Sam Darnold, Ryan Fitzpatrick
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

ESNY’s Michael Nania dives into the numbers with the New York Jets-Miami Dolphins statistical scouting report.

Michael Nania

Throughout the season, I’ll be previewing the New York Jets‘ opponent each week with a look at their greatest strengths and weaknesses from a statistical standpoint.

Let’s dive into some key numbers on the Miami Dolphins heading into this Sunday’s AFC East clash.

Dolphins offense

Strength: Red zone

The Dolphins have picked things up since the bye week, competing at a much higher level. They were a two-point conversion away from defeating the Redskins in Week 6 and held halftime leads in Buffalo and Pittsburgh the following couple of weeks.

One of the very few stats that Miami actually ranks well in over the course of the entire season is red-zone conversion rate. On the year, the Dolphins are eight for 14 in the red zone, a 57.1 percent rate that ranks 15th-best in the league.

Miami has done most of that work since the bye week. Over their past three games, the Dolphins have scored a touchdown on seven out of eight (87.5 percent) red zone drives, the third-best rate in football over that span.

Both phases of the Miami offense have been among the most effective in the red zone since Week 6. On the ground, the Dolphins have picked up a first down or touchdown on 36.8 percent of their red zone rush attempts, fourth-best.

Through the air, Ryan Fitzpatrick has tossed four red zone touchdowns since Week 6, tied for the seventh-most over that span.

Weakness: Turnovers

Miami has been better in nearly every area over the past three weeks, but there is one crucial facet of the game where they have not improved at all ⁠— the turnover battle.

On the season, the Dolphins have turned the football over on 21.1 percent of their offensive drives, the second-highest rate behind only the Giants (21.6 percent). They have given the ball away 17 times total.

The turnover issue has been even worse for Miami since their bye week. From Weeks 1-4, the Dolphins averaged 2.3 turnovers per game with a turnover rate of 19.0 percent, eighth-worst over that span. From Weeks 6-8, they have averaged 2.7 turnovers per game with a turnover rate of 24.2 percent, fourth-worst over that span.

It is extremely difficult to be as competitive as Miami has been while turning the ball over on nearly a quarter of offensive drives. That just shows how close this team has been recently.

If the Dolphins can lower their turnover frequency down even just to a league-average rate on a consistent basis, they are playing well enough in most other areas to steal a few victories.

Dolphins defense

Strength: Third down

Over the past three weeks, the Dolphins defense has been decent at a lot of things they were historically awful at over the first four weeks. They have taken advantage of a light quarterback schedule, facing Case Keenum, Josh Allen, and Mason Rudolph.

At the beginning of the season, the Miami defense was a monstrosity on third down, giving away first downs like candy on Halloween. They yielded a first down on 57.8 percent of third-down plays from Weeks 1-4, better than only the anemic Redskins (63 percent).

Since the bye week, however, the Dolphins defense has been great at getting off the field on third down. They have allowed a conversion rate of only 31.4 percent on third down since Week 6, seventh-best.

One specific situation where Miami has thrived ⁠— third and short against the pass. On third down with six yards or fewer to go, the Dolphins have allowed a conversion rate of only 28.6 percent (4/14) since Week 6, fourth-best.

Weakness: Takeaways

Miami has the worst turnover differential in the NFL, with a margin of -14 (-2.0 per game).

The defense has been just as much of a problem in that department as the offense. With only three takeaways all season, the Dolphins have forced a turnover on just 3.9 percent of defensive drives, better than only the Falcons (2.5 percent).

It is difficult to generate turnovers at a strong rate without a good pass rush, as the Dolphins have learned this season. Miami is 28th in sack rate (4.2 percent), 29th in pressure rate (18.1 percent), and 29th in quarterback hits per game (3.7).

Fitz and company may find a way to get the turnovers down on offense, but it will be hard for the Dolphins defense to get huge numbers of takeaways simply due to their lack of pass-rushing talent.

Sam Darnold desperately needs a clean, turnover-free game to shake free of his cold stretch before it extends any longer. He needs to go without a giveaway against a Miami defense that is anemic at forcing mistakes.

Special Teams tidbit: Preston Williams looks solid at punt returner

The Dolphins’ improved play out of the bye week has extended to special teams. Following the bye, Miami switched from Jakeem Grant to rookie wide receiver Preston Williams at punt returner, and that switch has paid dividends.

Williams has averaged 12.0 yards per return across his eight punt returns, tying him with the Giants’ T.J. Jones for the best average among the 26 players with at least eight punt returns.

There has not been that one big play ballooning Williams’ average, as his longest return has gone for just 21 yards. Instead, he has earned that strong average with remarkable consistency. Six of his eight returns have gone for more than the league average of 7.3 yards. Four of the eight went for at least 14 yards.

The 22-year-old undrafted rookie from Colorado State is leading the Dolphins in receptions per game (3.9) and receiving yards per game (50.9). Now, he’s competing for the league’s best punt return average as well.

In Williams, the Dolphins have found at least one diamond in the rough out of their 2019 tank campaign.

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