The good news for the Colts is that the Dolphins resemble the Jaguars. The Dolphins' defense has success against the run — as displayed when they held Michael Turner and the Falcons running attack to 68 yards on the ground — and a young secondary that surrendered 229 yards and two touchdowns through the air a week ago.
The Dolphins rely on their ground game, led by Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, to generate most of their offense. Their young receiving corps is unproven, led by third-year receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Like David Garrard, Chad Pennington is a game-managing quarterback who excels by making short passes and focusing on limiting mistakes.
Accordingly, the Colts will probably follow a similar game plan to the one they used a week ago and the following players will have to prove the most if the Colts hope to beat the Dolphins in Miami.
1. WR Pierre Garcon: The knee injury to Anthony Gonzalez in the season opener has placed a lot of responsibility on second year receiver Garcon. Entering training camp, Garcon was the odds on favorite to win the third receiver position. The coaching staff felt that he would be better utilized on the outside of the formation, allowing Austin Collie to fill the third receiver position, in the slot.
With Gonzalez out, Garcon needs to step up and earn the team's trust
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Garcon will be asked to step up as one of Manning’s primary targets, on the right side of the field. This presents the young receiver with a window of opportunity but it will close quickly if Garcon fails to prove that he is ready to assume a starting role.
Colts General Manager Bill Polian signed Hank Baskett last week to provide veteran depth. Once Baskett is up to speed with the Colts offense, he will push Garcon and Collie for time on the field.
If Garcon can show sure hands, the ability to run precise routes, and the legs to generate yards after the catch, he could keep the starting spot until Gonzalez returns. If he struggles, a new window may open for Baskett.
Garcon will face a favorable opponent as the Dolphins' secondary is young and they will focus much of their coverage on Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. If he does not produce against the Dolphins, the Colts’ front office will have all the reason it needs to give Baskett an opportunity and put Garcon back on the sidelines.
2. DT Ed Johnson: Big Ed is returning to the field for his first regular-season game since the season opener a year ago. He will step back into a starting role but will move to the under tackle position, after starting at nose tackle to open his career.
Johnson need to hold the line against the run and find ways to penetrate and collapse the pocket around Pennington. If he is capable of demanding attention from the Dolphins offensive line, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis could feast on a Dolphins line which surrendered four sacks to the Falcons a week ago.
More importantly, if Ed and Antonio Johnson prove to effectively complement one another, the defense could prove to be the best the Colts have seen since finishing third in total defense in 2007 (Ed Johnson’s rookie year).
3. CB Tim Jennings: A late-week injury to rookie Jerraud Powers has drastically increased the likelihood that Tim Jennings will spend significant time on the field against the Dolphins.
A year ago, Jennings spent much of the season starting in place of Marlin Jackson or Kelvin Hayden. Since Powers’ arrival, Jennings has been relegated to a backup role and special teams.
Jennings’ performance last season was inconsistent, seeing him make solid plays in coverage one game only to break down mentally in the next. His play improved late in the season, as he and the secondary closed out the year allowing an NFL record-low six touchdowns through the air.
With Jennings, Jackson, and Antoine Bethea in contract years, Jennings is in a “do or die” situation. He will need to take advantage of every opportunity, play well, and prove that the Colts can maintain an effective secondary without paying a premium for a former first-round draft pick (Jackson) or a Pro Bowler (Antoine Bethea).
If Jennings fails to prove that he is capable of shutting down the Dolphins’ young secondary, he will make it easy for the Colts to put Powers back in front when he gets healthy, and may perpetuate his release at the end of the year.
Addai can put to rest some questions of durability with a strong performance
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4. RB Joseph Addai: Addai started the season by producing 77 yards from scrimmage against the Jaguars, a respectable performance. After taking a hit in the second quarter, however, Addai limped from the field and did not look as quick to the edge for the remainder of the game.
The severity of his injury is unknown and has gone without an official report from the team. Still, Addai’s history of injuries leaves questions to be answered against Miami.
If Addai can manage to show flashes of the speed he displayed early in the Jacksonville game, and manage to produce at a level equal to his performance in the season opener, he can lay some of the concerns about his longevity to rest.
If he comes out slow, however, or appears to be suffering from a lingering injury, it will open the door for Donald Brown to carry a significant portion of the load.
Should Brown get the opportunity to carry most of the load against the Dolphins, and if he excels, Addai’s season could change radically.
5. K Adam Vinatieri: Over the summer, Adam Vinatieri went through hip and knee surgery, keeping him from participating in training camp and preseason. Against Jacksonville, he was called upon to attempt a 52-yard field goal, which he missed wide-left.
It was surprising that he would be asked to kick such a long field goal, given that Shane Andrus was retained on the roster to fill kickoff responsibilities, which would seem to suggest that the team was not confident that Vinatieri’s leg strength.
Earlier this week, Andrus was released, leaving Vinatieri as the only option for field goals (as punter Pat McAfee is the holder). Whether he has healed to the point that he can accurately kick field goals is in doubt.
If McAfee gets a good hold down for Vinatieri and he is unable to connect, it could spell disaster for the Colts; not only on Monday night but potentially for the team’s ability to compete in close games throughout the remainder of the year.
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