Win or lose: 5 keys for Dolphins to beat Cardinals

The Dolphins haven't beaten Arizona since this game in 1999. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins haven’t beaten Arizona since this game in 1999. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—The Dolphins have a big challenge on their hands with Sunday’s home game against Arizona, which comes in as one of the most potent teams in the NFL despite a sub-.500 record.

The Cardinals have some of the top skill players in the league and a top-10 defense, presenting a variety of matchup issues. Here’s how Miami can survive:

1. Several unheralded defenders must step up.
The Dolphins figure to go into this game without any of the linebackers who began the season as starters. They’ve also been missing starting cornerback Xavien Howard, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be back this weekend. Top safety Reshad Jones is out for the year, and the other starting safety, Isa Abdul-Quddus, has been playing hurt most of the season. A handful of back-ups have to prove competent if Miami’s going to handle David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

2. Ryan Tannehill has to rebound.
Tannehill was on the best five-game run of his career before a disaster game against the Ravens last weekend. He threw for 226 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions. It should help that the offensive line is getting healthier, but he’ll have to make some plays on his own regardless of the protection.

3. Ndamukong Suh needs to keep it going.
Suh’s had a great season, and the Dolphins need more of it. He’ll face double- and triple-teams all afternoon from the Cardinals, but he’ll have to be a monster anyway. That will go a long way toward Miami containing Johnson, and it’ll open opportunities for Andre Branch and Cameron Wake rushing from the outside.

4. Jay Ajayi has to hit 1,000 yards.
What happened to the Ajayi who was headed toward a Pro Bowl selection? It’s harder to put up those stunning numbers without the offensive line intact. The Dolphins’ best games were built on a strong running attack, and they need to reestablish it. Ajayi hasn’t broken 80 yards in any of his last four games.

5. DeVante Parker needs to be a real threat.
At his best, Parker has the ability to be a deep option who can change everything for Tannehill. Last week he surprised the staff by being able to play through a back injury, but now he needs to show them he can be downfield weapon. Arizona is likely to load up against the Dolphins’ run game, so there should be chances for Tannehill to hit Parker on some deep shots.

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