As the calendar turns to December in the coming days, the mission for these Dolphins is simple: sweep the hapless Jets (and win at least two other games) and close the season strong.
Beating the 2-9 Jets twice over the next five weeks (including Monday in New Jersey) shouldn’t be too much to ask, considering New York has been outscored 303-177, ranks last in the league in passing, has the NFL’s fewest takeaways (seven), and has allowed more points than any team except Jacksonville while scoring fewer than any except the Raiders and Jaguars.
But there are areas of concern for the Dolphins, starting with their precarious predicament at cornerback.
Cortland Finnegan, who hoped to return Monday from an ankle injury, could not practice Friday and his chances of playing Monday do not appear good.
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What’s more, Jamar Taylor is out with a separated shoulder. The Dolphins made a roster move at the position Friday, signing former Dolphins safety/cornerback Don Jones off waivers from New England and releasing cornerback Lowell Rose.
Jones, who appeared in 16 games on special teams as a rookie for the Dolphins last season and nine games for the Patriots this season, will help the Dolphins on special teams as a “gunner” on return coverage but has never played a regular-season defensive down, according to Pro Football Focus.
If Finnegan cannot play on Monday, that would leave RJ Stanford (signed on Tuesday) or rookie Walt Aikens opposite Brent Grimes, with Jones also available.
Though the Dolphins will be favored in both games against the Jets (Monday and Dec. 28), keep in mind that not only did the Jets cost the Dolphins a playoff spot last season, but Miami swept the Jets only twice in the past 16 years – in 2003 and 2009.
“It’s going to be a dog fight every time you play them,” Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. “It’s a game that’s raised to another level.”
As guard Mike Pouncey said Friday: “I don’t think they like us and we don’t like them. It’s going to be a really physical game.”
Said Jets coach Rex Ryan: “Don’t expect to see this team being a typical two-win team. They’re going to get our best shot, without question. They are a team we’re excited to play against.”
Though Joe Philbin doesn’t want to talk much with his team about New York’s 20-7 win against the Dolphins last December – “that was a long time ago,” he said Friday – he noted that his players this week were shown tape of some plays from that game.
The Jets achieved that upset with a productive ground game (154 yards), an error-free performance from Geno Smith (17-27-190, no picks) and an opportunistic defense that picked off Ryan Tannehill three times and held him to a 42.1 passer quarterback.
Of course, Tannehill appears to be a much better quarterback than last December and the Jets defense hasn’t been nearly as strong this year.
“The big thing that jumps out at you is Tannehill is running the ball more with the zone read,” Ryan said. “He’s got a pretty good command of that system and it really fits him. He’s having a heck of a year.”
Ryan says there’s a lot to like about these Dolphins.
“They’re an outstanding team; this is heck of a defense,” Ryan said. “Lamar Miller is averaging [4.9] yards a carry. He’s really been impressive. I love the
way [Jarvis] Landry plays – a rookie but plays like a vet; he’s physical. Seems like [Brian] Hartline has been there since the Don Shula days. All he does is make plays.”
If Ryan is fired after the season, as many in New York expect, it would end a six-year run that began with such promise (AFC Championship games in his first two seasons) but has fizzled since. He’s 44-47 as New York’s coach, a winning percentage barely behind Philbin, who’s 21-22.
Ryan’s team has been undone by poor personnel decisions by embattled Jets general manager John Izdik, horrendous quarterback play and a defense that doesn’t force turnovers and ranks among the league’s worst on third down.
“Oh man, it’s tough; it has been brutal,” Ryan told South Florida media this week. “Clearly this has not been to our expectations whatsoever. Not even close. Our overall defense isn’t to where you would expect it to be.”
The quarterback play has been even worse. After watching Michael Vick produce a 27.5 quarterback rating in a 38-3 drubbing by the Bills on Monday, the Jets are going back to Smith, who has the league’s lowest passer rating among qualifiers (67.4). According to reports in New York, that decision was driven was Jets management.
“We want to get Geno another opportunity to show what he can do,” Ryan said.
Besides Finnegan, tight end Charles Clay (knee, hamstring) and offensive lineman Nate Garner (illness) also missed practice.
Mike Wallace (chest), Daryn Colledge (back) and Ja’Wuan James (neck) were limited, along with Rose. The Jets reportedly are expected to be without defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Monday.