Breaking Down the Jets vs the Dolphins
After the drubbing at the hands of the Patriots the Jets have to quickly get their heads straight and prepare for the 6-6 Miami Dolphins, who must win every game to have a chance at making the playoffs.
Jets Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
If there is one thing that Miami has done well this season its playing defense, specifically on the road. Miami has seven games on the year where they have given up 17 points or less, a number that normally should win you football games. They play terrific red zone defense and are one of the best in the NFL in that regard. That are also excellent at stopping teams on third down. The team doesn't have many name players on the defense, but they play well as a team and have strong fundamentals. The D-line has played very well, with both DE Randy Starks and DE Kendall Langford having good seasons. They have held the front much in the way the Jets defenders have allowing LB Karlos Dansby to make a number of tackles. Dansby has been slowed down by injury of late and has not had the same impact. OLB Cameron Wake has become a pass rushing machine. He gave the Jets fits in the last game and will look to do the same this week. Wake is extremely quick and does a great job of changing directions to get after the QB. Miami does what it can to limit the big pass play, but they do not have great talent in the secondary. When the pass rush does not get to the QB it becomes hard for the corners to keep up with higher quality wideouts. Neither CB Vontae Davis or CB Sean Smith are dangerous players and the team was looking to move Smith to Safety just a few weeks ago. Injury has forced him back into a starting role. Neither starting safety is particularly good in coverage and opposing Tight Ends have often found their way wide open against their coverages. Like the Jets, the Dolphins do not do much in the way of capitalizing on QB mistakes. S Yeremiah Bell is a force in run support.
Once again the Jets offense came up zeros in a big football game in what was far and away their worst performance of the season. Nothing went right for the team and everyone played poorly. Despite some of the high point totals the offense has really been below average since the Vikings game. Every game they start out extremely slowly and then use a few big plays to pull off a comeback towards the end of the game. If you take the big play scores (20 plus yards), special teams scores, and scores set up by the defense out of the equation the Jets offense averages less than 10 points per game since the Vikings game, a total that includes scores set up by big pass plays at the end of a game or in a drive, such as the bomb against the Texans. That is not just bad that is atrocious. Now big plays are a part of football and its not fair to simply pretend those plays do not exist, but the Jets have to begin to realize that teams are getting wise to the way they play and using coverage schemes that best eliminate those plays. One of the concerns in that regard has also been the play of QB Mark Sanchez the last few weeks. Sanchez went through a streak a few weeks back where he was throwing the ball extremely well once the game started moving a bit. The last two or three games he has begun to show some signs either of a tired arm or an arm having issues in the elements. His long passes are often falling well short either leading to an interception or a missed opportunity, things that did not happen earlier in the year. The Jets last two games have been at night so hopefully it is more about dealing with the nighttime cold and he will improve as the winter goes on. His wide receivers have to do a better job of helping him than they did last week. Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Brad Smith, and LaDainian Tomlinson all made some mistakes on the field that cost the team a chance for a first down. The offensive line also has to do a better job. The Jets have huge amounts of money invested in the line and almost everyone has played below the expectation level. C Nick Mangold and RT Damien Woody have dealt with injuries that may have affected their play, but the other three do not have such excuses. The Jets pride themselves on being able to physically dominate the line of scrimmage but that has never happened this season. The running game did show some signs of life with both Tomlinson and RB Shonn Greene showing consistent play for the first time in two months. If there is one positive to take out of last weeks game that would be it.
The first thing the Jets have to do is mentally put last weeks mess behind them and be ready for a fast start. The loss last week crushed the fan base and the offense will get booed off the field if they do nothing on the first drive of the football game. The Jets really need to begin to re-establish the running game to be successful from this point onward. Last week was the first game of the season where Sanchez completely regressed into year 1 form and clearly his confidence is low. The way to repair his confidence is to start to take some of the pressure off his shoulders and get a ground game going that puts him in better situations on third downs and makes the playfake much more effective. The poor play from the line and inability of the backs to make big plays have made the Jets somewhat one dimensional. They can't be that way for the month of December, especially when you consider that all of their games are going to be played in freezing cold conditions. While the Dolphins do have a good run defense the Jets have to show the ability to impose their will on a strong run defense. It is exactly what the New England Patriots did to the Jets last week when they just blew the Jets off the line and took the heart of the defense away. The Jets need to break the back of the Dolphins with their running game and have that open the passing game for Sanchez. It was around this time last season when Greene started to become a big contributor and they have to hope to catch lighting in a bottle again and use him to establish the run. The team also has to get Sanchez and Tomlinson on the same page in regards to the passing game. Tomlinson is getting open but there is some miscommunication between he and Mark and Tomlinson often does not look ready for the pass. If the Jets cant establish the run they need to start using the short pass as a long handoff with Tomlinson. One has to assume the receivers will have a better game than last week, but they do need TE Dustin Keller to have a presence. It is impossible to expect weekly contributions from him, but he has been invisible for a month now. Keller has to get involved and take advantage of a team whose safetys and linebackers have a terrible time covering the tight end.
