INDIANAPOLIS – Through seven games last season, Miami stood at 0-7, but the Dolphins were able to correct matters by winning six of their last nine games.
This week, the Dolphins and Colts, whose response to a 2-14 record last year has been to double last season’s victory total, both stand at 4-3 and are paired in the AFC’s only battle this week pitting teams with winning records.
In winning 10 of its last 16 games, Miami comes to town as one of the league’s hottest teams. The Dolphins joined Atlanta, Chicago and the New York Giants as the only teams to post unbeaten October records.
As Bruce Arians guides the club he is leading for ill Head Coach Chuck Pagano on Sunday, he will see another young team across the way. Miami has 12 rookies to the Colts’ eight. The Colts have 32 players with no more than three years league experience, while Miami has 31, and both Arians and Miami’s Joe Philbin are directing teams for the first time.
In both teams’ cases, new does mean improved. Arians says the Dolphins are a full load with which to deal.
“Defensively, they’re number one on third downs, number two in the red zone, number five in scoring defense. Those are great situational football statistics,” said Arians. “I don’t care about their overall rankings. The yards gained between the twenties don’t matter. They’re a top notch third down, red zone and scoring defense in this league. They’re very good against the run. They’re going to present a great challenge, those two big guys (Randy Starks, Paul Soliai) in the middle and then blocking Cameron Wake off the edge, and the two young guys (Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon).
“Offensively, they’ve got a heck of an offensive line. You’ve got number one picks at center and left tackle (Mike Pouncey, Jake Long). A high number two pick at right tackle (Jonathan Martin) who is playing well. They’ve got a powerful offensive line.”
Miami’s respective lines have helped pave the way for a start that places it with Indianapolis among the AFC’s seven teams with at least four wins. Miami is gunning for its third road win and its first four-game winning streak since 2008.
The Dolphins are holding opposing teams to 82.0 rushing yards per game and a 3.5 ground average, among the stingiest totals in the NFL. Since week two, Miami has ranked no lower than fifth in the league in rushing defense, and its 18.0 scoring average tops the AFC. Miami is the only NFL team to hold each of its last three opponents to 14 points or less.
Indianapolis is coming off its two best rushing games of the season, getting 148 and 171 in the last two outings.
“(It’s a) very good defense, very good against the run,” said Brown of a Miami unit that has permitted only two teams to top 100 yards. “We have our work cut out for us. Our offensive line has been doing a good job. We just can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. As long as take care of the little things and have a great week of practice, we’ll be alright.”
Miami’s 22 sacks rank second in the AFC to Cincinnati’s 23. Arians is not surprised at the success and says end Cameron Wake demands special attention.
“Oh yeah, seven-and-a-half sacks. They do such a great job, you’re not going to say, ‘Hey we’re going to chip him,’ ” said Arians. “Coach (Kevin) Coyle came from Cincinnati’s defensive staff, which has been an outstanding one with Coach (Mike) Zimmer for a long time, one of the guys I respect the most in this business. He’s copied that defense, and they have an excellent blitz package. It’s going to be a real good challenge for us.”
Miami has been led by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the eighth pick in the draft. Tannehill suffered a knee and quadriceps injury last Sunday at the New York Jets and was replaced by veteran Matt Moore in the 30-9 victory. Whoever plays this week has an explosive teammate in the backfield, Reggie Bush. Bush, who joined Miami last year, has 493 rushing yards and three touchdowns, plus 18 receptions.
“Reggie Bush is just like (Tennessee’s) Chris Johnson, he can take it to the house at any point in time. He’s never down,” said Arians. “They’re running the ball extremely well. Reggie is a home run hitter, and we can’t allow home runs. We can give a single or two, but no home runs.
“The quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) is an outstanding young player. They’re asking him to do things he did in college, so he fit right into their system. The other quarterback (Matt Moore) is a veteran who has always won whenever he’s gotten the chance to play.”
This is the second week the Colts have been in a position to prepare for two quarterbacks. Tennessee started Matt Hasselbeck over Jake Locker last week, but the Colts prepped for both. It is an approach taken this week, too.
“No, they’re going to run the same offense,” said Arians on if it matters who starts. “It’s not going to change what they do. It’s just a matter of who is throwing it back there and a little bit of arm strength, a little bit of veteran. It’s kind of like Hasselbeck and Locker, they don’t really change, but there is a difference.”
“When (Matt) Moore plays, he’s just as good,” said cornerback
Powers and others on the backend must contend with the explosive Bush, plus another talented performer in receiver Davone Bess.
“First we have to stop Bush,” said Powers. “Reggie Bush is having another great year. It always starts with the run. If we can stop him, they try to get the ball in a lot of different ways. He’s also a great receiving running back.
“I think Bess is (better) in the slot than anything. He’s a shifty guy, quick guy, knows how to get open. (He’s) been in the league a while, a savvy player. I remember facing him my rookie year (2009), and he’s definitely developed a way better game since then. He’s added to his game. I think he’s a (heck) of a receiver.”
Last week in building a 20-0 halftime lead at New York, Miami blocked a punt for a touchdown, blocked a field goal and pulled off an onside kick, a first in the league in 20 years.
“They did a great job with the surprise onside, the blocked punt and the blocked field goal,” said Arians. “Any time you get those points in the kicking game, it’s hard to lose a game. Every phase of what they have right now, I’m very impressed with. It’s a great challenge.
“There’s no doubt why they’ve won three in a row, and they’ve got to be feeling pretty good about having won two of them on the road. That’s a huge step for a young team.”