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Dolphins vs. Jaguars preview


Sunday's Jacksonville Jaguars-Miami Dolphins matchup at EverBank Field features two teams coming off big victories and searching for something neither has had in a while: a winning streak.

The Jaguars haven't won back-to-back games since Weeks 12-14 of the 2013 season, and the Dolphins haven't accomplished that since Weeks 13-15 of last season. Even worse for the Jaguars: They haven't won back-to-back home games since the 2011 season.

ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup.

Michael DiRocco: Everyone in Jacksonville is convinced Blake Bortles is the franchise quarterback the team has needed. What's the feeling in Miami on Ryan Tannehill?

James Walker: Just like Tannehill's play, the mood has been up and down on Miami's starting quarterback. There was a lot of optimism entering this season that Tannehill would carry Miami's offense. The Dolphins hired a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, who helped quickly develop Nick Foles last season in Philadelphia. So many Dolphins fans, perhaps prematurely, expected quick results from Tannehill, as well. But it's been a slow progression in his third season. He was average for the first three games. Then, Tannehill started to put together better performances against the Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Last week was really the first time in 38 starts that I felt Tannehill was the best player on the field. He started with 14 straight completions, which Tannehill told me he's never done at any level to start a game. He appears to be turning the corner and clicking in this new offense. But the bottom line is Tannehill is still 18-20 as a starter. Gaining consistency over these next 10 games will be key.

I'm not sure if the Jaguars getting their first win makes them more or less dangerous to upset the Dolphins. What are your thoughts?

DiRocco: If you had asked me this question on Sunday night, I would have said more dangerous. The defense just played its best game, and the offense took advantage of some Cleveland turnovers and scored a season-high 24 points despite Bortles playing his worst game. Things had been starting to come together for the Jaguars in the previous two weeks, and they finally put a complete game together, eliminated mistakes and made big plays. But the loss of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (torn pectoral muscle) for the rest of the season and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) for at least six weeks is a huge blow. It's almost as if this team is snakebitten. They get some good news (a victory) but can't enjoy it because of the injuries. That will definitely impact the team's psyche because there are so many young players (29 first- or second-year players) who haven't been through a situation like this before.

How does the return of Dion Jordan impact the defense? Will that help Cameron Wake?

Walker: I don't expect a huge impact from Jordan right away. Six weeks is a long time to be away from football, especially during a suspension when you can't communicate with coaches or have a playbook. Jordan practiced with the team for the first time since Aug. 28 on Tuesday and a lot has changed. Backups such as Derrick Shelby, Chris McCain and Terrence Fede have stepped forward and developed. Miami's defense also added a few wrinkles since the summer. Jordan has a lot of catching up to do. The practice week is still ongoing, and how he responds physically and mentally will be key. If Jordan sees action Sunday in Jacksonville, his biggest contribution would most likely be on special teams until he gets his legs under him.

How much will the loss of Posluszny impact Jacksonville's defense?

DiRocco: As mentioned before, it's huge, and it goes beyond what he does on the field. Posluszny has his limitations in pass coverage, but he's a fantastic two-down linebacker. He's a tackling machine, one of the team's leaders, one of the team's smartest players, is responsible for calling the defensive plays and is the Jaguars' best defensive player. There's no way the Jaguars will be able to replace his production or leadership, especially since they're going to be relying on players who have mainly contributed on special teams (J.T. Thomas and LaRoy Reynolds). Though the Jaguars' defensive line has played pretty well, not having Posluszny makes the run defense considerably weaker -- not good since the Dolphins are fourth in the NFL in rushing.

The Dolphins had a big win in Chicago last week. Was that an aberration or are they legitimate contenders for a playoff spot?

Walker: I won't put the Dolphins into the "contender" category until they can at least win two games in a row -- a feat they have yet to do this season. The Dolphins are in that middle of the pack with about 12-15 other teams about which you're not sure what to expect week to week. There have been times -- such as wins against the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots -- when the Dolphins have looked like contenders. There is certainly enough talent, especially when the quarterback is playing well, but Miami hasn't developed enough consistency to this point to inspire confidence this is a 10-win team. We will learn a lot about the Dolphins with how they respond Sunday in Jacksonville.

Have the Jaguars finally found a spot for Denard Robinson at running back?

DiRocco: It appears so, although I don't think you're going to see him get the kind of workload he did against Cleveland (22 carries) on a consistent basis. Though he's the most explosive of the Jaguars' backs, he's not used to carrying the ball that many times. Carrying the ball as a running back is different than carrying it as a quarterback, the way he did during his career at Michigan. And, he's not used to taking the kind of pounding he did on Sunday. When Toby Gerhart returns from a foot injury (which should be Sunday), Robinson's carries will decrease, though he should still be the No. 1 back. I'd also like to see him used more on the edge and in the passing game, where he can use his open-field abilities a little more.