Broncos Trying To Fin-Ish Strong Down Home Stretch

Sunday, the Denver Broncos didn’t prepare as they should have for a tough game against the St. Louis Rams and it showed terribly as Jeff Fisher’s squad dominated them in a 22-7 loss that, for the short term, has given the New England Patriots the inside track to home-field advantage.

With that said, the Broncos will have their first home game this month as they welcome the Miami Dolphins to 5,280 feet in a game that has major playoff implications for both squads.

The Dolphins, sporting a 6-4 record, will have had a 10-day rest as they were last in action November 13 against the Buffalo Bills, posting a 22-9 victory which kept them afloat in the AFC playoff race.

Miami, while not necessarily lighting the world on fire offensively, is led by an efficient signal-caller in Ryan Tannehill who has been mentored by former Dolphins legend Dan Marino, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

Tannehill’s TD percentage (4.8 percent) and INT percentage (2.0) are both career highs and lows for the prodigiously quick study who took the reins for the Dolphins in 2012. The Texas A&M product has thrown 17 TD’s and 7 INT’s thus far in 2014. Additionally, he is only 7 TD’s away from his career high of 24 touchdown passes, set in 2013, and is on pace for a career low interception total.

He has also proven dangerous on the read option as I have watched film previously this season. Tannehill has rushed for a career-high 261 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry and is a master of misdirection under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

As confirmed by Kirk Davis, or “Kaptain Kirk,” (my mentor in terms of Broncos blogging), Tannehill has had a “Magnificent 7” as in the last 7 games being stellar. In those games, Tannehill has completed more than 70 percent of his passes for 1,730 yards, tossing 13 TD’s against only 5 INT’s.

This has helped the Dolphins become the #6 rushing offense in the NFL (127.3 yards per game) which is all the more remarkable when one considers that free agent acquisition Knowshon Moreno was lost for the season in a Week 6 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Sun Life Stadium.

This has enabled tailback Lamar Miller to be Miami’s leading rusher on the season as he leads the Dolphins in both rushing touchdowns (5) and rushing yards (614). As Davis reported, Miller has three rushing touchdowns in Miami’s last four road games so this is also something to watch for.

While Miami’s passing game isn’t used much, it still has the potential to be explosive as wideout Mike Wallace has only 44 catches, but six have gone for scores. With Wallace scoring 13.6 percent of the time he catches the ball, the statistics are propitious for the Dolphins’ purposes.

However, rookie wideout Jarvis Landry may prove to be Miami’s most dangerous weapon as he has come on down the home stretch with 42 catches for 400 yards and three touchdown grabs on the season. The neophyte from LSU has also been used on kickoff returns as Davis reported he is averaging 31.2 yards per kickoff return.

If the Broncos want to win Sunday, they have to find a way to neutralize Miami’s field position as this was a crucial component in their loss to St. Louis last week.

As for defense, this is where the Dolphins really shine as they are fourth in points given up (18.0), second in net yards (302.5) and second in passing yards given up (208.0) and eighth against the run (94.5).

Miami defensive ends Cameron Wake (8.5 sacks) and Olivier Vernon (5.5 sacks) have been terrors coming off the edge all season, while defensive tackle Randy Starks is playing at an All-Pro level.

The linebackers are solid, although outside linebacker Koa Misi’s wife gave birth this week and some Dolphins fans on The Phinsider, the Miami SB Nation site, have suggested this could affect the defense, as Misi is considered a great leader.

The secondary may be where Miami’s true stars are defensively as cornerback Brent Grimes and safety Reshad Jones (arguably the best safety in the NFL) have combined for 7 interceptions, 5 of which have come from Grimes and of those, one returned for a score in 2014.

This sets up an interesting scenario for Peyton Manning who despite still having a stellar season, has had interception problems the past three weeks, throwing 6 INT’s in games against the Patriots, Raiders and Rams. It would seem likely that a return to Invesco Field at Mile High would make him play better but time will tell.

Overall, Manning is still having a magnificent season in throwing for 30 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. Furthermore, his 30 TD’s lead the NFL while he is also first in lowest sack percentage (2.63) this despite his passing attempts increasing significantly the past few weeks.

Additionally, Manning is second in passing yards (3,301) and passing yards per game (330.1), as well as third in passer rating (107.1) but the running game is struggling significantly at the moment.

To students of the game who watched the film Sunday at St. Louis, it was disappointing to see the Broncos run only 9 times, averaging 3.2 yards per snap when they did run.

The Broncos’ scoring offense (29.3, fifth in the NFL), net yardage offense (412.9, third in the NFL) and passing offense (323.0 yards, second in the NFL) does not mesh with the rushing attack which is 27th in the NFL and averaging only 89.9 yards per rush.

This caused some Broncos fans and Denver media to insinuate that perhaps the team could bring in released tailbacks Ben Taft and LeGarrette Blount (Taft was claimed by the Vikings and Blount was brought in by the Patriots once again) although obviously nothing materialized.

Still, the passing offense is covering a multitude of sins as tight end Julius Thomas (who may be out of Sunday’s game with an ankle injury) is tied with Seattle Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch with 12 total touchdowns. Additionally, wideout Demaryius Thomas lead the NFL in both receiving yards per game (110.5) and yards per touch (15.3), as well as second in receptions and receiving yards (72 and 1,105 yards respectively).

Wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who may be out of Sunday’s game with a concussion, is fourth in the NFL in receptions (67) and fifth in receiving yards (954) and has perpetually been Manning’s money man when the offense seems to be stagnant.

Defensively, the Broncos are not consistent with their stats as they are 16th in scoring defense (22.4) and 18th against the pass (243.0), while they are fifth in net yardage defense (316.4) and second against the run (73.4). The dynamic duo of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware is still playing well, having amassed a combined 19 sacks while both Miller and Ware rank in the Top 10 in NFL individual sack totals.

What has been a concern for the defense, though, is that the defense has forced only 12 turnovers on the season, and with the offense having incurred 10, the turnover ratio has dropped to +2.

Miami, conversely, has forced 19 turnovers and given it up 16 times, but if the Broncos want to definitively win this game, it would behoove them to clearly win the turnover battle.

In closing, this appears to be a statistically-even game and while the Broncos should be galvanized by home-field advantage, a win here is far from a foregone conclusion.

I will give the Broncos a 38-24 victory, but only expect them to pull away in the 4th Quarter as this is easily the best Dolphins team since the Jay Fiedler squads were in perpetual playoff contention in the early 2000’s.