Dolphins vs. Jets: Highlighting Key Matchups to Watch for Miami, New York
This is a rare occasion, where the Miami Dolphins will have played every game in one divisional series without having played a single game against any of the other AFC East opponents.
The New York Jets got the win down in Miami, but these two teams are much different than the ones that took the field at SunLife Stadium in Week 3.
Both teams are trending upward at present, despite facing a bit of adversity. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has flourished into full bloom over the past two weeks despite the lack of a running game. The Jets defense has come together despite the absence of star cornerback Darrelle Revis, and they are finally beginning to clamp down against the run.
Let's take a look at the many different elements of this matchup and see who has the edge headed into Sunday's divisional showdown.
Catching Up With the Dolphins
At 3-3 coming off a bye, the Dolphins are in a position no one thought they could be in at this point in the season: in contention for a playoff spot.
The Dolphins defense may look inferior against the pass, given its 28th-overall ranking, but those yardage totals are like potato chips: loaded with empty calories. The reality is, this pass defense ranks in the top 10 in the efficiency categories, which is more indicative of its play-by-play effectiveness against the pass.
Miami's run defense speaks for itself, ranking first in the league in yards per carry with a stifling 3.3 allowed.
The offense has had some give-and-take to it. Despite some rough outings in the passing game to start the season and some unimpressive performances on the ground of recent, the offense has been efficient enough to get the job done.
Catching Up With the Jets
With season-ending injuries to cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the first four weeks of the season, many—myself included—expected the Jets to fall apart quicker than a cheap piece of Ikea furniture.
Thus far, that has not happened even though the Jets have gone 1-3 in their past four games.
The offense has been inconsistent, performing well against inferior competition and folding against top-end defenses.
The defense has struggled heavily against the run, but has remained formidable against the pass.
They suffered their first blemish in the AFC East this past week, but are still 2-1 in the division and have a chance to get a huge leg up on the Dolphins with a series sweep.
Key Matchup To Watch: Dolphins Running Backs vs. Jets Linebackers
This is a matchup the Dolphins will want to exploit early and often. The speed of Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller out of the backfield could give problems to a Jets linebacking corps that lacks speed.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, the Dolphins have an opportunity to get both Bush and Miller more involved in the passing game than they've been in recent weeks.
The Jets lack of speed and athleticism at linebacker could be a point of emphasis for Miami this week. As we learned from Steven Hunter of TheSportsGeek Jets blog, linebacker David Harris has struggled mightily all season, particularly in coverage. Bart Scott has that reputation dating back to last season.
However, rookie linebacker Demario Davis (71 snaps, 88.7 percent) took a lot of snaps away from veteran linebacker Bart Scott (nine snaps, 11.3 percent) in this past week's matchup against the Patriots.
Perhaps the Jets are addressing their lack of athleticism at linebacker from within. That being said, it could be up to the rookie to step up.
Key Matchup to Watch, Pt. 2: Dustin Keller vs. Kevin Burnett
The Patriots did, as well, and he went off on them for seven receptions, 93 yards and a touchdown.
Burnett has not been great in coverage this year, allowing receptions on 19-of-27 passing in his direction for 185 yards according to ProFootballFocus.com, but that's not all; as solid as the Dolphins have been in pass defense this year, it ranks 20th in the NFL against tight ends according to FootballOutsiders.com.
The Jets would love to get Keller involved early, forcing a safety into coverage on him, which could open up things in the deep passing game for quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Best Video Tangentially Related to the Game
Football Gameplan gives its preview of Jets vs. Dolphins. This is always must-see YouTube TV.
Dolphins Win If...
They can mitigate the damage in the passing game.
As mentioned above, the Dolphins have given up their share of big pass plays through the air, but this defense is so good in clutch moments—25.8 percent on third down ranks first in the league, and 38.1 percent in the red zone ranks fifth—that as long as they aren't getting gashed for big plays, they should be just fine on defense.
Their run defense is so good that it is expected to perform at a high level, but as we saw in the last meeting, big plays were the difference for the Jets, especially down the stretch. If the Dolphins can limit them, they shouldn't have much of a problem slowing down the Jets offense as a whole.
Jets Win If...
They can force mistakes with the blitz.
It's been hard to do that to Tannehill this season, but Rex Ryan had relative success in the last meeting, holding Tannehill to 5-of-14 passing (35.7 percent) for 69 yards when he sent extra pressure at the rookie quarterback.
The Dolphins are 3-0 when they win the turnover battle, and 0-2 when they lose it (one loss when both teams turned the ball over an equal amount). To say that this team lives and dies by the turnover would be an understatement. New York's ability to force a mistake or two from Tannehill will greatly improve their chances of winning on Sunday.
There's no mistaking that both teams are trending upward. The Dolphins, however, are picking up wins as they trend upward, and they have proven they can beat good teams in the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals.
That being said, the Jets will give them a tough matchup, and even if they play ugly, they are still capable of pulling off the win as they did in the last meeting. With how well the Dolphins run defense is playing, Sanchez will have to have an efficient game against a tough pass defense to pick up the win.
Who will win the game?
Dolphins 20, Jets 19
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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