The New York Jets try to rebound from a loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week that knocked the Jets out of the NFL playoffs when they take on the Miami Dolphins on the road in Miami, Florida to close out the season. Both teams have been struggling. The Jets and the Dolphins both come into this game with 5 game losing streaks. The Dolphins need a win in this game and a New England Patriots loss against the Buffalo Bills to make the playoffs. The Jets have nothing to play for but pride, and the chance to play spoiler against a division rival. Previewing this matchup, Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the Miami Dolphins.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. At one point the Dolphins were 8-3 and considered a shoo-in for the playoffs. Since then the Dolphins have lost five straight games and they now need help to get into the post-season. What are the main factors for the Dolphins’ reversal of fortune. Is it just the high quality of recent opponents, or are there bigger problems here?
I think there are several things that have led to Miami’s struggles down the stretch. Part of it is absolutely that the schedule featured several non-playoff teams in the middle of the year, then ramped up into a group that has included the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers over the last five games. That is a tough group. Miami should have been able to come out with wins in some of those games, but all the teams are either playoff teams or teams fighting for a playoff berth this weekend.
Miami has also had a problem with the injury bug this year. The offensive line and defensive secondary have constantly been in flux this year, and obviously the team has seen three different quarterbacks start games this season. Add in that no game not started by Tua Tagovailoa has been ended by the quarterback that started the game, with both Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson both sustaining injuries in the games they have started, and there has been a revolving door at the most important position on the field. When Tagovailoa has been healthy, he has played like one of the top quarterbacks in the league, especially if you consider the entire second half of the Packers game as him playing with an unidentified concussion, which would explain the three interceptions he threw.
The Dolphins also had the advantage of introducing an entirely new offensive system this year, giving them a chance to attack teams early in the year without any film from which the opponents could look for trends. When the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel as head coach, it was expected the team would look to establish the run and then pass off that threat. Instead, Miami has thrown the ball 62 percent of the time this year, the seventh-highest rate in the league, and that number has come down over the past few weeks where they actually have tried to run the ball more. This is a pass-first, pass-often offense, and I think that came as a surprise. We saw the 49ers and Chargers both start to adjust to the Dolphins’ offensive scheme by clogging up the middle of the field. Pushing the linebackers back from the line of scrimmage takes away the passing lanes that the Dolphins’ offense loves. Crossing routes and slants are where the Dolphins make their biggest gains, and if you have extra defenders in the middle of the field, it is really had to create space on those routes.
Miami is a better team than a five-game losing streak would suggest, but they are not up to the elite level of a true Super Bowl contender yet either. There are definitely things that need to be addressed this offseason, whether the team makes the playoffs or not.
2. Tua Tagovailoa looks like he won’t play in this game due to concussion symptoms. Will the Jets be facing Teddy Bridgewater or Skylar Thompson under center for the Dolphins, and what effect will Tua’s absence have on the Dolphins’ offense?
It seems like it is going to be Thompson’s game to start. Tagovailoa has not even started to practice yet and Bridgewater’s dislocated finger has not allowed him to fully practice yet and he has been struggling to grip and throw a pass. Right now, the plan seems to be to have Thompson start and Bridgewater, assuming his finger has recovered enough, serve as the backup. The Dolphins signed Mike Glennon this week to the practice squad, and he could be elevated in order to either have him work as the backup or be the third option in case of injuries.
I would expect the Dolphins to run the ball more this week, trying to keep the pressure off of Thompson. Short passes to get the ball into the hands of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle will also be in the game plan. I would not rule out the deep shot showing up at some point, but I think the team will look to Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Jr., a lot in this game.
3. The Dolphins have scored 21 points or less in 4 of the last 5 games. Why are the Dolphins struggling so much on offense recently when they have such explosive weapons?
I think it is a lot of what we have talked about. The 49ers have an elite defense that did a great job of slowing the defense. I feel like that game was hyped up so much as a return of Mike McDaniel to San Francisco that the offense, especially Tagovailoa, tried to be perfect for McDaniel, and of course that always backfires. They pressed and it did not work well for them.
Then the Chargers defense clogged the middle of the defense like the 49ers did, and Miami did not respond to the adjustment. It was a good defensive game plan and it threw the Dolphins off.
Against the Packers, Miami had a chance to keep up with Green Bay, but Tagovailoa’s three interceptions, most likely because of the concussion, ended that chance.
And last week against the Patriots was just disappointing. And another example of the Dolphins’ starting one quarterback and finishing with another. Thompson just could not find the spark when he had to come into the game and the offense struggled.
Injuries, defenses seeming to catch up some to McDaniel, and a constant rotation of players - especially at quarterback - has just knocked the offense out of rhythm.
4. What is the best way to successfully attack the Dolphins on offense and on defense?
Running quarterbacks are the biggest source of kryptonite for the Dolphins defense this year. Assuming Joe Flacco is starting for the Jets this week, that is not going to be as scary a proposition as it could be. After that, put pressure on the Dolphins’ cornerbacks. Miami’s defensive system is designed to put the cornerbacks on an island, letting Xavien Howard and Byron Jones work in man-to-man coverage, then create pressure on the quarterback with blitzes coming from multiple places. Howard, despite being named to the Pro Bowl Games this year, has been slowed by injuries all year and is not playing up to his highest level. Jones has been on the physically unable to perform list all year and does not seem to be coming back any time soon.
Miami has relied on players like undrafted free agent Kader Kohou from Texas A&M - Commerce this year. Kohou has been a really solid player, but he is also a rookie and will make rookie mistakes. Every cornerback and safety on the Dolphins has been injured at some point, missing practice and playing time, so attacking them and trying to confuse them can lead to success. Stack up your receivers, create confusion by running different routes out of the bunch, and force the younger players to think and react.
On defense, Miami is likely going to see yet another offensive line combination this year, so blitzes and stunts could find success early. Force the line to prove it can step up and stop the pressure. In coverage, keep the linebackers at home in the middle of the field and take away those quick slant routes.
5. If you were a betting man which team would you bet on winning this game and why?
This game has been all over the place in terms of odds, with every update on Tagovailoa, Bridgewater, Thompson, Zach Wilson, Mike White, and Flacco leading to big swings. This feels like a much closer game than I would like to imagine it being. That said, I think the Dolphins are the better team this year, they still have something to play for, and, I feel like there is a reason the Jets have been so reticent to bring back Flacco in games this year. I think this is Miami’s game, but it might be closer than fans would like. The good news is, this is a home game in Miami so the Dolphins do not have to worry about the cold and snow in this game.