After yet another close victory last weekend against the Titans, the Colts return home to welcome an equally surprising Dolphins team to Lucas Oil Stadium. The visit of Ryan Tannehill again pits Andrew Luck against a rookie counterpart, and (as is the case with Brandon Weeden) both quarterbacks have reason to lament the quality of receiver they're throwing to, so it should be an interesting comparison between Luck and Tannehill in this one, and I'd expect to see a fairly similar statline.
The biggest difference between the two teams comes on defense. Given the ineptitude of the Colts defense, this isn't a good thing. In run defense for example, the Colts have given up 962 yards so far this year at an average of 4.8 YPC - the fourth worst mark in the league. The Dolphins by contrast have only surrendered 574 rushing yards at 3.5 YPC - tied for the joint best mark in the league. If we look to the passing game, the Colts are allowing opposing passers an average of 103.4 when it comes to QB rating. When you look at the Dolphins, they're allowing opposing passers a 75.4 rating each week. These stats aren't infallible, but I think they provide enough of a picture to be concerned for the Colts prospects this weekend.
..Which leads me onto the part where I elaborate on specific matchups.
LE Cameron Wake vs. RT Winston Justice
As my colleague Kyle Rodriguez reflected earlier in the week - if the Colts are going to win this football game, they absolutely have to win this matchup. Cameron Wake has been an absolute wrecking ball so far this year, with sacks, hits and hurries coming thick and fast. Andrew Luck's pocket awareness may already be above average for the league, but pocket awareness only means so much when there's a speed rusher like Wake on the field. I would look schematically for the Colts to give Justice some help - whether through doubling with RG Mike McGlynn - or more likely, through the use of TEs and RBs to truly stymie a speed rusher as he tries to make a move around the outside.
As commented on by one and all, Justice had his worst game in a Colts jersey last week. It can't happen again. If the Colts can't manage to slow Wake, they will lose this football game. It's that important.
Dolphins Receivers vs. CB Cassius Vaughn
I could well extend it to the entire Colts secondary, though my feeling in this one is that Vaughn will be targeted and massacred. Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are both well-rounded receivers rather than true burners, and as such I feel reasonably confident in Jerraud Powers. Vaughn on the other hand has been a complete catastrophe throughout the year, and I'm wary of our other defensive backs in reserve if he's been kept around this long.
I was earmarking this week as a potential turning point for Vontae Davis, what with the potential motivation of playing his old team combined with their lack of threat at receiver. Unfortunately, Vontae misses out and in a double blow is replaced by a breathing turnstile. Look for Vaughn to give up somewhere in the region of 7 catches for 100 yards - I don't think the Dolphins will have missed his level of play, even amongst the cesspit which is our defensive backfield.
Karlos Dansby vs. Donald Brown/Vick Ballard
I've always had a great deal of respect for Karlos Dansby as a player - he's versatile and capable of doing everything required on the football field, from the simple tackles to making huge splash plays. With 54 tackles, a sack and 4 passes defensed so far this year in just 7 games, this appears to remain the case. As alluded to earlier, the Dolphins have a particularly stingy run defense led by DT Randy Starks and Dansby from the MLB spot. If the Colts are going to be successful in this game, time of possession is going to prove pivotal, and to control that, you have to be able to run the football. If Brown and Ballard are able to wrest the advantage in this matchup, the Colts could be poised for another win.
If they are unable to gain any yardage on the ground, prospects look bleak. The Dolphins should have no trouble with their own ground game, and should be able to pass on our porous secondary at will. If we can't run it then the Dolphins should put us away with relative comfort.
I expect to see another close game on Sunday with two rookie quarterbacks strutting their stuff. I expect both to have good games, though if pushed I'll of course back Luck to have a better game than his equivalent. The problem comes elsewhere, where the Dolphins simply seem to be more capable. They can run the football with more aptitude than the Colts, they can defend the run and the pass with significantly more success than the Colts.. I think it might well be too much to make up, even for a team leading the fairly charmed life of the 2012 Colts. I hope I'm wrong.