14 TDs. I mentioned about the TDs earlier so perhaps if Miami can get inside the 10 yards line Ajayi can be really effective. Getting there will be the problem. Arizona's defense has 31 sacks (20 by their LBs), 53 TFLs, 11 picks and 19 forced fumbles. There are far too many individuals with good numbers to mention. Let's just acknowledge they have the ability to match guys up with any Miami receiver one on one, and attempt to make Miami pass happy by shutting down Ajayi early.

I'll be blunt, I don't like this match up at all. I regrettably thought Miami would bring more to the table against Baltimore and I see similarities in what Arizona can do. Miami has to run the ball and attempt to control the time of possession. Ajayi hasn't had a 100 yard performance in a few games now and its time to rev up that engine. No reason he shouldn't carry the ball 20 plus times with maybe a few Tannehill runs mixed in to keep the defense off balance. As for Tannehill, less than 30 passes please. I know that sounds like a negative but he's at his best when defenses dare him to attack down field after setting it up with the run. Arizona has a very talented secondary so maybe avoid too many 50/50 balls, but don't shorten the field by avoiding any deep passes.

On defense, I give up. Tony Lippett is a liability on slant patterns, the LBs seem to be out of position in coverage and I've all but given up on Bobby McCain as a nickel back. David Johnson is going to have the chance to gash them and set up the play action for Palmer to attack down field.

The only comforting news is that Arizona is 1-4 on the road and Vegas believes Miami is still the favorite despite what I consider a bad match up.

Maybe I should let the Baltimore game digest a bit more before making a prediction but I have no faith in the defense stopping Johnson.

Arizona 27

Miami 20

     Well if you can call a severe butt kicking at the hands of Baltimore a bump.  In any case, the response to a loss of this type is always more important than the one loss. If there’s a hangover to this week and it becomes 2  losses it may destroy any hopes of a post season visit. To be honest, I think most realistic fans are in bonus mode. We all feel good where the team is at and their Head Coach and if they happen to find the playoffs then great. If not, then so be it.

     I’m not going to dissect last weeks miserable performance but we do need to address what made that happen. In particular on the defensive side, the Dolphins totally ignored the obvious and only threat the Ravens had in a short passing game.  Tony Lippett is a WR converting to CB in the NFL. He is a raw athletic  talent they feel they can develop. That s fine but he allowed a perfect passer rating last week. 100% of the throws to his man were caught.  What is more unfortunate is they never changed out of the zone defensive approach that Lippett struggles with.  If they’re afraid to use him in press coverage, then things won’t change this weekend. If the Cards need a first down, they’ll find Tony Lippett and throw his way. There’s no pass rush in the world than can get to a QB in under 2 seconds. Expecting Miami’s front 4 to do that is unreasonable. Vance Joseph has to shelve that defense and go back to the defenses that worked in the win streak. The odd part to me is he ran that defense against Kaepernick who is a running QB. That’s not the defense you’d prefer to run against a running QB because it puts your DBs with their backs to the LOS. That was the defense needed for a pocket passer like Flaco. Unfortunately he made no adjustments in either game. Miami should’ve lost both. Carson Palmer is a good QB. If he can take a 3 step drop and hit his guys unmolested because the defense is 10yds off, it will again be a long day.

    AZ has a solid defense. Miami is not going to find a lot of passing lanes open against this defense. They also get after the QB. All of this means a couple of things. Miami has to exploit their base defense by throwing  more on first down and they have to get Jay Ajayi on track. Ryan Tannehill (RT) threw 2 redzone picks last week and has to avoid mistakes like that this week. He has to be the same efficient game manager Miami has experienced in its win streak.  AZ is kind of baffling to me. They have solid offensive and defensive stats and a weak schedule but have managed a poor win loss record given all of that. Additionally, they’re 1-5 on the road with their only win against hapless San Francisco. Their most impressive performance was at home against Seattle well over a month ago where they managed a tie. They have been very Jeckyl and Hyde this season, but mostly Mr Hyde.  I think the key is if Miami’s defensive backs can hold coverage long enough for the DL to badger Palmer. In any case, I’m not expecting this to be a blow out for either team and the game likely won or lost in the 4th quarter.

Go Tannehill

GD2

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