The Jets-Dolphins rivalry nearly always produces at least one classic game, regardless of whether both teams are good or just one of them. This time, both teams are reeling as the offseason champion Dolphins have seen the wheels come off due to injuries, scandals and misfortune. At the same time, the Jets have gone from a situation where the media were trying to bully them into extending the head coach and claiming their new safety was going to put them over the top just two games ago to one where everyone is writing them off. That's despite the fact they've been under .500 for just seven days all season and have two winnable home games coming up that could push them back into the playoff mix.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Ryan Tannehill has improved his completion percentage and quarterback rating over his rookie season, but you get the sense he hasn't quite developed to the point on which the Dolphins were counting. They opened up 3-0, but have since lost six of eight games.
In 2012, Tannehill only completed 58.3% of his passes, including a career-low 44% in the week three loss to the Jets. In 2013, he's been more consistent, with a percentage of over 60% in 8 of 11 games. The three games where he was below that were in consecutive weeks from week five to week seven.
Watch out for Tannehill taking off and doing some damage with his legs. He had 57 yards on eight carries over the past two games, having averaged under 10 yards per game in the first nine games.
One major factor in Tannehill's struggles has been the fact he's been sacked or hit 74 times already. He was only sacked or hit 53 times all of last year and the percentage of pressures that have resulted in him getting nailed is much higher. It also hasn't helped that 19 of the 44 times he's been sacked have been in the fourth quarter, resulting in him having a much lower rating and completion percentage in that quarter than in any other.
The big storyline here has been the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying scandal, which has robbed the Dolphins of two of their starters. Martin was struggling anyway, but Incognito's loss does hurt them (even though he is regarded as one of the league's dirtiest players and considered by many to be overrated). It sounds like Incognito is trying to leverage his way back from the suspended list and so he might be back in Miami's lineup by the time the teams face one another again at the end of the season.
Their offensive line will get a boost this week with the expected return of Mike Pouncey, arguably their best lineman. He's missed two games with a gall bladder infection, during which time former Jets draft pick Nate Garner had been starting at center. Garner will probably shift back to left guard, where he had started one game in relief of Incognito before having to slide over to center. Undrafted rookie Sam Brenner started two games at left guard, but is dealing with a knee injury.
The right side has been the only constant, with John Jerry starting every game at guard and Tyson Clabo doing likewise at tackle. Clabo, now 32, was signed in the offseason following an excellent 2012 season with the Falcons, but has been a massive disappointment, surrendering 10 sacks. Jerry is solid but unspectacular. The former third round pick started 10 games as a rookie in 2010, two in 2011 and every game last year.
Bryant McKinnie rounds out the unit. The Ravens dumped him when they traded for Eugene Monroe and Miami has been starting him at left tackle, where he's been struggling. He recently voided the final year of his contract which suggests that he's not exactly motivated to stick around. Incognito, Clabo and Jerry are all also out of contract at the end of the year, so that might be a situation where everyone just plays out the string because they can't wait to get out of there.
Lamar Miller, last year's 4th round pick, had a great game against the Bengals last month, rushing for 105 yards on 16 carries. However, since then, he's gained just 27 yards on 21 carries in three games. That's not exactly ideal preparation for facing the Jets' elite run defense.
With Daniel Thomas out due to injury, Marcus Thigpen might get more looks. He's more of a special package player and only has two carries so far this year, but his speed is dangerous in space. The Dolphins do not employ a fullback.
One area where Tannehill does seem to have regressed is in terms of his deep accuracy. He was 9th in the league for deep passing accuracy per PFF in his rookie season, but has dropped to 25th this year, which is surprising considering the Dolphins added one of the top-rated deep threats in the league in Mike Wallace during the off-season. That added to a quality possession receiver in Brian Hartline and another solid offseason acquisition in slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Gibson is out for the year now though and the group is starting to look less threatening.
Wallace has 49 catches for 661 yards, while Hartline has surprisingly outproduced him (just) in each category. Wallace did rack up 127 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers last week and must be licking his chops at the opportunity to face a team that has struggled against the deep ball all year.
Rishard Matthews, a 7th round pick last year, has caught 28 passes without any drops. He had 11 catches against the Bucs two weeks ago.
At tight end, the Dolphins were counting on ex-Jet Dustin Keller, but he suffered a season-ending injury in preseason. However, the versatile Charles Clay has been a bright spot starting in his place. Clay has 46 catches, over 500 yards and four touchdowns. The backups, rookie Dion Sims and Michael Egnew are primarily used as blockers and have just eight catches between them.
Just like the Jets, Miami's strength is in its defensive line. They play a 4-3 system, sometimes reverting to three man fronts on passing downs. Obviously Cameron Wake is a constant threat coming off the edge, one that Austin Howard had mixed fortunes against last year. Wake lines up on the left, so that will be the matchup. On the other side, Olivier Vernon - who scored a special teams touchdown against the Jets last year - has benefited from playing across from Wake, racking up 7.5 sacks which actually leads the team. Wake is just one behind him though and did miss some time earlier in the season.
The Dolphins defensive tackles are also very good. Veterans Randy Starks and Paul Soliai still start, but Jared Odrick has finally started to emerge as a pass rushing threat too.
Rookie Dion Jordan hasn't quite taken off yet, but has generated pressure at a decent rate in pass rushing situations.
Despite all the talent on the defensive line, the Dolphins still give up 4.2 yards per carry, which is the 11th most in the NFL and 1.3 yards more than the Jets. One reason is that their linebackers have been struggling.
Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe have both had a rough year against the run, with Wheeler missing 16 tackles and Ellebe missing nine. However, Wheeler is very productive as a pass rusher (3rd best pass rush productivity in the NFL for 4-3 OLBs per PFF) and Ellerbe is good in coverage (one interception, four passes defensed).
Koa Misi is the other starter, but he's not an every down linebacker.
Miami has some talent in the secondary too, with Brent Grimes an excellent number one cornerback and Nolan Carroll a reliable option to start opposite him. Dimitri Patterson, the former Brown, had been starting ahead of Carroll, but he's out with a groin injury. In nickel packages Jimmy Wilson comes in to play the slot.
Chris Clemons is the deep safety and is above average in that role, but he is listed as questionable with a knee injury. However, strong safety Reshad Jones is struggling in coverage this year. He's been targeted 34 times and given up 29 catches. That comes after he gave up just 19 catches in 39 targets last season. Wilson will likely revert to free safety if Clemons can't go.
Punter Brandon Fields has the best gross average in the NFL and Jets fans might remember his phenomenal performance against the Jets in Miami's 10-6 win over the Jets in 2010. Fields punted 10 times, often from deep inside his own territory, with a gross average of over 56 yards and a net average of just under 50. He has given up 363 return yards, though, which is the 4th most in the league. He benefits from an always-reliable long snapper, two-time pro bowler John Denney.
The kicker is less reliable. Rookie Caleb Sturgis has a big leg, but has missed six field goals this year (although three were from over 50 yards).
Their coverage units boast ex-Jets wedge buster Jason Trusnik, but their leading tackler is 7th round pick Don Jones, who is listed as a safety but has only played on special teams this year. As noted, Thigpen is a threat. He returns kicks and punts, although he's outside the top 10 in both categories.
I'll be back tomorrow to recap the game.