Preview: Dolphins (3-3) @ Jets (3-4)

DIVISION RIVALRY HEATS UP THANKS TO HOT SAUCE COMMENTS.

All bets are off whenever the Jets and Dolphins square off. The records entering the game are meaningless, road game or home game it doesn’t matter there’s no method to this madness, no safe assumptions to be made. The football gods laugh at fans’ assertion that they have the better team, as if that’s supposed to mean anything to the football gods when these two teams meet.

The rivalry between these teams may have taken a back seat to the Patriots in the eyes of Jets fans recently, but years of bad blood fueled through hated division rivals and their fans will never completely vanish and this week the venom has resurfaced with a vengeance thanks to Reggie Bush still harping on the use of a classic football cliché.

Joe McKnight is officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game, but he says there's no way he's not playing. That's good news for the Jets as they need McKnight's role in the offense to grow. McKnight's ankle and role will be big x-factors in Sunday's game. (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

Before these two teams last met, Rex Ryan said they were going to put a little “hot sauce” on Bush and Bush took exception to the phrase claiming the Jets intent was to hurt Bush, he then gleefully mocked Revis’ ACL tear by saying it was karma. Bush took offense to Ryan’s words and that’s his prerogative, but guess what? The Jets defense is pissed too now and will have a little something extra for Bush anytime they get near him.

So Bush is pissed and motivated, but now so is the Jets defense. Bulletin board material is often overrated but regardless both teams have plenty of material to use if they so choose. Whether the Jets can stop Bush (and the running game) or not will definitely factor into the outcome of this game, but it’s only one of many different keys to victory or defeat.

WHEN: Sunday, October 28, 2012 @ 1 pm EST (TV-CBS, Radio-ESPN)

WHERE: East Rutherford, New Jersey/ MetLife Stadium

SERIES HISTORY: Jets lead all-time regular season 49-44-1

LAST MEETING: Jets won 23-20 in OT week three.

INJURY REPORT:

DOLPHINS- OUT CB Richard Marshall (back), PROBABLE S Reshad Jones (heel), LB Koa Misi (hamstring), RB Daniel Thomas (concussion), DE Cameron Wake (neck), S Jimmy Wilson (ankle).

JETS- DOUBTFUL DT Kenrick Ellis (knee), RB Bilal Powell (shoulder), LB Bart Scott (toe), QUESTIONABLE TE Jeff Cumberland (wrist), C Nick Mangold (ankle), RB Joe McKnight (ankle), DT Sione Po’uha (back), S Eric Smith (knee), PROBABLE G Vladimir Ducasse (knee), WR Edmond (Clyde) Gates (shoulder), WR Jeremy Kerley (finger), S LaRon Landry (heel), G Brandon Moore (hip), LB Calvin Pace (shin), QB Mark Sanchez (back), G Matt Slauson (knee), T Jason Smith (not injury related).

GAME KEYS:

Confuse and frustrate the rookie QB – Ryan Tannehill continues to improve as the season goes on, but he’s still a rookie who will make some rookie mistakes and the Jets will have to make sure he plays like a rookie again on Sunday. In the last meeting the Jets did a great job of confusing Tannehill and limiting his options and they’ll look to do the same this week.

Brian Hartline has had an outstanding season, but with the way Antonio Cromartie has been playing Tannehill will need someone else to rely on and that’s a problem for the Dolphins as Devone Bess and Jabar Gaffney are their next best receivers, at least Tannehill can be thankfully he has a reliable tight end in Anthony Fasano and a solid pass protecting line in front of him that the Jets will have to penetrate to force pressure on the rookie.

The Jets pass rush has been non-existent this season, but some of the younger players are starting to get more playing time and starting to have a bigger impact. Quinton Coples seems to be on the verge of exploding for a big game maybe this will be the game, the secondary has been great even without Revis and there’s no reason to focus your worry on the secondary this weekend, it’s the front-seven that has to step up and apply pressure and contain the Dolphins running game.

Establish running game – The Colts game showed promise and gave hope for the Jets running game, but it wasn’t a sign that the ground and pound was back for good. Maybe it can get back as the line has improved it’s blocking, but they still have too many plays where just one or two guys don’t do their job and a potential big gain is squandered. Miami has a stout front seven that ranks third in the league in stopping the run, allowing only 78.2 yards a game and an average of 3.3 per carry. The Jets offense is averaging 110.4 yards on the ground at a 3.7 yards per carry clip.

