Breaking Down the Jets vs the Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are in the middle of a complete overhaul, finally pulling the plug on years of failed chances with an old defense built
around Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor. Miami turned their operations over to Bill Parcells, the best in the business at repairing damaged franchises.
This will mark the third team in the AFC East that Parcells has been entrusted to rebuild and Miami hopes the results, even though he is not
coaching, are the similar to what Parcells achieved in New England and New York. Parcells has filled the teams front office with his coaches
and his people and immediately began purging the roster of old players and failed draft choices, replacing them with players he is familiar with that will give him a good effort on Sundays, something that was lacking last season when the team went through the motions.
So much has changed since these two teams last met in 2007 in what was one of the most worthless games of the NFL season. The 2008 version is now going to be one of the most watched and most compelling games of the season. The rivalry took a dramatic turn on August 7th when the New York Jets traded for Brett Favre and allowed their former face of the franchise, Chad Pennington, to sign with their hated rivals. It now becomes a battle of redemption between 2 quarterbacks. Favre, a national phenomenon, wants to prove to his former Green Bay team that he still should be the face of a franchise while Pennington would like to do nothing better than stick it to his old franchise that gave up on him long before they signed Favre.
Jets Offense vs. Miami Defense
To say Miamiís defense has a lot to prove would be the understatement of the year. On paper Miami looks to be one of the worst defenses in the entire NFL.
While the Dolphins have used somewhat of a hybrid 34/43 alignment they are now moving into a full time 34 defense and are trying to make
everyone fit the system. As Jets fans are aware the strength of the 34 begins with how well the down linemen play the game.
Miamiís starting 3 consists of soon to be 33 year old Vonnie Holliday, who the team would like to see replaced, a 3rd round rookie in Kendall Langford,
and 33 year old nose tackle Jason Ferguson who missed 15 games last season and hasnít been an above average player since 2004.
Expect a lot of rotations at the ends where the Dolphins love 2nd round pick Phillip Merling and expect him to be an eventual starter.
There is no backup to Ferguson that the team feels they can rely on. The linebackers are all being shuffled around for the season.
Injuries have moved former DE Matt Roth to OLB. Roth has no pass rushing ability at all. Joey Porter will provide the rush from the other side
of the field. Porter is still battling nagging injuries that date back to 2006 and is no longer the great player he once was.
Porter vows he will play but if he canít the reps will go to Charlie Anderson, also nursing injuries, and Quentin Moses, if he remains on the squad.
Anderson is nothing more than a special teams player and Moses couldnít last with the Raiders. Merling could also see time here as well in passing
situations. The best position on defense looks to be the interior linebackers where Channing Crowder is one of the few young players with
proven upside and Akin Ayodele is a terrific tackler. The secondary remains a problem where starters Will Allen and Andre Goodman have too many
weaknesses for teams to exploit. Neither are quick and neither can make plays on the football which gives teams the ability to take chances knowing they wont turn the ball over. The players behind them all have the same deficiencies. Yeremiah Bell missed almost all of 2007 with an Achilles injury, but if he is recovered is a decent tackler and is very good in pass coverage. Chris Crocker isnít very good and Jason Allen, the one real athlete in the secondary, still has yet to learn to play either corner or safety. Unless he prepares better its hard to see him lasting under this regime.
This would look to be a great starting point for Favre and the Jets. Miami provides little if any pass rush and the Jets offensive line is very familiar working against this style of defense. Favre, who has been a terrible opening day QB since 2003(2 wins, 3 losses, 2 TDs, 9 Ints) should feel safe throwing against this secondary. Jerricho Cotchery should be poised for a big game matching up against the much slower Dolphin defensive backs. Cotchery should have the ability to stretch the field for Favre and get a big enough cushion to make some plays after the catch. Laveranues Coles will likely be in uniform for the Jets and will be watched very carefully to see how he meshes with Favre and how much he is affected by injury. Both starters have traditionally done very well against Miami and Coles usually finds the end zone against the Dolphins. Brad Smith will be in there to take advantage of a thin secondary. All of the tight ends will play a role this week. Dustin Kellers athleticism makes him a good matchup for the Jets against the much more limited Miami safeties and linebackers. He could make a big play in his first ever game. Chris Baker should provide a safety for Favre, who loves to use the tight ends, and Bubba Franks might be a red zone target. While the Jets would seem to be passing the ball often this week, they also want to get Rbs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington on track after a miserable preseason. Jones was terrible away from home in 2007 and needs a fast start to escape the boo birds at home.
