The Dolphins resurrected a dead running game last week by rushing for 200 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-20 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Knowshon Moreno dominated a mediocre Cowboys defense in his Dolphins debut, rushing for 64 yards on 10 carries, and rookie tailback Orleans Darkwa broke a 53-yard run. However, the Dolphins still need to work on the run game, and will probably have to do so without Moreno, whom the coaches probably plan to rest. The Rams will be a great measuring stick, because St. Louis' defense has a forceful starting front line. However, the Rams defense has allowed 4.1 yards per carry in the exhibition season, and three rushing touchdowns.
A test for defensive backs
St. Louis lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season-ending ACL injury, and will probably test out Shaun Hill as the team's starting quarterback Thursday night. Hill, a 13-year veteran, has a 115.6 passer rating during the exhibition season based on the 17 passes he's attempted. However, he has thrown two touchdowns among those 17 passes. His aggressive approach will be a good test for some of Miami's young defensive backs — Will Davis, Jamar Taylor, Jimmy Wilson, Michael Thomas and rookie Walt Aikens — who need the playing time and game experience. Young fringe players including Don Jones, Jordan Kovacs and Kevin Fogg could also use this as an opportunity to impress Miami's coaches or another team.
The Dolphins will be in a bind if Caleb Sturgis isn't ready or healthy enough to serve as the team's kicker during the regular season. Sturgis, the former University of Florida standout selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, has been nursing a groin strain all season that has kept him from participating in Miami's preseason games. The Dolphins have signed three kickers — Jake Rogers is the latest — to fill the void. But if Sturgis can't handle his kicking duties on Thursday night, the Dolphins must consider placing him on injured reserve and finding a replacement for the 2014 season. Sturgis' groin problems contributed to two losses last year, and this year's team doesn't that much margin for error.
The Dolphins' linebacker positions remain unsettled. While Koa Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler remain the starters, that unit has had open audition for starting spots, playing time and roles for the past three weeks. Miami's coaches are looking for impact players, linebackers that make factor plays (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles), and nobody has stepped forward. Thursday night's game will be Jason Trusnik, Jelani Jenkins, Jonathan Freeny and rookies Jordan Tripp and Chris McCain's last chance to improve their standing in the unit. The Rams enter Thursday night's game averaging 31 rushing attempts per game in the preseason, which should provide Miami's linebacker plenty of opportunities to impress.
Cut down day
The Dolphins have some tough decisions to make by Saturday when the roster needs to be trimmed to 53 players from 75, so this final preseason game is critical to players such as Freeny and Jenkins, defensive linemen Anthony Johnson and Isaako Aaitui, and offensive linemen Jason Fox, Sam Brenner and Tony Hills, who haven't proven they are must-keep talents so far. Players such as quarterback Seth Lobato, tailback Orleans Darkwa, receiver Matt Hazel and offensive linemen Evan Finkenberg are pushing for 10 practice squad spots and need to show the coaches why they are worthy of continued development by making plays against the Rams.