To prepare for this Sunday's contest, Matty I of The Phinsider and I are both breaking down a pair of matchups.
I asked Matty for his take on both center vs. nose tackle battles.
Nick Mangold vs Paul Soliai
Without question, Mangold is one of the top two or three centers in the league. I don't like the Jets (obviously) but I always enjoy watching Mangold play because he's a powerful, physical center who can really neutralize even the best defensive tackles. With that said, the Dolphins likely won't be asking for too much out of Soliai on Sunday. He'll likely continue to split reps at nose tackle with Randy Starks - who was the starting nose in week one but had to fill the vacant starting DE spot created by the injury to Jared Odrick.
Soliai is stout at the point of attack when he is in there but tends to have trouble with centers who can match his strength. His ability to eat up space will obviously be crucial to stopping New York's ground game. I think Jet fans will be surprised by how difficult it's going to be for Mangold to move Soliai at the point of attack. But Soliai likely won't be getting any penetration. So I'm thinking this battle ends in a draw.
More importantly, though, keep an eye on Starks when he slides inside in pass-rushing situations. His combination of size, strength, and quickness (for a 300 pound man, of course) could be the exact recipe to give Mangold difficulty.
Joe Berger vs Sione Pouha
This is going to be a very critical matchup for sure. I've watched my fair share of Jet games over the past year and I've always been impressed with the job Pouha does when he's had to fill in for Kris Jenkins. He's obviously no Jenkins - I know this. But I always seem to notice how active Pouha is along that defensive front. And, frankly, I'm worried about this matchup.
Berger was a surprise winner of the center competition in camp, beating out Jake Grove - who has since been released. Though Berger is the better pass blocker of the two, Grove was definitely stronger at the point of attack. Berger's ability to run block worries me. He's not consistent and hasn't proven he can handle the bigger, stronger nose tackles in this league. Last year, Berger took over the starting center job in late November. Over those final six games, the running game struggled. The Dolphins averaged just 3.83 yards per carry during that stretch. Some think it's because the aging Ricky Williams wore down after seeing his role increase due to the season-ending injury suffered by Ronnie Brown. There's probably some truth to that. But I think Berger being forced into action had something to do with it as well.
Still, Berger won the job this year because of his performance in camp and the preseason. But I still think his run blocking needs improvement - which is why I will give a slight edge in this matchup to the Jets.
I personally think Mangold is going to give Solai and Starks big problems. He's handled lesser players. The center-nose tackle sets the tone against a 3-4 defense. A center who can get leverage allows the other players to find other players to block. A nose tackle capable of drawing a double team keeps the other guys on the defense clean. I think the Jets will have both in this game.
Head over to The Phinsider today to see my take on some matchups that aren't so favorable for the Jets. When you go, remember your behavior reflects us on this site so represent us with class.