Bears-Dolphins Ultimate Game Preview

Everything the Chicago Bears need to do on both sides of the ball to pick up their first home victory of 2014 over the Miami Dolphins, including statistics of note, the Cutler Report, matchups, keys and more.

SERIES HISTORY

The Chicago Bears (3-3) will square off against the Miami Dolphins (2-3) this Sunday at Noon CT. It will be Chicago’s only home game in a six-week span dating back to Week 5. The Bears won’t return to Soldier Field until Week 11 versus the Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, Nov. 16).

This will be the 12th time the two franchises have faced each other, with Miami holding a 7-4 advantage. The most memorable game between the two clubs came during Week 13 in 1985 when the undefeated Bears lost 38-24 to the Dolphins, preserving Miami’s legacy as the only undefeated team in NFL history (1972, 14-0). It was Chicago’s lone loss that year en route to their first and only Super Bowl championship.

The Bears won the last meeting between the two franchises 16-0 in 2010.

INJURIES

Chicago will be without two defensive starters this week. LB Lance Briggs (ribs) and S Chris Conte (shoulder) have been ruled out. Briggs will likely be replaced by Khaseem Greene, while rookie Brock Vereen is slated to start in place of Conte, with Danny McCray rotating in.

Questionable for the Bears is LB Jonathan Bostic (back), who also missed last week’s contest.

Probable for Chicago are T Jermon Bushrod (knee/ankle), S Ahmad Dixon (hamstring), LB Shea McClellin (hamstring), CB Sherrick McManis (quad/knee), T Jordan Mills (foot) and LB D.J. Williams (neck).

Bushrod, McManis, Williams and McClellin are all expected to resume their roles as starters.

For the Dolphins, S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring) is doubtful. Wilson is the club’s nickelback and will be replaced by Jamar Taylor.

Questionable is C Samson Satele (hamstring), while the following Miami players are probable:

T Branden Albert (elbow) TE Charles Clay (knee) LS John Denney (knee) CB Cortland Finnegan (neck) WR Brandon Gibson (hamstring) WR Brian Hartline (finger) RB Lamar Miller (knee) LB Koa Misi (anke) G Shelley Smith (knee) QB Ryan Tannehill (ankle) G Dallas Thomas (shoulder) LB Phillip Wheeler (shoulder/thumb)

THE CUTLER REPORT

Jay Cutler’s 2014 Stats

GP/GSAtt.Comp.YardsTDsINTsRating
6/62291561,67613697.4

With the way Jay Cutler has been criticized this season, you’d think he was Matt Cassel. Yet the numbers above show a 31-year-old quarterback having arguably the best season of his career. His 97.4 QB rating is 11th best in the NFL and is more than eight points higher than his previous single-season best (89.2 last year). That passer rating is higher than Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees, among others.

Still, every week Cutler is absolutely barbecued in nearly every public forum. Although, in a sports world in which fans and media gorge themselves daily on low-hanging fruit, the never-ending over-the-top criticism should come as no surprise.

In reality, Cutler is playing at a very high level. He’s fifth in the league in passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage (68.1).

Last week against the Atlanta Falcons, Cutler had zero turnovers. He hasn’t thrown a single interception in the club’s three victories this year, while throwing two picks in each of their three losses.

I’ll say it one more time: that’s not a coincidence.

Going forward, Cutler’s ball security will continue to be the key in every single contest this year, including this week against the Dolphins. With the talent he has around him, and the unfathomable improvement from Chicago’s defense, it’s truly as simple as that.

If Cutler is turnover free on Sunday, the Bears will win the game going away.

Cutler Career vs. Miami

GP/GSAtt.Comp.YardsTDsINTsRating
2/271404632462.1

HEAD-TO-HEAD COMPARISON

BEARS (NFL Rank) DOLPHINS (NFL Rank)
23.8 (15th)Points Scored24.0 (14th)
370.2 (14th)Total Offense353.2 (15th)
103.7 (20th)Rushing Offense136.2 (7th)
266.5 (9th)Passing Offense217.0 (T-24th)
24.0 (21st)Points Allowed24.8 (22nd)
349.8 (17th)Total Defense331.6 (7th)
103.7 (10th)Rushing Defense110.0 (13th)
246.2 (17th)Passing Defense221.6 (9th)
2 (T-10th)Turnover Ratio3 (T-22nd)

BEARS ON OFFENSE

Matchups to Watch

RT Jordan Mills vs. DE Cameron Wake

Jordan Mills had a very rough outing last week, racking up multiple pre-snap penalties, while also allowing six QB hurries and a sack. Things get much tougher this week for Mills, who will square off against one of the league’s premiere pass rushers in Cameron Wake, who has 3.5 sacks on the season. Wake leads the Dolphins in QB hurries (13) and QB hits (7) and has been nearly un-blockable at times.

The best way to rattle Cutler is to consistently collapse the pocket, which often gives him happy feet and results in turnovers. Wake has the ability to be a disruptive force against Chicago’s passing attack. Mills is dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired foot but must put the pain aside. If he has a repeat performance of last week, Wake is going to tear Cutler’s head off.

WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery vs. CBs Cortland Finnegan and Brent Grimes

Cortland Finnegan and Brent Grimes are quality Pro Bowl cornerbacks, yet they are small – both are 5-10. Against Brandon Marshall (6-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-3), Miami’s corners will giving up five to six inches on every pass play. The Bears must take advantage of that height disparity, particularly in the red zone.

“I think [the corners] understand what they have in their front,” Cutler said this week. “They know they’re going to get pressure. They know the quarterback can’t sit back there forever. They understand that, they break on routes, they sit on stuff, they read concepts really well, they pass things off. They’re tough guys. They’re guys that have played a lot of football, and anytime you go against veterans, you’ve just got to be a little more wary of things. They know more than some of these young guys do.”

Keys to the Game

-In addition to Wake, the Dolphins also boast another quality edge rusher, defensive end Olivier Vernon, who also has 3.5 sacks this year. The Bears will get a boost up front with the return of left tackle Jermon Bushrod, and he’ll need to be on his game against Vernon.

“Jermon has played at Pro Bowl levels in the past and is a very good left tackle,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “To have him back, it's definitely a boost.”

On the right side, expect the Bears to help Mills by chipping on Wake with tight ends and running backs, which is going to leave Bushrod 1-on-1 with Vernon on most passing downs. If he has a strong outing, Cutler won’t have to worry about his blindside, which is a big mental advantage.

-The Dolphins have three quality interior run stoppers in defensive tackles Jared Odrick, Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks. If Matt Forte is going to have success on the ground, those guys cannot go unblocked inside. Expect the Bears to double Miami’s powerful DTs at the point of attack, while also throwing in the occasional trap play to keep them off balance. If holes open up in the A and B gaps, Forte will have a big day and the Bears will win the time-of-possession battle.

-OLB Jelani Jenkins is arguably Miami’s best defender. He leads the team in tackles (34) and has been very good in coverage as well. In addition, he already has 2.0 sacks as an edge blitzer. Against the run, he has 24 “stops”, according to Pro Football Focus, more than twice of any other defender on the team.

Jenkins is the type of player who must be accounted for on every play. If he’s manned up 1-on-1 with Forte, Cutler might want to look elsewhere, and when plays are run at him, the offensive line must find him and lock him up.

BEARS ON DEFENSE

Matchups to Watch

WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Kyle Fuller

Mike Wallace is by far Miami’s best receiver, leading the team in receptions (25), receiving yards (313) and touchdowns (4). He’s a blazer – Wallace ran a 4.33 40-yard dash during the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine – who already has four catches of more than 20 yards.

Wallace presents another stiff test for Kyle Fuller, who shut down Falcons receiver Julio Jones last week (4 catches, 68 yards, 0 TDs). If there’s one area in which Fuller – who is on track to earn Defensive Player of the Year honors – struggles, it’s against the deep ball. Fuller likes to be physical in the chuck zone and sit on underneath and intermediate routes. That sometimes leaves him flat-footed and makes it hard for him to get out of his backpedal. If Fuller allows Wallace to get open deep, without safety help over the top, the speedster is going to make the Bears pay.

DE Willie Young vs. RT Ju’Wuan James

LT Branden Albert is a rock in pass protection, which will likely make DE Jared Allen obsolete in this game. Yet on the other side, Ju’Wuan James has been very inconsistent, leading the team in QB hurries (9) and QB hits (5).

This is a juicy matchup for Willie Young, whose 7.0 sacks through six games lead the NFL. So far, no one had been able to stop Young, so it’s doubtful James will be able to keep him out of the backfield.

“He has done a nice job winning some 1-on-1s,” Tucker said. “We’ve gotten good pocket collapse when he has been in there so the quarterback cannot run away from him. Then we’ve had good coverage behind it at times to make the quarterback hold the ball and give him time to get there.”

If Young has another big game and harasses QB Ryan Tannehill, it will go a long way toward shutting down Miami’s passing attack.

Keys to the Game

-The Dolphins placed RB Knowshon Moreno on IR this week with a torn ACL, leaving Lamar Miller to carry the full load in the backfield. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Miller is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season and has four runs of 20-plus yards.

Miller is a speedy back who will leave the defense in his dust if he’s given a crease.

“First of all they have an excellent scheme. They’re toward the top of the league in rushing and yards per attempt. They’re very well coached,” said Tucker. “[Miller’s] got tremendous speed and vision and he can get to full speed in about a step and a half. So he’s a guy that you can’t give him any room. If you give him room, it’s going to be a long day.”

Miller will see plenty of action in zone-read plays, which will make it crucial for the defensive ends to set the edge and not let him get outside. If Miller is allowed to turn the corner, he’s going to eat up yards and wear down the defense, while keeping Chicago’s offense off the field.

-The Bears cannot sleep on TE Charles Clay and secondary wideout Jarvis Landry. Both are playmakers who can hurt Chicago’s defense if they pay too much attention to Wallace.

PREDICTION

Bears 26, Dolphins 20

If Chicago’s defense can shut down Miami’s rushing attack and force Tannehill to beat them, they’ll win this one by at least a touchdown, assuming the offense hangs onto the ball.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

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