The AFC East foes will line up Sunday in South Beach for round one of their rivalry series, and Miami could take a two-game lead over the Jets with a victory only three weeks into the season. There are critical matchups all over the place in this one.
When Miami has the ball: Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown has been pretty good this season, averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry in his split duties with Ricky Williams. But the Jets' rush defense has been just as good, giving up only 171 yards to opponents in two games. New York didn't have an answer for Miami's running game in South Beach last season, particularly on the final drive of the game. The Jets reeled in the Wildcat – which was effective in the first meeting – for the second game. New York needs to be successful in keeping Williams and Brown at the line-of-scrimmage, because Miami will go with its rushing attack if it's working.
With Darrelle Revis out, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie will revisit a matchup with Miami receiver Brandon Marshall, a matchup the two saw regularly when Cromartie was at San Diego and Marshall with the Broncos. "Two great athletes going against each other, two huge guys for their positions," said Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan. "It ought to be a great matchup." Cromartie has two picks in two games, but he has been a bit inconsistent. The first-year Jet looked good against Randy Moss last week, and he gets a chance to prove himself again against a more physical wideout in Marshall. Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne should look to go deep a few times early. Cromartie showed in Week 1 that he would rather take a pass interference or illegal contact penalty then get beat.
When the Jets have the ball: Last week, Miami intercepted Brett Favre three times and sacked him three more times. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has arguably his best game as a Jet last week, tossing three touchdowns and no picks, largely in part because he had some protection and was able to roll around a lot to buy time. The Dolphins' pass rush, led by Cameron Wake, against the Jets offensive line and Sanchez is a big matchup, because what Sanchez does will decide the game. "We've probably given up more sacks than you'd like to, but I also think we got much better the second week than we were the first week," Ryan said. "We allowed Mark time back there to make those throws down the field. I've got a lot of confidence in our line."
Miami has been rather suffocating on defense this season whether it is getting to receivers or stopping the run. The Dolphins showed some guts against the Vikings on a goalline stand, so it will be interesting to see how New York's offensive line and backfield responds Sunday night. LaDainian Tomlinson has looked very good, and Shonn Greene should improve.
The X-Factor: Jets Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. When Schottenheimer handcuffed Sanchez in Week 1, bad things happened. When he took the reigns off of his second-year signal-caller, the passing game flourished. It's unlikely New York's defense will look as bad as it did in the teams' first meeting last season, and don't expect two kick returns for touchdowns by Miami again, which happened in the second game. So what it comes down to is scoring points on offense, and that's going to happen by Sanchez spreading the ball around. Braylon Edwards will be playing, and Dustin Keller has run wild this season, so Sanchez will have opportunities. Schottenheimer just needs to allow it to happen.