With the Thursday Night Football football matchup looming between the Miami Dolphins (0-2) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) in the battle of the Sunshine State teams, we are getting you this week’s cross-over Q&A piece a little bit earlier than usual.
In order to help us learn more about Miami, we spoke with Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider — your one-stop shop for all things Dolphins.
1. I think the question on everyone’s mind is when will we see quarterback Tua Tagovailoa play for the Dolphins, and is there any chance that happens on Thursday night?
Kevin: I do not think you will see him Thursday. There is probably a small chance he is starting in Week Four, given the mini-bye week that comes after a Thursday night game, but Ryan Fitzpatrick probably played himself into starting at least this week. I really think we see the change during the Dolphins’ bye week in Week 11. Miami plays the Jets in Weeks 10 and 12, so Fitzpatrick starts the first of those, then the team has two weeks to get ready for the Jets again, but with Tagovailoa under center. It seems to make sense, but it all depends on if we see more Fitztragic instead of Fitzmagic over the next few weeks.
2. Through two games, the Dolphins are 0-2, dropping both games to divisional opponents. What have you seen from Miami so far that you like, and what does the team need to improve upon moving forward?
Kevin: I am surprised that the offensive line is playing decent football. They have to continue to get better, especially in the run game, but they are at least a cohesive unit. The offensive line features two rookies as part of four players who were not on the Dolphins last year. It is a unit that, the first time they got any live action was in Week One. It is a surprise that they are communicating and appearing to have more positive than negatives right now. I am sure there will still be more growing pains, and it could all still fall apart throughout the year, but they are a surprise at this point.
The defense, and especially the secondary, are supposed to be the strength of this year’s Dolphins. Instead, they have been torched in two weeks. They have averaged a ridiculous 440.5 yards allowed per game, the third-highest average in the league. They are allowing 276.5 yards-per-game through the air, the seventh-most in the league, and 164 yards-per-game in rushing, fourth-most in the league. The defense has been abysmal to start the year, and it is confusing. Byron Jones’ injury last week, which most likely keeps him out this week, is a part of the issues, but Miami could not stop the crossing patterns last week, with the Bills exploiting Miami’s press coverage throughout the game. Xavien Howard is healthy, but he definitely appears to be missing a step right now. The Dolphins are talking about moving Bobby McCain back to nickel cornerback rather than sticking at free safety and that is a move that could make a lot of sense, especially with the injuries in the secondary already. Miami has to shore up the defense — both against the run and, especially, in the secondary, if they are going to have any success this year.
3. Is there a particular reason why Jordan Howard and Matt Breida have been so seldomly used in the backfield? Is Myles Gaskin now the workhorse running back?
Kevin: I think everyone is surprised by this. According to the coaching staff, it is simply a matter of Gaskin working hard and looking the best in practice, and it is showing the same on gameday. The Dolphins were expected to attack with a two-headed monster of Howard and Breida, but with 13 carries so far, Howard has 11 yards (0.8 ypc average) and Breida has 12 carries for 49 yards (4.9 ypc). Gaskin is outplaying them both, with 16 carries for 86 yards (5.4 ypc), and including in the passing game, where he has 10 receptions on 11 targets for 62 yards, while Breida has one reception on two targets for two yards. Howard does have two rushing touchdowns, but other than that, he seems to be relegated to a short-yardage back at this point, and he is not rocking that role either (see Miami turnover on downs after first-and-goal from the Buffalo one-yard line last week).
I do not think the Dolphins are ready to make Gaskin a true “work-horse” back, but they definitely see him as the number one right now.
4. I think the Dolphins and Jaguars are in somewhat similar boats in 2020. Both teams are young (outside of players like Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been around the NFL for seemingly ever) and rebuilding. But the Jaguars have been extremely competitive through two games (one win and one close loss), much to the surprise of Jaguars fans. From top to bottom, which roster do you think is better right now and which team do you think is more set up for future success?
Kevin: The biggest question I have about the Jaguars roster is Gardner Minshew. I just do not understand his meteoric rise. Is it sustainable? Will he revert to looking like a typical sixth-round pick, or is he the next great quarterback to come out of the sixth-round? It does not make sense, but it is fun to watch him.
On the Dolphins side, we obviously do not yet know what they have in Tua Tagovailoa. Can he really be a left-handed Drew Brees? Is he “injury-prone” or has he just had bad luck with some incredibly odd injuries?
I love the potential in the Dolphins’ secondary, but, as we talked about, they are disappointing right now. The Jaguars defense is probably better positioned to return to what they were over the past several years, as compared to the Dolphins trying to build a new defense from scratch. Miami is still missing the pass rush and needs the linebackers (outside of Jerome Baker) to step up. I know there are plenty of concerns right now about the defense in Jacksonville, but I think they may be closer, with the addition of a piece or two, than the Dolphins are right now.
I think you are right that the two teams are similar. Before the season, I would have said the Dolphins are in a better situation for both the current season and for the future, but after the first two games, the Jaguars may be better positioned for 2020. As for the long term, I will stick with Miami simply because I believe Tagovailoa will be a special quarterback.
5. Mike Gesicki looks like a real weapon for the Dolphins this season. What other players should Jaguars fans be looking out for on Thursday night?
Kevin: You already brought up Gaskin. DeVante Parker, assuming his hamstring issue does not slow him, will likely be a factor. Lynn Bowden could have an impact, and at some point, Malcolm Perry will likely be activated. They both have potential, especially out of the slot, but I am not sure we are going to see that on Thursday. Isaiah Ford is quietly having a nice start to the season, especially for a player who was a seventh-round selection in 2017 and has just bounced back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster the last few seasons. I would not be surprised if he sees more of a role in the offense if Preston Williams, who has potential to be a star, continues to disappear.
On defense, Jerome Baker is a beast at linebacker, with the ability to rush the passer and cover. He has not been perfect to start the year, especially in coverage, but he does not give up on a play and he has made positives out of negatives for Miami’s defense (like the forced fumble he caused against the Patriots in Week One to stop a touchdown). Christian Wilkins is playing like a madman right now, disrupting the line of scrimmage, batting down passes, and chasing down running backs.
6. Score prediction?
Kevin: Normally I would lean toward the home team in a Thursday night game, but I do not think the trip from Miami to Jacksonville is daunting enough to cause much disruption to Miami. So, the homer in me is going to say Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the offense in rhythm early and the Dolphins can pull this out. Let’s say 27-24? Sure, that sounds good and plays into the average points allowed for each defense.
Please check out my cross-over piece over on The Phinsider as well.