Breaking Down the Jets vs the Dolphins
With only 5 games complete, the Jets find themselves in a must win game as they take on their hated rivals the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
Jets Defense vs Dolphins Offense
Miamiís offense has been plagued by many of the same problems that the Jets offense has faced this year. They have a QB who has gotten pounded each week. They canít convert on third downs. They donít score in the red zone. They have no real identity and its just a collection of parts. Miami has had a week off to collect themselves and work in a new quarterback in Matt Moore, who has replaced the injured Chad Henne. Moore had an opportunity to be a starter in Carolina last season after he showed some potential in 2009, but quickly flamed out and was arguably the worst QB in the NFL. Miami does have some talent at the receiver position. WR Brandon Marshall is a headcase and he slowly looks to be playing himself out of Miami. Marshall is having problems catching the ball and leads the league in drops. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are adequate players capable of a surprising day when taken lightly. TE Anthony Fasano has had some good games against New York with 4 of his 14 career touchdowns coming against the Jets.
It should be no surprise that RB Reggie Bush has done nothing since being signed from New Orleans. A former top draft pick, Bush got more credit and publicity for doing nothing in the NFL than almost any player in the history of the league. He has no role on the team and looks to be a pure headline grabbing signing with no real football thought having gone into the decision. Rookie RB Daniel Thomas has shown real flashes of being an excellent player, but he has battled injury issues in his brief time in the league. He should be healthy enough to give it a go on Monday, but whether or not he can last the full game is up for debate. The offensive line has been disappointing, in particular All World tackle Jake Long. Long has given up 4 sacks on the season and may be distracted by the thought of a new upcoming contract. RT Marc Colombo is the only tackle in the NFL consistently worse than Jets RT Wayne Hunter and the Guard play has been poor.
Defensively you have to wonder if the Jets will have to chalk this up as a throwaway year as they plan for the future. The defense is simply not as good as it has been the last two years and for as much as the head coach wants to say its fixable, sometimes you just canít overcome lack of talent. It is doubtful that either Safety will be back next season as both Eric Smith and Jim Leonhard have so many deficiencies each week that it counteracts the tremendous play that the Jets typically get from Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie at corner. NT Sione Pouha, in a contract year, has not played as well as he has in years past, and the lack of speed from the linebackers has been troubling. They played well for periods last week against New England, but could not come up with a crucial stop late in the game and the run defense has overall been poor.
It is a good learning experience for rookie DE Muhammad Wilkerson who at times looks pretty good and at others is exposed as a player who doesnít yet understand the position. He is the type of talent the Jets need to secure the future and the playing time will certainly be beneficial. Perhaps soon the Jets will think of activating DT Kenrick Ellis to gain similar game experience. 2nd year corner Kyle Wilson is looking better this year and should get more opportunities with the injury to Donald Strickland likely keeping him out of this game. Wilson is an athlete the question is whether or not he can play at the NFL level at a consistent level. LBs Jamaal Westerman and Aaron Maybin are likely playing for their careers over the coming weeks.
Besides Revis, the one player truly having an outstanding year is LB Calvin Pace. Paceís inconsistent play make him a frustrating player but he has been consistently good this year. He is pressuring the QB and playing great run defense. Itís been a pleasant surprise. He should be in line for a huge week against a Miami line that just is not very good. Heís been the best linebacker on the team this year and it is not even up for debate.
With the success teams have had running against the Jets, Miami will likely be looking to throw Thomas into the Jets front 7, provided Thomas is healthy. He is the one player that should really be a concern for the Jets. He has ability and the Jets are soft up front right now. With Moore in at QB, it is unlikely that Miami is going to look to throw the ball 30 times so the run defense has to be a priority for the Jets. Miami could try to use Bush against the linebackers in coverage, but Bush has been so bad that it would seem to be an unlikely strategy to work.
With Moore in at QB the Jets primary goal has to be to force Miami into 3rd and longs so they can tee off on him and let the players in the secondary intercept the football. That means the Jets need to bring pressure from all angles and keep their fingers crossed that there is no breakdown in the man to man coverage they will be forced to use outside. Wilson will probably be the player the Dolphins target in coverage as they will feel confident with him lined up against Bess. Wilson has the tools but he has to avoid penalties as he is often very close to running receivers over without making a play on the ball. If the Jets can force Miami to pass this has the potential to be similar to the Jaguars game.
The one thing the Jets need to overcome is their first quarter problems on defense that have plagued them this year. It is a confidence booster for every opponent to come out and beat up the defense early in the game before they settle down. Miami has had two weeks to prepare for this game and will be looking to make a statement quickly and take the crowd out of the game. If the Jets give up a quick 7 again the homefield advantage is going to disappear rather fast.
