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.