NFL Preview - Miami (3-3) at Jacksonville (1-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - See, Jacksonville fans. It's a simple game after all.
Responding to an internal call to dial-down the complexity of things, the Jaguars responded with an old-fashioned defensive throttling of the Cleveland Browns last week for their first win of the season - and they'll try to maintain the momentum when their in-state rivals from Miami arrive on Sunday.
Jacksonville held the Browns to 266 total yards and has surrendered an average of 278 over the past two games, after allowing a weekly clip of 435.4 through the first five games.
It also registered six sacks against Cleveland to push the season total to 22.
"We really got back down to the fundamentals," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We just got off to a tough start and we were trying to do too much and that got us out of whack a little bit. It took a couple games of getting beat up pretty bad to realize we have to calm down, stick to the basics, take care of our job, handle the fundamentals and collectively we'll play great as a whole. That's what we're starting to do now."
The defense's forward progress will have to be maintained without the veteran, though, after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. He'd led the team with 69 tackles in seven games, and figures to be replaced by J.T. Thomas, who'd move from the outside to the middle.
Some of the improvement could be rationed for the offensive side of the ball as well.
The Jaguars are 31st in a 32-team league in total yards per week, but they ground out 185 rush yards against a leaky Cleveland defense and have racked up 715 total yards in their last two games against the Browns and Tennessee Titans.
Former University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was drafted as a wide receiver in 2013, but may have finally found his NFL niche as a running back. He carried 22 times against the Browns for a career-best 127 yards and could help lighten the load for rookie passer Blake Bortles, who's QB rating is 68.2 - alongside three TD passes and eight interceptions - since he replaced Chad Henne.
Bortles was solid statistically in the two-point loss to the Titans, completing 32-of-46 passes for 336 yards, but plummeted against the Browns while connecting on 17 of 31 throws for 159 yards and having three passes intercepted.
"I've got to improve," he said.
It won't get any easier against a Dolphins defense that's among the league's best.
And now that quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offense are beginning to perform alongside their ball-stopping mates, things are beginning to get interesting at the state's southern end.
"There are signs we are getting better," coach Joe Philbin said. "One thing that is encouraging to me is I think we are practicing a little better. We are getting our work done and getting off the field."
Miami's defense allows an average of 313.7 yards per week (fourth-best in the league) and has kept opposition quarterbacks to a pedestrian 86.3 rating. The Dolphins buckled down on Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears in a 27-14 road win last week, keeping the hosts to 224 total yards while picking Cutler off once and pushing his rating to an even emptier 74.4 level.
The stinginess helps the progression of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who heard benching calls for the first three games but has since responded with 799 yards, six touchdowns and a 72.3 completion percentage in his last three. He's also run for 132 yards in 14 carries during the rebound stretch.
In games one, two and three, Tannehill completed just 56.5 percent of his passes and had a 74.1 rating.
Tannehill's uptick has helped Miami boost its per-week yardage output to 392.3 over the last three games, and he's connected 10 times for 121 yards and a touchdown in the last two starts made by rookie receiver Jarvis Landry.
"There are some specific signs of (Tannehill) getting better," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "And there were some specific signs of him not taking maybe the next step or, 'OK, where do we go from here?' But I saw anticipation improve. I saw some good pocket presence. I think the guy is getting better. I'm excited about where he can go."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Jaguars have seen both ends of the rookie spectrum in the last two weeks with Bortles. He had his best game of the season in the narrow loss to the Titans, then laid an egg in the 18-point defeat of the Browns as his accuracy evaporated.
Trying to find himself amid the pressure applied by a top-five defense won't be easy this week, so early success for the run game will be at a premium.
Back in the Fold
The Dolphins had understandably high hopes for Dion Jordan when they made him the third overall pick out of LSU in 2013, but the youngster failed to crack the starting lineup last year and has been absent this year thanks to a second run-in with the league's substance-abuse policy. He returns from another suspension this week and could add yet another athletic and punishing migraine for Bortles.
The Jaguars may indeed continue their emotional uptick and have some moments against the Dolphins, but unless Bortles is able to show something early on, it'll be difficult. The Jaguars simply haven't scored enough to win games thus far - the 24 against the Browns was their high watermark for 2014 - and Miami doesn't figure to permit all that much either. Unless there's a sea change, this is Miami's to lose.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Dolphins 28, Jaguars 10
10/26 07:26:43 ET