dolphin gun

Eyes in the Backfield: Dolphins

12 Things to Watch in Sunday's Colts-Dolphins Game

Whoever came up with this did a better job than the dude who designed the actual Dolphins logo.

Last week, the Colts survived for another comeback win over the Raiders. In Week 2, they attempt to open the season at 2-0 by taking on a evenly matched middle-of-the-pack AFC team. As the Miami Dolphins swim into the Luke, here's what to keep an eye on…

1. Watch for the tie breaker. Last year, the moment we knew the Colts could be taken seriously as playoff contenders was when Andrew Luck went nuts on Miami, and the Colts escaped with a narrow win. A year later, each of these teams is once again trying to make a statement that it deserves a wild-card spot or better in the playoffs. The one who wins will have the upper hand all season in the tie breaker. Week 2 games don't get bigger than this. The Colts have a narrow path to the post season, and it's hard to see them plotting a course that doesn't involve beating Miami.

2. Watch the guy just trying to fit in. When we talk about the epic quarterback class of 2012, two guys don't quite fit in. It's pretty safe to say that Brandon Weeden is terrible and a bad pick. Ryan Tannehill, on the other hand, has more of the middle-class look to him. If he wants included in the conversation with Luck, Griffin and Wilson, he needs to lead his team to victory Sunday. I've been accused of judging quarterbacks too quickly (Gabbert, cough), but that only happens when there's something clear to judge. We don't know what Tannehill is yet, but a good game against the Colts could help establish him in the top tier. Or you know, his career is over, and he'll suck forever. It has to be one or the other.

3. Watch the snap counts. Bob Kravitz raised the issue of T.Y. Hilton's snap counts, and he's absolutely right. Granted, most of us have been talking about this for four or five months. Stanley Havili should not be on field more often than Hilton. Does it require more explanation? If you have to take passing weapons off the field in order to run the ball, how does that equal a balanced offense? Fullbacks are relics of the past, and I see no reason to have one on the roster, but if you must, it should be for limited application.

4. Watch what's not the problem. Having ranted about fullbacks, it's important to note the Indy offense was awesome against Oakland. Yes, awesome. The perception that the offense sputtered is simply not accurate. Indy crossed the 50 on five of seven possessions. There were two abortive drives in the second quarter, but both third-quarter drives were solid. One was undone by a penalty across midfield, and the other failed on fourth down. They had two three-and-outs and scored three touchdowns in just seven touches. They finished the week fourth in DVOA, second in yards per drive, second in points per drive and first in drive success rate. There was not a blessed thing wrong with the Indy offense last week. No, I don't like the philosophy of the offense, but I've been griping about that for months. The actual performance against Oakland was top shelf.

5. Watch what is. The defense was terrible. Flip those stats above: 20th in DVOA, last in yards per drive, 21st in points per drive, 31st in drive success rate. The only reason the Colts' performance against Oakland felt disappointing was the defense couldn't generate a pass rush and got pushed all over the field. Yes, they only allowed 17 points, but a missed field goal and two interceptions near the goal line saved 17 more points. There isn't much evidence the defense improved from last year. The Colts wanted run stoppers instead of pass rushers. They got what they asked for. Now we'll see if a defense built that way can win consistently in the NFL. I have my doubts.

6. Watch the quiet improvement. How good did the special teams look against Oakland? Other than a shank by Pat McAfee, the special teams play was outstanding. The Colts covered kickoffs effectively for the first time since, uh, whenever. Granted, it takes more than one game to establish a trend, but considering how bad they looked in the preseason, it's encouraging to think Indy may actually be accumulating back of the roster talent. Now if they would only stop accumulating that talent to start at guard.

