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JETS-DOLPHINS: 10 Things to Look For

Thanksgiving is behind us, December is ahead of us. And Miami is again looking to spoil our present playoff situation.

In 2008 and again in '11, we finished the regular season needing a win over the Dolphins plus help from around the league to get onto the AFC postseason grid. We didn't get the help, but we also didn't beat the 'Fins.

That challenge could again happen in five weeks, but for a change of pace, we're playing Miami twice in the 12th month and both teams could use a division sweep to rise above the crowd of American Conference teams that began this week tied at 5-6.

Both of these rivals are very wary of the other for Sunday's first match. The Dolphins win close games (four victories in games decided by eight points or fewer) and at the Meadowlands (3-1 vs. Rex Ryan's Jets since '09).

Despite that latter trend, one big green checkmark is that this game is at MetLife Stadium. The Dolphins have lost their last three on the road. And the Jets, after a two-game road losing streak, need to get some of the cooking that enabled them to surprise many NFL observers with their 4-1 home record.

"I feel better at home," head coach Rex Ryan said today. "Maybe we're familiar with it and all that, but our fans have been great, absolutely terrific. I know we're feeding off of it — damn, I'm proud of it. We're playing like this is our home, like we're protecting our back yard, and we've done a much better job of this than any time since I've been here."

Here are 10 things to look for in this very important AFC East matchup on Sunday:

  1. Six Is Good — No question Geno Smith and the offense need to crank out more touchdowns. It's been 120 passes and four full games since he threw his last TD pass, to Jeremy Kerley against the Patriots. But home is where the windows are a little larger. Smith has produced seven of his 11 TD drives at MetLife (four passing, three running). And it's possible Geno will get back Kerley (questionable) from his elbow bending vs. the Saints and so could have a full complement of veteran receivers — WRs Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and JK and TEs Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow — for a whole game for the first time since Game 3.

2. Hands Team — The last time we dropped as many as five passes in a game, Game 2 at New England, we got focused and proceeded to drop that many in the next eight games combined. Then came Baltimore and five more drops. The wideouts were out after all practices this week again working on the Jugs machine and adjusting the fine-tuning on their receiving units. Since the focus of Ryan, Marty Mornhinweg and WRs coach Sanjay Lal worked last time, why not look for it to work again with a no-drop outing?

3. Puttin' on the Blitz — It's not just Geno who comes alive at MetLife. Consider our pass rush, led by DE Muhammad Wilkerson. In six road games this year, we're averaging 1.8 sacks per game. In five home games, it's 4.2 sacks, and Mo is on a roll with six of his 10 sacks coming close to his Linden, NJ, home. Into town arrives Ryan Tannehill, the most-sacked man in the league with 44 in all, 4.0 per game. Sounds like a perfect time for the Jets to get after the quarterback.

4. The Crominator — For the second time this season, Antonio Cromartie suffered an injury that appeared likely to cost him a few games, then shook it off and strode ahead like Robert Patrick out of a flaming wreck. "Today, just running around, I felt more explosive, more comfortable with it today than I have since I reinjured it in really Week 2 of the preseason," said Cro, still officially listed as questionable from the hip injury he aggravated at the end of the Ravens game. Good timing, since speedster WR Mike Wallace, coming off his best yardage game of the year (five catches, 127 yards, TD vs. Carolina) is next up.

5. Old Hat — Our front seven continues to have all its hats flying to the ball at all times. For the fifth straight week, Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, David Harris & Co. are No. 1 in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game and per carry. Miami's led by fast Lamar Miller (4.2 yards/carry), but No. 2 back Daniel Thomas (ankle) will not play. This matchup is obviously not enough to win this tight battle, but it will help optimize the results we get when we then rush Tannehill (see No. 3).

Record 5-6 5-6
Points Scored/Game 16.9 20.8
Points Allowed/Game 26.1 22.3
First Downs Gained/Game 16.9 17.4
First Downs Allowed/Game 17.4 21.1
Yards Gained/Game 315.3 310.0
Yards Allowed/Game 322.9 358.5
Time of Possession/Game 30:32 27:59
Turnover Margin –16 0

6. Feats of Clay — Jets defenders, be they Demario Davis, Dawan Landry, or others, can't get stuck in the mud when covering Miami's TE. Charles Clay, who came to the Dolphins as a FB out of Tulsa in 2011, has 46 receptions and leads the 'Fins with five TDs — four receiving, one rushing. Jets fans will recall his 1-yard TD grab that put Miami ahead to stay in the '11 season finale. "Charles is a fun guy to play with," said Tannehill. "He's explosive, creates mismatches on linebackers and safeties. He's a real weapon for our offense." And a thorn in the side for defenses.

7. The Folk Goes On — Things have been quiet for Nick Folk since his miss at windy Buffalo ended his consecutive-FG streak one short of tying Jay Feely's franchise record. But Folk can heat things up again with another streak that would carry him to our franchise mark for most consecutive home field goals made. He's 15-for-15 dating to last year and needs 4-for-4 to tie Leahy's 19 straight in 1985-86 and Nick Lowery's 19 in a row from 1994-96. The Meadowlands winds are even expected to cooperate Sunday if he needs to make all four vs. the Dolphins to secure a crucial victory.

8. Mystery in the Pivot — Check the number of the guy snapping the ball to Tannehill. If it's 51, starter Mike Pouncey is back at center after taking ill from a gallbladder issue two weeks ago. If it's No. 75, Nate Garner — remember the Jets' seventh-round pick out of Arkansas in 2008? — will get the third straight start of his career at C. Philbin wasn't tipping his hand, much, about Pouncey's availability, saying only that "We're taking everybody" on the charter flight to New Jersey.

9. Playing the Fields — Josh Cribbs will be backing up 5-10 yards per punt as the Dolphins' Brandon Fields is again near hallowed NFL territory — at 49.2 gross yards per punt, he leads the NFL and can challenge last year's 50.2 gross, which made him one of the few punters to average 50 yards for a season. Fields also has had only two punts blocked in his seven-year career and none since 2010. One of the snuffers that year was the Jets' Eric Smith. Can Antonio Allen, Isaiah Trufant or anyone else step up this time? It couldn't hurt.

10. Simple Formula — "I think the past few weeks we haven't gotten off to a really good start," Holmes said today. "This week I think the practice focus has been really high-tempo and the execution has been great." In the seven games the Jets have scored first, we're 5-2. In the four in which the opponents open the scoring, we're 0-4. Further, we've won our last eight games under Rex and our last 14 dating to '07 in games in which we've taken the opening kickoff and drove immediately for a game-opening TD. Now if we can only sneak in the loaded coin and get Miami to call heads and defer...

Regular-Season Series Record Jets 49-44-1
     Last Game Dolphins 30-9, 2012
     Last Jets Win Jets 23-20

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