Only 20 days since the Jets and the Dolphins did battle at Land Shark Stadium in Miami, the longtime AFC East rivals will conclude their season series at the Meadowlands this afternoon. The stakes are high and Calvin Pace, who drew national attention after he called the Wildcat offense "nonsense" and referred to Chad Henne as a "clown quarterback" following the Jets' 31-27 loss in South Florida on Oct. 12, is ready to get it on.
"This is a hated rivalry. This is Oklahoma–Texas, Florida–Florida State. It's right there [at that level] and that's good," Pace told newyorkjets.com. "Trash-talking aside and all the comments aside, I think both teams genuinely respect each other. There is so much riding on this for both teams — this is another must-win for us."
Pace admitted he should have rephrased those controversial comments. But these teams clearly don't like each other — we heard this week from a number of Jets who didn't appreciate the Dolphins' celebration following Ronnie Brown's game-winning TD run in their first meeting, and the 'Fins haven't appreciated the Jets' free-wheeling verse since Rex Ryan came on board to lead.
There will be no love lost today. The Jets have a chance to move to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the division at the season's halfway point while the 2-4 Dolphins can complete a season sweep of the Jets for just the second time since 1997.
"Guys are going to be jawing a little bit, but you have to be smart with that, too. Guys trash-talk and you have to keep your composure," said Pace. "Don't do anything stupid that's going to hurt the team and don't get yourself out of the game. Don't let it take yourself out mentally to where it becomes a one-on-one battle instead of you doing your job."
Defensively, the Jets have played well, if not excellent, in six games. New York's AFC representatives are fourth in the NFL in points allowed (14.9 points per game), but they were torched on Monday Night in Miami for three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including Brown's keeper with six seconds on the clock.
"When you look at the film, we were flat and uninspired," said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. "For lack of a better phrase, we laid an egg defensively and those are the frustrating ones."
"In the first game, they'd make a play and we'd get down a little bit. They get paid to play, too," added Pace. "You just have to bounce back and keep punching away, try to make them make a mistake and try to capitalize on it."
Pace forced the Raiders into many mistakes last weekend as he racked up three sacks — two of which resulted in Jets fumble recoveries — in a 38-0 rout. Pettine flipped the roles of Pace and fellow OLB Bryan Thomas at times and the switch paid immediate dividends.
"It just so happens that we broke it out against Oakland," said Pace of playing the rush 'backer as opposed to lining up over the tight end. "I like it. It gives me a chance to be a little bit more disruptive. Whatever my job is, I don't mind doing it. I want to be in the mix. I was happy to do it. If they ask me to play D-tackle, I would do it."
Less than three weeks ago, the Dolphins converted on nine of 14 third downs for a 64 percent success rate against the Green & White. But Pace reminds us to pay attention to the early downs because if the Jets can contain the Dolphins' two-headed monster — Brown and Ricky Williams — at RB, then they'll put young Chad Henne in third-and-longs and the Dolphins have some instability at receiver as Ted Ginn may have lost his starting position to rookie Brian Hartline.
"If we can start fast and stop them on first and second down, it will be good because that's what Miami is really doing to kill people. They get in third-and-short. That just didn't happen in our game — they've been doing it all season," he said. "We have to keep the down and distance in our favor and we can play the way we want to play."
The Saints may have given the Jets a blueprint on defending the Wildcat. In their exciting come-from-behind victory over the Dolphins last week, they blitzed their corners and basically dared Brown to beat them through the air. The result was just 27 yards of offense on 14 Wildcat plays for the Dolphins.
"New Orleans attacked it. When you play against the Wildcat, the thing is it's a numbers game," said the 6'4", 265-pound Pace. "They're always going to have one more person than you have. Scheme aside, they just attacked it and they didn't sit back."
"Ronnie Brown throws the ball pretty decent, but you're hoping he'll make a mistake, too," Pettine said. "He's obviously not used to reading coverages, but he's got a nice arm."
The Dolphins are going to have to account for a better Pace today. After serving a four-game suspension, his first game back was against the 'Fins and he said he was in reactionary mode and a step behind.
"I had to play against the Wildcat, in Miami, in the heat. It was a tough situation," he said. "I feel better. I think more than anything my eyes are better, I think I'm seeing things a little bit quicker."
Pace and the Jets will don their white New York Titans jerseys for the second consecutive week and their overall record in the Titans throwbacks the past three seasons is 5-1. Pace loves the classic look and even went as far as to say that he wishes they were the team's "permanent uniforms."
The Jets will look different after losing both NT Kris Jenkins and then RB/KR Leon Washington on successive weeks. And they'll need a complete team effort to keep the 'Fins from coming up for air.