As the line has started to open more lanes for Shonn Greene, Greene’s production has risen and he’s starting to look like the Shonn Greene the Jets have believed still played for them. Will the line be able to open up holes for the back? Or will Miami’s front seven continue to dominate against the run? The answer to this question will go along way to determining the winner on Sunday.

Stop running game – Going into the week three matchup it was all about can the Jets stop Bush and the running game and early on it seemed the Jets were destined to lose as they let Bush get going early, but they clamped down on the running game, then Bush left with the knee injury and the combination of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller didn’t get the job done and the Jets were able to fight their way back into the game.

Obviously stopping the running game is important again this week, it is every week, but it doesn’t seem quite as worrisome this week. Not with the Dolphins recent struggles in the run game (119 yards per game but only 3.8 yards per carry) and not with Bush igniting a fire deep inside LaRon Landry and the rest of the Jets defense.

Protect Sanchez from pass rush – While the run blocking was terrible early in the season but seemingly getting better, the pass protection has been better than many expected. However there are still too many breakdowns and missed assignments that seem to come at the least opportune time and if they continue on Sunday the Dolphins defense will take advantage.

Neutralizing the pass rush will be among the most important tasks the Jets will have to accomplish and that starts with containing Cameron Wake. Randy Stark will need to be stopped as well but if the Jets can make Wake an after thought Sanchez should be able to have success against the Dolphins secondary and send the Jets into the bye week at 4-4.

No mental errors – This goes for every player and hell every coach, no clock mismanagement or nonsensical play calls, but you all know this goes out specifically to Sanchez. Sanchez has made noticeable improvements in certain areas of his game, but it’s the inexcusable and often unexplainable mistakes that continue to hold him and this offense back. The Jets hope the running game can have success, but whether it does or doesn’t Sanchez is still going to have to complete passes and avoid taking points off the board or handing them to the Dolphins.

X-FACTORS:

Dustin Keller – Keller missed a stretch of games earlier in the season and it’s no coincidence that the offense struggled mightily without him. Keller is always a threat to make a big play downfield and defenses play him accordingly which opens up space for other receivers, but the lack of any type of depth at tight end hurt the Jets even more than just not having Keller.

With the return of Keller we have yet to see a big game statistically from Keller, but he has certainly been a big contributing factor in the improvement of the running game and watching the All-22 film will show he is indeed receiving a lot of attention and helping others get open. Keller has had big games against the Dolphins in the past so they’ll clearly focus on him, but if the Jets can beat the secondary elsewhere and create softer coverage on Keller then maybe Sanchez can go to Keller to bury the Dolphins. Keller looks healthy and is due for a big game, maybe it will be this week, but again if he just draws defenders away from other receivers and helps the run game have success that could be just enough to get the W.

Joe McKnight – McKnight is listed as questionable, but he left no doubt he was playing this week saying, “I was in pain, but if Westhoff can beat his leg cancer, I can play through a little ankle sprain.” McKnight was criticized for not being tough enough to run between the tackles coming out of college, but he has debunked the myth of him not being tough time and time again and he’s starting to prove to everyone he has a lot of value to the Jets as a running back.

McKnight is by far the fastest/quickest/shiftiest back the Jets have and that’s the type of back needed behind this line, his touches have increased and if that ankle holds up he could and should be called upon to get at 10-15 carries a game. He’s been running hard and decisive, powering through the middle and the speed to bounce it outside. He can be split out wide and you know what he’s capable of as a kick returner. McKnight can help this offense is a multitude of ways, the Jets just need to get him the touches.

THE PICK: The Jets were lucky to come out of Miami with a win in week three and they know it. A win to bring them to .500 headed into the bye week is exactly what they need and it’s exactly what they expect and they’ve been quite vocal in saying as much. Rex Ryan says they will empty the tank to pull out this victory and use the bye week to refuel, the team is focused and angry and the defense should control the ground game and confuse and rattle Tannehill enough to where Sanchez can take advantage of the Dolphins secondary, with the emergence of Jeremy Kerley, a healthy Dustin Keller back and Stephen Hill still commanding respect as a deep threat the Jets offense should be able to do more than enough to send themselves into the bye week with a 4-4 record.

Jets 27-13

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