I managed to catch up with Kevin Nogle, the managing editor of the Phinsider, our Dolphins sister site. Kevin was kind enough to answer some questions in regards to the Dolphins. I would like to thank Kevin for his time.
Jeremy: It's been 4 and a half years... and I'm still not sure what to make of Ryan Tannehill. What is he? What effect has Adam Gase had on Tannehill, good or bad?
Kevin: No one really knows who or what Tannehill is as a franchise quarterback. I still believe he is a better quarterback than some fans believe him to be, but I do not think there is a sure answer either way. A big part of that is, the only time Tannehill has had an effective offensive line in his career has been the last two games. He has a 97 and a 99 passer rating in those two games, looking better than in the first five games of the season.
Of course, having a running back pick up 200 yards in both of those games is also a huge assistance, but I think we are starting to see the offense gel in Gase's system, which should make Tannehill start to improve over the next few weeks. Do I think Tannehill is going to be Dan Marino? No. But, can he be a playoff winning quarterback? Absolutely. Now, he has nine games to prove that he can get back to playing like a first-round quarterback, giving all of us hope for the next several years.
Jeremy: Jay Ajayi has seemingly emerged out of nowhere to look like Adrian Peterson. What has been working over these past two weeks that has led to such success? Is Ajayi just that good?
Kevin: I believe Ajayi is a really good running back, likely a first- or second-round draft pick in 2015 if not for concerns about his knee. We are starting to see that, despite the Dolphins not taking him on the Week 1 trip to Seattle and looking to keep him from being the starter early in the year. I think a big part of that was Ajayi needing to grow up as a professional, which he appears to have done now. Is he Adrian Peterson? No. But he could be a 1,200 to 1,500 a year running back for the next few seasons, assuming the "bone-on-bone" knee issue never becomes a factor.
3. There is a lot of name talent along that front 7 of the Dolphins, with guys like Cameron Wake, Kiko Alonso, Jordan Phillips, and of course Ndamukong Suh up front. Yet they are near the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed and rank middle of the pack in sacks. Are these guys more disruptive than we think, are they underperforming? What are your thoughts on this front 7 that seems like it should be really good?
Kevin: I think they are more disruptive than people realize, but they were getting crushed early in the year. I think part of it was getting used to the new defensive systems being installed by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, but I think a bigger part was the offense's inability to sustain a drive. The Dolphins were being dominated in time of possession, and the defense were playing a ridiculous number of snaps every single week. They were worn down throughout the game, and they could not stop anyone.
That said, it is not all great. Tackling is still an issue at times, and the linebackers are not always in the right position. Kiko Alonso seems to be settling into his role as the starting middle linebacker, so things are improving, but it is not always perfect. The Dolphins have also realized limiting Cameron Wake to just 15-16 snaps a game is not effective, and they are allowing him to play more, which we are seeing turn into a more effective pass rush, as well as run defense.
Suh, by the way, seems to be having a really good year, clogging the middle, disrupting the line, and getting after quarterbacks. He has 3.5 sacks so far this season, and he does so many things that are not boxscore stats. People assume he is underperforming because the defense as a whole has not been great, but he has actually looked really good.
There are still a lot of question marks with the front seven, but it is starting to play better - which is a running theme with the Dolphins right now - and hopefully will continue that improvement throughout the rest of the year.
Jeremy: Can you name one player on offense and defense, someone that the fans of other teams may not know now but they will hear about in the future? Who are some under the radar guys who could wind up being key factors in determining this game? What are the real strengths of the team?
Kevin: My typical answer to this question used to be, "The Dolphins have a really talented running back no one knows, Jay Ajayi." Well, I guess that answer is out now. I guess I will go with the tight ends, Dion Sims, MarQueis Gray, and Dominique Jones. Jordan Cameron is still dealing with the after-effects of a concussion, while Sims appears ready to come back from his own concussion issues. The combination of Sims, Gray, and Jones will not put up giant numbers, but they are solid players who can make an impact when given an opportunity. Do not expect to see an offense centered around the tight ends, but there could be a couple of plays in the game where they show up.
On defense, Michael Thomas at safety is a player who can make an impact, but may not be a known name. He is a captain on special teams, but is starting at safety as the replacement for Reshad Jones. He is a hard worker and always seems to be in the right place (except for a touchdown allowed against the Bills, where Byron Maxwell tried to pass off the receiver, Thomas was too far to the center of the field trying to disguise his coverage, and could not get into position - and Thomas came out after the game and fully admitted it was his fault). Thomas is a player who could make a couple of plays.
Another defensive player to watch is Tony Lippett. The college receiver turned NFL cornerback is starting to find himself in his second season, and he is capable of making a play. He will make mistakes at times, but he is getting better and is improving every week, which is important given the injury issues Miami has had in the secondary this year.
Jeremy: If you were coaching against the Dolphins, how would you attack them offensively? Defensively? What are some of the weaknesses on the Dolphins that give you cause for concern in this game?
Kevin: Be physical and see how they respond. The team seems to be trying to establish itself as a physical, take it to the opponents type of team, but they are not fully established as that yet. If the offensive line is fully healthy and playing up to their potential, they should be able to match the physicality of the Jets' front seven, but punish them early and see if they are able to keep it up all game.
As for the receivers, be disciplined. They have not shown themselves to be great at creating separation, so the cornerbacks just need to stick with them, rather than taking chances or guessing on routes.
Defensively, the secondary is the weakness, but the front seven can mask it. The running game has to be established early to force the line to respect it, slowing down the pass rush, and then the game will open up for the offense. Long, sustained drives that keep the defense on the field will also be a huge benefit for the Jets offense, especially late in the game.