Can you believe that in just 4 days the Dolphins will begin their 2008 season? It seems like yesterday we were all here debating who the Dolphins should draft first overall and who should be the team's starting quarterback. But now they finally get to "buckle those chinstraps" for real and play games that count.
And with that said, let's begin to talk about this first game of the season when those hated Jets come to town to take on our Fins. Below are 5 key matchups that will have a big role in determining the outcome of Sunday's battle.
Jake Long vs Calvin Pace
We all remember how the Calvin Pace situation went down back in March. Many of us Dolphin fans were hoping he'd come to Miami. And looking back now, with Jason Taylor gone to Washington and Joey Porter having these nagging injuries, it would have been great to sign a guy like Pace even if he was over-priced.
Regardless, he's in New York now and will be the pass-rushing star of the Jets' defense. Jake Long, our high-priced rookie and #1 overall pick, has the duty of keeping Pace off of Chad Pennington. If Pace wins this battle more times than not, the Dolphins will be in for a long day. Jake has to come out and make sure he gets his hands on Pace each and every passing play. What worries me, though, is if Pace looks at film of what Jake struggled with in the preseason - a speed rush where the rusher off the edge uses a double move of sorts to get by Jake.
One thing is for sure: Jake's going to get some good experience of what it's like to play left tackle in the NFL.
Samson Satele vs Kris Jenkins
The Dolphins will undoubtedly be looking to run the ball against every opponent this season. In this particular game, against a team running the 3-4 defense, a lot of the success (or failure) of the running game will be on the shoulders of Samson Satele. Satele has the honor of trying to block the 350 pound nose tackle that the Jets traded for this offseason - Kris Jenkins. Jenkins, when healthy, is perhaps the very best nose tackle in the game - meaning this will be no easy task. Sure, Satele is going to have help from a guard - either Justin Smiley or Donald Thomas - on most, if not all, of the plays. But much of the pressure still falls on Satele. If Satele and company can keep Jenkins out of the backfield and move him off the ball on running plays, then this Dolphins offense will have a much better chance of successfully picking up chunks of yards on the ground.
Jerricho Cotchery vs Will Allen
There's no question that the Jets are going to put the ball in the air often in 2008. With Brett Favre at the helm, why wouldn't you? And while Laveranues Coles has historically been the "Dolphins-killer" over the years, it's Jerricho Cotchery I'm more worried about. Cotchery seems to be developing good chemistry with his new quarterback. And Cotchery is the kind of player who will get under your skin as an opposing fan - find ways to move the chains on 3rd down, for example. Then, we you least expect it, he'll pick up big yardage. In fact, Cotchery was 2nd in the NFL in receptions of 25 yards or more with 13. It'll be up to the Dolphins' best cornerback - and one of the game's most under-rated CBs - Will Allen to make sure Cotchery doesn't make those key 3rd down grabs or any of those long, game-breaking plays.
Ted Ginn vs Darrelle Revis
It's no secret that Ted Ginn is, by far, the Dolphins' best receiver. Revis, meanwhile, is the Jets' best cornerback. Both are entering just their 2nd season in the NFL. This will be an interesting matchup to watch all game long for 2 reasons. First, Ginn has been developing some undeniable chemistry with new QB Chad Pennington. And two, both are still unpolished and could struggle at times. How much each player has progressed and improved this past offseason will go a long way towards determining who has the advantage here. We all know Ginn has the speed to get by pretty much every corner in this league. But is his route-running polished enough to get open underneath and to create separation?
Tony Sparano vs Eric Mangini
OK. So this isn't exactly a one-on-one matchup. But think about it for a second. You got two coaches who each come from the same coaching tree. And one of them is making his NFL head coaching debut. So while this isn't a typical matchup to watch, it still deserves to be mentioned. How will each coaching staff game-plan for this game? And perhaps even more importantly, how will each staff adjust at halftime to what the other team is doing?
So what do you think? Do you agree with the key matchups I list above? Did I leave any particular important matchup off the list? Tell us below...