Dolphins vs. Cowboys: what to watch


The Miami Dolphins are playing only their 3rd home game of the season in Miami this afternoon when they host the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas comes into the game getting Tony Romo back after missing since game two with a shoulder injury. The Cowboys are 2-7, the Dolphins 4-5.

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While Miami is playing better football since Dan Campbell took over the team, they are still more finesse than physical. The Cowboys play physical on both sides of the ball but can be inconsistent. How much of the Cowboys’ problems are related to Romo’s absence will be known in the coming weeks. We don’t care about the coming weeks, we care about today.

When the Dolphins have the ball Miami must get the running game in gear early. The Cowboys are 15th in the league against the rush allowing an average of 4.1 yards per carry and 108 yards per game. It’s an opportunity that the Dolphins need to exploit. Miami’s two-headed monster, Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi, has been getting better but they still haven’t reached their potential.

Ryan Tannehill stated earlier in the week that he would like to run the ball more and that should also be a focus today. Dan Campbell expressed his desire to see more read-option plays. Tannehill’s legs can open the standard running attack of Miller and Ajayi as well as the passing game.

Miami’s dink and dunk approach has worked over the season but we are starting to see Tannehill throw deeper in the last few weeks. In fact, Tannehill is connecting on those deep passes which if continued will open up the entire offense. The Dolphins passing game needs to compliment the running game today and Bill Lazor can’t afford to make today a one-sided affair.

The Cowboys are giving up an average of 241 yards and 7.4 yards per reception this season so while many are focusing on the return of Tony Romo, his addition won’t help a struggling defense. Linebacker Sean Lee who returns after two weeks from a concussion will. Lee is a very good linebacker but like the Dolphins’ Jelani Jenkins, he is almost a one man show at linebacker at times. For the Dolphins to find success in the passing game they need to get their tight-ends more involved.

Jordan Cameron has been a huge disappointment through nine weeks but most of that is the fault of offensive play calling. Miami can’t seem to find a way to get he and Dion Sims more involved in the game. In fact you could argue that Jake Stoneburner had more of an impact when he was on the field simply because he got into the end zone. Stoneburner has two scores this season on five receptions while Sims and Cameron have combined for two on 29 receptions.

Miami’s offense has become very one-sided in the passing game with the majority of receptions going to Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews. The two have combined for 101 receptions and seven touchdowns. The other wide-receivers have combined for 31. Lamar Miller is third on the team in receptions with 33.

Defensively the Dolphins face Romo and Dez Bryant. Bryant missed a good portion of the season as well due to injury but has played the last two weeks. Bryant is a big physical receiver that will dominate the game if allowed to. Miami will need to double up on Bryant to keep him out of the game. When Bryant is being targeted Jason Witten is. Last week the Dolphins gave up big plays to Eagles tight-end Brent Celek. Celek posted 100 yards receiving in the first quarter of that win.

Miami must find a way to stop the tight-end. Dallas uses their tight end well but mostly because of a lack of other options. Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams have combined for 57 receptions. Witten has caught 49 passes. Of course most of this lopsided stat is a result of Bryant’s absence.

When the Cowboys run the ball they will be turning to former Raider runner Darren McFadden. The Cowboys have managed to get some use of the running back and McFadden is averaging 3.8 yards per carry. He has 494 yards on 130 carries. The Cowboys are not deep at running back so McFadden is expected to carry the ball most if not all of the game.

Up front the Dolphins face trench problems on both sides of the ball. Dallas boasts one of the best offensive lines in the league despite the lack of production from the offense. It’s almost opposite of what the Dolphins deal with. Miami has all the key offensive specialists but lack even an average offensive line whereas Dallas has very good line but lack the playmakers. Defensively the Cowboys are very good with Greg Hardy coming off the edge. It will be a tough task for Branden Albert but one he needs to win.

Overall the teams at this time match-up pretty well but how well Miami plays in the secondary to stop Bryant and Witten and how much pressure Miami’s defensive line can get on Romo will be key factors as the game progresses.