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Nuts & Bolts: Bears-Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Kickoff for Bears-Dolphins quickly approaches, but we figured we couldn’t let you guys go into the game without the weekly nuts and bolts associated with this outing.

Besides that we’ve gotten a little more insight into the Dolphins and how they’ll match up with the Bears. So here goes:

THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS

1. Mix it up on Brandon Marshall: The Bears came out in their nickel defense on several occasions against the Vikings in what seemed to be inopportune times, but the tactic worked well. So against the Dolphins playmaking trio of Marshall, Davone Bess, and Brian Hartline the Bears may need to utilize that look even more. It’s likely that quarterback Tyler Thigpen will lean on Marshall to bail him out of difficult situations, which means this outing should provide nickel back D.J. Moore some opportunities to build on his team high in interceptions. Moore’s best shot of doing that, however, hinges on the way the club defends Marshall schematically. The Bears need to deploy a variety of methods (double teams, zones, even some man every now and then) to confuse Marshall and Thigpen.

2. Don’t fix what’s not broken: Since the Nov. 7 victory against the Buffalo Bills, the Bears haven’t tweaked the formula on offense. They shouldn’t do it tonight, either. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has called a nice mixture of runs and passes, with a few exotic looks sprinkled in here and there. But Martz doesn’t need to make any radical changes against the Dolphins for the Bears to continue their success on offense. Running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, however, need to be more productive when their opportunities arise. If the duo can reach close to 4 yards per carry against the Dolphins, you can pretty much count on a Bears victory.

3. Don’t be let Thigpen surprise you: Interestingly, some of Miami’s players actually believe Tyler Thigpen gives the Dolphins their best chance to win because of the quarterback’s strong arm and ability to extend plays, which wind up causing coverage to break down in the secondary. Given the limited preparation time for this week’s contest, it’s unclear how much the Bears have studied Thigpen. But they can’t get rattled early on by any big plays the quarterback may make, and drastically alter the defense, which could lead to even more problems.

THREE KEYS FOR THE DOLPHINS

1. Prevent a Peppers explosion: Don’t think for a second that Julius Peppers doesn’t view tonight’s matchup as his chance for a breakout opponent. He’s got just two sacks on the season, and is playing on national television against injured left tackle Jake Long. So the recipe for a big game by Peppers exists. Miami needs to make sure it never transpires. The best way to do that is to help out on Peppers with running backs and tight ends chipping. But Miami also needs to be mindful of Israel Idonije -- Chicago's leader in sacks -- on the other side. With starting center Joe Berger out, it becomes even more important for backup Cory Procter to effectively communicate Miami’s protections to the rest of the line.

2. Confuse Cutler: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has shown a penchant for being somewhat erratic in night games. So why not make things even more difficult by confusing him with a mixture of pressure and coverages? Corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith should be able to hold their own against Chicago’s pedestrian group of wideouts in man coverage, which means the Dolphins could have plenty of time to get to Cutler on the blitz. By mixing up things in coverage, Miami should also be able to confuse the Bears’ young receivers. Cutler has already misfired several times this season because of miscommunication with his receivers.

3. Keep it away from Hester: Bears return man Devin Hester wants to break the record for touchdowns on returns tonight in his home state in front of friends and family. Don’t let him. Miami can prevent a big night from Hester by simply kicking the ball away from him. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano didn’t give an indication as to what his team’s plans are for defending Hester. But too many times this season, Chicago’s opponents stubbornly kicked to Hester only to be burned. Chicago’s special teams unit is one of the few in the league that can actually change games. It’s tough enough to score victories with the offensive and defensive phases of the game. So why give the Bears an easy win in the third phase by kicking to Hester?

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Peppers vs. Long

Miami left tackle Long plans to play tonight, and while that’s a courageous move, it might be unwise considering the severity of his injured shoulder and his pending match up against Peppers.

Peppers likely views tonight as a potential breakout game for him on national television, so Long is sure to get the defensive end’s best effort. Occasionally, teams have successfully left tackles in one-on-one situations against Peppers. But that’s probably not the way to go in this matchup, especially when factoring in Miami’s injury situation at quarterback.

Peppers typically utilizes a variety of pass-rushing moves against offensive tackles, but knowing Long’s injury situation, the defensive end will attack him with more bull rushes and try to wear him down as the game progresses.

BY THE NUMBERS

22: Age of Josh Moore, the youngest player on Chicago’s roster.

24: Games in which Ricky Williams has rushed for 100 yards or more, which is a Dolphins franchise record.

13: Total returns for touchdowns by Devin Hester (9 punt return TDs, 4 kickoff return TDs).

60.7: Cutler’s passer rating in his only game against the Dolphins. Cutler also threw for two touchdowns and three interceptions in that outing.