7. Watch for the douche dolphin logo. For years, Miami had one of the most interesting logos in football. Replete with an angry dolphin with a football helmet with an 'M' on it, the Dolphins logo was good enough for Larry Czonka and Danny Marino alike. Now, it has been replaced with sort of a glam Flipper leaping dispassionately into the warm gulf air. It's sort of a douche dolphin. You can tell he doesn't give a flip. He's like, "Yeah, we used our first round pick on Ryan Tannehill. What of it, bro? I'm a dolphin. Who cares?". I freaking hate that dolphin. What's with you, Dolphin? You too good to wear a helmet? Hope you get a concussion, Dolphin. Who has Lisa Frank design their logo anyway?

8. Watch Wallace and Davis. Mike Wallace is an odd, petulant player, but one of the best deep threats in football. Vontae Davis will have to play his best game to contain him, because Miami will have time to throw. Davis wants to play well against his former mates, but the odds are he is going to give up a bomb or two to Wallace. He has every time they've faced each other.

9. Watch the weak strength. Tight end was supposed to be the real backbone of the Indy offense, but with Dwayne Allen constantly battling injuries and Coby Fleener looking eager for an early start on his writing career, there has to be at least a touch of concern. Fleener has looked confused ever since suffering a concussion in the preseason. He looks lost on routes, formations and he and Luck are not in sync. Allen plays great, but only when he's actually on the field. The Colts need these two players to play and play well if they are going to continue winning in 2013.

10. Watch for the demand. Jim Irsay DEMANDS more protection for Luck. Well, by gum, if he demands it, I'm sure the Colts will comply. After all, Mr. Irsay demanded more in the preseason and his players and coaches delivered a rousing performance in New York which will be sung of by local troubadours for many a long age to come. Now, he demands backs, tight ends and I think coaches protect his quarterback. Pep Hamilton has responded by drawing up a play that calls for three tight ends and two fullbacks to encase Luck in bubble wrap before dumping off to a safety valve. Other demands by Mr. Irsay include more points, extra "defensers", an artifact from Roswell and according to sources, "a nap".

11. Watch the red flags. The two guys tasked with 'replacing' Dwight Freeney combined for two of the most abysmal performances of Week 1. Erik Walden was exactly as advertised. He generated no pass rush and could not come close to "setting the edge". Granted, that was never a skill he possessed in Green Bay (despite Ryan Grigson's assertions), and he certainly didn't do it against Oakland. Bjoern Werner is less troubling, because everyone knew he'd be a three-year project. Still, his performance was equally problematic. Having OLBs opposite of Robert Mathis who bring nothing to the table is an issue. Both players have to do more in Week 2, or Tannehill will carve up the Colts. Miami's line isn't great, so the Colts have no excuse but to generate pressure.

12. Watch for a replay. Last year's victory at home over Miami was one of the best games of the year, and perhaps one of the four or five best games ever played by a quarterback in Indianapolis. Watch for Indy to follow the same script and edge out the Dolphins again 27-24.


Eyes in the Backfield-Dolphins

12 Things to Watch For in Sunday’s Colts-Dolphins Game

This…is…awesome! I have no idea what it means, but I like it!

Last week, the Colts pulled off a stunning upset of the Titans. The win thrust them into the playoff hunt, and now the equally surprising Miami Dolphins invade Lucas Oil Stadium with the winner facing a real shot of claiming a post-season berth. Here’s what to watch for…

1. Watch for the arm. The Dolphins have a shut-down run defense, and we all know that when push comes to shove, Andrew Luck has no qualms dropping back 55 times. Look for the Indy run game to struggle as the Dolphins shut down power runs, long runs, all runs. Luck’s going to have toss his way to victory, so be prepared for plenty of drop backs, especially early in the game.

2. Watch for diddlypoo. The Dolphins haven’t been a legitimate playoff contender in quite some time but suddenly they’re in the mix. Likewise the Colts have indeed shocked some people by making their way into the discussion as well. Thanks in no small part to a historically bad AFC, these two teams both need to win this game in an attempt to get a leg up in the AFC Wild Card race. I still can’t figure out how the AFC can be this bad but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Rather than question it I’m going to spend the rest of the day watching Jim Mora’s famous rant on YouTube.

