Sizing Up the Colts Matchup

Sizing Up the Colts Matchup

The Dolphins face a tough challenge Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium when they take on the Indianapolis Colts in their second consecutive road game. It's a game where the Dolphins could make a big statement and announce themselves as a team to be taken seriously. We examine some key aspects of the matchup.

THE ROAD CHALLENGE

Being sent on the road for the first two games of a season doesn't happen that often in the NFL, and it's rarer still that a team can come out of that at 2-0.

But it has happened, and the Dolphins are one of only two teams to pull off the feat in recent years.

Over the past five NFL seasons, 15 teams have begun with back-to-back road games, including Miami, Tennessee and Minnesota this year. Of the 12 in the past four seasons, only two managed to win both games — the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 and the Miami Dolphins in 2010.

The Dolphins' 2010 start actually looks very familiar because of the opponents, the setting and the score of the opener.

To refresh your memory, the 2010 Dolphins opened at Buffalo against a rebuilding team coming off a string of playoff-less seasons and won by holding the opponent to 10 points.

The 2013 Dolphins opened at Cleveland against a rebuilding team coming off a string of playoff-less seasons and won by holding the opponent to 10 points.

The 2010 Dolphins faced in Week 2 a dome team (Minnesota) coming off a playoff year with a star quarterback (Brett Favre).

The 2013 Dolphins are facing in Week 2 a dome team (Indianapolis) coming off a playoff year with a star quarterback (Andrew Luck).

As a reminder, the Dolphins won that second game in 2010 by the score of 14-10.

THIRD DOWN THE FIRST PRIORITY

Of course, Sunday's game is a rematch of last year's meeting, also at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It was a pivotal game in that both teams had gotten off to surprising 4-3 starts and had put themselves in position to make a serious playoff run.

Indy pulled out a 23-20 victory that day and it propelled them to an 11-5 finish and a postseason berth just one season after the Colts went 2-14.

But it was a game the Dolphins easily could have won, maybe should have won.

And the biggest reason they weren't able to pull it out was the Colts' efficiency on third down.

And it wasn't just that Indianapolis was a remarkable 13-for-19 in third-down conversions, it's the way the Colts did it.

What was really painful for the Dolphins was watching Indy convert six situations of third-and-10 or longer and four of those conversions led to scores.

The game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri in the fourth quarter came after the Colts converted a third-and-11 from their own 5-yard line.

Indy's first touchdown came on a third-and-goal from the 9-yard line after the Colts had converted a third-and-14 from their own 33-yard line with a 25-yard pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton.

Then there was a 20-yard completion to Hilton on third-and-20 from the Miami 49-yard line with under 20 seconds left in the first half that allowed the Colts to kick a field goal right before halftime.

Finally, there was Indy's touchdown in the third quarter, which came on a drive that was kept alive when Luck hit Lavell Brazill with a 19-yard pass on third-and-16 from the Colts 31-yard line.

There were two major factors at play in the Colts' third-down success, and both come back to Luck.

Simply put, Luck was sensational that day. He had perhaps the single best performance by an NFL QB in the 2012 season on that particular day and it's difficult to envision him begin that good again on Sunday, which should be an encouraging sign for Dolphins fans.

Second, the Dolphins got their hands on Luck quite a bit that day but simply weren't able to bring him down. The Dolphins pass rush is coming off a six-sack game against Cleveland and one would expect Cameron Wake and company are going to be extra diligent about making sure Luck doesn't escape their clutches again.

ON THE RUN

All week we've heard the importance of the Dolphins establishing their running game after the poor outing in Cleveland, and clearly Miami has only one way to go in that department.

But here's the thing: Don't overstate the significance of the running game. It's not a determining factor anymore. It just isn't.

Don't believe it? OK, then, just consider that eight of the 16 winning teams in Week 1 averaged less than 3 yards per rushing attempt. Another three averaged less than 4 yards, which usually is right around the league average.

The rundown:

Denver (2.8)

Seattle (2.7)

Chicago (2.9)

Miami (0.9)

New Orleans (2.7)

Tennessee (2.7)

San Francisco (2.6)

St. Louis (2.8)

Want more proof?

Oakland rushed for 171 yards, the second-highest total in the NFL, and lost at Indianapolis.

Carolina outrushed Seattle by 64 yards (134-70) and lost at home.

Then, for good measure, the Patriots beat the Jets on Thursday despite averaging 2.3 yards per carry and getting outrushed by 75 yards (129-54).

So, yes, it would make things easier if Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas or both could have a breakout game against the Colts, no question about it, but let's not get carried away — pun intended.

On the list of factors that will determine the outcome of Sunday's game against the Colts, having success running the ball is way down there.

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