While it’s fun to talk about the Miami Dolphins playoff chances, the reality is that one loss ends the speculation and enjoyment. Each week the Phins face a new challenge and a new demon to overcome. With an offense that on paper should be putting up more points and a defense that allows teams to hang around a bit too long, no game is a given. It is afterall the NFL.
For the Phins, their next “playoff” game is the San Francisco 49’ers. The 9’ers and Phins are tied 5-5 in their series, but the 9’ers have won 5 of the last 6 with the Phins taking the last meeting in 2004. The 9’ers on the other hand have been the AFC East killers of late. In the last two games the San Fran team has beaten Buffalo in NY and the New York Jets on the West coast. The Dolphins can not take this game lightly.
With two weeks left before the season finale showdown with the New York Jets, in what could be for the division, the Phins will need to maintain their drive for their 9th victory of the season. These 5 keys to victory can help the Phins assure themselves that when they travel to Kansas City next week, the season will still mean something.
Key 5: Shaun Hill: He replaced J.T. O’Sullivan in week 8 and since that time is over 65% in completions. The Phins are sitting at 21st in pass defense but that number is indicative of two horrible outings by the team against Arizona and New England a couple of weeks ago. Hill is methodical although young and inexperienced. He will try and expose the Dolphins secondary but will do so without an elite WR. Isaac Bruce is the team leader in yards and receptions and Bryant Johnson is on the opposite side. While both are good in their own rights, neither pose the coverage issues that the Phins have faced in recent weeks. O’Sullivan however can pick you apart with time and his poise will go a long way.
Key 4: Joey Porter: If Hill is a key for the 9’ers, then Porter is a bigger key for stopping him. Porter is sitting with 16.5 sacks on the season with 3 games left. He wants 20. The 49’ers have given up 45 sacks on the season which ranks them 3rd from the bottom…or the top depending on which way you view their glass. Joey Porter will try to intimidate Hill and force him to make quick reads. Porter can take over a game but he can’t wait until the 4th quarter to do it. He needs to hit Hill early and often and keep him running scared the entire game.
Key 3: SF RB’s: As of today there is no word on who will be the starting RB for the 9’ers. Frank Gore will be making his pro debut in home town of Miami but his ankle sprain may keep him out of the game. If that does happen, DeShaun Foster will be the featured back and while less productive than Gore by a mile, he can still do enough to make a defense play tough. Stopping the run for the Phins will force the 9’ers into their passing game and that should help the cause of Joey Porter. Allowing the 9’ers to control the ball means they control the clock and the game.
Key 2: Offensive Line: The 49’ers are ranked 14th in the NFL in rush defense and LB Patrick Willis is ranked 2nd in the NFL with 117 tackles. The Dolphins will likely face a blitz package designed to force Chad Pennington to play a more dink and dunk game but the real story will be how the Offensive line will match-up with Willis and the other 9’ers front defenders. Jake Long and company are going to have to find a way to keep the 9’ers from stacking the line and allowing CP time to throw.
Key 1: Ted Ginn: The 9’ers are ranked 26th against the pass but that has been without Nate Clements who will return this weekend and will likely find himself matched up against Ginn. Ginn has had a slight case of the drops lately and will need to be on the same page with CP. Ginn’s route running and game-play will help open up the running game and allow the other WR’s to play over the middle. If Ginn struggles to get off the line and/or downfield, the 9’ers will stack the box and the Dolphins will be looking for a way to get the ball across the line of scrimmage.