Breaking Down the Jets vs the Dolphins
It was a scenario that seemed virtually impossible five weeks ago, but here we are in week 17 with the Jets now looking up in the standings and praying for help just to sneak into the playoffs. It is a position this franchise has been in many times before. In 2004 the team couldnít win one of its last two games and needed a miracle loss by the Buffalo Bills to sneak their way into the playoffs. In 2000, an eerily similar season to this one, the Jets could not get a win in three attempts as they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens in the final week of the year. And of course there was that special 2002 season where all the planets aligned and the Jets won the AFC East crown.
This is now a rematch of that 2002 season clincher as Brett Favre takes on Chad Pennington, except this time its Brett the Jet taking on the man he replaced in Pennington. Favreís Packers were wiped out by Penningtonís Jets that day and Favre will need to find a way to outduel Pennington if the Jets have any dreams of seeing a repeat of 2002.
Jets Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
What has really made the Dolphin offense work this year? Is it explosive? No. Do they score a ton of points? No. But the team uses excellent gameplanning and playcalling to get the job done at the end of the day, scoring just enough points to win a game. If the game calls for 17 points to win the offense scores 17. If they need 24 they find a way to score 24. The pace of the game often dictates exactly what Miami will try to do on offense. The team relies on playing mistake free football, rarely giving the ball to the opposition via a fumble or an interception. The day the team signed Pennington to QB the team the outlook changed for the offense. Pennington brought a veteran presence to the table and made the team confident due to his three playoff years in the NFL. Miamiís staff has done an excellent job of working with Penningtonís strengths while trying to hide the well documented weaknesses of his throwing arm. The Dolphins 1-2 punch of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams is the driving force of the offense. Miami lines up to smack you in the mouth with two tight ends using the threat of the run to set up Chad and the passing game. Neither Brown nor Williams are deadly runners that are going to break off 40 and 50 yard runs, but both are solid players that can pick up 4 and 5 yards every time they see the football. The team has had great success using the playaction off these two to set up big pass plays to the teams tight ends Anthony Fasano and David Martin as well as to FB Patrick Cobbs. While the Dolphins wonít catch anyone by surprise with the ďWildcatĒ anymore, they still are using every trick in the book to move the ball. End arounds. Reverses. Flea flickers. When they catch an unprepared defense off guard they make big plays happen. The Dolphins offensive line has done a complete 360 since week 1 and are giving Pennington all kinds of time to throw the football while protecting their runners from losing yards. LT Jake Long has solidified the one area that Miami has been needing for the last 5 years. The WRís are probably the least important cog in this offense. Ted Ginn, Jr is a dangerous player, but he still is learning how to play WR. Davone Bess might be Penningtonís favorite target but is a very short option right now.
The Jets defense will again have their hands full. Last yearís failure to rush the QB was laid at the feet of undersized DT Dewayne Robertson, LBs Bryan Thomas and Victor Hobson, and the general age of DE Shaun Ellis. Now in 2008 the Jets lack of a pass rush has become a running joke around the NFL. Gone is Robertson and in comes Kris Jenkins. Hobson was replaced by 42 million dollar free agent Calvin Pace and Thomas was supposed to be replaced by number 6 overall pick Vernon Gholston, a selection that paid zero dividends in 2008. And the results are still the same. The team is afraid to blitz and wants to drop 7 and 8 players into coverage every play with the assumption that the opposing QB will make a mistake if you fill the passing lanes. It hasnít worked for 15 games but the Jets staff is committed to the philosophy. The cover problems are still there with the team. Ty Law canít cover anyone with speed. Dwight Lowery just canít cover anyone period. Abram Elam and Eric Smith constantly miss assignments. The Jets are so petrified of the deep pass that Kerry Rhodes doesnít cover anyone as he routinely lines up 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. The linebackers are all terrible in coverage. It is one of the worst pass defense units in the NFL. The team hasnít been statistically hurt by the pass the last two weeks only because their opponents decided to just outphysical the Jets team up front and run the ball on them. What happened to the stellar run defense that was in place through 11 games is a mystery we will likely never have answered. Is Jenkins hurt? Is Jenkins worn down? Are the defensive ends so bad that Jenkins is just facing more blockers? As Jenkins game has fallen so has the run defense which is back to the comical levels of 2005-2007 where seemingly everyone that ran the ball had a huge game. The whole defense has been exposed these last four weeks and has shown zero improvement in 3 years despite alot of money being thrown around.
