The Jets, trying to rebound from last week's offensive stinker, are on the road again, this time facing the Dolphins (1-1). The Jets are the better team, but this is a weird and storied rivalry. In fact, they've dropped five of the past seven meetings, including the season-ending loss last New Year's Day that highlighted the team's chemistry problems.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. Here's what to watch for :
1. Marked improvement ?
Mark Sanchez has to be better than last week, when he completed only 10 of 27 passes -- the fifth sub-40 percent game of his career. (By the way, that's the most in the NFL since 2009, and next on the list is JaMarcus Russell, who did it three times. No QB wants to be on a list with Russell.) Chances are, this game will come down to Sanchez's ability to attack a revamped Dolphins secondary because, let's face it, they probably won't be able to do much on the ground. The Dolphins, now playing a 4-3 front predicated on one-gap penetration, have allowed only 2.2 yards per rush, best in the league. Look for Sanchez to go after nickel back Nolan Carroll, best known for being the player tripped by Sal Alosi in 2010.
2. Tebow Time. If they continue to limit Tim Tebow's snaps at quarterback, it will give credence to the publicity-stunt theory, that the Jets traded for him mainly to sell tickets. Rex Ryan says Tebow probably will play more than last week, but that may not mean much, considering he got only three snaps in Pittsburgh. Will he get four snaps? Five? Here's a possible clue: RB Joe McKnight is expected to have an expanded role, and McKnight is part of the Wildcat package. Hmm. Some players want to see more of Tebow because they think the Wildcat would help spark the sluggish running game.
3. Sparano's revenge. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano returns to face the team that fired him last December after three-plus seasons as the head coach. This sort of thing happens all the time in the NFL, but Sparano has more motivation than most. He was undermined after the 2010 season by owner Stephen Ross, who courted Jim Harbaugh -- an ill-advised move that backfired. In terms of Xs and Os, Sparano has intimate knowledge of the Dolphins' personnel on both sides of the ball, but the Dolphins have a bigger edge because they know Sparano's system. It'll be interesting to see if Sparano throws a couple of curve balls (more Wildcat, perhaps?) in an attempt to send a message to his former employer.
4. Beat Bush. The No. 1 priority on defense is simple: Contain RB Reggie Bush, far and away the Dolphins' best player. Bush, in a contract year, is off to a fantastic start. He's particularly effective at home (three straight 100-yard performances) and he's had success against the Jets (6.8 yard per carry in two games). For the Jets, it's all about defending the perimeter, setting the edge and forcing Bush to the inside. This was a problem last season, and it reared its ugly head in the opener against C.J. Spiller. The Dolphins, using more zone blocking than in past years, like to get Bush outside with quick tosses and stretch plays. They will go after OLB Garrett McIntyre, who struggles in space.
5. Rattle the rookie. The Jets' complex defensive scheme should be a major headache for rookie QB Ryan Tannehill -- that is, if they can put him in obvious passing situations and can keep him in the pocket. Tannehill has scrambling ability, and last week the Dolphins had him on the move, calling several designed rollouts. They want him outside the pocket because, with a low release point, he tends to get passes tipped at the line. With CB Darrelle Revis (concussion) expected to return, the Jets should be able to blanket Tannehill's receivers. They want to put the game in Tannehill's hands.
6. Defending the no-huddle. The Jets prepared all week for the Dolphins' up-tempo, no-huddle attack. They will try to turn the game into a track meet, often snapping the ball with 15 to 20 seconds remaining on the play clock. This presents several challenges for the Jets. In 90-degree heat, it'll be an endurance test on defense. They will have to rotate their personnel to keep them fresh, especially the linemen. The Raiders faded in the second half of last week's loss in Miami.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano hasn't made any personal comments about the Dolphins this week in meetings, according to players. But they know the story, how Sparano was fired by the Dolphins with three games remaining last season. RB Joe McKnight said they'd like to win Sunday for Sparano."We want to go out and win for him, just so he can get his last laugh," McKnight said Thursday. "The last laugh always laughs loudest."
Sparano was 29-32 in three-plus seasons as the Dolphins' head coach, including a 3-2 mark against the Jets.
THE MORE YOU CAN DO :
McKnight said he has been taking reps this week as a cornerback with the second-team defense. Darrelle Revis is expected to return from his concussion, but they could lose a corner with Ellis Lankster (back) up in the air after getting hurt Wednesday in practice. That would leave Isaiah Trufant as the No. 4 corner, followed by McKnight.
McKnight has taken cornerback reps in the past. He got into a game last season -- one play against the Ravens. Rex Ryan said Wednesday that McKnight, recovered from a hamstring injury, could have an expanded role this week. We all thought he meant on offense; maybe there's a chance he makes a cameo on defense.
TROUBLE FOR THE TERMINATOR : FB John Conner (sprained knee) missed practice for the second straight day, and his chances of playing Sunday appear remote. He had a brace on his right knee and was favoring it as he performed basic rehab exercises. Conner is the only natural fullback on the roster. They can use TE Konrad Reuland in the backfield, as they did last week.It also appears that OLB Bryan Thomas (hamstring) won't play, meaning another start for Garrett McIntyre, who had two sacks last week.
HE'S PLAYING: Listen to the first five questions to CB Darrelle Revis, who spoke to reporters after practice.
Q: How do you feel?
A: I feel good.
Q: How confident are you that you can play Sunday?
A: Iím playing Sunday.
Q: How confident are you that you will play?
A: I'm playing.
Q: Did you pass the concussion tests this morning?
A: Yeah, the doctors cleared me, so Iíll be playing Sunday.
Q: Do you have to take more tests?
A: No, I got cleared, so Iíll be playing.
All right, then ...
AS THE CRO FLIES: Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine gave an honest assessment of Mike Wallace's 37-yard TD reception, saying of CB Antonio Cromartie, "Yeah, (he) just didnít play the ball. Early on, I thought he was in good position, and then I donít know whether he lost it. It was just one of those situations where he didnít play the ball and Wallace did. We say itís a game of inches, you could say it was a game of centimeters on that one. It was very close to being a long foul ball. Give them credit and obviously, we have to play the ball better."