Jets Offense vs Dolphins Defense
While Miamiís offense has been poor, the defense has been almost non-existent. Miami expected big things out of the defense and had the players in the secondary proclaim that they were the best secondary in the division, a dig right at the Jets. Needless to say they have not gotten it. The only pass defense worse than the Dolphins is the New England Patriots. Miami has had players in and out of the lineup, but that is no excuse. The corners have not played well and are susceptible to getting beat down the field. Teams are basically batting 1000 against the Dolphins. Corners Sean Smith and Nolan Carroll have been nightmares for Miami never even being in a position to make life tough for a wideout. They hope that the return of CB Vontae Davis will help, but he has not been a world beater in the past nor has he been good in his two games he played this season. The Dolphin safeties both have issues covering Tight Ends or lending support on runners out of the backfield. The one scary player Miami has defensively is LB Cameron Wake. He is a player with relentless energy and great speed that is always going to be in the QBís face. Former Jet Jason Taylor has had a sluggish start to the year and is more or less giving the Dolphins the exact same contributions he gave to the Jets. Every now and then he will make a nice play on the field, but more often than not you forget he is in the game. The run defense is very soft up the middle. NT Paul Soliai may be the most overpaid player in the NFL, but the guys behind him, ILBís Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, are inept right now. They canít cover and they are not giving the run support the team needs in critical spots. Miami paid Dansby big money and it looks like money poorly spent by the team.
This could possibly be the most important game of the season for the offense. They are coming apart at the seams and the trade of WR Derrick Mason seems to have made things worse. There is a clear divide on the team between the veteran receivers on the team and the offensive coordinator and the subtle talk is clearly directed at Mark Sanchez, who has struggled to find any chemistry with Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. The Jets came into this season trusting that Sanchez would be more consistent and help Holmes reach those big numbers he had in Pittsburgh a few years ago, but he is still plagued by inconsistency and is quick to check the ball off rather than waiting for a play to develop down the field.
If Sanchez continues to play poorly, and he has had some nightmare games against Miami, he is going to have a hard time leading the Jets the rest of the year. In reading comments from some former Jets like Kris Jenkins and Damien Woody, there seems to be an underlying thought that Sanchez has held the team back and the offense is hamstrung by the way the team coddles him. It was accepted as a rookie and even a 2nd year pro, but I think there may be some who think enough is enough at this point. The Jets defense has not been good enough to complain, but unless the offense can start to pick up the slack the way the defense did the last two seasons, they may begin pointing fingers as well.
It is a messy situation that wonít go away until the Jets win a few games and the offense looks good in the process. The Jets clearly got a boost from the return of C Nick Mangold as both the run game and the pass protection were far better than they had been all year. Mangold was held out of practice this week and you have to wonder if he will be 100% at all again this season, but as long as he can play on Sundays the Jets line can at least be adequate. The Jets need the line to open up the running game for the offense to work. Nobody respects the runners on the team, but RB Shonn Greene had his best game of the season before tiring out towards the end of the Patriot game. Early in game he was running through defenders and showing some of those skills he showed as a rookie. When Greene gets a head of steam he is a good downhill runner, but he needs the line to make a big enough to let him get going. He is completely ineffective if he has to slow down and find a place to run.
Miami is one of the worst defenses in the NFL and if the Jets canít get the offense going against Miami there is probably no team in the NFL they can get it going against. Wake has to be contained, but he is the only pass rusher the team has. Miami is not like other teams where the primary pass rusher gets so much attention that the pocket collapses and allows others to come in and get the QB. Itís either Wake gets to the QB or nobody gets to the QB. The Jets have to open things up this week and allow the receivers to get chances down the field to make plays. That isnít just to win the game but to possible salvage the season. For the Jets to continue with the dink and dunk approach on offense it must mean that there is something seriously wrong with either the QB or the offensive line. Sanchez has to be confident and just go out and play ball. He seems to be thinking too much on the field, which may be due to the ďdonít screw it upĒ message he has always been given since the middle of 2009, and that only makes the offense sputter. This is likely one of the reasons he plays well later in games where he figures he cant screw it up any worse than the game is already screwed up. Let the running game carry the team home to victory, but the Jets need a big passing game early for the psyche of the team.
The lousy play hasnít been exclusive to just the offense and defense. K Dan Carpenter has been extremely inconsistent this year and already missed two easy field goals on the season. Both kick and punt coverage has been poor, while the return game is average. P Brandon Fields has been the one bright spot with a strong leg and a good ability to down teams deep in their own territory.
The Jets special teams are going to have to help the offense score points. KR Joe McKnight, who has excelled since taking over the job, needs to make the most of the opportunities he gets this week to give the offense good field position. With WR Jeremy Kerley getting promoted in the offense its uncertain whether he will or will not return punts. If he does not return punts the job will likely fall to McKnight. If all goes according to plan the Dolphins will punt often, making the punt returner a big person in the game. P TJ Conley could be punting for his job. He has been inconsistent and has one of the weakest legs in the NFL.
