September 21, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version
BY SEAN LAHMAN
September 21, 2007
Any coach will tell you that to win football games you need to play well on the line. So far, the Jets have failed to do that on both sides of the ball, and the results have been predictable. Desperate for a win, the Jets hope to solve those problems this week against a familiar opponent. The Miami Dolphins have not only had their share of struggles so far this year, but they've lost to the Jets in five of their last six meetings. Here's a closer look at how the division foes will match up.
DOLPHINS (0-2) at JETS (0-2)
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
The late-August trade of veteran guard Pete Kendall has loomed over the Jets two losses. In both games, the poor play of the offensive line has prevented the offense from mounting an effective attack. They have surrendered nine sacks in two games, including one that caused Chad Pennington's ankle injury. Their inability to sustain pass protection has made it nearly impossible to throw the deep ball.
Worse yet, the poor blocking upfront has derailed the running game. Thomas Jones has been held to just 2.9 yards per carry and hasn't had a run longer than 12 yards. Too often he's getting hit at the line of scrimmage or running into the back of one of his linemen. What's more, the lousy run blocking has made it impossible for the Jets to use Leon Washington. His speed and shiftiness are useless if the line can't create holes for him to run through.
All indications are that Chad Pennington will start Sunday. Before suffering the injury, he was doing a good job getting passes to his receivers underneath the coverage. Kellen Clemens was okay in his first NFL start last week, and might even have pulled out a victory if his receivers hadn't dropped some catchable passes in the red zone last week. Jerricho Cotchery had a big game with seven catches for 165 yards, but he was limited in practice this week because of a shoulder injury.
The Dolphins' greatest strength in recent years has been their defense, but they seem to have regressed this year. Linebacker Joey Porter has not been a factor in the pass rush, and the loss of strong safety Yeremiah Bell with a season-ending Achilles injury depletes an already porous secondary.
Miami's biggest problem this year has been their inability to stop the run. They've given up 357 rushing yards in their first two games, and both opponents simply wore them down in the second half.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
The Dolphins have struggled to run the ball, averaging 3.1 yards per carry and gaining just 127 total rushing yards. Most observers expected to see the Dolphins build their offense around running back Ronnie Brown, but that hasn't happened. Head coach Cam Cameron has abandoned the run early in both games this season, in part because the offensive line has not blocked well. Brown has the speed to run outside, so look for the Dolphins to challenge the Jets 3–4 alignment by attacking the edges.
Their inability to run the ball has made it tough for the Dolphins to unleash their aggressive passing attack. Chris Chambers has the combination of size and speed that could make him an elite receiver, but the Dolphins haven't had a quarterback who could consistently get him the ball. They hoped to solve that problem with the trade for Trent Green, but so far the results have been disappointing. The veteran quarterback played well in the opener but threw four interceptions last week. That's often an indication that he's tipping off his throws. Green also seems to have lost some zip on his passes, floating too many into coverage.
That bodes well for the Jets, who struggled to contain both Tom Brady and Kyle Boller. The most glaring problem has been the lack of a pass rush. The Jets didn't record a single sack in either game, and they allowed both quarterbacks ample time to survey the field. The defense also hasn't created a single turnover yet this season.
One area where they have performed well has been with their run defense, holding opponents to just 3.5 yards per carry. They finally solved the Willis McGahee riddle last week, and so far the Jets haven't allowed a run longer than 13 yards.
KEY TO THE GAME
The Jets need to get their running game going, and perhaps the best way to do that is spread the defense with their quick, short passing attack. Mixing in some screen passes to Washington could help as well.
Lahman's Pick: Jets 20-14
Giants Must Not Let Rejuvenated Skins Control Tempo
Games between the Giants and Redskins always come with the simmering undercurrent of a long and intense rivalry. This Sunday's game has much more immediate implications. For Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, a win would serve as a strong rebuttal against those critics who spent the off-season arguing that the game has passed him by. After enduring his worst season in the NFL last year, Gibbs has his young team off to an impressive 2-0 start. For the Giants, Sunday offers what might be their last chance to show that they are still a playoff contender. If their 29th ranked defense doesn't show signs of improvement, all that will be left to play for is individual jobs. Here is a detailed look at how the Redskins and Giants will match up on the field.
GIANTS (0–2) at REDSKINS (2–0)
Sunday, 4:15 p.m., FOX
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Eli Manning recovered quickly from his bruised shoulder and made a good showing in last week's loss to the Packers. Solid pass protection has helped him to spread the ball around to his big three main targets — tight end Jeremy Shockey and receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Burress continues to nurse an ankle injury, and no. 3 receiver Steve Smith will be out for several weeks with a fractured shoulder. This should mean more opportunities for Anthony Mix, who caught three passes last week. The Giants' running game has averaged 5.7 yards per carry — the second highest total in the NFL. Derrick Ward has been most effective running the ball inside, particularly on the right side behind guard Chris Snee and tackle Kareem McKenzie.
The main reason for the Redskins' strong start has been the play of their defense. The off-season addition of middle linebacker London Fletcher and rookie safety LaRon Landry have made a huge difference. Washington's linebackers cover a lot of ground against the run and are making plays in the open field.
The film shows that the Redskins like to play man coverage with their cornerbacks and use the safeties in a two-deep zone. So far, this scheme has helped them to prevent opponents from making big plays. The Redskins haven't been able to generate much pressure with their front four, but their success in man coverage allows them to blitz in some situations.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
The Redskins run the ball as much as any team in the league, and I guess that's no big surprise for a team coached by Joe Gibbs. They use the backfield tandem of Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts to wear down defenses, and so far the pair has averaged 120 yards per game.
Another trademark of a Gibbs team is the prominent role of the tight end. Chris Cooley is well-suited for this attack, able to make tough catches underneath as well as getting open down the field. The Giants have really struggled to cover opposing tight ends. Jason Witten of the Cowboys scorched them for 116 yards in the opener, and two different Green Bay tight ends caught touchdown passes last week.
Quarterback Jason Campbell took over the starting duties last November and played well, including a two-touchdown performance against the Giants in the season finale. He still makes some poor decisions because of his inexperience, but he has great mobility and a very strong arm. The Redskins will undoubtedly give Campbell a chance to take some shots down the field against the struggling Giants secondary.
In two games, the Giants have given up 80 points, and both times the poor play of the secondary has been the major problem. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has tried some different approaches but the results have been the same. The corners have struggled in press coverage, and when they play off their man, they haven't been able to tackle well enough.
The inability to get pressure on the quarterback has just compounded the problems with the secondary. Osi Umenyiora has struggled with a knee injury and Michael Strahan has been slowed after skipping training camp. The decision to move end Mathias Kiwanuka has so far not yielded any positive benefits. In fact, Kiwanuka's liabilities in pass coverage have resulted in him being taken out of the game on third down passing situations.
Tom Coughlin hinted at some personnel changes this week, and the most likely would be to put rookie cornerback Aaron Ross in the starting lineup. He seems particularly well suited to face the Redskins' small but speedy receivers, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. Linebacker Gerris Wilkinson could also supplant Kawika Mitchell at the weak-side linebacker position this weekend.
KEY TO THE GAME
Washington will hope to get an early lead and protect it with their bruising running game. To counter that, the Giants need to control the ball with some long drives and keep their battered defense off the field.
Lahman's Pick: Redskins 24-17
September 21, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version