The Jacksonville Jaguars are yet to win a game in the 2021 season, and bring an 0-5 record to London this weekend. The Jaguars travel across the pond to take on the Miami Dolphins, another AFC team that has struggled to begin the campaign with a 1-4 record. Both teams are looking to get back on track this week.
To help us get some perspective on Miami, we spoke with Kevin Nogle, managing editor of The Phinsider — SB Nation’s home for all things Dolphins.
Should we expect to see Tua Tagovailoa under center for the Dolphins this week? Are the the Jaguars close to playing at the same level the Dolphins are currently performing at so far this season? Kevin lends his insights into these questions and more.
1. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is dealing with a rib injury, but might be able to play this weekend against the Jaguars in London. What do you think his chances of playing are, and if he doesn’t play, do you believe the Dolphins can win the game with Jacoby Brissett under center?
Kevin: It sounds like Tagovailoa will be back this week, unless something happens on Friday to set him back. That should be great news for the Dolphins, as the team has had to adjust the playbook and the game-planning with Brissett running the offense. There was a distinct difference in the way the offense moved under Tagovailoa and under Brissett. While Tagovailoa is not someone who is going to be chucking the ball 50 yards down the field every other throw, he is someone who recognizes he has playmakers who can go up and get the ball for him or who have the speed to go chase down a pass. Brissett opened up the passing game last week, but he is so much more conservative with the ball than you want you starting quarterback to be. Up until Miami started trying to make a last-second comeback during the last two possessions in Week 4, they had averaged 2.1 yards per play — not enough to ever get a first down. It was miserable. And Brissett is a solid quarterback who can keep a team in a game in an emergency, but he is so focused on the short, sure completion that it just crushes a team that is supposed to be built to use speed to its advantage.
Hopefully the return of Tagovailoa allows the Dolphins offense to return to the run-pass option and take more shots down the field. Tagovailoa and rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in the opening week showed they still have the chemistry they had in college (at Alabama), so hopefully that shows up again on Sunday and Miami can finally find an offensive rhythm — and maybe even an identity.
2. Both the Jaguars (No. 31) and Dolphins (No. 30) currently rank toward the very bottom of the NFL in terms of Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Do you see these two teams on a similar level, or when you look at this struggling Jacksonville team, do you see a clear talent advantage for Miami? Why or why not?
Kevin: A month ago, I would have easily told you the Dolphins were miles ahead of the Jaguars. They had too many good wide receivers in training camp and the preseason, with the team needing to find ways to stash players just to try to keep everyone it had. The defense was ready to establish itself as an elite unit, with a suffocating secondary led by shutdown cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. The Dolphins were a 10-win team in 2020 that was looking to become a perennial playoff contender. Then the season started and now I have no idea what to think. It just feels like everything we knew about this team was thrown out the window. Tagovailoa’s injury jacked up the offense, the defense looks tired and worn down already, and they are making way too many mistakes in all three aspects of the game — penalties, drops, kickoffs out of bounds, everything seems to be off for the Dolphins. The Bills are a great team, so they probably were still going to smack the Dolphins repeatedly in Week 2, but losing Tagovailoa so early in the game and then having the beatdown the Bills handed them on top of it just seems to have crushed the spirit of the team. We will see if Tagovailoa’s return sparks something inside the team.
3. Defensively, the Dolphins have struggled, but who are the players to know for Miami on that side of the ball? Who is a difference-maker and who is an under-the-radar player who could make an impact on Sunday? What does the unit as a whole need to do better?
Kevin: Howard is the obvious name on the defense. After recording 10 interceptions last year, teams have been staying away from him this year — at least until Tom Brady and Antonio Brown went crazy last week. Howard was trying to play through a hamstring injury, so there is an explanation for him being a step slow last week, but it still was a bad performance for a player who is looking to prove he is the top cornerback in the game. Eric Rowe at safety has been playing well, and he is a good tight end-coverage guy. Jerome Baker at linebacker is a really good player, though he has not been asked to blitz and use that part of his game as much as he did last year. Andrew Van Ginkel is a name many people do not know, but he can be a pass-rush force for the team. Jaelan Phillips appears to be growing into his role as an outside linebacker after primarily being a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end in college, and the game is starting to slow down for him. Christian Wilkins is becoming the run-stuffing interior defensive lineman Miami wants him to be, while Raekwon Davis is a really good nose tackle. Finally, Zach Sieler is a defensive lineman who seems to always be in on a play and showing up in the backfield, even on limited snaps.
It feels like this defense should be better than it has been so far this year. Maybe having matchups against Josh Allen, Derek Carr and Tom Brady three of the first five weeks is skewing the read of the defense, but they have to play better as a unit. Cut down the penalties, get back to attacking the quarterback, and execute. The team had so much success last year with an amoeba front where there were seven or eight players all on the line of scrimmage, then four or five rushed and the other three dropped into coverage — but it was never the same players rushing or dropping. It was confusing quarterbacks and the defense was able to keep up the pressure, while allowing Howard and Jones to cover man-to-man. This year, they just are not doing all of that as much. Getting back to that and trying to confuse a rookie quarterback this week would be a smart game plan.
4. On the offensive side of the ball, running back Myles Gaskin had a strong game as a receiver with 10 catches and two touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. Outside of maybe Jaylen Waddle, is he Miami’s best playmaker? Who else should Jaguars fans watch out for?
Kevin: Jaylen Waddle is quickly becoming the top receiver on the team, and he should see plenty of action this week — hopefully more than just a two-yard slant. If DeVante Parker is able to play, he and Waddle create a good one-two combination. Tight end Mike Gesicki should be a bigger part of the offensive attack, but between Brissett not looking toward him and the team needing help in pass blocking, Gesicki is not having the year we all expected. Gaskin should absolutely be the team’s top running back, both as a rusher and as a pass catcher. He has the skills to be able to carry the load out of the backfield, but the Dolphins really like the running back by committee approach.
If Miami is going to bring back the run-pass option that we expected them to use with Tagovailoa, then having Gaskin as a major part of the offense will continue. But, I would not be surprised to see Malcolm Brown start and Salvon Ahmed rotate into the lineup to take snaps away from Gaskin, because that is what the offense has been doing all season.
5. Now in his third season at the helm, what is the general feeling from Dolphins fans about head coach Brian Flores and his staff? Is the 1-4 start worrying fans that he may not be the right coach, or is the slow start mostly due to injuries?
Kevin: There is definitely a growing group who think Flores may be nearing the end of his tenure. There has been discussion of if he has lost the locker room and if the team is quitting on him already. I do not think it is that bad, but it clearly is not right currently. If Flores cannot get this turned around quickly, pushing Miami out of the basement of the league and back toward challenging for a playoff position, he could find himself on the hot seat much earlier than anyone expected. General manager Chris Grier is also a target of ire right now, and he needs the young offensive line to start producing to show his use of multiple early-round draft picks on the line was not a waste of assets.
Bonus: Score prediction?
Kevin: Who knows at this point? Miami is averaging 15.8 points per game, while allowing 30.8 points. The Jaguars are averaging 18.6 points per game, while allowing 30.4 points. Both teams are not getting it done on offense while seeing the defense give up way too many points. I have to believe that Tagovailoa’s return sparks something for Miami and that the Dolphins are better team than the Jaguars — though that may just be me trying to convince myself of that at this point.
Miami 34, Jacksonville 20
But, that is just a wild guess and nothing really would surprise me this weekend.
Thank you to Kevin for providing great thoughts and analysis into Miami. Follow Kevin on Twitter, and to keep up with news about the Dolphins, follow The Phinsider as well.