Thursday, December 26, 2013
Double Coverage: Jets at Dolphins
By James Walker and Rich Cimini
There's a lot on the line for both RB Chris Ivory's and QB Ryan Tannehill's teams in Week 17.
One team is fighting for the playoffs. The other team is fighting for its coach's job. So something has to give Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (8-7) host the New York Jets (7-8).
The Dolphins are still alive for the final wild card in the AFC, despite laying an egg last week in a 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Miami must beat the Jets and get help from other teams.
Meanwhile, the Jets are out of the playoff chase but are still fighting for fifth-year head coach Rex Ryan. The Jets will have their third straight non-winning season under Ryan but can finish the year with two straight victories.
Who will prevail? ESPN.com Dolphins reporter James Walker and Jets reporter Rich Cimini weigh in.
Walker: Rich, we are back for the second meeting between the Jets and Dolphins in December. The last time, Miami essentially put New York's playoff chances to bed with a 23-3 victory on Dec. 1. But since then, a lot has happened. The Dolphins won two of three and still have a chance for the playoffs. Meanwhile, there is speculation this could be Ryan's final game as head coach.
Do you think this is it for Ryan? And will a win or loss matter to Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik?
Cimini: It's hard to imagine a decision of this magnitude coming down to one game. My hunch is Ryan will be fired, which is too bad because he has done a terrific job with this team. Remember, the Jets began the season ranked 32nd in ESPN.com's Power Rankings, and many figured they'd be a laughingstock.
No matter what happens, Ryan earned a lot of respect around the league by squeezing seven wins, maybe eight, out of this roster. Unfortunately for him, he's working for a new GM. John Idzik had no say in Ryan's status for 2013, so this will be his first chance to hire his own guy. The Jets have missed the playoffs for three straight years, so I can certainly understand why a new GM would want to go in a different direction, but change for the sake of change doesn't always mean more wins. I think he earned another shot.
James, what happened in Buffalo? That was a stunning meltdown for a team with so much at stake?
Walker: The Dolphins finally laid an egg, and it came at the worst possible time. That's really the best way to explain it. Miami has been in every game but one entering last week. So it was a matter of time before the Dolphins had a no-show performance. Miami simply was outplayed on both sides of the ball and there was nothing it could really take from the game to build on for next week. The Dolphins must quickly put that performance behind them and move on. The effort and intensity certainly must improve.
Rich, the last time the Dolphins saw Geno Smith, he was benched in the second half. How far has the Jets' rookie quarterback come since Dec. 1?
Cimini: Smith's performance against the Dolphins was the low point for him -- a season-low 8.3 passer rating. I mean, who gets an 8.3 nowadays? Despite a public groundswell to bench him in favor of the unproven Matt Simms, the Jets stuck with Smith. Maybe the benching was a wake-up call because he's playing better, evidenced by his 83.0 average passer rating over the past three games. In last Sunday's win against the Cleveland Browns, he played turnover-free football (only the third time) and completed 9-for-12 on third down. The big difference is that he's using his mobility to his advantage. He has rushed for 142 yards in the past three games, and he leads the team with five rushing touchdowns. If he feels the pocket collapsing, he'll take off. If he can finish with a strong outing against the team that nearly cost him his job, it would signify real improvement.
Jets at Dolphins: Stat of the Week
Jets head coach Rex Ryan is 3-6 all-time against the Dolphins.
James, in the previous meeting, the Dolphins dominated Smith. Is the Miami defense still playing that well?
Walker: Miami's defense started to turn the corner in the Jets game. That was probably the best Miami's defense played this year. Since then, the Dolphins have been back to being inconsistent. Miami allowed 28 points to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but only 20 to the New England Patriots. The 19 points allowed to the Bills had a lot to do with the fact Miami's offense had numerous three-and-outs and couldn't get anything going. The Dolphins' defense was worn down and things snowballed. Perhaps the biggest worry is Miami's run defense allowed 203 yards to Buffalo. The Dolphins haven't stopped the run consistently all year, and I'm sure that will be a heavy part of New York's game plan on offense.
Rich, Miami had a lot of trouble last week against Mike Pettine's defense in Buffalo. What can a similar Jets defensive scheme do better in the second meeting?
Cimini: I don't think they can be worse than the first game, so let's start there. The Jets played as if they were in a trance, allowing a season-high 453 total yards on Dec. 1. This time, they should be better equipped to handle Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie (hip) is healthier, and rookie Dee Milliner, coming off his best game, is playing with confidence.
The key for the Jets is generating pressure. Even though their scheme is similar to that of the Bills, the Jets don't have as many pure pass-rushers, and they're not blitzing as much as they did last season. Of course, the Dolphins' pass protection is highly suspect, so maybe Muhammad Wilkerson & Co. can crank it up one final time. The Jets would like nothing better than to shatter the Dolphins' playoff dreams.
What are the implications of this game? I mean, if they miss the playoffs by losing to the hated Jets, will heads roll in Miami?
Walker: It's not that simple. Dolphins fans have been riding the keep- or fire-everyone roller coaster this season. But ownership has not. All indications are that Joe Philbin is safe regardless of whether the Dolphins make the playoffs. He is 15-16 in two seasons and, barring unexpected circumstances, will get an important third year in 2014.
Making the playoffs is bigger for the job security of general manager Jeff Ireland, who has been in Miami longer and spent more than $100 million in guaranteed contracts last offseason to build a playoff team. Winning this game and getting into the postseason for the first time since 2008 could be just what Ireland needs to get another year.
However, the great unknown is what details will come out during the NFL's investigation of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal. If things are ugly, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross promised there would be repercussions. But the Dolphins internally appear confident they will come out of this situation without too much damage. That is all to be determined after the season.
The final word on Sunday's matchup at Sun Life Stadium:
Rich Cimini: The teams are fairly even, so it'll come down to want-to -- and the Dolphins get the edge because of playoff motivation and home field. Dolphins 19, Jets 17.
James Walker: It's hard to pick the Dolphins after last week's stinker, but Miami should bounce back with so much on the line. Dolphins 21, Jets 17.