In the NFL, there generally aren't many 'must win' games that take place during the first half of the season. While the Miami Dolphins are holding a 2-3 record and still have 11 games left on their schedule, the team has hit a crucial turning point in their 2014 campaign. Miami plays five of their next seven games on the road, a stretch that includes games against the Detroit Lions (4-2, 1st in NFC Central), San Diego Chargers (5-1, 1st in AFC West) and Denver Broncos (4-1, 2nd in AFC West).
With such a challenging road ahead, the Dolphins don't want to fall two games below .500 which is exactly what will happen if they lose to the Bears on Sunday. That would mean Miami would need to win two games in a row just to get their record back to even. Needless to say, the Dolphins understand how important it is to come away with a victory this week, especially after the way they lost in the final seconds to Green Bay in their last game. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top keys to a Dolphins victory over the Bears.
Keep the pressure on Jay Cutler
The Bears have an explosive offense that can hurt opposing teams in many different ways, led by veteran quarterback Jay Cutler. They do a good portion of their damage through the air, getting the ball to their tall receivers and tight end while also utilizing their pass-catching running back, Matt Forte. Now while Cutler is a solid quarterback, Aaron Rodgers he is not. If the Dolphins defense can continue putting pressure on the opposing QB, good things will happen. Cutler is known for making questionable passes at times and the chances for that happening on Sunday will only increase if Miami can consistently get in his face.
Limit Matt Forte's Production
This may be easier said than done, but the Dolphins defense will need to make sure they keep an eye on Forte at all times. Stopping the run has been a strength of Miami's defensive front, but covering backs when they slip out of the backfield is another story. Forte has racked up 22 receptions for 182 yards and a touchdown in his last two games. He's also averaging 164.6 total yards from scrimmage in his last three games, so he's certainly been a major contributor for the Bears of late.
Ryan Tannehill strong from start to finish
When discussing Ryan Tannehill's NFL career, it's safe to say that the only area he's been consistent is in his inconsistency. We've seen plenty of that this season as there have been times where he's looked like the franchise quarterback the Dolphins have been lacking for over a decade, and there have been times where he's looked like just another quarterback on the long list of guys to pass through Miami since 1999. Tannehill will need to get off to a solid start on Sunday and figure out how to maintain that through the rest of the game.
Control the clock with Lamar Miller
A big part of Miami's offense this season has been their running game, and the majority of that has been in thanks to Lamar Miller. Now that Knowshon Moreno has been placed on season-ending injured reserve, Miller is unquestionably the Dolphins lead back for the rest of the year. He's done a very good job so far this season, giving Miami a balanced offense with his consistent rushing attack, but the Dolphins would be wise to hand the ball to Miller early and often. Miller is ranked only behind the NFL's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, in yards per carry on 1st and 10 plays. Murray averages 5.8 yards while Miller picks up 5.7, but the main difference is that Murray has carried the ball 100 times on 1st and 10 while Miller has only run the ball 31 times in that situation.
Miami's secondary must play big
The Bears have some of the tallest receivers in the league; with Brandon Marshall listed at 6-foot-4 and Alshon Jeffery at 6-3. They also have one of the taller tight ends in 6-6 Martellus Bennett. Meanwhile, the Dolphins starting cornerbacks, Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan, are each 5-10 and rely heavily on their strength and athleticism to make up for their smaller stature. They'll have to do a very good job of that on Sunday against Chicago, making sure to be in the right position and making plays on the ball. If not, the tackling issues that both of them had last week against the Packers could come back to haunt them in a big way against the Bears.
Start strong on both sides of the ball
The Dolphins slow starts on offense have been well documented this season as they are one of the lowest scoring first quarter teams in the NFL. In recent weeks though, the slow starts have been extended to the defense as well. Miami has given up opening drive touchdowns in each of their last two games, putting the Dolphins in a 7-0 hole before their offense has even touched the field. That is a problem that will need to be remedied if the Dolphins want to improve their chances of getting out of Chicago with a win. A fast start will not only give Miami some much needed confidence, but it will also take the Soldier Field crowd out of the game.
Watch Miami take on the Chicago Bears this Sunday on CBS4, your official Dolphins station!
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