Miamiís gameplan is going to be very simple. Run Ronnie and let Chad find the soft spots in the Jets defense and pick them apart. Pennington knows the Jets coverage schemes, knows he will have all day to throw the football and will patiently wait until he finds his guys open in the secondary. The Dolphins will target both of their tight ends and every one of their runners in the short passing game to take advantage of the Jets coverage and tackling problems on the field. Once they get a lead the gameplan will change to all run and safe throws, utilizing more Williams, playing the battle of field position and not allowing the Jet offense to see the ball enough to win. If you want to beat Pennington there are three things a team must do. First you have to rattle him early. When you stack everyone up near the line and make it a small field he has problems. When you force him to throw on the move he loses his composure and will throw off his back foot which is going to lead to interceptions. But this is just beating a dead horse when it comes to the Jets. They do not attack and will likely play a deep zone playing right into the Dolphins hands. Secondly you have to bunch the middle of the field and force him to throw outside the numbers. Pennington is simply not effective throwing to that part of the field. And most importantly you have to keep Chad in situations where he is staring and 3rd and longer than five. That takes away his playaction and he is not going to complete as many passes in those situations. Under five yards and its very hard to stop him. It is extremely important this week for the Jets to finally start playing smart fundamental football again. If they are unaware of any tricks going on behind the line of scrimmage and are caught off guard it will be embarrassing for the team. If they can not cover the running backs and tight ends it will be a long game with a lot of booing from the home crowd.
Jets Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
While the Dolphin defense is much more aggressive than the offense, the general philosophy is the same. Do just enough to win the game and do not do anything stupid that turns the game on a dime. Miamiís two main focuses on defense are to not allow third down conversions and to find a way to create turnovers both on the ground and in the air. The heart of the defense is LB Joey Porter who is having an all star season being told to just get after the QB. Porter is somewhat of a headcase and very emotional, which can be a liability at times on the field. Channing Crowder has exploded in the scheme as a great tackler and Matt Roth has made a nice transition from defensive end to OLB and picking up sacks caused by Porter. The pass rush has made it hard for teams to throw on Miami. While nobody in the secondary is going to wow you the way a Darrelle Revis will, they are big beneficiaries of quarterbacks not having the time to throw the ball around the field. Miami does a good job eliminating the tight end from the passing game and shifts coverage to try to take away the prime target of an offense. They are not very fast or athletic at the corner positions and if the QB has time to pass the ball good wide receivers will often find themselves open down the field. The defensive line gets the job done and has been adequate in defending the run. Vonnie Holiday and Jason Ferguson both do a good job of taking up space and cutting off the running lanes. If there is a weak spot in the front 7 it is Kendall Langford who doesnít have the experience the others on the team do and is often a target for the oppositions attack. Overall the defense is not very different than the original Bill Belichick Patriot defenses in that they are more than willing to give up yards, but do not allow you to score much more than field goals.
Three lousy points. That was the effort that came out in Seattle in basically a must win game for the team. The problems all begin with Favre. Favre is completely shot. There is nothing left in that arm of his and it has become evident why the Packers were willing to see Favre replaced by Aaron Rodgers. Favre looks lost and completely unconfident. Every now and then he throws a ball with some zip, but for the most part his mechanics are terrible and the results even worse. This is basically Testeverde circa í05 except the Jets fans liked Vinny and they could care less about Favreís history with Green Bay. Maybe the better comparison will be Testeverde in Dallas in í04 where he got booed off the field by the end of the season. Laveranues Coles is hopefully playing his last game as a New York Jet. It was a reactionary mistake to bring him back in 2005 and all he has done is complain since being here about everything. He is dropping balls left and right this season and the Jets need to find a way to get him off the team without the cap hit they brought on themselves by guaranteeing his salary for two years. Jerricho Cotchery has also been a major disappointment. Once teams began treating him as a one, he could no longer get open consistently and he needs help if he is in the teams long term plans. Somehow rookie TE Dustin Keller seemed to get too much of the blame for the passing woes from the coach and has lost downs because of it, but he at least looks to be a big part of the long term future. If Favre has any crazy delusions about coming back the Jets have to get receivers that can get enough separation to allow him the chance to get them the football. Right now the passing game is just dead. The Jets offensive line continues their struggles with the pass protection. The right side, which is very good when it comes to run blocking, has problems with the blitz while Alan Faneca, despite his pro bowl status, has been below average in pass protection. Still they can open the way for RBs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington when the Jets decide to run the football. The problem is the Jets play every game as if they are down by 20 points and completely give up on the best part of their team.
The Jets like to throw the football and that is what they will do this week no matter what is happening with the game. It is imperative that Favre gets time in the pocket and the Jets pick up Porter who is just having a brilliant year getting after the passer. If Favre gets the time to throw the football the receivers should get enough separation from the coverage to eliminate the threat of the interception. If Favre is under pressure this has the makings of a 3 interception game. The Jets can not be afraid of being aggressive on offense. The teams that have beaten the Dolphins this year have almost all passed for big yards to try to turn games into shootouts with the Dolphins. Both Coles and Cotchery have to find a way to get open and Coles has to catch the football when it gets to him. He has cost the team numerous times the last few weeks with key third down drops. The biggest problem the offense needs to overcome, besides Favres decision making, is between their two ears. When things go bad the offense seems to go into a shell and lose their confidence. Last week the combination of settling for a field goal followed by a numerous penalties on the second drive of the game threw the offense completely off their game. The week before that it was a few drops by Coles that stopped the offense. The team needs to find a way to start converting on third down and they have to play smarter this week than they have these last four games. When you have a 3rd and 2 you have to play to your strengths and run the football. Lining up in shotgun and looking for a big play when your team has no confidence is just leading to wasted opportunities. If the offense builds itís confidence with Jones and Washington picking up first downs those big play opportunities will happen and the offense will score points consistently.
