We're onto Week 3. This week's edition of Thursday Night Football is a battle for Florida bragging rights, AFC edition. The Jacksonville Jaguars host the Miami Dolphins in what should actually be a pretty entertaining game, despite what you might think about the relative quality of the two teams. Any time you get two quarterbacks that can actually move the ball playing against two friendly defenses, there's potential for intrigue.
Let's break it all down, shall we?
How to watch
When the Dolphins have the ball
It seems highly unlikely that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to keep this job for all that much longer. Opposing defenses are blitzing the Dolphins like crazy, the offensive line (and running backs) can't pick them up; and right now, at least, while Fitzpatrick is able to get the ball out quickly, he is also still far too willing to force it into coverage, resulting in interceptions.
Of course, the Dolphins know that this is generally what you get with Fitzpatrick, and they're okay with it. For now. There will come a day -- likely soon -- where it's Tua Tagovailoa's turn. Tonight, though, will probably not be it. So we're going to concentrate on what should happen with Fitz under center.
The Jags will probably need to blitz just as often as Miami's previous opponents have if they want to generate pressure, because their pass rush has practically been non-existent so far. Their 17% pressure rate is eighth-lowest in the league, and even Miami's revamped but not rebuilt offensive line might be able to hold up against that. If afforded time to throw, Fitz should also have somewhat favorable matchups down the field.
In particular, tight end Mike Gesicki and slot man Isaiah Ford should be able to do some damage. Opposing tight ends have caught 13 of 15 targets for 198 yards and two touchdowns so far against Jacksonville, while slot receivers Parris Campbell and Adam Humphries combined for 11 catches for 119 yards and a score. Both Philip Rivers and Ryan Tannehill threw all over this Jags secondary, which no longer comes close to resembling the shutdown unit that led the team to the AFC title game just a few short years ago.
The matchups on the perimeter are still a bit more difficult for Devante Parker and Preston Williams, the latter of whom looks like he is still getting up to speed after suffering a serious knee injury last year. Rookie cornerback C.J. Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick, is off to a strong start to his career. Both he and Tre Herndon might be a little bit on the light side to deal with Parker, but again, the true weakness of this defense is inside and over the middle.
Miami's ground "attack," if you can call it that, is not threatening. The Dolphins spread the snaps and touches between Myles Gaskin, Matt Breida, and Jordan Howard, but none has distinguished himself as a playmaker so far. Gaskin leads the way in both snap rate and touches, but among the three players, he has actually touched the ball least often as a percentage of snaps when on the field.
When the Jaguars have the ball
It's long past time to start considering the idea that the Jaguars might not actually need Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or any of the other quarterbacks potentially available at or near the top of the 2021 NFL Draft. Should they be in position to take one, they might still choose to do so; but it sure looks like they have found something real in Gardner Minshew.
Minshew was impressive during his rookie season, posting rate stats at or near the league average despite being a sixth-round pick forced into action before anything reasonably thought he could be ready to take the field. He finished just behind Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray in Football Outsiders' DVOA, as well as fellow 2019 draftees Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins, both of whom went in the first round.
Already this year, Minshew is showing signs of improvement. The sample size is small, of course, but he's up nearly 15 percentage points in his completion rate (60.6 to 75.4), as well as nearly a full yard per attempt (7.0 to 7.9). His QBR is also up to 78.8 from last year's 47.2. All of those are strong indicators that he has gotten better than he was a year ago. He's maintained his ability to extend plays by buying time in the pocket and/or taking off downfield, and while his sack rate is up early on this season, so is his scramble rate. According to Pro Football Focus, Minshew has run past the line of scrimmage for a gain of his own on 35 percent of his pressured dropbacks, up from 25 percent last year and second to only Murray among qualifying quarterbacks so far this season.
Minshew may not need to scramble all that much on Thursday night, though, because despite their defensive makeover, the Dolphins have still found themselves generally unable to pressure opposing quarterbacks so far this year. Their 17 total pressures through two weeks are tied for 26th in the NFL. Seeing as how they've been lit up by Cam Newton and Josh Allen for a combined 39 of 54 passing for 553 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, 93 rushing yards, and two more scores, that seems like a pretty big issue indeed.
Also an issue is the current state of the team's secondary, which will be without big-money free agent Byron Jones in this game due to groin and Achilles issues. Jones' absence will mean more snaps for Nik Needham and rookie Noah Igbinoghene, who rank 96th and 98th in Pro Football Focus' coverage grades among the 102 corners who have played 50-plus snaps so far this season.
With Jones out, it's possible that Xavien Howard shadows Jacksonville's No. 1 target. That No. 1 target won't be D.J. Chark. The Jaguars have ruled him out. Howard could instead shadow another Jaguars wide receiver -- Keelan Cole. Minshew has targeted Cole more than any other receiver, and Cole should expect to see Needham in the slot more often than not. Throw in hybrid weapon Laviska Shenault (six receptions and seven carries through the first two games of his career) and undrafted rookie running back James Robinson (16 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown last week), and there are quite a few playmakers for Minshew to work with here.
Underrated center Brandon Linder is out for this game with a knee injury and that could cause some issues for Jacksonville up front, but otherwise, the Jags seem well set up to find offensive success unless the Miami pass rush suddenly becomes a force, which seems pretty unlikely.
Prediction: Jaguars 27, Dolphins 20