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Keys to the game for the Dolphins vs. Colts

Indianapolis -- The forecast here tonight is for temperatures in the 40s. Awesome, right?

This Florida boy is loving the escape from the heat. But the weather won't matter because the Lucas Oil Stadium has a retractable roof and it will be 77 on Sunday afternoon. So weather is not a key to this game.

What are the keys to this game?


When the Dolphins pass the football: Mike Wallace must get the ball early and often otherwise the Dolphins risk losing their alpha receiver for the second consecutive week. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman talked to Wallace about getting him the ball more often so that should happen. It remains clear, however, that quarterback Ryan Tannehill feels a tighter kinship with Brian Hartline and so it’s doubtful the QB will simply disconnect from Hartline to feed Wallace. The Colts secondary seems susceptible to the pass because left cornerback Greg Toler is merely mediocre while free safety LaRon Landry is excellent in supporting the run but his lateral movement against the pass is sometimes a step slow. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Dolphins run the football: Nothing happens. Well, at least that was the story last week against the Browns. The Dolphins left that game last in the NFL rushing the football. Miami offensive linemen and running backs have promised improvement this week. Makes sense. How can there not be improvement from terrible? Running back Lamar Miller said the Colts are similar to the Browns except faster. Yes, they might be faster but they’re not nearly as stout up front. This week is a much better match up for the Dolphins than a week ago. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Colts run the football: This team passes to set up the run instead of the other way around. that doesn't mean it wasn't a little shocking when starting running back Vick Ballard, a solid, workmanlike runner who is in his second season and gained 814 yards last season, injured his knee and was lost for the season in practice on Thursday. The Colts now have to overcome that loss by asking Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw to play more and do more. Bradshaw is still coming back from foot surgery but seems the most likely next man up.The Miami front seven was so effective last week, the Browns basically quit running the football in the second half despite being ahead at halftime. The Colts offensive line is a zone-blocking unit that includes Dolphins castoffs Samson Satele at center and Donald Thomas at left guard. Each is on his third team. That doesn’t suggest they are dominant. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Colts pass the football: This is a not a good match up for the Dolphins defense, particularly with starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson slowed by a groin injury. Even with Patterson healthy the Colts receivers corps that includes Reggie Wayne, T.Y Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey is a combination of speed and experience that might be the best the Dolphins face this year. A hobbled Patterson against the speedy Hilton in the slot is not a good match up for Miami. Andrew Luck has directed eight fourth-quarter come from behind victories which is a ton considering he’s only started 17 NFL games. That means he’s dangerous with the football late in a game that has yet to be decided. The Dolphins must avoid this situation at all costs. ADVANTAGE: Colts.

Special teams: Adam Vinatieri continues to be among the best clutch kickers in the league. He has kicked 24 game-winning field goals inside the final minute of a game during his career. T.Y. Hilton is a major weapon on returns. The Dolphins have the second-rated punter in the NFL because Brandon Fields is second in both net and gross average. And rookie Caleb Sturgis has shown no sign of struggle. The Dolphins are looking to improve their kick and punt coverage this week. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Chuck Pagano is healthy now, which is great news, but the emotion and motivation of rallying behind his fight against cancer last year – a palpable advantage for the Colts as it happened – may have faded. Pagano also lost offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who got the head coach job in Arizona. That is a loss. Dolphins’ coaches need to make sure they avoid the drama suffered after last week’s victory. They need to find a way to keep Mike Wallace happy, keep Randy Starks playing well while also overcoming a talented Colts team. ADVANTAGE: Colts.

Intangibles: The Colts know how to win games late. They’ve done it before behind Andrew Luck – including last week. The Dolphins haven’t done it nearly as much behind Ryan Tannehill. The home crowd in Indianapolis is also rabid when their team is in a game. OVERALL ADVANTAGE: Colts.