Armando Salguero

Dolphins-Jets preview: Who has the edge?

Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller gains yardage against the Denver Broncos during their game on Nov. 23, 2014.
Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller gains yardage against the Denver Broncos during their game on Nov. 23, 2014. TNS

When the Jets pass the football

Geno Smith, who was previously benched as the starting quarterback, is getting his job back because Michael Vick, who replaced him, has been benched. Looking for a quarterback on the roster and finding none is a classic bad team problem. Smith suffers accuracy issues, and Vick has seemingly been disinterested in preparing well and unable to play at the height he maintained even the last couple of seasons in Philadelphia. It doesn’t help that the Jets offer few playmakers. GM John Idzik signed wide receiver Eric Decker to a big contract in the offseason and last month traded for wide receiver Percy Harvin. Neither move has provided any sizzle. Both Decker and Harvin are averaging just better than 10 yards per reception. The Dolphins hope to get cornerback Cortland Finnegan back on the field but that is uncertain, and even if he plays, there’s little margin for error if Finnegan aggravates his ankle injury because reserve Jamar Taylor is out with a shoulder injury. That is not a crisis against the No.32 passing offense in the NFL. But it is not a great situation, either.

When the Jets run the football

One of the few things the Jets do well is run the football. They field a solid, experienced offensive line with legitimate backs, and they are committed to running the ball. (Maybe because they’re such a disaster throwing it.) The Jets are the NFL’s No.5 rushing team and average 4.7 yards per attempt. Chris Ivory is the lead back, and he’s dependable, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but he’s not dynamic as he has only one run of over 20 yards. Chris Johnson, who is still very fast, is supposed to add the dynamic runs. He hasn’t consistently done that. Johnson has only two runs of 20 yards or more. The Miami run defense will be challenged in this game in a manner it hasn’t seen since Week3 against Kansas City. Like the Chiefs, the Jets rely on the run game first and foremost and do not abandon the approach But with New York being one-dimensional on offense because of its poor passing game, the Dolphins should be able to respond to by loading the tackle box with an extra defender if necessary.

When the Dolphins pass the football

Ryan Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in four consecutive games and five of the past six games. No, the deep-ball-accuracy issue is still not resolved. But Miami’s quarterback has been on target on practically all his other throws, and the quick receiver screens to Jarvis Landry or Mike Wallace have helped him tremendously. The Dolphins like to spread the ball around and this week might get Charles Clay back after he missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury. The Jets’ pass defense is not a huge problem if one considers the fact New York is No.16 in the NFL against the pass. But the truth is the Jets secondary is subpar. Coaches have struggled to find competent cornerbacks from week to week, and first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor has been in and out of the starting lineup, making seven starts in 11 games. If the Jets cannot get pressure on Tannehill, they have no shot. And Miami’s protection, inconsistent against Buffalo two weeks ago, improved greatly last week against Denver.

When the Dolphins run the football

Ryan Tannehill leads AFC quarterbacks with 276 rushing yards and has run for at least 200 yards in each of his first three NFL seasons. With 24 yards against the Jets, Tannehill would become the second Dolphins quarterback to rush for 300 yards in a season. Jay Fiedler did it in 2001. Buoyed by the unexpected help from the quarterback, the Dolphins run game is on pace to be among the best in franchise history. The Dolphins are averaging 4.68 yards per rush, which is up there as the fifth highest in franchise history. The top four averages came in the Super Bowl years (1971, ’72 and ’73) and again in 2002. Lamar Miller is the leader of the run game, although he is not exactly a workhorse, averaging just over 12 carries per game. That still seems too low. The Jets are No.4 against the run but facing such quality run defense should not be a surprise to the Dolphins because they’ve faced Detroit (No.1) and Denver (No.2) in recent weeks. New York defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson (back) and Muhammad Wilkerson (toe) missed practice time this week, and their status for the game is uncertain.

Special teams

Jets punter Ryan Quigley is having a much better season than Miami’s Brandon Fields. Who could have predicted that? The Dolphins have a significant advantage in their kick-return game and a slight advantage on punt returns because the Jets simply have been ineffective on punt returns so far. MetLife doesn’t threaten the same swirling winds as the old Meadowlands used to so kicker Nick Folk’s home-field familiarity is limited. He nonetheless enjoys an advantage over Miami’s Caleb Sturgis, as Folk has been more consistent so far.

Coaching

New York’s Rex Ryan appears to be on his way out. He has been beloved by players who wanted badly to help him succeed. Last year the team even played hard for him late in the season to help him salvage his job for a year. But players now must know that Ryan is on the outs, so there is no motivational charge he can provide the team. Joe Philbin and his staff have the more talented team, the better quarterback and the better outlook. All they have to do is be themselves, play their game and avoid letting the Jets stay in a game and gain confidence. In that regard, Philbin has to get his team to start fast — something that has been hit and miss for the Dolphins.

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