The Jets could try to take advantage of the young players on the line learning the game and will likely be able to wear out the team as the game goes on. With the age of Ferguson and Holliday and the youth of Langford and Merling its likely the Dolphins front is going to be a step slow by the end of the game, especially Ferguson who may not get much of a breather. Jones and Washington can pile up the yardage late in the game and at that stage Favre should have all month to throw the football. The offensive line will play a huge role in wearing the team down. If the linemen can deal with the heat and start putting a hurting on the defensive line early and often, the offense is going to be in great shape in the 4th quarter.
Jets Defense vs. Miami Offense
With the addition of Pennington, Miami has a QB that the team believes in and one that is a proven winner at the NFL level.
While Pennington is always bitten by the injury bug and has well documented physical limitations its no exaggeration that he will
be the best QB to put on a Dolphin uniform since Dan Marino. Pennington is extremely accurate with the football and is very good at
running the play action. Pennington will be expected to manage the game while the Dolphins try to establish the run with Ricky Williams and
Ronnie Brown. Williams is back in the NFL again after countless drug suspension, retirements, and injuries and reportedly has looked great in camp.
Williams has played very well in preseason action and was just rewarded with a 1 year contract extension. Brown has been slow to return off a
knee injury last season, but will likely get his share of carries with the ball. Who Pennington will throw the ball to is open to debate.
Former first round pick Ted Ginn Jr is very quick, but looked lost doing anything last year other than running down the sidelines.
If he can play over the middle he could mesh nicely with Pennington. Derek Hagan is typically invisible in games and would not
start on almost any other team in the NFL while Ernest Wilford was terrible in Jacksonville and has looked just as bad this preseason in a Dolphin uniform.
TE Anthony Fasano may get the most looks of any receiver. The key to the offense will based on how well the offensive line does or does not play. The line was terrible last season, but they now have number 1 overall pick Jake Long playing left tackle. The Dolphins hope Long brings to them what Joe Thomas brought to Cleveland last year. Long has had an up and down camp. Justin Smiley will help him learn the ropes while Vernon Carey, awful playing the left side, is passable at right tackle.
This will be the first test for the new Jets defense. The first thing the defense must do is show significant improvement in stopping the run. Miami is going to run, run, run and then run some more to try to set Pennington up with the playaction pass. If the Jets donít stop Williams and Brown, Miami is going to hold the football for long periods of time and wear down the Jets defense. The Jets have been a poor run stopping team in the past, but NT Kris Jenkins should completely seal off the inside for the team, something that were unable to do with DeWayne Robertson. With Jenkins clogging up space it should allow ILBs Eric Barton, David Harris and David Bowens much more freedom to make plays. The rest of the team has to contain the outside of the field and take the proper angles to limit the yardage gained, something that has not always been done in the preseason. Miami will likely be running behind the left side of the line featuring Long and Justin Smiley.
The team should be familiar with Penningtonís tendencies and need to get some hits in on him early. Pennington has never done well in games where his team is just physically outmuscled up front. If the Jets can force the linemen backwards Chad is going to have a terrible game. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas must show life in the pass rush, while Shaun Ellis needs to be an impact player when he is on the field. If they allow Pennington all day to throw the football and settle into a comfort zone he will have his moments and he will keep the chains moving. When Pennington is forced onto the run he often makes throws he wishes he had back. The team has to make sure not to lose sight of Williams, Brown, and Fasano as those are likely the three top targets for the offenses passing game this week. As long as they are brought down as soon as they make the reception the Jets wont have much to worry about.
