Breaking Down the Jets vs the Dolphins
What a difference one week makes. Last week the Jets were considered dead and buried after a sluggish start versus the Ravens, now they are the toast of the town following a convincing win against the New England Patriots. It is this type of roller coaster ride that makes the NFL the most exciting sport in America. Now the Jets take on the team that swept them last season as they travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins. A win and the Jets take a pretty commanding early season lead in the AFC East. A loss and the roller coaster heads down again for a week.
Jets Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
The Miami defense is the only reason that the Dolphins are currently 2-0. The Miami defense completely shut down the Buffalo Bills and then turned the life of Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre into a nightmare. Miami has only allowed 20 total points in their two road games and has scored 9 of the Dolphins 29 points this season. The key acquisition leading to the Miami turnaround looks to be LB Karlos Dansby, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. Dansby has made a great impact on the club with 17 tackles including the game saving stop on Adrian Peterson of the Vikings last week. His opening game sack was probably similar to setting a new tone in Miami to the way Bart Scott's early season game against Houston in 2009 changed the culture of the New York Defense. Miami's defense is built on pressuring the QB and trying to force the opposition into mistakes. LB Cameron Wake, who came out of nowhere last year to be a contributor, has exploded this season with 3 sacks in two games. Through two games he looks like an absolute game changer on the field. There are still some questions surrounding the defense and how good they really are. They played a Buffalo team that is anemic on offense and is already making a desperation change at QB just two weeks into the year and took on a Minnesota team that looks to be in disarray. The Dolphins front 3 of the defense would look to be suspect as last year they were soft up the middle and when running opposite DE Kendall Langford, but they did have success against the Bills before being run over by the Vikings. The run defense should get a boost if LB Channing Crowder, who engaged in a war of words with Jets coach Rex Ryan in 2009, is able to return from injury for this game. The pass defense has played much better this year due to the improved play of former first round draft picks Jason Allen and Vontae Davis. The two have been excellent thus far making big interceptions, tipping passes, and hitting receivers as soon as they catch the football. Allen, who has basically been an NFL bust, picked off Brett Favre three times last week and made life rough on the Viking wideouts. If there has been a weakness in the pass defense it is the third targets in the passing game, whether wideout or tight end. That responsibility is falling on the shoulders of the demoted CB Sean Smith this week.
Fans received a glimpse of how potent the Jets offense could be when QB Mark Sanchez plays well and his coaching staff is not afraid to let him throw the football. The Jets offense started to open the passing game up last week using the sidelines and intermediate routes as the primary pass strategy. Sanchez did an excellent job of looking off the safety last week and spread the ball around nicely to his players. The Jets also showed the confidence in letting him pass the ball around the goalline, a departure from last years goal line packages. Through two games he has zero interceptions, something not many would have predicted coming into the year. He could be short handed due to the drunk driving arrest of WR Braylon Edwards on Tuesday morning. Edwards, who was invisible against the Ravens, had a big game against the Patriots and the Jets are thin at the position right now. Edwards will be active for Sunday's game, but how much he plays will be decided by the head coach. If he does not play the primary responsibility will fall on WR Jerricho Cotchery who has had a sluggish start to the season. The other starter will be either Brad Smith or David Clowney. Clowney had the biggest game of his career (4 receptions for 72 yards) against the Dolphins and the Jets may try to catch lighting in a bottle with him this week. TE Dustin Keller had a tremendous game against New England and will look to put back to back excellent games together for the first time since his rookie year in 2008. If Keller can become a consistent contributor the passing attack has the potential to be a top unit once WR Santonio Holmes returns from suspension. Despite all the talk of RB LaDainian Tomlinson being brought in solely for name value and how he would be nothing more than a third down back, Tomlinson has clearly become the 1A option in the offense. If RB Shonn Greene can not recapture the physical big play ability he showed at the end of last season Tomlinson has the opportunity to be the clearcut number 1 in this offense. The spring in Tomlinson's step looks as it did three or four year ago. The Jets offensive line has to begin to show improvement. They have been beaten by the opposing defense in each game this season and are not establishing the dominance in the trenches the way they did last season. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson has had a puzzling start to the year. Right now he looks worse than at any point in his career. He is on pace to allow 16 sacks and has already been called for two penalties on the year. The Jets need him to return to form if they are to be an above average offense this season.
