The Miami Dolphins get back on the field on Sunday, looking to put their Thursday Night Football Week 4 loss behind them. Sitting at 3-1 on the year, the Dolphins have a chance to continue to pace the AFC with a win over their AFC East rivals, the New York Jets. The Dolphins have a slight edge in the overall standings between the two teams, leading 56-55-1 all-time in the regular season.
While the Dolphins and Jets have faced 112 times in the regular season (plus one postseason meeting), there is always more to know about the Jets. To get a better picture of the 2-2 Jets this year, I spoke with MacGregor Wells of SB Nation’s Jets site, Gang Green Nation. We discussed the surprising start to the year for New York, quarterback Zach Wilson, cornerback Sauce Gardner, and the Jets’ offensive line.
This has been a surprising start for the Jets, at least from the outside looking in. Add in having to start Joe Flacco over the first three games, and I feel like a 2-2 record really was an unexpected start to the season. How much of this start is a surprise and what is working for the Jets?
I think a 2-2 Jets start with Flacco starting the first three games of the year is a surprise. It boils down to one game really: the miracle finish in Cleveland. The Jets were down by a touchdown, 24-17. Under two minutes left and the Jets had no timeouts. Nick Chubb breaks free for a first down on the way to the end zone. All he has to do is down the ball at the 1-yard line and the game is over since the Jets can’t stop the clock. Instead, Chubb takes it in and the Browns go up by 13 after a missed extra point. It still seems like the game is over, but the Browns inexplicably blow a coverage over the top, allowing Corey Davis to break free behind the Browns' defense for an easy 66-yard TD and the Jets pull to within six. Still looks like a Browns win. Onside kicks almost never work since the NFL changed the rules a few years back. But the Jets get a rare onsides kick recovery, then march down the field for a game-winning touchdown on Flacco’s finest drive as a Jet. You could easily live an entire lifetime and never see a miracle comeback like that for your team. So the surprise is primarily due to a once-in-a-lifetime miracle win for the Jets. A 1-3 start to the season would not have been all that surprising, as the Jets' win against a struggling Steelers team last week was not shocking. The Jets got lucky against Cleveland. Hey, after years of seeing improbable comebacks against the Jets, I’ll take it.
As far as what is working for the Jets, I would say the receiving trio of Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, and Elijah Moore have been very good on offense, and D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner at outside cornerback have been excellent on defense. Those are the two best things happening for the Jets so far this season. In addition, the rookie class has been excellent, with four Jets rookies (CB Sauce Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson, DE Jermaine Johnson, RB Breece Hall) ranking in the top 20 rookies this year according to NFL.com. Finally, Quinnen Williams may be playing as well as any defensive tackle in the NFL over the first four games of the 2022 season.
Speaking of the Jets’ quarterback, are you sold on Zach Wilson after 14 games started?
I don’t know how anyone can be completely sold on Wilson at this point. He has some excellent tools to work with. He has a strong arm, a quick release, and very good mobility. But Wilson has yet to put it all together. In the last quarter of last week’s game against the Steelers, Wilson showed what he can be at his best. He looked like a franchise quarterback, driving confidently down the field for two touchdowns and leading the Jets in overcoming a double-digit deficit for a thrilling victory on the road. It was fun for Jets fans to watch, and if Wilson can play at a similar level over the long haul then the Jets have their quarterback. But it was just one quarter. Most of what we’ve seen from Wilson has been mediocre to bad in his first 14 games. He has struggled with accuracy, with touch, with pocket presence, with reading defenses, and with pressure from the opposing pass rush. I loved what I saw at the end of last week, but I’ll have to see a lot more of it before I’m sold on Zach Wilson.
The Jets offensive line seems to be a big question mark right now. Will the Dolphins be able to find success in pressuring Wilson and stuffing the run?
Any good defensive line should have success against the Jets’ makeshift offensive line. Going into this season the starting tackles were slated to be Mekhi Becton at right tackle and George Fant at left tackle. Becton went down with a season-ending injury before the season began and Duane Brown was signed to replace Becton. Brown was brought in to play left tackle and Fant shifted to right tackle. Brown went to IR with a shoulder injury before the season started, and 4th round rookie Max Mitchell replaced him in the lineup. This was supposed to be a developmental year on the bench for Mitchell, but he was immediately asked to start, with predictably mixed results. Mitchell played right tackle, so George Fant was moved back to left tackle. Fant then went down with a knee injury, and second-year guard Alijah Vera-Tucker was moved from guard to left tackle. Max Mitchell then went down with a dislocated knee, and Conor McDermott came in to play right tackle. So the Jets have at this point been reduced to playing third-stringers at both offensive tackle positions, while constantly moving guys around the line. There has been no possible way to develop cohesion as a unit. Now Duane Brown may be coming off IR to start at left tackle this week. That leaves a question as to where Vera-Tucker will line up and who will play right tackle. It’s a never-ending shuffling of the line. Nobody knows who will play where this week. That is not ideal for Zach Wilson or the Jets' running game.
That’s a long-winded way of saying, yes, the Dolphins’ line should find some success attacking the Jets’ offensive line this week.
How is Sauce Gardner playing? Can the Dolphins find success deep with their combination of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle? What about Mike Gesicki, Cedrick Wilson, and Trent Sherfield over the middle?
Sauce Gardner is playing like a Pro Bowl cornerback so far this year. Most rookie cornerbacks struggle a bit to start off. Not Gardner. He is playing like a legit shutdown cornerback. And D.J. Reed is playing at a similar level at the other outside cornerback position. Through four games the Jets have had one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL.
Can Hill and Waddle find success against the Jets’ cornerbacks? Sure. Hill and Waddle are deadly. They can find success against anyone. The hope for Jets fans is not that the Jets cornerbacks shut down those two (though that would be nice), but just that the Jets cornerbacks do a better job limiting the damage than most teams are capable of. I think the Jets cornerbacks are better suited to do that than most teams, but that doesn’t mean that Hill and Waddle won’t do damage, nor does it rule out those two dominating.
As far as Gesicki, Wilson, Sherfield, et al over the middle of the field, that has been the key to attacking the Jets' pass defense so far this season. The Jets’ linebackers are poor in pass coverage, and the Jets’ safeties have had their fair share of issues as well, making the middle of the field a rich source of offensive success for Jets’ opponents thus far this season.
The Dolphins are three-point favorites according to the DraftKings Sportsbook odds. How does that line feel to you and how do you expect this game to play out?
I think that’s a fair point spread given the two teams’ results so far this season and the Jets’ lack of success for years. As for me, I haven’t picked the Jets in a game this year, but this week I’m taking the Jets. Maybe it’s just the homer in me, maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I loved what I saw out of Zach Wilson last week. I also have questions as to how effective the Dolphins’ offense will be with Bridgewater under center after they scored just three points in the second half last week. And I think football is always a game of matchups. While Hill and Waddle are deadly, Gardner and Reed match up with them better than most cornerbacks around the league in my opinion. Combine that with a Bridgewater-led offense that is less likely to maximize the talents of Hill and Waddle than Tua would be, and I like the Jets’ chances this week. We’ll see how this plays out.