The Jets desperately need a big contribution from Washington this week in the return game. He is the one spark that gets the home crowd going. The Dolphins kick and punt coverage are both at the bottom of the NFL. Every time they kick the ball ,Washington is going to have a chance to get the Jets a short field to work with. Miamiís special teams is not a big threat, but the Jets need to make sure their coverage is better than it has been recently and Reggie Hodges needs to get some air under the ball when he punts. This is likely his last pro game. The Jets need to be prepared for the fake punts or kicks this week. Miami knows the Jets have been unable to stop those plays.
Rookie head coach Tony Sparano has done a very good job in his first season as head coach using smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that the team is not very talented on either side of the football. He has made sure the team is well prepared to find ways to win against an awful schedule and has the team believing they can make the playoffs. Just like so many others he is going to have to prove that he can do it for more than one year, but right now he is the biggest success in the AFC. How he will handle a game of this magnitude may go a long way in preparing him for the future as a head coach in the NFL.
It is hard to believe but Eric Mangini has completely worn out his welcome in New York with the abysmal performances these last 4 weeks. The Jets have looked unprepared and disinterested in playing football. Whether he did something to them behind closed doors or should have done something different to reward them is something that might be asked after the season, but the Jets have the look of a team that has quit on their head coach. Rumors had circulated for most of the season that the veterans on the team did not think the Jets coaches were doing a good job calling games and Mangini has simply fueled that story with last weeks flop in Seattle. Mangini had no idea how to handle a talented team with expectations and may need to win this week just to come back next year. The media attack on Mangini is going to be huge if they finish 9-7 and he may not survive the week and a half before the local attention turns back to the Giants. He just looks like he is in way over his head and is drowning right now.
The Jets just look like a team that has mentally checked themselves out of the season. They have played the last 4 games as if they were a 3 win team playing out the string rather than a double digit winner looking to steamroll their way into the playoffs. It is blatantly obvious that the coach has lost the team and if the team is going to win this week it will be because the players have a small amount of pride left and want to win in spite of their coach. No matter what the Jets will be alive when they kick the ball off on Sunday. Either the division will be up for grabs or the team will be scoreboard watching while the Ravens take on the Jaguars in Baltimore. If they give no effort and the Ravens game is still close it is a terrible sign for the future of the team.
If New England wins their game at 1 PM the crowd is going to be very unkind to the Jets players and especially the Jets head coach. Cangini. Firegini. Fatgini. F***gini. You name it, its going to be said at this game. Alot of people are already giving up their seats and there could be alot of Dolphin fans at the game more than happy to chime in with the Jets displeasure of their own team.
The Jets completely wasted a golden opportunity this year. Despite playing the two worst divisions in the NFL, where the division winners will likely be 8-8, and also getting the awful Bengals at home, the Jets have stumbled all year trying to find themselves. The Dolphins were coming off a 1 win year while New England lost the best player in the NFL and yet the Jets are chasing them rather than having clinched the division. All things considered this might be the worst collapse in franchise history. At a time when Jets fans are enraged that the Jets are charging thousands of dollars for seats in the new stadium this was the worst time in the world to choke the way they did. They sucked the life out of the fanbase and some of the longtimers probably saw their last game against the Bills and wonít re-up after this disaster. Sure someone will replace them, but this is the kind of year that turns the average fan into nothing more but a casual observer of the team in the future, especially if changes are not made.
The only thing really playing into the Jets favor this week is that it is hard to believe that Chad could win 11 games in a season. He has never done that in his career before and it is hard to believe he could do it now with a team that is by no means great. But by the same token how could anyone pick the Jets right now? They have no offense. The defense only gets the ball back if the other team makes a bad mistake. They make terrible decisions on the sideline. Maybe Favre can dial it up for what he knows will be his final game in the NFL, but even if he does, that doesnít mean his receivers can catch whatever he throws them.
If Mangini plays the field goal game the Jets have no chance. In order to beat Miami you have to take them out of their gameplan and make them score alot of points. When teams jump all over that defense the Dolphins lose. Miami has given up more than 20 points in six games this season and have only won one of those games, which was last week against the lowly Chiefs. Miami can typically score points in a back and forth style game, but there is just a point where their offense can not go. They donít have the ability to put up 30 and 40 points a game like the Jets have had the ability to do in the past. In games where the offense puts up less than 20, Miami is a perfect 9-0. Unfortunately that is the style of football the Jets are currently playing.
Itís going to be ugly on Sunday as the Jets deliver the fans a big lump of coal for Christmas.
Jets 10 Dolphins 23