It has been a rocky start for the Miami Dolphins in year two of the Brian Flores regime, to say the least.
Obviously, beginning the season at 0-2 is a place no team wants to be, but here we are. Here’s to hoping the third time is the charm, as the Dolphins are set to do battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday Night Football.
While playing on a short week is not preferable for most players around the league, I’m sure the Dolphins coaching staff and players alike are chomping at the bit for the chance to wash the taste of back-to-back losses out of their mouths.
Let’s preview what looks to be an entertaining match-up in primetime and see what Miami must do to win the game.
As always, questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter – @Donny_Diablo7.
When, Where, What Else?
The Fins will be traveling to Jacksonville, FL to take on the Jaguars in primetime on Thursday Night Football. Kickoff is set for 8:20 EST, with night time forecasts showing partially-cloudy skies, a high of 73 degrees, and an 85% humidity index. Needless to say, the weather the Dolphins will be dealing with this week will be a lot more forgiving then the mess they endured this past Sunday.
The Dolphins have played Jacksonville just nine times in the regular season since the Jaguars’ birth as an expansion team in 1995. Jacksonville leads the all-time series (5-4), and have won the past two games between the clubs, dating back to the 2015 season.
I’m sure both teams are excited that fans will be in attendance as well, as TIAA Bank Field plans to operate at 25% capacity to host around 17,000 attendees. Despite not being able to fill the stadium, knowing the rowdy fan base down in Jacksonville, the atmosphere is still going to be electric.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Miami Dolphins (0-2):
Miami took on their second division opponent in as many weeks, hosting the Buffalo Bills in their home opener last week, losing 31-28. The defense deserves much of the blame in lacking communication on all three levels, fielding an inconsistent pass rush, and having a complete inability to defend the deep ball. When the dust finally settled, the Dolphins defense gave up an unacceptable 524 yards on the afternoon.
The defense routinely allowed Bills receivers to beat them on the back end of their secondary, as Bills quarterback Josh Allen accrued eight passing plays of at least ten yards or more in the first half alone. The loss of premier CB Byron Jones (groin) on the fourth play of the game’s first series was a crushing blow as well, forcing first-round rookie Noah Igbinoghene to take on the tall task of covering Buffalo’s top wide receiver in Stefon Diggs. While Igbinoghene played well in relief, Diggs clearly got the better of the two, finishing with eight receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown.
A lack of consistent pass rush has been detrimental to the team the past two weeks, as Miami could only muster one sack in Week 2. Allen had all day in the pocket on most passing plays, giving him more time to scan the defense and pick Miami apart for huge plays.
While Miami still struggled to run the ball on offense, the unit played well enough, as a whole, to beat Buffalo. The Fins kept finding ways to stay in the game, and their overall effort must be applauded.
The performance of budding star TE Mike Gesicki was a sight to behold as well, as he is seemingly getting better and better each week. Gesicki finished the day with eight catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, and has served as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s security blanket the first two weeks of the year.
Speaking of Fitz, his performance was much improved from a week ago, as he finished with 328 yards and two TDs through the air. While he played well, when a team loses, much of the blame is bestowed upon the quarterback. If the team continues to sputter, you have to wonder when the Dolphins will consider getting their first look at first-round pick, QB Tua Tagovailoa.
Heading into this week, the Dolphins have been on the losing end of the previous two contests played against Jacksonville, dating back to the 2015 season. The last time Miami won in Jacksonville was in October 2014.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1):
The Jacksonville Jaguars suffered their first loss of the season in Nashville, TN, 33-30 at the hands of the Titans. Entering the year after an offseason that saw Jacksonville bid farewell to marquee players such as RB Leonard Fournette, DT Calais Campbell, and DE Yannick Ngakoue, among others, it seemed as if the Jaguars were “Tanking for Trevor,” and the first-overall pick in next year’s draft — someone better tell Gardner Minshew that. After the first two weeks of the season, Minshew has the Jags offense humming, putting up at least 27 points in both games to this point.
