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Dolphins-Cardinals: Five Things To Watch

Posted Sep 29, 2012

Arizona serves as a good benchmark for young Miami team.

Four years ago when the Miami Dolphins last headed west to take on the Arizona Cardinals they made the trip with a first-year head coach in a Week 2 matchup and left with an 0-2 record. Head Coach Joe Philbin in his first year this time around and looking for a better result.

The Cardinals won that game in 2008 by a 31-10 score and actually led 31-3 until late in the game. That was the year they wound up making it to the Super Bowl and middle linebacker Karlos Dansby was the catalyst on the defensive side of the ball. Now Dansby plays for the Dolphins and is intent on making his homecoming a positive one.

Arizona enters this game at 3-0 and as one of only four unbeaten teams in the National Football League, while Miami is coming off of a heartbreaking overtime loss to the New York Jets last week at Sun Life Stadium that dropped its record to 1-2. Both defenses have started strong and each team has a signature playmaker on offense, so there are plenty of key matchups and intangibles to keep an eye on.

Five Things To Watch:

1. How effective will Miami’s rushing attack be against a suspect Arizona run defense – This is strength against weakness as the Dolphins bring the league’s fourth-ranked ground attack into University of Phoenix Stadium to face the Cardinals’ 17th-ranked run defense. Miami, behind Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and rookie Lamar Miller, is averaging 5.0 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns, while Arizona is allowing 4.0 yards but has yet to give up a rushing touchdown. If Bush is fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the second half last week, he could help keep Arizona’s offense off of the field and allow his offense to get into a rhythm.

2. Who will step up in the Dolphins secondary when tasked with covering Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald – After being held to just one catch by the New England Patriots in Week 2, Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 27-6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Cornerback Sean Smith has the size to match up with Fitzgerald but Arizona likes to move him around and try to find a mismatch, which means every one of Miami’s defensive backs needs to stay alert and when Fitzgerald does catch the ball they need to tackle him right away to prevent yards after the catch.

3. What will Miami’s punt coverage unit on special teams to keep Arizona’s dangerous punt returner, Patrick Peterson, penned in – Peterson grew up in Fort Lauderdale and played locally at Pompano Beach-Ely High School so he’d like nothing better than to take one back for a touchdown against his former team. He managed to do that four times last year as a rookie, so Dolphins punter Brandon Fields will try to limit his opportunities with high and deep punts that will either induce a fair catch or at least allow his gunners and coverage guys to get in position before Peterson can get started.

4. How will Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill handle the loud noise at University of Phoenix Stadium and the pressure coming from Arizona’s linebackers in the 3-4 alignment – This will be Tannehill’s second regular-season road game and second trip inside a loud stadium with an enclosed roof, so his ability to check out of plays and make audibles at the line will be impacted. Tannehill is growing more and more comfortable in offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense so he can use that to his advantage and try to keep Arizona’s defense guessing. That fast-paced offense also tends to take the crowd out of the game.

5. Will Karlos Dansby use the emotions that come with his return to Arizona as a spark to produce big plays on defense – Dansby had some of the most memorable moments of his career in a Cardinals uniform in this stadium and he is eager to create more against his former team. Dansby talked about how close he came to intercepting two passes last week against the Jets and should be fueled by the road environment and the chance to hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season.

#MIAvsAZ
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