Ho. Ho. Ho.
The New York Jets delivered the Dolphins an early holiday present with their 19-3 loss to Jacksonville on Thursday night.
The Dolphins playoff chances didn’t just make a modest jump from 72 to 78 percent (via fivethirtyeight.com). They also can clinch a playoff spot by winning their next two games against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and in New England on New Year’s Day. That could render their finale against the Jets meaningless (depending on playoff matchups) and allow them to consider resting players.
Finally, the game showed what a quarterback mess the Jets are. Quarterback Zach Wilson is a disaster at the end of his second year. Mike White is better. But two teams that could pose problems for the Dolphins – the Jets and Patriots – have severe offensive problems.
2. Receivers coach Wes Welker gave the best and simplest explanation for how the speed and talent of receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle make this offense work. Welker was asked about a comment he made earlier this year on how the two receivers make him re-consider some of his thoughts on offenses and receivers. He was asked if that idea still held.
“Absolutely, because you see how defenses have to play us,’ Welker said. “We’re getting two-man [safeties] a lot on first and second down. Nobody does that. You don’t see that around the league. I think just the way defenses have to prepare for us and if you want to play single safety, go ahead.
“Those two guys are very, very hard matchups for anybody — the best corners in the league and all of them. We rely on those guys heavily whenever they want to take away any of our run game or play [one safety]. They’ve got to make sure they’re bringing their A-game, and most teams are going to have to play two-high and make sure they keep things in front of them, which opens up our whole offense.”
3. Jacksonville underlines my thoughts on how it works in football: You need the good coach and the good quarterback. Mike McDaniel and his work with Tua Tagovailoa shows that. So does Doug Pederson’s work with Trevor Lawrence. After questionable offensive coaching with Urban Meyer’s staff, Lawrence has taken off this year under Pederson. Jacksonville’s improvement through this season says they’re for real in a way that will be a real problem for the AFC next year. As it is, this finish might mean Pederson will join the short list with McDaniel as coach of the year candidate.
4. The biggest Pro Bowl miss for the Dolphins was defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. He’s having an impactful season that guarantees he’ll be signing a big contract this offseason. He has the most tackles of any interior defensive lineman with 48, according to Pro Football Focus (the next closest, Indianapolis’ Grover Stewart, has 42). He’s fourth on the defense in snap counts, which isn’t common for a defensive tackle. He has 38 run stops — 32 is the next closest. Look, it’s hard to argue Kansas City’s Chris Jones (11 sacks), the New York Jets’ Quinnen Williams (12 sacks) and Tennessee’s Jeffrey Simmons shouldn’t be there, as they command double teams. But Wilkins is a force this season.
5. McDaniel has changed the dynamics of this team, but there’s quibble (there always is). I wrote about the short-yardage play-calling in the Bills game where the Dolphins passed too much rather than run. They converted the only third-and-1 they ran and failed at the two they passed. Research by @PoupartNFL went further: The Dolphins are 1-for-8 this season when passing on third-and-1 situations. They have converted 7-for-11 when running. Expect more runs in short-yardage situations.
6. Offensive line coach Matt Applebaum was asked about running between the guards at the start of the Buffalo game, something they hadn’t done a lot this season. “In our system, especially when it’s more the zone runs and where the ball hits, so much of that’s predicated on how they’re aligned and how they react. So it’s not necessarily like this ball is going go right there. That’s just the nature of zone running without getting too deep into that. But there’s certain things about the structure, their defense, that led to the ball going to a certain spot, and us being able to leverage blocks a certain kind of way.”
7. I was talking with Dolphins guard Rob Hunt when Hill sat down beside him. “Why isn’t he in the Pro Bowl?” Hill asked. The point isn’t whether it’s Hunt’s time just yet. It’s that he’s playing at a level an elite player like Hill notices. (For the record, the media has no vote in Pro Bowl selections.)
8. Should players be listed as making the “Pro Bowl” if they’re on the team because a selected player didn’t go to the game? I say no. The point is, Pro Bowls are used as a guideline for Hall of Fame voting. If a player makes five Pro Bowls but wasn’t voted as a starter in any of them, doesn’t that dilute the process?
9. Give cornerback Xavien Howard points for honesty: He said he was surprised about making the Pro Bowl.
10. Happy holidays, everyone. And as the Dolphins play on Christmas Day, let’s remember the riveting, exhausting, preposterously historic Christmas Day game that started the team’s dynastic run. Here’s the story of the Christmas Day game that changed the franchise.