Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jets vs Dolphins Preview

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Sunday, September 26, 8:30 PM.
Sun Life Stadium

With all AFC East opponents playing each other once in the first four games of the season, the race for the division starts early. Miami is on top right now with the only 2-0 record, but their next two opponents, the Jets and the Patriots, both will try to knock the Dolphins off and assert their own power. Both of those games for Miami will be at their home stadium after starting the season with back-to-back games on the road.

The Jets come in after an extremely encouraging performance against New England. After struggling early in the game, the Jets dominated the second half to the tune of 18-0, a number near and dear to the Patriots hearts, and fired the first salvo in that rivalry. Now, Miami is left with two home games where they can possibly be 4-0, 3-0 in the AFC East, and lead the division by two games after just a quarter of the season. But if the Jets can win, they would have a similar opportunity to be 3-0 in division and have the early tiebreaker over their rivals. One week after Jets-Patriots was billed as a huge game, this is just as big an opportunity for the Jets to keep momentum going, especially considering the Dolphins swept this series last year.

Gang Green will miss Darrelle Revis for the whole game and Braylon Edwards for part of it after Revis strained his hamstring last Sunday and Edwards stupidly received a DWI earlier this week. Miami is close to full strength at this game. This has all the makings of another Jets-Dolphins classic.

When the Jets have the ball...
The Jets want to pick up where they left off last week. They finally started to develop some sort of an identity on offense in the second half, putting up 18 points and running and passing the ball well. But in reality, the key is converting on third down. The Jets have run effectively in both games this season, and they will need to again in this game to put Mark Sanchez in more manageable third downs.

That was the key last week. After converting just one third-down conversion in week one, the Jets were very efficient last week, moving the ball well on third-and-short situations. Sanchez was much more accurate and made far better decisions more confidently. He was willing to throw down the field at times to keep the Patriots honest, but it was his short passing that moved the chains that won them the game.

Miami's defense has been very solid so far, but they've faced two offenses that have yet to find themselves in Buffalo and Minnesota. The Jets could fall under that category, which is why Sanchez's play will be key. Minnesota shot themselves in the foot constantly last game, wasting red zone opportunities and turning the ball over. While the Jets haven't done much offensively yet, one thing they haven't done is turn the ball over. Say what you want about Sanchez, but he has not turned the ball over once this season, as the Jets only turnover came on a Shonn Greene fumble week one.

Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson will need to carry a lot of the load offensively. Edwards will miss part of the game as punishment for his DWI, so the Jets will definitely run the ball as much as always. The Jets need to generate push up front so Greene and Tomlinson can get to the second level and break open some big plays. Center Nick Mangold is banged up, but he will play, and it has to be a good sign that the Jets didn't miss a beat with Robert Turner in the game last week.

When the Jets do throw the ball, Jerricho Cotchery should have a bigger impact in Edwards's temporary absence. But once again, look for tight end Dustin Keller to be the focal point of the passing game, creating mismatches against linebackers. Keller has been the Jets' leading receiver this season so far, and don't expect that to change.

The Dolphins have a few playmakers on this defense that will try to create some big plays on defense. Vontae Davis is a good young cornerback, while Randy Starks is a very underrated nose tackle. Cameron Wake is the primary edge rusher Sanchez will have to deal with. He's replacing Jason Taylor and has 2 sacks in 2 games.

Sanchez was pretty efficient in two games last season against Miami. Even though he didn't win either game, he also didn't throw a single interception and his game in Miami on Monday night was one of the best of his career, so the spotlight shouldn't bother him. But if Sanchez is under pressure and he begins to lose confidence, his ability to bounce back and right the ship will be paramount. The three keys are getting touchdowns instead of field goals, converting on third downs, and not turning the ball over, they should be able to move the ball.

When the Dolphins have the ball...
Despite the Dolphins' 2-0 record, they have just 2 offensive touchdowns all season. However, quarterback Chad Henne has yet to turn the ball over, a key factor to the Dolphins' record, and part of that is due to the addition of Brandon Marshall. Marshall is a big target that provides the best receiver the Dolphins have had in years. Without Revis, the Jets will have to make due with Cromartie covering him, a rematch of their Bronco-Charger days, which was a mixed bag of results.

But the Dolphins, like the Jets, want to run the ball first. Gang Green's defense has been stout, allowing just 1.8 yards-per-carry in the first two games, but the Dolphins' offensive line and scheming is a whole different animal. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have split carries so far almost 50/50, but Brown has been far more effective. His combination of size, speed, and a knack of falling forward for extra yards make him a tough matchup, but if anyone can handle it, it's New York. The heat and humidity may play a role, like it did last year, but for a night game, it shouldn't be an excuse.

The X-factor for Miami last year in both games between the two teams was Ted Ginn Jr. He's gone now, so there's no real deep threat in the receiving corps. Marshall has the talent, but he's been more of a possession receiver in his career. Cromartie has all the talent to stick with him, but he needs to avoid the stupid penalties he received week one and play physically and smart.

The key for the Jets will be getting off the field on 3rd down. As good as the Jets' defense is, they are dead last in third down efficiency so far this season. Henne killed the Jets with accurate dinking and dunking in the first matchup between these two teams last year, and while Marshall, Brown, and Williams are the biggest playmakers, the Jets need to watch for Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano on third downs. If the Jets can stop the run on 1st and 2nd down, it'll be much easier for them to force Henne to make mistakes on 3rd down.

This, like most Jets games, looks like it should be a low scoring game. The Jets have a stout front seven that has been dominant against the run so far. And there's no team more adept at taking away the opposition's number one receiver than the Jets, although without Revis, that notion will be put to the test. Still, the Dolphins lack the big play ability offensively, and it's not easy to string long touchdown drives together against the Jets. Even if they can move the ball effectively, putting the ball in the endzone could prove difficult.

Prediction
It's always hard to predict this rivalry. Last year, the Jets had the best defense in football, but the two games against Miami were their two highest scoring games all year. However, don't expect that this time around, especially without Ginn around. This is going to be a slugfest that will probably come down to the end. Expect the Jets to outgain Miami on the ground en route to a close road victory, but don't be surprised either way.
Jets 20, Dolphins 16