Who would have thought at the outset of the season that today's matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium would have playoff implications? Yet that's exactly what's on the line when these two team meet today.
This game promises to be a closely contested battle between two young team, both of whom start rookie quarterbacks. In a tight game like that, every scoring opportunity looms large.
The Dolphins have gotten to 4-3 despite not being highly ranked in either total offense or total defense. Both their 23rd ranked offense and their 22nd ranked defense rank below the Colts, who are 8th and 19th respectively. Where the Dolphins have been strong, however, is in an area where the Colts have struggled: the red zone.
The Colts are getting into the red zone 3.4 times per game, good for 9th overall in the NFL. Converting those trips into touchdowns, however, has been a different matter. The Colts are only finding the end zone 45.8 per cent of the time, 24th in the NFL.
The Dolphins defense is allowing opposing offenses to move pretty freely outside the 20. They've allowed the 8th most trips into the red zone in the league. Once there, however, they've been rigid only yielding a touchdown 36 per cent of the time.
That's how the Dolphins are 4-3. They headed to Cincinnati 1-3 and the Bengals' offense, which had been moving pretty efficiently, had two early red zone opportunities that only netted field goals. The Dolphins hung around and won the turnover battle, escaping with a 17-13 win despite being outgained. The next week against the Rams, the scenario repeated itself. The Rams only managed two early field goals and the Dolphins held them off 17-14, despite being outgained 462 to 192 in total yardage.
If the Colts are going to continue their run and move to 5-3, Andrew Luck and the Colts offense will have to find the end zone and make Adam Vinatieri's contributions extra points, not field goals. They do have a couple of things in their favor.
First, Andrew Luck is a more mobile quarterback than what the Dolphins have seen thus far. Nobody the Dolphins have faced thus far has had the ability to keep plays alive with his feet like Luck does. This has certainly shown itself in the red zone this year where Luck has scored three times already by rushing the football.
Second, the Colts have been pretty good themselves converting third downs. While that's been the Dolphins' strength, only allowing their opposition to convert 26.4 per cent of the time, tops in the NFL, the Colts are converting over 40 per cent of the time. Especially in the first half, the Colts have been able to put together long drives and eat up clock. If the Colts can continue doing that, they will force Ryan Tannehill or Matt Moore, whoever starts at QB for the Dolphins today, to have to win the football game and not just manage it.
That's what I see being the difference today. The Colts get it done in the red zone today and move to 5-3.
Colts 24, Dolphins 17
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