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Breaking Down the Jets vs the Dolphins

With the first quarter of the season complete, the surprising Jets, at 3-1, enter an extremely important four game stretch beginning Monday night in Miami. The 1-3 Miami Dolphins will be treating this game as their Super Bowl. A loss here ends their hopes of having a chance to defend their title while a win puts them right back in the AFC East hunt. The Jets will be coming off a loss for the first time this season and will have something of a microscope on them and their young Quarterback during this game. Win convincingly and the Jets solidify their role as contender. Lose and there will be questions about where the team is headed in 2009.

Jets Offense vs. Dolphins Defense

Lost in the terrible start for Miami, is the fact that their defense has played very well this season. They held the Falcons below 20 and the Chargers to just 16 offensive points in San Diego in a game where the Dolphins were deflated after losing the starting QB. The teams run defense has been outstanding and has been led by the very consistent defensive line. NT Jason Ferguson may be having his best season since his run with the Jets early in the decade. Ferguson is doing an excellent job in the middle of the line occupying blockers and eliminating the ability of the opposition to cut back. DE Kendall Langford has shown continued improvement, especially against the run, though he could be scratched from the game due to an ankle injury. DE Phillip Merling, their most versatile player on the line, is also injured. He is a key backup and that will hurt the team if he can not play. The Dolphin linebackers have had a hit or miss season. While they have played well in run support they have been unable to make plays in the backfield and have had issues in coverage. They are getting torched by the oppositions tight ends including Dallas Clark going for over 180 yards. Their two aging stars- Jason Taylor and Joey Porter- have been basically invisible all season. They expect impact plays from these two, but thus far there has been little, other than Taylor’s two sack performance against a Bills team completely depleted on the offensive line. Porter was inactive and is battling injury but expects to play. In his absence LB Cameron Wake had three sacks against the Bills. The question is will he ever do that against a team with a competent line or will he be a one game wonder? The Dolphin secondary is an interesting case. More often than not their young cornerbacks are playing very well, however veteran Will Allen just has plays where he can not seem to keep up. Their weakest point, which also is a major reason behind the tight end success, is at the safety spots. The tackling has been poor by everyone in this group. Safety Gibril Wilson has been terrible and may have lost his starting job after just four games. Their mistakes are a prime reason why the Dolphins have a tendency to give up big pass plays. Even though the Dolphins rank 7th in the NFL in completion percentage they rank 31st in the NFL in plays over 20 and 40 yards. In their last three games they have given up at least two passes per game over 35 yards. That is killing them as they allow teams to change field position off just one play which basically negates an entire quarter of hard work on defense.

The Jets will have a major change in their offense this week coming in the form of WR Braylon Edwards. WR has been a sore spot for the Jets for many years and Edwards gives the Jets the potential for a legit number 1 receiver. The need for another target, which has been discussed since the summer, became very apparent in the Titans game and helped lead to the meltdown in New Orleans. Edwards gives the Jets a huge athletic target that provides a big down the field threat. He should mesh nicely with WR Jerricho Cotchery who will finally get some relief from the double teams he has seen this year. Edwards will also allow TE Dustin Keller, who has been neutralized the previous two weeks, to find more favorable matchups and one on one situations. QB Mark Sanchez, who was already going to be watched closely after last weeks disaster, is now going to be overanalyzed this week. This may be his most pressurized start yet as he will be on national TV with the unrealistic expectations brought on by the trade for Edwards. People have begun to question Sanchez’ ball handling and if he continues to fumble the ball it will start to become an issue he will constantly hear about. This is a big week for the Jets offensive line. Right now they are not living up to their salaries and have done an awful job opening holes for the run game. Last week they allowed Sanchez to come under heavy pressure and did a terrible job of recognizing what the Saints were doing on the line. Both tackles were below average and Damien Woody suffered an ankle injury that could limit him this week. Thomas Jones’ starting job may be hanging by a thread. The Jets gave Shonn Greene a few carries last week and he looked good before injuring an ankle. Greene looks like he has the makings of an injury prone player, but with neither Jones nor Leon Washington doing much the Jets will likely give him another look.

