Dolphins-Jaguars: Five Things To Watch

Posted Dec 15, 2012

In-state rivalry highlights special afternoon at Sun Life Stadium.

With so much history being honored tomorrow at Sun Life Stadium, it seems only appropriate that the oldest professional franchise in the state of Florida is hosting the newest in a football game.

The Jacksonville Jaguars played their first game 23 years after the Miami Dolphins completed the only undefeated season in NFL history. That 1972 team is being honored at halftime of Sunday’s game to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the feat, and the innovative defensive coordinator of that team, Bill Arnsparger, is being inducted into the Dolphin Honor Roll at the same time.

Miami (5-8) has lost two in a row and is looking to end that skid against a Jaguars team quarterbacked by former Dolphin Chad Henne. He has gone 1-2 as a starter for Jacksonville (2-11).

Henne’s return to the stadium where he began his NFL career is one of a handful of intriguing storylines in what will be Miami’s second-to-last home game of the 2012 regular season:

Five Things To Watch:

1. What will the Dolphins defense do to make Henne uncomfortable and spoil his return to South Florida – Most of the starters on the defensive side of the ball for Miami were with the team last year and faced Henne in practice before his season-ending shoulder injury. They are familiar with his tendencies, even though many of them have seen an improved quarterback on film. Defensive end Cameron Wake’s locker used to be close to Henne’s so they were “locker room buddies,” but Wake insisted he would treat Henne the same as every other quarterback he has sacked 14 times this season. He’ll become his friend again only after the game is over, which if Wake and his defensive teammates have their way, will be as a Dolphins victory.

2. How will Miami’s offense exploit a struggling Jacksonville defense ranked 31st against the run and the pass – Wide receiver Brian Hartline needs just 75 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career and running back Reggie Bush is 110 yards shy of breaking the 1,000-yard barrier for the second year in a row. They would like nothing better than to achieve those milestones Sunday in a win to keep the possibility of a non-losing season alive. Bush was utilized as both a runner and receiver last week at San Francisco, and with Davone Bess out with a back injury, Hartline can expect to be targeted more by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Miami’s offensive line is a proud group intent on winning the line of scrimmage and a fast start would only help the entire offense.

3. Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith versus Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon – Even though Jacksonville has confidence in its running game despite missing three running backs, Miami’s strength is stopping the run with its front seven. So Henne will try to air it out and test the secondary with his first-round draft pick, Blackmon, being one of his primary targets. Smith has had to answer some criticism after a fast start against the likes of A.J. Green and Larry Fitzgerald and he seems to raise his game when facing challenges such as this one. If he can neutralize Blackmon that will force Henne to look elsewhere, and he likely will not have a lot of time to survey the field with Wake bearing down on him.

4. How will Miami’s tight ends limit the effectiveness of Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny – If there is one player on Jacksonville’s defense capable of disrupting an offense it’s the 6-foot-2, 242-pound Posluszny. This is his second season with the Jaguars after spending his first four years (2007-10) with the Buffalo Bills, where he faced the Dolphins twice a year. Posluszny has racked up 112 tackles (84 solo), forced two fumbles and come up with three interceptions in 13 starts this year, so when he’s defending the run it’ll be up to tight ends Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay and Jeron Mastrud to keep him away from the ball carriers. Clay and Fasano will test Posluszny’s pass coverage skills and also try to steer him out of Tannehill’s passing lanes when he looks to connect on deep slants to his receivers.

5. What role will history and superstition play in the outcome of this particular game – Alumni Weekends tend to yield positive results on the field for the Dolphins, and with this one having the added advantage of falling on the 40th anniversary of The Perfect Season, more forces will be at play. Five years ago on the 35th anniversary of that legendary team, Miami upended the Baltimore Ravens in overtime for its first win of the season after an 0-13 start, and last year the Dolphins routed the Oakland Raiders the same day the late Jim Mandich went up on the Honor Roll. Combine the ’72 team’s presence with the induction of Bill Arnsparger into the Honor Roll and you have the recipe for a dominant defensive performance by the home team.

Game Pass: Miami Dolphins