The Miami Dolphins conclude their West Coast road-trip with a tilt against the Los Angeles Rams. The Dolphins come to town as one of the hottest teams in the NFL, riding a four-game win streak. They look to push it to five against a sputtering Rams team turning to a rookie quarterback for a jump-start.
Sunday is a pivotal matchup for the Dolphins as they look to rebound from a nightmare start to the 2016 season. With a win on Sunday against the Rams, the Dolphins will move to two games above .500, putting themselves in prime position for a push to the playoffs.
The Rams, on the other hand, are fresh off a hard-fought victory against the New York Jets. Having snapped their four-game losing streak, the Rams are calling on the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Jared Goff looks to breathe new life into a failing offense and get back to the success that saw the Rams open the season 3-1.
Dolphins Keys to Victory
Contain Todd Gurley: One of the more baffling aspects to the Miami Dolphins season has been their inability to stop the run. The Dolphins front four is one of the better squads in all of the NFL, yet they can’t stop the run to save their lives. Though the run defense has been better during the winning streak, they are still the 29th ranked defense against the run.
That doesn’t bode well when you’re tasked with stopping one of the most talented backs in the league. So far this season, Todd Gurley has failed to live up to the promise that his 2015 season set. He’s rushed for just over 500 yards on the season and only scored three times. That being said, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out. And with the Rams starting a rookie quarterback, he’ll be leaned on heavily this Sunday.
Pressure Jared Goff: The Case Keenum experiment in Los Angeles has finally, mercifully, come to an end. After nine games and more interceptions than touchdowns, Keenum has been pulled. Enter the Rams first-round draft choice, Jared Goff. The rookie quarterback will be making his first NFL start on Sunday and draws a tough match-up against a rejuvenated Dolphins front line.
Protect Ryan Tannehill: Had this been written a couple of days ago, this wouldn’t be an issue. The Dolphins offensive line has been playing at an All-Pro level as of late. Ryan Tannehill has remained upright, for the most part, and his play has improved.
However, Branden Albert was injured in the San Diego victory and will miss at least Sunday’s game. Then came news that Mike Pouncey is experiencing issues with his hip again. Suddenly what was becoming a strength is once again a squad fraught with uncertainty. It’s becoming increasingly likely that Miami will come into Los Angeles with the combination of Tunsil, Urbik, and Steen instead of Albert, Tunsil, and Pouncey, which could derail Miami’s win streak.
Rams Keys to Victory
K.I.S.S.: Keep it simple, stupid. You’re playing one of the hottest teams in the NFL and you’re starting a rookie quarterback. Don’t throw too much at the kid. He’s being thrust into an unenviable situation and the coaching staff needs to recognize that. Lean heavily on Todd Gurley and don’t ask Goff to do too much with the football.
Pressure Ryan Tannehill: The Miami Dolphins offensive line has done a great job the last four games of keeping Tannehill clean. He’s been sacked only three times in the last four games. When given enough time to survey the field and find the open man, Tannehill is more than capable of picking your defense apart.
With the injuries to both Albert and Pouncey, the job of putting pressure on Tannehill gets a lot easier. Aaron Donald is arguably the best defensive tackle in all of football. The combination of Urbik and Steen is going to have their hands full guarding him. This should, in turn, make it significantly easier for the other members of that front line to put the heat on Tannehill. If they can get to him early and often, this game could be a lot tighter than it looks on paper.
Manufacture Offense: To say that the Rams offense has been struggling lately would be an understatement. This is a team that has scored fewer than 10 points in their last three games and five times on the season. Somehow, nine points was enough to win last week’s matchup against the lowly Jets. That won’t be the case on Sunday against the Dolphins.
It won’t be easy. Jared Goff and the rest of the Rams offense needs to figure out how to put points on the board. The Dolphins defense has a strong front four, but the rest of the squad is vulnerable. They have arguably one of the worst cornerback groups in the league. If the offensive line can hold up against Wake and company, the secondary can be exploited.
Point Spread: Miami -1.5 Moneyline: Miami -125, Los Angeles +105 Over/Under: 39.5
The next three weeks are critical for the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances. They currently sit at 5-4 on the season, with three very winnable games coming up. That makes Sunday’s game against the Rams the very definition of a trap game. It’ll be closer than it should be. Miami pulls away in the fourth quarter to push the winning streak to five games.