Game Day: 5 Keys To Success


The Miami Dolphins will kick-off their 2008 season in a few short hours and I have personally cracked my name into the New York Times.  You can read what I had to say for them on this game, here.

Arch-rival New York will be headed by familiar name Brett Favre.  The NY Jets spent a ton of salary cap this year on names like Favre, Faneca, Woody, and Pace.  They revamped their defensive system switching more to a 34 than a 43.  Head Coach Eric Mangini is immediately on the hot seat with GM Mike Tannenbaum in part thanks to the 65 million dollars in guaranteed money on 5 players.  If this team fails, they fail monumentally.

While the Jets will come to Miami as 3 point favorites, most of the mainstream media is picking the Jets to beat the Dolphins.  A not so surprising fact given the outcome of games the last time this team played in a regular season.  While the new look Dolphins should put up a bigger fight, this by no means is a cake walk and any enthusiasm for the return of football should be tempered with the reality that this team is rebuilding and unlike the Jets is not in rebuild mode.  That does not however mean the Dolphins should roll over.  This is a  winnable game and these are my 5 keys to success.

1:  Pressure Brett Favre. The Dolphins must keep contained constant pressure on Brett Favre who does not like to take sacks.  Instead, he will often throw ill advised passes that are interceptable.  Pressure on the ex-Packer will be vital to keep field position and time possession optimal throughout the game.  Allowing Favre time to pick and choose his targets will only put more pressure on a secondary that struggled last season and have several unanswered questions surrounding them heading into the season.  That’s why keeping Favre out of the rhythm is imperative to the success of this game.  With Favre out of the game, the Dolphins can then focus on Phins killer Leon Washington.

The Jets have a formidable offensive line, but they are playing together for the first time in reality so they are still learning each other nuances.  If the Dolphins can pressure Brett Favre, then they can force the Jets to turn to a rushing game allowing the Dolphins to play tighter up front.

2:  Open up the Pass. The Miami Dolphins offensive lineman will be the key to victory.  Opening up the pass for the R & R express is more vital as the duality of the play on “Pass” will also open up the passing game.  A strong rushing attach will allow the Dolphins to play action and pass when they want to and not because they have to.  The Phins will need to take a patient approach to their options.  Going to deep to Ginn will keep the safeties out of the box, Hagan or Camarillo for 15 yarders and 10 yarders will keep the LB’s back allowing the TE’s to slip underneath or the RB’s to slip outside.  When the running game is moving, the passing game becomes easier.  The offensive line must allow the RB every opportunity to exploit a weaker defensive front that comes to Miami with questions of their own.

3:  Mistake free football.  It’s a cliche’ I know.  Keep the ball off the ground and the passes away from the defenders.  This is not a team that is built now to win and therefore they are not built to overcome costly turnovers that result in points.  Chad Penning10 must be frugal with his decisions from when to move out of the pocket, when to check down, and when to throw the ball away.  Forcing passes into tight coverage with an inexperienced WR corp will not be smart.

Penalties are drive killers and the Dolphins can not afford to watch momentum die because of a holding penalty.  An offsides.  A false start.  The latter of which has killed the Dolphins in the last few years.  Smart football gains you yards.  Yards will get you first downs.  First downs leads to long drives which in turn leads to points and eats up clocks.

4:  Special Teams must be special. Last year the Miami Dolphins looked horrible on special teams.  This year they must change that.  Long returns by the Jets will allow Brett Favre shorter fields which will then keep the gunslinger looking at shorter intermediate passes than the the long ball that the gunslinger likes.

Conversely, taking away long gains by Ted Ginn or another returner with ST penalties will keep the Dolphins in a hole that for this team could be hard to get out of.  Ted Ginn must be able to count on his wedge guys to keep the defenders in front of him and he must move up field.

Both punter Brandon Fields and Dan Carpenter must be on their games today.  Fields could likely see a lot of punting if the Dolphins can not open lanes or drive themselves back with penalties.  Carpenter may be the difference maker as the Dolphins may find themselves coming up short on TD’s but find plenty of opportunities to kick field goals.

5:  Manageing the game. This is the first HC job that Tony Sparano has had on any level.  While he has strolled the practice sidelines and barked orders and has shown a Shulaesque quality of catching players coming off the field to voice his displeasure, this is the real deal.  Miami fans are still reeling from 1st year HC Cam Cameron and his inability to manage the game left the team without direction and fight.  Tony Sparano must overcome the 1st game jitters and run his game and not let anyone or anything take him out of it.

He needs to be direct and decisive regardless of whether his actions turn out right or wrong.  Indecision will only lead to the rest of the team being indecisive.  On Thursday night the NFL nation watched as new Washington Redskin and first time HC Jim Zorn appeared lost at times on the sidelines.  His lack of direction caused a lack of cohesiveness on the field that showed it’s ugly face in the two minute drill.  Tony Sparano must keep this team together on the field and he will be relying heavily on Chad Pennington to lead the offense.

OVERALL: This game is almost a win/win situation for the Dolphins regardless of the win/loss tally at the end of it.  A solid showing by this team will go a long way to boosting their confidence that has been flying high after finishing the pre-season 3-1.  A close loss to the Jets will allow the Phins to take away something positive to work on.  A win of course will do more for this franchise and it’s fans than anything done in the last 5 years aside from the Baltimore win last year which was more for face than faith.

Aside from a blow out loss at the hands of the Jets, this game could easily set up the future confidence and attitude of this team.  It’s imperative to keep the game close and allow the team a chance at victory.

I don’t like to predict scores for the Dolphins.  If you go to one site I will say they win, go to another and I will say they lose.  If I pick the Dolphins I do so as a homer pick, if I pick the Jets I do so because of superstition.  So this year, I will only pick the score in these games that should be close and let Tony Sparano, the Miami Dolphins, and the NFL Hall of Fame Gods decide the rest.  24-21…fate will decide who has what.