No fumbles. No interceptions. No costly turnovers.
Certainly the metrics that identify the type of defence a team plays seems to favor the Miami Dolphins, the current best team in the AFC East. The team hasn’t committed a turnover in six consecutive quarters. Their play in the red zone, which is considered the most important single phase, has been better than good.
But good may not be good enough when the Miami Dolphins host the New York Jets this Sunday. Time, both of it, has begun to speed up and, unlike for Jacksonville, time in the middle of December may turn out to be a factor when the Jets and Dolphins meet for the second time this season.
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“The clock is running,” Luke Kuechly said. “We don’t want to blow it. We want to take care of these last games and get healthy coming into the offseason and kind of continue to build.”
The Dolphins entered the regular season with the worst turnover margin in the NFL. The Jets? The Jets, who had been one of the worst in the league, with only two takeaways.
The lead was splintered both times the teams played each other – Dolphins 35, Jets 7 in Week 1; Dolphins 23, Jets 17 in Week 3. The first time Miami allowed five turnovers, and the Jets scored four touchdowns. The other time, a Jets giveaway was punished with a back-breaking 69-yard interception return for a touchdown by Kuechly.
The turnover count could well be different this time. But only slightly, since the Jets only take three-and-outs seven times a game.
“I feel like you’re just going to have one or two plays or one possession, where a team decides they’re going to turn the ball over, and it can come back to bite you pretty bad,” Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills said. “And they do have that ability, but I think it’s more about the mentality of the opposing team.
“I feel like we’re a younger team that I feel like we have a tendency to have the mentality that if we turn the ball over, then the other team is going to score, and our defense is going to get annihilated.
“We have too many weapons. We have too many veteran leaders on this team. We have too many guys that bring it each and every week, whether it’s plays on the field, after the play, the way they come to work in the meeting room.”
What else the Dolphins can to do to avoid collapses? It is not the second half of the season. Nor is it the rivalry. But it can’t be anything else: the schedule is a mess. Every game between the Dolphins and Jets now appears to be a must-win.
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This, too, is a season in which a unit will be judged, but the pressure will be harder to exert, and more difficult to carry, against the Jets than the Steelers, Bills, Chargers or Broncos. As some players from both sides admitted, perhaps a switch could have been flipped from the first game to the second.
“I thought we did a great job at getting the ball back, but it still felt like we were trying to do too much,” Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker said. “You don’t need to make those plays.”
This could be a game where the defense has its turn. It had one of its worst performances of the season on Sunday, surrendering 41 points. The Jets are tied for 22nd in the league in yards per play at 5.0. And the Dolphins, just as bad, are tied for 23rd in yards per play allowed at 5.8.
Bowles took issue with this: “We haven’t played to that level of defense in a while. We haven’t forced turnovers the last couple of weeks. It looks as if it’s just us that needs to tighten up and get better, but we’ve got to fix it, and we’ve got to fix it fast.”
Better may not be good enough.