On Sunday, the Dolphins will head to the Meadowlands looking to sweep the season series against the Jets for the first time since 2003. More importantly, though, the Dolphins will look to avoid falling to 2-5, which would seemingly all but ruin their postseason hopes in 2009.
For the Dolphins to exit Jersey with a win on Sunday, they will have to play much better than they did during last week's second half collapse. There are a lot of keys to this game. But the three below are, in my opinion, of the utmost importance.
Put last week behind them
This can't be easy for them. Hell, it hasn't been easy for us fans. It's always difficult to put a tough loss behind you and move on to the next game. When you take into account the caliber of opponent that the Dolphins almost knocked off last week and the way the game unfolded in the second half, I'm sure this week hasn't been the most enjoyable for both the players and coaches.
That's why I think it's a good thing that the Dolphins get to head to the Meadowlands and take on a hated division rival following that loss on Sunday. There's no better way to put a heart-breaking loss behind you than to knock off a hated rival. It would provide some healing for both the players and the fans.
That's also why I think that the Jets are doing the Dolphins a favor by continuing to open their enormous mouths and talk trash about the Dolphins over and over. Among other things, we've heard Darrelle Ravis say he thinks the Jets are the better team and Shaun Ellis complain about the Dolphins going overboard with their celebration of the game-winning touchdown. And let's not forget how dismissive the Jets were moments after getting beaten by the Dolphins back in week 5, with Calvin Pace and Bart Scott showing disrespect to the Wildcat and calling Chad Henne a "second-year clown quarterback."
Yup - all that talking the Jets are doing is only helping Miami get over their tough loss last week and focus on the job at hand on Sunday.
But even so, make no mistake about it. Sunday's game will test this team's mental toughness. It would be easy for a team to roll over on the road following that tough loss last weekend. We're going to learn a lot about how this team and this coaching staff handle adversity. Let's hope they show the kind of fortitude that I think this team does indeed possess.
Take early lead
There are a number of reasons why this is important. Some of them include gaining confidence following a disheartening loss and not allowing a sense of doubt to creep into their heads early on. You don't want a potential "quick sand" situation to occur on the road in a hostile environment. By "quick sand situation," I'm referring to what happens when one thing goes wrong, and then another, and then another. And the harder you try to battle back, the deeper you get sucked in. If you've seen the movie The Replacements, you know what I'm talking about.
But more importantly, this will be the first time Chad Henne is starting on the road in the NFL. Yes, he's played in some hostile environments before - like in Columbus, Ohio against Ohio St., for example - which was obviously great experience. But it's different on this level. The Dolphins have got to take the crowd out of the game early on. It'll only make things easier on Henne.
The Dolphins also can't afford to have to play catch-up against the Jets. This would allow the Jets to pin their ears back and get after Henne. That defense felt embarrassed by their performance rushing the passer last time and I'm sure we'll see new wrinkles and a more tenacious pass rush on Sunday. If the Dolphins fall behind early, they are going to be putting themselves in a very tough situation in a hostile stadium that will be rocking.
Stop the run and stop it early
Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that the Dolphins were ranked in the top two for stopping the run? It was. And while the Dolphins are still ranked pretty high - 4th in the NFL against the run, allowing just 87 yards per game on the ground and just 3.7 ypc - they haven't been nearly as dominant defending the run in their past two games.
It all started against the Jets, too, giving up 138 yards rushing to the Jets during that Monday night classic. Then last week the Dolphins let Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and company gain 138 yards on the ground, averaging over 5 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, the Jets have been very committed to the run recently and have put up back to back 300 yard rushing performance - passing the Dolphins last week as the top rushing team in the NFL. While it's definitely true that the Jets have put up these two huge weeks against two of the worst rushing defenses in the league, 634 yards rushing in two weeks is impressive no matter how you slice it.
The Jets have also seemed to re-commit themselves to the run last week. Two weeks ago against Buffalo, Mark Sanchez was intercepted five times over 29 pass attempts as the Jets lost at home to the Bills. But last week, the Jets showed a commitment to the run and took the pressure off their rookie quarterback. Sanchez only attempted 15 passes en route to a 38-0 win in Oakland.
On Sunday, I expect more of the same from the Jets. They will look to take pressure off of Sanchez and look to the ground for their offense. The Dolphins need to shut down their rushing attack early on and force Rex Ryan and NY's coaching staff to abandon the run in favor of the passing attack. Yes, the Dolphins are starting two rookie corners. But I'll take my chances with them considering Sanchez is a mistake-prone rookie as well.