FLORHAM PARK, NJ - The last time the Jets played the Dolphins the dismantled the Dolphins so bad that their head coach was fired after the game. The Jets were among the more pleasant surprises of the league, 3-1 after the trip to London and the Dolphins were on of the biggest disappointments in the league at 1-3. The Jets defense was suffocating and their running game was in full swing, Chris Ivory ran for 166 yards and a touchdown that Sunday in London. Now the Jets have dropped four of their last five and sit at 5-5 and the Dolphins have found some new life under interim coach Dan Campbell as they sit just one game back of the Jets at 4-6.
The Dolphins have certainly played better under Campbell but they still have plenty of issues themselves. Neither of these teams are playing like they deserve a playoff spot but right now the Jets are tied with five AFC teams battling for the playoffs at 5-5 and the Dolphins are one of three teams at 4-6. They might not look like playoff teams right now but neither team can be ruled out of the hunt because of how few good teams there are in the AFC.
You can throw out the record whenever these teams meet but in order to get back on the playoff track the Jets will need to get a win this Sunday and sweep the Dolphins. Can the Jets defense pressure, hurry and rattle Ryan Tannehill again? Can they keep Jarvis Landry in check? Can Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ivory get back to playing winning football?
The answers to all those questions which team emerges victorious on Sunday. The Jets could regain their footing in the race for the final Wildcard spot with a win or they could continue to their downward spiral as the season slips away.
WHEN: Sunday Nov. 29, 2015 1 pm EST
WHERE: MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Win in the trenches - You've heard this cliche before, and you'll hear it many more times in your life, but football is won in the trenches. Sometimes there will be an outlier of a team built on finesse and spreading the field, which limits but does not exclude the importance of winning in the trenches, the Dolphins tend to run that style of offense but not at a level of the Patriots or a healthy Packers team. The Jets struggling running game can be traced back to their inability to open up holes for the backs, that's on the offensive line and since they are facing Ndamukong Suh and company they will have their work cut out for them.
Last week J.J. Watt destroyed the Jets pretty much all by himself. The Jets elected to attempt to block him one-on-one for most of the game, those attempts went poorly. Suh is not the disruptive monster that Watt is but he is still quite disruptive himself and the Jets will need to make sure they have a plan to limit his destruction. Will they double him? If they do they will have to account for Olivier Vernon and ex-Jet Quinton Coples who will be back playing his natural position on the line and looking to make the Jets pay for cutting him.
Fortunately for the Jets they will have Nick Mangold anchoring the offensive line again, as he was a full participant in practice today and is officially listed as probable, which should help them take advantage of the Dolphins inability to defend the run. If the Jets can't get the running game going against a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the run and allows 138.6 rushing yards per game, at 4.3 yards a clip, it will not only be a long day on Sunday but a long rest of the season.
On defense the Jets will have Sheldon Richardson back so their front will be completely healthy which is good because they will need to attack the Dolphins offensive line with ferocity and make sure to make Tannehill uncomfortable. They don't need to rack up 10 plus sacks but they can't allow Tannehill to sit back and wait for his receivers to break open.
No let downs in coverage - If the Jets defensive front doesn't get to Tannehill fast enough on any given play the secondary, and linebackers, can not lose tracks of their assignments. The Dolphins passing attack is predicated on a short pass game, with plays designed to gain yards after the catch, and the Jets defense needs to make sure they don't turn receivers, tight ends or running backs loose in coverage. As we've seen over the past five weeks teams have figured out the best areas to attack the Jets. The linebackers, particularly DeMario Davis, need to do a better job in coverage and with Darrelle Revis out the next man, and the next man after that and so on, better step up.
With no Revis, Marcus Williams will be that next man up and play as the other outside corner opposite of Antonio Cromartie. Buster Skrine will stay in his normal nickel role and Dee Milliner, Dexter McDougle and Darrin Walls will provide backup. It will have to be a team effort, all 11 defenders working in unison with everyone sticking to their assignments but even without Revis this defense should be up to the task of keeping the Dolphins passing game in check.
Fitzpatrick and receivers need to make plays - Fitzpatrick has had his two worst games of the season these past two weeks and to compound that problem his receivers have been letting him down at times as they are dropping far too many passes. When your quarterback is struggling the receivers need to make plays to help the quarterback out not drop the good passes the struggling quarterback makes.
Fitzpatrick's struggles can definitely be attributed to the issues on the offensive line and the lack of a strong running game, so he will need both of those areas to improve this week but if they do he simply needs to make better decisions and put the ball where it's supposed to go. The Dolphins have a good defensive line but there will be plays to be made against their secondary and he needs to make those plays.
Ndamukong Suh vs. Jets O-line - After watching Watt manhandle Breno Giacomini and the Jets offensive line last week all eyes should turn to watching Suh. Suh can't beat you in as many different ways as Watt but when he's right Suh is up their, right behind Watt, as one of the most disruptive players in the league. If the Jets want to take the risk of not doubling Suh they better make sure they have a backup plan ready to go to if and when he starts beating them all by himself.
PREDICTION: Dolphins 27-17
The Dolphins are 3-3 since the Jets beat them in London and they have been just as inconsistent as that record would suggest. They have a wins by 28 points, 18 points and one point but also have losses of 29 points, 16 points and 10 points. The Jets are not a good matchup for the Dolphins which would lead you to believe the Jets should get back into the win column this week but with the way the Jets have been playing I'm not picking them to win until I actually see them string together a solid all-around performance. Plus it's usually a good bet that these two teams will split the season matchups. I see another ugly game with the Dolphins getting the win this time.
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)