The Dolphins already have stamped themselves as one of the elite teams in the AFC by opening the season with victories over Tennessee and Oakland, but a victory over the Rams might be even more impressive.
What follows is a quick look at Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams
WHO: Miami Dolphins (2-0) vs. St. Louis Rams (2-0)
WHERE: Dome at America's Center (formerly Trans World Dome); St. Louis, Mo.
KICKOFF TIME: 1 p.m. ET
TELEVISION: CBS (Dick Enberg, play-by-play; Dan Dierdorf, color)
LINE: St. Louis by 6
COACHES: St. Louis, Mike Martz (2nd year); Miami, Dave Wannstedt (2nd year in Miami, 8th year in NFL)
SERIES RECORD: The Dolphins lead 7-1 (the teams have net met in the playoffs)
LAST MEETING: 1998 at Miami; Dolphins 14, Rams 0
INJURIES: Dolphins — FB Rob Konrad (ankle) is out; S Trent Gamble (shoulder) is doubtful; DT Tim Bowens (knee), DT Ernest Grant (ankle) are questionable; CB Terry Cousin (ankle), G Mark Dixon (ankle and back), DT Jermaine Haley (elbow), LB Twan Russell (neck) are probable.
Rams — S Matt Bowen (foot) is out; LB Mark Fields (ribs) is questionable; WR Az-Zahir Hakim (knee), G Tom Nutten (ankle) are probable.
THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Dolphins pass rush vs. Rams offensive line: A key to stopping the Rams' explosive passing game is getting in Kurt Warner's face. If the Dolphins can't get any pressure with their front four, they probably won't hesitate to blitz a linebacker or defensive back.
Dolphins linebackers vs. Rams running back Marshall Faulk: The Rams have a lot of weapons, but the one guy that needs to be stopped is Faulk. The pressure will be on the Dolphins linebackers to cover him when he slips out of the backfield on passing plays.
Dolphins wide receivers vs. Rams cornerback Dexter McCleon: The Rams defense has a lot of new faces this season, and one of the few holdovers is McCleon. With perennial Pro Bowl selection Aeneas Williams on the other side, McCleon is the guy the Dolphins want to attack when they throw downfield.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL: The Dolphins always want to control the ball on offense, but never will that be more important than in this game. That means Lamar Smith should get himself ready to carry the ball a lot of times. The Rams defensive front is pretty quick, but it is not particularly big. That means running straight up the middle might be the best way to go for Miami. The Dolphins will look to mix in the pass now and then, but clearly the priority is grinding out yardage on the ground. The Dolphins have shown in the first two games this season that their passing game can do some damage, and that will be important should they fall behind early. The Rams defense appears to be much improved over last year's unit, but the 49ers might have racked up big numbers against St. Louis last Sunday had their receivers not dropped so many passes. The Rams are better on defense, but they're still not that great, so the Dolphins should be able to score some points.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL: The Rams have scored 50 points in their first two games, which almost constitutes a slump for them. Everybody knows about the many weapons the Rams possess, from Kurt Warner to Marshall Faulk to Isaac Bruce to Torry Holt. And let's not forget about tight end Ernie Conwell or third receiver Az-Zahir Hakim. The Rams put a lot of pressure on a defense because their speed allows them to break a long play at any time. The Dolphins' two priorities in this game will be pressuring Warner, because he has a tendency to force passes and throw interceptions, and making sure they wrap up receivers after the catch. The Dolphins have the defensive talent to keep the Rams offense in check, but it will require a tremendous effort. Getting pressure from the front four would be a boost because it would enable to the Dolphins to keep seven in coverage. But one way or another, the Dolphins absolutely have to make Warner hurry his throws.
The Dolphins have beaten two defending division champions to start the season, but this test might be even bigger. The Rams are playing at home for the first time this season, and their offense has been simply unstoppable at home with Warner in the lineup the last two seasons. The Dolphins need to keep the ball away from the Rams offense as much as possibile in this game, so anything short of a 100-yard game for Lamar Smith might spell disaster. If the Dolphins can leave St. Louis with a 3-0 record, it might be time to talk about them as serious Super Bowl contenders.