If there is one team that Sanchez would likely want to beat it is these Miami Dolphins. He almost had a coming of age 4th quarter against them last year in Miami, but when the Jets defense imploded his moment of glory turned into a story about how he was not as good as Miami's Chad Henne. In the rematch Sanchez had a chance to steal the game on the final play of the game but was shut down on a 4th down attempt deep in Dolphins territory, again leading to more stories about how the young QB could not get it done on a good football team. Being back on national TV gives Sanchez the opportunity to show that he is everything the team thought he was when they drafted him and expect the Jets to give him a few more chances to go down the field with his pass attempts. The real key in the game may be Keller. Miami had problems all of last season covering the opposing tight ends and has been just as bad this season. Look for the Jets to target Keller often and use Edwards and Clowney as clear outs to open up the field. The Jets may also have some success spreading the offense a bit either by using more single back sets or lining Tomlinson up wide. The Jets have to take advantage of a thin secondary and the way to do that is to put more receivers on the field and allow Sanchez to continue to throw safe sideline patterns to his wideouts while using his TE and RB's in the middle of the field. The Jets will be testing the Dolphins run defense to see if the Viking game was an aberration or the real deal. The Jets know if they can establish a dominant run game it becomes demoralizing for an opposing defense that believes they are a top unit. It is the exact strategy the Dolphins used against the Jets in Miami last season. Miami smacked the Jets around at the line, established the tone of the game, and wiped out the defense. The only reason that did not happen to Miami last week was because the Vikings kept turning the ball over every time there was a big pass to be made. If the Jets can play physical football and establish that they control the trenches they are going to score points. It is imperative that the offensive line is up to the challenge. The Dolphins are going to target the left side of the line with their blitzes until Ferguson and LG Matt Slauson prove they can stop it. The Jets can not allow Sanchez to continue getting hit or the defense to blow up running plays right at the line of scrimmage.
Jets Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
Thus far the offense for Miami has been dreadful. Despite the addition of WR Brandon Marshall the passing offense has sputtered and only averages 150 yards a game. QB Chad Henne, who reportedly had a bad offseason and camp, has not looked nearly as good as he did last season. Henne has played this year as if he is just afraid of making a mistake, similar to the way Sanchez played his first game this season. There were some catcalls for QB Chad Pennington late in the preseason, but the 2-0 start has probably saved Henne from hearing that again. Miami's offense is still built upon the running game that features RB's Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Brown has looked excellent this season averaging 5.6 yards per carry and being tough to bring down. Williams, on the other hand, looks like age has finally caught up with him. Williams had been asked to carry the load last year when Brown went down with injury and maybe that was too much for him. The 33 year old does not look like same back thus far. Williams looks slow and has been totally ineffective. He has yet to even catch a ball out of the backfield, one of his prime responsibilities in this offense the last two years. Marshall must be upset with his play thus far in Miami. He has had a few drops and only one big reception. He is being used mainly as a short yardage player and has been blanketed by the opposition, averaging a paltry 1.8 yards after the catch. That is a big difference from his Denver days, on an offense with other passing targets, where he averaged around 5 yards after the catch and was one of the best in the NFL. Miami's other players do not scare anyone. WR Davone Bess is best used in the slot as a shorter yardage possession player, but has seen almost nothing thrown his way. 2nd year pro Brian Hartline will get the starting opportunity opposite Marshall. He has some size, but does not really have a role as a player yet. The strength of the team lies in their offensive line, anchored by LT Jake Long who may be the best in the NFL. The Dolphins believe in a physical game and the line plays a major role in that. They all do a good job of getting that initial surge in the run game and getting to the second level. Other than Long they are suspect in their pass blocking and have given up 5 sacks on the season.
One week after losing NT Kris Jenkins the Jets were dealt another blow was star CB Darrelle Revis strained his hamstring against the Patriots. The safest option for the team is to hold Revis out of this game and the Bills game the following week. That would give him time to recover and let the Jets slowly work him into the season something that they did not do following his lengthy holdout. Without Revis on the field more responsibility will fall on CB Antonio Cromartie who played brilliantly following Revis' departure last week. Cromartie was terrible in week 1, but seems to have a better understanding of what the Jets are looking for in his game. CB Kyle Wilson was also solid last week after a poor rookie debut. The strength of the defense looks to be in the front 7 of the team. The play of the defensive line has been inspired. NT Sione Pouha anchors the middle while DE's Mike DeVito and Shaun Ellis are both getting into the backfield and making stops behind the line. Ellis is having his best season in 4 years. One of the big stories this week will be the return of LB Jason Taylor to Miami. Taylor has yet to comment on this game, but the Dolphins gave up on him and that has to hurt him. He is nursing an elbow, but that did not stop him from making a crucial play late in the Patriot win last week. The Jets other linebackers are all playing well. LB’s Bart Scott and David Harris have combined for 23 tackles and played a key role in eliminating the middle of the field from the Patriot pass attack last week. LB Bryan Thomas has had a good start to the year. The real weakness on the team looks to be in the secondary. Teams look to be taking advantage of the lack of size of S Jim Leonhard more this year and S Eric Smith is just not a high quality player. As S Brodney Pool gets healthier he should take away many of Smith's snaps, but it remains to be seen as to how good Pool is and if he can remain on the field.
