Dolphins | vs. Jaguars, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Dolphins’ Cameron Wake making quarterbacks go down by the sackful

 

Cameron Wake has three games in which to collect a total of 4 1/2 sacks and reach the Dolphins’ record of 18 1/2 sacks in a season.

WEB VOTE How many sacks will the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake add to his 14 this season as he attempts to break the team record of 181/2?

BREAKING DOWN THE GAME:

WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL

The Dolphins go from playing one of the NFL’s best defenses one week to one of the worst this week, and a reason for that is Jacksonville has been terrible stopping the run. The Jaguars are 31st out of 32 teams against the run. That bodes well for the Dolphins because Reggie Bush is making a push for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Miami is in transition, however, as last week Lamar Miller got more carries than Daniel Thomas, who was relegated to third-down duty. One assumes that will continue this week, otherwise the Dolphins will look like they are merely grasping wildly for answers instead of employing lineup changes for logical reasons. The offensive line remains the same. Look for more of that successful center sweep in which Mike Pouncey leads Bush around the corner.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL

Ryan Tannehill finished poorly last week when he threw four consecutive incompletions on a possession when Miami had a chance to tie the score. He needs to wipe that bitter taste from his mouth and the Jaguars offer the perfect defense to cleanse the palate. Jacksonville is not as terrible against the pass as the run, but is bad nonetheless. The Jags are 24th in the NFL against the pass. Brian Hartline will have to carry the workload on the outside because Davone Bess was ruled out for Sunday’s game with a back injury. The Jaguars are dead last in the NFL in sacks, so Tannehill should mostly have time to throw, but the addition of sack specialist Jason Babin makes for a tough matchup against Miami’s tackles.

WHEN THE JAGUARS RUN THE BALL

Maurice Jones-Drew has been a premier running back in the NFL for several years. But don’t worry, the Dolphins aren’t going to face him because he has been out for weeks with a foot injury. And they’re not going to see his backup, Rashad Jennings, because he’s trying to overcome a concussion and was ruled out for the game. So the Dolphins get the third man up that is, well, who knows? The team has been using backup fullback Montell Owens as its primary ball-carrier while Keith Toston is listed as the No.3 running back on the depth chart. Statistically, the Dolphins had a terrible day defending the run last week because they yielded 155 yards and a 5.5-yard-per-carry average to the 49ers. But 50 of those yards came on a TD by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is a great running threat, out of the spread option. The Jaguars are not likely to employ that look.

WHEN THE JAGUARS PASS THE BALL

Cameron Bradfield, a second-year player, will be matched against Dolphins sack leader Cameron Wake. It seems like a mismatch and it is. But the Jaguars, believe it or not, have bigger problems. They spent much of last week figuring out who would start at left guard because Mike Brewster is on injured reserve and Eben Britton was bad in replacement duty against the Jets. So the Jaguars plugged in recently acquired Steve Vallos as a possible option. The Jaguars also lost wide receiver Laurent Robinson to injured reserve because of several concussions he sustained and leading receiver Cecil Shorts is also trying come back from a concussion. Oh, and did I mention Chad Henne is Jacksonville’s quarterback? The Dolphins castoff is a good guy and a hard worker. Problem is he has yet to prove he’s a good NFL quarterback.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Dolphins need to stop the bleeding with this unit because it has allowed or led to an opposing touchdown in four consecutive games. Last week, it was a fumbled punt inside the 10-yard line. This unit is hurting the team’s chances of winning the past few weeks. This unit can’t blow it on a big play a fifth week in a row, can it? It seems about as likely as a punter pushing around a linebacker. Oh, wait, Brandon Fields did that last week.

COACHING

Two rookie coaches. Two losing teams. Both out of the playoffs. Both looking for answers and not finding many.

abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

Cameron Wake has roughly as many gashes on his shins as sacks on the season.

He would gladly take five more of each before the New Year so he could break a team record.

Wake — the high-energy defensive end and one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary Dolphins season — has history within reach. With 14 quarterback sacks, he’s 4 1/2 shy of the team’s single-season record, shared by Bill Stanfill (1973) and Jason Taylor (2002).

“I’d put [Taylor] as the best ever,” Wake said when discussing the game’s great pass-rushers. “To share any space on the marquee next to a guy like that, that would truly be an honor. But can’t put the cart before the horse.”

With the Jaguars in town, that horse should be pulling at the reins. Jacksonville’s offensive line has allowed 40 sacks — fourth-most in the league through Week 14 — and Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne is far from mobile, as Dolphins fans will remember from his days with the team.

Of course, five sacks in a game at any level would be remarkable, but it’s not inconceivable. Wake already has three or more twice this year.

“Cam’s kicking [butt], and it comes as no surprise,” Taylor said last week. “Cam has a very special set of skills, and we knew from Day One he’d be good.”

Said Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey: “He can wreck a game. He’s having a phenomenal year.”

Actually, Wake might be having the best season of any Dolphin in 2012. At this point, individual achievement and accolades are about all the team has to get excited about.

On the day the Dolphins will honor the 40th anniversary of the Perfect Season, the current incarnation will try to avoid its sixth loss in seven games.

Still, several players are having the best season of their career. Brandon Fields is on pace to break his own team record for gross and net punting and leads his position in Pro Bowl voting.

Brian Hartline and Davone Bess each could go over 1,000 yards for the season (although Bess is out of Sunday’s game with a back injury).

Then there’s Wake, who already has tied his career high for sacks with three games to play. Quite a few of them have come at the expense of his body.

Scabs and fresh wounds mark both lower legs. His fingers don’t straighten the whole way, a reminder of a career spent in the trenches.

“Mama always told me, nothing’s free,” Wake said with a chuckle. “There is 100 percent chance, playing professional football, that you’re going to get hurt.

“You may squeeze by without a serious injury, but there is no chance that you play this game without being hurt.”

Wake has been lucky since joining the Dolphins. He has played in all but two games throughout his career and spent the 2012 campaign justifying the four-year, $49 million contract extension he signed last spring.

And Wake has performed at a high level despite never playing for an NFL team with a winning record. Pass rushing is predicated on extreme effort, and Wake’s motivation apparently hasn’t waned, even if his team’s postseason chances have.

“You’ve got a job to do, and you try to do the job the best you can,” said Taylor, who faced a similar situation for much of his career.

“It doesn’t always equal success for the team, and that’s unfortunate. His job is to do his job and to be the best at what he can be, and he’s doing that.”

Wake encourages his benchmark-nearing teammates to do the same. And he hopes that those who support the team follow.

“For guys to achieve their goals is meaningful,” he said.

Like a franchise sack record — no matter how scuffed up his body gets.

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