No team in the NFL has faced more "must wins" in the first three weeks of any season in the history of the league than the New York Jets.
At least that's how it seems. Week 1 against the Bills was a "must win" game, and the Jets won it. In Week 2 they were sledgehammered by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it's okay because it wasn't a "must win ". Welp, with two Super Bowl contenders in the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans on the docket for the next two weeks, what's Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins for Gang Green? You know where this is going.
Of course no Week 1 or Week 3 or Week 6 game has ever been a virtual "must win". Obviously the overused term is just conjecture, but it would certainly behoove the Jets to find a way to beat a mediocre Dolphins team and get to 2-1. A loss puts them in a tenuous position.
Now that that nonsense is out of the way, how do the Jets go about beating the Dolphins, something that they've had a little bit of trouble doing since Rex Ryan came to town? The way I see it, there's only one player on the Dolphins' roster that can wreck this game.
Jets' Run Defense vs. Reggie Bush
In Week 1, the Jets' run defense looked great until it knocked the Bills' Fred Jackson out of the game. When C.J. Spiller took over, all of a sudden the Jets' defense looked vulnerable. It's possible that the Jets had prepared all week and schemed to stop Jackson, a more conventional, straight-forward back than the speedy, shifty Spiller. But the Jets had no answer for Spiller; they couldn't keep up with him and when they did they couldn't tackle him. In Week 2 against the Steelers' nondescript backfield of Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, it was a return to form. The Jets' defense is much better equipped to handle north-south runners like Jackson and Redman. The linebacking corps led by Bart Scott and David Harris isn't the fleetest of foot, and the Jets' defensive line has a bevy of hole-pluggers like Sione Pouha, Kenrick Ellis and Mike DeVito. This just in: Reggie Bush is kinda quick.
The Dolphins are going to lean on Bush heavily, and I'd expect them to try and get him into space and challenge the speed of the Jets' defense. Expect a lot of pitches, cutback runs and screens for Bush. Whether or not the Jets can keep Bush in check and prevent him from ripping off big plays is going to go a long way in determining which AFC East side gets their second win of the season.
Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine vs. Ryan Tannehill
This is why the Jets need to keep Bush in check. If the Dolphins struggle to move the ball on the ground with Bush, they'll have to depend on rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. You can be sure that Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine have been licking their chops this week while designing their defensive game plan. Historically, Ryan's defenses have given fits to mediocre and young quarterbacks (see last season's performances by then-Jacksonville QB Luke McCown, Washington's Rex Grossman, and we know, of course, what Ryan's defense has done against Ryan Fitzpatrick). Tannehill can barely read a map. Can he read a complicated Ryan defense?
Mark Sanchez vs. The Dolphins' Pass Defense
The Dolphins have given up an average of 313.5 yards through the air in their two games (30th in the league). It's not like they've played the Giants and Packers either, and conversely they're fourth in the NFL against the run through two weeks. Mark Sanchez enters Week 3 off two polar opposite performances. One thing he's done a good job of so far is protecting the ball; he hasn't turned it over since the Jets' opening drive of the season, and that was on a misguided shovel pass that bounced off his receiver's hands. But there should be some big plays out there for the Jets against a weak Miami secondary, Sanchez just has to make them. Despite what Manish Mehta wants to tell you, Sanchez is capable of making them (I won't link his crap "story" because it doesn't deserve a single extra page view). I expect him to on Sunday.
I'm sure we'll see some Tim Tebow in the Wildcat, but until I see it become a truly important piece of this offense and have a big impact on something more than newspaper sales, I don't think it's worth going into length about. Maybe Tebow throws it this week! Maybe he scores a touchdown! Maybe Tim Tebow likes his pasta al dente with marsala sauce! Everything about Tebow as a Jet is a maybe at this point.
If the Jets can stop Bush, I think they cruise to a fairly easy, two score win. If they can't, Bush could totally wreck the game. If that happens and the Jets fall to 1-2, then you know what next week against the 49ers is...
A MUST WIN!