The Miami Dolphins are riding the coattails of a hot running back and confident, physical offensive line and that’s the reason this team has been able to step away from the precipice of a disastrous season and improved to a 3-4 record with consecutive victories.
This is the NFL. And in the NFL it is always about the quarterback.
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Never forget that.
And this week, while the rest of the world wonders if Jay Ajayi can become the first human being on the planet to rush for 200 yards or more in three consecutive NFL games, I tell you victory and defeat will be in the hands of Ryan Tannehill.
Because he’s the quarterback. And that’s the way it is after a couple of weeks of Ajayi success.
I say this Sunday’s game against the New York Jets will be decided by how Tannehill plays because the Dolphins have this really cool thing going with the running game. And after a while NFL defensive coaches have a habit of catching up to really cool things and put a blowtorch to them.
This is the week the New York Jets intend to make it clear they are catching up to the Dolphins running game.
Their game plan (not that I know specifics but I am aware of the general goal) is to make sure they do what they do best -- which is stop the run on defense. Indeed, that’s what the Jets do better than anyone in the league. They are NFL’s No. 1 rush defense.
So New York’s intent, with their Bear front and all that, is to stymie the Dolphins’ running game and make the Dolphins beat them by throwing the football. In other words, the Jets want to keep the Dolphins from doing that which they’ve proven they can do to win games -- run the ball. And then the Jets want to make the Dolphins do that which they’ve proven they cannot do well enough to win games -- pass the ball.
Enter Ryan Tannehill.
It’s going to be on him.
And, yes, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and the pass protection. The Jets want this game to be on them.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase has a hankerin’ it’s going to be like this. He knows what’s coming.
“I think you do what’s best for that game,” Gase said Wednesday. “Obviously, we feel pretty good about what we got going on with the chemistry of our offense right now. This is going to be a very challenging game for us as far as being able to run the ball.
“It’s going to be about physicality and execution kind of all wrapped up into one. (N.Y. Jets Head) coach (Todd) Bowles has always had a very stingy run defense. That hasn’t changed, at least from the time that I’ve either competed against him or known him. It’s going to be tough for us. There will not be an easy yard to be had against these guys.”
Tannehill spent the bye weekend, in part, studying the Jets. He understands this game might require an adjustment if the formula of running Ajayi for hundreds of yards doesn’t work quite as it has the past two games.
“You have to adjust as the game goes on,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, you anticipate more middle safety and another guy in the box just to combat [the run]. We’re playing a lot with two tight ends and those types of sets, so you can see base defense versus our nickel personnel. There are a lot of different ways that teams can combat it, but (we) have to figure out what their game plan is going to be going in and adjust.”
When the Bills used their base defense against Miami’s nickel personnel, the Dolphins toasted them with a 66-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Stills. Believe it or not, that’s what the Jets prefer gambling against than giving up over 200 yards to Ajayi. Why?
Again, because they don’t think the Dolphins’ passing game is as reliable as the run game has proven to be.
The good news is if the Jets load up on the run and force the Dolphins to throw instead, Tannehill will be throwing against the worst pass defense in the NFL.
The Jets are allowing an average of 289.1 passing yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 15 TD passes in eight games against New York. That’s tied for 25th in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have a 98.6 rating against the Jets and that’s 27th in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 66 percent of their passes against the Jets and that’s 23rd in the league.
The Jets have allowed 27 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season. Seattle had six in one game. Cleveland had six last week. That team has given up passes of 84, 71 and 72 yards this year.
So the Jets secondary is garbage.
Even Darrelle Revis doesn’t seem to be his old self anymore, although you’ll never hear Tannehill say that.
“I have a ton of respect for Revis (and) his career he has had, and he’s still a good player,” Tannehill said. “You see him shadowing Larry Fitzgerald the whole game against Arizona. We don’t know exactly what their plan is going to be with him, but he does have the ability to shadow a team’s best receiver. (We) have to see what their game plan is going in and adjust accordingly. Like I said earlier, (I have) a ton of respect for Revis and what he can do.”
The Jets clearly respect what the Dolphins have done on the ground the past couple of weeks. It is now up to Tannehill and the Miami passing game to make them feel that way about their ability to win a game throwing the football if that running game is not there.
Tune in Sunday.
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