Saturday, September 6, 2008

Jets vs Dolphins Preview


It's hard to imagine a more intriguing opening game between two teams that won five games between them last year.

The Dolphins come into 2008 off an abysmal 1-15 season that abruptly ended the Cam Cameron era. Enter Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano to try to turn around the Fish.

Sparano and Parcells hope to install a more physical, smash-mouth style of football like Bill has tried to do everywhere else he's been. The problem here is that he has absolutely no talent to deal with.

The quarterback position was a menagerie of mediocrity before the Jets got Brett Favre, but Favre's arrival allowed for Chad Pennington to become available. Miami jumped at the opportunity to pick up a more proven quarterback, but Jets fans know Pennington's limitations.

Pennington will direct an attack that will likely start Ricky Williams at halfback. Yes, that Ricky Williams. Remember him? He's out of retirement, no longer suspended, and finally healthy. Is the 32 year old Doobie Brother ready to carry Miami's offense? He's going to have to with Ronnie Brown still not 100% off a major knee injury because the receivers are very suspect. Ted Ginn Jr, Greg Camarillo, Ernest Wilford, and Derek Hagan represent the top receiving options, and only Ginn is a threat to a defense.

Like the Jets, the Dolphins attempted to revamp their offensive line. They signed guard Justin Smiley from San Francisco and drafted Michigan tackle Jake Long 1st overall. The talent is there for a decent line, but it still can't be considered a strength.

On defense, Miami has some talent in place, but not nearly enough playmakers yet. Former Jet Jason Ferguson anchors the nose in their 3-4 with Kendall Langford and Vonnie Holliday playing at end. The linebackers are the team's strength with Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele inside and Joey Porter and Matt Roth outside.

The unit was dead last in rushing defense last season, so Sparano has stressed stopping the run as the number one goal of his team this season. As is the case with most awful teams, that stat can be misleading since they faced so many deficits that teams ran the clock out on them.

That is why Miami's 4th-ranked pass defense last season was also likely a mirage. Will Allen and Andre Goodman man the corners while Yeremiah Bell and Chris Crocker handle the safety duties.

Ginn is the playmaker on special teams. He is a gamebreaker with speed, vision, and agility in the open field to make big plays. Rookie kicker Dan Carpenter beat out Jay Feely in camp to win the kicking job, while Brandon Fields enters his second year punting for Miami.

Brett Favre completely changes the outlook of the Jets offense. It's no longer a dink-and-dunk, long drive offense as the former Packer adds a huge deep element to the offense. He's still learning the offense, so he won't have nearly the entire playbook at his disposal. This is a big tuneup before the New England game, too, so the pressure is on early.

His receivers all have something to prove as well. Jerricho Cotchery had 1130 yards last year, but only two touchdowns, so he wants to prove he can be a top receiver. Laveranues Coles has been limited in practice, but he should start, though he needs to work on his rapport with Favre. Cotchery has a leg up there. Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith are the other receivers who might have an impact, as camp crowd pleaser David Clowney is injured.

Dynamic rookie Dustin Keller should be good for a big play or two as the Jets have loved using his mismatch capabilities in practice. Chris Baker is still the reliable starting tight end after a training camp contract squabble, while Bubba Franks might be a redzone target as the third tight end.

The offensive line had two weak links last season, left guard and right tackle. Adrian Clarke and Anthony Clement are gone, as Alan Faneca and Damien Woody were signed to big offseason contracts. D'Brickashaw Ferguson needs to keep developing at left tackle for this offensive line to reach its full potential because Nick Mangold is a horse at center, and Brandon Moore is a steady right guard. Ferguson was drafted 4th overall in 2006, but his first two seasons haven't lived up to his draft billing.

On defense the 3-4 has a completely new look this season because of former Carolina Panther defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. The massive nose tackle provides the presence the position demands, making the jobs easier for the rest of the defense. Kenyon Coleman and Shaun Ellis are steady ends next to him at the line.

The Jonathan Vilma era is over at linebacker. The torch has been passed to second-year linebacker David Harris. He was a tackling machine in the second half of last season, and he's a better fit for the 3-4. Calvin Pace is the other big new defensive addition, and he will be asked to be a key utility man in this defense. Eric Barton has had a nice camp at the other inside linebacker spot, while Brian Thomas looks to rebound from a mediocre 2007 season. First rounder Vernon Gholston will see time, but he's yet to make a significant impact in camp or games.

Kerry Rhodes and Darrelle Revis are both on the verge of being NFL stars. Rhodes is already at that level as he is a fantastic athlete in the secondary. Revis was the prized first rounder last season, and he had an impressive rookie season. If he builds on that, he can be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Ballhawking 4th rounder Dwight Lowery is opposite Revis. He's been impressive at camp, and Drew Coleman, Justin Miller, and Ahmad Carroll will also see time. Eric Smith, David Barrett, and Abram Elam will likely rotate at safety opposite Rhodes.

Leon Washington is coming off a great year returning kicks. He will be the primary return man, but Dwight Lowery, Ahmad Carroll, and Justin Miller could all see time at both return spots. Mike Nugent missed a potential game-tying field goal badly in the first home preseason game against Washington, but his job is safe at kicker. Punter Ben Graham beat out competitor Jeremy Kapinos to retain the punting job for another year.

Let's now look position by position, comparing the Jets and Dolphins followed by a final prediction.

Quarterback: Jets
Runningback: Push
Wide receiver/Tight End: Jets
Offensive Line: Jets
Defensive line: Jets
Linebackers: Jets
Defensive backs: Jets
Special teams: Jets

Prediction
New York is a much better team than Miami, and that should be enough to win this game. South Florida is difficult in September, where temperatures are still high, but that won't stop the deep ball or score touchdowns.

Expect a bit of a sluggish game between two teams trying to find out what they are. Leon Washington should have an impact as the backup runningback, while Ricky Williams could be able to take advantage of the transitioning Jets defense. Pennington and Williams will look good on their first drive, but the Jets will adjust and clamp down the rest of the game. Expect Favre to have a promising first game: 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions (one horrible one, one not his fault), and about 200 yards passing. 20-13 Jets.

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