Miami coach Tony Sparano is basically a dead man walking the sidelines. Ownership tried to fire him, but had to take him back when nobody else wanted the job. The players donít seem to respect him and at 0-4 this is his Super Bowl. If they fall to 0-5 he might not get another week to coach the team. Sparano does some weird things in a game as it relates to certain decisions, such as two point conversions, and can be very animated on the sidelines, but he has had the Jets number since becoming the Dolphin head coach in 2008, compiling a 4-2 record against the Jets.
Rex Ryan is faced with a big dilemma right now. He tells his players to talk as much as they want and makes it known that he can handle anyone in a locker room. Now those statements are coming back to haunt him. The additions of Mason and Burress have blown up the locker room and Holmes has gone off the deep end criticizing the team. Mason being shipped out made it seem like Rex cant handle it and he cant find a way to keep Holmes quiet. All three went after the offensive coordinator, and all three have made very subtle jabs at the QB. Holmes has now called out his entire offensive line.
Rex doesnít want to change the way he runs things, but he has to find a way to reign these players in. At 2-3 the situation is teetering into become a full blown problem. At 2-4 it will be a disaster and there will be a big split in the locker room. Winning and playing well in doing so cures a lot of bad feelings in a hurry. Continuing to play poorly and it will be a nightmarish season. Rex has never taken Miami seriously as an opponent and the Jets often lose to them because of it. He can not afford to take Miami lightly with the hole the Jets have dug themselves into. He has to have the team playing crisp, mistake free football and eliminate all the bad penalties being caused by his players on the field.
A very difficult game to predict. Both teams are playing poor football. Both teams have high priced players not playing well. Both teams have very bad offensive situations with major questions about the QB play. Neither team looks to be making any plans to play football in January.
Miami has had a full week to prepare for this game and just focus on the Jets. The players may not like the coach, but the worst of that situation has passed. The fact that Sparano did escape the bye week will at least make the players think he is there for the full year regardless of how poor they play, even if that is not realty the case. The Jets, on the other hand, have spent most of the week defending themselves from the comments made about them by other players on the team. If the Jets can not be focused they can not win.
You have to wonder what kind of home field advantage the Jets will have in the game. I think much of the fanbase has already decided this is going to be a poor year after the way the Jets played the first few weeks. Interest in the team is way down and likely interest in the game is way down. If this was an early game it has the makings of a game where the tailgaters donít get into the stadium until the end of the first quarter, but being at night might help in that regard. Still, the fans are going to be restless and with a long day ahead of them will voice their displeasure early in this game if the Jets stumble.
The Jets do catch a break with the one extra day to relax and focus on football. If the Bills and/or Patriots lose on Sunday it can bring a renewed sense of excitement to the team, knowing with just one win they will be right behind the best teams in the division. Other stories will unfold in the press between kickoff Sunday and the time the Jets kickoff on Monday, leaving the Jets a full day to get away from all the turmoil. The Jets need to get away from that.
The one thing that stands out this year with Miami is that they donít know how to win football games. They have been in a number of games, they just do not know how to make the plays when it counts. They kind of hang around and then something goes wrong towards the end and they lose. The Jets have not given games away. They just are overmatched against better teams right now. Miamiís problems are a more inherent flaw that is going to hold against a team that has 2 wins or a team that has 5 wins. The Jets problems, at least right now, seem to be based on talent and Miami is not as talented as New York.
The Jets should win the game, but it will probably be ugly and not answer any questions about the team. For the Jets to begin to quiet the doubters they need an all around effort that leads to a 35-10 type win. They canít do that now, but maybe this can lead them onto the road where they can do it at the end of the season.
Jets 16 Dolphins 10
Having said that, when a significant number of players begin to vocalize their discontent with a coach, more times than not, there is merit to that discontent. The offense has been vanilla at best under Schottenheimer's tutelage, and now the vanilla has soured. Now that the defense is not as imposing as it once was, the offense can no longer get away with sputtering.
More importantly, however, I am disgusted with the way Sanchez has been handled (or mishandled). This kid has amazing athletic ability. Physically, he has what it takes to be a superstar. But, throughout his tenure with the Jets, he has been hog tied and told not to screw up the game. Whenever he does make a mistake, they scream at him and make it seem as though he is the reason they lost the game. They have that kid scared witless to make a decision, and now he second guesses himself and misses open receivers because he is hesitating too long.
Part of the problem, I feel, is that the head coach already had his mind made up, "We're goin' to the Super Bowl, and none of you had better screw that up." I honestly feel Sanchez would fluorish if the coach would stop SAYING "We are concentrating on one game at a time," and start ACTING on it. Stop making the QB feel like a mistake will prevent the team from going to the Super Bowl. Allow him to make a mistake, learn from it, and grow as a result of it.
Bottom line? While I am less than impressed with team members who deliberately do things to HURT the team, and who tend to be cry babies to the media, I also find some merit to their angst, and I cannot say I'd shed any tears to see Schotty replaced. I just hate to see that sort of disruption six games into the season.