The Miami Dolphins played the New York Jets a month ago. And as the team lost that game it stands to reason things have to change if the rematch is to offer a different result for the team Sunday.
And that’s fine because if one looks at this rematch, it’s fair to say the Dolphins are indeed a different team than they were that disappointing September day in New Jersey.
The difference on defense is obvious. The Dolphins will have four different defensive starters on Sunday that they didn’t have in the first meeting.
Cordrea Tankersly will start at cornerback.
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Rey Maualuga will start at middle linebacker.
Jordan Phillips will start at defensive tackle.
All three were inactive against the Jets the first game.
That’s a big deal because the Dolphins run defense has played better with Phillips and Maualuga in the lineup. No, there’s no huge statistical difference that proves that, but anecdotally, it’s that way. Players feel it, coaches feel it.
Maualuga’s presence has improved the team’s physical nature. He’s a tough, downhill tackler. He loves to play under the opponent’s pads. That’s a big deal this week because the Dolphins bemoaned how the Jets were more physical than them on offense and defense in the last game.
Tankersley taking over for Byron Maxwell is a big difference. In that Jets game, coaches grew frustrated Maxwell didn’t at times play the press technique they wanted. As a result the Jets completed several easy slants and short outs that helped move the chains and help their time of possession.
Maxwell was benched after that game and hasn’t seen the field since.
Tankersley is a rookie who is playing the techniques he’s told and has brought a bit of added swag to the defensive backfield.
Look, there will be games the Dolphins’ young cornerbacks will get picked on. It’s the NFL. But the team is appreciating how the Tankersley and Xavien Howard duo is coming together.
“I like the way they play,” coach Adam Gase said. “I like the way they tackle. I like the way they try to get hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage. Right now, X is playing extremely well. He’s playing extremely confident. He’s talking a lot, which is great. I love it.
“Tank is not short of confidence either. I do think the fact that those two guys are aggressive and mix it up in the run game is really helpful for us, because it’s eliminating big plays. I think the rest of those guys ...linebackers and d-lineman ... when they see those guys come up and tackle, that’s a big plus for us.”
Oh, did I mention Lawrence Timmons is playing Sunday? He was suspended the first meeting after going AWOL the week before in Los Angeles.
He’s back now. He’s starting. And he has greatly improved the team’s defense on run downs and pass downs where he’s part of the nickel package.
“He’s a guy that can run and hit and cover and overlap some zones,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “He’s a versatile player. He allows us to pressure a little bit with him. He’s a good blitzer; but he’s also a guy that can, again, when we play some vision defenses and zone defenses, he can overlap and run and hit and tackle when throws are made, and those sort of things. He allows us to do a lot of different things.”
Great, how about change on offense?
This is a bit more complicated. The Dolphins won’t have lineup changes on offense per se against the Jets this game. Obviously, the health status of center Mike Pouncey (concussion) and receiver DeVante Parker (ankle) will determine their availability. But the Miami offense hasn’t made lineup changes to raise its level of play since the Jets debacle.
That doesn’t mean things aren’t different.
“Offensively, I think we’re in a different spot. I think we were feeling good going into the game, thinking that we had something to build off of,” Gase said. “We had a good week of practice. They did a good job. They were more physical than we were and they got us out of rhythm.
“They kept us in third-and-long which, if you’re in third-and-long all day on a Todd Bowles defense, it’s going to be a long day because he is creative. He does so many good things with what he brings with his defensive packages. You will have an idea of what the structure may be, but you’re never really going to know who’s going to come. You have to be great in your rules because no matter what you practice, there’s a good chance you’re going to see a few things that you haven’t seen on film. That’s what makes him a tough, a tough guy to go against, because he’s very creative.”
That doesn’t sound encouraging. It sounds like the Miami offense, which converted exactly one of 12 third down plays the first games, is going to have another fight on its hands.
The offense Sunday will be different, however, in that it is no longer trying to be a no-huddle group. Back in September coaches were still hoping no-huddle would be a thing. The approach now is more methodical.
The offense is also much less complex than it was then as Gase spent a couple of weeks “dumbing down” the scheme so his players could think less and play faster.
That and more experience of games and practice repetitions is going to have to suffice for the Miami offense. It will have to rely on that to show itself different against New York this game.
To get a different result this game.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero