The Miami Dolphins are on the ropes. They're down to their third-string quarterback and have been bobbing at or barely above .500 for weeks. They're in third place in the AFC East and appear to be on the fringe of the wild-card chase.
The Dolphins need to win in a bad way Thursday night against the Chicago Bears in Sun Life Stadium. If the Dolphins can pull it out, what a lift it would give them (in addition to 10 days until their next game).
Here are five questions to consider for the Dolphins:
How does Tyler Thigpen respond as Miami's starter? Thigpen will make his 12th career start, but his first in two seasons after Chad Pennington and Chad Henne went down with injuries last week. Thigpen performed well in relief to nail down a victory over the Titans, but prior to this week, he hadn't taken a practice rep since training camp. Thigpen had three days to prepare for the Bears. He's known as an improviser. We'll find out how well he can wing it.
Will a QB change get Brandon Marshall more involved? The Dolphins clearly were unsatisfied with Henne's production and made the switch to Pennington last week to jolt a flat-lining offense. Thigpen can be a change of pace, too. He's more mobile and much more of a risk-taker than Henne. Marshall has been accumulating considerable reception and yardage numbers, but he's still stuck on one touchdown. Marshall's frustrations are becoming increasingly apparent by the game. Perhaps Thigpen will elicit more happiness.
Can the Dolphins' offensive line withstand Jake Long's bad shoulder? The two-time Pro Bowl left tackle has been limited in practice with a shoulder injury from last week's game. Bears right defensive end Julius Peppers is among the NFL's most dangerous pass-rushers. Peppers has just two sacks, but don't be fooled. He often faces double teams, which has helped left defensive end Israel Idonije collect five sacks. If Long needs assistance against Peppers, then there will be bigger cracks elsewhere along the O-line.
How much chaos can Cameron Wake cause for Jay Cutler? The Bears have surrendered a league-high 34 sacks. Wake ranks third with 8.5 sacks, and he'll need to get after Cutler, who's known for making costly mistakes. In three October games, Cutler was sacked 19 times, threw five interceptions and fumbled five times (lost two). The Bears went 0-3, with Cutler missing the other game that month because he was so battered. In two November victories, Cutler has been sacked three times, thrown two interceptions and lost a fumble.
Will the Dolphins' defense and special teams contain Devin Hester? He has been having a quiet season. But he'll be playing in his hometown for the first time and still possesses game-breaking speed at positions the Dolphins have had trouble defending. Their cornerbacks have been known to get blistered here and there, although free-agent signee Al Harris played well in his Dolphins debut last week. The Dolphins also have been prone to special-teams breakdowns. Hester has returned two punts for touchdowns and was reinserted on kickoffs in last week's win over Minnesota, returning one 68 yards. As a receiver, Hester came alive a little with four catches for 38 yards and his second receiving touchdown of the season.