Dolphins-Colts: Five Things To Watch

Posted Nov 3, 2012

Two of the NFL’s biggest surprise teams square off in Indy.

Both the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts are riding winning streaks and gaining respect around the National Football League for the manner in which they have developed into contenders.

Among the similarities between the two teams are the obvious as far as first-year head coaches and rookie quarterbacks occupying key roles. Their rosters are young and they are trying to keep pace with veteran teams on top of their respective divisions, so tomorrow’s game is about as big as can be in the grand scheme of things.

Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has shouldered the combined pressure of being the first overall pick of the NFL Draft and being the man asked to fill the shoes of a future Hall-of-Famer in Peyton Manning. He has had his ups and downs, but for the most part has risen above the fray to prove he can be a reliable leader on the field and deliver wins when the game is on the line.

Through six games and a little less than one quarter, Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had also answered the bell with poise and instilled confidence in a young offense and his coaches. His decisions have been true and his ability to handle the no-huddle, up-tempo offense Miami is running has been a critical factor in the Dolphins’ three-game win streak. But a knee injury suffered at the Jets last Sunday knocked him out of that game and he’s been working diligently this week to try and get back on the field.

Beyond these two main characters, there are plenty of other figures on both sides of the ball that will end up playing a significant role in the outcome at Lucas Oil Stadium. The winning team will improve to 5-3 at the midway point of the season and position itself to be a serious player in the second half of.

Five Things To Watch:

1. Which team’s quarterback will put together that signature drive that will decide the outcome – Regardless of who starts at quarterback for Miami – Tannehill or veteran backup Matt Moore, each has proven capable of rallying the offense and completing the crucial pass when asked to do so. Moore didn’t miss a beat last week when he jumped off the bench in relief of Tannehill and helped finish off a 30-9 rout of the Jets, completing deep passes, mid-range passes, screen passes and checking out to positive runs at the line of scrimmage. Fans and media would love to see Tannehill go toe-to-toe with Luck in a battle of first-round picks, but that decision will remain a secret probably right up until moments before kickoff. The Dolphins can’t go wrong either way.

2. How will Miami’s offensive line and other pass protectors handle the Colts’ dual pass rushing threat of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis – There was a bit of a concern earlier in the week over the health of both veterans, but Freeney (ankle) and Mathis (knee) are listed as probable and will try to pin their ears back and get after Moore or Tannehill. Other than the one miscue that led to a sack of Tannehill in the first quarter and the injury that sent him to the sidelines, the Dolphins’ front five, tight ends and running backs managed to slow down the Jets’ pass rush on the road. Rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin, who played left tackle at Stanford and protected Luck, continues to improve and has a four-time Pro Bowler opposite him at left tackle in Jake Long, with second-year center Mike Pouncey having a breakout year. Freeney and Mathis should have their hands full and those nicks and bruises might be just enough to take a step or two away from them.

3. Indianapolis veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne versus Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith The 34-year-old former Miami Hurricane has been to five Pro Bowls and put together seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with Manning as his quarterback. Wayne has had a resurgence this year with Luck and leads the league with 757 receiving yards, but Smith has had a resurgence of his own since being designated as the No. 1 cornerback after Vontae Davis was traded to the Colts in August. The 6-foot-3, 214-pounder has been up to the challenge against such top-notch receivers as Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green and Andre Johnson and relishes the chance to shut down a receiver of Wayne’s caliber. If he succeeds, that will seriously limit Luck’s options with rookie tight end and Stanford teammate Coby Fleener out with a shoulder injury.

4. What will the Colts’ offensive line do to slow down Miami’s front seven, specifically defensive end Cameron Wake and defensive tackle Randy Starks After being held without a sack in the first three games, Wake has dropped the opposing quarterback 7.5 times and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for the month of October. Starks has 3.5 sacks to go along with one interception and along with Paul Soliai has established an interior dominance that has all opposing quarterbacks speeding up the clock in their heads before getting rid of the ball. Luck is considered to be as steady as they come and leads the league in first-down runs on scrambles with 11, so his mobility also will be a factor in slowing down the pass rush.

5. How will Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin prepare his team for the noise in Lucas Oil Stadium and the magnitude of this game – Playing meaningful games in the month of November and December was one of the major goals Philbin hoped to attain in his first year on the job and he has Miami in that exact position. He has watched his players find a balance between having fun and staying loose and maintaining focus on the task at hand. “There is a fine line. We talked about that,” Philbin said. “I thought that against St. Louis we kind of teetered on being a little bit over the top for me. But I thought that the last week we were good. There is a fine line, there’s that balance like you said. I don’t envision myself as a real uptight guy, but I like to think that I am serious about what I do and I want our guys to take their job seriously and be ready to play.” As for the noise level inside of a packed indoor stadium, the Dolphins experienced it at Houston and at Arizona so Philbin shouldn’t be too concerned about that.

Game Pass: Miami Dolphins