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New York Jets: 5 Things to Watch for vs Miami Dolphins

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New York Jets: 5 Things to Watch for vs Miami Dolphins

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It has been year of ups and downs for the New York Jets, and they are currently in their biggest slump of the season. They are below .500 for the first time all year and are on their first losing streak, and on Sunday they face the Miami Dolphins, a fellow 5-6 AFC Wild Card Contender.

This is the first of two matchups that these two teams will have over the final five weeks, and it carries huge playoff implications for both teams. The loser of this game is facing near certain elimination, so both teams will be desperate for a win.

For the Jets, all the talk this week has surrounded quarterback Geno Smith and his horrendous play over the last month. Rex Ryan has repeatedly said that Smith is his quarterback and he will stick with him, but you have to think that Smith will be on short leash this week. The Jets cannot afford any more poor performances out of him, especially when it comes to turnovers.

The Jets have been solid defensively this season, with a historically good run defense being brought down by a subpar pass defense. The Jets will again try to sort out their problems in the secondary this week, as the Dolphins are a team that prefers to throw the ball. Overall, the Dolphins are a pretty weak offense, so this could be a chance for the Jets’ defense to dominate.

The stakes could not be higher for this game, and the Jets know that a win is absolutely essential to save their playoff chances. They are returning home to MetLife Statdium, where they are 4-1 this season. The Jets need to get their team on track this week, and these are five keys to the game.

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Will Geno Smith Show Up?

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There is no nice way to spin the fact that Smith has been terrible over the last month. In his last four games, Smith has completed just 47.9% of his passes for 504 yards, 0 TDs and 7 INTs. The Jets have gone 1-3 in those games, and the calls for Matt Simms to be moved into the starting lineup keep getting louder.

Smith doesn’t have to look like Peyton Manning for the Jets to win, but he certainly needs to play better than he has. He cannot turn the ball over, and he has to be more accurate. Santonio Holmes and the rest of the Jets’ receiving corps haven’t been helping much either, and it is time they step up. The Jets need to get their passing game on track now, or they aren’t going anywhere.

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Can the Jets Handle Mike Wallace?

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The Jets have struggled to defend the deep pass all season, with both Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner giving up multiple big plays. Ed Reed was brought in to help fix the problem, but so far he hasn’t made any impact, and some would say he’s made things worse.

This week the Jets must face arguably the best deep ball threat in the NFL, Mike Wallace. Wallace hasn’t had a great season or lived up to his huge offseason contract, but he is still as good as anyone at getting open over the top for a big play. Cromartie may not be able to play due to a hip injury, so there is a massive amount of pressure on Milliner this week.

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Defense Must Pressure Ryan Tannehill

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The Jets should have a major advantage in this game with their pass rush vs the Dolphins’ offensive line. The Dolphins have allowed 44 sacks this season, easily the most in the NFL. The Jets’ defense must exploit this mismatch, and expect Ryan to bring heavy pressure at Ryan Tannehill all game.

Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples will all be expected to get after Tannehill frequently in this game. The Jets have been waiting for Coples to have a big breakout game, and this could be his chance to prove he can be a top notch pass rusher.

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Offensive Line Must Perform Better

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the season, the Jets’ high sack totals were blamed on Smith holding onto the ball too long. The blame for the last two weeks, however, falls squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line. They have had no success at all picking up the blitz each of the last two weeks, and expect the Dolphins to bring extra rushers quite often.

Rookie guard Brian Winters has had huge struggles, and the Jets may be forced to keep in a tight end or running back for extra protection. Smith needs all the time he can get, and the line has to keep him upright and give him opportunities to make plays down the field.

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Can Jets Stave Off Playoff Elimination?

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The Baltimore Ravens’ win last night was a big blow to these teams, as both have already lost to the defending champs. With the Ravens at 6-6 and holding the tiebreaker advantage, the loser of this game is essentially out of the playoff race.

The Jets have exceeded all expectations to even be at this point, but they don’t want to settle for just being better than people thought they would in the preseason. However, they have not played like a playoff team the last two weeks, and they need a major reversal in their performance to get a win this week. The Jets have the talent to beat the Dolphins, but it remains to be seen if they’ll actually play like it.

Greg Sulik is a New York Jets writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GregSulik or add him to your network on Google