The Miami Dolphins, who are hoping to extend their winning streak to six games on Sunday against the lowly New York Jets, are riding the hot passing arm of Tua Tagovailoa.
Miami (6-7) is more than a touchdown favorite over the visiting Jets (3-10), and that has a lot to do with Tagovailoa, who is second in the NFL with a 70.9 completion percentage.
Over the past three weeks, Tagovailoa has been even better, completing 80 percent of his passes for an average of 249 yards per game.
Tagovailoa doesn’t throw down field much, but Miami’s short passing game is working, thanks in large part to speedy Jaylen Waddle, a rookie first-round pick. Waddle leads Miami in catches (86) and yards (849).
Miami’s other top target is tight end Mike Gesicki, who has 59 receptions for 642 yards.
But despite how well things have gone the past five games, Dolphins coach Brian Flores said he’s wary of the Jets.
“They’ve got some talented players,” Flores said.
It’s faint praise for a Jets team that has lost two straight games and five of its past six, including a 24-17 home defeat to the Dolphins on Nov. 21.
New York has already been eliminated from playoff contention for a franchise-record 11th consecutive year, the longest active drought in the NFL.
One of those “talented players” Flores talked about is Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Predictably, Wilson has struggled as a rookie, missing three games due to injury and compiling a 2-7 record in his nine starts. He is completing just 56.1 percent of his passes and has just six TD passes. He has been intercepted 11 times.
But Jets rookie head coach Robert Saleh hasn’t lost faith in Wilson.
“Zach is the future of this organization,” Saleh said. “He’s extremely talented, and he has a bright head on his shoulders.”
Wilson on Sunday will have to contend with a Dolphins defense that either blitzes or fakes one on every down.
Rookie outside linebacker/defensive end Jaelan Phillips leads Miami with 8 1/2 sacks, and the Dolphins have one of the best cornerback combos in the league in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard.
Bright spots for the Jets this year include Braxton Berrios, a former Miami Hurricanes star who is making a Pro Bowl case as a kickoff returner (28.7 average) and punt returner (13.8).
On defense, linebacker C.J. Mosley leads New York with 118 tackles, including 17 last week against the Saints.
Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (team-high six sacks) and his brother Quincy Williams (82 tackles at linebacker) have played well.
Bryce Hall, who leads New York with 10 passes defensed, is a young cornerback who has emerged as a budding star.
Offensively, Wilson has few healthy weapons as Elijah Moore (43 catches) and Corey Davis (34 catches) are out. That leaves slot receivers Jamison Crowder (team-high 45 catches) and Berrios (32 catches) as the top options.
Meanwhile, three of Miami’s running backs — Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Phillip Lindsay — were placed on the COVID-19 health and safety protocol list on Monday.
The Dolphins are hoping running back Malcolm Brown — who returned to practice on Wednesday — will be ready this week. He has missed six straight games and has been out nearly two months due to a quadriceps injury.
Miami also has an issue at safety, where rookie Jevon Holland was also placed on the COVID list. Safety Brandon Jones was limited this week due to an ankle injury.
–Field Level Media