Tuesday, March 21 2023

The Miami Dolphins didn’t need any more playmakers on offense. And yet they quietly acquired one at the trade deadline. The move flew under the radar, given that the Dolphins also acquired star outside linebacker Bradley Chubb at the deadline. 

Chubb looked like the answer for Miami’s issues in defending the pass. That was the main talking point. So no one spent much time discussing running back Jeff Wilson joining the Dolphins in a deal that sent a fifth-rounder to the San Francisco 49ers.

Two games later, the Dolphins have fought against opponents’ passing offenses … with their own passing offense. 

The best defense is a good offense, right?

And this week, Wilson helped Miami on the ground more than any other running back this year. In a 39-17 win over the Browns on Sunday, Wilson put up a Dolphins season-high in rushing (119 yards) and led the team for the second straight week. (Yes, he’s only been in Miami for two weeks). 

It’s pretty clear we underestimated just how important Wilson could be for the Dolphins offense. 

With Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds in the mix for Miami, I thought they were well-equipped at the running back position. But the Dolphins had been fading Edmonds, whose fit in this offense has been messy. Mostert has gotten stronger as the year has continued, which makes sense as he recovers from a knee injury from last season. But Wilson seems to have instantly elevated the rushing attack to a new level.

“For him to come in and play the role that he’s doing, I can’t be much prouder,” Mostert said postgame. “He’s definitely a guy that we can count on in the run game. I’m just happy for him, because like I said, I saw him when he was just crawling in the league, and now he’s blossoming. He’s doing unbelievable things. We feast off each other. We’re a good 1-2 punch.”

Along with his 119 rushing yards, Wilson also put up a touchdown and two catches for 24 yards. As if the Dolphins needed another explosive element to their offense.

But let’s not overestimate the development of the offensive line. Coach Mike McDaniel has had instant success implementing his passing concepts to this offense, but the running game has taken more work. And that’s typical for his system, which requires offensive linemen to learn new techniques to create holes in the run game. So it helps that Wilson is stepping in at the moment when the offensive line seems to be really getting it.

“When you don’t have immediate results, you get to learn a lot about people,” McDaniel said. “And in this particular circumstance, we have a bunch of guys really working at the craft at a level that you need to really attack something when you are playing an opponent at the National Football League. So it was awesome to see that collective effort really bear fruit.”

Here are some more takeaways from the AFC East after Week 10.

AFC BEast, confirmed

Here are the playoff standings. As the AFC currently sits, all four AFC East teams are projected to make the postseason. All four!

1. Chiefs (7-2)
2. Dolphins (7-3)
3. Titans (6-3)
4. Ravens (6-3)
5. Jets (6-3)
6. Bills (6-3)
7. Patriots (5-4) 

Devin McCourty provides interesting commentary on Joe Judge’s struggles in New York

It’s rare for a Patriot to make news during the bye week.

But that’s what New England safety Devin McCourty did. He made an appearance on CBS, a shrewd move if he wants to enter the media like his twin brother, Jason McCourty, did. And Devin made the most of his appearance by dropping a nugget of interest. He was talking about the quick start for the New York Giants under new coach Brian Daboll.

“No surprise at all,” McCourty said Sunday. “He’s a player’s guy. I actually saw Xavier McKinney, and he talked about having Dabes in the building — easygoing, fun time, different from when Judge was there. And I think all of the players are enjoying it and they’re playing hard for Dabes right now.”

It’s not shade for Judge, exactly. It’s a fact: Judge is a very serious coach who comes off Bill Belichick’s tree. And Daboll, also technically an apple from Belichick’s tree (but not to the same degree as Judge), is more laid back. But it’s not necessarily a flattering sentiment for Judge, who is now the quarterbacks coach in New England.

And I need not remind you how much Mac Jones has regressed this year under Judge and offensive playcaller Matt Patricia. It’s just an interesting comment from McCourty, who is typically much more careful with his words.

Zach Wilson has Bill Belichick to worry about this week

Following the Jets’ Week 8 loss to the Patriots, Wilson was asked about New York trying — and failing — to get payback for a blowout in 2021. 

“Yeah, we’ll have these guys in two weeks,” Wilson said.

And now, after the Jets’ bye week, they travel to Foxborough to play New England. Wilson should have plenty to worry about. 

On one hand, he demonstrated impressive patience in Week 9 as a game manager against the Bills, who boast one of the NFL’s best defenses. In that game, Wilson completed 72% of his passes for 154 yards and a touchdown while adding 24 rushing yards. You barely noticed him in New York’s 20-17 win. That’s kind of how the Jets would like him to play, for now: no Patrick Mahomes impressions, just sound and smart play.

The Jets do not want Wilson to replicate what he did against New England in Week 8. Sure, he threw for 355 yards and two touchdowns. But his poor efficiency (a 48.8 completion percentage) and three interceptions erased all his positive production.

It was more of the same for Wilson, who has completed just 53.6% of his passes for 205 passing yards per game and 18 rushing yards per game in three games against New England. In those three appearances, he has two touchdowns to seven interceptions. 

Bill Belichick owns him. And Wilson will have to put that out of his mind and play as smart as possible against New England in Week 11. Because the Jets are clearly the more talented team. But the Patriots proved to be the smarter team in the previous go-round. If Wilson removes himself from the center of attention, the Jets can win and keep the Patriots from solidifying the tie-breaking series sweep.

The Jets ALSO have Matt Milano to worry about

Buffalo was without its best run-defense playmaker when it played in New York in Week 9. And because the Jets were on a bye and didn’t put up any new game film, I’m still thinking about that game. Because you know the Bills think they’re going to come away with a win in Week 14 in Buffalo — right? (And the Jets think they’re going to win it.)

The difference-maker for that game could be linebacker Matt Milano, who finished the Bills’ epic Week 10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings with six tackles. 

His two tackles for loss came at crucial moments: two separate first-and-goal situations. 

The second-most important tackle for loss came from the 2-yard line during the second quarter. Milano managed a 7-yard loss. It’s not a sack. It’s not an interception. And so it’s probably not the type of play that draws the attention of the average fan. But it pushed the Vikings outside of the 5-yard line, where Minnesota ran two passing plays. Both passes fell incomplete. The Vikings settled for a field goal. That’s a four-point tackle from Milano in my book.

In overtime, Milano helped keep the game alive with a 3-yard tackle for loss with the Vikings again moving back off the 2-yard line. And again, the Vikings threw twice on the ensuing plays. Kirk Cousins took a sack on second down and threw incomplete on third down. They settled for a field goal, which meant that Josh Allen got an opportunity to respond. (He threw an interception that ended the game.) Allen had Milano to thank for that ensuing drive.

Josh Allen, Bills suffer gut-wrenching collapse to Vikings

Craig Carton breaks down the most consequential plays from Buffalo’s loss to Minnesota and decides if the Bills are no longer a real contender.

So what does all this have to do with the Jets?

When we consider that New York will, again, try to manhandle the Bills with running backs Michael Carter and James Robinson, Milano might change who has the advantage. And the Jets’ advantage in the running game was what decided that Week 9 game. New York’s go-ahead drive opened with eight consecutive running plays. The ground game put the Jets in position to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

Every intradivisional matchup is must-see TV in the AFC East. But, man, I can’t wait to see the Bills host the Jets in Week 14. 

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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