Colts-Dolphins Preview: What's Left In The Tank For Either Team?

The Colts are still clinging to fading playoff hopes on Sunday. The host Dolphins are just playing with nothing on the line but pride.

The Indianapolis Colts hope they’re still playing for something other than paychecks, although Sunday’s visit to South Florida could signify an end to any aspirations beyond the regular season.

If the Colts lose to the Miami Dolphins, the Houston Texans can celebrate the AFC South Division title and an automatic playoff berth. A three-game losing streak, including a 16-10 home loss to the Texans in the previous game, has dropped the Colts to 6-8 and reduced prospects to bleak.

No other way to say it, but the Colts have faded down the stretch. Quarterback Andrew Luck hasn’t been cleared in his seven-week rehab from a lacerated kidney and backup Matt Hasselbeck is playing hurt. The offense has managed just two touchdowns in three games. The defense ranks 28th in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed.

Not that the Dolphins, at 5-9, have given their fans much to cheer about, either. They’ve lost four of five games and their ranks for offensive yards, points and respective defensive categories are an unimpressive 29th, 26th, 30th and 26th.

So who shows up and wins between two teams with barely a pulse between them at Sun Life Stadium?

“They’ve faced some adversity this year, so did we,” said Colts defensive end Kendall Langford. “It’s all about who wants more on Sunday. I think the guys in this locker room want it a little more.”

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was asked if he’s ever seen players “mail it in” at the end of a lost season.

“I don’t know what that means,” the coach said. “I’ve never been around it, never seen it.”

Say this for the Colts, it’s not that the players don’t give effort. But then again, they’re paid to do that. What has defined this team has been execution, or lack thereof, as well as key injuries. The reasons are many for why the Colts have fallen short of expectations. The same questions are asked each week.

Will the Colts be able to run the ball with Frank Gore and take pressure off Hasselbeck? The team hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher in 54 games counting the playoffs. Gore hasn’t averaged 4 yards per carry in the past seven games.

Asked if Gore is frustrated, Pagano said that description applies to, “Every guy in that locker room.”

Will the offensive line give Hasselbeck enough time to open things up in the passing game? The short-range stuff hasn’t taken this team far lately, which prompted wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to suggest earlier in the week that the Colts must throw the ball down the field.

“We’ve lost a few games, the atmosphere is not ideal, it can be a little toxic so we just need guys to stick together, toughen up mentally and physically and fight,” Hasselbeck said.

While the defense allowed only one touchdown to Houston, the seasonal numbers are an indication the Colts typically have failed to come up with enough key stops. It doesn’t help that the Colts have committed a league-high 29 turnovers, which has too often translated to short fields, but as the NFL adage goes, “No excuses.”

“We’re just going to keep believing,” Langford said. “We’re grown men. We’re professionals. We’re not just going to shut it down. We’re going to come to work and try to win each week. Our goal right now is to finish 8-8.”

The Dolphins have allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be sacked 38 times, so a Colts pass rush that had three sacks last week should have opportunities to disrupt their hosts. Running back Lamar Miller has had some humbling games, calling into question how he’s been used, but  the fourth-year pro has had three 100-yard games and averages 4.9 yards per carry.

When Tannehill throws, he’ll look for second-year wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who has a team-high 97 catches for 974 yards with four touchdowns. He’ll likely draw former Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis in man-to-man coverage. Davis, who spent his first three seasons in Miami before being acquired in 2012 for a second-round draft choice, has been up and down just like his team after being selected to his first Pro Bowl last season.

The Colts contend they’ll keep trying to set things straight, that they’re not just finishing out the season with nothing to play for like the Dolphins. The Colts say all they can worry about is how they play, not what the Texans do at Tennessee, or if there’s something to play for other than pride and paychecks after Sunday.

“You can’t control what other people do, all you can do is control what you can,” said wide receiver Andre Johnson, who along with Hilton and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett is looking forward to playing in his hometown. “We had a chance to control our own destiny and didn’t take advantage of it so now we put it in other people’s hands so all we can do is win these last two games, that’s it.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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