By Sam McPherson
When the Los Angeles Rams studied their schedule a month ago, perhaps they thought the Miami Dolphins’ visit to the Memorial Coliseum on November 20 would be one of those games they could win on their way to a .500-or-better season. Now, however, a month later and things have drastically changed in the NFL landscape.
The Dolphins, winners of four straight games and currently in the No. 7 position in the AFC, pose a big challenge for the Rams this weekend. Miami needs to keep winning in order to crack the playoff party in its conference, while Los Angeles needs any win it can get at this point in the season.
Dolphins Season Record
After a brutal early schedule left the Dolphins with a 1-4 record, the team has recovered with a nice winning streak. Of course, the first three losses were to 2015 playoff teams from Seattle, New England and Cincinnati. But, four straight wins—over Pittsburgh, Buffalo, the New York Jets and San Diego—have put Miami into second place in the AFC East Division.
The last three wins have come by a combined 14 points, so the Dolphins are riding some good late-game karma right now. For example, Miami scored 10 points in the final three minutes of its 31-24 victory over the Chargers on Sunday, including the game-winning interception touchdown return with just a minute left in the game.
Dolphins On Offense
Miami’s surge has been fueled by the running of second-year back Jay Ajayi. In the last four games, he has run for 608 yards and four touchdowns. This has helped quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the passing game immensely, as he hasn’t thrown an interception in the last four games after throwing seven picks in the first five contests.
A trio of young and talented wide receivers—Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills—provide Tannehill with the best set of targets he’s had since taking over the Dolphins a few seasons ago. This Miami offense can now beat opponents with both the run and the pass, and the results (29 points and 385 yards per game) during the win streak have been clear.
Dolphins On Defense
This unit remains a middling one, but as shown in the San Diego win, it can rise up and do what is necessary to win. Miami is giving up 22.9 points per game this season, and during the current stretch of four victories in a row, that number has only dropped to 21.8 points an outing. Thus, the offensive surge hasn’t had a tremendous impact on the defense yet.
The Dolphins do have talent on this side of the ball, however. Linebacker Kiko Alonso, who pulled off that game-winning play against the Chargers last weekend, leads the team with 70 tackles and two fumble recoveries this season. Meanwhile, defensive linemen Cameron Wake (seven sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (five sacks) provide plenty of pressure on the opposing offense. Miami has 22 sacks this season, so it’s not just these two up front, either.
Dolphins Players To Watch
Ajayi is making this offense go ’round right now, and the Rams have been very inconsistent with defending the run this season. Four times this season Los Angeles has coughed up 118 yards or more to opposing teams on the ground, so limiting Ajayi’s momentum in this game will be a key for the Rams defense.
When they’re clicking together, Wake and Suh can disrupt any offense’s rhythm, and for the Los Angeles offense that hasn’t displayed a lot of synchronicity this season, that could be a big nightmare up front for the Rams. If Jared Goff gets his first NFL start against the Dolphins, he could be seeing Wake and Suh in his nightmares for weeks to come.
As noted, a month ago this looked like a possible victory for the Rams. Now, it just looks scary. Los Angeles has shown little ability to score consistently on offense, and if the defense cannot slow down Ajayi, the Rams are in for a long day at home. Five times this year, Los Angeles has scored 10 points or less, and seven times, the team has scored less than 20 points.
Until there’s a major change in the Rams offensive philosophy and personnel, it’s hard to see them scoring a lot of points. As good as the L.A. defense can be, the Dolphins should have enough firepower to beat them, even in the Coliseum. Look for Miami to escape with a 21-17 victory.