There’s no question that the Miami Dolphins (2-3) have underachieved so far this season and their near-victory against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday still stings.
They can do something about it starting on Sunday by putting together a complete performance against the also-underachieving Chicago Bears (3-3) at Soldier Field.
However, the Bears are certainly better than their record indicates, so it remains to be seen whether the Dolphins are up to the task.
"I think it’s building," said Tannehill of his team’s confidence as the season progresses. "I think it’s obviously we have to put a whole game together. We realize that we are coming to a critical point, 2-3, at this point. There’s a lot of football out in front of us, but we’ve got to make it happen sooner rather than later. We’ve seen the potential of this team, at times, I feel like during all of our games. It’s just a matter of putting a full game together."
Head coach Joe Philbin bore plenty of responsibility for his team’s late game breakdown to let victory escape from their grasp last week and he will need to put together an effective gameplan along with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to contain dazzling running back Matt Forte, who leads the league in receptions with 46 and is seventh in rushing with 399 total yards on an average of 4 yards per carry. Quarterback Jay Cutler has also impressed as has a much-improved Bears defense, who are tied for fourth in the league in sacks.
Will the Bears win their first home game of the season or will the Dolphins pick up a confidence-building road victory? Here are several things to watch for once the two teams face off at 1:00 pm on Sunday.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Bears WRs Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery vs CBs Cortland Finnegan, Brent Grimes
Both Finnegan and Grimes have struggled lately making tackles and being able to measure up with opposing teams’ bigger and physical receivers. They’ll get no reprieve this week with the dangerous tandem of Marshall and Jeffery, who have combined for 796 total receiving yards this year. Jeffery stands at 6-foot-3 and Marshall is 6-foot-4.
"Yeah, they’re very good," said Grimes. "They’re two great players that make a lot of plays down the field. I think they both went to the Pro Bowl last year. They’re both good receivers, but there a lot of good receivers in this league. Those two can make plays."
Both cornerbacks need to make plays themselves and they can give the Dolphins a huge boost if they can create turnovers. The team as a whole has only recorded an interception in just one game this season, when Grimes, Walt Aikens and safety Jimmy Wilson each caught one against the Oakland Raiders in London.
"Let’s face it, both our guys, when you measure them, they’re not as tall as the two guys outside that they have," said Philbin on the matchup. "But I think, after watching these guys play, these guys play bigger than their height indicates and both guys have good ball skills. And they’re both competitive guys."
Dolphins: With a victory, Miami will have won four times in their last five trips to Chicago and improve their all-time record against the Bears to 8-4.
Bears: After Cutler turned the ball over eight times in the Bears’ first five game, he played one of his strongest all-around games against the Atlanta Falcons where we went 26-of-38 for 381 yards, one touchdown and — most importantly — zero turnovers.
Dolphins: The receivers continue to struggle overall, with their average of 217 passing yards tied for 25th in the NFL and 5.83 average yards per play only good for 30th place. If the Dolphins want to reach .500 for the season, they’ll need players like Brian Hartline and Wallace to make their presence felt.
Bears: Chicago has playoff aspirations but will be desperate to avoid losing their fourth straight at home in Soldier Field.
Dolphins: Doubtful — S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring); Questionable — C Samson Satele (hamstring)
Bears: Out — LB Lance Briggs (ribs), S Chris Conte (shoulder); Questionable — LB Jonathan Bostic (back)
DID YOU KNOW?
Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace’s fourth quarter touchdown last week against the Packers marked his fifth touchdown reception in his last six games for Miami. The last Dolphins receiver to have five in a span of six games was Mark Duper in 1984.
"Just trying to feel the game out and develop a rhythm. That’s the biggest thing early because we never get into a rhythm. We haven’t been able to do that, but we have another week to come out, start fast and let that continue to the second half." —Rookie receiver Jarvis Landry on trying to avoid another slow start for the Dolphins offense.
"Obviously, there’s a great tradition there. When you drive up and see the Roman Coliseum type facility that they have there, and then the great players they’ve had and the coaches they’ve had in their history. And the great games that have been played there in the National Football League history. It’s a special place. Their fans are pretty close to the action. They are loud. They are supportive. We are going to have to do a good job executing in a tough environment. Yeah, it’s a unique stadium and a good place to play." —Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin on the challenges of playing at Soldier Field.
"Just like you said, any quarterback, you want to pressure and get him off of his spot, make him run a little bit and give your guys in the back-end an ability to make a play or chance to make a play. We need to disguise and try to do different things to just get him out of his rhythm." —Linebacker Jelani Jenkins on slowing down quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears offense.
The Dolphins will hit the road again to face state rival Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on Oct. 26 at 1:00 pm.