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Chris Perkins: Things to watch for in Miami Dolphins-Washington Commanders matchup

MIAMI GARDENS — More power seems to be coming to the Miami Dolphins’ high-powered offense for Sunday’s game at the Washington Commanders.

Rookie running back De’Von Achane, the dynamic big-play threat who averages 11.8 yards per carry, seems on schedule to return from his right knee ailment.

Beyond that, there’s a chance fellow rookie running back Chris Brooks (knee) also returns. Brooks would provide an option for short-yardage situations, one of the few shortcomings for Miami’s offense this season.

But there might be a balance for the returnees in the form of absences.

Miami will keep an eye on left tackles Terron Armstead (quadriceps) and Kendall Lamm (back) as well as right guard Robert Hunt (hamstring). 

Whatever happens offensively, the Dolphins defense, even without edge rusher Jaelan Phillips (Achilles), is getting better. Miami is seventh in the league (305.2 yards allowed per game).

This all points to a Miami victory on Sunday (1 p.m.; on Fox), but the Dolphins (8-3) must be careful to respect the Commanders (4-8).

Here are some things to watch for in the game: 

Turnover margin

Miami is minus-5 on the season, which isn’t necessarily a killer total considering Kansas City and Detroit are right there with them. The problem is after every loss the Dolphins say they must stop beating themselves and it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, the turnover margin has increased by one recently. And this turnover issue has been going on all season, against all opponents. Curiously, Miami is minus-1 in turnover margin in its three losses and minus-4 in its eight victories.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has 10 interceptions, which is tied for third in the league. That’s a major problem.

The good thing is the defense has produced six turnovers in the past three games.

Defensive front without Jaelan Phillips

Linebackers Andrew Van Ginkel (4.0 sacks) and Emmanuel Ogbah (4.0 sacks, one interception) will get the first shot at replacing Phillips, who is out for the season with an Achilles injury. For further depth, Miami signed Jason Pierre-Paul, the Deerfield Beach native. But it’ll take a focused effort by the entire front seven to replace Phillips’ 6.5 sacks and overall relentless effort. Remember, Phillips wasn’t just instrumental in helping the league’s No. 3 unit in sacks (38), he was also instrumental in helping the league’s No. 6 unit against the run. 

Most likely Miami’s defensive front has what it needs against the Commanders, but it’s also likely it’ll need to sharpen its game before that three-game season-ending gauntlet of Dallas, Baltimore and Buffalo.

Offensive line health

Armstead and Lamm are the biggest questions at this point. That could mean Kion Smith gets the start. Hunt, who has battled a hamstring injury the past two weeks, seems set to return to the starting lineup. If not, perhaps either Liam Eichenberg or Lester Cotton gets the start. The rest of the offensive line is stable among center Connor Williams, right tackle Austin Jackson and either Eichenberg or Cotton at left guard. Tagovailoa has only been sacked 17 times and Miami is No. 2 in rushing (145.2 yards per game) so the offensive line is getting the job done. Look for that trend to continue this week.

Score more points

Miami leads the league in scoring at 30.8 points per game but the Dolphins have only met that total twice in the past five games. On top of that, Miami averages just 24.2 points per game in its six road games. The Dolphins scored 34 points at the New York Jets last week, but the offense didn’t do it alone (the defense added a touchdown on safety Jevon Holland’s interception return).

Prior to the Jets game the Dolphins averaged 18.8 points per game in their four previous road games (New England, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Kansas City). Granted, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Kansas City are tough opponents, and the Dolphins scored 36 points at the Los Angeles Chargers in the opener. But this is a high-quality Miami offense. It should be a threat to score three or more touchdowns every game.

It’s not often you say these Dolphins need to score more points but it’d be nice to see the offense clicking consistently on the road regardless of the opponent.

Keep pounding the rock

The Dolphins are 16th in rushing attempts, a big improvement over last season when they finished 31st. Miami should get Achane back this Sunday, which should help the run game tremendously, and it could get Brooks back, too. A balanced offense makes the Dolphins tougher to defend and makes life easier for Tagovailoa and coach Mike McDaniel, the offensive play-caller. The fact that running back Raheem Mostert is second in the league in rushing (785 yards) and leads the league in rushing touchdowns (13) should provide enough reason for the Dolphins to continue to run the ball. But also consider they’ll need that part of their game in the playoffs.

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