WHEN THE JAGUARS PASS THE FOOTBALL
In what initially was supposed to be a sit-and-learn season, Blake Bortles took over at quarterback from Chad Henne (remember him?) in Week 4. And since then he has completed 100 passes, the third-most in the NFL over that four-game span. Bortles uses the check-down a lot, which is one reason he owns a 65.5 completion percentage. The Dolphins must try to get him to look farther downfield because that’s where the turnovers come. Bortles has five TD passes and 10 interceptions. Miami’s secondary is coming off a stellar outing against Chicago — having shut down Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. A unit that can contain that star-studded attack should be able to handle a rookie quarterback and a wide receivers corps that features three rookies. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE JAGUARS RUN THE FOOTBALL
The Jaguars gave up on Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason and committed to free agent Toby Gerhart as their primary ball carrier. Except that Gerhart sustained a foot injury against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and missed two games. The team is being cautious with his return. Former Deerfield Beach High star Denard Robinson is handling most of the duties at running back even though the Jaguars have former University of Miami player and washout Storm Johnson on the roster. The Dolphins struggled in run defense the first three weeks but have delivered three consecutive solid performances, including limiting the Bears to 52 rushing yards and a 3.7-yard-per-carry average last week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE FOOTBALL
This attack is morphing from one that tried to connect on the deep pass with regularity (but could not) to one that concentrates on the short to intermediate routes — slants, quick outs and screens. That asks receivers to get open quickly and make a defender miss, but more importantly, it does not require quarterback Ryan Tannehill to hold the ball a long time or connect on long throws he has been known to struggle with that approach. As a result, Tannehill has increased his completion rate, and the Dolphins are moving the chains more consistently through the air. The Jaguars don’t do a lot of things well on offense or defense, and one of the things this team struggles with most is pass defense. The Jaguars are No.30 in the league in pass defense. The Jaguars allowed more than 320 yards passing in three of their games — all losses. The Jags do get to the passer effectively, ranking fifth in the NFL in sacks per pass play. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE FOOTBALL
Ryan Tannehill has the team’s longest run each of the past two games. He is quickly becoming a dynamic threat who must be respected as a runner. What does that mean? Eventually teams will be looking for the quarterback keeper on the read option and be caught flat-footed when Tannehill neither hands to the running back nor keeps, but instead throws. When the Dolphins are near the goal line, however, look for Lamar Miller to continue as a growing part of the plan as he has scored a touchdown in three consecutive games from inside the red zone after not scoring at all the first three games of the season. The Jags defense has been solid both on the ground and through the air while in the red zone, allowing only two touchdowns in opponents’ last 13 red-zone trips. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Brandon Fields is having a nightmare season so far. His gross punting average is 31st in the NFL among 32 punters, and his net average is last among 32 punters. The net average is obviously affected by Miami’s struggles covering punts as well as Fields’ own inconsistency. The Dolphins are also hoping kicker Caleb Sturgis, who had a kick blocked and missed another kick wide right last week, can get his act straightened out. Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee is good enough that he takes up an entire page of notes on the team’s game release. He has the most career FGs in club history, he has seven career game-winning FGs, his 92 percent success rate is second in club history and he’s connected on 23 of 38 kicks from 50 yards or more. ADVANTAGE: Jacksonville.
Gus Bradley has an infectious attitude. He is optimistic, energetic, and comes with a solid resume as a defensive coordinator and assistant coach. But in his second season in Jacksonville, Bradley is 5-18 (.217 winning percentage). Not good enough. Joe Philbin and his staff are coming off one of their finest performances. They took a disappointed and likely dispirited team following a tough Green Bay loss and got them ready to play and play well within one week. The result was a fine win at Chicago. Miami coaches helped erase physical mismatches against their defensive backs and offensive linemen. And they got their team to play with consistency. ADVANTAGE: Miami.