The Miami Dolphins (6-4) enter Sunday’s Week 12 contest against the New York Jets (0-10) coming off a difficult loss in Denver. The Dolphins offense lacked rhythm and ultimately saw rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa pulled from the game. Miami’s defense couldn’t stop the run despite managing a pair of turnovers.
The Dolphins playoff hopes took a hit with the loss, but Miami can get back on track with a win over New York on Sunday.
Here’s a look at five keys for the Dolphins versus the Jets in Week 12.
Dolphins-Jets: O-Line Must Bounce Back
The Dolphins offense submitted an anemic performance last week. Tagovailoa was under siege from a Broncos defense that was missing its top pass rusher. Denver racked up six sacks and eight quarterback hits.
Rookie Solomon Kindley entered the game with a sore foot and exited in the second quarter. The line shuffled Jesse Davis to right guard at that point, but the play didn’t improve. Each lineman allowed pressures and sacks in what was the worst performance by the line all season.
They couldn’t protect their QB and couldn’t open holes for the running game. Miami managed just 56 rushing yards, one off the season low (55 against the LA Rams).
But not all of the blame lands on the linemen though. Tagovailoa held the ball too long on a number of occasions. He needs to be more decisive in the pocket and drive the ball to receivers that may not immediately seem open.
The line will have its hands full against a Jets defense that sends an extra rusher 30.9 percent of the time (10th-highest). Last week, Miami’s line struggled with stunts and twists, something they’ll need to sort out ahead of Sunday’s game
Get to Darnold
The Jets announced that Sam Darnold will start against the Dolphins. Darnold missed the last two games with an injured right shoulder. He also missed the game in Miami earlier this season.
The Dolphins defense will need to get back on track, a week after failing to sack the quarterback for the first time this season. And that’s the biggest difference for this defense.
In their six wins, the Dolphins piled up 133 quarterback pressures. In their four losses, just 46 pressures. The last time they played the Jets, Miami managed a season-high 29 pressures and three sacks.
Emmanuel Ogbah was a force against the Jets in Week 6, registering 10 pressures and two sacks against Joe Flacco. Both Flacco and Darnold struggle when pressured and are prone to mistakes. Darnold has thrown 34 interceptions in 32 games with the Jets and six this season in six games.
In four career games against the Dolphins, Darnold has four touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s been sacked 11 times.
Dolphins-Jets: Get the Ball Downfield
Tagovailoa struggled in Denver despite not throwing an interception. Although he’s protected the ball well, Tagovailoa has yet to make very many plays down the field. Against the Broncos, he managed just 83 passing yards and 4.2 yards-per-attempt.
Too many of his throws are short. In three of his four starts, his yards-per-attempt has been under 7.0. After being pulled from last week’s game, Tagovailoa acknowledged his shortcomings and witnessed how Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly doubled his statistical output in a fraction of the plays. Some of that is play calling and situation, but the general point holds. Tagovailoa needs to challenge opposing secondaries with throws on target downfield.
Though Tagovailoa has been limited in practice this week with an injured thumb, this game against New York provides him the opportunity to take the next step in his development. The rookie has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns.
In Week 6 against the Jets, Fitzpatrick put up 191 passing yards and three touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions. If Fitzpatrick gets the nod in this one, he’ll lean on a stonier chemistry with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, but he’ll need to take care of the football.
The Jets defense comes in after having allowed another rookie quarterback (Justin Herbert) to throw for 366 yards and three touchdowns. New York’s passing defense allows 288.3 yards-per-game (9th-most). The Jets start three rookies in their secondary and allow 30.2 points per game.
Stop the Run
The recent five-game win streak masked defensive deficiencies for the Dolphins. Although Miami sports one of the top secondaries in the league, the run defense has left much to be desired. The Dolphins surrendered a season-high 189 rushing yards and 5.7 yards-per-carry to Denver.
For the season, Miami’s run defense allows 4.8 yards-per-carry (27th) and 134.2 yards-per-game. The good thing is, the Jets don’t feature an overwhelming run game, but that’s mostly because they’ve been forced to pass. The Jets offense ranks 32nd in scoring (14.9 points-per-game) and total yards-per-game (268.6). Their 98.6 rushing yards-per-game rank 26th in the NFL.
The Dolphins welcomed back defensive tackle Christian Wilkins this week, which should help the run D. Wilkins missed the last two weeks while on the COVID list.
Dolphins-Jets: Next Man Up
Miami enters this Week 12 contest with a number of key injuries. The team has already listed recent starter at running back, Salvon Ahmed, as out. Kindley, too. Wide receiver and returner Jakeem Grant is listed as ‘questionable’ and Tagovailoa has been downgraded to ‘doubtful.’ Miami elevated QB Reid Sinnett from the practice squad.
Tua Tagovailoa (thumb) downgraded to doubtful. Looking like Ryan Fitzpatrick tomorrow vs. Jets.
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) November 28, 2020
Although Myles Gaskin, Miami’s leading rusher with 387 yards, returned to practice this week, he’s still on the injured reserve and would need to be activated before the game.
This uncertainty could affect the Dolphins pursuit of offensive consistency. The combination of youth and inexperience led to a number of difficulties last week. The team hopes to solve those issues against the Jets.
“Sometimes it’s protection, sometimes it’s holding the ball too long, sometimes it’s guys not getting open,” Chan Gailey said of the Dolphins difficulties in Denver. “I have to do a better job of calling plays where he doesn’t have to hold it.”
Rookie receiver Malcolm Perry, who saw 51 offensive snaps last week, could get more run if Grant’s out. Antonio Callaway, who played eight snaps and caught one pass versus Denver, could also see an uptick in opportunity. Recently acquired running back DeAndre Washington may also see more time should Gaskin remain unavailable. Washington’s played 14 snaps in two games, gaining five yards on two carries last week.