The Miami Dolphins will travel to Texas to face the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving in Week 12 of the NFL season. The Dolphins are on the heels of the team’s first three-game winning streak since the 2008 squad finished the year with five straight wins. Although the Dolphins remain a long shot to make the playoffs – they’re three games out of the last playoff spot with six games remaining – calls for head coach Tony Sparano’s firing have become more quiet the past couple of weeks.
Coach Sparano will need to take his house off the market if his team keeps winning the way the Dolphins have lately. The Dolphins have been playing well in all three phases of the game, outscoring their opponents 86-20 during the winning streak, without giving up a touchdown. With owner Stephen Ross sure to conduct a thorough review of the organization at season’s end, is it possible that Sparano is the head coach when the team reconvenes for training camp next summer? If the Dolphins continue their winning ways, it will be difficult to sell new leadership to a clubhouse that has accomplished so much lately.
Not to be outdone by their Week 12 opponent, the Cowboys are on a three game winning streak of their own, defeating two of the same opponents the Dolphins have during their win streak (the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins). QB Tony Romo has thrown for 841 yards with 8 touchdowns and 0 interceptions during the win streak. The zero interceptions have been key for Dallas, who currently lead their division by virtue of a tiebreaker against the New York Giants. If Romo can stay sharp and minimize mistakes, the Cowboys will have a good chance at playing in the postseason.
It will be the fifth time the Dolphins have faced the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, and the Dolphins have won three of the previous meetings, including a 40-21 win the last time the two teams faced each other on Thanksgiving in 2003. How will this year’s game turn out? Let’s take a look.
Dolphins Pass Offense vs. Cowboys Pass Defense
QB Matt Moore threw the ball efficiently and accurately in the Week 11 win over the Bills, including impressive throws to FB Charles Clay and RB Reggie Bush. It has been hard to find fault with his game lately, but Moore may not have the time to throw if LT Jake Long cannot stop All-Pro LB DeMarcus Ware. Ware leads the NFL in sacks this year with 14.0 and has been a force since entering the league in 2005. The 14.0 sacks are tied for the third-highest in his career and there are still six games left to play this season. Long struggled in the beginning of the year blocking pass rushers, although he has performed better as of late. RT Marc Colombo has been a revolving door on the other side of the offensive line. The Cowboys are giving up the 13th-fewest yards per game through the air, allowing 227.2 yards per game.
Dolphins Run Offense vs. Cowboys Run Defense
The Cowboys run defense is 11th in the league, allowing 101.4 yards per game. However, opponents average only 23.4 rushing attempts against them per game, 8th-fewest in the league. That raises a red flag that the Cowboys run defense may not be that good, and a look at their 4.3 rushing yards allowed per attempt, ranked in the bottom half of the league, confirms that. The Dolphins have a tendency to run hot-and-cold in the rushing attack, ranking 15th in the NFL with 112.3 yards per game on the ground, good for a 4.0 yard average per rush. Call it a hunch, but the Dolphins running game will be hot this week.
Cowboys Pass Offense vs. Dolphins Pass Defense
Here is where things get tricky. The Cowboys have a very talented quarterback in Tony Romo, who has been productive of late. Meanwhile, the Dolphins pass defense ranks 25th in the NFL in pass yards allowed per game with 251.1. However, they have recorded 10 sacks and 4 interceptions the past three games and look to be on the right track. CB Vontae Davis held Bills WR Steve Johnson in check in Week 11 and S Yeremiah Bell came alive, covering the field like he has the past few years and recording an interception. The Cowboys could also be without star WR Miles Austin as he continues to recover from his hamstring injury.
Cowboys Run Offense vs. Dolphins Run Defense
This is the one area the Dolphins have excelled in all season. They currently rank 7th in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game with 98.7. They have also only allowed 3.7 yards per carry, which is tied for 5th in the NFL. RB DeMarco Murray has taken over the rushing duties from RB Felix Jones and has rushed for 674 yards in 5 games since taking over the starting role. While that is impressive, the Dolphins held former NFL rushing leader Fred Jackson to 17 yards on 7 carries in Week 11. It is a productive and deep unit.
Cowboys P Mat McBriar has a punting average of 46.9 yard per punt and 33.3% of his kicks land inside the 20 yard line. Cowboys K Dan Bailey has made 25 out his 26 field goal attempts this year, including 9 from 40+ yards away. He has made the 2nd-most field goals in the league. Dolphins P Brandon Fields continues to impress with his leg, but the kicker situation remains clouded due to K Dan Carpenter’s injury.
It has been a long time since I could say this, but the Dolphins coaching staff is starting to come around. Bush has been utilized in a way that fits his skill set the past couple of games and the offensive play calling has become more aggressive, a style that seems to suit Moore. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan seems to have finally gotten through to his defense, which was expected to be a top unit coming off last year’s squad, which allowed the 6th-fewest yards in the league. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is in his first year and has done well getting his team back on track after starting the season 2-3.
The Dolphins defense is starting to look like the defense of a dangerous playoff team. Unfortunately, they probably won’t have the opportunity to showcase their talents in the postseason. Vontae Davis is covering receivers as well as he was last year, DT Paul Soliai has been swallowing up blockers, and Jared Odrick (of Pee Wee Herman Dance fame), Cameron Wake, and Jason Taylor will wreak havoc on the Cowboys offensive line. One of the three pass rushers could win the All-Iron Award as MVP of the game.
Prediction: Dolphins 27, Cowboys 23
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!