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Dolphins-Redskins Five Things To Watch

Posted Nov 12, 2011

Four of the next five games for the Miami Dolphins will be played at Sun Life Stadium beginning with Sunday’s non-conference tilt with the Washington Redskins.


Four of the next five games for the Miami Dolphins will be played at Sun Life Stadium beginning with Sunday’s non-conference tilt with the Washington Redskins.

Head Coach Tony Sparano and his team are intent on restoring a home field advantage by riding the momentum of last week’s first win at Kansas City to a second consecutive victory. They will be facing a Washington team that has lost four straight after jumping out to a 3-1 start and a team that has been beset by injuries.

Sparano had a challenging task this week of trying to balance the enthusiasm and confidence that came as a result of the 31-3 rout of the Chiefs with the need to regain focus and give the Redskins their proper respect and attention. The fourth-year head coach believes that mission was accomplished on all fronts.

“I don’t want to ruin confidence. I mean I think that you work too hard to get it,” Sparano said. “The good teams have it. They have a swagger about them. They have a way about how they approach the game, the way they approach practice. I don’t want to ruin that.

“You can go in there and you can be this downer and that’s not really what I want to do with this team. They’ve worked hard here with no reward early in the season and came off of a win and finally got a little reward. So you don’t give them a lot of sugar. That isn’t what we do here. But at the same time you don’t squash enthusiasm.”

Third-year cornerback Sean Smith is looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd after back-to-back road games and a stretch of five road games out of six. He is also excited about the return of his good friend cornerback Vontae Davis to the starting lineup and expects the Redskins passing game to pose a strong test.

“I think it’s going to be a very physical game against a very strong NFC East team,” Smith said. “These guys are going to bring everything they’ve got because they’re just as hungry as us to get a win right now. They have a lot of playmakers at the wide receiver position but hopefully we’ve got some guys up front that will apply that pressure and allow us to make plays back there.”

Here are some key matchups to watch come Sunday once the ball is kicked off at 1 p.m.:

1. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore versus Redskins’ 3-4 defensive alignment: The fact that Moore goes against a 3-4 every day in practice and has to try and avoid Cameron Wake will play to his advantage in this game. Washington’s Brian Orakpo has the same amount of sacks (5.5) as Wake and will try to do a better job of getting past left tackle Jake Long than Kansas City’s Tamba Hali did last week. If Moore gets the same type of protection and can duplicate the poise and accuracy that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors it should yield positive results for the Dolphins.

2. Washington tight end Fred Davis versus Miami’s ILBs Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby: Burnett and Dansby seem to be clicking on all cylinders at the midway point of the season and are two of the league’s best coverage linebackers. They will have their hands full with Davis, who has caught 40 passes for 559 yards and two touchdowns since replacing the injured Chris Cooley. If Burnett and Dansby get in trouble, look for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to give them some help with either a safety or an extra cornerback.

3. Dolphins running back Reggie Bush versus Redskins running back London Fletcher: Even though the perception is that Bush gets a lot of his yards on the outside and against safeties and cornerbacks, he has proven in the last three weeks that he can run in between the tackles and take on the linebackers. Fletcher, with a team-leading 72 tackles and two interceptions, is one of the most durable linebackers to ever have played in the NFL and at the age of 36 is still quick on his feet and fundamentally sound in his tackling. His task will be to make Bush one dimensional as a flanker and take away his inside running threat, so if Bush can succeed in not letting him accomplish his goal Miami’s offense could have another exciting outing.

4. Washington quarterback John Beck versus Miami’s secondary: Beck began his NFL career with the Dolphins as their second-round draft pick in 2007 and started four games as a rookie during a tough 1-15 season. He was relegated to third-string in 2008 behind Chad Pennington and Chad Henne and has had a rebirth with the Redskins under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, so he’d of course like to beat his former team on the road. But Smith, Davis, safeties Yeremiah Bell and Tyrone Culver and nickel and dime backs Will Allen and Jimmy Wilson plan to spoil Beck’s return. If they can get help from the front seven with pressure on Beck forcing him to hurry his throws, the defensive backs could change momentum with some interceptions or key pass breakups.

5. Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano versus Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan: This is a matchup between a cagy veteran coach with two Super Bowl rings on his resume in Shanahan and a fiery young head coach who has won over his players in Sparano. Shanahan has played musical quarterbacks this season with Beck and Rex Grossman while Sparano had to thrust Moore into action after Henne suffered a season-ending injury in Week 4 at San Diego. The outcome of this game most likely will be decided early on by which team can find its rhythm first and sustain it, like Miami did last week at Kansas City, and how the coaches handle their players and play-calling will go a long way in determining that.
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