New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins: 10 Keys to the Game for Miami
It's Jets Week.
For an early regular-season game, it literally doesn't get any better than this.
For starters, ex-Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano makes his first return to Miami since he was fired in mid-December of last season. It has only been a few months since Sparano departed, but things look a whole lot different now than when he left. Under Joe Philbin's watch, the Dolphins have overhauled nearly half of their roster, and the team is now geared for speed and finesse rather than brute strength and power.
That's not all.
Enigmatic wide receiver Santonio Holmes (you know, the same guy who has just seven receptions in five career games against the Dolphins, including a zero-catch game in Week 17 last season, during which he was benched) issued some smack talk to the Dolphins secondary:
"With our skills and our speed, we should really take advantage of those guys," Holmes told Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. Earlier this week, Holmes also said that he doesn't remember the Jets Week 17 loss to the Dolphins last year.
Smack talk is nothing new to this rivalry, but Ryan Tannehill and Joe Philbin are. Miami's new nucleus will usher in a new chapter to the Dolphins-Jets rivalry on Sunday, and if the 'Phins follow these 10 keys, then Tannehill and Philbin will be off to a glorious beginning.
Get Pressure on Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez only has one career win in Miami, and in order to prevent him from notching his second, the Dolphins need to get in his face early and often.
When under pressure this season, Sanchez has completed only six of 15 passes for 82 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Sanchez was particularly vulnerable to the Steelers pass rush last week, which dragged him back down to earth after a stellar Week 1 performance.
The Dolphins have the personnel to generate a chaotic pass rush, but they have only registered two sacks in two weeks, which is the second lowest total in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle—per PFF—has sent blitzes on 28 plays this season. Coyle doesn't have the luxury of sending blitzes too often because of the secondary's inconsistency. However, this is the weakest passing attack the Dolphins have faced thus far, so he can be more liberal with his blitz packages this week
Beat the Jets Blitz Packages with Short, Quick and Screen Passes
Rex Ryan is never shy to send heavy and complex blitzes from every direction possible, and you can rest assured he's licking his lips with a rookie quarterback and rookie right tackle on the slate this week.
Through two weeks, the Jets have blitzed on approximately 41 percent of passing plays according to Pro Football Focus. That number is bound to rise on Sunday, so the Dolphins have to find ways to keep Tannehill on his feet and force Gang Green to play conservatively.
In order to do this, the Dolphins have to do what their offense is designed to—execute quick, short passing routes. And moreover, they need to get Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller out into open space through screen and dump-off passes.
Bush and Miller are home-run threats every time they get into space, and if the Jets continually send heavy blitzes, they'll have opportunities to churn out some big plays.
But Still Take Some Shots Downfield
Up to this point, the Dolphins have been reluctant to let Ryan Tannehill take shots downfield. Only three of his 66 pass attempts have traveled more than 20 yards.
Mike Sherman and Joe Philbin restricted Tannehill in Week 1 for obvious reasons. The Texans have one of the NFL's best defenses, and the rookie had to get his feet wet before firing risky passes downfield. Moreover, the West Coast offense focuses on short, quick passes, and the Dolphins don't have a particularly lethal stable of wide receivers.
But even when the Dolphins faced a banged-up Raiders secondary last week, Tannehill threw only one pass that traveled more than 20 yards.
If there's ever a week to let Tannehill unleash his arm, it's this one.
Jets safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry both specialize in stopping the run. The Dolphins are bound to catch them cheating up and stacking the box, and they should capitalize by tossing some deep balls. This won't be easy with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on the corners, but if Ted Ginn Jr. can escape Revis Island, then so can Brian Hartline or Davone Bess.
Get Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller More Involved in Passing Game
Darrelle Revis missed last week's game with a concussion, but he was cleared for contact on Thursday and appears to be on track to start on Sunday.
If Revis indeed plays, then he, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson can have their way with Miami wideouts. Brian Hartline may have played well against Oakland's injury-laden secondary, but he won't have the same success against Revis or Cromartie.
In order to combat this mismatch, the Dolphins have to get Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller (assuming he's active) actively involved in the passing attack.
The Jets linebacker corps, specifically Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Aaron Maybin, struggle in pass coverage. They'll have serious problems covering the Dolphins trio of backs, and Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry can't provide much pass-coverage support either.
Joe Philbin needs to capitalize on every mismatch he can, and this is one of the few advantages his offense has over New York's defense.
