Mon, 25 Jan 2021

Dolphins Defense Grounds Jets Offense Again, Win 20-3

Miami Dolphins
30 Nov 2020, 21:05 GMT+10

Travis Wingfield

Miami renewed its oldest AFC East rivalry with a season sweep of the New York Jets and the eighth victory in the last 10 games against Gang Green.

With another suffocating defensive performance, the Dolphins finish the month of November 4-1, moving to 7-4 going in to the final month of the season. The last time Miami entered December with that record was 2016, the last trip to the postseason for the Dolphins.

Though they didn't extend their league-leading first quarter point differential (+49), the Dolphins did improve upon their league-best +81 point first half differential with a dominant effort on defense. Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer's unit bowed up for a shutout in the final three quarters of the game.

"I thought Josh (Boyer) called a great game, mixing the coverages," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said. "We got some red zone stops, a big stop on fourth-and-1, turnovers, and Josh called a great game ... Oftentimes people give me too much credit, but I think Josh has done a great job the entire year."

The Jets kicked a field goal on the opening drive, then the Miami defense followed up with two interceptions, six forced punts (three possessions resulting in a three-and-out) and a missed field goal. A consistent surge from the defensive line, paired with the return of Christian Wilkins, helped limit the Jets ground game to just 87 yards. Of the Jets' 23 running plays, 15 of them gained three yards or less.

"We were very disappointed in our run defense a week ago," Dolphins linebacker Elandon Roberts said. "I think we came out and played good fundamental Dolphins football, and were able to play some good run defense this week."

"When you stop them on that first down it puts them in an awkward position in second and long," Dolphins cornerback Nik Needham said. "Then if they don't get that, then it's third-and-long, so that gives us a good advantage when we get those stops on first and second down," he added.

The Dolphins defense held on for back-to-back series in which the Jets started in plus-territory after turnovers - first, a three-and-out; then a turnover on downs spearheaded by a tackle for loss by Roberts.

In addition to the run-down wins, Miami sacked Jets quarterback Sam Darnold three times (a full sack for safety Brandon Jones and a half of a sack each for linebackers Jerome Baker, Kyle Van Noy, Roberts and defensive tackle Raekwon Davis). Cornerback Nik Needham intercepted his first pass of the year and the third of his young career.

Xavien Howard snagged his league-leading seventh interception. He ties his career high (2018), and joins Sam Madison (eight interceptions in 1998 and seven in 1999) as the only cornerbacks in Dolphins history to have two seasons with seven-plus interceptions.

"Turnovers are such a big part of this game," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "It's momentum, it's field position, it's confidence overall. We don't take that for granted on offense. It's difficult to do and they're been really good at it. It's been great to be on the bench, looking at the tablet and someone handing you your helmet saying 'X got another interception.'"

Offensively, Miami moved the ball into Jets territory early on. Two drives in the first half stalled on the fringe of field goal range for most kickers, but not for the record-breaking right leg of Jason Sanders.

Sanders stroked a pair of kicks down the middle from 54 and 51 yards in the opening half, giving him 10 consecutive field goals of 50-or-more yards. Sanders' eight successful field goals from 50-plus yards this season are most in the NFL. His 85.7 career field goal percentage on attempts of that distance is the best in the NFL since at least 1991.

Fitzpatrick found nine different targets for 257 passing yards with the greatest contribution coming from wide receiver DeVante Parker. Parker caught back-shoulder throws, diving slants, and broke a couple of big runs after the catch en route to 119 receiving yards, a season-high.

"DeVante's very special with the 50/50 ball and some of those tough catches," Fitzpatrick said. "If teams are going to give us an opportunity to do that, then I'm going to give DeVante that opportunity more often than not ... He did a great job making some of those plays."

Sunday's performance marked the 10th time in Parker's career that he eclipsed the century mark and the second time this season.

Parker ate up the yardage while the tight ends scored the touchdowns. Adam Shaheen and Mike Gesicki both caught their third touchdown passes of the season. Gesicki powered through and elevated over Jets safety Ashtyn Davis for a rebound in the end zone that looked similar to his high school hoops days.

"I think I've learned more about releases and using my hands," Gesicki said. "Making moves on guys and not just trying to beat them with my speed because at this level everybody can run. So, I knew (Davis) was going to come down and try to get hands on me with Cover 0, so I knew if I could get his hands off of me, then I could get open."

The Jets scored a combined seven points in the season series twice against Miami (1975 and 1976). This season, New York scored a combined three points in the two games. That covers 25 possessions, an average of 0.12 points per possession. It was the second-lowest scoring output by an AFC East opponent against the Dolphins in the same season as Miami held Baltimore scoreless in both 1972 meetings.

Miami did it with more coverage mixing, blitz packages, and contributions from several players. In addition to the sacks and interceptions, defensive tackles Zach Sieler and Christian Wilkins joined Davis with consistent penetration. Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel slipped a block for a crucial tackle on a second down Frank Gore run, which led to a Jets punt one play later.

Howard and Needham grabbed the interceptions while cornerback Byron Jones allowed only one reception in the game. Today's contest marked the third time this season the Jets had their top three wide receivers available. On passes targets for Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder, the Dolphins allowed just half of those intended throws to be completed (11-of-22) for a passer rating against of 39.4, per Pro Football Focus.

"It's inspiring," Needham said of Howard's barrage of interceptions. "The way he gets his hands on the ball, he really should have like 12. He'll drop one and pick one. To make as many plays as that man, it just pushes me every day. He's a great player."

The Dolphins defense is now allowing 18.6 points per game this season. Miami's +81 first-half point differential is best in the NFL and the 9.5 points allowed per half in the first halves of games this season is third best.

The offense's 16.9 points per game in the first half of games is fifth in the NFL and the Dolphins are now 7-0 in games this season in which they went to halftime with a lead

After improving the team's record each month in Brian Flores' rookie season, the Dolphins have done it through the first three months of Year 2. After a 1-2 start, the Dolphins flipped the script with a 2-1 October before punctuating November with a 4-1 mark.

The Dolphins tied up the all-time series with the Jets at 55 wins apiece (one tie) and set up a December full of important games, starting next week with the Cincinnati Bengals making the trip to South Florida.

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