It’s a bad time for a short week for the Dolphins, who have had to get third-stringer Tyler Thigpen ready to start (and groom new backup Patrick Ramsey) with their playoff lives on the line. They’ll face a team with a more proven, but still unreliable, quarterback in Jay Cutler. The Bears can afford another loss and still have a shot at the NFC North. The Dolphins? A loss, and they’re likely done.
Keys for the Dolphins
• Involve Brandon Marshall early. It’s said every week, but it’s imperative this time around. Chad Henne seemed reluctant to throw to Marshall when his receiver appears covered. Thigpen doesn’t appear to have that issue. The game plan calls for some short, quick passes to Marshall, especially if Jake Long can’t go at left tackle, or is seriously limited by his shredded shoulder.
• Stop the run. That’s not usually a primary goal against a Mike Martz offense. But the Bears have had a bit of run bias of late. If Chicago isn’t getting much on the ground early, Martz may go back to his tendencies. Which means Cutler may put a couple up for grabs. The quarterback hasn’t played particularly well in these prime-time games, and the Dolphins’ secondary showed signs of life last week, even with Vontae Davis struggling at times. Al Harris and Reshad Jones have added a playmaking dimension.
Keys for the Bears
• Get Devin Hester going on special teams. After tying Brian Mitchell for the most career return touchdowns (13), Hester has vowed to put on a show in South Florida, before his family and all those Hurricanes fans. Don’t doubt him. Remember what he did to start the Super Bowl against the Colts, in this stadium. And it’s not like the Dolphins’ special teams have been solid this season.
• Some spice from Julius Peppers. The prized free agent acquisition has all of two sacks so far, and if he can’t get it done against a damaged Long (or a replacement on the left side, like usual right tackle Vernon Carey), when will he? It’s time to earn that money. Thigpen can be slippery, and the Dolphins will roll him out often. But, if he’s in the pocket, Peppers needs to get there.
Thigpen provides a spark, but Cutler provides the margin, by making one too many mistakes. Dolphins 27–20.