By Mike Lalor
After a damaging 24-17 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 11, the reeling New York Jets (5-5) will take on the struggling Miami Dolphins (4-6) this Sunday at 1pm in MetLife Stadium. While the Jets lost in Houston and fell back in the tight and jumbled AFC Wild Card race, the Dolphins also lost, 24-14 to the Dallas Cowboys in Miami. The Jets have now lost four of their last five games following a promising 4-1 start; the Dolphins have lost three of four after a brief two-game winning streak and surge under interim Head Coach Dan Campbell.
Where to watch: This game will be covered regionally by CBS, and throughout the local New York and Miami markets – and on DirecTV CH 712. Veteran NFL and NBA play-by-play man Ian Eagle will handle the call, along with his Hall of Fame partner, former Charger QB Dan Fouts. Evan Washburn will support from the sidelines of both teams.
When we last met: In Week 4, the Jets and Dolphins squared off at Wembley Stadium in London, as part of the NFL’s International Series. The Jets dominated the line of scrimmage and cruised to a 27-14 victory. RB Chris Ivory set the tone from the opening drive, scoring on a 3-yard TD run. For the game, Ivory carried 29 times for a career high 166 yards. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was a solid, 16 of 29 for 218 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. In the aftermath of their lackluster performance in London, Miami Owner Stephen Ross made a coaching change, replacing embattled HC Joe Philbin, with TE coach Dan Campbell. Campbell is a former New York Giant TE (’99-’02), and since he took over during team’s Bye Week, the Dolphins are 3-3.
Dolphins Update (4-6, 4th AFC East). Last week’s loss to Dallas placed the Dolphins are the cusp of playoff extinction here in 2015. In danger of missing the postseason for the seventh consecutive season, Miami would need to finish with a 5-1 kick, or run the table at 6-0 to potentially gain an AFC Wild Card berth. They are 0-4 within the AFC East, and therefore lack tiebreakers against both Buffalo and the Jets – two of their top rivals for an AFC Wild Card. While the team has performed better under Dan Campbell, his chances to win the job outright and return as HC in 2016 are rapidly diminishing.
The Dolphins have challenges on both sides of the ball and with the overall composition of their roster, but the primary problem heading into their matchup with the Jets is the recent lackluster performance of their offense. Over their last four games, Miami is averaging 14.5 pts/game; for the season, they rank 26th in the NFL, scoring 20.5 pts/game. QB Ryan Tannehill continued his up and down play last week against the Cowboys; he threw for 2 TDs, but only accumulated 188 yards through the air, while tossing a costly INT early in the game, returned for a 12-yard TD by Dallas LB Rolando McLain. Miami converted only 1-of-10 opportunities on 3rd down, and subsequently, they only possessed the ball for 21 minutes.
Dolphin playmakers include: a rejuvenated RB Lamar Miller, 9th in the AFC in rushing with 565 yards, 5.0 yds/carry, 5 TDs; Miller also has 35 receptions out of the backfield for 330 yards and TDs. Rookie RB Jay Ajavi (Boise St.) is an emerging player to watch – he has rushed 15 times for 102 yards in the first three games of his career. WR Jarvis Landry is 5th in the AFC with 64 receptions for 653 yards, 3 TDs. For the year, Tannehill is completing 63% of his passes, with 17 TDs and 10 INTs; he has been sacked 30 times.
On defense, the Dolphins rank 20th in the NFL in Points Allowed, permitting 24.9 pts/game. Miami’s primary problem on defense is their inability to stop the run; they rank 32nd – and last – in the NFL in rushing attempts by opponents, and 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. Teams know they can run on the Dolphins, and they are exploiting it. Expensive offseason acquisition Ndamukong Suh (FA – Lions) was supposed to remedy this weakness, and to his credit, he has picked up his play lately with 17 tackles over the last two weeks. But, the problem is larger than Suh (4.0 sacks), and the loss of Cameron Wake (7.0 sacks) to a season ending Achilles injury at New England in Week 8 has further weakened the front seven. LB Kelvin Shepherd (5th year out of LSU) was a bright spot last week against Dallas, registering a team-high 14 tackles. CB Brent Grimes provides leadership in the secondary, and is tied for the team lead with 3 INTs; he picked off Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo last Sunday.
Jets Update (5-5, T-3rd AFC East). GM Mike Maccagnan and HC Todd Bowles are experiencing their first crisis together as a GM-HC tandem. After the promising 4-1 start, the mood surrounding the Jets has soured. Last week in Houston, the Texans effectively ran the ball…for 123 yards against the league’s then-top ranked rushing defense. Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins was not a captive of “Revis Island”, he repeatedly linked up at opportune moments with QB T.J. Yates, catching 4 balls for 98 yards, including a 61-yard TD against Jet CB Darrelle Revis — before Revis left the game with a concussion. Shortly after, Hopkins burned Revis’ replacement, CB Marcus Williams for a 20-yard TD. With the game tied at 10-10 with eight minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Jets surrendered a go-ahead 21-yard TD thrown by Houston WR Cecil Shorts – off a lateral from Yates – to RB Alfred Blue.