3. Watch the multiplier. Why are the Colts so bad at forcing turnovers? In part because their two best defensive players have yet to be healthy at the same time. It’s hard to say how much Freeney and Mathis are actually healthy, but at least they’ll be on the field together. That’s got to count for something. At some point it becomes statistically impossible for the Colts to not force a turnover, even by accident. Best guess is that the two of them playing together will coincide with loose balls and picks. Their combined force multiplies itself and could maybe lift the Colts’ defense away from being 31st in the NFL.

4. Watch for the Vontae Davis story. While Vontae Davis will miss this game with an injury the Dolphins are smiling all the way to the bank. The Dolphins have an emerging young corner in Jimmy Wilson and a second round pick to boot. Davis has yet to show any of the upside that demanded that second round pick and rookie GM Ryan Grigson may have his first real bust on his hands. Either way this is going to be something the talking heads address.

5. Watch for the development. Dwayne Allen is growing weekly. The Colts desperately need a second weapon to emerge, and the best bet is Allen. With Donnie Avery killing the offense weekly, and T.Y. Hilton very much a work in progress, it’s Allen who has shown the most growth in his game. He put the ball on the turf twice against the Titans, so watch for him to grip it tight and get seven to ten targets as the Colts decide to abandon the run.

6. Watch for the need for a savior. Dolphins C Mike Pouncey is quietly putting together another very good year, and likely will completely control NT Antonio Johnson for the entire game. This will lead to Colts fans crying out for Josh Chapman to get on the active roster as soon as possible, and into a game, especially if the Colts are in a playoff hunt. Chapman may or may not be the long term solution to the nose tackle position, but the expectation is there that he will be, and will single-handedly fix all of Indianapolis’ defensive problems.

7. Watch for the apocalypse. I’m not saying the world is coming to an end, but I’m some what suspicious of the Colts and ‘Fins playing meaningful football in November. It seems like one of those rivers turning to blood kind of deals. I’m half expecting Ryan Tannehill to suddenly trot off the field, wave and thank us for all the fish on the way out. In that case, the Colts would probably win by forfeit, allowing me to salute R.E.M on the way to Mayantown because I feel fine.

8. Watch for envy. The home fans may get a little green when watching the Dolphins’ offense on the field. Last week, the Dolphins’ offensive  line allowed just two quarterback pressures against the Jets. Meanwhile, in Nashville, the Colts were busy allowing 27 pressures on Andrew Luck. For Luck to succeed, he’ll have to be scary good in the face of pressure, as he was last week. But fans will merely be salivating over how good he could be if he ever had an offensive line that gave him the kind of protection the Dolphins offensive line will give Tannehill. 

9. Watch for the right side. The one weak spot on the Dolphins’ offensive line is the right side, especially rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin, Andrew Luck’s former teammate. If the Colts are going to get any pressure on the Miami QB, it will likely come from that side. Drake Nevis and Robert Mathis are the Colts’ best bets to get pressure this week. 

10. Watch for the crowd. There’s a vibe around Indianapolis these days. People want to believe. Make no mistake, this Colts team needs plenty of help to win, and it’s an easy team to get behind. It’s like the whole team has taken on the personality of Reggie Wayne. It works hard. It’s personable. It’s not scientific, and there’s no metric for it, but I expect the home fans to come unglued on Sunday afternoon. I hope that’s enough.

11. Watch for a dirty jersey. While that other guy in Denver is having a pretty good year I’ve not felt the kind of envy I expected to feel due in large part to the gritty performance by Andrew Luck. Luck’s uniform after most games looks like a poster child for a Tide commercial, a trend that makes me cringe. That said, there’s nothing better than seeing this kid get up off the ground, pick the sod out of his helmet and run toward the endzone to celebrate with his teammates. That indominable spirit, scrappy attitude and ability to persevere despite a tough situation is remarkably endearing. Yeah, I kind of like this new guy. While I’d love to see him walk away unscathed for just one game this year I kind of like seeing him wipe off the dirt and smile. He’s going to get knocked down quite a bit against the Dolphins but I sort of expect to see him laugh it off and play his best when it counts.

