For the first time last week, the Dolphins hit on two of the three "keys to victory" that I highlighted last week and it resulted in the first win of 2009. But if the Dolphins want to continue their climb back into contention in the division, they have got to win this game tonight against the Jets. After that disastrous 0-3 start, it would be pretty impressive for the Dolphins to head into their bye week at 2-3, with both wins coming within the division. And thanks to Denver's win over the Patriots, a win would send the Dolphins into their bye week just one game back in the AFC East.
Below are my three keys for this week. And remember, if you are going to the game tonight, make sure you wear your orange!
Attack Mark Sanchez
Even before the season started, it seemed like the New York media and Jet fans across the country were already anointing Mark Sanchez as the next Joe Namath. Getting the Jets off to a 3-0 start has only made the comparisons louder and the Jet fans more obnoxious. But let's understand something - Sanchez is still a rookie, and has played like an average rookie quarterback at best. He hasn't been outstanding. And he's only won three games because of the defense he has supporting him and the blunders other teams have committed (i.e. the win over the Titans). Needless to say, Sanchez can be rattled.
And when he gets rattled, he makes mistakes. In four games, Sanchez has turned the ball over 7 times (5 interceptions and 2 fumbles lost). Last week, the Saints proved that you can beat the Jets by forcing turnovers from the young quarterback. For the season, Sanchez is completing just 55% of his passes when he is blitzed and averages just 5.5 yards per attempt.
What I hope to see the Dolphins do is come out aggressive and attack the quarterback. I don't want the Dolphins to even let Sanchez get comfortable at all. Right out of the gate, the Dolphins have got to blitz. I want to see those packages that include Joey Porter, Jason Taylor, and Cameron Wake on the field together. I want to see this Dolphins team make Mark Sanchez nervous right from the get go.
Then, once the Dolphins establish that they can and will bring pressure, I want to see some different zone blitzes that utilize the athleticism of Jason Taylor, Joey Porter, and Cameron Wake. Once Mark Sanchez has it in his head that the Dolphins can and will blitz, start dropping some of those athletic pass-rushers into coverage to see if they can confuse the rookie and force some mistakes. I think back to 2006 when the Dolphins used Jason Taylor so effectively. In the game against the then unbeaten Bears, the Dolphins blitzed a lot early and then started using some confusing zone blitzes that dropped JT into coverage. The result? A pass thrown right to Taylor that he ran back for a touchdown.
Those kinds of things work against young quarterbacks, assuming the team makes it known that they can indeed get to the quarterback. So it'll be important for the Dolphins to get to Sanchez early in the game tonight.
Contain Leon Washington
Being 100% honest, no player on the Jets roster over the past 4 years has scared me as much as Leon Washington does. He's a Dolphin killer, too. In his six career games against the Dolphins, Washington has more rushing yards (239) and more receiving yards (189) than he does against any other team in his NFL career. Going one step further, Washington averages 20 yards per reception in games played in Miami (8 for 160). He's simply a big-time play-maker every time he touches the ball.
This also includes kick returns, by the way. In 2009, Washington is averaging 25.2 yards per return. And in 9 kick returns this season, he's taken 2 of them for at least 40 yards. In his career, Washington has returned 10 kicks against the Dolphins and averages 27.8 yards per return, including one he took back for a touchdown.
The Dolphins have done well preventing big kick returns this year, though - as surprising as that is. They limited Darren Sproles, an equally dangerous kick returner, to just 20 yards per return on three kick returns back in week three. For the season, the Dolphins rank third in kick coverage, allowing just 19.6 yards per return. But that will mean very little if the Dolphins allow Washington to bust one up a seam tonight.
The Dolphins did an excellent job limiting the impact Darren Sproles had in the game against San Diego back in week three. Sproles ran for just 41 yards on 18 carries and had just 14 yards receiving on 2 catches. That's a good sign for the Dolphins - as Sproles is the player who is most like Washington that they have faced.
But like I said, I alway have an uneasy feeling in my gut when Leon Washington touches the football. Hopefully the Dolphins can minimize his impact on the game.
Protect the football
This is obviously a key element to every football game. But it's even more important against the Jets.
The Jets have forced 8 turnovers in their first four games. And these forced turnovers help cover up the glaring weakness of this Jets team. The Jets have the 24th ranked offense, averaging just 297 yards per game and 4.8 yards per play. But the key stat that I want to highlight is this: the Jets are ranked 27th in the league in yards gained per drive. They are only gaining 23.26 yards per possession this year. How bad is that? That's 2.5 yards per drive fewer than the Dolphins were gaining during their horrendous 1-15 season and less than one yard greater than the Lions gained last year en route to an 0-16 season.
Over their last two games, the Jets have just one touchdown drive that started on their own side of the 50 yard line. All of their other touchdown drives resulted from good field position thanks to either turnovers or poor punts. Simply put - I'm not convinced the Jets can drive 60 or 70 yards for a touchdown. So the Dolphins have got to protect the football and win the battle of field position. Make Mark Sanchez lead his offense on 70 yard drives - not 30 or 40 yard drives.