18 Things to Watch in Monday's Game at Miami
I'm not sure why you'd name a stadium after this guy, but I will admit...he's badass.
Last week the Colts hung on against the Jags, and gave themselves an early one game lead over the rest of the AFC South. Their reward is a trip to Miami...to play another football game. The Colts are always a popular prime-time participant, and will make their only Monday Night Football appearance this year, the first of at least 5 throughout the season. As you are turning down the sound on Jon Gruden this week, be sure to watch for:
1. Watch for turnovers. Last year the Dolphins had the best take away/give away ratio in the NFL. The Colts were fourth. This year the two teams were a combined -6 in their first game. It may be a cliche, but the team that doesn't turn the ball over will likely come out on top. Turnovers killed the Dolphins last week, and they were the only thing that kept the Colts' game close.
2. Watch the packages. A South Beach favorite for many, it's a football necessity on Monday night. On the Colts' side, check out whether they go with three WRs or two TEs. Last Sunday they opened with two TEs with good success, but dumped it when Gonzo went down, finishing the game exclusively in a three wide look. While they still like to split the TEs wide even when they are in game, the different personnel groupings affect the audibles Manning can call. On the Dolphins side, they are famous for their "Wildcat" set. The formations should be informative on Monday night.
3. Watch the king of the work week. It's always been said that Peyton Manning is a tireless worker, which makes it fitting that he so completely owns non-weekend games. When the rest of America heads off to the office, Peyton does too. He does his best work on Monday's and Thursday's. For his career, he's posted a sick record of 14-4, 44 TDs, 14 picks, and a rating of 106.7 in Monday and Thursday night games.
4. Watch the run game in the fourth quarter. The Colts' run game was workable for most of the game last week, but the failure to run out the clock with the game on the line was devastating. The Colts need to run the ball upwards of 4 yards a carry if they want to have an elite offense, but more importantly, they must be able to control the clock in the fourth quarter. It's already cost them dearly this calendar year, and it's a trend that has to be reversed if this team is to be considered a serious Super Bowl contender.
5. Watch for old friends. The Colts and Dolphins used to play twice year until the advent of realignment. Now, they rarely see one another. The last regular season game the Colts had in Miami was in 2003. That game featured a pair of incredible plays by Dwight Freeney to seal a 23-17 win for the Colts. What was once a nice rivalry that featured many memorable games has gone cold.
6. Watch for an identity crisis. The Dolphins rename their stadium every three weeks or so. Honestly, I have no idea what they call it now. Barry Manilow Field at Bob Marley Point...or something. Whatever. We won the Super Bowl there. That's what I remember.
7. Watch the conquering hero. Reggie Wayne's dominant performance last week quieted any remaining critics or doubters he may still have had. Now he's coming back to the place where he played college ball as one of the absolutely unquestioned best WRs in the game. The truth is that Wayne has been doing this for years, but people always found a reason to doubt him. "Marvin Harrison plays on the same team!", they would say, forgetting that Harrison barely played in 2007 and was not double covered last year. Now, the spot light will be squarely on the the man who proudly declares himself to be from "The U".
8. Watch Jason Taylor. He's gone from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 backer, but he's still a feared pass rusher. The Colts did a fine job keeping Manning upright last week, but Charlie Johnson won't be facing a first round bust this time. Taylor is one of the best all-time at taking down the QB. He's going to be coming. The Colts have to keep him from arriving.
9. Watch for the truth. Colts' fans might not want to admit it, but the offense is no longer elite. Without a credible number two WR (as long as Gonzo is out), and with no discernible running game, a suspect line (who played well last week), and a kicker who is questionable from 50 yards, the Colts simply aren't the same offense that hung up huge numbers for most of the decade. They still can strike quickly, and will have some big games from time to time, but it's unreasonable to expect them to post games in the high 20s regularly. The Colts best unit is clearly the defense. It may be exactly the kind of switch the team needs, too.
10. Watch Ed Johnson up front. Last week, the Colts front line did a credible job slowing down the Jags run game, and they did so without starting DT Ed Johnson. The Dolphins lack a deep passing game, so they need the run to establish the offense. If the Colts can hold the 'Phins under 4.5 YPC, they should be able to get them off the field regularly.
11. Watch the old nemesis. Chad Pennington has a weird history against the Colts. He only has one win in four games, but that win came in the 41-0 loss at the Jets in the playoffs. In three regular season meetings, his teams are 0-3, but his numbers are insane. He's completed 67.4% of his passes with a rating of 123.2. In a wild game at the Dome, he actually posted a perfect QB rating in a 38-31 loss to the Colts (only the fourth time in history a perfect QB rating meant a lost game).
12. Watch the kid earn his money. For the second straight week Dwight Freeney will face off against a young, highly drafted left tackle. Jake Long was the first pick in the NFL draft in 2008, and had a good rookie year. Now it gets serious, however as he has to take on one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. How Long handles Freeney will go a long way to deciding the game. If Freeney breaks free for a couple of sacks, the Dolphins will have a difficult time winning the game.
13. Watch the ghosts. The Dolphins' persona is dominated by Dan Marino. Now his current day equivalent comes to town. Manning's similarity scores show a strong resemblance to Marino, and it's hard to watch him play in Miami without remembering their epic duel at the end of 1999. It was Manning's only career win against Marino (in four games), but it was an incredible game.
14. Watch Clark up the seam. Tony Gonzalez had a field day up the middle on the Miami safeties on Sunday, racking up 73 yards and a score on just 5 catches. Dallas Clark posses endless matchup problems, and if Miami can't figure out a way to cover him on deep balls over the middle, Manning will find him all night long.
15. Watch for Chucky. Jon Gruden's addition to the Monday Night Football team is a curious one. Combined with Ron Jaworski, he brings a lot of manic energy to the booth. He's been rumored to be unhappy with Jaws, and has also brought Dan Fouts, Steve Young, and Rich Gannon in to compete for the co-analyst job. He figures that Mike Tirico is fine on his own and has pathologically ignored his performance altogether, feeling that the best use of his time is perpetually juggle the quarterbacks that are set to call alongside him. The Cleveland Browns are said to be very interested in calling him to announce their games.
16. Watch the ex-teammate. Ted Ginn Jr. was drafted as a WR/KR early in the same draft the Colts took his teammate Anthony Gonzalez. Until Gonzo went down with injury, the game was going to be an interesting comparison of #1 and #2 WRs on the same college team. Now, the Colts are left to have to worry about how to contain Ginn in the return game. He was mediocre last year, but the Colts have a bad history of covering kicks. A big return could be just the extra offense the Dolphins need to pull out a win.
17. Watch the road warriors. Since 2005, the Colts are an insane 16-4 in non-division road games. They are a tough team to beat when matched up against teams they don't play regularly.
18. Watch for the record. With a win, Manning will pass Johnny Unitas for the most victories all time as a Colt QB. Johnny U is one of the game's most enduring icons, and Manning is a fitting heir. Deshwan thinks Manning nabs the record 14-10. Demond likes the Colts 23-20.