Dolphins-Eagles: Five Things To Watch

Posted Dec 10, 2011

Two teams with identical records but on vastly different paths will meet Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium.

The Miami Dolphins have won four of their last five games and are on the rise at 4-8 while the visiting Philadelphia Eagles have lost four of five and are hanging on by a thread in the NFC playoff race at 4-8. They are hoping the return of starting quarterback Michael Vick will spark a reversal.

What Vick and the Eagles need to be prepared for is a Miami team playing at a playoff-caliber level and owning a three-game winning streak at home. The defense has been stifling with a solid pass rush and an opportunistic group of linebackers and defensive backs that will be tested by a very skilled Philadelphia offense.

Individually, the Eagles have a slew of talent on both sides of the ball and were dubbed by their own backup quarterback, Vince Young, as “The Dream Team” before the season began. Those individuals have not come together as a unit and head coach Andy Reid realized that needs to change down the stretch.

Conversely, the Dolphins have adopted a family approach and are playing like a team in all three phases ever since Head Coach Tony Sparano took a huge gamble and changed everything about the practice regimen. The gamble paid off in the win column, but there will be some critical individual match-ups in this game that need to be won for Miami to continue its successful run:

1. Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall versus Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha – These two waged some memorable battles when Marshall was with the Denver Broncos and Asomugha was with the Oakland Raiders. Marshall leads Miami with 63 catches for 910 yards and three touchdowns while Asomugha is tied for the team lead on Philadelphia in interceptions with three. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Asomugha is one of the few NFL cornerbacks that can physically match up with the 6-4, 230-pound Marshall, so whoever comes out on top in this battle will significantly affect the outcome of the game.

2. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick versus Miami’s front seven – Even though Vick was adamant during his conference call with the South Florida media that he won’t be taking as many chances in the open field and plans to slide more often, the Dolphins can’t believe that for a second. In fact, Sparano doesn’t, saying with a laugh, “All I know is that that guy can run really fast and he’s a good player and he throws it with such ease when he throws it. He can throw it…he makes every throw on the run. He’s a competitor and when he gets out there you get to competing all that running stuff and not running stuff I think flies out the window.” Miami is athletic enough up front, at inside and outside linebacker and in the secondary to be able to handle Vick’s special set of skills to a point, but if he can get them out of position and complete accurate passes on the run after the defenders have committed, it could be a long afternoon for the Dolphins.

3. Dolphins running back Reggie Bush versus Eagles running back LeSean McCoy – Usually I write about the direct match-ups between an offensive player and a defensive player or players, but Bush and McCoy are such dynamic playmakers that this becomes unique. Both are shifty, quick and fast in the open as runners and also as receivers, so who wins and who loses this game can be traced directly to which one of these players ends up making more big plays. Veteran outside linebacker Jason Taylor compared McCoy to Hall-of-Famer Barry Sanders as far as some of the moves he makes, but Bush has confounded opposing defenses of late with his effectiveness both in between the tackles and out on the perimeter, and he is going against a suspect defense.

4. Eagles wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson versus Dolphins cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith Maclin and Jackson are as dangerous as they come on the outside with their sprinter’s speed, but Davis and Smith are two of the more physical corners in the league. Davis has been playing at another level since missing the Kansas City game for disciplinary reasons and ran stride for stride with Dallas’ speedy number one wideout Dez Bryant on Thanksgiving Day. Vick will try to test both corners by going deep to his two playmakers, so how Davis and Smith respond will go a long way towards defining what kind of a day Vick and the Philly offense will have.

5. Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano versus Eagles head coach Andy Reid – Sparano has gotten a second wind and has his team playing hard, disciplined and mistake-free football during this six-game stretch going back to the close loss at the New York Giants. Reid, on the other hand, is in his 12th season in Philadelphia and this year has dealt with a lot of inconsistency. But he has had 10 days to prepare for Miami and get his message across to his players with the season entering its final quarter, so the Dolphins must expect the Eagles’ best effort. Whichever coach can get his team out to a fast start in this one should be on the winning end of the final score.
Game Pass: Miami Dolphins