We started our look at key match-ups yesterday as Matty, from the Phinsider, and myself put our heads together. We'll finish them off today and continue to breakdown down the home opener as we lead up to Sunday. Many thanks to Matty for giving us an insider's view of the Phins.
Match-up #5: Dolphins Defensive front 7 vs. Cardinals OL (rushing)
Matty: Advantage: Cardinals - I'll be honest and say that the day Edgerrin James had on the ground last week did surprise me. I was kind of anticipating that James would struggle and Tim Hightower would begin to take some carries away from him. On the flip side, I don't think you can really fairly judge the Dolphins' improved front 7 on last week's performance. Sure, Thomas Jones rushed for 100 yards. But he and Leon Washington combined to average just 3.92 yards per carry, which is far better than what we saw out of this group last year. I honestly wouldn't expect James and the Cardinals to really be able to run the ball as effectively as they did last week against the 49ers. But I will still give Arizona the slight edge here just because the Dolphins have to prove they can stop the run in the regular season – not just in the preseason.
CG: Advantage: Cardinals - This is somewhat subjective because it depends on what you want to consider successful. The Cardinals ran for 109 yards as a team and averaged 2.8 yards per rush against the Niners but it was considered a successful game on the ground because they were able to move the ball and eat up the clock. If they show the same dedication to the run, they should be able to be that 'successful' again and in truth, should be able to do better on a per rush average. The Cardinals offensive line is pretty young and rookie Tim Hightower should get better by the game so I'd expect the Cardinals to again control the flow of the game by pounding the rock.
The rest of the matchups are after the jump........
Match-up #6: Cardinals defensive front 7 vs. Dolphins offensive line (rushing)
Matty: Advantage: Dolphins - Yes, I know that the Dolphins rushing attack wasn't very impressive last week. But I do think that will improve each and every week as this young and inexperienced offensive line continues to gel. But the showing from Arizona's rush defense last week was far from impressive, allowing Frank Gore to run for nearly 7 yards per carry. I will say that I do really like the Cardinals' group of linebackers led by Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby because of how active they are. But I think you're going to see some adjustments made by Tony Sparano and offensive coordinator Dan Henning that will create some running lanes for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Truth be told, this will probably be the key match-up of the game and I can't help but give the edge to two former 1,000 yard backs.
CG: Advantage: Cardinals - This may sound the 'homer' call after last week's performance by the Cardinals rush defense but let me explain my reasoning. It is true that Gore averaged almost seven yards per rush last week but he did bust a 41 yarder in the first quarter. Outside of that run, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry and while that's not overly impressive, the Cardinals were down to their third string nose tackle. They even had a rookie defensive end taking snaps as the backup nose. At least one of the tackles, Alan Branch, should be back this Sunday and it's possible that both Branch and Gabe Watson could contribute. If one or both of these guys is back in the middle of the front seven, the defense takes on a whole new look and is capable of shutting down the run. That's not even taking into account the recent injury concerns along the Dolphins offensive front.
Match-up #7: Cardinals return team vs. Dolphins return coverage
Matty: Advantage: Dolphins - The Dolphins coverage unit is improved over last year, when they were so bad that the coaching staff actually looked to squib kick often. Last week, in his only kickoff return for the Jets, Leon Washington was bottled up for just a 10 yard return. He also didn't really have much room on punt returns despite some of Brandon Fields' punts being line drives, providing Washington with opportunities for big return yardage. But to be honest, Steve Breaston does worry me a little on punt returns. I know he had a 17 yard return last week. But I'm confident enough in Miami's punt coverage unit and especially their kick-off coverage unit to say the Dolphins have a slight advantage here – as long as the kickers hold up their end of the bargain (last week, Dan Carpenter had a kick-off sail out of bounds and Fields shanked a punt for just 9 yards).
CG: Advantage: Dolphins - The Cardinals return game is in a state of flux right now because Steve Breaston is handling both duties, even though he's not a great kick returner. JJ Arrington is a better kick returner, even if only by a small margin, but he was inactive last week so it'll be interesting to see who Whiz decides to go with this Sunday. If we were just talking about the punt return game, I'd give the nod to the Cardinals but both units combined are average at best if Breaston pulls double duty.
Match-up #8: Dolphins return team vs. Cardinals return coverage
Matty: Advantage: Dolphins - Whether it's Ted Ginn or rookie Davone Bess back as the return man, I'm pretty confident in both of their abilities to make big plays off of a return. Bess, last week, even had a punt return of 25 yards where he showed off his quickness and agility – something Ginn lacks despite his amazing top speed. I know Allen Rossum had a 40+ yard return early in the second quarter last week against Arizona. If Rossum can do that, then I think Ted Ginn or Davone Bess could match it.
CG: Advantage: Dolphins - The Phins have a good duo of return men in Ted Ginn Jr. and Davone Bess and the Cardinals coverage units aren't the best around. Rossum almost took one the distance last week and his big return led to two straight pooch kickoffs from Neil Rackers. Normally Rackers is pretty good about sending most of his kickoffs deep into the endzone and punter Dirk Johnson was almost perfect last week. The Niners didn't get a chance to return a single punt and three of his four punts were downed inside the ten. His great game was preceeded by a mediocre at best preseason though so it's too early to get excited about one good game.
There's the match-ups as we see them and obviously it'll take more than one good week from our special teams before I'm a believer. What do you think though? Thoughts? Agree/Disagree?