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Dolphins-Jets: Five Things To Watch

Posted Sep 22, 2012

First place in the AFC East at stake.

Division games always carry a little more weight in the NFL, especially this early in the season.

So the Miami Dolphins are hoping to leave Sun Life Stadium this Sunday the same way they did the last time they hosted the New York Jets – with a victory. The two teams are in a four-way tie with the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills in atop the AFC East at 1-1.

Head Coach Joe Philbin is new to the nearly half century old rivalry, as are rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the other members of this rookie class, but they are keenly aware of how intense it will get. These are two teams with similar personalities on offense, defense and special teams, which means this game could come down to the final drive.

Five Things To Watch:

1. Dolphins ground game versus Jets run defense – Forget for a moment that the NFL has become more of a pass first league when these two teams meet because after two weeks the old school approach seems to be working for both. The Dolphins, behind reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week running back Reggie Bush, ran all over the Oakland Raiders last week for 263 yards. New York likes to load up the box to stop the run and dare the opposition to pass, which Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger did rather efficiently in his team’s 27-10 win in Week 2. Bush’s 241 rushing yards through two games is second in the NFL and he got a breather courtesy of rookie Lamar Miller last week. Daniel Thomas is likely to return to the field as well, adding another physical runner to the fold, and Miami’s zone blocking scheme has played to the strengths of its offensive line, so this battle will be key to the outcome.

2. What kind of pass rush can the Dolphins generate on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez – Defensive end Cameron Wake has been getting double teamed a lot so far, which was to be expected, but that has opened up lanes on the interior for defensive tackle Randy Starks. Sanchez likes to roll out, and Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano will try to buy him as much time as possible in order to get into a rhythm. But if Wake, defensive end Jared Odrick and rookies Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby can disrupt things in the backfield and force Sanchez to hurry some throws, that could lead to one or more takeaways by the linebackers or the secondary and shorten the field for Miami’s offense.

3. Will Miami’s special teams battery of kicker Dan Carpenter, punter Brandon Fields and long snapper John Denney make Mike Westhoff a prophet – The legendary special teams coordinator for the Jets, who spent 16 seasons (1986-2000) with the Dolphins, doesn’t pass out compliments very often, but this week he labeled Carpenter, Fields and Denney the best battery in the NFL and Denney as the best long snapper. Oakland’s Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski and Jon Condo, considered to be the standard, lost their head-to-head battle to the Miami trio last week. Fields’ greatest career performance came against the Jets two years ago in the Meadowlands when he averaged just under 57 yards on 10 punts, while Carpenter’s four field goals in last year’s season finale at Sun Life Stadium helped knock the Jets out of the playoffs. Field position will be key in this game and the result could easily be decided by a field goal, both of which favor Miami.

4. Miami wide receiver Brian Hartline versus New York cornerback Darrelle Revis – Hartline had a breakout performance against the Raiders with nine catches for 111 yards, both career-highs, but he did that against a banged up, young and vulnerable Oakland secondary. Of course it was just his second full game after missing all of training camp with a calf injury and he is not lacking in confidence. Revis is arguably the top cornerback in the league and capable of shutting down one side of the field, but he is coming back from a concussion so he might not be 100 percent. Should the Jets run defense succeed in slowing down Reggie Bush and company, Tannehill will need to feel comfortable with finding Hartline and loosening up the secondary. If Hartline proves last week was not an anomaly and can get open on Revis down the field he could become the X factor.

5. When will the home field advantage surface – There was no denying the South Florida heat took its toll on the Raiders last week and Sunday’s forecast in Miami Gardens is calling for a high temperature of 88 degrees with a “RealFeel” of 100 degrees. You can add at least a few degrees to the temperature on the field since it absorbs even more heat inside the stadium bowl. But where the Dolphins would like to see that extra edge of being at home showcased is in the stands with crowd noise and other intimidating factors. That was the case in the last meeting between these two teams, which happened to be Jason Taylor’s last game in a Dolphins jersey, and a repeat performance can only fire up Tannehill, the offense, defense and special teams even more.

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