Jets vs Dolphins: 10 Keys to the Game for New York
After a weekend filled with upsets, the AFC East is knotted up, with each team sporting a 1-1 record.
The Dolphins, who many assumed to be the worst team in football, are coming off a dominating performance against the Raiders, while the favored Jets are trying to rebound after a disappointing game in Pittsburgh.
If the Jets plan on making the playoffs, games like these against division foes are must-wins, especially as the schedule gets increasingly more difficult over the next month.
Here are 10 keys to Sunday's game against the Dolphins.
Contain Reggie Bush
There is no question that the most dangerous player on the Dolphins' otherwise-depleted roster is Reggie Bush.
Once viewed as strictly a change-of-pace back from his days as a Saint, Bush has developed into a more complete back since joining the Dolphins. Last week, he gashed the Raiders for 172 yards on 26 carries.
What makes what Bush is doing even more impressive is that Miami's lack of an experienced quarterback and dangerous receiving threats allows defenses to key on Bush, but he is still finding a way to produce.
Meanwhile, the Jets run defense has produced mixed results. When focused and fresh, the Jets are a tough team to run on. However, they let up against the Bills once the score got out of hand and fatigue played a role in their declining run defense against the Steelers.
There really is no magic formula to stopping a run-first team: gap discipline, good tackling and proper alignment is key to containing Bush and preventing him from getting to the sidelines in on-on-one situations.
Confuse Ryan Tannehill
For being known as one of the best defensive minds in the game, Rex Ryan has not been quite as dominant as one would assume against rookie quarterbacks.
As explained by AFC East blogger Erik Frenz, rookie quarterbacks have averaged a 71.9 passer rating against Ryan. While that rating would be fine for most defensive standards, it's not quite up to Jets standards. The Jets are also 3-3 in games against first-time starting quarterbacks.
The key to stopping the Dolphins' pedestrian passing attack is to confuse Ryan Tannehill with exotic blitzes, traps and coverages. With Revis back in the fold for Week 3 (via ABC News), Ryan should have no qualms about throwing the kitchen sink at Tannehill to get him playing as fast as possible.
The sooner the Jets can stonewall Tannehill and force a few turnovers, the quicker the Jets can focus all of their attention on stopping Reggie Bush.
Take Advantage of Jonathan Martin
Much like the Jets, the Dolphins are having their share of issues with the right tackle position, where rookie Jonathan Martin has struggled.
After Garrett McIntyre's breakout performance against the Steelers in which he recorded two sacks, I would not be surprised to see the Jets line him up over Martin to see how much havoc he can cause on first and second downs.
If the Jets can get pressure on Tannehill without blitzing, it is going to be a long day for the rookie quarterback through the air.
Yes, that's right—despite growing cries for Tebow, it makes little sense for the Jets to use much of their Wildcat package in this game, as fun as it would be to give the Dolphins a taste of their own medicine.
The Dolphins front seven is much more stout than given credit for, with players like Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Karlos Dansby leading a quality run defense. Running their heads into a wall without threatening a secondary that is without Vontae Davis makes little sense.
Many of the Dolphins defenders have a good idea of how to defend after playing under Tony Sparano.
Now, running the Wildcat on a goal-line or short-yardage play makes sense, simply because it allows the Jets to block with 10 players. Otherwise, unless Sanchez and the base offense are completely inept, the Wildcat should be saved for when the Jets really need it.
Spread out the Dolphins
While the dropoff from Vontae Davis to Richard Marshall may not be too dramatic, the loss of Davis hurts their depth in the secondary more than anything else.
The Jets would be wise to spread the ball out and use Sanchez in quick, three-step drops to neutralize the Dolphins pass-rush. The Jets utilized this strategy against a deeper Bills defense with great success.
If the Jets can get the ball to Jeremy Kerley and Dustin Keller early on, it will force the Dolphins safeties to respect the interior threat, which will open things up for Holmes and Hill on the outside.
Use Joe McKnight
The loss of Dustin Keller last week certainly limited the Jets passing game, but not having a viable receiving option out of the backfield had a big effect on the game as well.
Without having to worry about a Darren Sproles-type coming out of the backfield, safeties and linebackers do not need to worry about covering the whole field.
Using McKnight would spread out the Dolphins defense, opening up things for Dustin Keller and creating more single-high safety looks. The fewer safeties the Dolphins can use on the back end of their defense.
With only one safety back in coverage, Stephen Hill could win one or two jump balls to give the Jets just enough big plays to pull out a win.
Block Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake has always given the Jets headaches, and given the Jets' evident protection issues last week, he is set up to continue that trend on Sunday.
After a strong start to the season, Austin Howard was exposed and struggled to hold off Lamarr Woodley. I expect the Dolphins to see what their best defender can do against the young right tackle right away and line him up at left defensive end.
The Jets should use the same game plan they used against the Bills to slow down Wake: Give Howard help by using Jason Smith as an extra blocker, stay away from deep drops and maintain balance on offense to slow down the rush.
Wake has the ability to single-handedly freeze the Jets passing game, but the Jets have plenty of options to go about slowing him down.
Contain Anthony Fasano
While Fasano is not quite as difficult to handle as, say, Rob Gronkowski, he will be the most difficult man to cover out of any of the Dolphins' receiving options.
Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can easily handle Davone Bess and Brian Hartline, but dealing with tight ends has always been a tricky puzzle for the Jets under Rex Ryan. Meanwhile, Fasano has had his share of success against the Jets, having scored four touchdowns against the green and white.
With the Dolphins receivers locked up, expect Ryan Tannehill to look for his security blanket early and often. In red-zone situations, the Dolphins will do everything possible to try and get the ball to their biggest target.
The Jets would be better off taking chances with their corners on islands to make sure that Fasano does not eat up yardage on his own.
This goes without saying, but the best way to drop a game that the Jets should (and need to) win is to turn the ball over.
A nightmare scenario for the Jets would be for Sanchez to fold under the pressure by Cameron Wake, throwing interceptions and getting stripped-sacked in enemy territory.
Sanchez is known for losing the ball when he is sacked, as he has developed a bad habit of holding onto the ball with one hand in the pocket. Taking sacks is fine; turning bad plays into devastating plays is not. No need to give an inferior opponent extra opportunities to score.
Put a Spy on Ryan Tannehill
In general, rookie quarterbacks love to run when things break down, as they trust their younger legs more than their arm.
At the same time, Ryan Tannehill is a former wide receiver who has plenty of mobility. If he does no trust what he sees against a complex Rex Ryan defense, he will pull it down to avoid a negative play more often than not.
Therefore, the Jets need to account for his ability by keeping a spy on him. Using a faster linebacker, like Demario Davis or Aaron Maybin, would be ideal.
If Tannehill starts picking up first downs with his legs, it will put an extra strain on the Jets defense that could prevent them from having a dominant performance.