Defensively, the Jaguars put themselves in a hole early on, as the defense conceded three first-half passing touchdowns, swinging early momentum in favor of Tennessee. The Jaguars eventually rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter behind a heavy dose of “Minshew Magic.”
The Jags offense dominated the third quarter, engineering three-consecutive scoring drives in the third quarter. Minshew ended the day completing 30-of-45 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns, along with two interceptions.
Taking everything into account, it was a respectable performance for a young Jaguars team still learning what it takes to win in the NFL. This isn’t the same old Jaguars teams of the past; despite falling behind in both games this season, they have refused to lay down like they used to.
Jacksonville finished last season with a 6-10 record, at the bottom of the AFC South. The Jaguars have won the previous two match-ups against Miami with a combined score of 40-30.
Gardner Minshew II vs. DC Josh Boyer: Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer just can’t catch a break. After duking it out against stellar quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Josh Allen with terrible results, now Boyer has to prepare for Minshew (49-of-65, 512 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs) through two games). Minshew has a gunslinger’s mentality and loves to go deep. His deep-ball skills were on full display last week, as he hit four separate Jaguars for 20+ yard gains against Tennessee. We all saw what happened last week against the Bills; the Dolphins could be in for an ugly outing if Boyer can’t shore up the back end prior to Thursday. Edge: Jaguars
Jaguars Offensive Line vs. Dolphins Defensive Line: Both of these position groups have been less than stellar for each side. The Jacksonville O-Line has been shaky all season, already allowing six sacks through two games. On the flip side, the Dolphins have barely breathed on opposing quarterbacks, let alone sacked them. Its a toss-up, but Minshew’s mobility will help off-set some of his line’s struggles. Edge: Jaguars
Jaguars Skill Positions vs. Dolphins Coverage: How can I conceivably give the edge to the Dolphins, coming off such an egregious performance in pass coverage last week? Making matters worse, Byron Jones’ availability is still up in the air due to a groin injury. Edge: Jaguars
WHAT MUST HAPPEN
- Limit the deep ball: This is definitely recency bias, but its a “what-have-you done-for-me-now” league and Miami did nothing except get burned last week. The secondary has another tall order heading into the game, defending D.J. Chark & co. Chark has built a nice rapport with Minshew over the last two seasons and an emphasis must be made on limiting his output.
- Lean on Me: Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to lean on his favorite targets this week early and often in WR DeVante Parker and TE Mike Gesicki, to help open up other aspects of their offense and keep drives alive. Both have been steady contributors, but Gesicki has the potential to take over games and draw attention away from his teammates.
- Don’t forget about James Robinson: While he doesn’t have the draft-day pedigree as his predecessor, former fourth-overall pick Leonard Fournette, James Robinson sure has played like it through the first two games of the season. Robinson gashed a much-better Titans run defense for 102 yards and a TD on 16 carries on Sunday.
- Keep Gardner Minshew in the pocket: A lot of Gardner Minshew’s production comes after the play breaks down and he leaves the pocket. Minshew is a little undersized at just over six-feet tall, and has had trouble in the past seeing over his offensive linemen. This was evident on the game-sealing interception against the Titans last week as well.
- D.J. Chark vs. Xavien Howard/Noah Igbinaghene
- Gardner Minshew vs. Dolphins Pass Coverage
- Devante Parker vs. C.J. Henderson
- James Robinson vs. Miami Front Seven
Heading into the year, as I was perusing the Dolphins schedule, like most others, I had this penciled in as an easy “W.” While it’s not like the Jacksonville Jaguars have become a juggernaut overnight, they have played much better football than the Fins in every phase except special teams.
Coming off a short week, and with the injury of Byron Jones, one would imagine the Jaguars would lean on the deep-passing blueprint that served Buffalo so well, previously. Until Miami proves they can stop it, teams are going to do it. I expect another big day for the Jaguars offense, sadly, at the expense of the Miami Dolphins.
Prediction: Jaguars win 28-17
(Featured Image Credit: Miami Dolphins)