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Dolphins vs Jets: A Primer

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I hope you all had a great Christmas.  But now Christmas is here and gone.  And if you're like me, you can't function without thinking about Sunday's enormous clash at the Meadowlands.  I basically feel now the way I used to feel as a kid on the days leading up to Christmas.  And Sunday can't get here quick enough!

So let's get you all set for the game with a little talk about...well, what else...the game.

THE PAST

There have been a number of great games between these two teams in the past.  You can think back to the classic "A.J. Duhe Game" or the "Fake Spike Game."  But there's still one game that just eats away at me.  And no, it's not the one you probably are all thinking about (which will not be mentioned).

I'm thinking about week 17 of the 1991 season.  The Dolphins and Jets met in Miami with everything on the line.  The winner would go to the playoffs.  The loser would go home.  I still remember the Jets running all over the Dolphins - to the tune of about 230 yards.  I remember Johnny Hector - yes, Johnny Hector - gaining about 130 of those yards himself.  But despite all that, the Dolphins took a 20-17 lead with about 45 seconds remaining on a Dan Marino TD pass to Ferrell Edmunds.  However, the Jets would get into field goal range and Raul Allegre would knock through a 44 yard FG to send the game into overtime.  In OT, Allegre would kick the game-winning 30 yard FG.  The Jets went to the playoffs - only to lose to Houston in the first round.  The Dolphins went home.

Ugh.  Seventeen years later and I still can't get over this one.  Visions of Allegre's kicks find their way into my head from time to time.  And whenever I see an Allegra commercial - you know, the allergy medicine - I cringe.

A win on Sunday by the Dolphins would definitely help erase some of the 17 year hurt.

KEY MATCHUP:  Jets Offensive Line vs Dolphins Front Seven

Did you know that Thomas Jones is the AFC's leading rusher?  You probably did.  But you'd never know it from the media.  They want to claim that Brett Favre is the reason for the team's 2008 success.  And yes, I use the term success because, after all, they only won 4 games last year.

But, in fact, the biggest improvement in NY has been along the offensive line - where the Jets signed two impact players last offseason, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody.  Those two former 1st round picks teamed up with the likes of D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold to create the highest drafted starting OL in the NFL - with 4 1st round picks.

And that's why Thomas Jones is having his best career season at the age of 30 - and is averaging a whole one yard more per carry than in 2007.  And when the Jets run the ball, they win.  In games when Jones gets at least 20 carries, the Jets are 5-1.  In those 6 games, Jones averages 115 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.  So not only is he getting carries, but he's effective when he touches the ball.

But the Jets do have a tendency to shy away from the run as soon as the opposing defense shows that they can indeed contain Jones.  That's when the Jets put the game in Brett Favre's hands - and when opposing teams can really get after Brett and cause some turnovers.  In NY's 19-point loss to the Chargers, Jones only had 10 carries for 37 yards.  In their near-loss to the Chiefs, Jones carried just 14 times for 54 yards.  Again, the Jets quickly went away from the run and Favre nearly cost the Jets another win.

As for the Dolphins, despite winning their last 4 games, Miami has really struggled against the run.  In 3 of those games, they let the opposing team's starting RB have a lot of success on the ground.  They surrendered 94 yards to Steven Jackson (4.5 ypc), 76 yards to DeShaun Foster (4.2 ypc), and 108 yards to Larry Johnson (9 ypc).  Another performance like that on Sunday could cost the Dolphins the division title.

Hopefully, Channing Crowder will be back in the lineup on Sunday after missing last week's game with a knee injury.  But even if he is, the Dolphins have to play better against the run.  Jason Ferguson, in particular, has to play better at the point of attack.  Nick Mangold is a good center and it won't be easy. 

The other primary run stuffers - Kendall Langford, Phillip Merling, and Vonnie Holliday, to name a few - also must win the battle at the line of scrimmage.  They can't let NY's guards, Alan Faneca in particular, get upfield to block the second level.  That's when Thomas Jones really gets going.  Jones isn't particularly fast or shifty as a runner.  But he has great vision and follows his blockers.  The Dolphins have to get off their blocks on Sunday and make plays early against the run - allowing the Dolphins to then pin their ears back and go after Brett Favre as soon as the Jets abandon the run - as they so often do.

2 MORE KEYS TO THE GAME

Other than stopping Thomas Jones and NY's ground game, there are 2 other crucial keys to this game for the Dolphins:

Win the time-of-possession battle.  Two key stats: the Dolphins are 8-0 when they hold the ball more than their opponent; and are 2-5 when they do not.  Sure, it's pretty basic stuff - but it's what the Dolphins do best.  They do not turn the ball over.  They are efficient.  Chad Pennington completes a high percentage of passes, which keeps the clock moving.  And on Sunday, it's going to be important to run the ball effectively, keeping their defense off of the field.  The longer the Jets are off the field, the more likely their offense is to get antsy.  I'll be honest - I don't think Eric Mangini is a good football coach.  And I think he can be easily flustered into making bad decisions.  If his offense spends the majority of its time on the sideline, he's more likely to make some of those bad decisions/play calls.

Get an early lead.  Maybe this goes back to the whole "Eric Mangini is a bad coach" theory of mine, but here's a fact.  The Jets don't play well when they fall behind early - probably because Mangini panics and makes bad decisions.  But here are the two key stats: the Jets are 0-4 this year when trailing at the end of the first quarter; and are 0-5 when trailing at halftime.  That's right - the great Brett Favre, who is supposed to be a leader and a player whose team is never out of it, hasn't led the Jets to a single victory when they trailed a game either at the end of the 1st quarter or at halftime.  Think about that.  Wow - the Dolphins need to jump out early.


So that's my "Big Game Primer" for Sunday's likely epic game between the Dolphins and Jets.

As always, leave your thoughts below.

GO DOLPHINS!!!