NFL Preview - Miami (0-4) at N.Y. Jets (2-3)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Matt Moore's first start as the Miami Dolphins' quarterback could turn out to be Tony Sparano's final game with the team.
With speculation about their head coach's job security continuing to swirl, the Dolphins will attempt to avoid an eighth consecutive loss dating back to last season when they head to MetLife Stadium for a Monday night matchup against a New York Jets squad that's in a rut of its own right now.
Things may have gone from bad to worse for Miami, which last registered a victory with a 10-6 upset over the eventual AFC Championship Game participant Jets in New Jersey on Dec. 12 of last season. Not only was the reeling club's present skid extended with a 26-16 defeat at San Diego two weeks back, but starting signal-caller Chad Henne sustained a separated left shoulder during the game that required season-ending surgery.
In his place steps in Moore, who's had flashes of success during a 13-start stint with Carolina from 2007-10. The 27-year-old went 4-1 after taking over for an injured Jake Delhomme for the final five games of the 2009 campaign, but struggled after being tabbed as the Panthers' No. 1 quarterback prior to last season and briefly lost the job to then-rookie Jimmy Clausen before hurting his shoulder and eventually being placed on injured reserve.
"He's been in the huddle as a starting quarterback before," said Sparano of Moore. "I think the guy has good leadership qualities. He's run off a string of wins, four or five wins up there in Carolina. He's a confident guy, little bit of different swagger to him when he gets in the huddle."
Moore completed 17-of-26 passes for 167 yards in relief of Henne against the Chargers, but was intercepted once and sacked three times.
As for Sparano, the embattled Bill Parcells disciple was able to survive Miami's Week 5 bye but likely still remains on thin ice, and there's a belief he may not be so fortunate if the Dolphins flounder on Monday in front of a national television audience.
Having an extra week to prepare may work in the Dolphins' favor, however, as the team is 2-1 following a break under Sparano's direction. In their initial game after the bye last season, the Dolphins went into Lambeau Field and dealt powerhouse Green Bay a 23-20 overtime defeat.
Sparano's teams have also held their own in recent battles with the rival Jets -- especially on the road -- as Miami has bested New York as the visitor in each of the past three years.
New York is experiencing its own period of turmoil at the moment, having gone winless on a challenging three-game trek at Oakland, Baltimore and New England after prevailing in its first two outings of the season. There's also been talk of dissension within the locker room, with reports circulating last week that the Jets receiving corps met privately with head coach Rex Ryan to complain about offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's play-calling, which the organization later denied took place.
One of the players mentioned was veteran Derrick Mason, who was in turn traded to Houston on Wednesday.
The Jets' normally stout defense has had its issues as well, with the unit entering this week's play ranked a surprising 26th overall against the run. New York surrendered 152 rushing yards and a season-worst 446 overall to the high- powered Patriots in a 30-21 loss in Foxborough last Sunday.
New York hasn't dropped four in a row since the pre-Ryan era of 2007, when it suffered six straight setbacks en route to a 4-12 finish.
"This is a critical game for us Monday night, and that's where our focus is going to be," said Ryan.
The Jets have a 47-42-1 lead in this long-played series, but the Dolphins have taken four of the last five meetings between the teams and as previously stated, have exited with a victory at the Meadowlands in each of the past three seasons. In addition to last year's win at MetLife Stadium, Miami came through with a 30-25 triumph over New York on the road in 2009 and handed the Jets a 24-17 home loss the year before. New York did top the Dolphins in Miami by a 31-23 count during Week 3 of last season behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Mark Sanchez.
In addition to their regular-season history, the Jets and Dolphins also faced in the 1982 AFC Championship, which went to Miami by a 14-0 score.
Sparano does own a 4-2 record against the Jets during his tenure in Miami, while Ryan has gone 1-3 in four prior encounters with the Dolphins and Sparano.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
With a potentially rusty Moore (167 passing yards, 1 INT) under center and the Jets having unforeseen problems stopping the run, expect Miami's diverse running back tandem of rookie Daniel Thomas (202 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Reggie Bush (119 rushing yards, 13 receptions, 1 TD) to be utilized plenty of Monday. The 228-pound Thomas is a punishing between-the-tackles type who's impressed early on in his career, averaging 101 yards and nearly five yards per pop in the two games he's played so far, and should be ready to go after sitting out the San Diego loss with a hamstring problem. While Bush hasn't been the big-play artist the Dolphins envisioned when they acquired the former No. 2 overall pick from the Saints in July, he's still an accomplished receiver that could serve as a reliable safety net in Moore's first start in 11 months. Miami's new triggerman also has a top-flight wideout to throw to in the physical Brandon Marshall (22 receptions, 313 yards, 1 TD), provided the mercurial two-time Pro Bowler can stay on the field. He made headlines during the week by declaring that he plans to get ejected in the second quarter because he'll be so amped up for the contest. Slot man Davone Bess (15 receptions) and Brian Hartline (13 receptions, 1 TD) are two other outlets for Moore in an offense that's employed a lot of three-receiver sets under first- year coordinator and onetime Jets assistant Brian Daboll.
