It was only weeks ago that the 3-1 Jets invaded Miami with perhaps the NFL fiercest defense at the time. The desperate 1-3 Dolphins who weeks prior lost QB Chad Pennington for the season, were needing to find themselves in a hurry. What ensued was a monstrous 413 yard Dolphin output, spearheaded by the Ronnie Brown-Ricky Williams led Wildcat. This reinvented ancient formation, where direct snaps go straight to the running back, was re-introduced to the league by Miami in 2008. The Dolphins won 31-27 that night in the waning seconds, on WR Braylon Edwards Jet debut. The loss dropped the Jets from their early season perch, humbling Gang Green in the process. The win gave Miami life at 2-3.Since then the landscape for both clubs has changed drastically.
For the Jets, run stopping killer NG Kris Jenkins and big play threat, 2008 special teams All Pro Leon Washington are gone for the year. However, on the bright side, rookie RB Shonn Greene has since entered the Jet backfield scene. Last week the rookie third rounder rushed to the tune of 119 yards and 2 TDS, and will be asked to keep the NFLs top run game, averaging 185 yards a game, humming (Miami is second actually at 170 yds a game).
Expect more of a game management type approach from QB Mark Sanchez the rest of the way. His five interception debacle in the loss to Buffalo following the Miami defeat has made offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer rethink his plans for the rookie. The new blueprint was on display out in Oakland featuring Rex Ryan’s oft used term “ground and pound.” This style of running play after play until it is stopped, helped then rookie QB Joe Flacco come along nicely last year in Baltimore. Ryan, the Raven defensive coordinator at the time took notice. The Ravens were one game short of the Super Bowl in 2008. With the Jets atop the NFL on the ground, aiming for less responsibility from another rookie, Sanchez the former USC star, may just be the right formula at this point.
The defense without Jenkins, will now have to rely on it’s linebackers who, led by perhaps the most talented of the bunch Calvin Pace, led the unit in a 38-0 shutout against Oakland. Former Jet return man Justin Miller, who had some special teams success just a few years back for the Jets, was re signed this week to replace Washington on kickoff returns.
Miami entered their bye week feeling sky high fresh off of the heels of the Jet win. The layoff allowed them to buy some time for new starting QB, the second year man out of Michigan, strong armed Chad Henne. The extra week seemed to be working for Henne and the Fish last Sunday. The Dolphins were in control of the high powered undefeated Saints 24-3 at home with only seconds to go in the first half. A late Drew Brees rushing TD though cut it to 24-10 at the break. Then it all fell apart for Tony Sparano’s crew on the way to a 46-34 defeat. Now at 2-4, the Fish find themselves suddenly in last place in the AFC East and once again, in desperation mode.
The Fish, like the Jets, are also in the midst of some key alterations. Highly touted WR Ted Ginn Jr, who caught a crucial bomb from Henne for a TD against the Jets, is now apparently in the dog house for having the dropsies. Rookie Brian Hartline, a Wes Welker type WR with hands, speed and simple reliability, will be taking over on the outside. Hartline’s ability to work the short and medium pass routes will pose a different coverage threat for the Jet secondary than Ginn who is most dangerous on long routes outside the numbers.
Vontae Davis will replace the injured Will Allen at cornerback on Sunday. Coupled with rookie starter Sean Smith, Miami will now roll out two rookie corners to start on Sunday. The Jet passing game which has been non existent the past two weeks, may benefit, especially if WR Jerricho Cotchery returns from a hamstring injury that has kept the starting wideout sidelined the past two weeks.
As for the two headed monster of Williams and Brown, the pair ran well against the eight ranked rushing defense of the Saints, with over 100 yards combined and 4 TDs. Williams had 3 of them, showing off his speed on various occasions. The obvious key to Sunday will be whether or not Rex Ryan has found a way to stop the Wildcat from moving the chains and eating the clock as it did against the Jets weeks ago.
Perhaps Ryan will compensate for the loss of Jenkins by utilizing more secondary and linebacker personnel speed packages up front. Putting the Fish in second and long situations will prevent Miami Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning from relying on the Wildcat in order sustain drives. The Jets, as they hoped to achieve weeks ago, will again try to leave Miami in third and longs, forcing Henne, not Ricky and Ronnie to beat them. Henne was able to consistently handle third downs the last time these two met. However alot of Henne’s success was due to the success of the Wildcat on first and second down.
The ease of the Jets 38-0 laugher in the Black Hole over the Raiders where the Jets typically have troubles, was epitomized by Sanchez’s eating of a hot dog on the bench late in the game. The win stopped a three game skid, restoring some of the confidence and swagger lost during the losing streak. The win was not however, an accurate depiction of how easily things will come from here on out. Up 21-0 early in the first half, Sanchez had little need to make too many tough plays with his arm and legs. The ground game, despite the loss of Washington in the 1st quarter with a broken leg for the season, ate the Raider defense alive all day.
Should Sanchez be put to the test on Sunday, expect speedster WR David Clowney to get some looks. His big play day (4-76yds) was capped by a 33 yard TD grab. This in place of the injured WR Jerricho Cotchery who is practicing again, after having missed two straight games with a hamstring injury. If Braylon Edwards was quiet last week then TE Dustin Keller was invisible. Both were not on the same page with Sanchez. The receiving corps needs to begin to step up despite the fact that the Jets are quickly becoming a run oriented offense.
A win against their bitter AFC East rivals would put the Jets at 5-3 going into their bye week. With games against the Pats, Falcons, Colts and AFC central leading Bengals awaiting them in the second half, the Jets need to beat the last place Dolphins at home. Otherwise reaching the playoffs becomes a daunting task. Shutting down the Wildcat is not easy to do. For the Jets, just slowing it down is essential if they want to change the outcome that they encountered in week 5.
The last time that the Dolphins exited the Meadowlands, in December of 2008, former Jet Chad Pennington helped lead Miami off the field and into the tunnel with the AFC East title. The loss, capping a Jet-like season ending nosedive that saw Gang Green go from 8-3 to 9-7, put an end to the brief Eric Mangini-Brett Favre era. Sunday, the Jets can somewhat repay the favor by sending the Fish back to Miami half out of water and clinging to life.
THREE KEYS TO MIAMI:
STOP THE WILDCAT: Stopping it means slow it down. The Jets can’t let Ronnie and Ricky gain a bunch on first downs all day this time around. If they do, expect another long day.
THE INVISIBLE TWINS NEED TO RE EMERGE: Braylon, Dustin, where are you?
Edwards was brought here to stretch the field and force coverage to roll his way. Fair enough but why is Keller not feeding off of the addition of one of the top big wideouts in the NFL? Maybe it’s too soon. Edwards got here only three weeks ago. Still, just a little production from those two will help keep fast paced LB’s Channing Crowder and Joey Porter from keying in solely on Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. The dependable Jerricho Cotchery’s may be back. Miami starting two rookie cornerbacks may help as well. It’s time for the Jet passing game to re emerge a bit.
JUSTIN MILLER AND MIKE WESTHOFF : Miller, the former Jet return man, who had some great moments in 2006, was re signed days after Washington was put on IR. I bet he’s got alot to prove since being released by the Raiders earlier this month. Wouldn’t it be nice to catch lightning in a bottle from a guy who has to be playing with a chip on his shoulder? It would only be natural if Miller came out to prove so many that they were wrong about him. Miller is reunited with Special Teams coaching legend Mike Westhoff who is on fire calling those fake punts in 2009. Could there be another trick play on the way? Does it involve Miller?
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