W2W4: Jets at Dolphins

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
7:00
AM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets, trying to rebound from last week's offensive stinker, are on the road again, this time facing the Dolphins (1-1). The Jets are the better team, but this is a weird and storied rivalry. In fact, they've dropped five of the past seven meetings, including the season-ending loss last New Year's Day that highlighted the team's chemistry problems.

Kickoff is 1 p.m. Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. Here's what to watch for:

1. Marked improvement? Mark Sanchez has to be better than last week, when he completed only 10 of 27 passes -- the fifth sub-40 percent game of his career. (By the way, that's the most in the NFL since 2009, and next on the list is JaMarcus Russell, who did it three times. No QB wants to be on a list with Russell.) Chances are, this game will come down to Sanchez's ability to attack a revamped Dolphins secondary because, let's face it, they probably won't be able to do much on the ground. The Dolphins, now playing a 4-3 front predicated on one-gap penetration, have allowed only 2.2 yards per rush, best in the league. Look for Sanchez to go after nickel back Nolan Carroll, best known for being the player tripped by Sal Alosi in 2010.

2. Tebow Time. If they continue to limit Tim Tebow's snaps at quarterback, it will give credence to the publicity-stunt theory, that the Jets traded for him mainly to sell tickets. Rex Ryan says Tebow probably will play more than last week, but that may not mean much, considering he got only three snaps in Pittsburgh. Will he get four snaps? Five? Here's a possible clue: RB Joe McKnight is expected to have an expanded role, and McKnight is part of the Wildcat package. Hmm. Some players want to see more of Tebow because they think the Wildcat would help spark the sluggish running game.

3. Sparano's revenge. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano returns to face the team that fired him last December after three-plus seasons as the head coach. This sort of thing happens all the time in the NFL, but Sparano has more motivation than most. He was undermined after the 2010 season by owner Stephen Ross, who courted Jim Harbaugh -- an ill-advised move that backfired. In terms of Xs and Os, Sparano has intimate knowledge of the Dolphins' personnel on both sides of the ball, but the Dolphins have a bigger edge because they know Sparano's system. It'll be interesting to see if Sparano throws a couple of curve balls (more Wildcat, perhaps?) in an attempt to send a message to his former employer.

4. Beat Bush. The No. 1 priority on defense is simple: Contain RB Reggie Bush, far and away the Dolphins' best player. Bush, in a contract year, is off to a fantastic start. He's particularly effective at home (three straight 100-yard performances) and he's had success against the Jets (6.8 yard per carry in two games). For the Jets, it's all about defending the perimeter, setting the edge and forcing Bush to the inside. This was a problem last season, and it reared its ugly head in the opener against C.J. Spiller. The Dolphins, using more zone blocking than in past years, like to get Bush outside with quick tosses and stretch plays. They will go after OLB Garrett McIntyre, who struggles in space.

5. Rattle the rookie. The Jets' complex defensive scheme should be a major headache for rookie QB Ryan Tannehill -- that is, if they can put him in obvious passing situations and can keep him in the pocket. Tannehill has scrambling ability, and last week the Dolphins had him on the move, calling several designed rollouts. They want him outside the pocket because, with a low release point, he tends to get passes tipped at the line. With CB Darrelle Revis (concussion) expected to return, the Jets should be able to blanket Tannehill's receivers. They want to put the game in Tannehill's hands.

6. Defending the no-huddle. The Jets prepared all week for the Dolphins' up-tempo, no-huddle attack. They will try to turn the game into a track meet, often snapping the ball with 15 to 20 seconds remaining on the play clock. This presents several challenges for the Jets. In 90-degree heat, it'll be an endurance test on defense. They will have to rotate their personnel to keep them fresh, especially the linemen. The Raiders faded in the second half of last week's loss in Miami.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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