Former number one overall pick Jake Long had a breakout rookie season, making the Pro Bowl as a starting left tackle for Miami in 2008. His 2009 season got off to a rocky start, as he allowed two sacks and was generally found chasing John Abraham and Kroy Biermann as they rushed past him on their way to the quarterback.
Robert Mathis draws right tackle Vernon Carey, who also let up two sacks to some combination of Abraham and Biermann, as the two Falcons ends rotated throughout the game and frequently switched sides.
Carey tends to struggle against speed rushers like Mathis because he does not have the frame or athletic ability to consistently get to the edge before the opposing defender has a chance to get off the ball.
Chad Pennington — who was sacked four times, hit an additional four times, and lost a fumble in Week 1 — could be in for another long game, seeing as how Carey and Long have not performed well against speedy edge rushers and Mathis and Freeney are two of the best speedy edge rushers in the game.
The silver lining for the Dolphins is that they have three solid players along the interior of their offensive line and the defensive tackle position still seems to be a work in progress for Indianapolis.
Eric Foster and Antonio Johnson got the start for the Colts against Jacksonville and allowed 4.73 yards per rush up the middle on 15 rushing plays. Miami, with center Jake Grove and guards Donald Thomas and Justin Smiley paving the way, ran for 4.78 yards per rush up the middle on nine rushing plays against the Falcons.
If the Dolphins try for three yards and a cloud of dust between the tackles against the Colts on Monday night, they may find themselves gaining four or five yards per attempt in that cloud of dust, which works to their advantage.
In addition, the Jaguars were successful running to their right — straight at Mathis in an attempt to wear him down — and Miami was also successful running behind Carey. Jacksonville was not successful running at Freeney and the Dolphins were not successful running behind Long, so look for Miami to concentrate their rushing attempts up the middle and to their right.
Mathis showed against the Jaguars — and has shown throughout the course of his career — that he does not wear down and he does not wear out, even if he can be run on. If the middle of the defense can hold the point of attack and force the Dolphins to keep running right, they'll eventually put Miami in known passing situations where Mathis will be more of an asset than a liability.
In the passing game is also where the Dolphins line is more of a liability than an asset, so it would be highly advantageous for the Colts to get Miami in as many third down situations as possible, regardless of down and distance.
This will be no easy task, considering that, as poorly as the Dolphins offense performed in Week 1, they still managed to average 4.4 yards per carry. But, it is of critical importance that Indianapolis shut down the run, force Miami to pass, and make them play to the Colts' strengths, as opposed to allowing the Dolphins to play to their strengths and the Colts weaknesses.
This is a unit that lacks star power. Actually, it lacks any truly big names, unless Ted Ginn Jr. can claim "big name" status as a former top-10 pick.
Ginn is the deep threat on this squad if they have one, but has yet to prove that he can consistently beat teams vertically. He is very dangerous with the ball in his hands, but has yet to turn that ability into a substantial season so far in his career. If there is one player to watch among the receivers and tight ends for the Dolphins, it is Ginn, but the unit as a whole is more defined by the fact that they have a lot of versatile players and interchangeable parts.
Devone Bess, Greg Camarillo, and Ginn can all line up wide or in the slot. None of them has deep speed, but they can all press the seam, catch passes in traffic, work in the screen game, or work underneath. Their versatility makes them dangerous, but not lethal.
This is a conservative offense that works more as a consequence of efficiency and flexibility than raw talent. None of these guys can kill a team with one strike, but all of them combined — especially when catching precision passes from Chad Pennington — can slowly bleed a team to death.
Tight end Anthony Fasano is another versatile player that can run seam routes, catch the ball underneath, and separate from the defender in traffic. When the Colts run their Cover 2 defense, Fasano will look to sit in the holes in the zone, especially inside the 20. Clint Session and Tyjuan Hagler need to be enforcers in this situation, since Gary Brackett may be used as a blitzer and Bob Sanders will likely not play.