12. Watch for the end of my resistance. I’m done. I’m done trying to figure them out. There’s no way to look at this team and arrive at the conclusion that they are in the playoff hunt, but they are. I’m laying down my arms. 31st ranked defense in DVOA be damned, they seem to have something special going that defies all logic and explanation. They shouldn’t beat the Dolphins, but they will. Colts 20 Dolphins 17.

Eyes in the Backfield-Dolphins (full)

18 Things to Watch in Monday’s Game at Miami

I’m not sure why you’d name a stadium after this guy, but I will admit…he’s badass.

Last week the Colts hung on against the Jags, and gave themselves an early one game lead over the rest of the AFC South.  Their reward is a trip to Miami…to play another football game.  The Colts are always a popular prime-time participant, and will make their only Monday Night Football appearance this year, the first of at least 5 throughout the season.  As you are turning down the sound on Jon Gruden this week, be sure to watch for:

1.  Watch for turnovers. Last year the Dolphins had the best take away/give away ratio in the NFL. The Colts were fourth. This year the two teams were a combined -6 in their first game.  It may be a cliche, but the team that doesn’t turn the ball over will likely come out on top.  Turnovers killed the Dolphins last week, and they were the only thing that kept the Colts’ game close.

2.  Watch the packages. A South Beach favorite for many, it’s a football necessity on Monday night.  On the Colts’ side, check out whether they go with three WRs or two TEs.  Last Sunday they opened with two TEs with good success, but dumped it when Gonzo went down, finishing the game exclusively in a three wide look.  While they still like to split the TEs wide even when they are in game, the different personnel groupings affect the audibles Manning can call.  On the Dolphins side, they are famous for their “Wildcat” set.  The formations should be informative on Monday night.

3.  Watch the king of the work week. It’s always been said that Peyton Manning is a tireless worker, which makes it fitting that he so completely owns non-weekend games.  When the rest of America heads off to the office, Peyton does too.  He does his best work on Monday’s and Thursday’s.  For his career, he’s posted a sick record of 14-4, 44 TDs, 14 picks, and a rating of 106.7 in Monday and Thursday night games.

4.  Watch the run game in the fourth quarter.  The Colts’ run game was workable for most of the game last week, but the failure to run out the clock with the game on the line was devastating.   The Colts need to run the ball upwards of 4 yards a carry if they want to have an elite offense, but more importantly, they must be able to control the clock in the fourth quarter.  It’s already cost them dearly this calendar year, and it’s a trend that has to be reversed if this team is to be considered a serious Super Bowl contender.

5.  Watch for old friends. The Colts and Dolphins used to play twice year until the advent of realignment.  Now, they rarely see one another.  The last regular season game the Colts had in Miami was in 2003.  That game featured a pair of incredible plays by Dwight Freeney to seal a 23-17 win for the Colts.  What was once a nice rivalry that featured many memorable games has gone cold.

6.  Watch for an identity crisis.  The Dolphins rename their stadium every three weeks or so.  Honestly, I have no idea what they call it now.  Barry Manilow Field at Bob Marley Point…or something.  Whatever.  We won the Super Bowl there. That’s what I remember.

7.  Watch the conquering hero. Reggie Wayne’s dominant performance last week quieted any remaining critics or doubters he may still have had.  Now he’s coming back to the place where he played college ball as one of the absolutely unquestioned best WRs in the game.  The truth is that Wayne has been doing this for years, but people always found a reason to doubt him.  “Marvin Harrison plays on the same team!”, they would say, forgetting that Harrison barely played in 2007 and was not double covered last year.  Now, the spot light will be squarely on the the man who proudly declares himself to be from “The U”.

8.  Watch Jason Taylor. He’s gone from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 backer, but he’s still a feared pass rusher.  The Colts did a fine job keeping Manning upright last week, but Charlie Johnson won’t be facing a first round bust this time.  Taylor is one of the best all-time at taking down the QB.  He’s going to be coming.  The Colts have to keep him from arriving.

