Scouting Report: New York Jets

When it was over 25 seasons ago, it was called the Mud Bowl. The Jets lost to the Dolphins, 14-0, in a game played in a rainstorm in a soaked Orange Bowl. At stake was the AFC title and a berth in the Super Bowl, which Miami then lost to Washington. Sunday's matchup also has historical implications of a far different sort. Call it the Crud Bowl.

Winless Miami (0-11) is trying to avoid a place in the record books as the first winless team over a full NFL season since the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14. (The then-Baltimore Colts were 0-8-1 in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.)

The Jets (2-9) are trying to avoid being the first notch on the Dolphins' collective belts.

No, it's certainly not the AFC championship game, but there is pressure.

"You know that team is going to come to win," right tackle Anthony Clement said. "They're going to play their hardest because they're looking to get a win. There's always added pressure when you play against a team that hasn't had a win. ... We have to prepare like we'd prepare any other week."

And, of course, it's not as if the Jets are in a position to take anybody for granted, considering the season they've had. And as the Jets players kept noting, Miami has lost six games by three points each, including a 3-0 defeat to Pittsburgh on Monday night.

"Just because they're 0-11 doesn't mean they're not a good team," linebacker David Bowens said of the Dolphins, whom he left as a free agent in March to sign with the Jets.

"We're in the same boat," strong safety Kerry Rhodes said. "They can easily have a different record, but they are what they are and we are what we are. We're both not that good right now. We're both struggling and trying to get a victory on Sunday. It's going to be a tough game."

The Dolphins are decimated on offense. Both Ricky Williams, who had just returned from a suspension, and Jesse Chatman were injured against Pittsburgh. Williams (torn pectoral muscle) is out for the season, as is Ronnie Brown (knee), who had 211 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in the Dolphins' 31-28 loss to the Jets in North Jersey on Sept. 23. They're also on their third starting quarterback of the season, as rookie John Beck, a second-round pick, has started the last two games.

Rhodes did his best to minimize those injury problems, saying, "They're still dangerous. They're playing better as the season progresses. It seems like they're getting accustomed to the system that they're in. Now that they have the young quarterback in, they're trying to do some other things and get some quick balls out to Ted Ginn Jr. (Ginn) is making more plays. They're getting him more involved in the offense. They still have some weapons."

But perhaps the Dolphins' biggest weapons in this game are psychological, as they certainly will throw everything they have at the Jets in an attempt to avoid the ignominy of a winless season, 35 years after this franchise put together a perfect season.

NOTES, QUOTES

-- FB Darian Barnes, who had been a healthy scratch in each of the last four games, was released by the Jets on Wednesday. Barnes signed a one-year contract in March as a free agent to be the blocking back for Thomas Jones. The two also had been teammates in Tampa Bay. Of Jones' three 100-yard rushing games, two came with Barnes in the lineup.

"I talked to him before he left," Jones said before practice. "He's doing OK. Anytime you go through a situation like that it's tough, but Darian's a strong person and he's a good player and I wish him the best.

"He's one of my good friends on the team and you have that relationship with your fullback. It's going to be tough not having him around, but it's a business and this is just part of it."

Barnes apparently fell out of favor with coach Eric Mangini. The Jets now have no fullbacks on their roster, but they do have five tight ends. One of those, Joe Kowalewski, often has been used as an H-back type.

-- WR Jerricho Cotchery wasn't at practice Wednesday, and wasn't seen in the locker room before practice. The Jets reported that he missed practice with a finger injury. Mangini didn't mention him in his pre-practice news conference. Cotchery seemed fine after the Dallas game and prior to practice Monday, so the injury likely occurred during Monday's practice. Coincidentally, the Jets announced Wednesday that Cotchery is their nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for Cotchery's charitable work off the field.

-- QB Kellen Clemens spoke to reporters for the first time since immediately after his 12-for-27, one-interception performance in the Jets' 34-3 loss to Dallas on Thanksgiving.

When asked about his inaccuracy during the game, he said, "There were a couple throws where I just missed. If you look at my completion percentage, it was obviously lower than you hope for as a quarterback, but there were a lot of balls where I was flushed out of the pocket and just threw the ball away to try to avoid a sack. Some of those balls that maybe looked like they were missing and go out of bounds, actually go there on purpose."

He did admit that Terence Newman's 50-yard interception for a touchdown "could have been thrown a little better. He did make a good play, but I could have thrown it (in a) safer (place), where Jerricho (Cotchery) is going to get it or nobody's going to get it. I take the responsibility on that completely."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It hasn't been awkward or any other negative things it could have been, and that's just a testament to the person that (Chad Pennington) is and the character that he carries himself with." -- QB Kellen Clemens, when asked if his relationship with former starter Pennington has been strained since Clemens supplanted him as the No. 1 QB.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Abram Elam now has started five straight games at free safety. He had an excellent game at Dallas, with two pass breakups.

With the release of Darian Barnes, the Jets have no fullbacks on the roster. Stacy Tutt (knee) is on injured reserve. They have instead been using tight end Joe Kowalewski as an H-back.

For the last two games, starter Adrien Clarke and second-year player Will Montgomery have alternated at left guard. Obviously, this position is up for grabs going forward into 2008.

GAME PLAN: Miami's defense is third in passing yardage per game, but mainly because teams are running the ball because they're ahead. The Dolphins' efficiency per play isn't nearly as good, as they are 29th in the NFL in passing yards per attempt. So look for the Jets to try to get something started in the passing attack, although it may be tough if the Jets' receiving corps is still banged-up. Thomas Jones rushed for 110 yards in the first meeting and should get a lot of carries here. On defense, the Jets will look to rattle rookie QB John Beck and shut down a decimated Dolphins ground game. Miami could be down to its fourth-string running back.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Jets TE Chris Baker vs. Dolphins secondary: Baker has 11 receptions for 112 yards and one touchdown over his last three games and is quickly becoming a favorite target of second-year QB Kellen Clemens. Baker had only one catch against the Dolphins in the first meeting, but it was a four-yard touchdown on a tremendous fingertip catch in the end zone. Baker has been needed less in pass protection in obvious passing downs recently, helping him get more opportunities to catch passes.

Dolphins WR Marty Booker vs. Jets secondary: Booker has taken on the role of the Dolphins' No. 1 receiver after Chris Chambers' trade to San Diego, and he excelled in the slop at Pittsburgh on Monday night, with five receptions for 54 yards, including a 21-yarder. With the Miami running game decimated by numerous injuries, look for Beck to go to Booker early and often against an often erratic Jets pass defense.

Jets LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson vs. Dolphins RDE Jason Taylor: Taylor, the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was held sackless in the first meeting between the teams, although Ferguson did have some help, as Taylor was often chipped and doubled. Still, Ferguson did handle Taylor when the two were matched one-on-one.


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