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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (1-0) at Miami (0-1)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Indianapolis Colts already have some rather fond remembrances of Land Shark Stadium, but the perennial AFC powerhouse would like to create one more warm memory when the team steps onto the field against the Miami Dolphins this Monday night in a matchup between a pair of 2008 playoff participants.
The Colts' most recent visit to Miami came on February 4, 2007, when the historic franchise seized its fourth NFL championship with a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. The team followed up that monumental win with a pair of postseason appearances in each of the past two years, but underwent a major shift in leadership when highly-successful head coach Tony Dungy announced his retirement in January following an accomplished seven-year reign.
The change has yet to keep the Colts from maintaining their usual winning ways, although they had to scratch and claw their way to a hard-fought 14-12 triumph over a pesky Jacksonville squad last week. A determined defense withstood a failed two-point conversion attempt by the Jaguars that would have tied the score with just over 11 minutes to play, then prevented its AFC South rival from gaining a single first down the rest of the way to usher in new sideline boss Jim Caldwell's debut on a positive note.
Peyton Manning did his part as well in the season-opening win, with the reigning NFL MVP throwing for 301 yards and a touchdown while completing 28- of-38 attempts. The victory was the 118th of Manning's storied 12-year career, which tied the legendary Johnny Unitas for the most by a quarterback in Colts history.
The defending AFC East titlist Dolphins failed to get their 2009 campaign off to a desired start, putting forth an uncharacteristically sloppy performance in a 19-7 road loss to Atlanta in Week 1. After committing a league-low 13 giveaways during the entire 16-game schedule last season, Miami turned the ball over four times against the Falcons, two of which halted drives in enemy territory.
While the Dolphins will be hoping to avoid an 0-2 start on Monday, last year's team proved that such an undesired beginning isn't necessarily a crippling blow. After losing its first two tests of last season, Miami ripped off 11 wins over the next 14 games to edge out New England for the AFC East crown.
Miami owns a 44-23 advantage in its all-time regular season series against Indianapolis, but has lost each of its past two meetings with the Colts. Indy was a 27-22 home winner over Miami when the teams met in the 2006 regular season finale, a game that marked the final game in the two-year tenure of Dolphins head coach Nick Saban. Five weeks after beating Miami, Indy claimed the Super Bowl title. Indianapolis was a 23-17 winner when it last played a road game against the Dolphins, in 2003. The Fins last beat the Colts in 2002, at the RCA Dome, and last won a home game in the series in 2001. The Colts and Dolphins met twice per season as members of the AFC East from 1970 through 2001.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met twice in postseason play. Miami was a 23-17 overtime winner in a 2000 AFC First-Round Playoff at Dolphin Stadium (the franchise's most recent postseason victory), and also defeated the Baltimore Colts (21-0) in the 1971 AFC Championship.
Caldwell and the Dolphins' Tony Sparano will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
As always, the Indianapolis offense is driven by the strong and accurate right arm of Manning (301 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT last week), who was able to overcome the loss of valued wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez in the first quarter of Sunday's win and deliver his 48th career 300-yard game. With Gonzalez suffering a serious knee injury that will keep the third-year pro out until at least mid-October, top wideout Reggie Wayne took on more of the load in the passing game and burned the Jaguars for 162 yards on 10 catches, including a key 35-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter. Tight end Dallas Clark (4 receptions) gives Manning a second reliable option, but one or both of the unproven receiver duo of sophomore Pierre Garcon (3 receptions) and rookie Austin Collie (2 receptions) will have to grow up in a hurry for the Colts' aerial attack to be in peak form. Expect running backs Joseph Addai (42 rushing yards, 1 TD, 5 receptions) and Donald Brown (33 rushing yards, 2 receptions) to be more involved as receivers as well on Monday. The tandem didn't offer much of a run threat against Jacksonville, finishing with a meager 75 yards on a combined 28 attempts.
