By Abe Gutierrez
Following a disappointing showing last week in Baltimore, the (7-5) Miami Dolphins return home looking to bounce back and put that 32-point drubbing behind them. Trying to deliver a devastating shot to Adam Gase's playoff hopes, Bruce Arians' Arizona Cardinals invade South Florida ready to test the Fins' resiliency in Week 14.
Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida will be filled to capacity to see just how resilient this Miami team really is. Opening kick-off is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.
Given that these teams reside in opposing conferences, it comes as no surprise that this Week 14 contest only marks the 11th time these franchises have crossed paths. And while the Dolphins come in leading the overall series 8-3-0, the Cardinals are riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak in the head-to-head history.
The last time these teams met dates back to Sept. 30, 2012, when Arizona defeated Miami 24-21 in overtime at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. In what became a shootout between quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Kevin Kolb, both signal-callers combined for 755 passing yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Arizona Cardinals record: 5-6-1
After going 13-3, winning the NFC West title and making it all the way to the NFC Championship game a year ago, the Cardinals came into the 2016 NFL season with high expectations. However, after starting the year with a 1-3 record, it was clear that Arizona's path back to the postseason would be met with much more resistance.
Thus far, the Cardinals have had an up-and-down year, evidenced by the fact that they come into Week 14 under .500 at 5-6-1. This season, Arizona is 4-2-1 at home, 1-4 on the road, 2-1-1 against NFC West foes, 4-4-1 against NFC rivals, 1-2 versus non-conference teams and 2-3 in their last five games played.
Cardinals on offense
Harold Goodwin is the Cardinals' offensive coordinator and he runs a unit that ranks ninth in yards per game (369.1) and passing yards per game (263.8), 16th in rushing yards (105.2) and 17th in points scored per contest (23.0). Usually, game planning to face this team has been rather straight-forward in years past: pressure quarterback Carson Palmer and double-team wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
However, a new star is on the rise in the desert, as running back David Johnson has taken the league by storm in his sophomore year. The Northern Iowa-product comes into Week 14 ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards per game (1005) and tied for third in the league with most rushing touchdowns (11).
In last week's 31-23 win over the Redskins, Johnson recorded his 12th consecutive game with more than 100 yards from scrimmage. After the contest, Palmer and Fitzgerald publicly praised the 6-foot-1, 224-pound back, with the stellar wideout calling him the "National Football League's MVP," and the signal-caller echoing those sentiments.
"I think he is the best player in the NFL, point-blank," said Palmer. "I think he has proven that. I think our wins and losses have affected some of the hype that he has not gotten and other guys have gotten because they are on winning teams—but best player in the NFL."
Cardinals on defense
James Bettcher is the Cardinals' defensive coordinator, and he's in charge of a unit that ranks among the best in the National Football League. Arizona's defense comes into Week 14 ranked second in yards allowed (297.2), third in passing yards (199.3), 11th in points (20.9) and 12th in rushing yards per game (97.9).
After playing an instrumental role in this team's success a year ago, the 38-year-old from Lakeville, Indiana, has picked up right where he left off. At this point, all the questions regarding his lack of experience as defensive coordinator following Todd Bowles' departure seem like distant memory.
"I've told everybody this a ton of times: I've got a great group of outstanding coaches on defense to do this with," Bettcher said. "That makes a world of difference. And obviously, having some pretty dang good players is important, too.
"These guys played their butts off. We focused on the little things. We focused on effort. We focused on technique. We focused on communication — the things that in a lot of eyes, are small and little and sometimes monotonous to talk about, but they're 90 percent of the game. So that's what we focus on and we've got a great group of coaches."
Cardinals players to watch: David Johnson, Chandler Jones
When going up against the Arizona Cardinals, more times than not, the player(s) to watch would either be former AFC Player of the Year quarterback Carson Palmer and/or nine-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Nevertheless, Miami has to focus its attention on yet another offensive threat when the red birds come to town.
That's because David Johnson has become one of the biggest dual-threat running backs in professional football. Not only does he come into Week 14 with 1,005 rushing yards on 228 carries and 11 rushing touchdowns, but Johnson has also been a reliable check-down target for Palmer. In addition to his ground work, the Memphis, Tennessee native has also registered 64 receptions for 704 yards and four touchdowns.
"It means a lot," Johnson said when he heard Palmer and Fitzgerald call him the most valuable player in the league this year. "It's a great achievement just to hear that, just to be talked about amongst those great players. It means a lot because of everything I've been through. All the hard work is finally paying off."
Defensively, the Cardinals have many weapons capable of disrupting Miami's flimsy offensive attack. However, there's a player on the defensive unit who's a one-man wrecking crew in outside linebacker Chandler Jones.
After being selected to his first Pro Bowl a season ago, the former Patriot leads the roster with eight sacks, which is good enough for an 11th place tie in the National Football League. Jones also has 37 tackles (29 solo, 8 assist) this season, as well as three forced fumbles and two passes defended.
According to NFL Week 14 oddsmakers, the game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Miami Dolphins is expected to be a highly contested affair. Opening point spreads for this showdown have the Fins (-1) as one-point favorites and the visiting Cards (+1) as underdogs by a PAT. As far as the point-total is concerned, the OVER/UNDER is set at a combined total of 43½ points in this one.
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