Jets vs Dolphins: Where Sunday's Game Will Be Won or Lost
Coming into this season, the Miami Dolphins jettisoned Tony Sparano and subtracted Brandon Marshall, Jason Taylor, Yeremiah Bell and Vontae Davis, among others. They also decided to give the reins of the team to rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, and rookie head coach, Joe Philbin, right from the start.
With that being said, it was obvious expectations weren't so high in Miami this year.
That doesn't mean that the Jets will waltz into Miami and come up victorious by any means, though. The Dolphins have played the Jets tough in recent years, winning four of the past six contests, and create some matchup problems on both sides of the ball for the Jets.
There are a number of important matchups that will determine who wins this game, but here's a look at where Sunday's game will be won and lost.
Jets' offensive line vs. Dolphins' front seven
The strength of the Dolphins lies in their front seven. True, Reggie Bush has been outstanding this year, but the Dolphins' front seven has been among the best in the NFL so far. In two games this year, the Dolphins have faced Arian Foster and Darren McFadden and have allowed just 106 combined yards on 2.2-yards-per-carry to two of the best running backs in the game.
If the Jets are going to do anything on the ground this week, it will be up to their offensive line. It is apparent that Shonn Greene can only get what his offensive line will give him, so if the Jets are going to have any semblance of a running game, it will fall on their offensive line.
Perhaps the best matchup in this showdown will be Nick Mangold against Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Paul Soliai. Soliai frequently encompasses the entire middle of the line and is practically an immovable object. Mangold's work on Soliai will be the key if the Jets have any hopes of running the ball through the middle.
As if Soliai isn't enough to handle on the line, the Jets will also have to deal with Cameron Wake and Randy Starks. The Dolphins haven't been getting to the quarterback with any frequency (just two sacks on the year and none in the past six quarters), but they have been nearly impossible to run on.
It's very unlikely that the Jets will be the team to break through on the ground against the Dolphins, but you know they will try. The Jets don't have to rack up huge rushing numbers to beat the Dolphins, but they do need to be able to pick up key yardage when needed.
Reggie Bush vs. the Jets' linebackers
The Jets have done a good job limiting teams from running through the middle of their defense so far this year, but have had trouble on the edge with speed rushers. Linebackers like David Harris, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Garrett McIntyre struggle mightily in pass coverage and seem to have a nightmare matchup this week against Reggie Bush.
Bush not only is the second-leading rusher in the NFL after two weeks, but he has also caught nine passes for 71 yards thus far in 2012. For anyone who has watched the Jets at even a casual level over the past few years, you know this could mean doom for the team come Sunday.
In addition to the problems Bush presents in pass coverage, he of course is an even a bigger threat on the ground. He has the speed to outrun the edge of the Jets' defense, and if the Jets tackle the way they did last week, he has the potential to break a big run at any time.
To combat this, the Jets' linebackers are going to need help. The team may have to employ an extra defensive back in the box to help cover Bush and will need the line to help bottle up the elusive back.
But when it comes down to it, the linebackers are going to have to make the plays both in the running and passing games when they are asked to.
Jets' wide receivers vs. Dolphins' secondary
For as good as the Dolphins' run defense has been, their pass defense has been just as bad. The Dolphins have allowed an average of 313.5 yards per game through the air so far, a total that places them 28th in the league.
The Jets wide receivers did well to get open against the Bills in Week 1, but couldn't handle the press coverage thrown at them by the Steelers in Week 2. Expect the Dolphins to go to school on what the Steelers' cornerbacks did against the Jets, because they need all the help they can get here.
What key matchup will play the biggest role in the Jets versus Dolphins game Sunday?
The Dolphins have generated just one turnover in two games (on a desperation throw by Carson Palmer at the end of their Week 2 game) and haven't been adept at breaking up passes either.
Simply put, the Jets receivers are going to have to take advantage of this and get open. Then, of course, Mark Sanchez needs to get them the ball accurately and the receivers need to actually complete the catch, as they did against the Bills.
If the Dolphins' defensive backs shut down the Jets wide receivers, the Jets will have a tremendous amount of trouble moving the ball Sunday, as they don't figure to gain significant yardage on the ground.
The play of Mark Sanchez
Even if all of the previously analyzed matchups tilt in favor of the Jets, this game is likely going to come down to the play of Sanchez at quarterback. If he throws the ball the way he did against the Bills, he should have no problem succeeding against a suspect Dolphins' secondary. Even with his poor performance against the Steelers, Sanchez has done a good job taking care of the ball so far, and that needs to continue against the Dolphins.
The Jets aren't likely to find running room against the strong Dolphins' front seven, so it will fall to Sanchez to get the team into the end zone. Against the Steelers, Sanchez's play fell off sharply after a blow to the head by Lawrence Timmons—for which he was fined $21,000. There was concern earlier in the week when it was acknowledged that Sanchez suffered a head injury, but as the week progressed, the potential injury concern disappeared.
Sanchez has taken some huge shots in his first three seasons and sometimes plays skittishly as a result. There have been some brutal games in which Sanchez was absolutely pummeled (particularly against the Ravens in 2011) and then carries a nervous demeanor into the subsequent week.
Although it was just one hit, the Timmons hit was brutal enough that trained eyes will be on Sanchez to see how he handles pressure this week. There will be games where the team could rely on their defense or maybe even their running game to lead their team to victory. However, in this game, the Jets' success will fall on the arm of Sanchez.
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