This looks to be a good matchup for the Jets offense. Even prior to the addition of Edwards the Jets were basically a big play/big drive offense. The Jets offense doesn’t grind out yardage and pick and prod their way down the field. They either go 3 and out or score quickly off a few big pass plays that pick up big chunks of yardage at a time. Those occasional big plays are the Achilles heel of this Dolphins defense and they do not have the pass rushers or secondary smarts to force Sanchez into multiple mistakes. Edwards should immediately provide some contribution against Miami, even if he only grabs one or two passes. When he is on the field he is going to allow Cotchery and Keller the chance for a big game and the Jets will need it from one of those two guys. Keller having a break out game would probably be a good confidence booster for him and the Jets will likely make him a primary target. Since it is doubtful that Edwards will play even close to all the snaps it opens up the WR competition once again for David Clowney. Brad Smith has not done anything to help as a WR and last week ran a wrong route that may have opened the door for Clowney to get some playing time. If Clowney does nothing this week or is not inserted into the game you may as well write his career off. The Jets will need to find a way to get Washington more involved in the offense. This is the type of opponent where, if they get him the ball past the line of scrimmage, he can have a huge gain or two. Washington has been disappointing in his expanded role thus far and needs to come alive if he wants his contract extension. It would be hard to picture Jones having much of an impact this week.

Jets Defense vs. Dolphins Offense

The reason the Dolphins are only 1-3 this season is because the Miami offense has been unable to score points and been unable to hold onto the football. The Chad Henne era began early when Chad Pennington went down to another shoulder injury. The Dolphins, who did their best to hide Pennington’s weaknesses’ with innovative play calling and a reliance on the run, will have will do even more to hide the young Henne. Miami’s offensive line has been hideous this season trying to protect the QB, including allowing 6 sacks to the Bills last week. Despite running short passing plays the Dolphins Qbs are being sacked on 11.2% of their passing attempts, 5th worst in the NFL. Tackle Jake Long has had a poor follow up to his rookie season. No wide receiver stands out for the team. Ted Ginn has almost moved completely into bust territory due to inconsistent play and failure to improve. Neither Greg Camarillo nor Davone Bess can really break away to be a consistent threat, but they both play hard. Bess has potential to do something with the ball once he catches it. TE Anthony Fasano, who killed the Jets last season, has been a non-factor. Unless things improve it is hard to imagine Henne being given much of a chance in 2009 unless he is really is the next Dan Marino. The Dolphins 1st, 2nd, and 3rd option is in their running game. Miami runs more than any team in the NFL and averages just under 185 yards a game. They use the run to try to control the clock and limit the oppositions offensive chances. The team that popularized the “Wildcat” remains the most successful of the teams that use it. While most felt that teams would simply find a way in the offseason to combat it, Miami continues to find great success out of the formation. Much of the credit has to go to RB Ronnie Brown who looks to be fully recovered from his knee injury suffered in 2007. He is running far better than he did in 2008. RB Ricky Williams is also having his best season in many years and is averaging 5 yards per carry. The team will also utilize their wide receivers in the run game from time to time. In this portion of the game the offensive line deserves tremendous credit, in particular the interior of the line which is where Brown seems to find his biggest gains. Center Jake Grove has proven to be a major improvement for the line.

The Jets defense continued their dominating streak last week when they held the Saints offense to 10 points and should only get better with the return of LB Calvin Pace. Pace is the Jets best pass rusher and should improve the run defense by replacing Vernon Gholston, who had a rough game in New Orleans. He should give the Jets even more flexibility on defense. If there is one chink in the armor that is showing itself it is the Jets run defense, especially in what seems like passing situations. With the Jets selling out on the blitz the run responsibility falls basically on one or two people and if they can not contain it is going to lead to a huge run and the containment has been horrible. It began in the Patriot game and was really exposed in the Saint game this past weekend. While it has not affected the end result, as the defense stiffens up inside the 20s on a short field, this was never a problem with the Ravens defense so its likely a personnel problem moreso than a scheme problem. Coach Ryan has already said this is an area that needs improvement. The pass defense remains strong behind the play of CB Darrelle Revis. Revis has laid claim to being the best cornerback in the NFL. There is not a better tackler at the position and he simply does not get thrown on anymore. His ability to cover with limited help has allowed the Jets to survive with Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman at corner. Lito Sheppard may return this week, which would be a boost to the secondary, though he could be held out as a precaution against a team with a limited weapons in the passing game.

