By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears (3-3) host the Dolphins (2-3) on Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are my keys to the game for Chicago.
Miami got after Aaron Rodgers last week, and the expectation is it will try to do the same against Jay Cutler. The first guy to stop is Dolphins left defensive end Cameron Wake. At 32, Wake still owns an exceptional first step and a relentless motor, and he got to Rodgers for 1.5 sacks. He also nabbed Tom Brady twice in Week 1. He will be a lot for Bears right tackle Jordan Mills to handle.
The other starting Dolphins end is Olivier Vernon, who also got Rodgers for 1.5 sacks and has equaled Wake’s output. He’s more of a power rusher. Both ends can also play the run well in the 4-3 scheme, which also features a heavy blitz package.
The Dolphins are second in the league in sacks on third and fourth downs with a combined 10. The Dolphins have a solid strong-side linebacker to deal with in Jelani Jenkins, who runs well and plays with good instincts.
In the secondary, Chicago’s big receivers own a size advantage over Miami’s defensive backs. What the Dolphins lack in size, though, they make up for in experience and toughness with Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan and Louis Delmas. Dipping into the numbers finds the Dolphins are third in yards per pass attempt at 6.09, one of only eight teams under 7.0 this season. Against the run, the Dolphins are permitting only 3.8 yards per carry. Overall, the Dolphins are second in yards allowed per play at just 4.7 yards.
In Atlanta, the Chicago defense played fast, physical and hungry. Playing with that kind of reckless abandon in their own building against the Dolphins should result in some big plays in big moments for the Bears. Miami’s offense is coordinated by Bill Lazor, who coached quarterbacks for Chip Kelly last season in Philadelphia. It means the Bears must prepare for the zone-read with an athletic quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had a 40-yard run against the Packers.
Like the Eagles, the Dolphins move quickly to maximize snap totals. Their average scoring drive is 3:08, which ranks third in the league on 51.6 yards and 7.33 plays. Tannehill has thrown 35 interceptions in 37 career starts, so his decision-making at times leads to errors. The Dolphins can run the ball and rank third with 4.97 yards per carry.
In the passing game, a baker’s dozen have caught balls, led by veteran Mike Wallace, who is still fast and has a team-high four touchdowns on 25 catches. The Dolphins have only 11 completions of 20-plus yards, second-fewest in the league. The Bears are now tied for the fourth-most sacks (15), third-most interception (eight) and third in takeaway points (49).
Every game presents a new challenge for the still-evolving Chicago special teams units, but there’s progress being made in kick and punt coverage. After muting Devin Hester in Atlanta, their attention turns to rookie Jarvis Landry out of LSU.
Opponents have punted 26 times to the Dolphins, but Landry has only nine returns and an equal number of fair catches and has fumbled twice. On kickoffs in the last three weeks, Landry has returns of 74, 35 and 54 yards. Ten of his 13 returns have gone for 20 yards or more, which is fourth in the league.
The Bears will have to be on it to keep Landry in check. Conversely, the Bears are still trying to jump-start their kick return production. Miami’s punt coverage is last in the league, giving up 15.8 yards on returns, and punter Brandon Fields is struggling.
Young players have pumped life in the Bears defense. Kyle Fuller is a beast at cornerback and one of the premier rookie defenders in the league right now. Demontre Hurst picked off his first pass last week. Christian Jones and Khaseem Greene are flashing at linebacker.
Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton are holding their own inside at tackle, and each batted down another pass at the line of scrimmage in Atlanta. Brock Vereen gets the start at free safety against the Dolphins.
That young blood, mixed with new blood up front featuring the league’s sack leader in Willie Young, must keep the pressure on the Dolphins, who were shocked in the final seconds by the Packers last Sunday. The Bears offense can bury a team, and they must bury Miami and win their first home game of 2014.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.