Jets Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
It has just been a disaster on offense for Miami. They don't score points and they don't move the football that well. QB Chad Henne, who was proclaimed the future of the organization at the end of last season, was already benched once and if not for injury to veteran QB Chad Pennington would not be starting this game. If he plays extremely poorly it would not be a shock if backup QB Tyler Thigpen enters the game. Henne has been gunshy with the football and has not made great decisions in some critical spots. He has gone 9 straight games with an interception and has multiple pick games in three of them. He does not seem to have a great connection with his star WR Brandon Marshall who reportedly lobbied for the change in QB. Marshall has almost always been a big bodied possession receiver, but Henne does not even give it a chance to develop down the field. Marshall torched the Jets in their first matchup but will be nursing a hamstring this week. WR Brian Hartline, who also had a big game in the last contest, is most likely not playing due to a finger injury. That will force WR Davone Bess into the game as a starter with basically nobody else behind him on the depth chart. The running game has been a big disappointment for the club. They no longer can use the Wildcat and gain anything out of the formation which has put RB's Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams back in the normal pro style backfield. Brown has looked awful and has no open field ability at all. He is just about to turn 29 years old and it looks like he has hit the 30 year old wall a bit early. Williams has been running better of late, but the team does not use him nearly as much as Brown. Williams has had a few bad fumbles on the season which may be why they only use him for a limited number of crries per game. Both runners are hurt by the fact that the passing offense has no vertical game at all, allowing teams to play tight to the line and quickly clog the running lanes. The offensive line is not playing as well as they have the last two seasons. LT Jake Long is going to have his worst year as a pro both in terms of sacks allowed but also in terms of penalties. RT Vernon Carey is also going to have his worst statistical season and is also battling injury problems. There is a chance he may miss the game entirely.
The one thing last weeks game showed is that the Jets are not an elite defense and won't be this season, but there is no reason to believe that the defense is anywhere near as bad as what was shown last week. New England exploited every single defensive efficiency the Jets had and also played a perfect game in the cold. The more alarming issue is that the defense looked to give up and made the game get out of hand when the Patriots ran the score up. The problems in the defense are all clear. The Safety play was awful with S Jim Leonhard and its even worse without him. S Eric Smith doesn't belong in the league and S Brodney Pool never makes an impact. Unfortunately there is no other option so the Jets will have to deal with those two for the rest of the season. The team whiffed on CB Kyle Wilson being ready to contribute this season which has left a void at the nickel that is best filled by Drew Coleman. The front 7 has solid players but no impact talent that can rush the passer. The Jets were confident that their pass rush schemes and two star cornerbacks would create a big pass rush, but it has not worked that way and the Jets have one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL. These are issues that the Jets should have been aware of for months and the odds of facing anything close to what they saw in New England is pretty slim, so the deficiencies should not kill the team. The one concern is the play of CB Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie has had a good season, but was awful last week and only average against the Bengals the week before. Cromartie is a warm weather player and the team has to see if there is a big drop in play now that it is cold. He clearly had no desire to be out there last week as evidenced by his poor tackling. If he cant be a cold weather player then the team is in trouble because it will be a new set of problems for the defense that they are likely not prepared for.
The real key defensively is to shut down the Dolphins running game. Though the running game is not a dangerous one, Miami has been able to use their runners effectively on the road to run clock and win the battle of field position for the team. The Dolphins road offense is very dependant on the defense keeping the game low scoring and considering how sluggish the Jets offense looks one has to assume this will be a low scoring contest. If that is the case the Jets defense needs to force Miami to pass the football by taking the run away. That task is mainly going to fall on LB's Bart Scott and David Harris. Scott's role against a team like Miami is a crucial one as he is going to be responsible for taking on lead blockers and making sure they don't blow a hole through the line. Harris will need to be there to finish off the runner. Once they force the Dolphins into passing situations the game will fall on the shoulders of Henne whose confidence is already shaken by the lack in faith the team and staff have in him. Though you can often throw out the stats when these teams meet, all signs point to the Jets having a major advantage in the pass defense. The injury to Hartline makes the Dolphins basically 2 deep at WR meaning they have limited opportunity to exploit the secondary coverage woes. TE Anthony Fasano is the not the kind of threat that should go off for big pass plays down the field and CB Darrelle Revis will get the chance to totally shut down Marshall. The only real concern for the Jets will be the tackling in the secondary when Bess gets the football. The tackling last week, particularly by Cromartie, was horrendous in the secondary. Bess is a slippery player that does tremendous damage after the catch. You would like to see a better pass rush this week from the Jets particularly from LB Calvin Pace and LB Jason Taylor. If Taylor can not make an impact against his former team how can you count on him for anything? Pace has been invisible and the Jets need something from him. The Jets should be able to take advantage of the injury on the right side of the line and attack it, much in the way teams have done to the Jets Damien Woody. If the Jets can keep the offense out of the end one early they will be in a good position to win. Most of the Dolphins points will come early in a game.
Miami does not have a great special team unit. K Dan Carpenter has a very strong leg, but accuracy is an issue outside of 45. The kickoff coverage is terrible and right at the bottom of the NFL. Teams are returning for big yards on the Dolphins. KR Nolan Carroll is steadily improving and could be dangerous if he breaks through the first wave of tacklers. WR Davone Bess normally handles punts, and is one of the better returners, but may be more limited this week if he is going to play all the offensive snaps as well.
The Jets special teams was a mess last week with P Steve Weatherford having his worst game as a Jet and likely of his career. Weatherford nearly missed the ball on a punt which ended up being the final nail in the coffin for the team. He has had a great season before that and should be expected to return to form this week. K Nick Folk's job is hanging by a thread. The coach has already stated that he may have to think twice about allowing him to attempt big kicks and one more bad game and he will be replaced. The Jets are searching for a man to nail down the punt return job. WR Santonio Holmes may be too valuable which means it will likely be a rotation between WR Jerricho Cotchery and CB Kyle Wilson . Cotchery has no upside as a return man, but does have great hands. Wilson could have more potential, but a total unknown. KR Brad Smith will look to do something this week in what looks to be a very favorable matchup.
Miami coach Tony Sparano has to know that his job is likely finished unless they can finish the season very strong. He has done a terrible job bringing QB Chad Henne along and should catch the full brunt of the blame if Henne does not show anything these last four games. By the time he finally decided to bench Henne the playoffs were basically out of reach due to the large gap the Jets and Patriots had built over Miami and all it accomplished was ruining his confidence. Sparano has beaten the Jets 3 times and has yet to lose in the Meadowlands so he does seem to gameplan well for this group of players. He made the move to bring his team up a day early to get them acclimated to the cold weather, a move that will be heavily criticized if it fails to work. Many players complain when coaches change routines or force them into hotels for an extra day. Sparano's strategy this week will likely be to try to make Sanchez lose the game for the Jets, by forcing him into situations where he is forced to try to do too much.
Many people are assuming that Rex Ryan's biggest job this week is to keep the bad taste from last weeks game from polluting the way they play this week against Miami. While that may be true I think its probably to a very limited extent. While the loss crushed the fan base the way the Jets played the game makes me wonder if it will be that big of a deal to the players. The Jets, particularly on defense, gave no effort beyond the middle of the second quarter. That being the case I don't think this has the dramatic effect on them that many believe it does. Rex has had to deal with big losses before and, IMO, the losses last season to Miami (twice) and Atlanta and this years loss to Baltimore were far more damaging to the team because they played hard and still lost. The team did play well off the Atlanta and Baltimore loss so I believe Ryan can certainly handle the team if in fact they are way down.
Really his biggest job this week is to come up with a gameplan that spins the Jets into a positive light and has them playing more effective football. The team really follows the coach and his weekly bits of laughing things off and then saying “I promise we'll fix it” may not be sending the right message to the team. The team can not continue to play nail biters against bad teams and get beat up by good teams. Rex actually has to do something to improve the teams focus, specifically at the start of these games. He also needs to work on his own in game readiness, a topic that we have touched on since last season. The 10 and 12 men on the field penalties. The late subs causing wasted time outs or delay of game calls. The poor use of challenges. The Jets need a big win this week and Rex needs a better coaching performance as well.
This is a big test for both the Jets and the fans of the team. The Jets can still win the division with a little help, but they have to win this game for it to happen. The Jets have not had a great home field this season and with the expected cold weather a poor showing early is going to chase 1/3 of the stadium inside while the rest remain quiet. The last thing you want to have happen is to have a warm weather road team with a shaky QB get to come and play in a quiet stadium. That is going to lead to another disappointment.
The Jets need a wakeup call. They need their coach to be honest with them and explain that they are not the best team in the NFL and probably not even in the top 5. But he has to let them know they have the potential to be. This is the turn of the season where its all about getting hot and playing good football. His defense needs to throw out all the negative of the first 12 games and try to make these next 4 games about becoming an elite defense. The offense needs to become more efficient and start playing 60 minute football. The Jets would not be the first team in the league to do this nor would they be the last. Who would have ever thought that the Giants, Steelers, or Colts would have won the Super Bowls off those years they had? Not many. But they all got hot on one or both sides of the ball when the turn to the playoffs began and never looked back.
The Jets have to start that process now. They have to blowout the bad and then beat the good. They need to be prepared for the playoffs. They wont likely reach their goal of hosting a playoff game or having the best record in the NFL, but now is the time to set their sites on the Super Bowl. Win these next 3 games and they can give themselves a bye week to end the season and prepare for the playoffs. Come out flat this week and continue to just assume things will work out because “they did last year” and the season will be written off as a bitter disappointment right up there with 2008 and 1986.
Miami won't be an easy opponent. They play too good on defense to just walk right through them, but the Jets are the better team. They should be more physical. They should have the better personnel. They should have the better coaching. Its time for the Jets to show it on the field. These teams almost always play very tight games and the Jets have to be prepared for that before pulling away late to make it look easy. The confidence everyone has in the team will grow from there.
Jets 24 Dolphins 13