Mike Wallace is one of the Dolphins’ best players. He’s also their most candid.
So when met with a predictable question this week — Might the Dolphins be tempted to overlook the one-win Jaguars on Sunday? — his answer was predictably compelling.
“When’s the last time we’ve been to the playoffs? Honestly,” Wallace said. “You can’t overlook anybody when you haven’t been to the playoffs in seven years, eight years.”
For the record, the Dolphins did last reach the postseason in 2008, but the point is taken. And Miami (3-3) is looking for its first back-to-back victories of the season.
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Wallace continued: “I don’t think we’ve reached that point where we can be that type of team. We have to continue to grind every day, every single week. Who knows? We might be an opponent that they feel the same way [about us], that their reporters might say the same thing, that this might be a game that they can take off. We have the best record out of us two at .500. Nobody can take a game off.”
But if the Dolphins felt the slightest tug of complacency this week, it would be hard to blame them. The Jaguars (1-6) are a mess — and have been for a long time.
The reason, to no surprise: They have failed, time and again, in the draft. The Jaguars have had top-10 draft picks in each of the last seven years (and top-5 picks in the past three). Of those seven, just two — Blake Bortles and Luke Joeckel — start for Jacksonville. It has been an astounding waste of resources.
Troubled Justin Blackmon (the fifth overall pick in 2012) is suspended indefinitely. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert (10th in ’11) is a bust. And defensive lineman Tyson Alualu (10th in ’10) doesn’t even start.
Meanwhile, Bortles and Joeckel haven’t exactly dominated.
The former Central Florida quarterback, who will make his fifth NFL start Sunday, is going through normal rookie growing pains. He has thrown an interception every 17.4 passes — the worst rate among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 70 passes this year.
As for Joeckel, who went second overall last year, the offensive tackle has allowed two sacks, six quarterback hits and 12 hurries.
Add it all together, and it equals futility. Of course, no one in Miami could actually say that this week. Coach Joe Philbin, looking for consecutive wins for the first time since last December, instead praised Jacksonville’s defense, which entered Week 8 ranked second in sacks (with 22).
Gus Bradley, the Jaguars’ affable coach, last served as the Seahawks defensive coordinator and has brought some dangerous pieces with him from Seattle.
Former Seahawk defensive end Chris Clemons leads the team with four sacks. But offensive lines can’t key on just him. The Jaguars have seven players with two or more sacks (by way of comparison, the Dolphins have just three).
“They work together,” Dolphins tackle Branden Albert said. “They’ve got guys that can rush the passer, and they work together to get to the quarterback. They’re relentless. That’s something that we’re going to have to contend with this week.”
It is the third consecutive week the Dolphins’ rebuilt line will have its hands full. Miami handled Green Bay’s talented defensive front but allowed four first-half sacks at Chicago last Sunday.
Philbin will apparently stick with his current alignment — from left to right: Albert, Daryn Colledge, Samson Satele, Mike Pouncey and Ja’Wuan James — for the time being. He praised the job they’ve done together the past two weeks and would like to finally build some continuity after mixing and matching since April.
That means Pouncey will remain at right guard, even if misses playing center, as he acknowledged this week.
“I was so good at it,” he explained with a chuckle. “[But] it doesn’t bother me at all. I like the way the five guys gel together, the rotation we have now. Whatever’s best for the team, we’re going to keep it that way until they say different.”
In all, things are looking up for the Dolphins. They are as healthy as they’ve been all year, and they’re coming off their most complete performance of the season.
In years past, this is exactly when disaster has struck. They not only lost at winless Tampa Bay a year ago after beating playoff-bound Cincinnati, they were embarrassed. The Dolphins rushed for just two yards in defeat.
“They got their first win on us last year and we came in there, taking them lightly, and they beat us,” Pouncey said. “We can’t have that happen this week.”