The Miami Dolphins return home to face their longtime rival, the New York Jets, who are winless and rudderless. Former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase finds himself on the hot seat after another disappointing start to a season and having alienated another star.
Meanwhile, Brian Flores, Miami’s current head coach, continues to foster a positive culture, built around communication and cohesion.
“It’s about having the right people, having the right cohesive group,” said Flores on a conference call on Wednesday. “It’s about communication. I think it’s about having good people who are team-first, selfless and want to do things for the greater good. People who are tough, who are smart, who are competitive, put the team first and people who love to do what they’re doing.”
Flores maintains the Dolphins are still building, but he’s laid a solid foundation. Something Gase never did in Miami.
Here’s a look at five keys to the Dolphins Week 6 matchup against the floundering New York Jets.
Dolphins v Jets: Get Points Early
The Dolphins stand at 2-3 and both of their wins can be characterized in the same way: Offense scored early. In those victories, Miami raced out to early 14-0 leads. Against both Jacksonville and San Francisco, the Dolphins controlled the pace early and forced the opposing offenses to become one dimensional in an effort to play catchup.
“We always talk about playing fast, starting fast. It’s something that we harp on, on a weekly basis,” Flores said earlier this week.
The Jets offense struggles to score. New York sits 32nd in points-per-game (15.0) and total points (75). They’re a minus-86 In point differential this season, which is staggeringly bad. That figure is 36 points greater than the next closest differential.
If the Dolphins can get on the board early and demoralize New York, there’s a good chance the Jets will quit on Gase and roll over. Gase may not leave Miami with his job.
Attack the Quarterback
In Miami’s two wins this season, they’ve tallied eight sacks and 19 quarterback hits. While they’ve struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks, Dolphins defenders have teed off against more stationary targets.
With 35-year-old Joe Flacco making the start for the Jets, the fear of a running quarterback is completely absent. Against San Francisco, the Dolphins brought pressure facing a hobbled Jimmy Garoppolo and his replacement, C.J. Beathard. Miami registered five sacks and eight pressures.
The defense should employ multiple fronts to make identifying the pressure difficult for the Jets’ offensive line. The return of Byron Jones last week saw Miami shift to more man-coverage, and certainly helped Xavien Howard, who picked up an interception in a third-straight game.
Miami needs to attack Flacco, especially considering the Jets have surrendered 15 sacks this season (8th-most).
Get Vertical on Offense
The Dolphins offense opened last week with a 47-yard connection from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Preston Williams. That set the tone for an offensive onslaught that tallied 43 points on the road. And facing a Jets defense that surrenders 265.6 passing-yards-per-game (8th-most), those opportunities should be there as well.
Last week, New York surrendered 380 passing yards to Arizona’s Kyler Murray. For the season, the Jets surrender a 100.2 passer rating and over eight yards-per-attempt. Their secondary allows over 70 percent of passes to be caught.
Last season against New York, Fitzpatrick completed three passes on throws of over 20 yards. Those three completions went for 72 yards and a touchdown. Against the 49ers, Fitzpatrick completed five throws of over 20 yards for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
Miami features big targets on the outside, including Williams, DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. Those three dominated the Jets at home last season, combining for 15 catches, 224 yards and three touchdowns. Going vertical should open the running lanes for Myles Gaskin, who’s averaging just 3.9 yards-per-carry.
Finally Figure Out Flacco
Flacco remains undefeated in his career against the Dolphins. He sports a career 6-0 record versus Miami. He’s completed 72 percent of his attempts for 1,518 yards and 10 touchdowns. Flacco has thrown only three interceptions versus the Dolphins.
That said, all Flacco’s victories came while he quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens. And this Jets roster is largely devoid of talent at this point.
Against the Cardinals, Flacco made his first start since Week 8 last season. He completed 18-of-33 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown. The Jets offense struggled on third down, where they converted only four of 13 tries. On the season, New York converts 34.7 percent of third down tries, the fifth-worst rate in the league this season. Meanwhile, the Dolphins allow just 38 percent of third down conversions, the seventh-best rate.
Miami’s secondary will need to key on Jamison Crowder, the Jets most dynamic offensive weapon. Crowder is primarily a slot receiver and currently leads the league with 111.7 yards-per-game.
Dolphins Need to Maintain Focus Against the Jets
The Dolphins enter this game as favorites for the first time in the Flores era. Miami hasn’t been favored in a game since December 2018 (21 games). They’re favored by more than a touchdown for the first time since November of 2016. As a team, the Dolphins haven’t won back-to-back games by double digits since 2015. That said, the Jets have lost each game this season by at least nine points.
This contest has all the making of a trap game. The Dolphins need a win to inject themselves into the playoff race. In addition to that, they’ll need to maintain focus against an opponent that wasn’t originally their scheduled one for this week.
The NFL’s changes seriously altered Miami’s schedule, but the players didn’t seem to care.
“It is what it is, it’s no big deal,” Gesicki said.
Howard voiced a similar sentiment. “It doesn’t matter which team is next. We just have to focus on the game plan.”
With the bye week now upcoming, Miami can’t have a letdown against the Jets. They’ll need to maintain their focus and discipline.
The Dolphins remain one of the league’s least penalized teams, having been flagged just 23 times for 195 yards through five games. The Jets, meanwhile, have committed 38 penalties for 365 yards, a characteristic consistent with Adam Gase teams.
Gase’s culture of alienating stars and blaming players has continued in New York. The Jets now turn to former Miami Hurricane and Dolphins, Frank Gore, who is starting to show his age with just 3.2 yards-per-carry in 2020, and rookie La’Mical Perine in the wake of Le’Veon Bell’s departure.
The Dolphins should handle their business here and win this ballgame. This starts a stretch of seven very winnable games for Miami. If they can emerge from this with a 5-2 of 6-1 record, they’ll be poised for a serious playoff push heading into a very difficult final four games in 2020.