The Miami Dolphins (1-4) travel across the Atlantic to face the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) in London's billion-dollar Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday morning. Our English brethren have endowed upon us Americans everlasting gifts in art, sport, and culture for generations — The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Adele, Lewis Hamilton, David Beckham — and how do we repay our friends and allies? With two teams that have losing streaks that combine to 24 games. These fine people gave us James friggin' Bond and we're sending back Urban Meyer and two of the worst offenses American sports can produce as a thank you. So much for that special relationship.
After missing out on last year's playoffs despite 10 wins, expectations were high in South Beach for 2021. Following a season-opening win, Miami has lost its starting quarterback and four straight games, including last week's 45-17 drubbing courtesy of Tampa Bay. The Dolphins have been putrid the last month, getting outscored by 19 points per game during their skid. Sunday morning in London would be a great time for Brian Flores and Co. to turn around their season, especially if Tua Tagovailoa is back under center.
The Jaguars have now dropped 20 consecutive games dating back to last season after last week's 37-19 home loss to the Titans. It was the same story, different game for the Jags — a general lack of talent, questionable coaching decisions, and self-inflicted wounds leading to a double-digit loss. Now Jacksonville travels to its home away from home in hopes of its first win in a while. I'm sure the folks in the London area are yearning for the Jaguars' anemic, American-style football to come back "home."
NFL International Series: Miami (1-4) vs. Jacksonville (0-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 17 at 9:30 a.m. ET
Where: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (London)
Spread: Dolphins -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Jags have a pretty good running back…
And his name is James Robinson. Someone should tell Urban Meyer about him, because I don't think his own head coach knows he exists. Despite being tied for fourth in the league in yards per rush (5.8), rushing touchdowns (four), and rushing yards per game (77), Robinson's 67 carries rank 13th this season. Against Tennessee, Robinson rushed for a career-high 149 yards on just 18 carries (8.3 avg.) and a touchdown.
What's bewildering is Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrel Bevell's use, or lack thereof, of Robinson situationally. Like many starting running backs, most of Robinson's carries (33 of 67) come on first-and-10 plays. That's normal, that's fine. What's confusing is why Robinson has just two — TWO! — third-down carries all season long. That's football criminality. In short-yardage situations — three yards or less to go — he only has 13 attempts. And in those 13 attempts, all Robinson has done is pick up 10 first downs and score a touchdown.
Perhaps the most perplexing omission is Robinson's lack of touches inside the red zone. He's tied for eighth-most red zone carries with 11, but that's less than half of league leader Jonathan Taylor's 24 attempts.
Last week was a perfect example of Jacksonville's coaching ineptitude regarding Robinson. Trailing 31-19 early in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville had first-and-goal at the five-yard line. What followed was two incomplete passes, a broken Trevor Lawrence draw, and a botched fourth-down running attempt from Carlos Hyde that lost yards and essentially ended any hope for a Jags comeback. Robinson was never on the field.
For a team so desperate for wins, not having your best offensive player on the field in critical situations is a coaching faux pas, but at this point, it's almost expected. Meyer has seemingly gone out of his way to not use Robinson, from the drafting of Travis Etienne in the first round to the free-agent addition of Hyde.
Sunday, the Jags face a Miami defense that gives up an average of 133 rushing yards per game (24th in NFL) and the third-most rushing scores so far (six). So maybe, just maybe, this Jacksonville coaching staff should think about giving Mr. Robinson a bigger role on Sunday.
2. Tua be or not Tua be…
On Tuesday, Dolphins' starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was officially designated to return to practice after a four-week stint on injured reserve. Tagovailoa was diagnosed with fractured ribs after taking a massive hit just five minutes into a Week 2 matchup with Buffalo. When asked about Tagovailoa's possible return in London, Miami head coach Brian Flores said he's mostly concerned with his young signal-caller's pocket mobility and his ability to throw on the run with defenders bearing down, and given the Dolphins' O-line troubles (see below), that makes sense.
Jacoby Brissett has been playing in Tagovailoa's stead and has performed alright considering a sporadic offensive line and lack of healthy receiving options. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Brissett's "supporting cast efficiency" — the efficiency of his surrounding skill players — is -9.56, the third-worst mark in the NFL. While his completion percentage under pressure is fourth (59.5 percent) and catchable pass rate is eighth (79 percent) overall. But now Brissett is hobbled by a hamstring injury of his own and Flores has a decision to make.
Whoever it is that gets the nod on Sunday morning, will be in charge of operating an offense that is one of the worst in the NFL this season. The Dolphins rank 30th in first downs (81) and 31st in yards per game (261.8), yards per play (4.4), and points per game (15.8). Lucky for Miami, the Jacksonville defense isn't too intimidating, especially against the pass where the Jags rank 31st in both quarterback rating allowed (115.5) and yards per passing attempt (9.5).
3. Dolphins' O-line shuffle
A lot of Miami's offensive struggles start with their front line. Despite spending premium draft picks on offensive linemen the last few years, the protection for Tagovailoa and Brissett (and Ryan Fitzpatrick last year) has simply been less than adequate.
True, this is still a very young group, one that featured three rookies making at least 10 starts a season ago and has since added 2021 second-round pick Liam Eichenberg to the core. But inexperience notwithstanding, results matter. Last year's offensive line was ranked 29th by Pro Football Focus, and this season's unit has already allowed the third-most sacks (16) and quarterback pressures (58).
Flores even tried shuffling around the unit last week against Tampa Bay's vaunted front seven. Eichenberg switched from right to left tackle, where he played at Notre Dame, and slid left tackle Austin Jackson to the left guard spot. The swaps didn't exactly work, as Brissett was pressured on 12 dropbacks, hit on four pass attempts, and sacked three times. In the last four games, Brissett has been pressured 48 times, hurried 22 times, and sacked 12 times.
Whether it's Tagovailoa who makes his return on Sunday or a hampered Brissett, the Miami offensive line has to dig in and protect its quarterback against a Jaguars defense that was able to pressure Ryan Tannehill on 30 percent of his throws and sack him three times a week ago.
There really isn't too much to like about either of these teams at the moment. Both offenses are still trying to figure it out six weeks into the season and neither defense looks like it can stop a runny nose. I like the Dolphins' chances just a wee bit more, assuming receiver DeVantae Parker is back in the lineup to complement rookie Jaylen Waddle.
Prediction: Dolphins 22, Jaguars 19
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.