Both teams enter the game with 5-6 records and the air of disappointment hanging thick around the locker room. The Jets have built a strong home record of 4-1, including victories over standout opponents like the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. However, they have been abysmal on the road, establishing a 1-5 record while being outscored nearly 20 points a game.
The Miami Dolphins have continued a trend of failing to capitalize on opportunities, then turning around and fighting their way out of potential elimination from the AFC playoff picture.
After the Dolphins failed to upset the red-hot Carolina Panthers at home in a game that could have given them the lead in the playoff race, we could see another instance of Miami responding with its back against the wall.
Here we will take a look at some considerations for the Dolphins on both sides of the football as they develop and execute their game plan.
When the Jets have the ball
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith is struggling in 2013. He is able to execute plays designed to go to a particular target; however, he is struggling when he has to balance an NFL pocket against defensive reads after the snap. He is not developing consistent plans for how to attack the defense before the snap.
This indecision is leading to accuracy that could be deemed "scattershot," at best.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has done a good job of trying to hand-feed Smith plays that will utilize his strengths. However, sometimes a quarterback just needs to manage the pocket while reading a defense.
The bad news for Miami is that in order to compensate for their problems at quarterback, the Jets have created a ground game that can hurt defenses out of a number of different looks.
The Jets run the football out of the pistol, shotgun, Wildcat, I-formation and pro formation as well as the single back. They run zone plays, power plays, draws, end-arounds, jet sweeps, counters, fullback dives with a tailback lined up as the upback and plenty of option plays.
Miami must be prepared for all of these different looks because the Jets will rely on their defense to keep them in the game long enough for the offense to wear out the opposing defense. This is especially true at home, where the Jets can count on crowd noise to energize the defense.
Ultimately, this may not be enough for the Jets to win the game due to the limitations of their quarterback. Combined with Miami’s tendency to run out to a lead only to give it up in the second half, we have a recipe for the Jets to pull Smith in favor of backup Matt Simms.
The Dolphins must prepare to face Simms in this game. He has played in two games this season, and one could tell immediately that he is capable of reading the defense and managing an NFL pocket much better than Smith.
|Geno Smith vs. Matt Simms - Net Yards per Pass Snap|
|Pro Football Focus|
If the Jets take Smith out of the game in favor of Simms, the defense can expect some of the quarterback option run plays to disappear from the playbook. However, the Dolphins should not be fooled into believing that Simms is a quarterback who can’t hurt a defense with his legs. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has scrambled three times for a total of 35 yards on only 17 pass snaps.
The Dolphins must keep an eye on wide receiver Greg Salas. In his short stay with the Jets, he has already produced 137 receiving yards on only 40 snaps out of running routes. Though the sample size of his work is small, those numbers rank him fourth in the NFL among all wide receivers in yards per route run, according to Pro Football Focus.
Salas is primarily a slot receiver. However, he has done some of his best work recently on the perimeter, including on wide receiver screen plays. Coming out of Hawaii, he was a standout player who always stood out for his ability to accelerate off the line. He does not possess great long speed; however he can get off physical coverage and get into his routes as quickly as any receiver on the team.
When the Dolphins have the ball
In recent games, the Miami Dolphins have had a tough time putting away winnable football games when quarterback Ryan Tannehill has not had a legitimate ground attack to complement his passing.
The bad news in this matchup is that the Jets boast far and away the best run defense in the NFL. They lead the league in yardage allowed per run play by a significant margin with only 2.9 yards per run.
Using data from Pro Football Focus, we find that the run defense has arguably only one weakness, looking at the defense from left to right by gap.
|New York Jets Run Defense by Gap|
|Pro Football Focus|
The one gap that stands out from the others is the defense’s ability to stop runs around the right end. Yet, even that weakness is illusory.
The Jets allowed Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson to bounce the football to the outside for a 59-yard gain on a 3rd-and-short dive play. Jets defenders had caught Jackson in the backfield and clogged the middle so much that he had zero chance of converting the down as the play was designed. He kept his feet churning, and eventually the Jets defender trying to drag him to the ground in the backfield fell off, which sprang Jackson loose for a big gain as the entire defense had converged on him.
Without that run, the Jets defense has allowed an average of only 2.8 yards per carry in runs around the right end. Excluding the run from the full season statistics would result in the defense allowing only an average of 2.6 yards per carry.
Miami should not necessarily abandon the ground game against the Jets. However, it could take a page from New York in establishing the ground game by giving the defense different looks and using misdirection to its advantage. The loss of tailback Daniel Thomas may help Miami do this, as backup tailback Marcus Thigpen’s game lends itself to misdirection and horizontal stretch concepts.
The passing game may receive a boost this weekend if Jets corner Antonio Cromartie is unable to play on Sunday. However, the Dolphins must approach the game as if he will play.
Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace played against the Jets in 2012 and had one of his few good games of the season against Cromartie. According to Pro Football Focus, Wallace caught all four passes sent his direction in Cromartie’s direct coverage for 68 yards, including a touchdown.
This matchup will be key for Miami. The Jets have a solid pass defense that can be broken open by big plays. Only the Buffalo Bills allow more 40-plus-yard pass plays per game than the Jets, according to data compiled from NFL.com.
According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, the Jets will go with Geno Smith against the Dolphins this weekend. This may prove to be a costly decision, as backup Matt Simms has shown much more efficiency in operating Mornhinweg's offense.
Despite Smith being 4-1 at MetLife Stadium, the home crowd is becoming frustrated with his incompetence. It will not take a lot of struggling before the crowd jeers and boos him, calling for him to come off the field. That experience will not help his confidence and could give the Dolphins energy as they attempt to steal a win from the Jets’ home turf.
The Dolphins have played two games with their backs against the wall. In both cases, they were below .500 and facing elimination from the playoffs. In both cases, they responded with victories. Both of those games were played at Miami, whereas this week the Dolphins will travel to New York.
Despite this, the Dolphins have a good chance to fight off elimination for one more week and steal a victory from within enemy territory.
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