We're already three-quarters through the Miami Dolphins' tumultuous 2013 campaign, yet Week 13 gives us a season first.
Hold onto your hats because it's Jets week, as the Dolphins travel to The Meadowlands to take on their historic AFC East rivals, the New York Jets.
Just typing out, or even the act of reading, those three words in succession should cause nausea and disgust in any Dolphins fan. This season is no different. Both teams come into the contest at 5-6 and fighting for the final playoff berth in the AFC.
It's fairly safe to say that the loser of this game will be all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Breaking down both teams, you see that either squad can point out a potential matchup nightmare. We'll look at the three most crucial matchups for Sunday's game and decide which team has the edge, how the Dolphins can overcome New York's edge, and how Miami can exploit its own advantage.
Jets CB Antonio Cromartie vs. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace
I feel pretty confident in saying, advantage Miami, and it's not even close.
In order for the Dolphins to exploit this matchup, they'll have to overcome a matchup where the Jets have a clear edge, but we will tackle that later.
For now, let's take a look at the tale of the tape between the two veterans.
Mike Wallace has had an up-and-down season, but his problem has been about communication and chemistry, not about skill. He's still getting open at the same clip he has before. The problem has been in getting the ball to Wallace deep.
It was a problem that the Dolphins seemed to have solved in Week 12 against the Carolina Panthers, when Wallace finished with five catches for 127 yards and a touchdown that came off of a 53-yard reception.
He followed that up with a 57-yard reception that resulted in a Dolphins field goal, and then came just fingertips away from a sixth reception for a second touchdown in the final seconds of the game.
It appears that Wallace and quarterback Ryan Tannehill might have found their groove, which is bad news for Antonio Cromartie.
According to Pro Football Focus (h/t The Big Lead), Cromartie is ranked as the 108th-best cornerback in the NFL out of 109 cornerbacks graded. For perspective, the top-ranked cornerback in the NFL is Darrelle Revis.
Wallace hopes to "shut up" Cromartie, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, but Cromartie might not even be in the lineup for the Jets, as Seth Walder of The New York Daily News reports that Cromartie's status against the Dolphins is "iffy."
Despite that, I expect Cromartie to play, but whether he's in there or not, Wallace and the rest of Miami's receivers going against the Jets secondary is a clear advantage for Miami.
Jets NT Damon Harrison vs. Dolphins C Mike Pouncey
Here's another matchup that's dependent on injuries. Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post reported that Mike Pouncey returned to practice on Wednesday for the Dolphins after missing the last two games with a gall bladder issue that caused him to lose 15 pounds.
Abramson added that Pouncey is expected to start for the Dolphins on Sunday against Jets nose tackle Damon Harrison.
While the Jets' defensive front has been one of the best in the NFL this season, thanks to great years by rookie Sheldon Richardson (who will be matched against Bryant McKinnie) and Muhammad Wilkerson (who will go against the much-improved Tyson Clabo), this matchup in the middle is the one that will be the key.
The Jets defense does two things very well—stop the run and get to the quarterback. The Jets are ranked first in the NFL in run defense and allow an average of 2.9 yards per carry while also collecting 32 sacks. New York operates out of a base 3-4 defense, which puts the pressure to stop the run on a very good set of linebackers.
Because of this, second-level blocks must be made by guards Nate Garner and John Jerry in order to protect Tannehill. Garner and Jerry will also have to help Clabo and McKinney in blocking Wilkerson and Richardson from time to time. Some of the blocking will also fall on whoever is in the Dolphins backfield.
If Pouncey can contain Harrison, it will be a major help for the Dolphins. Pouncey will have to take on Harrison (46 tackles) one-on-one, and from time to time make some contact with some of New York's linebackers in order to slow them down.
If Pouncey needs any help to stop Harrison, then it will be open-season on the Dolphins backfield for a very aggressive Jets front, which could nullify any advantage Miami's receivers have over the Jets' porous secondary.
Jets RT Austin Howard vs. Dolphins DE Cameron Wake
Miami's defense is going to have to sell out however it possibly can in order to stop the run.
The best defense against the Jets is to make Geno Smith win games with his arm. Considering that Kevin Coyle likes being aggressive with his defensive front, this is something I definitely see the Dolphins doing, so expect to see plenty of Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons in the box (although for my fellow Dion Jordan fans, I'm sorry—I don't see him getting too many snaps this week).
Once the game is in Smith's hands, the Dolphins can unleash Wake. In charge of guarding Wake will be New York right tackle Austin Howard.
Howard, and the rest of New York's offensive line, have been fairly bad at pass protection this season, giving up 38 sacks. That's only six less than what Miami has given up, but unlike the Dolphins, the Jets haven't had musical chairs along the line, nor have they lost two linemen, to a bullying scandal.
To me, that actually makes the Jets' offensive line somewhat worse because the Dolphins would kill to have the type of stability along the line that the Jets have had.
The key matchup I'm focusing on is Austin Howard and Cameron Wake. Howard will have to hold his own against Wake because the Dolphins will also send Jared Odrick, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and at least one linebacker and one player in the defensive backfield towards Smith in order to bring pressure.
I don't see Howard handling Wake very well. In fact, this will likely be one of Wake's better games unless the Jets are able to run the ball the entire game. If the Dolphins offense continues its annoying habit of settling for field goals, the Jets be able to do just that.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers on behalf of myself and from Bleacher Report. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day weekend, and be safe out there!
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