This will be a completely different style of offense than any the Jets have faced thus far. Through four games the Jets have faced three teams that are heavy passing teams and one that has been leaning more on the pass attack. The Dolphins are going to strictly rely on the run and try to exploit the Jets aggressiveness into big gains. Last season Rex Ryan devised a defense with the Ravens that completely destroyed the “Wildcat” offense and Miami’s season. Miami has likely gone to work on that film and will have some new wrinkles in this week just for Ryan. The addition of Pace should be huge for this game. He gives the Jets the option to back off a bit on the sell out blitzes which helps in a game like this. Bart Scott and David Harris are going to need to focus on Brown and make him their primary responsibility. They are the best tacklers on the team. This is a game where the Jets should not have to rely on bringing 7 and 8 guys to get to the QB when he passes. While the Jets will want to do their best to confuse Henne and hope to make him throw an errant pass that gets picked off, the Dolphins will not give him the extra rope to hang himself the way they would have given it to Pennington. Kerry Rhodes, who showed more life last week, could be an impact player this week. The Jets have to be very aware of Brown’s ability to pass the ball out of the backfield and Rhodes could be the guy that has to account for that. He is also the guy that should be in position to make Henne pay for a mistake. The players all need to make a conscious effort to remember to play their running lanes this week and clog up the area where Brown can attack. This defense, which takes great pride in holding the opposing QBs to mediocre stats has to take that same attitude and apply it against Brown and make it their mission to hold him under 4 yards per carry. The only way for the Dolphins to win the game on their own is to have Brown go off for 150 yards.

Special Teams

Miami’s special teams have done little positive this season and the punt coverage has been poor. Miami is going to start using Ginn more in the return game as they reduce his role as a receiver. He has the speed to be dangerous. Miami’s kicking game is among the weakest in the NFL. The Jets will be hoping for a spark from their specials this week. Washington’s increased offensive workload has seemed to lessen his impact on returns and this would be a good week to become special again. Leonhard picks his spots on punt returns but has been great when he has returned punts. Steve Weatherford has to be more consistent with his punting if he wants to hold the job.

Coaching

Tony Sparano is going through the second year blues that seem to affect most coaches in the NFL. He caught lighting in a bottle last season and is having a hard time replicating that success in 2009. He hasn’t lost his team by any means and they still believe they are in the race, but a loss this week will really put his skills to the test.

Rex Ryan has had a great start to his coaching career and you could argue that he has out coached every opponent this year. This is an important game for Ryan who began a war or words with this team in the offseason and needs to back it up the way he did against New England. You never want to lose two games in a row and Ryan has to have his team’s intensity level match that of the Dolphins. Ryan knows from his years in Baltimore how important it is to keep a winning record on the road and will not want to fall below 0.500 with a loss this week.

Overall

This begins an incredibly important stretch of four games for the Jets. Three of the next four games are all against divisional opponents and winning all three of the games, which the Jets will be favored to do, will go a long way towards solidifying their lead in the East. While the Jets are off to a nice start it is usually the second quarter of the season that really separates the contenders from the pretenders. Many people forget that the Buffalo Bills were the toast of the AFC after four games last season posting a 4-0 record against two teams expected to be big playoff teams. They followed that span up with a 1-3 record and fell apart from that point forward. A loss this week against the Dolphins could begin the Jets on that negative path. Two losses in a row will make that 3-0 start seem like a distant memory.

There is a lot of bad blood between these two teams. Miami felt disrespected by the Jets both last season and this season due to all the attention the team has received. Despite being the AFC East champion, Miami knows that the Jets players, fans and mass media feel that Miami was one of the most undeserving teams to make the playoffs and that the Jets handed them the division. Rex Ryan only added fuel to the fire with his offseason comments that led to a verbal fight with LB Channing Crowder. The Dolphin players have openly stated how they cant wait to hand it to the Jets coach. Miami, knowing their season hinges on this game, should be coming out and playing with more effort than they have shown all season.

The Jets should not need much motivation to match that intensity. Miami embarrassed the Jets on their home field last season to win the AFC East. The Dolphins came out like a pack of rabid dogs and handled the Jets for 60 minutes and then celebrated on their home field. It does not get any worse than that. Couple that with a bad performance last week and the Jets should not only want to win this game, they should want to prove a point and blow them out. The Jets do not get many national TV opportunities and Ryan will make sure they know the benefits you get from looking impressive as “the only game in town”.

This is a rivalry with a great history and the two teams expect this to be the first of many meetings between Chad Henne and Mark Sanchez. On paper this is a game that Sanchez and the Jets should win. Their strengths on offense match up well with the Dolphins weaknesses and Miami has had issues scoring touchdowns all season. If the Jets prove that they are up to stopping the rushing attack there is little Miami can do to win the game. The only concern area for NY will be if Sanchez was to have another game like he had in New Orleans. You cant win, especially on the road, when that happens.

All the pressure is on the Jets this week. They are the favored team. They have the big name QB and now the big name WR. They have the talkative coach, dominating defense, and the 3-1 record. Nobody expects the Dolphins to win outside of Miami. This will probably be a low scoring game with both teams playing cautious in an attempt to eliminate mistakes that could lead the other team to score points with the defense. The Jets will likely take more chances which should be the difference.

Jets 19 Dolphins 10