They need to hit Fasano hard when he is targeted and, if they don't separate him from the ball, make sure that he pays the price for going over the middle. Fasano is another player that can slowly wear a defense down, so Wheeler and Session need to force Fasano to flinch first.
Because they were behind for the entire second half against the Falcons and never able to establish a rhythm on offense, Miami only ran the ball 22 times in Week 1.
In fact, they ran only 51 plays total, which they need to work on if they're going to be effective in this offense.
Neither Brown nor Williams is a home run hitter at the tailback position and neither is nearly as explosive as Maurice Jones-Drew, so the Indianapolis defenders need only worry about keeping their shoulders squared and making sure there aren't any missed tackles.
This is a fundamentally sound offense — despite their four turnovers against Atlanta in the first game — and in order to defeat them, a team needs to play fundamentally sound defense. They turned the ball over a league record low 13 times in 2008 and intend to get back to that kind of caretaking this week against the Colts.
Brown and Williams will not put the ball on the ground. They will not explode for 30 or 40 yards at a clip. They will consistently run through the holes that are available to them, lower their heads, and attempt to beat the undersized Indianapolis defenders into submission. The offensive line has more road graders than athletes and Williams and Brown are two big, bruising backs.
The desire to step up and hit back as well as the refusal to back down and be ridden into the turf starts up the middle with Johnson and Foster — or whoever steps up this week in practice, possibly Daniel Muir and Ed Johnson — and defensive captain Gary Brackett. The Colts defense does not have a reputation for being a smashmouth unit that can trade blows with a physical, punishing offense.
They can at least change the minds of the players on offense for the Miami Dolphins with a strong performance on Monday night. And that's exactly what they need to do, because the opinions of the players across from them will be the only ones that will count come game time.
Pennington is the brains behind this precise, plodding offense. He is not easily rattled, does not generally turn the ball over, does not generally make mistakes, and is not the kind of quarterback that can make a team pay in the vertical passing game. He will not win a battle with a decisive strike, but rather several flanks and maneuvers that ultimately lead to victory.
He is extremely resilient, has tremendous mental endurance, and will not allow himself to be worn down throughout the course of a game and lulled into a turnover. The Cover 2 defense — particularly the flavor that the Colts deploy — forces an opposing quarterback to methodically work their way down the field, not make mistakes, and not get worn down physically or mentally.
This is a matchup of strength against strength. Neither the Indianapolis defenders nor Pennington is going to be the one to have a lapse, so this matchup has a very good probability of playing to a draw unless one side of the equation changes.
The side that will change is the Larry Coyer blitzing schemes introduced in this season's version of the Colts' Cover 2. He slides well in the pocket, but Pennington does not move particularly well and would rather take a sack than force a throw into coverage. Since Freeney and Mathis hold a decided edge in their matchups against the Miami tackles, the key for Coyer will be to pressure Pennington up the middle, forcing him to slide into the waiting arms of Mathis or Freeney.
Atlanta was able to accomplish this in Week 1 and their ends had the sacks, but the middle of the defense had the pressure. Pennington lost a fumble in that game and also threw an interception, so he is not impenetrable.
By disrupting the Miami offense's rhythm — jamming the receivers at the line, putting pressure in Pennington's face, stifling Brown and Williams at the point of attack — a defense can take away all they really have, which is their routines and their precision, things that are based on timing and rote.
The fewer plays they run and the more uncomfortable they are when they run those plays, the more they will begin to step outside of their routines, outside of their comfort zone, and try to create.
Garrard and Jones-Drew are very good at creating on the fly and therefore converted some key first downs against the Colts in Week 1. Pennington and his charges are not creative in the least, because they're simply not explosive or athletic enough.
The devil is in the details for the Dolphins. If they start to overlook the details and wing it, then things will go very poorly for Pennington and company and very well for the Colts defense.
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