Dolphins vs. Jets NFL Week 17: 5 Must-Watch Matchups
Dolphins vs. Jets: 5 Must-Watch Matchups
The Miami Dolphins' roller-coaster season is now one game away from being deemed a success or a failure. With a win on Sunday over the New York Jets, the Dolphins would have their first winning season since 2008 and likely their first playoff berth since the same year.
A loss, however, would drop them to 8-8, an unacceptable standing for a talented team that has beaten three of the AFC's playoff qualifiers, and would assure that they will be watching postseason football from the couch for the fifth consecutive season.
The Jets are a mediocre club talent-wise with a mistake-prone rookie quarterback under center. But they will have nothing to lose in their bid to spoil Miami's season. New York will also be playing for its head coach Rex Ryan, whose job security is in question after his Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs for the third straight year, and for revenge after losing by 20 to the Dolphins on Dec. 1.
The Dolphins are clearly the better team, but there's no guarantee that will be obvious on Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium. Miami has won games it wasn't supposed to all year but has also lost games it was expected to win. Most will expect it to beat New York, which means it must finally thrive with the pressure that comes with being the favorite. Said pressure will certainly be amplified given the stakes.
Let's take a look at five must-watch matchups for this game.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Brian Hartline vs. Dee Milliner
Dolphins wide receiver, Brian Hartline is just 22 yards shy of his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season. Not bad for a guy most thought was nothing more than a No. 3 option earlier in his career. He should be expected to surpass the milestone again with ease against the Jets, as rookie cornerback Dee Milliner will likely take on the challenge of slowing him down.
Milliner conceded five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown during the first meeting, so quarterback Ryan Tannehill will undoubtedly target him in coverage early and often. This past Sunday, Miller gave up a season-high 10 receptions for 113 yards and he is currently Pro Football Focus' 90th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible players at the position. It's a matchup Tannehill and Hartline must exploit.
4. Dolphins' Interior O-Line vs. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson
The strength of the Jets' defense is their stout three-man line. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are two of the league's top 3-4 defensive ends and certainly pose a threat to a team that was thoroughly dominated in the trenches this past Sunday. Against the Dolphins in Week 13, however, the two weren't the unstoppable force they projected to be facing Miami's makeshift offensive line.
Wilkerson, the dangerous pass rusher, only managed one quarterback hit and one pressure. Richardson, the run stuffer, proved too difficult to move on most running plays, but that didn't stop the Dolphins from rushing for 125 yards on the day. A similar performance would go a long way for Miami in its effort to protect Tannehill and employ a balanced offensive attack.
One interesting change to monitor will be Sam Brenner, who struggled to a team worst -4.8 overall grade by Pro Football Focus in Week 16, at left guard. Nate Garner started in his place during Miami's trip to the Meadowlands and played decently. Brenner will need to rebound from last week's debacle and do the same.
3. Cameron Wake vs. Austin Howard
Defensive end Cameron Wake only needs 1.5 sacks on Sunday to reach a double-digit total for the third time in four seasons. He'll need to get them against right tackle Austin Howard, who held Wake to zero sacks back in Week 13. Wake didn't bring down Jets quarterbacks Geno Smith or Matt Simms, but he did provide three quarterback hits and one pressure during the game.
As Pro Football Focus' third ranked 4-3 defensive end, Wake will look to make his presence felt against the Jets, who have given up the second most sacks in the NFL (second to you know who). Howard is only responsible for two of the 47 sacks the Jets have allowed, so Wake will have his hands full attempting to get after Smith on Sunday afternoon.
2. Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo vs. Calvin Pace
The Jets will undoubtedly try to mirror the Buffalo Bills' game plan last Sunday, which led to seven sacks and a shutout of Miami's offense. While the Jets have the talent on their defensive line to do so, they don't possess the same quality of edge rushers the Bills have. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace, with 10 sacks on the season, is still more than capable of getting to Tannehill, though.
Pace rushes from both sides of the line of scrimmage, which means he'll face left tackle Bryant McKinnie and right tackle Tyson Clabo on Sunday. McKinnie has allowed three sacks during the last two weeks, but Clabo has produced a positive grade by Pro Football Focus in seven of his last eight games. The two held Pace to zero sacks, one quarterback hit and one pressure back in Week 13. Limiting him to similar production would strengthen Tannehill's ability to pick on the Jets' leaky secondary.
1. Mike Wallace vs. Antonio Cromartie
As Pro Football Focus' No. 104 rated cornerback, Antonio Cromartie has been picked on by opposing quarterbacks all season. The 860 yards Cromartie has surrendered in coverage this year ranks as the third most in the league and the seven touchdowns he's allowed ranks fourth. Not surprisingly, he had a poor performance against the Dolphins earlier this month. Tannehill completed five of six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown when throwing to Cromartie's coverage area. Cromartie did have an interception on a batted ball, but the defender who deflected the pass deserves the most credit for that play.
Blanketing the speedy Mike Wallace will be Cromartie's ambition on Sunday. Wallace has had a less-than-spectacular first season in Miami, but only needs 95 yards to reach 1,000 for the year. If he plays as well as he did versus the Jets on December 1, he should come close. Wallace caught seven passes for 82 yards and a score in the Meadowlands, primarily being covered by Cromartie. A similar effort would go a long way in helping the Dolphins' offense get back on track after last week's disaster in Buffalo.