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We have reached another defining moment in this season. The Dolphins have a chance to accomplish two important things on Sunday: They can keep themselves right in the middle of the playoff race and they can just about knock the Jets out of it.
Both are indeed very appetizing thoughts.
But tempering that thought is the fact that the Jets have the same opportunity to do that to the Dolphins. Two arch-rivals meeting for the first time this season and waiting until the 12th game to do it. Two 5-6 teams battling for a breath of momentum. Two offenses that have had trouble scoring points and finishing games.
You think there’s a lot at stake? You bet there is. It is December and that means “step up” time. That means if you are going to matter late in the month, you’ve got to make a statement early in the month. There are five games left, four against AFC East teams. While a 5-6 records shouts mediocrity, there is still time to do something about it, still time for a finishing kick and who knows where that can you take you.
The Dolphins and Jets are two pretty desperate teams right now. I expect that they’ll play like it.
“They hate us and we know it,” said center Mike Pouncey. “When it’s a rivalry game, everything is hyped up a little more. We don’t like the Jets.”
But this game won’t come down to personal dislike or rivalry implications. That’s window dressing. That’s locker room stuff. The difference on Sunday, I believe, will come down to which quarterback seizes the moment. And, at least heading in, the Dolphins appear to have a nice advantage in that category.
In some ways, Jets’ quarterback Geno Smith is what Ryan Tannehill was a year ago. A rookie trying to find his way, trying the learn the nuances of the game, trying to produce enough big plays to offset the negative ones that come with inexperience. There is no sugarcoating it. Smith has struggled mightily in recent weeks, so much so that Coach Rex Ryan felt he had to announce that he’d be starting Sunday against the Dolphins.
Say what you want about Tannehill’s deficiencies – especially the trouble he’s had hitting Mike Wallace in stride – but he is clearly a better quarterback now than he was as a rookie. The numbers show it. The question now: Will Tannehill show it on Sunday?
This is a huge test, an imposing test, for the second-year quarterback. The Jets have the No. 1 rushing defense in the league and, as we have come to learn, the Dolphins aren’t exactly a running juggernaut. So common sense tells us that the outcome will, by and large, be determined by Tannehill’s ability to dissect an aggressive, blitz-happy Jets’ defense.
You look at both teams and they are very similar. The difference, I believe, has to come down to Tannehill over Smith. That’s the clearest advantage the Dolphins have.
“They have an excellent defense,” Tannehill said. “I know I’ve got to play well and I’ve got to make good decisions.”
The Dolphins haven’t exactly been lighting it up on offense lately. In fact, they are the only team in the league not to have scored at least 28 points in a game this season. I’m not sure how many they’ll need against the Jets, but they can’t keep relying on last minute heroics to provide the difference.
“It’s hard to score 20, 17, 23, 19, 22 and consistently win games in the National Football League,” said coach Joe Philbin. “That’s hard to do. We have to score more points.”
Certainly there are other important subplots in this game. Can the Dolphins run the ball at all against the Jets? Can they stop the run with more consistency than they’ve shown? What can they do on defense to disrupt and harass Smith? Will they finally score a fourth quarter touchdown? These two teams are 5-6 for a reason. One of them will feel a whole lot better at 6-6.
“We have to play our best football in December,” Philbin said. “It’s time for this team to perform at a high level.”
The Dolphins need to do exactly that. And, the way I see it, it will be up to Ryan Tannehill to lead the way.
On Monday, AC in the AM analyzes what happened against the Jets.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.