WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
While Tebow isn’t as experienced or as polished a passer as Orton (979 passing yards, 8 TD, 7 INT), the young quarterback has shown the ability to move the offense during his brief ventures as a pro. The Broncos averaged a respectable 25 points over his three late-season starts in 2010 and got a needed boost from his insertion in the San Diego game, and Tebow’s well-known skills as a scrambler add a dimension to the attack that the slow-footed Orton can’t bring. The change under center won’t stop Denver from being a run-based team, however, with resurgent veteran Willis McGahee (384 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 2 total TD) having stamped himself as the new feature back by amassing three 100- yard efforts in his last four games. The offseason pickup had a season-best 125 yards on just 16 carries against the Chargers, and the Broncos piled up 162 yards on the ground as a group. The receiving corps also underwent some major alterations over the bye week, with top target Brandon Lloyd traded to St. Louis on Monday and both Eddie Royal and promising 2010 first-round pick Demaryius Thomas set to return from injuries that have kept the pair sidelined for all or most of this year. Their absences have enabled second-year pro Eric Decker (22 receptions, 4 TD) to blossom in an increased role, with the 24-year- old currently leading the Broncos in catches and touchdowns.
Fox may have picked a pretty good spot to throw Tebow back into the fray, as the Dolphins presently stand 26th in total defense (390.8 ypg) and have surrendered the fourth-most passing yards in the league (284.0 ypg), while the team has encountered great difficulty establishing a reliable pass-rushing complement to standout outside linebacker Cameron Wake (11 tackles, 3 sacks). Miami has notched just eight sacks over the first five games, and Wake is the only member with a multiple number in that category this season. Forcing turnovers has been another major sore spot for the unit, as the Dolphins have produced only three takeaways to date and haven’t had more than one in any single contest. Miami has been pretty sound at stopping the run, however, with end Randy Starks (13 tackles) and beefy nose tackle Paul Soliai (8 tackles) two quality anchors for a front seven that held the Jets’ Shonn Greene to a modest 74 yards on 21 carries a week ago, and the defense allowed 296 total yards in an overall solid showing on Monday.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Miami will also be aiming to establish its running game on Sunday, and that’s been one of the few areas the team has performed capably in. The Dolphins have a nice one-two backfield punch in physical rookie Daniel Thomas (249 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 1 total TD) and versatile veteran Reggie Bush (190 rushing yards, 15 receptions, 1 TD), with the pair combining for 118 yards on 25 carries against the Jets. They’ll likely need to come up with another good day as well this week to help ease the burden on Moore (371 passing yards, 3 INT), who wasn’t particularly sharp in his first start in place of Henne. The 27- year-old threw two costly interceptions, one of which was returned 100 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown, against the Jets and often locked onto favorite target Brandon Marshall (28 receptions, 422 yards, 1 TD) during the game. Marshall still managed to register 109 yards on six grabs while facing one of the league’s best secondaries, however, and the excitable wideout should be plenty motivated this week in a matchup with his former team. Marshall had three 100-catch seasons and made two Pro Bowls in a four-year run with the Broncos before being traded to Miami prior to last season following a dispute with then-head coach Josh McDaniels. Look for the Dolphins to employ Bush often as a receiver as well in an effort to help neutralize a strong Denver pass rush.
Moore had to face the NFL’s leader in pass efficiency defense on Monday. Now he gets the league’s worst in that category, as the Broncos have been routinely ripped apart by enemy quarterbacks all throughout this season. Opposing passers have made good on over 68 percent of their throws against an aging secondary headed up by 13th-year cornerback Champ Bailey (10 tackles) and 38-year-old safety Brian Dawkins (22 tackles, 3 PD), and the team has given up 10 touchdowns through the air already as well. Denver has also had its problems at times in run defense, as evidenced by the 206 rushing yards it permitted to San Diego two weeks back, though a pair of key stoppers — weakside linebacker D.J. Williams (17 tackles, 1 sack) and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (8 tackles) — are now back at full strength after missing extensive time with injuries earlier in the year. The Broncos’ strength has been pressuring the quarterback, with outstanding rookie linebacker Von Miller (18 tackles) having posted at least one sack in four straight games and agile end Elvis Dumervil — the NFL’s leader with 17 sacks in 2009 — starting to round back into form after sitting out all of last year with a torn Achilles tendon.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Quarterback play. A big reason why Denver’s 1-4 right now is that Orton wasn’t getting it done, and although Tebow has proven he can be a catalyst, the captivating youngster remains an unfinished product who needs to play more consistently to give his team it’s best chance on Sunday. Miami possibly could have won its Monday-night bout with an erratic Jets team had Moore not performed so poorly, and it’ll be tough for the Dolphins to end their skid if he’s not better this week.
Running the football. Both quarterbacks would clearly benefit from consistent ground games, especially with the Broncos just trading away their best receiver and the Dolphins lacking any real difference-makers at the position other than Marshall. Each of these teams has run the ball fairly well this year and been rather hit-or-miss at defending it, so whichever one is more effective in churning out the yards could have a distinct advantage.
Big plays on defense. Here’s an aspect the Dolphins have severely lacked during their 0-5 beginning, having generated a mere three takeaways and eight sacks thus far. With a quarterback with three NFL starts to his credit on the other side, Miami has to take advantage of Tebow’s inexperience and improve on those numbers. The Broncos possess a couple of potential game-changing pass rushers in Miller and Dumervil, both of whom are capable of forcing the error-prone Moore into mistakes.
Prediction – Tim Tebow gets the start for the Broncos, while the Dolphins may be looking for a new coach after this week if they lose. Tebow hasn’t been great when he’s played, but he does find a knack for making things happen, and this week he plays a D that has had major issues stopping the big plays and getting to the QB. Tebow will do enough, while the Fins are heading towards a 2-3 win season. Denver 29 Miami 23