By Brad Carroll
With the anger and frustration of getting screwed over by the NFL last week against the New England Patriots still fresh in everyone’s mind, the New York Jets and their fans have to put that mess behind them and focus on beating the rival Miami Dolphins on the road Sunday afternoon.
If the Jets fancy themselves a playoff team, and the last four weeks of the season have proven they are at least part of the conversation, they have to find a way to beat the Dolphins. The Jets have already played and beat Miami, a thoroughly dominating 20-6 win that jumpstarted this newfound optimism within the team and fanbase in Week 3. Now they attempt to do it again.
The Jets’ controversy loss to the Patriots last week dropped them to 3-3 on the season, which would put them a half-game back of the wild card race right now. The three teams ahead of them with 3-2 records are the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and these Dolphins, so this game is huge on a number of levels for the Jets.
The Dolphins, however, appear to have found their footing during the last two weeks, beating the Tennessee Titans without Marcus Mariota and then shocking the Atlanta Falcons with a big comeback victory. So this is most likely going to be a completely different team than the one the Jets dominated in Week 3.
Here are the three keys to a Jets’ victory Sunday afternoon in Miami, a must-win game if there ever was one this early in the season.
Keep Jay Ajayi In Check
If Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has a big game on the ground, it typically results in a win. If he gets shut down, the Dolphins lose. In Miami’s three wins this season, Ajayi has rushed for 112, 77 and 130 yards. In the two losses, he’s rushed for 16 and 46 yards. It doesn’t take a genius to understand those stats. Stop Ajayi and the Dolphins will lose. The Jets obviously have to shut Ajayi down this Sunday, just as they did in Week 3, when the running back gained just 16 yards on 11 carries. Duplicate that feat and the Jets will be 4-3 come Sunday night.
Get Pressure On Jay Cutler
The Jets sacked Cutler three times and hit him seven times in that Week 3 meeting and they are going to have to do even better on the road Sunday. The Jets have just seven sacks for the entire season, so that earlier game against Miami was by far its best of the season in that regard. It’s amazing, however, that the Jets are 3-3 and have gotten zero production from Mo Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and the entire defensive line, which was thought to be the strongest part of the entire team coming into the year. The group has combined for zero sacks this season. Zero. Wilkerson is playing his way right out of New York, while Williams has become a non-factor in a year that was supposed to elevate his national presence in being one of the best linemen in the NFL. It’s been anything but. The Jets need to get pressure on Cutler, and if Wilkerson and Williams are part of it all the better, in order to win this game.
Follow Same Offensive Game Plan
The Jets came out throwing against the Dolphins in Week 3, taking a 10-0 lead into halftime and then upped it to 20-0 heading into the fourth quarter. After getting the lead, the Jets switched to the running game in the second half, on their way to 103-yard performance. Quarterback Josh McCown was 18-of-23 passing for 249 yards and a touchdown. McCown threw for just 44 yards in the second half, however, as the Jets were trying to run down the clock after taking what was a commanding lead. The Jets hope to be in that same situation Sunday, but opening up the passing game in the first half against Miami worked the first time, so there’s no reason not to go to the well once again. The Jets can’t fall into the same trap they did last week against the Patriots, though, where they totally abandoned the run. The Jets have potential game-breakers in the backfield they can’t forget about, but this game could be won by how well McCown and his receivers do against the Dolphins through the air.