The Jets and Dolphins play today, at MetLife Stadium. And there was much bluster during the past week in advance of Hurricane Sandy blowing into the New York area. Rex Ryan vs. Reggie Bush, Reggie vs. Rex. LaRon Landry and Aaron Maybin vs. Reggie. Maurkice Pouncey back at Maybin. Did we miss any tag teams?
Yeremiah Bell knows about the mindset on both sides. After all, the Jets' ninth-year safety spent Years 1-8 as a Dolphin.
"Just being there and knowing those guys, I know they're fired up. This is a rivalry game," Bell said. "When I was there, you always got up for Jets week. So I'm sure they're going to be pretty excited to get up here and get the game on. And we'll be waiting for them."
The Dolphins in fact greeted him when he made his first start against his longtime team, the Jets' 23-20 overtime survival in Week 3 in South Florida. But YB took it all in good stride.
"The first game was trash talk back and forth, but it was all in good fun," he said with a shrug. "It is what it is. I'm just excited to get out there and have another battle with those guys."
The fun, though, can get ratcheted up, such as this week. The rivalry is part of it. So many high-scoring affairs, so many memorable meetings. Periods when the Dolphins ruled the roost, then from 1998-2007 when the Jets were ascendant. Lately it's back to Miami, which has won five of eight since '08.
"We have to do something this week that we haven't done since I've been here," said head coach Rex Ryan, "and that's sweep Miami."
But for the Jets, the sweep is part of the larger process of trying to show themselves and others that, despite their obstacles this season, they're ready to "start winning these types of games," as Ryan said of the recent losses to the Texans and Patriots, and of today's game vs. the Dolphins. A win lifts the Jets back to 4-4 heading into their bye week, raises their division record to 3-1, enables them to keep pace with those dastardly Patriots en route to a Thanksgiving night hold-service home win, and sets them up for a potentially profitable second half.
A loss does none of those things.
"We Know What's at Stake"
Perhaps this emotionally taut game is good for the Jets. Bell doesn't dispute that, but doesn't see it as being necessary to a winning effort.
"When you look at it, I don't think we need anything. I think we know what's at stake," he said. "We know what this game's about and we need it. So just based off that, I think we're going to be high energy and ready to go."
That will come in handy because while the Dolphins are still building their new foundation under head coach Joe Philbin and with rookie Ryan Tannehill at the offensive controls, they're feeling frisky themselves this season. Who wouldn't in the AFC East, Exhibit A for NFL parity? The 'Fins are 3-3, on a two-game win streak, coming off their bye, and 0-1 in the division and seeking to remain second-half players themselves.
There are as always several key questions in this latest chapter of Jets-Dolphins. Mark Sanchez is coming off a tough loss and two more difficult giveaways at New England which also happened to be the one of the best downfield passing games as the Jets QB (a career-high 258 yards of his 328-yard passing game were ball-in-the-air yardage). Can he find receivers Jeremy Kerley, Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill again against a Miami secondary minus starting CB Richard Marshall?
Can LaRon Landry — who had the big interception-return TD five weeks ago — and Bell and CB Antonio Cromartie again bedevil Tannehill when he targets Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano?
"He's just getting more confidence, he's more comfortable with the offense," Bell said. "He's doing a good job. He knows where to go with the football. And one thing you can really tell is he's starting to read coverages good, so we're going to have to disguise a little bit and try to mess with him. He's still a young guy, so I'm sure we can mess with him a little bit."
But the main event today is Bush vs. the Jets' run defense. Reggie was running with abandon in the first meeting with 61 yards on 10 carries before he injured his knee late in the first half and left the game, which led to some of the acrimony in the days after that game and again this week. Before the injury, Bush was averaging 6.0 yards per carry. In the three games since, his average is 2.8. Can he return to his form out of the gate? Will the Jets help with such a return or delay it?
Miami's No. 1. Weapon
"I just think that clearly Reggie Bush is a tremendous player," Ryan said. "He's extremely talented and obviously is going to get a lot of our attention, there's no question about it. We want to hit hard. We don't want to injure. We want to hit him. But is he getting a lot of our attention? Absolutely, because in my opinion, he's their No. 1 weapon."
"He's a great back and they've got a great offensive line," said DT Mike DeVito. "You've got to bottle him up, you've got to tackle him. It's going to be a real 9-on-7 kind of day."
That's 9-on-7 as in the practice drills when it's run offense vs. run defense only. It could shape up as that kind of game, especially since even with Bush exited, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller kept up the rushing tattoo to the tune of 185 rushing yards that nearly pulled that first game out for the Aqua & Coral.
"No question it's going to have to be a lot better than the first game," Bell said of the Jets' run stopping. "And it's been getting better over the weeks. but to win this game we cannot have even close to the performance we had that first game. We know they're going to run the ball, so we're excited about the challenge and we'll see what happens."
The run defense is generally the domain for David Harris, Muhammad Wilkerson and DeVito, but the safeties will play a role, too. Bell and Landry unofficially have a combined total of 97 tackles this season, the most by two safeties on the same NFL team so far this season. They'll no doubt be in the box a bit this afternoon pitching in with the Jets' bid to contain Bush et al. and to impose their will on the Dolphins.
Which also is something that Bell and Landry are good at as well.
"We don't play dirty," Bell said. "Are we going to come after people? Yeah, that's what we do, that's what the sport is, to be physical. But we're not a dirty team. We're not intentionally trying to hurt anybody. But when we tackle you and we swarm to the ball, we are trying to put some hurt on you. That's just the name of the game."
And if the Dolphins take any exceptions with the physical play of the Green & White safeties?
"If that's what they want to do, or any team, we welcome it," Bell said matter-of-factly. "We're two physical guys and we don't mind people being physical back. If anybody out there wants to come at us, we're waiting."