With the Miami Dolphins’ difficult remaining schedule, they needed to win this game against the New York Jets to give themselves a solid chance at their division (and maybe even the one seed). Anyone experiencing flashbacks to prior late-season collapses from the Dolphins must have felt some additional anxiety with the announcement that they would be without Tyreek Hill, Xavien Howard, DeShon Elliott, Jevon Holland, and Robert Hunt for this game (in addition to other starters Baker, Williams, Wynn and Phillips already out/on IR).
This was an extremely shorthanded Dolphins team and they were facing a Jets squad that had just laid a beat down on the Texans the week prior. This appeared to be anything but an easy victory... but someone must have forgotten to tell the Dolphins because they made it look as easy as it could be. Let’s break down how they out-schemed and outplayed this Jets team.
Fantastic Offensive Game Plan
The offense came into this game missing several key players. Their entire starting interior offensive line was either out for the week or on injury reserve and they had to play without the most dangerous weapon in the NFL (Tyreek Hill). Based off their previous game against the Jets, you had to figure that their running game would be the focal point here but a lot more ended up being put on Tua Tagovailoa than you would expect.
I was so impressed with their offensive gameplan against the Jets. Missing your entire starting interior & your #1 target on offense, what do you do?— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 19, 2023
Screens, short game, run it in the red zone, and ask your QB to be special a handful of plays. Great plan & execution. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/RUhR7vgzHB
They started out the game with a ton of screen plays, but struggled to get their running game going outside of cashing in red zone opportunities. The Jets have one of the best pass rushing fronts in the NFL, so it was imperative that they get the ball out of Tua’s hand’s quickly. Per Next Gen stats, Tua Tagovailoa had to lowest average time to throw of his career at just 2.08 seconds.
The offense worked the short passing/screen game all afternoon and really only asked Tua to make big plays a handful of times. He had one bad throw that was dropped by the defense, but outside of that he executed the game plan flawlessly. The hope is that they get back some of these key players on offense (Hill & Hunt), but it is always good to know they can win in different ways when it’s required.
Pass Rush Dominated
We talked a lot in the preview article about how good Zach Wilson was under pressure against the Texans. He was under pressure about 40% of his dropbacks in that game, but managed to avoid any major mistakes and really helped lead them to victory. The question coming into this game was whether or not he could repeat that performance.
The Dolphin's pass rush really took this game over from the Jet's first offensive drive to their last. The Jets have obviously had their issues in pass pro, but this was a statement game while missing their best pass rusher (JP). #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/cLbv88pPZk— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 19, 2023
In short, no he absolutely could not. In all fairness to Zach, he was pressured on 11 of his 15 dropbacks (73%) and never really had much of a chance in this game before being knocked out due to a head injury. Trevor Siemian didn’t fair much better. He got the ball out quicker but also threw two interceptions.
It was a dominant shut out for this defense and Bradley Chubb continues to play his best football of the season since Jaelan Phillips was lost for the year. Outside of slamming that helmet, he has been playing up to the big trade and contract that brought him to Miami. Along with AVG, Zach Sieler, and Christian Wilkins, this group can be overwhelming for an offense.
Flawless Special Teams
The offense and defense of this team both have a ton of supporters, but Danny Crossman’s squad has been either forgotten or come under serious fire this year. We seem to always lose the field position battles and there have been some timely special teams errors through out the year.
I don't usually focus too much on special teams, but they deserve some love. Danny Crossman's group has come under fire at times this year, but they were flawless in this game. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/s6ZFgYTywZ— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 19, 2023
Well on a day where field position mattered, they played a really clean game. The Jets were routinely pinned inside their 15 yard line and Jason Sanders made all three of his field goals. They also snuffed out and stopped a fake punt early in the game that gave the offense the ball back in Jets territory. As the season wears down and they face more quality opponents, the special teams production will be more and more important. Hopefully they can keep this up.
This was the game in previous years that the Miami Dolphins would have dropped... and they had every excuse in the book if they did. Missing 3⁄4 of your base secondary, your entire interior offensive line, and Tyreek Hill. This team was missing almost half of their starting players and were facing a Jets team coming off one of their best victories of the season. This was a game where they needed the coaching staff and their franchise quarterback to step up... and they did.
The hope is that they can return some of these players for this final three game run. Make no mistake though, even at full health, there isn’t an “easy” game left on the schedule. First up is a Cowboys team that just got embarrassed in Buffalo. They’re going to get everyone’s best punch from here out. Win all three and you’re the one seed... two of three and you have a good shot at it. Will they charge or limp into the playoffs this year?