The Jets continue their funeral march towards the end of the season with a home tilt against the Dolphins, who stunningly are in the thick of the playoff race as they are tied with the Denver Broncos at 8-5. The Broncos currently sit in the final wild card spot, but they have a tilt with the Patriots tomorrow afternoon. The Dolphins have a golden opportunity to take over that final spot but first they have to play our Jets in the cold, yucky weather. With no playoffs to fight for, can the Jets match the intensity the Dolphins are certain to have?
WHERE WE ARE
Still bad. The Jets did pick up a victory last week over the lowly 49ers and now have two of their 4 wins having come against teams that are a combined 1-25. That said, the Jets did show some mettle that they haven’t shown much of at all this season, coming back from an early 14 point deficit to send it into overtime and win. Despite a shaky start against Chip Kelly’s funky system, which led to a 193 yard day for Carlos Hyde (plus another 32 yards to backup Shaun Draughn), the defense stepped up in a big way in the second half, shutting the Niners out. It also helps to have some good luck as one of the league’s more reliable kickers missed two long but very makeable field goals. Bryce Petty had a rough game, often looking lost, frustrated, and unable to go through his reads, and took 6 sacks on the day. However, he showed plenty of guts, stuck in there and made some plays to help the team win. Jets got a huge game out of backup-who-should-be-starter Bilal Powell, and hopefully this convinces the team to give Powell the bulk of the work in place of the fairly ineffective Matt Forte, who will be here next season thanks to a guaranteed 2nd year on his contract.
Make no mistake, the Jets are still one of the worst teams in football. They rank 22nd in total offense, 28th in scoring (tied with Houston), 24th in scoring defense, and 19th in total defense. They have the 2nd worst turnover ratio in football, rank 2nd worst in sacks (only ahead of Cleveland), and the 6th worst point differential. They currently have the 6th pick in the draft.
WHERE THEY ARE
They’re on one of the stranger runs I’ve ever seen. At 8-5, they are tied for the final Wild Card spot. After starting 1-4 and looking awful, the Dolphins have gone 7-1. However, they have only won 1 game this year by more than a touchdown (Pittsburgh). The rest of their games have been decided by 7 points or less. Their point differential is a -20, which means that despite being 8-5, they have actually been outscored on the season. They’ve barely beaten bad teams: they won at home against Cleveland by 6, defeated our Jets at home by 4, won against the Rams by 4, and defeated the Cardinals by 3. Statistically they are pretty unimpressive on both sides of the ball. They rank 26th in total offense, 20th in scoring offense, 27th in pass offense and 12th in rushing offense. Defensively they rank 25th in total defense, 17th in scoring defense, 30th against the run, although they’re a respectable 10th against the pass.
Last week the Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill to what was initially believed to be a torn ACL, but subsequent testing showed it to just be a strain. It will, however, keep him out of tonight’s game. The Jets will see backup QB Matt Moore, who oversaw the team’s game winning drive last week, and has proven in the past to be competent even if not great. The Dolphins last week pretty much blanketed Carson Palmer and the Arizona passing game (18/33, 145 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT), and kept Tannehill and Moore clean (one Arizona sack allowed). In the end, as they have done all season, Miami made just enough plays to walk out a W.
THE QB MATCHUP
In accordance with Todd Bowles’s plan that totally existed, the Jets are handing the ball to 2nd year Baylor QB Bryce Petty, who will be making his 3rd NFL start. Bryce picked up his first career win last week against San Francisco, despite being extremely shaky in the pocket, attempting to throw multiple interceptions that his receivers saved, and generally looking every bit like the project he was expected to be. That said... he never self-destructed, he did show some physical tools to build on, and the Jets did win. So there’s that. It’s likely that a repeat performance to last week won’t fly against a defense that isn’t the worst one in football like San Francisco. Petty will have to be more composed and calm with the football to succeed against one of the better pass defenses in the NFL.
Ryan Tannehill avoided the devastating news about the knee, but he will not be playing tonight. Which is a bit of disappointment, as the Jets have been very successful against Ryan Tannehill as a player. Though they are only 5-4 against Tannehill, they have held Tannehill to a 72 passer rating in his 9 career games against the Jets. The Phins will instead turn to Matt Moore. Matt Moore’s last start was nearly 5 years ago, in Week 17 of the 2011 season... against the Jets. Moore’s Phins won that game 19-17, with Moore posting a forgettable 22/32, 135 yard, 1 TD, 2 INT performance. You may remember this game for “team captain” Santonio Holmes basically quitting on the field with the Jets still alive for the playoffs, and Mark Sanchez throwing 2 interceptions to a nose tackle. Yeah, that game. Matt Moore’s last full season he posted 16 TD to 9 INT, so he’s not horrendous, and he may have improved sitting and watching for these past several years. He was 3/5 for 47 yards last week and did get his team to the game winning FG. So eh.
HOW DO THE JETS WIN THIS GAME?
Two words: Bilal. Powell. The Dolphins have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL- 30th in yards allowed, 31st in highest yards per carry allowed. Powell dominated last week against the team that is hands down the worst run defense in the league. The Dolphins aren’t quite so terrible compared to the Niners (the Phins have given up about 500 less yards on the ground than the Niners, so despite being only 2 spots higher, there’s still a pretty big gap between the two). Running the ball is the only thing the Jets have done moderately well on offense all season, so they’re going to have to lean on the run game to carry this one. If the run game is going, it will open up things to make life easy for Petty such as play action, giving him some bigger windows to throw through. Defensively, they must make sure Jay Ajayi doesn’t get on track. Ajayi has cooled off significantly from his break out about 2 months ago, but he’s still a big, talented back who can hurt you if you don’t maintain lane integrity (which the Jets mega failed last week). I think this is going to need to be a game where the Jets have to rush for upwards of 150 yards while holding the Dolphins to under 80 or so to win.
HOW DO THE JETS LOSE THIS GAME?
Well, if they turn the ball over, if there are coverage breakdowns in the secondary that leaves receivers wide open, if they can’t get any pressure on the quarterback, they’ll lose. So basically, if the Jets play like... the Jets. This game is one the Dolphins really need. Usually, this is ripe spot for the Dolphins to blow it (and they often do), but with Adam Gase in charge, who knows?
The Jets X-Factor is, of course, Bilal Powell. Powell has been successful in limited time all season, with Bowles ignoring the calls for more involvement from everyone. Powell finally got his chance to play full time and he ran with it, albeit against a defense that Shonn Greene could probably rush for a 100+ against right now. But Powell has fresh legs, he’s a good pass catcher, and most importantly he isn’t slow as molassas like Forte. He’s going to be important for a Jets win.
The Dolphins X-Factor, I’m going to say Jarvis Landry. Last year Landry caught 110 passes and this year he’s on pace to catch 98. He’s slippery and moves around the formation and is genuinely a pest. The secondary has to be on it’s Ps and Qs because one missed tackle or assignment could be 6. For Matt More, he’s going to be an important target.
I think that the weather might make things interesting. The one thing the Jets do well, run the ball, the Dolphins are weak at. The Jets nearly won the previous game against the Dolphins, only to blow it. Will the Jets win this one?
I think not. I’m going JETS: 17, DOLPHINS: 24
Enjoy the game everyone and just remember: Only 6 more months until the Draft.