By Jeremiah Thermidor
The Cardinals are not a team to be taken lightly. The Eagles learned that lesson in a loss last Sunday when Arizona picked apart their offense, making life difficult for Michael Vick and forcing three fumbles. Now, the Cardinals are setting their sights on taking down the Dolphins, who are coming off a 23-20 overtime home loss to the Jets.
Miami’s best offensive weapon, Reggie Bush, left the game with a knee injury and there was some concern he might be out for the next one or two weeks. But Bush returned to practice in a limited capacity on Thursday after an MRI revealed his injury wasn’t serious. He could see some action in Sunday’s game. But without him, the Dolphins would manage well with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller carrying the load.
“I think it’s a deep position,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said regarding Miami’s solid group of rushers. “We have guys that are capable of running the football. There is no doubt about it. I like the guys that we have. Hopefully, they can continue to get better and develop and make some big plays.”
Arizona’s rushing defense isn’t as stellar as its passing defense. So, Miami’s best bet is to set the tempo of the offense by running the ball as much as possible. Through three weeks, Arizona has the ninth-best passing defense in the league and are third with the most the sacks (13), proving just how much pressure they’re putting on opposing quarterbacks.
Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill will have to keep his composure and protect the football in order to limit turnovers, which he did in Weeks 2 and 3.
Miami’s offensive line has improved in keeping pass rushers in check, allowing just one sack in the last two contests. However, the Cardinals boast a group of talented defensive linemen and linebackers, specifically guys such as Sam Acho, Darnell Dockett and Paris Lenon, who have done a great job making quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.
“They’re playing fast and obviously you want to create schematic challenges for an offense, which clearly they do,” said Philbin when asked about Arizona’s defense. “I think they’re giving up 13 points per game, and I think that’s pretty good proof in the pudding that they’re doing some things well.”
The Dolphins can’t forget the primary reason they lost against the Jets. Kicker Dan Carpenter missed two field goals, including what would’ve been the game-winner. Coach Philbin believes Carpenter will make the adjustments necessary to make sure what happened last Sunday doesn’t happen again.
“I’m totally confident that he will come back and I’m pretty sure that we’ll be in that same situation again,” Philbin said Wednesday. “I don’t know when but I’m pretty confident it will happen and he will come through for us.”
Miami’s defense is going to need to disrupt Arizona’s passing attack if the Dolphins hope to keep the game close.
Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb has improved significantly since last year. He’s passed for 428 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, igniting an offense which lost its starting quarterback John Skelton in the season opener. Whether Kolb plays Sunday, however, remains up in the air.
Skelton, of course, beat out Kolb for the job in the preseason, but sat out the last two games with a sprained ankle. Skelton’s ankle has improved and he did practice on Wednesday and Thursday. However, he was limited in those practices.
Whichever quarterback starts on Sunday will certainly look target their best playmaker in six-time Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald hasn’t put up explosive numbers yet, but he’ll be looking to do so against a Miami secondary which has struggled against elite receivers.
The Miami Dolphins (1-2) visit the undefeated Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.