Ho Ho Ho - Merry Christmas to all of you out there! I hope you all enjoy a joyful, happy, healthy, and safe holiday!
And even though it is a holiday today, we still need to get focused on Sunday's game - the biggest game the Miami Dolphins have played in since the turn of the century. But, because it is Christmas, this post will probably be a little shorter than usual. But it'll still get my points across - I hope.
Without further ado, let's talk about my 4 "burning questions" about Sunday's Fins/Jet game:
How are the Jets going to attack Miami's defense?
Usually, I try to focus on the Dolphins and what they may or may not do. But this question is going to play a huge part in the outcome of Sunday's game.
In their first meeting back in week 1, the Dolphins were unable to effectively stop Thomas Jones on the ground. He gained over 100 yards on just 22 carries. Meanwhile, Brett Favre, in his Jets' debut, did his best Chad Pennington impression, completing 15 of 22 passes for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns. But you'll remember that two of his longest passes, both going for touchdowns, were really more "Dolphins' secondary blowing it" rather than the Jets making great plays. His 56 yard TD pass to Jerricho Cotchery was a result of Andre Goodman getting beat badly and Cotchery simply running right by him. But Goodman, now, is playing his best football and might be the team's best corner. Favre's other TD, that 22 yard 4th down "throw the ball up for grabs" play was, yet again, more "Miami mistake in the secondary" than anything else.
My point? If you take away those 2 plays, Favre only threw for 116 yards on 20 pass attempts. And in my opinion, despite the acquisition of Favre this year, the Jets are more of a running team than a passing one - or at least they should be. That's what their offensive line does best.
So what are the Jets going to do? Are they going to look to establish a ground game with Thomas Jones and the electric little Leon Washington? Or is Eric Mangini going to take a page out of Bill Belichick's playbook and try to spread out the Dolphins and pass early and often. After all, the Jets do have the personnel to run an effective spread, with Cotchery, Laveranues Coles, Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith, Dustin Keller, and Leon Washington all at offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's disposal.
More than anything else, this very question and how the Jets answer it might be the single biggest factor in how Sunday's game plays out.
How will Chad Pennington perform on his "day of vindication"?
Chad may never admit himself just how much he is looking forward to the opportunity that stands before him. Sure, he was honest and admitted that getting released hurts. But he never came out and said how pissed off he probably was.
Of course he wouldn't. He's too classy for that.
But you know that inside that man is a fire burning like no fire has burnt before. Sure, he faced his old teammates back in week 1 - and performed pretty well, too. But this is a far cry from that week one meeting between these two teams in Miami. This is in front of his former fans in the Meadowlands and with the division title and a playoff berth on the line.
The Jets have been pretty darn good against the run this season, ranking 7th in the league - allowing just 92.8 yards per game. And their 3.7 ypc against is the 6th best in the league. When these two teams first met, the Jets did a good job of stuffing Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams - holding the two to just 47 yards on 16 carries.
But the Jets are vulnerable against the pass. They rank 29th in the NFL, allowing 237 yards per game through the air. And in their last 6 games, in which the team is 3-3, the Jets have allowed opponents to complete 63% of their passes for 268 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Pennington has been amazingly efficient this season - especially in his last 4 games.
But this Sunday's game could easily be the game of Chad's life. And you have to imagine that Chad, though he won't say anything publicly, is just chomping at the bit to take the field on Sunday in Jersey.
How much extra motivation is the "Rodney Dangerfield no respect" aspect going to create for the Fins?
Let's face it. Despite Miami's impressive 10-win season - and a chance at 11 wins and a division title - many people still refuse to give the Dolphins any respect. They got disrespected by only have 2 players selected to the Pro Bowl. For some season, nobody wants to really make a case for Chad Pennington as MVP. And the national media just refuses to believe in the Dolphins.
Trent Dilfer of ESPN picked the Dolphins to lose two weeks ago against the Niners at home. He has again said he thinks the Dolphins will lose on Sunday. Terrell Davis of the NFL Network doesn't think the Dolphins will win on Sunday. And many of the talking heads seem to think that the Falcons' story is more impressive and a bigger story than the Dolphins' remarkable turnaround. Am I missing something here? Why all the hate?
Earlier this week, two Dolphins spoke out on the lack of respect that this team has been showed. Andre Goodman said:
"I think everybody thought of us as a 1-15 team and there was no point in the season where anybody took us seriously. It's just a fluke."
"I just think teams said, 'They're winning some close games, but they're still the same Dolphins. Same roster. You look at our roster and nobody scares you. We have a couple big names … but outside of that nobody takes us seriously."
Anthony Fasano agrees with Goodman:
"I feel like that. I think the other guys do too. I think it just comes from the way we won some of the games this year, [others] thinking maybe it was a fluke."
It's now Tony Sparano's job to use this disrespect as added motivation. He should be able to spin it so that the players place extra emphasis on practice and preparation this week. Just like the Giants last season, the Dolphins seem to have been fueled a bit by this chip on their shoulder - this lack of regard, nationally speaking.
On Sunday, the Dolphins have the opportunity to thrust themselves into the spotlight and earn the respect that nobody wants to give them.
Can the Dolphins keep Leon Washington quiet twice in one season?
One thing the Dolphins did so well back in week one was to contain the Jets' ultimate "X-factor": Leon Washington. Washington was held to just 9 yards rushing on 6 carries and 5 yards receiving on 1 catch. He was also a non-factor on special teams - averaging 12 yards on 5 punt returns (though his 20 yard return was the only real scare for Miami) and taking his only kick return back for just 10 yards.
On the season, however, Washington has been anything but quiet. Offensively, Leon has a total of 107 touches for 714 yards (6.7 yards per touch) and 7 touchdowns. And his average of one touchdown every 15 touches is pretty ridiculous. And he's been just as good on special teams - averaging 10.4 yards per punt return and 26 yards per kick return. He's a game-changing player and a big play waiting to happen.
The Dolphins, though, have dramatically improved on special teams as of late. The additions of Erik Walden and William Kershaw have been very important. Over the team's last 5 games, the Dolphins are only giving up 19.8 yards per kick return - which is an amazing improvement from where they were the first 10 games. Their punt coverage has been better, too. Brandon Fields has punted 20 times - but only 11 have been returned. That's a credit to both Fields for long hang-times and the coverage team for forcing fair catches by getting down the field. In those 11 returns, the Dolphins have allowed just 5.3 yards per return - another dramatic improvement.
Without question, Leon Washington's impact (or lack thereof) will be a key element in Sunday's game.
Alright. So I lied. I originally wanted to keep this post shorter - but was unable to. The fact of the matter is I'm too excited for Sunday's game.
Can you blame me?