In recent decades Sunday’s match-up between the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions wouldn't have turned too many heads in the NFL but this season sees these two go head to head with genuine play-off hopes in the balance. And if anybody has some balancing to do it’s us pundits as we take on the responsibility of weighing up stats of very fine margins in the build up to one of the hardest games to call in week 10.
Despite allowing 21 first half points in London, the Lions are still ranked as the best defensive team in the league allowing an average of just 15.75 points and 74 yards per game.
Which will make for exciting watching as they come up against one of the league’s most explosive rushing team’s of recent weeks. The Dolphins have rushed for 137.2 yards per game with an overall season total of 1098 – with Lamar Millar particularly impressing.
But the Dolphins’ running game has seen an unlikely hero in that department so far this season in the form of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. In the last four games he has rushed for at least 20 yards and has also grabbed himself at least one touchdown pass –something only achieved twice in the last fifty-two years (long time Eagle, Randall Cunningham, and Vikings’ legend Fran Tarkenton the pair who also hold the honour).
And the man who nearly lost his place earlier in the season has also impressed in the passing game. Regularly spreading the ball across several receivers this year Tannehill has helped Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry, Charles Clay and Brian Hartline to some admirable receiving stats.
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The case for a Dolphins victory then? Very strong indeed. But Lions fans have plenty of reason to believe they can stop Miami’s recent resurgence.
The most obvious reason for optimism is the return of star wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson who has missed the last four game weeks with an ankle injury. It would appear that last week’s bye week for the Lions came at the right time as it gave Megatron the time to rest up ready for a less rushed return to the playing field.
But while the Lions will be delighted to have their talismanic wide receiver back in the side it will be the return of running back, and former Dolphin, Reggie Bush that will provide Detroit with the appropriate tools to halt the Dolphins’ recent resurgence.
Despite their meteoric rise up the NFL’s defensive rankings, the Dolphins are still much better at defending the passing game than they are the rush. Brent Grimes’ interceptions total of four so far this season has earned him the position of second most picks in the league – a stat that sums up why the Dolphins were able to shut the Chargers out last week.
But in the early weeks of the season Miami crashed to avoidable defeats to the Bills and the Chiefs thanks to weak opposition to the run and even now it is easily still the weak point in Joe Philbin’s side.
And this weakness could provide Bush and the Lions’ rushing game with a much needed opportunity to finally make a difference on the ground this year. Detroit are currently ranked 31st in the league for rushing yards managing a total of just 637 yards.
But if anybody can turn that around it’s a fit, healthy and rested Reggie Bush. Rushing for 1,006 yards in his debut season for the Lions, his experience of training against the Dolphins defence may just give him the advantage he needs to exploit his former team.