Not only is this a divisional game between two rivals, but both teams are one of several that are looking to grab the sixth and final wild-card spot in the AFC. Despite the Jets' inconsistencies and the drama in the Dolphins' locker room, both teams share the same record of 5-6.
Getting a win over the other not only gives said team an important in-conference win, but it would also nearly eliminate the other contender with a devastating loss.
Both teams have experienced very different types of seasons. The Dolphins have gone on various winning and losing streaks, while the Jets were alternating wins and losses until they finally snapped the trend this past week in a loss against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Dolphins have an edge at the all-important quarterback position, but both teams have been winning more because of stout defense than a consistent, high-flying passing attack.
Here is what the Jets should do in order to come out with a win in what is their biggest game of the year thus far.
Let the Defensive Line Do the Heavy Lifting
Without question, the strongest aspect of the 2013 Jets has been their talented, athletic defensive line that has showcased the ability to take over games.
Meanwhile, as many predicted, the Dolphins' Achilles' heel has been their inability to protect Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league, having gone down 44 times (the next-closest players are Geno Smith and Joe Flacco, who have taken 37 sacks apiece).
It doesn't take a genius to figure this one out.
The Dolphins were having problems protecting Tannehill all season, and the recent Jonathan Martin vs. Richie Incognito scandal has only made matters worse for them on the field. Nate Garner has been a solid replacement for Incognito at left guard, but Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo have been disastrous at the tackle position this year.
|Dolphins' Starting Offensive Tackles|
|Player||Snaps||Hurries Alllowed||Hits Allowed||Sacks Allowed|
|Bryant McKinnie (LT)||335||9||5||4|
|Tyson Clabo (RT)||633||25||9||10|
The Jets, who have gambled and lost on the coverage ability of their secondary, must recognize the lopsided advantage they have in this area.
The key player for the Jets will be Quinton Coples, who is the only somewhat-explosive edge-rusher they have on the roster (even if he is forced into this role). With Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson doing most of their work on the interior, the Jets need Coples to take advantage of the Dolphins' subpar tackle situation and provide an edge pass rush.
If the Jets can take care of business and get to Ryan Tannehill in a favorable matchup, they won't have as much trouble handling Mike Wallace and the deep pass that has plagued them throughout the season.
Let Geno Smith Throw
There is an old adage that running the football "protects" a quarterback, allowing him to operate in more manageable situations with a shorter down and distance.
However, there is a downside to running the ball that is seldom brought up—the more one attempts to run the ball, the fewer chances to pass the ball.
As the Jets have shown over the past month, operating under a predominately run-first offense has a strong potential to throw a young quarterback out of his rhythm.
When Geno Smith was operating at his best, the Jets were following the Marty Mornhinweg bible of moving the ball predominately through the air.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Jets have all but abandoned this philosophy sometime after the Week 5 win over the Atlanta Falcons, which has resulted in a nightmarish stretch for Geno Smith and the offense.
In particular, the Jets are starting out overly conservative. They have attempted just 37 passes in the fourth quarter this season, while they have thrown 48 times in the fourth quarter (usually in an attempt to catch up from a lopsided score).
|Geno Smith in Wins vs. Losses|
|Attempts||Completion %||Yards Per Completion||Touchdowns||INTs|
|Wins (5 games)||139||58.3||8.16||7||4|
|Losses (6 games)||178||52.8||6.14||1||14|
It may make sense for the Jets to play conservatively against a strong Dolphins defense, hiding their quarterback so he does not make a brutal mistake. However, hiding a quarterback may lead to him attempting more passes, but the offensive ineptitude remains intact.
After all, how much worse can the Jets do than nine completions for a total output of three points (with two turnovers in the process)?
It may go against conventional thinking, but the Jets need to let Smith drive the offense and roll with whatever punches come along with it.
Use the Tight Ends
As with just about every game, the Jets are overmatched on the outside with their mediocre wide receivers against what is a rather stout group of cornerbacks for the Dolphins.
Therefore, the Jets would be wise to attack the middle of the field, where the Dolphins are not quite as stout in coverage. In particular, inside linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, along with strong safety Reshad Jones, have struggled in coverage. According to ProFootballFocus.com, they are the three worst coverage players on the team by a rather significant margin.
With Jeremy Kerley's status for Sunday still in question, the Jets should attack the middle of the field with the use of multiple-tight end sets, particularly in the red zone, where they at least tried to get their tight ends on the field against Baltimore last week:
Here, Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland line up attached to the formation, making them threats as either run blockers or receivers.
The Jets do not have an overwhelming advantage in this area, but this is still their best bet for success against an otherwise well-rounded Dolphins secondary.
Rest Antonio Cromartie
Antonio Cromartie has been a shadow of his formerly dominant self this season. Along with Dee Milliner, he is the biggest reason why the Jets have been so poor defending the deep pass.
Meanwhile, Darrin Walls, formerly an undrafted free agent, has been able to stay on the field despite being the Jets' most consistent cover man.
|Antonio Cromartie vs. Darrin Walls|
|Player||Snaps||Completion %||PFF CB Ranking||QB Rating Allowed|
Benching a player with a reputation as strong as Cromartie's is always tricky business—a coach can look foolish if things backfire, even if it makes sense on the surface.
However, after Cromartie left yesterday with an injured hip (which has been bothering him since training camp and may explain his poor play), Rex Ryan finally has an excuse to send his handsomely paid veteran to the bench, at least for the time being.
Darrin Walls is not nearly as proven as Cromartie, but the Jets need to change things up at the cornerback position to stop allowing so many big plays against them. After all, if the Jets don't make any changes at the weak spots in their roster, how can they expect the results to change?
To be frank, outside of the Jets defensive line versus the Dolphins offensive line, there are not many matchups between these two teams that go in favor of New York.
Going against a strong defense and an offense with big-play ability, the Jets are going to have their hands full in trying to keep the score close while their offense builds itself back to a respectable level.
To win this game, the Jets need to revert to the offensive philosophy that won them games earlier in the season and make the necessary personnel changes on defense to prevent the big play. If the Jets are willing to think differently, they stand a much better chance to get back on track with their sixth win of the season.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).
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