The Miami Dolphins do battle this Sunday with the New York Jets. For me personally—and for many Dolphins fans—this rivalry is always one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. With both Miami and New York at 5-6 and right in the thick of the AFC wild-card race, the game has a bit more meaning this season.
The Dolphins and Jets rivalry has been filled with several special moments including the Marino fake spike and Jets assistant coach Sal Alosi tripping Nolan Carroll on a kick return. The most memorable game in this rivalry has to be the Monday Night Miracle back in 2000 when Miami blew a 30-7 fourth quarter lead to lose in overtime 40-37.
Enough with the trip down memory lane. The losing team of this contest could very well be out of the playoff race, this is a must win for both teams. Here are some keys to victory for the Dolphins.
1. Get Lamar Miller going
The loss of Daniel Thomas is big for a Dolphins running game that ranked 26th in the league before losing their power back. This will mean more carries for Miller who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry this season. The Dolphins average just 85.4 rushing yards per game and are facing the leagues top run defense. The Jets are giving up just 72.6 yards per game.
Running the ball hasn't been easy for Miami this season, and it won't get any easier against New York. However, getting Miller involved early and often is essential to keeping the Jets from teeing off on Tannehill and dropping extra men back into coverage.
2. Repeat the passing performance from the Carolina game.
In last week's loss to the Carolina Panthers, quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 67 percent of his pass attempts for 310 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers came into that game allowing just 209 passing yards per game. The Jets come into this game allowing 250.3 passing yards per game and have just six interceptions on the season.
The Jets secondary is no where near as solid as their front seven. If Tannehill and the offense can repeat their passing performance from last week, this game could turn ugly fast.
3. Score touchdowns in the red zone.
For as beautiful as the passing attack looked last week, the Dolphins still lost. A big part of that was their inability to convert red-zone trips into touchdowns. Miami settled for three field goals inside their 20-yard line, and it ultimately put them in position to lose the game.
The Jets have played well in close games this season, but Cincinnati, Tennessee and Buffalo have shown the Jets tendency to fold if the game begins to look one-sided. Miami has the talent and ability to turn this game into a one-sided affair, but settling for field goals is not the way to go.
4. Force Geno Smith to win the game.
Geno Smith has been awful over the last month of the season. Over the last six games, Smith has thrown just one touchdown pass and 10 interceptions (he's also fumbled five times). Miami's front seven have to control running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Shutting down the run is Miami's best bet at a potential blowout.
If Rex Ryan is forced to put the game in Smith's hands then the Miami defense could have a field day. The Jets' offensive line has allowed 38 sacks this season and Miami's defense is third in the AFC in sacks. The Dolphins rank second in the AFC in interceptions with 14.
The Dolphins ability to pressure the quarterback and come up with interceptions could spell disaster for New York if Smith is forced to carry the offense.
5. Play all four quarters
The Dolphins have been criticized for their inability to finish games this season. I personally went on the attack after last week's disaster against Carolina. Miami has collapsed late in games far too often and cannot afford to disappear late against the Jets. Conservative play-calling and poor execution have been Miami's demise late in several games this year.
Mike Sherman needs to stay aggressive with his game plan and test the weak New York secondary. The offense has to execute and play mistake free for 60 minutes, and the defense must maintain their intensity into the fourth quarter.
Everything I've seen on these two teams tells me that Miami is more likely to blow out New York than the Jets are to smash the Dolphins. Neither team can afford a let down in a game of this magnitude. Miami must execute on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes if they hope to go to Pittsburgh next week with playoff hopes intact.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com