The New York Jets Week 13 battle against the Miami Dolphins is a clash between two 5-6 teams battling for their playoff lives. Both teams might be surprised to find themselves whey they presently sit at this point of the season—but each for entirely different reasons.
The Dolphins were a major player in the 2013 free-agent market, signing linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, wide receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller and cornerback Brent Grimes. Despite losing Keller to a preseason injury, the Dolphins opened the season 3-0 before losing six of their last eight games.
The Jets' salary-cap issues would not permit heavy investment in free agents. They were considered so thin in talent that competing for the No. 1 draft pick in next May's NFL draft seemed more likely than competing for a playoff berth. However, after Week 10 the Jets found themselves at 5-4 and in control of their playoff destiny.
After successive losses to Buffalo and Baltimore, they no longer do so.
For the Jets to win against Miami, they must find a way to reignite their offense and eliminate turnovers. The primary objective obviously is to score more points. But shortening the defense's time on the field is also important. Against Baltimore, the Jets held the ball for 25:55, over half a quarter less than the Ravens.
They'll also hope to prevent big plays like the 60-yard and 66-yard bombs they surrendered to Baltimore. Fresher legs on defense might help. Continued good play by the defensive line is essential.
The outcome of these matchups will determine whether the Jets attain these goals and ultimately a Week 13 victory.
WR Santonio Holmes vs. CB Brent Grimes
Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald writes of Dolphin cornerback Brent Grimes: "Simply put, he just might be the lockdown corner the Dolphins have searched for since the days of Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison."
Grimes has intercepted three passes this year, second on the team to fellow cornerback Dimitri Patterson's four. Grimes leads the team in interception-return yardage (102) and has one pick-six.
Santonio Holmes represents the Jets' most credible deep threat. Yet, ProFootballFocus.com's grading system (subscription required) might give Grimes cause for optimism. Targeting Holmes this season, according to PFF, has resulted in five interceptions and just one touchdown.
That's yet another sign of the malaise surrounding the Jets' passing offense. Still, Grimes can't be complacent. Holmes is always capable of breaking a big one, as he did with a 69-yard touchdown reception in New York's Week 3 win over Buffalo.
RG Willie Colon vs. DT Randy Starks
Grades of 13.1 in pass rush and 13.8 in run defense indicate that Starks is highly effective against both stopping the run and pressuring opposing quarterbacks. He has been involved in 31 tackles, 22 of them solo. Starks also has 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble.
He'll face Willie Colon, strong in leadership and pass protection but prone to penalties. PFF attributes 10 penalties to Colon in the Jets' first 11 games. In contrast, Starks has been penalized once.
CB Antonio Cromartie vs. WR Mike Wallace
Wallace is beginning to give Miami the big-play capability they expected when they signed him as a free agent this offseason. Against Carolina in Week 12, Wallace caught five passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. His performance included gains of 53 and 57 yards, exactly the kind of big plays the Jets secondary has surrendered all season.
After reaggravating the hip that has impeded his performance all year, Cromartie will be hard-pressed to cover Wallace without deep safety help.
(NOTE: Cromartie did not participate in Wednesday's practice. His status for Week 13 may be a game-time decision.)
Should Cromartie not play, Ryan's choice of replacement will be interesting.
It could be Dee Milliner, who has had problems covering No. 2 receivers, much less a primary receiver like Wallace. It could be Kyle Wilson, who preceded Milliner as the Jets' No. 2 cornerback. Or Ryan could go a different direction and use Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster or Isaiah Trufant.
Whomever his choice, it will speak volumes about whom Ryan trusts to step up and take charge during this crisis—or whom he believes will get burned the least. I suspect he will choose Wilson, because the rookie Milliner is already beset with enough responsibilities just dealing with his current assignments.
However, just like the injured Cromartie, his replacement would need safety help to contain Wallace.
DE Muhammad Wilkerson vs. LT Bryant McKinnie
Wilkerson must make quarterback Ryan Tannehill's life miserable for the Jets to win. Unless he's double-teamed, he may not have much trouble in doing so.
McKinnie's presence isn't much of an upgrade over Jonathan Martin at left tackle, according to PFF. His overall grade in five games with the Dolphins is minus-5.0. That includes an overall grade of minus-8.3 in Miami's last two games. He's beginning to approach Martin's grade of minus-6.9.
RT Austin Howard vs. DE Cameron Wake
According to ProFootballFocus.com's grading system, Howard is having the best all-around season of any Jets offensive player. He'll be protecting Smith from 2012 first-team All-Pro Cameron Wake, who is second on the Dolphins in sacks with 6.5.
LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson vs. DE Olivier Vernon
Pro Football Focus holds Ferguson responsible for allowing six sacks, three quarterback hits and 23 quarterback hurries. He'll have his hands full guarding Geno Smith's blind side against Vernon, who leads the Dolphins in sacks with 7.5.
QB Geno Smith vs. QB Matt Simms' Shadow
Yes, this matchup is tongue-in-cheek. But Smith's passer ratings of 10.1 against Buffalo and 22.3 against Baltimore are fueling the support for Simms.
The Jets' offense is becoming more of an effort to avoid mistakes than to make plays. Smith's 18 interceptions and four lost fumbles are a major reason. So has been the absence of slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, one of Smith's most reliable targets.
The good news for Smith and the Jets is that Kerley participated in Wednesday's practice and may be ready to play this game.
Smith is going to start against Miami. It's time to stop trying to make things easier for him. Protecting him has neither stopped the turnovers nor improved offensive productivity.
After Week 13, coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach David Lee must prioritize between winning now and grooming the franchise quarterback of the future. If their goal is to win now, the starting quarterback must be the man most capable of efficiently directing New York's passing offense—whether that be a first-round pick or someone less burdened by lofty expectations.
Even David Garrard merits consideration, provided he's healthy.
If, however, their goal is to give their quarterback of the future (presumably Smith) exposure to as much of the NFL game as possible, then winning assumes less importance.
Instead, they must throw Smith to the wolves. Give him game plans that assume he can make the plays expected of someone with his physical gifts. Praise his successes, correct his mistakes and hope for discernible progress. It won't be pretty. It will occur in spurts rather than be a steady progression.
Removing Smith's training wheels may cost the Jets a playoff berth this year. But it may help him lead the team to greater successes in the years to come.
Cumulative grades and statistics are through Week 12 of the 2013 NFL season.
- Miami Dolphins depth chart and statistics: MiamiDolphins.com
- New York Jets depth chart and statistics: NewYorkJets.com
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.