Let Ryan Tannehill Utilize His Mobility
Ryan Tannehill briefly showcased his mobility last week when he ripped off a 13-yard run, but that was only a glimpse of what he's capable of.
Remember that Tannehill not only played wide receiver for two seasons at Texas A&M, he thrived. And on top of that, he clocked the 40 at 4.58 in his pro day back in March.
This week, Tannehill has an opportunity to take the Jets by surprise and beat them with his legs. Given New York's blitz-heavy tendencies, he's bound to have plenty of opportunities to maneuver through collapsing pockets.
Plus, the Jets faced two true scrambling quarterbacks last season: Michael Vick and Tim Tebow. They combined for 100 rushing yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Granted, the Jets won't be as vulnerable to an athletic quarterback with Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry in the fold, but Tannehill should still have a few opportunities to use his legs.
Expose the Jets Weakness at Right Tackle
Jonathan Martin might be enduring some unpleasant growing pains, but at least there's hope he'll grow into a stable, long-term right tackle.
The same can't be said for anybody the Jets plug in there.
Wayne Hunter was a liability throughout 2011, prompting the team to trade him for former top-five draft pick Jason Smith. But Smith hasn't been able to supplant Austin Howard, who surrendered a sack, a quarterback hurry and four quarterback hits last week.
Howard now has the misfortune of facing Cam Wake.
If Wake capitalizes on this mismatch, it could swing the game in Miami's favor.
Emphasize an Uptempo, No-Huddle Offensive Attack and Capitalize on the Heat
The Dolphins took full advantage of their acclimation to the south Florida heat last week. They wore the Raiders down in the second half with their uptempo, no-huddle attack, and there was a visible discrepancy in the team's conditioning.
This week, the 'Phins play another team that's unaccustomed to the thick humidity and steaming heat.
Sunday's forecast calls for a high of 84 degrees. When you factor in humidity, the heat index can easily approach roughly 90 degrees.
Once again, the Dolphins offense needs to run the no-huddle and be as uptempo as possible. Not only can they tire the Jets defense out, but they can also limit the adjustments and substitutions it can make.
Integrate Charles Clay into the Game Plan
Another way the Dolphins can expose the Jets' pass-vulnerable linebacker and safety corps is to utilize Charles Clay.
Bills tight end Scott Chandler racked up four receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown against New York in Week 1, and Steelers tight end Heath Miller caught three passes for 19 yards and a touchdown against it last week.
Clay is an athletic, versatile tight end, but he's been a ghost thus far, recording only one reception for two yards. Despite shining throughout the offseason, he has barely even factored into the Dolphins offensive game plan.
This is a perfect matchup for Clay to redeem himself.
Don't Abandon the Game Plan Early
In the second quarter of the Dolphins' first two games, the offense departed from its original game plan: feed Reggie Bush and let Ryan Tannehill settle in with conservative passing plays.
Against the Raiders, the Dolphins ran the ball 12 times in the first quarter. Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller looked solid, racking up a combined 45 yards. Then, in the second quarter, the Dolphins ran the ball only four times and fell behind by three points.
Similarly, Miami ran the ball nine times in the first quarter of Week 1. Reggie Bush was slicing up the Texans defense, and Miami entered the second quarter up by three points. The Dolphins proceeded to run the ball only five times in the remainder of the half and fell behind by 21 points.
In both games, Ryan Tannehill, Reggie Bush and Co. have come out looking crisp and efficient. Fortunately, Joe Philbin reverted to a run-first game plan in the second half of the Raiders game, but he needs to break this habit—especially now that Lamar Miller has proven himself.
Don't Let Tony Sparano Keen in on His Former Players' Tendencies
Tony Sparano coached the Miami Dolphins for four years.
There is no doubt he has valuable intel on the 32 carryovers from his tenure.
He knows their strengths and weaknesses, both physically and mentally. This can give the Jets an advantage, but only if the Dolphins don't proactively do something about it.
However, it's important to note that this is a much, much different team than the one Sparano coached. Sure, much of the personnel is the same, but the offensive and defensive philosophies are entirely different. The offense is now a no-huddle, uptempo, balanced attack—essentially the polar opposite from Sparano's smash-mouth rushing attack—and the defense has transitioned from the 3-4 to the 4-3.
Sparano's insight probably won't factor too much into Joe Philbin's schemes, but don't be surprised if the Dolphins make extra use of funky offensive formations and show unorthodox looks on defense.