1) Staying Ahead of the Chains
An easy way to gain early momentum is to stack positive plays together, especially for a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. One of the hardest jobs on Sunday will be determining the correct play calls at the most critical times. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey will need a blend of some plays that the Rams defense has game planned for, and some that they haven't seen on tape! It should include a creative mix of runs, play action and quick timing throws that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa used with great success in college at Alabama. Also, taking an early shot or two might loosen up coverage and create more room underneath the secondary. Lastly, having the ability for Tagovailoa to move or alter his launch point will give another obstacle for the Rams front seven to deal with. This should create some hesitation for the Rams pass rush, not allowing them just to pin their ears back and squeeze the pocket on Tagovailoa. There's a reason this group is tied for third in the league in sacks with 24. They can get after a quarterback when it's a steady diet of passing solely from the pocket. Another critical area that the Dolphins offense needs to stay away from are the negative plays early in the series. The negative run where the Rams front seven get penetration behind the line of scrimmage that usually leads to second and 12. Miami wont be able to sustain drives and momentum playing that brand of football against this Rams defense.
2) Control Aaron Donald and Company
Where's number 99 and how many bodies will it take to slow him down? That's usually the first question in the offensive meeting rooms when facing the Rams and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He's strong, fast and finds the football arguably better than any defender in the league. The Dolphins offensive line cannot allow Donald to build on his eight sacks and six tackles for loss this Sunday. Doing whatever it takes to slow him down is what's required when facing such a dominant player. But even if that is successful, the Rams defensive supporting cast is very talented at every level. Along with Donald up front, defensive end Michael Brockers can cause issues coming off of the edge. At linebacker, Leonard Floyd has six tackles of loss and Micah Kiser leads the team with 53 tackles. The secondary is also talented everywhere you look, but led by cornerback Jalen Ramsey. If he's on his game, Ramsey can literally shut down one side of the field. The Dolphins offense must have success on first and second down against this group. Too many third and long situations play right into what their defense does very well - rushing the passer and creating timing issues in the pocket that can lead to turnover chances with a talented secondary. If the Dolphins can win or be even in the turnover margin, this could be a game that's decided in the fourth quarter!
3) Flipping the Field
My feeling this week is that in order for the Dolphins to win, they must be successful on the early downs on offense and somehow get Rams quarterback Jared Goff to turn the ball over. The later might be difficult to accomplish because Goff has only thrown four interceptions and has been very good feeding off of the Los Angeles running game. He leads the league in both completion percentage and yards thrown in play-action passing. Goff is also tied for second with 13 passes of 20 yards or more. Those stats lead me to believe the Rams dictate tempo and the pace that they want to play. That means starting and gaining field position as the game progresses is something the Dolphins need to hold an advantage of. Consistently working on a shorter field has a lot to do with the kicking game and special teams play, where Miami has been well above average through six games. Having the ability to start drives outside the thirty yard line is only a few first downs or an explosive play away from placekicker Jason Sanders territory. The duel between two of the best punters in the NFL will also have a direct impact on field position. Matt Haack has been terrific when asked to pin the opposing team inside the twenty yard line all season. Rams punter Johnny Hekker leads the league in punts inside the twenty yard line and last week against Chicago, pinned the Bears offense inside the ten yard line five times! Winning this matchup will go along way in assisting a rookie quarterback with reasonable field position, looking to put points on the scoreboard.