Miami looks to extend its win streak to five games when it hosts a struggling Jaguars team on Sunday.
At the midway point of the season, the Jaguars looked like they were on their way to qualifying for the playoffs for a second straight year. Jacksonville, though, has since lost two of three to fall to 6-5.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have experienced another late-season resurgence after starting the year 1-6. They improved to 5-6 with a 27-10 win at Detroit on Thanksgiving.
Miami hopes the extended time off since that victory will help running back Ronnie Brown recover from surgery to repair a broken left hand. Brown, who leads the Dolphins with 783 rushing yards, will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.
Injuries are nothing new to the Jaguars.
Jacksonville’s defense has been depleted over the course of the season, but remains dominant, allowing the third-fewest yards in the NFL with 276.2 per game. That defense, however, hasn’t been strong on the road.
Jacksonville has won five of six home games, allowing 244.7 yards per outing, but has given up 314.0 in going 1-4 on the road.
In last week’s 27-24 loss at Buffalo, Jacksonville held the Bills to 241 yards, but allowed its most points since also giving up 27 in a loss at Houston on Oct. 22.
“Obviously, things have not gone the way you would hope from a relative health standpoint,” Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. “However, where we are right now with the players we have on this football team, we feel like we can go out and compete with anyone.”
The Jaguars have seen that confidence in quarterback David Garrard as he continues to start for Byron Leftwich, who was placed on injured reserve Friday after undergoing ankle surgery last week. Garrard completed 16 of 22 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday.
Garrard has thrown for 859 yards and five touchdowns in five starts this season, while throwing four interceptions in that span.
The Jaguars are having their worst season on the road since dropping all eight games away from home in 2003.
“We’ve been very inconsistent on the road,” Del Rio said. “We haven’t won a whole lot.”
Miami has been winning plenty no matter where it has played lately.
The Dolphins, who won six straight to end last season, have turned things around behind the play of quarterback Joey Harrington.
In his first game against his former team, Harrington completed 19 of 29 passes for 213 yards and a season high-tying three touchdowns against the Lions. He is averaging 245.3 yards and has 10 TDs in seven starts since taking over for the injured Daunte Culpepper, and coach Nick Saban expects him to play even better.
“Something that we need to continue to do is make more explosive plays vertically in the passing game,” Saban said. “I think Joey’s making improvement in that area. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with our guys.”
Miami is also dominant defensively. The Dolphins are fifth in the NFL with 279.5 yards allowed per game and have held three of their last four opponents to 13 points or fewer.
These teams have split their first two meetings—both in Jacksonville— with Miami winning 24-10 in the last matchup on Oct. 12, 2003. The Jaguars beat the Dolphins 31-26 in Miami in the preseason.
“I do think that when you play against a team, even in the preseason game, you try to become familiar with their personnel and some of the things they do,” Saban said. “I always think it’s a good learning experience to go against people because they still run their offense, they still run their defense, and they still have the same players.”