9.  Watch for the truth. Colts’ fans might not want to admit it, but the offense is no longer elite.  Without a credible number two WR (as long as Gonzo is out), and with no discernible running game, a suspect line (who played well last week), and a kicker who is questionable from 50 yards, the Colts simply aren’t the same offense that hung up huge numbers for most of the decade.  They still can strike quickly, and will have some big games from time to time, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to post games in the high 20s regularly.  The Colts best unit is clearly the defense.  It may be exactly the kind of switch the team needs, too.

10.  Watch Ed Johnson up front. Last week, the Colts front line did a credible job slowing down the Jags run game, and they did so without starting DT Ed Johnson.  The Dolphins lack a deep passing game, so they need the run to establish the offense.  If the Colts can hold the ‘Phins under 4.5 YPC, they should be able to get them off the field regularly.

11.  Watch the old nemesis.  Chad Pennington has a weird history against the Colts.  He only has one win in four games, but that win came in the 41-0 loss at the Jets in the playoffs.  In three regular season meetings, his teams are 0-3, but his numbers are insane.  He’s completed 67.4% of his passes with a rating of 123.2.  In a wild game at the Dome, he actually posted a perfect QB rating in a 38-31 loss to the Colts (only the fourth time in history a perfect QB rating meant a lost game).

12.  Watch the kid earn his money.  For the second straight week Dwight Freeney will face off against a young, highly drafted left tackle.  Jake Long was the first pick in the NFL draft in 2008, and had a good rookie year.  Now it gets serious, however as he has to take on one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.  How Long handles Freeney will go a long way to deciding the game.  If Freeney breaks free for a couple of sacks, the Dolphins will have a difficult time winning the game.

13.  Watch the ghosts. The Dolphins’ persona is dominated by Dan Marino.  Now his current day equivalent comes to town.  Manning’s similarity scores show a strong resemblance to Marino, and it’s hard to watch him play in Miami without remembering their epic duel at the end of 1999.  It was Manning’s only career win against Marino (in four games), but it was an incredible game.

14.  Watch Clark up the seam. Tony Gonzalez had a field day up the middle on the Miami safeties on Sunday, racking up 73 yards and a score on just 5 catches.  Dallas Clark posses endless matchup problems, and if Miami can’t figure out a way to cover him on deep balls over the middle, Manning will find him all night long.

15. Watch for Chucky.  Jon Gruden’s addition to the Monday Night Football team is a curious one.  Combined with Ron Jaworski, he brings a lot of manic energy to the booth.  He’s been rumored to be unhappy with Jaws, and has also brought Dan Fouts, Steve Young, and Rich Gannon in to compete for the co-analyst job.  He figures that Mike Tirico is fine on his own and has pathologically ignored his performance altogether, feeling that the best use of his time is perpetually juggle the quarterbacks that are set to call alongside him.  The Cleveland Browns are said to be very interested in calling him to announce their games.

16.  Watch the ex-teammate.  Ted Ginn Jr. was drafted as a WR/KR early in the same draft the Colts took his teammate Anthony Gonzalez.  Until Gonzo went down with injury, the game was going to be an interesting comparison of #1 and #2 WRs on the same college team.  Now, the Colts are left to have to worry about how to contain Ginn in the return game.  He was mediocre last year, but the Colts have a bad history of covering kicks.  A big return could be just the extra offense the Dolphins need to pull out a win.

17.  Watch the road warriors.  Since 2005, the Colts are an insane 16-4 in non-division road games.  They are a tough team to beat when matched up against teams they don’t play regularly.

18.  Watch for the record. With a win, Manning will pass Johnny Unitas for the most victories all time as a Colt QB.  Johnny U is one of the game’s most enduring icons, and Manning is a fitting heir.  Deshwan thinks Manning nabs the record 14-10.  Demond likes the Colts 23-20.