The last time the Jets played in Miami the Dolphins embarrassed the defense on national TV. The Jets could do nothing right that day and looked nothing like the defense that nearly carried the team to the Super Bowl in 2009. The Jets came back in the next meeting and completely shut the Dolphins down, but this would be big from a mental standpoint for this Jets team to shut down Miami's offense. The Jets defense has to avoid being overconfident when they come into the stadium this time around. Despite the Dolphins offensive problems in their two road games the Jets must remember that there was a distinct home/away split with Miami last season. Henne threw for 30 more yards a game at home, was far less mistake prone, and put up a lot more points. The Jets have to be ready for an offense that is far better than what they have seen thus far this year. There is some worry that the loss of Revis will be a disaster for the team this week because of Marshall. Cromartie is familiar with Marshall and, with the exception of the historic 18 reception game in 2008, Marhsall was not a dominant figure in those games. The lack of passing weapons in the Miami offense will allow the Jets to give Cromartie help and have some shadow Marshall all game long, and that should be enough to eliminate him from taking over the game. The bigger worry may be how to contain TE Anthony Fasano. Fasano does not have the athletic ability that Todd Heap and Aaron Hernandez possess, but the Jets are having problems against the position and Fasano has had some good game versus the Jets in the past. The real key on defense this week is to keep Miami from converting on third downs. Despite their offensive problems Miami is an excellent third down team. 3rd and short plays are almost automatic with their fullback and running backs able to easily make the needed yardage. For the first 6 quarters of the season the Jets 3rd down defense was awful. They need to play like they did in the second half of last week's game to give their offense a chance to win. The Jets backed off the heavy blitzes last week and may do the same this week. With Henne running the short pass offense the Jets may be best suited to aim for the coverage type sack and let Taylor and Ellis try to get to Henne. If the Jets D-line continues to play as well as they have the last two weeks they should win the battle against Brown which will force Henne into beating them. Miami is likely going to want to turn the game into a slugfest where they win the time of possession battle with a strong run game and controlled pass attack. If the Jets stop the run as they did the last two weeks it will put Miami in a tough position.
With the offseason trade of KR Ted Ginn, whose punt returns beat the Jets one year ago, Miami has little left in the return game. Miami ranks right near the bottom of the NFL in both kick returns and punt returns. Kicker Dan Carpenter is very consistent and has the ability to drive the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, while P Brandon Fields does a good job at pinning teams inside their own 20. Both players are keys to Miami's belief in making certain that the opposition has a long field to work with. The coverage team for Miami is excellent.
One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the inspired play of P Steve Weatherford. His hang time seems to have greatly improved to where he is arguably the hardest punter in the NFL to return on. He is getting more distance on his kicks than he did last season and he is also putting the ball deep in the opponents territory with a chance for his coverage unit to down the football. K Nick Folk makes you hold your breath on almost every kick, but has yet to miss. If the Jets are forced into a low scoring game they need him to be perfect. The coverage team has been solid this year but have missed a few opportunities to stop the football from heading into the end zone for a touchback. Thus far the Jets kick return game has been sub-par and it is doubtful that this is the week it gets back on track.
Tony Sparano comes from that Parcells line of coaches that does not say much in the press or tip his hand as to what the team is planning on doing. He is a conservative coach who believes that strong play in the trenches is what will win games. Unlike Parcells, however, Sparano is like a madman on the sidelines. He is extremely demonstrative and at times overly energetic with his celebrations or complaining. People do not notice it much because he does not portray himself that way before or after the games, but during the games he is one of the louder coaches in the league. Sparano makes some strange boneheaded decisions from time to time regarding clock management, 2 point decisions, and late half strategy, but he has been mildly successful and did beat the Jets twice last season. He is under pressure this year to produce a winner.