Addai and Brown could find the going tough once more against a Miami defense that held Atlanta standout Michael Turner to 65 yards on 22 carries last week and finished 10th against the rush (101.3 ypg) during the team's remarkable 2008 turnaround. The Dolphins possess two very good run-stopping safeties in strong-side starter Yeremiah Bell (8 tackles, 1 PD) and offseason pickup Gibril Wilson (9 tackles), the club's top two tacklers in the Week 1 loss, as well as a pair of proven veteran pass rushers in outside linebackers Joey Porter (3 tackles) and Jason Taylor (2 tackles), who posted a sack of the Falcons' Matt Ryan in his return to Miami following an ill-fated one-year moonlight with the Redskins. Those two will be counted on to bring the heat upon Manning and protect a vulnerable secondary that allowed Ryan to throw for 229 yards and two scores last week and has two rookies -- starting right corner Sean Smith (2 tackles, 2 PD) and nickel back Vontae Davis (1 tackle) holding down important roles.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
The most effective way to hold off the Colts is to keep Manning off the field, so expect running backs Ronnie Brown (43 rushing yards, 3 receptions) and Ricky Williams (39 rushing yards, 2 receptions) to be a more focal part of the Dolphins' game plan on Monday. The two only had 17 carries against Atlanta after the team fell behind by double digits in the second half. That should in turn ease the pressure on quarterback Chad Pennington (176 passing yards, 1 TD), who had an atypical two turnovers (1 interception, 1 fumble) and was sacked four times by an aggressive Falcons' front. The cerebral signal-caller didn't get much help from an ordinary corps of receivers except for diminutive slotman Davone Bess, who led Miami with seven catches totaling 57 yards. Former first-round draft choice Ted Ginn Jr. came up with only two receptions for 26 yards, while tight end Anthony Fasano (2 receptions) had two fumbles that helped stall the offense. The Dolphins finished the game with only 259 total yards.
One of the Colts' primary weaknesses in recent years has been an inability to contain power-based ground attacks. Indianapolis surrendered an average of nearly 123 rushing yards per game (24th overall) a year ago and permitted 97 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts to Jacksonville dynamo Maurice-Jones Drew in the opener. The unit is expected to be without game-changing strong safety Bob Sanders for a second straight outing while the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year continues to recover from offseason knee surgery, but will get back starting tackle Ed Johnson after he served a one-game suspension last week for violating the league's drug policy. The Colts did an excellent job at defending the pass versus the Jaguars, forcing quarterback David Garrard into a poor 50 percent completion rate and only 122 yards for the game. After struggling against Atlanta's speed rushers in Week 1, the Dolphins will face a pair of very good ones in four-time Pro Bowl honoree Dwight Freeney (2 tackles, 1 sack) and fellow end Robert Mathis (3 tackles).
The Colts have two must-starts on the roster in Manning and Wayne, whose already-high value is increased even further due to Gonzalez's injury. Clark is a legitimate No. 1 tight end as well, but Indianapolis' heavy reliance on the pass and its timeshare approach in the backfield make both Addai and Donald Brown only lukewarm plays. Addai would make a fine choice in leagues that reward points for receptions, however, as he'll probably be used often in that role in the coming weeks. The Dolphins offer fewer enticing options other than Ronnie Brown, a 10-touchdown scorer a year ago who should get plenty of touches in the team's anticipated ball-control philosophy. Every Miami receiver carries a great deal of risk, although Fasano has some intrigue as a tight end who's shown to be an impact player in the red zone in the past. Sit Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri this week, as the veteran has been bothered by a hip injury and will be competing in a game that could potentially shape up as a low-scoring affair.
Last week's suspect showing in the Georgia Dome has given some ammunition to those who believe the Dolphins were a one-year wonder and a product of a soft last-place schedule. While that may turn out to be the case, there's growing evidence that the Colts aren't the dynasty they once were either, and a two- point home victory over a Jacksonville team with virtually no threat of a passing game lends a bit of support to that argument. Indianapolis could have trouble matching the Dolphins' physicality on offense, while Miami's defense is good enough to prevent Manning, who has fewer playmakers to work with than in years past and is standing behind a shaky offensive line, from going wild. If the Dolphins do a better job of protecting the football than in the opener, they should have a reasonable chance of quieting their skeptics with a notable win over a name opponent.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Dolphins 17, Colts 14
09/17 17:15:48 ET
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