3TFO: Dolphins @ Jets, Week 13
With nine teams within one game of the sixth playoff spot in the AFC, the matchup between the Jets and Dolphins this Sunday has a bit of meaning to it. The second Wild Card birth will likely be captured with nine wins, meaning the loser of this game would likely have to rip off four straight wins to end the season. Every club vying for the final playoff spot each has a pretty glaring flaw or two, but which coaching staff will be able to mask their weaknesses long enough to win a few more games?
Miami’s off-field issues have been well documented, but their offensive line was their Achilles heal long before the Richie Incognito mess reared its ugly head. The Dolphins haven’t scored more than 27 points in any game since early in the 2012 season, and after a spending spree in the offseason, Jeff Ireland failed to address one of the most important positions on the field.
While the Dolphins have struggled getting push and protecting their quarterback, Jets fans have been tempted by Geno Smith’s talent and knack for the big play, only to be let down as the season has wore on. Chris Ivory is looking very questionable for Sunday, but Smith’s trusty slot receiver Jeremy Kerley should return, which gives the Jets some hope in moving the ball.
The offense that can capitalize on making just one big play could take this game, so let’s take a look at a few of the matchups.
Miami’s Offensive Line vs. New York’s Defensive Line
The Dolphins sieve of an offensive line against the Jets’ ferocious defensive line has to be one of the bigger mismatches of any game on the Week 13 slate. The four highest-graded players on the Jets are all defensive lineman. Muhammad Wilkerson is the best 3-4 DE in the league not named J.J. Watt, but even he sits behind maulers Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison for the best grade on his own team. Of course, Wilkerson is more of a well-rounded player than his fellow lineman, but Richardson and Harrison lead the way when it comes to stopping the run. Harrison, affectionately known as “Big Snacks,” leads all defensive tackles who’ve played at least 50% of their team’s run snaps in Run Stop Percentage. On 178 runs, Harrison has 24 stops, meaning he’s picking up a stop on 13.5% of those plays. Ahead of other dominant interior lineman such as Star Lotulelei and Marcell Dareus, Harrison and company will put the kibosh on any run game the Dolphins attempt to get going. The Dolphins should get a boost with Mike Pouncey returning from his bout with food poisoning, pushing Nate Garner back to man left guard. Pouncey has been the Dolphins’ best run blocker this season (+2.1), and is their only positively-graded offensive lineman with Incognito still suspended indefinitely.
The Miami offensive line is only slightly below average in our Pass Blocking Efficiency metric. The Dolphins have allowed the 11th most pressures on their way to playing the 11th-most pass plays. However, Ryan Tannehill’s ability to get rid of the ball has avoided some of the pressure that he otherwise would have seen. Tannehill is seventh in the league in average time to throw, and while every quarterback is better when they get rid of the ball quickly, Tannehill is second in the league in completion percentage when getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less. The Dolphins figure to use the quick-hitting passing game with Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews and Charles Clay this week, as there may not be enough time for the deep shots to Mike Wallace to develop. If there’s one place the Jets defense can be exploited, it’s at the back end. Antonio Cromartie was expected to play like the #1 cornerback that he became when Darrelle Revis went down early in 2012, but he’s fell short of expectations. Sure, he’s sixth in the league behind names like Verner, Revis and Sherman in coverage snaps per reception at 14.1, but he’s giving up 1.52 yards per cover snap, a bottom 15 number in the league among the 74 qualifying cornerbacks. Cromartie, also, is very much a game-time decision ahead of his matchup with Mike Wallace on Sunday. If Cromartie is out, Wallace could be open down the field all day against Darrin Walls and Dee Milliner. Will the Miami offensive line afford Ryan Tannehill enough time to hit on a big play or two?
How Will the Jets Move the Ball?
It’s no secret the Jets have been one of the more Jekyll and Hyde teams in the league in 2013. Exchanging season defining wins, such as over New England and New Orleans in Weeks 7 and 9, with mind-numbingly terrible losses in Weeks 6 and 8 to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati has been their modus operandi. A common thread throughout their wins was the hard-nosed running from Chris Ivory. In their two biggest wins of the season, over the Patriots and Saints, he produced 164 of his 244 yards after contact, dragging defenders and grinding down the clock. When Ivory was nursing a preseason hamstring injury over the first few weeks, Bilal Powell filled in quite admirably, doing his best impression of a power back. He had 170 yards after contact on 78 carries through the first five weeks, but has just 87 on 47 totes over the last six weeks as Ivory has taken over the role of early down, between the tackles pounder. However, Powell has the receiving element to his game, which is useful for a rookie quarterback like Smith. Powell is tied for second on the team in catches behind Kerley, which speaks volumes to the level in which Smith has struggled. Dolphins’ OLB Philip Wheeler has been a liability in the passing game in 2013, allowing a 111.5 passer rating when targeted and a 76.6% completion rate. Powell is by no means a burner, but Wheeler has also missed 16 tackles this season, most on the squad. The Jets should attack this matchup.
It’s pretty telling when your leading receiver has played in just over seven of the 11 games in the season. Smith should be doing cartwheels, as Kerley looks on track to return from his dislocated elbow. Since Kerley left early in Week 9 against the Saints, Smith hasn’t cleared 10 completions or 130 yards in a game, and has a 0:5 touchdown to interception ratio. Miami’s slot cornerback Jimmy Wilson has been a solid contributor in 2013, allowing a reception every 10.8 coverage snaps from the slot, which is good for sixth among slot cornerbacks. With Brent Grimes shutting down his side of the field, and Nolan Carroll filling in well for the oft-injured Dmitri Patterson, in a low scoring, defensive battle Geno Smith will have to work the middle of the field against the Dolphins for sustained ball movement.
Concerned About the Cold?
In his rookie season, Tannehill played just one game in frigid temperatures. It was a meaningless Week 17 game at New England, with the Patriots wrapping up another AFC East crown and the Dolphins were closing out the first year of Joe Philbin with a 7-9 record. However, there were a few takeaways from that game. Tannehill went just 5-of-13 on throws 10+ yards down the field, and was sacked seven times. Perhaps we can’t take anything away from that one-game sample, but the fact remains that the second-year signal caller just doesn’t have a track record in cold weather. It shouldn’t be absolutely frigid at MetLife Stadium on Sunday; the forecast is calling for temperatures just above freezing with a chance of rain. However, we should learn plenty about Tannehill’s cold-weather play over the last five weeks of the season. Three of their last five games are in northern New Jersey, western Pennsylvania, and western New York. With the Dolphins realistically needing four wins in their last five games to sneak into the playoffs, there will be some highly critical eyes watching Ryan Tannehill down the stretch.