Whatever was wrong with the team in week 1, Rex Ryan seemed to fix in week 2. He upped his record against Bill Belichick to 2-1 and did so in pretty convincing fashion. He will have a number of things to deal with this week including how to punish WR Braylon Edwards without hurting the team, how to cope with the loss of Darrelle Revis, and how to deal with all the pomp and circumstance about a prime time game that can be distracting to a team. Last year in this same spot Ryan's Jets believed they were receiving a coronation on national TV and they ended up being run out of the stadium. There are two areas that Ryan must focus on this week. One is that he needs his offense to avoid the sluggish starts that have plagued this team. In a road opener that initial 3 and out really pumps up the already wild home crowd. He also needs to be a bit more aware of the situations on the field. He was caught off guard last week by Brady decision to quickly hit the line after the huge Hernandez catch and the Jets ended up giving up a quick touchdown to Randy Moss.
This is a game with a great storyline that should make for must watch TV. On one side you have a team that is battling for vindication. Miami knows that their 2-0 start is being viewed as that of a paper tiger. They know that when teams talk about the AFC they mention the Jets and Patriots first and then they throw the Dolphin name in there, despite the fact that they swept the Jets last season. They know that their defense is not considered to be for real. A win against their archrivals validates everything Miami believes they are and to do it in front of a huge national audience makes the impact of the game that much greater.
On the other side is a team battling for redemption. Redemption from an awful showing to open the Monday night football schedule. Redemption from two horrible losses against these Dolphins last season, after the Jets players and staff talked trash about the team for months before facing them. Redemption for Jason Taylor whose former Dolphin team did not even give him a token offer to return. If the Jets win this game it will take all the bad that still follows this team and flush it out for good.
What the Jets have to really avoid here is falling into the trap that they did against the Baltimore Ravens in week 1. In that week the Jets mindset was, because they had little respect for the Ravens offense and too much respect for the Ravens defense, to play for a 7-6 win. When you play that way and you fall behind the offense has an impossible time of getting back on track and finding the rhythm they need to win the game which is a major reason why New York is 1-1 rather than 2-0. We know the Jets have no respect for Miami's offense based on comments they made last year both before and after being swept by the Dolphins. The question is do they respect the defense enough to sit on the football?
The Jets need to go into this game and force Miami out of their comfort zone. Miami's comfort zone is to play a 15-10 ugly game of field goals. They do not want to get in a shootout or be forced to come from behind. Their goal is to take the lead, play extremely conservative, and sit on the ball until the clock runs out. The Jets have to make Miami play from behind if they want to win. Henne has not done a great job of dealing with the pressure that comes with expectations. When Miami took control of their playoff destiny last year Henne was awful when it counted. This is a big game for Miami and you want to make him feel as if he has to be the player to win the game. You do that by taking the lead and forcing Miami to score more than 20 points to win the game. If the Jets instead decide to try for the 10-7 win it leaves too many possibilities open for the home team to win the game.
Defensively the Jets need to be prepared to stifle Miami on their opening drive of the game. It is one thing to do that at home, but an entirely different thing to do that in front of a wild crowd that is seeing their first game of the season. The team is looking for all the fans to show up in orange and to be howling (because apparently dolphins and wolves are closely related) during the game. If the crowd follows thru that always makes for a great home field to start the game. Miami last week came out early and ran one big offensive play completely catching the Vikings defense off guard. The Jets don't want to see that happen. Dominate the offense right from the start and the Dolphin crowd will quickly go silent.
This is a huge game for both teams, especially the Jets. If the Jets win this game they will be 2-0 in the AFC East with one of those games having been won on the road. That is a sizeable advantage. The Jets also want to avoid the trap of bouncing around 0.500 for the next few weeks. Good teams get above the 0.500 level and stay there. A win here and the Jets put themselves in a very good position within the East.
One has to think that this is a game the Jets have had circled on their calendar since the end of last season. Miami had the Jets number last year and nearly caused them to miss out on the playoffs. Beating New England was step 1 towards claiming their spot as the top dog in the AFC East and step 2 clearly is defeating the Miami Dolphins two times this season. There is no fooling around or playing it close that should be tolerated this week. This is the week to prove to the world that the Jets are for real and the class of the AFC. The Jets want to build a dynasty and you do that by comfortably winning big games on prime time TV. Ryan will be able to put all the distractions behind them as the Jets roll to 2-1.
Jets 24 Dolphins 10