Five Keys To The Jets Game

Posted Dec 28, 2013

Finsiders analyst John Congemi breaks down what the Dolphins must do in order to defeat the Jets on Sunday.

Miami Dolphins fans were hoping that games in the month of December meant something and they've got their wish again in week 17. After a disheartening loss in week 16, this team now has an opportunity to close out the season with a victory at home, keeping their playoff chances alive and at the same time sweeping their AFC East rivals from New York. Head coach Joe Philbin has said that this team needs to play it's best football game of the season this Sunday to earn their ninth victory of the year, and here are some of the things that I'll be playing close attention to against the Jets.

1) Playing Loose In Close Games - There is no denying the fact that this game on Sunday finally falls into the category of must win for the Miami Dolphins. I don't believe that it will affect the way this team executes or how aggressive the game plan is against the Jets come one o'clock. The Dolphins have plenty of game-time experience excelling in one-score contests, especially in end of game scenarios. Eleven games have been decided by seven points or less this season and both the offense and defense have come through with plays that result in victory. Head coach Joe Philbin's demeanor will benefit the way this team approaches game day and I believe that this team will respond and play their best game of the season against the Jets. If they do, Miami's playoff chances stay alive and the game might not be that close.

2) Pass Protection - Some records are better than others and breaking the franchise record for sacks allowed is not one to tell your friends about. Big question coming into this game is how this offensive line will bounce back against a group of defenders from New York that can get after the passer. Being able to identify where the pressure is coming from and not allowing that pressure to effect quarterback Ryan Tannehill's timing in the pass offense will be critical on Sunday. Last week the Bills started the disruption by bring pressure with the front four, then adding secondary edge blitzes that limited Miami execution on third down opportunities. The lack of running game didn't help the offensive line in pass protection, and I'm sure the Jets will roll out there version of what Buffalo did to disrupt the Dolphins offense. The balance Miami displayed in the first meeting is the goal (125 yards rushing and 331 passing) but just getting close to those numbers will help keep the pocket clean.

3) Mix It Up - Just writing and reading the numbers above shows why the Dolphins had so much success and won easily on the road the first time these two teams met in week 13. Tannehill threw for a season-high 331 yards but also spread the football around to the big three (Brian Hartline 9 receptions for 127 yards and one touchdown, Mike Wallace 7 receptions for 82 yards and a score and Charles Clay 7 receptions for 80 yards) in the passing game. Also running back Lamar Miller found the outside running game utilizing his edge speed to rush for 72 yards on 22 carries. The Jets defense is first in the AFC against the run only allowing 88 yards per contest on the ground. The Dolphins ran 80 offensive plays in that game and limited the Jets offensive opportunities running only 54. Staying on the field and finding rhythm helps this team create scoring chances and can expand the play calling for offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Simple execution wins on Sunday and hopefully the Dolphins have plenty of it.

4) Shut Down The Run - A big question for the Miami Dolphins defense will be can they slow down the rushing attack that the New York Jets offense likes to lean on. The Jets are averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the ground and have two capable runners in Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Miami's run defense wasn't up to the challenge last week and must find a way to tackle better in-between the tackles. Also the Dolphins need more bodies around the ball carrier on Sunday. The term playing defense like your hair was on fire applies after allowing the Bills to rush for 203 yards last week. This defense must make plays behind the line of scrimmage and totally dominate at the point of attack.

5) Create Big Plays - Game-changing plays are what this team will try and generate this Sunday inside of Sun Life Stadium. Players never know when they might occur in a football game but this team has the ability and the talent to make enough of them to win. On offense, the key is quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his ability to be accurate in the passing game. When given time to throw, Tannehill's numbers have grown (23 touchdowns to 14 interceptions) and his percentage and quarterback rating are both trending up. He has the playmakers at wide receiver and tight end to generate chunk yardage plays and I look for Ryan to use his legs when needed against the pressure the Jets might apply in the pocket. Defensively, ends Cam Wake and Olivier Vernon must set the tempo by rattling rooking quarterback Geno Smith. Can they turn up the heat and force bad decisions into turnovers by players like safety Reshad Jones or cornerback Brent Grimes? It would only be fitting that Grimes come away with a couple of turnovers putting an exclamation point on his regular season. Returner Marcus Thigpen was a step or two away from breaking good returns into touchdowns last weekend. Let's hope he can continue to hit the creases with speed and turn near misses into points.

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