Saturday, December 28, 2013

Four Point Stance: Jets at Dolphins


There's technically only one team in this game with something at stake, but don't tell that to the New York Jets players.

With a third straight season without a playoff appearance secured and the perceived heat under Rex Ryan's seat increasing by the day, members of the Jets (7-8) have been coming out in droves in support of their embattled head coach.

They know that the best way to defend Ryan's job is to spoil the Miami Dolphins' (8-7) playoff aspirations this Sunday.

Miami throttled the Jets in New York in the season's first meeting by a 23-3 margin, a rock-bottom moment for the home team and the first of three straight wins that put the Dolphins in position to contend for a playoff spot.

Beating their rival again this week won't itself secure the AFC's sixth playoff spot but will get them in with some very attainable help. A loss completely eliminates Miami from playoff contention.

Be assured that both teams will lay everything out on the line in this game. The team that channels its emotions the best into good football will emerge victorious.

When the Dolphins have the ball:
Despite what the final margin suggests, the Dolphins had a very tough time getting going offensively in the first matchup. Miami had success early running the ball against New York's stout defensive line but had trouble finishing drives and only managed six first half points. Once quarterback Ryan Tannehill began targeting the Jets' underwhelming cornerback duo of Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner, the floodgates opened and Miami cruised to a comfortable win. Both defensive backs have shown improvement in the season's final stretch, but expect the Dolphins' gameplan to be centered around attacking the Jets' secondary with receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Safety Ed Reed, in what could be his final NFL game, will need to provide better back-end support to his teammates than he did in Week 13.

When the Jets have the ball:
Aside from his team's putrid performance in the first game against Miami, Jets quarterback Geno Smith made his own personal trip to rock-bottom by completing just 4-of-10 passes for 29 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. That performance led to a halftime benching. To lead his team to a win this time around he'll obviously need a much better showing, but he should have the benefit of a running game that's accrued over 140 yards in each of the past three games. Miami matches up well defensively with New York, as the Jets lack the weapons to exploit the Dolphins' weaknesses at linebacker and safety. The Jets will need to lead with the run game and find ways to mitigate the Dolphins' pass rush, which totaled four sacks in the first matchup.

Dolphins' edge rushers vs. Jets' offensive tackles. In the first meeting, Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon tallied three sacks on his way to AFC defensive player of the week honors. Along with Cameron Wake, Dion Jordan and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's agressive blitzing schemes, Miami's defense proved that it's fully capable of suffocating the Jets' passing game. New York's tackle duo of Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson gave up two sacks and seven other quarterback hits and hurries back in Week 13, and a Jets win will require improved play from those two players.

The last time these teams faced off in a season finale with playoff implications for the Dolphins was exactly five years and one day ago from Sunday. Miami defeated the Brett Favre-led Jets to clinch the 2008 AFC East Title and its only playoff appearance in the last 12 seasons. If the Dolphins make the playoffs, they will be the only AFC East team other than the Jets to earn a Wildcard spot since Miami last did it in 2001.

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