WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Erratic quarterback play hasn’t been the only problem a Washington offense that’s averaging just 15.9 points per game (27th overall) has encountered during the team’s slide, as injuries to wide receiver Santana Moss, tight end Chris Cooley and running back Tim Hightower have robbed the Redskins of three key players and they’ve generated little in the way of a ground attack. Washington has averaged a meager 53 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry over their four-game losing streak, and Beck (858 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT) hasn’t shown the arm strength to give the offense a needed vertical threat. The ex-Dolphin did complete a career-high 30 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers, but nearly half of those came on dump-offs to rookie running back Roy Helu (172 rushing yards, 26 receptions), with the promising fourth-round draft pick garnering a franchise-record 14 receptions totaling 105 yards. He’s now the featured performer in the backfield with Shanahan benching plodder Ryan Torain (168 rushing yards, 1 TD), with talented tight end Fred Davis (40 receptions, 559 yards, 2 TD) and journeyman wideout Jabar Gaffney (31 receptions, 2 TD) lurking as Beck’s main downfield targets with Moss still sidelined with a broken hand.
Beck doesn’t appear to have the most difficult assignments this week, as Miami enters Sunday’s clash ranked 30th in pass efficiency defense and is permitting 265.2 yards per game through the air (27th overall), while the team’s sum of two interceptions is tied for the lowest in the NFL. The Dolphins have made significant strides in pressuring the quarterback, however, with inside linebacker Kevin Burnett (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks) accounting for 1 1/2 of the group’s five sacks of Kansas City’s Matt Cassel a week ago and outside teammate Cameron Wake (20 tackles, 5.5 sacks) having earned a reputation as one of the league’s premier pass rushers. Miami was also able to keep the Chiefs’ running game in check, with Burnett and inside counterpart Karlos Dansby (52 tackles, 1 sack) racking up 23 tackles in the win, and the Dolphins are holding the opposition to a modest 3.8 yards per rush attempt on the season. A shaky secondary could get a boost this week from the expected return of starting cornerback Vontae Davis (16 tackles), who’s missed four of the last six games due to a hamstring injury and a team-issued suspension after reportedly showing up hung over to practice last week.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Though it’s hardly been a smooth operation this season, the Miami offense is coming off one of its best showings of the year against the Chiefs, with Moore (950 passing yards, 4 TD, 4 INT) displaying both accuracy and command and running back Reggie Bush (427 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 2 TD) a factor for a second consecutive week. The versatile offseason acquisition followed up a 103-yard, 15-carry effort in a Week 8 loss to the New York Giants by compiling 142 yards from scrimmage (92 rushing, 42 receiving) against Kansas City, and he’s averaged at least 6.9 yards per rush attempt in three of the last four games. With powerful rookie Daniel Thomas (314 rushing yards, 7 receptions, 1 TD) now over a hamstring strain that’s forced him to miss three games earlier in the year, the Dolphins have two capable backs to potentially provide a formidable inside-outside combo. Miami also sports a top-flight receiver in two-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall (46 receptions, 644 yards, 2 TD), who abused Kansas City for 106 yards and a touchdown last Sunday, while underused tight end Anthony Fasano (12 receptions, 3 TD) hauled in two of Moore’s three scoring deliveries in the win. Moving the chains consistently still remains an area of concern, however, as the Dolphins have converted a league-low 26.3 percent of third-down tries this season and were just 3-of-10 in that department against the Chiefs.
A Washington defense that was impressively sound during the early part of this season has undergone a regression, particularly in attempting to stop the run, that has been a contributing factor to the team’s overall struggles as of late. The Redskins have yielded at least 138 rushing yards in each of their last four losses, with San Francisco standout Frank Gore piling up 107 yards on 19 attempts on coordinator Jim Haslett’s crew last week, and it’ll be up to a front line anchored by smallish nose tackle Barry Cofield (12 tackles, 2 sacks) to hold its ground and allow a strong linebacking corps headed up by veteran tackling machine London Fletcher (72 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT) to make plays. Effectively containing the run would also enable Haslett to turn loose his outstanding pass-rushing tandem of outside linebackers Brian Orakpo (31 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Ryan Kerrigan (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT), the two best pressure-creators of a unit that’s tied for third in the NFL with 25 sacks. A secondary led by flashy cornerback DeAngelo Hall (49 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PD) has allowed just eight touchdown passes so far but comes in banged up in the backfield, with free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (28 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT) likely to miss a third game in four weeks with a knee problem and enforcer LaRon Landry (37 tackles, 0.5 sacks) questionable because of a sore Achilles.
KEYS TO THE GAME
For the Redskins, it comes down to running the football and preventing the Dolphins from doing so. Beck’s limitations as a passer have been exposed over the last few games, in part due to the fact Washington has had virtually no ground game to speak of, but can be a serviceable game-manager with a more balanced offense and if the defense is doing its job. The Redskins are 3-0 this season when keeping opponents under 100 rushing yards and 0-5 when they surpass that number, so it’s critical that Haslett’s group prevents Miami’s running backs from having big days.
The Dolphins’ defensive objective is simple: make Beck throw. The still- winless Washington quarterback hasn’t shown the elite arm strength to threaten a defense with deep passes and has been prone to holding on the ball and taking sacks. Miami got its pass rush working in last week’s win and will need to ratchet up the pressure again on Sunday, as the secondary has been shaky and come up with a dearth of big plays over the course of the season.
Red-zone efficiency. Since neither of these teams have what can be termed as explosive offenses, it’s vital to the success of each that they make the most of whatever scoring opportunities exist during the game. Miami has done a much better job in that area as of late, having produced touchdowns in all four of its red-zone possessions over the last two weeks, and it’s no coincidence that the Dolphins have been more competitive because of that improvement.
Prediction – Ah, the Super Bowl XVII between the Hogs of the Skins and the Killer Bees of the Dolphins. Ok, fast forward to 2011, as both teams haven’t done much, as a matter a fact, the Dolphins haven’t been in the big game since. Miami got their first win a week ago, and Matt Moore looked like Dan Marino winning AFC Player of the Week on offense. As for the Skins, John Beck and co. have nothing good going on offense, and while they can play defense, they are not scoring much. Miami 24 Washington 10