KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
SITE: Sun Life Stadium
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Charles Davis, Laura Okmin
THE SPORT XCHANGE PREDICTION: Dolphins 23-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions could go back to QB Shaun Hill (finger) if Drew Stanton (separated left shoulder) can't start, but either way they've notably committed to running the ball in consecutive victories. The Dolphins fill running lanes quickly, and their young secondary, despite being prone to lapses of focus, has the ability to bracket WR Calvin Johnson. The Dolphins, just 1-6 at home, will have opportunities to exploit the Lions' suspect pass coverage, especially if rangy S Louis Delmas (concussion) is out.
FAST FACTS: Stanton has been sacked 17 times in 104 career attempts. ... Miami has won all four previous meetings at home.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham doesn't want to hear any statistics. He doesn't want to hear that the Wildcat formation might be on its way out in the NFL.
"It is what it's always been," Cunningham said, "a defensive coach's nightmare."
Cunningham, when he was with the Chiefs two years ago, spent two full days devising a game plan to stop the Miami Dolphins Wildcat offense, and he wound up getting beat by it.
"I want those two days back," he said.
While many teams dabble in the Wildcat, the Dolphins feature it. Yet, even they are using it less and producing less with it. They have run just 55 plays out of the formation this season, down from 93 last year, and average just 2.9 yards per play, down from 4.7 last year.
"Nobody is taken by surprise by it anymore, but Miami runs it better than everybody else," coach Jim Schwartz said. "They do some things differently. They change it from week to week. It's not so much what you've seen, it's what you're going to get."
Of the 55 plays the Dolphins have run out of the Wildcat, 52 have been runs. All three passes were incomplete. None of that, however, eases Cunningham's worries or lessens the preparation this week.
Again, Cunningham's not listening.
"They have that thing humming," he said. "When you have the mix that they have, the Wildcat and the other stuff they run, and you don't score a lot of points, people start pointing at different things. Honestly, I'd like to see them throw the Wildcat out. I don't see any weaknesses with it."
Actually, there are a couple of good reasons why he should hope the Dolphins use the Wildcat this week. One, it has been inconsistent. Two, the Lions' secondary is beat up and suspect. Nathan Vasher is the fourth different starter at right cornerback, and safety Louis Delmas has yet to practice after being concussed last Sunday in Tampa.
But neither Schwartz nor Cunningham are buying that.
"Their Wildcat hasn't been as consistent as it was in the past," Schwartz said. "But we have to be ready for it. How much of it we get will depend on how well we defend it. If we can't stop it, they will continue to run it."
Dan Henning, the Dolphins' embattled offensive coordinator, let it be known this 7-7 team has lacked speed in all three phases, said quarterback Chad Henne has displayed "tremendous toughness" and suggested dumping Dolphins coach Tony Sparano after just three seasons could turn out to be a huge mistake.
On the latter point, Henning trotted out the miserable starts of five championship coaches.
Tom Landry (25-53-4 at the start) failed to produce a winning season until his seventh year with the Cowboys, then reeled off 20 straight years on the plus side, including two Super Bowl titles.
Before Chuck Noll won those four Super Bowls with the Steelers, he opened 12-30 in his first three seasons. Before Bill Walsh became a genius and three-time champion, his 49ers went 8-24 in his first two seasons.
Bill Belichick? He opened 42-56 with the Browns and Patriots, including the playoffs, before rattling off three titles in four years. Even Bill Parcells - "my buddy Bill," Henning said - had that 3-12-1 season that almost got him fired before he could lead the Giants to glory.
Add them up, and that's a combined disaster of 90-175-5 (.340) that somehow presaged 14 Super Bowl titles. And to think those titles might have never happened but for the patience of ownership.
"I think the evaluation has to come from somebody who wants to see what kind of management you have, what kind of personnel skills you have and all that type of thing," Henning said. "I really believe our guy here, Tony, has those skills. I really believe that. I wouldn't have come here in the first place if I hadn't thought that when I started, and he's convinced me of it."
Sparano, who enters the final two games of his third regular season with a cumulative 25-22 (.532) mark, including a playoff defeat, has received no assurances from Dolphins owner Steve Ross.
-- FS Louis Delmas said he had passed all the post-concussion tests, but there must be some lingering symptoms because he still hasn't practiced. He said he wasn't sure that he'd be ready to play Sunday. Coach Jim Schwartz said only that his status will be determined on game day.
-- FS John Wendling finished the game last Sunday in place of Louis Delmas. It was the first time in his four NFL seasons that he got extended playing time on defense. He has made his mark as a special teams ace. He had six tackles on Sunday after having just one the previous three seasons.
-- QB Drew Stanton took reps with the first team on Thursday. Shaun Hill had taken first-team reps on Wednesday. Coach Jim Schwartz said, again, that he will not announce his starting quarterback until Sunday.
-- WR Calvin Johnson (ankle) returned to practice Thursday, though he is still sore. He said he doesn't expect to miss a snap on Sunday.
-- RG Corey Hilliard will make his third pro start Sunday and his primary assignment will be against NFL sack leader OLB Cameron Wake. Hilliard limited Clay Matthews to one sack in his first start two weeks ago.
-- ILB Karlos Dansby (toe/wrist) failed to practice for the second straight day. Should Dansby sit out Friday's practice as well, he would seem extremely unlikely to play on Sunday against the Lions, per coach Tony Sparano's well-established thinking when it comes to preparation.
-- FS Chris Clemons (groin) was able to practice fully for the second straight day and should be fine to return to the starting lineup after sitting out Sunday's first quarter due to an undisclosed team violation.
-- FS Reshad Jones trails Chris Clemons only in terms of experience, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. Both players need to be more vocal on the field, however, particularly at that position.
-- K Dan Carpenter showed no ill effects of his 0-for-4 showing against the Bills during a Wednesday practice period devoted to field goals. Coach Tony Sparano said he watched Carpenter closely for the first time since his arrival in 2008, trying to pick up clues if possibly Carpenter's plant foot had changed position, but the coach said the kicker looked fine.
-- RB Ricky Williams has drawn some advance complaints from the Lions' coaching staff regarding his alleged "crackback blocking" this season, but coach Tony Sparano said he didn't know anything about it. No other teams have made such complains, Sparano said.