The secondary should match up well with Miamiís limited targets. Revis is much more physical than Ginn and a far better player. Miami can not really exploit his speed down the sidelines with Pennington so it will be up to a safety to lay a big hit on him if he catches the ball over the middle. Ginn may not be able to stand up to the big hits. The secondary players all need to be aware of the fact that Miamiís wideouts do not have good hands and the game could turn into a tip drill at some stage. They have to catch the ball when that happens. The Jets will also likely try to jump some sideline routes thrown to Hagan and Wilford, neither of whom has the speed to make them pay for taking a gamble. Expect Kerry Rhodes to snag one of his former Qbs passes this week.
The Jets have to make sure to guard against Ginn in the return game. If Ginn can get to the sidelines on punt returns he is going to either get a big return or a score. He is not as well rounded on kickoffs and seems to have a harder time deciding what to do once he catches the ball, but he still must be watched. This means both Mike Nugent and Ben Graham need to put the balls in the right place and get enough hang time on the ball to let the coverage team set up. Last year Miamiís special teams was terrible, but they should have some improvement in that area with the new staff and new faces. Washington killed the Dolphins on kick returns last year and can get the Jets off to a fast start if he can get a big gainer early on.
Tony Sparano has no experience as a head coach and is a complete unknown. He comes from the Parcells tree and is surrounded by loyal Parcells guys to help him out. It is likely he runs a very tight gameplan taking few chances and trying to keep the team in the game. Eric Mangini is going to have more pressure on him in this game than ever before. He is going against an inexperienced coach and is going into the season with a team loaded with high priced players. Mangini has been very calm under pressure thus far in New York, but he is going to be under a much bigger microscope this week. This could be the start of something special or the beginning of the end for the young Jets coach.
Everyone likes to use the term ďintangiblesĒ when it comes to Chad Pennington and that is what he brought to Miami when he chose to go there. He brought Miami some much needed confidence when they were struggling to believe they could win with John Beck, Josh McCown, and rookie Chad Henne. His teammates have raved about him since his arrival and are on the record saying the mood of the team changed as soon as he took the field. The way the appearance of Brett Favre in a Jets jersey fired up the fan base, the appearance of Pennington in a Dolphin jersey has fired up the Dolphins players. Miami believes they can win, a belief they did not have one month ago.
Miami isnít going to roll over and play dead for the Jets. They know they will not have another game this year with this kind of media coverage and they would love nothing better than to steal the spotlight from Favre and the Jets. Miami used to be a dominating team at home in September and they know in order to return to football glory they have to re-establish that home field advantage they used to own early in the year.
It is important for the Jets to win this game. With New England and San Diego looming, a loss to Miami is going to have the Jets staring 0-3 in the face. At 0-3 all the good feelings of the offseason leave and all of the bad feelings of 2007 return to the players. The Jets were awful on the road in 2007 and thatís another bad memory they can start to erase with this one game. New York has to want the game more than Miami if they want to the confidence Miami has had by signing Pennington. Controlling the time of possession is a battle the Jets must win to reduce the impact of the Miami heat. Miami is unique in that the stadium will be anywhere from 30-50% Jets fans and a good performance right from the start will turn the stadium into a neutral field or sway the crowd noise towards the Jets. If the Jets break the spirits of Miami and their fans early on the Jets will have a decided advantage.
On paper the Jets are the better football team. They have better talent at almost every position on the field and have a more experienced head coach. Miami was one of the worst teams in all of football last year and the Jets have owned Miami for years now. But paper and history means nothing in the NFL and all the memories of 2007 go out the window for both squads at kickoff time. Both teams have a lot of new pieces that are going to need time to gel and the game may not be pretty at times, but at the end of the day the superior depth of the Jets should lead to a close victory.
Jets 20 Dolphins 16