Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Five things to watch: Dolphins-Cowboys
By James Walker
Two of the hottest teams in the NFL will meet when the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys put their three-game winning streaks on the line on Thanksgiving Day. Both teams have won with great defense and solid quarterback play.
Miami is 3-7 and will be sizable underdogs on the road against Dallas, which is 6-4. Here is a look at what the Dolphins have to do to pull off the upset:
Will Miami continue to effectively use Reggie Bush?
Defense must dominate: Miami's defense has played lights-out lately and finally looks like the group that was sixth in the NFL in 2010. The Dolphins haven't allowed a touchdown during their three-game winning streak. Miami's defense is regaining its confidence and has the potential to give Dallas' high-powered offense some issues. Keeping the game low-scoring on the road gives the Dolphins the best chance. Dallas, led by quarterback Tony Romo, has a balanced attack that is ranked sixth in total offense.
Moore is the barometer: Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore took over for the injured Chad Henne on Oct. 2 and is playing the best football of his career. Moore had the NFL's highest Total Quarterback Rating for Week 11 in a 35-8 thrashing of the Buffalo Bills. He is 3-3 as a starter this season. The Dolphins have gone as far as Moore takes them. In three losses, Moore threw for one touchdown and four interceptions and had a 59.1 completion percentage. In three victories, Moore has six touchdowns, one interception and a 70.8 completion percentage.
Keep Ware at bay: The matchup I'm most looking forward to in this game involves Miami left tackle Jake Long against Dallas outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Both players are among the best at their position. Ware has been a terror to opposing quarterbacks this season. He leads in the NFL with 14 sacks. Long battled injuries earlier in the season but seems to be rounding back into form. This is a big-time matchup involving two perennial Pro Bowl players.
Get Bush involved: It is no coincidence Miami started winning once the coaching staff figured out how to best use starting running back Reggie Bush. Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has done a good job of getting Bush in open space. He's scored at least one touchdown in three straight games and needs just 75 yards to eclipse his career high of 581 rushing yards set in 2007.
Establish "Fields" position: Miami punter Brandon Fields is quietly having the best season of his career. He is on pace to set new career highs in average yards per punt (48.5) and punts inside the 20 (currently 22). On average, Fields has pinned opponents inside the 20 more than twice per game. That has helped the defense. Field position will be important in this game, especially early in the game.