Phins Playing For 2nd: 5 Keys To Victory


UPDATE:  Darren McFadden has been cleared to play this weekend after missing the last 3 games.  The Keys have been updated to reflect this news.

Thanks to the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins will enter Dolphins Stadium on Sunday with a chance to move into the 2nd spot in the AFC East.  With a win against the Patriots in week 3 the Dolphins will hold the tie-breaker for at least another week meaning that after Sunday, should the Dolphins win…the division will be Jets, Dolphins, Patriots, Bills.  Don’t look at your calendar this is November and they are playing for a playoff birth.

Standings right now, as of last night, put the New York Jets in the division lead with the Patriots dropping into a wild card spot.  Should Miami and Indianapolis both win, that last spot will belong to the Colts with the Dolphins one game out.

This weekend is the biggest game that the Dolphins have played since 2003.  Even the 6 game win streak in 2004 was rather meaningless as the Phins were never in playoff contention starting that season 3-7.  This year marks the first time since that ’03 season that the Phins are playing must win football this late in the season.

The Oakland Raiders have only won 2 games however they have played very well at times.  How much of a “must win” game is this?  Consider that a loss will put the Dolphins 2 games out of first and one full game out of 2nd.  With the Patriots on the schedule next, a loss to the Pats would all but knock them officially out of the playoffs.  Possibly 3 games out of first and 2 games behind the Pats with 5 games remaining.  It’s that huge.

A win in Oakland will allow the Phins a bit of breathing room.  After the Patriots they face the Bills, Rams, Chiefs, and 49’ers before wrapping their season in New York against the Jets.  A win and the Phins move into 2nd place, will play host to the Patriots for the outright slot plus the head to head tie-breaker in the division. For all intent and purposes, the Dolphins hold the keys to their future.  It all starts on Sunday in a game that the Phins not only should win, but “MUST” win.  Here are the 5 keys to that victory.

Key 5:  Run, run, and run.  The Oakland Raiders are going to stack the line.  They will not have any fear of the Dolphins WR’s and that includes the awakened Ted Ginn.  The Raiders rank 29th in the league against the rush but last weeks opponent Seattle is not much better.  The Raiders will try and force the Dolphins to throw the ball and hope that their stud CB Nnamdi Asomugha will keep Ginn from getting down field.  

Key 4:  Protect Pennington.  The Raiders are the 4th ranked team in the AFC in sacks…tied with the Dolphins.  Each team has 21 and the Raiders will try and put pressure on Chad Pennington as often as they can.  Chad has thrown 2 pick 6 INT’s this season and the Raiders will try and rattle him enough to force him into throws he doesn’t want to make.  The Raiders are playing for pride and that makes for a dangerous opponent.  The Dolphins will not find a simple 4 or 5 man front in the running game so they will need to get the WR’s involved early and that requires protection.

Key 3:  Stop the Raiders rushing attack.  The Raiders are ranked 9th in the entire NFL in rushing with an average of 124 yards per game.  Darren McFadden has been cleared to play this weekend, his first game in 3 weeks after suffering a turf toe injury.  Last year it was Justin Fargas who rushed for 179 yards against the Phins and the Dolphins gave up way too many yards to the Seahawks last week.  McFadden has not lived up to his enormous potential but the offense as a whole is far from good.  With Jamarcus Russel a question mark, the Raiders may try and pound the ball with DM and Fargas.  The Dolphins will need to shut this down.

Key 2:  Joey Porter.  The Raiders are giving up a lot of sacks.  One of the reasons why they will likely turn to their running game often in order take pressure off the QB.  That QB may be Andrew Walter or Jamarcus Russel.  Russel is questionable for this weekends game.  Joey Porter has the mouth and the physicality to shut down the Raiders QB whoever it is and he will need to use his mouth as much as his arms to get into the heads of the lineman.  This is a game that JP can take over and if he does, the Dolphins will win.  The Raiders have some questions with their WR’s and forcing their QB into bad situations will force bad decisions.

Key 1:  Forget about the Patriots.  The New England game is the earmarked game on the calendar right now for most fans and in the minds of the players that shouldn’t remotely be on their heads.  Tony Sparano and company are going to have to pull out every gimmick to keep this team focused on the Raiders and not the game after.  The Dolphins will need to take a big early lead, like the one they had vs. the Seahawks and not let up.  They must put the Raiders away early or they stand to be in a nail biter at the end.  If they don’t stay focused on the Raiders however, they will be playing catch-up themselves.  This game is primed for an upset given the surrounding circumstances of the division and the Dolphins must not fall into that trap.

The Raiders have won 2 games.  One against the Chiefs and the other an overtime victory against the New York Jets who just happen to lead the AFC East.  They played within 1 point of beating the Bills as well.  This team is not a pushover.

Bill Parcells likes to say “Don’t eat the cheese”.  Right now, the Dolphins should only be thinking about the trap.  Biggest game for the Dolphins?  You bet it is!