Miami Dolphins

Keys to the game: Dolphins at Jaguars

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) breaks tackles for a first down during the third quarter against the Redskins in last Sunday’s game. Miller averaged a modest 4.1 yards per rush in the game, but he got only 13 carries.
Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) breaks tackles for a first down during the third quarter against the Redskins in last Sunday’s game. Miller averaged a modest 4.1 yards per rush in the game, but he got only 13 carries. adiaz@miamiherald.com

When the Dolphins pass the football

Ryan Tannehill started slowly last season, and he wasn’t thrilled with his play last week. The difference is not playing well this year is defined as completing 64.7 percent of his passes and posting a 93.5 QB rating. Tannehill did throw a couple of passes that probably should have been intercepted, but he is well ahead of last season’s start when he was hearing talk of being benched after playing the Jaguars. The Dolphins kept much of their plans for tight end Jordan Cameron under wraps in the preseason. They opened the wrapping against Washington, and Cameron had four catches. The good news is the team has more stuff that it still has not shown, particularly in the red zone. The Dolphins believe their passing game will feed a different player every week. Some games it will be Greg Jennings, others Jarvis Landry, others Kenny Stills. Yeah, let’s face it, unless teams work at taking Landry away, he’s going to be Tannehill’s go-to guy. The Jacksonville secondary added cornerback Davon House and safety Sergio Brown on the same day in free agency in March. This group is a work in progress.

ADVANTAGE: Miami

When the Dolphins run the football

Let’s come to terms with the idea the Dolphins are not a running team. They ran the ball only 18 times last week against Washington, and that included three runs by Tannehill. And although Lamar Miller averaged a modest 4.1 yards per rush, he got only 13 carries. He averaged 13.5 carries a game last season. So it could be that what we saw last week is simply the plan because we saw it last season as well. The Dolphins say they would like to run the ball more and point to the fact their 13th play of the first half last week was in the two-minute offense because they didn’t hold on to the ball enough. But that begs the question, would they collect more first downs and keep the ball longer if they ran the ball more? The Jaguars made some moves this offseason to address their front seven. They signed former Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick. They drafted Dante Fowler in the first round. Unfortunately, Fowler was injured in a noncontact minicamp practice and is out for the year. Odrick, a 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 defensive end, is playing as a 4-3 defensive end for Jacksonville — perhaps not his best position.

ADVANTAGE: Even

When the Jaguars pass the football

Quarterback Blake Bortles is supposed to be vastly improved in his second NFL season, but he didn’t show that in the regular-season opener. He threw two interceptions while completing only 55 percent of his passes. That makes him a 54.5 rated quarterback, which is 31st of 32 starting QBs. It stands to reason Bortles will have better outings once he gets more talent around him. The problem is the Jaguars' passing game has been plagued by injuries to wide receiver Marquise Lee, a former second-round pick, and tight end Julius Thomas, a free agent signing from Denver. Neither is certain to play against Miami. The Dolphins did mostly good work in the secondary last week, with Brent Grimes and Brice McCain collecting interceptions. But a hamstring injury to Reshad Jones might force Miami to start Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens at safety — both of whom were backups when training camp opened.

ADVANTAGE: Miami

When the Jaguars run the football

The Jaguars’ run attack is not necessarily the personality of the offense. Rookie T.J. Yeldon is the starter, and Denard Robinson is a change-of-pace back. Yeldon is a 21-year-old rookie. The Jacksonville offensive line is a unit just recently brought together. Right tackle Jermey Parnell and center Stefan Wisniewski were signed in the offseason. Left guard Zane Beadles was signed last offseason and right guard Brandon Linder was drafted last season. And Luke Joeckel, the anchor and dean of the unit, has been in the NFL a whole two seasons. This is not a cohesive unit, but neither has it had time to become a cohesive unit. The Miami defensive front is supposed to be great because of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake and all. Except, last week the Dolphins weren’t prepared for cut-blocking early in the game by Washington, and Suh struggled with that and double-teams. It will be interesting to see whether the Jaguars copy the strategy and force the Dolphins to prove they’re prepared for it.

ADVANTAGE: Miami

Special teams

Everyone on the Miami special teams not named LaMike James had a great time last week. Special-teams coach Darren Rizzi made a key decision to bench James from the punt returner role in favor of Landry, and Landry returned a punt for the winning score. That 69-yard punt return made Landry the Special Teams Player of the Week in the NFL. And rookie kickers Andrew Frank (FGs) and Matt Darr (punts) had successful debuts. The Jaguars traded longtime kicker Josh Scobee to Pittsburgh and kept first-year kicker Jason Myers instead. And Myers missed a 44-yarder to go with his make from 22 yards in his first game. Not great. On the bright side, punter Bryan Anger is quite experienced. He punted 94 times last season. That was second most in the NFL. Um, maybe the frequent use of the punter is not a bright side.

ADVANTAGE: Miami

Coaching

The Dolphins made a lot of the same mistakes, had much the same approach and played much the same way last week as the previous couple of years. This despite a supposedly upgraded roster. No, it is not time to panic, but it is time to wonder whether the reason for that is the team simply takes on the personality of its coaching staff. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has a 7-26 record. How does he still have this job?

ADVANTAGE: Miami

Armando Salguero: 305-376-4993, @ArmandoSalguero

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