Meanwhile, the Jet offense sputtered most of the day behind QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was coming off recent surgery to repair the ligaments in his left thumb; Fitzpatrick was 19-of-39 for 216 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. The Jets mustered only 70 yards rushing on 21 carries; RB Chris Ivory had only 8 carries for 36 yards. Fitzpatrick ran for a 6-yard TD with 4:23 remaining in the 4th quarter, but threw both drive, and game-ending interceptions to close out the game.
Fitzpatrick’s hold on the Jets’ QB job is growing more tenuous, and HC Todd Bowles did not provide him a ringing endorsement in last week’s post-game press conference when asked about Fitzpatrick starting against Miami; Bowles stated that he would review the game tape…and then, by Monday, affirmed the start for #14, saying there was “not much” consideration in going with backup QB Geno Smith.
During the week, Fitzpatrick elected to trim his Yukon Cornelius-like (hey, Santa Claus is coming to town) beard in hopes of an uptick in performance and fortune. More importantly, Bowles remarked that the Jets got away from the basics after their 4-1 start, and that the coaches tried to get “more creative” on offense – at the expense of what they do best, which is establish the run, and utilize the play-action pass off the run. The Jets rank 14th in the NFL in scoring, at 23.4 pts/game; 21 pts/game over the last 5 games. The once potent rushing attack has also fallen to 14th in the NFL, at 112 yds/game; RB Chris Ivory still ranks 2nd in the AFC with 679 yards and 6 TDs, at 4.1 yds/carry. The Jets running game is predicated on the health, presence and leadership of C Nick Mangold. His recent neck and hand injuries have kept him in and out of the lineup; without him, the Jets simply have not been able to adjust, or control the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, the Jets are now 11th in the NFL in Points Allowed at 20.8 pts/game. Gang Green ranks 5th in the NFL in yards allowed; now 3rd in rushing defense, and 11th vs. the pass. Statistics aside, the Jets are not getting consistent pressure on opposing QBs, their LBs are increasing weak and vulnerable in pass coverage, and the secondary – which looked to be a strength with Revis and CB Antonio Cromartie leading the way – appears average at best, with injuries battering their depth. Of note this week, the Jets released 2012 1st round pick, DE Quenton Coples; Coples was immediately claimed off waivers by the man who drafted him, former Jet, and current Dolphin General Manager, Mike Tannenbaum…Coples will be on the field at MetLife Stadium against his former teammates on Sunday.
Jets’ Injury Front. The banged up Jets have a long injury list right now. C Nick Mangold (hand lacerations) could not snap the ball or practice on Wednesday; but was not listed on the team’s injury report on Thursday – expect him to give it a go against Miami. DE Sheldon Richardson (hamstring) did practice Wednesday and Thursday; he is probable for Sunday. The Jets’ secondary is all beaten up. CB Darrelle Revis did not practice on either Wednesday or Thursday; in fact, on Wednesday, he was sent home after experiencing lingering effects of the concussion he sustained vs. the Texans; he is currently listed as questionable, but is unlikely to play. S Dion Bailey (ankle) is questionable and has not practiced this week; CB Buster Skrine (shoulder) and CB Marcus Williams (knee) have both practiced, and are probable. WR Brandon Marshall has battled ankle and toe injuries for weeks; he was limited on Thursday, and is listed as questionable — he should continue to battle through and play vs. Miami.
What to expect…and a prediction. The Jets lead the all-time regular season series 52-46-1. Jets-Dolphins games are historically closely contested…and known for some wild finishes and notable plays. Among them: the 1986 Week 3 aerial duel between Jets’ QB Ken O’Brien and Dolphin QB Dan Marino, with the Jets winning 51-45 in OT; the 1994 Week 13 “fake spike” game, where Marino caught the Jets’ defense flat-footed and connected with WR Mark Ingram on a game-winning 8-yard TD…the Dolphins won 28-24, and sent the Jets spiraling on a 5-game losing streak to end a promising season under rookie HC Pete Carroll; the 2000 Week 8 “Monday Night Miracle” that saw the Jets trail 30-7 in the 3rd quarter, but rally behind QB Vinny Testaverde to win a 40-37 thriller in OT.
With that as context, moving back to this week — in a game the Jets desperately need to have any chance of playing meaningful football in December. The forecast calls for a slight chance of rain, and temperatures in the high 40s. The Jets were able to run the ball against Miami in London, and they’ll do it here as well. On defense, Miami will be able to make some plays through the air…but the Jets will have just enough to pull it out, 20-17…before playing the Giants in the Battle of the Meadowlands on December 6th.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. His blog can be found at SpadoraOnSports.com.