Dolphins-Jets: Five Things To Watch

Posted Dec 31, 2011

Intriguing storylines are never difficult to find whenever the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets play each other and Sunday’s season finale at Sun Life Stadium is no different.

The Jets are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive and complete their first season sweep of the Dolphins since 2007. They were swept by Miami in 2009 and split the series in 2008 and 2010, but in each of the last two seasons they managed to reach the AFC Championship game.

A seven-game losing streak to begin this season all but dashed any playoff aspirations for the Dolphins, leaving them stunned but not ready to throw in the towel. They went on a three-game winning streak to quiet naysayers and a win Sunday would mean a 4-4 home record, 3-3 within the AFC East and a 6-3 record in their last nine games.

Jason Taylor’s retirement announcement on Wednesday added another element to this game, as his teammates surely will be fired up to send him out on a positive note. Jets veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson also indicated this week that this could be his last game as well.

“All the marbles are there – the division, a home game, the last game, JT’s retirement game and so on and so forth, the Jets, it’s all there,” Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake said. “And on top of that they’re keeping score, so you go out there and play to win. That’s the way I am. I don’t care if it’s “Rock, paper, scissors” or the Super Bowl, I’m a competitor and I play to win all the time. This is going to be another one of those opportunities to beat a guy at something so it’s going to be fun.”

Like any division game the second time around both teams know each other very well, so there aren’t going to be too many surprises from either side. New York won the first meeting, 24-6, at MetLife Stadium on October 17th, but Miami is playing much better now. There will be plenty of critical match-ups to focus on in what will be an emotional game on both sides:

1. Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor versus Jets offensive line – You might as well throw in the tight ends and running backs into the mix, as Taylor no doubt will be energized from beginning to end with this being his last game. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson said as much early in the week once news began to trickle out about Taylor’s retirement and Jets head coach Rex Ryan joked that he wished Taylor had retired last week and skipped this game. Circumstances really play into Taylor’s hands here, as New York has to give Wake with his 8.5 sacks proper attention while Taylor will get a fair share of one-on-one match-ups. He also is familiar with the Jets’ schemes and personnel having played with them last season, so the edge goes to Miami in this one.

2. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis versus Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall Revis’ 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first game swung the momentum back to New York and the Dolphins never could get it back. Marshall did catch six passes for 109 yards, including a 46-yarder behind Revis, and there is no love lost between these two. Plus, with Miami running back Reggie Bush out with a knee injury, Marshall will be relied upon even more to be the playmaker. He’d like nothing better than to succeed in that role against a Pro Bowler like Revis in front of the home crowd.

3. Dolphins left tackle John Jerry versus Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson – With four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long placed on Injured Reserve on Wednesday the pressure of protecting quarterback Matt Moore’s blind side falls on Jerry yet again. This will be Jerry’s second start at left tackle this season as he stepped in for Long at Buffalo two weeks ago and performed well. But Pace and Wilkerson will try to rattle the second-year lineman out of Ole Miss, who struggled a bit at New England after Long went out. Jerry will get some help from left guard Richie Incognito and the tight ends, which might alter some of the play-calling by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and force Moore to get rid of the ball a little quicker, making this matchup probably the most important one.

4. Jets tight end Dustin Keller versus Dolphins strong safety Yeremiah Bell and inside linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby Miami’s cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith played well against Jets wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress in the first meeting and that was before they found their rhythm. Both of them are playing at an even higher level now, which means Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will have limited opportunities to connect with them. The Dolphins’ run defense is among the league’s best as well, so Keller will have to be Sanchez’s primary weapon and Bell, Burnett and Dansby are fully aware of that. If they can take him out of the game then that will bode well for Miami.

5. Dolphins interim Head Coach Todd Bowles versus Jets head coach Rex Ryan – This will be Bowles’ final audition for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and General Manager Jeff Ireland so he will be focused on making sure his players are disciplined and properly motivated to close out the 2011 season with a win. Ryan has gone out of his way to redirect the spotlight off of his players and onto him with his boastful comments and retorts. He knows he needs help around the league to make good on his playoff predictions, but what he doesn’t want to see is an uninspired effort against the Dolphins and the intensity of the rivalry won’t allow that to happen. Don’t be surprised to see this game come down to a field goal or a critical coaching decision late in the fourth quarter.

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