The Miami Dolphins have traveled North for this Sunday's game. Fortunately, the Dolphins didn't have to travel too far as they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Dolphins are 1-0 on this field during the Joe Philbin/ Ryan Tannehill era.
The Jaguars picked up their first win of the season last week against the Cleveland Browns in a game that shocked most of America. The Jaguars will be looking to build off of that momentum Sunday, and the Dolphins will be looking to do the same after a road victory against the Chicago Bears.
The Jaguars are a tough team under Head Coach Gus Bradley and are an opponent that should not be taken lightly.
This is a must-win game for the Dolphins. Why? Not only because this game has the potential to put them above .500 for the first time since opening week, but because this is a game that the Dolphins are supposed to win.
Here are five things to watch for in Sunday's matchup of the Dolphins versus the Jaguars.
1. Dolphins level of play
Miami has a habit of playing down to the talent level of their opponent, such as the game against the then-winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year which the Dolphins lost 22-19 in deflating fashion. This is part of what makes them an inconsistent team. Good teams win games that they are supposed to, and they win them comfortably.
The Dolphins cannot let the Jaguars hang around in this game, it must be a blowout.
On paper, the Jaguars are not good. They score the lowest amount of points per game, give up the most passing yards per game, are a bottom-five rushing team, and have surrendered the most sacks this season. Can the Dolphins pick up their first win streak of the season, or will they allow the Jaguars to pull out the upset and be the team to put together the impressive string of wins?
2. The battle in the trenches
The Jaguars actually have a pretty good defensive line for a team with only one win. The Jaguars are an average team at stopping the run, allowing 110 yards per game. But the Jaguars have 22 sacks already this season, which ranks them third in the NFL.
The Jaguars have two 2013 Super Bowl champions on their defensive line in Chris Clemons and Red Bryant. The duo is getting older, but they can still play. Clemons has four sacks this season and can still pressure a quarterback while Bryant is still the run-stuffing, space eating monster he has always been as an end in a 4-3 under defense.
The Dolphins should be able to attack Jacksonville's interior defensive line with the run, but will need to pay attention to those edge rushers and interior pressure. The Jaguars want to win up front under defensive-minded head coach Gus Bradley. This will be a good test for Miami's offensive line.
The Dolphins should dominate the trenches on defense. Cameron Wake and Randy Starks will both be facing favorable matchups for most of the game, so watch out for big things from these two.
If the Dolphins cannot win the battle of the trenches, then the Jaguars' chances of pulling out the upset become that much more realistic.
3. Dolphins must stay in favorable down-and-distance situations
The Dolphins still are not very good on third downs, converting only 38.2% of these crucial situations.
Some of the Dolphins best drives against the Chicago Bears last week came when Miami limited the amount of third downs. If the Dolphins can keep the chains moving on the first two downs of a drive, that's what they need to do. But that is not realistic. Eventually the Dolphins will face third down.
So how do you fix these woes (besides converting for first downs with only two plays)? Get into more manageable third down situations more often. Third-and-shorts will get converted more times then not.
4. Dolphins need to clog the run
Why is this the headline and not "Dolphins need to make rookie QB uncomfortable"? Because the defense must work progressively, in steps. The first step is making the Jaguars one-dimensional. That means stopping the duo of the big, physical bruiser Toby Gerhart and the quick Denard Robinson.
The Jaguars average only 3,9 yards per carry, and the Dolphins defense allows an average of 3.8 yards per carry. So this isn't exactly a daunting task.
If the Dolphins succeed at this task, then they can focus on attacking Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. The Dolphins should be able to build a lead on this team as well, which will also force them to pass the ball.
5. Dolphins defense needs to be greedy
The Jaguars have a minus-eight in turnover differential. They have given the ball away 15 total times, nine by interception and six by fumble.
If the Dolphins can force the Jaguars to be one-dimensional, then they will start to see the turnover opportunities pile up. This is where the Dolphins defense needs to get greedy and take advantage of all opportunities. The Dolphins, who have an even turnover differential right now, should leave the field Sunday with a positive turnover ratio.