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The Miami Dolphins are fresh off of their biggest win in several years after shutting out the San Diego Chargers 37-0 last week.  They’ll have to come up with another big game on Sunday if Miami wants to remain one of the hottest teams in the NFL.  The Dolphins (5-3) head north this weekend for a road battle with the NFC North leading Detroit Lions (6-2).  The Lions, like the Dolphins, are riding a three game winning streak and are looking to further cement their status as a premiere playoff contender.

Miami and Detroit boast two of the NFL’s top defenses which will make for a very interesting matchup between two teams heading in the same direction.  The Dolphins have averaged 30.6 points over their last five games but their up-tempo offense will surely be tested at Ford Field on Sunday.  With that in mind, here are the top keys to a Dolphins victory in Detroit.

Limit Lions offense

(Source: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Source: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

While they enjoy having one of the NFL’s best defensive units, Detroit hasn’t had the kind of recent success that the Dolphins have enjoyed on offense.  That being said, the Lions will get their top offensive player back in the lineup on Sunday as wide receiver Calvin Johnson will return after missing their last three games with a high ankle sprain.  They’re also expecting to get former Dolphins tailback Reggie Bush back on the field as well.  Detroit’s running game is ranked 31st in the league so if Miami’s stout run defense can limit what the Lions do on the ground, they can key in on containing what they do through the air.

Ryan Tannehill must stay hot

Tannehill posted a career high passer rating of 125.6 last week against San Diego and has had a rating of 109.3 or higher in three of his last five games.  He’s also run for 35 yards or more in each of his last five games, and he joined Steve Young and Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks in the last 25 years to have a run of 20 yards or more in four straight games.  Against the Chargers, Tannehill led Miami to back-to-back touchdown drives to open the game, completing 11 of his first 13 passes.  If he can continue playing at this level, the Dolphins will give Detroit’s formidable defense all they can handle.

Have success rushing four defenders

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

One of the reasons that the Dolphins defense has been so successful is that they can get after the quarterback while rushing just four players.  With premiere pass rushers Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon on either end of the line and a steady rotation of Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell in the middle, getting pressure on the quarterback has been consistent area of success in Miami.  Being able to create a steady pass rush without having to blitz allows the Dolphins to outnumber their opponents down the field and keep players in front of them, which is a big reason why they’ve been able to limit explosive plays against.  This will be key on Sunday as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will have his full complement of offensive weapons to get the ball to.

Produce a balanced game on offense

During their recent run of solid offensive performances, the Dolphins have been able to keep opposing defenses off balance by mixing things up and having success both on the ground and through the air.  Ryan Tannehill will be key in making sure that happens as he’s been as big of a part of Miami’s rushing success as he has been in the passing game.  His ability to run the read option has gotten better week after week, as has his throwing accuracy and efficiency.

Watch Miami take on the Detroit Lions on Sunday at 1 p.m. on CBS4, your official Dolphins station! 

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