After placing third in the NFL in run defense a year ago, the Jets are allowing over 40 more rushing yards per game on average during their slow start to 2011 despite having most of the same cast back. It's a puzzling situation for Ryan, whose group was burned for 234 yards on the ground by the speedy Raiders in Week 3 and couldn't handle bruiser BenJarvus Green Ellis last Sunday, with the New England back ripping off a career-best 136 yards and two touchdowns. If New York can work out the kinks in that area, an excellent secondary headlined by the cornerback combo of All-Pro Darrelle Revis (15 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PD) and Antonio Cromartie (17 tackles, 3 INT, 3 PD) could prove very difficult for Moore to navigate. The Jets are second in the league in pass efficiency defense and have yielded only three touchdowns through the air over the first five weeks. Look for Ryan to unleash a heavy pass rush that took down Brady four times in last week's meeting, with outside linebackers Calvin Pace (24 tackles, 1 sack) and Jamaal Westerman (14 tackles, 2 sacks) leading the charge. Inside starters David Harris (31 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and Bart Scott (28 tackles, 2 sacks) have four sacks combined on the year, and New York has compiled 13 as a team.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Ryan publicly stated that the Jets would be going back to the "ground and pound" approach that worked so well for the team in his first two years following a loss to Baltimore earlier this month, and a rushing attack that had been rather stagnant in preceding weeks did show some life against the Patriots, with lead back Shonn Greene (240 rushing yards, 2 TD, 12 receptions) accumulating season bests of 83 yards and 21 carries while scoring a touchdown. New York still ranks an undesirable 31st in the league in that category (76.2 ypg), and the offense's inability to run the ball effectively has put a burden on young quarterback Mark Sanchez (1171 passing yards, 8 TD, 5 INT). The third- year pro's play has been generally inconsistent, though he did rebound nicely from a horrid 11-of-35, four-turnover nightmare against the Ravens to throw for two scores without a miscue in last Sunday's defeat. He's got two quality options to work with in top receiver Santonio Holmes (17 receptions, 2 TD) and athletic tight end Dustin Keller (19 receptions, 2 TD), who hauled in two of Sanchez's three scoring strikes in Gang Green's win at Miami last season. Big- bodied veteran Plaxico Burress (13 receptions, 2 TD) has been a bit of a disappointment in his return from a well-publicized prison sentence, however, and Mason didn't contribute much before being shown the door. His place in the slot will be taken by rookie Jeremy Kerley, who netted his first career touchdown catch in last week's loss.
Miami's defense was stifling in their big victory at MetLife Stadium last December, limiting the Jets to a modest 280 total yards and sacking Sanchez six times in that game, but the crew has been inexplicably lit up like a Christmas tree all throughout this campaign. The Dolphins have permitted a porous 307 passing yards per game (31st overall) thus far and produced few big plays, having notched just two interceptions and six sacks. Getting back cornerback Vontae Davis (10 tackles) from a pulled hamstring that caused him to miss two straight games should help, as replacement Nolan Carroll (16 tackles) was routinely abused in his absence, and outside linebacker Cameron Wake (9 tackles, 3 sacks) is one of the league's better pass rushers who's coming off a 14-sack breakthrough in 2010. The run defense, anchored by end Randy Starks (13 tackles) and space-eating nose tackle Paul Soliai, has been serviceable, though teams have had so much success shredding the Dolphins through the air that it really hasn't mattered.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Miami's running game vs. the Jets' run defense. The Dolphins once had an identity as a smash-mouth team under Sparano on offense, and that philosophy worked pretty well. With a backup quarterback on hand and New York having had difficulty in stopping opponents playing that style, it's critical for Thomas and Bush to churn out the yards and allow the Miami offense to operate efficiently. It's a stretch to think Moore can win this game with his arm against a tough secondary, so if the Jets can keep those two backs under wraps, they shouldn't have much of a problem this week.
A solid Sanchez. The marketable quarterback was outstanding in the Jets' road victory over the Dolphins last season, throwing for three touchdowns without an interception, but a brutal 17-of-44 with two turnovers in last December's loss to New York's longtime rival. The Miami defense hasn't offered much resistance to enemy passers this year, so there's no excuse for Sanchez to stumble this time around.
Sustaining drives. This has been a major source of trouble for Miami this season, as its offense has converted a league-low 26.5 percent of third-down chances with Henne mostly at the controls. The Dolphins are eligible to improve with Moore now in charge, but the Jets' defense has been stingy in that department, having allowed just a 31 percent success rate (2nd overall) in such situations.
After coming out on the short end against three formidable foes that are a combined 10-4 on the season, it appears as if the Jets would have a far easier time against a winless and spiraling Miami team that's now down to its No. 2 quarterback and is playing on the road. The Dolphins will likely be competing with a purpose, however, and have the benefit of the bye week to both heal up and study up their fellow AFC East member. New York's on-field performance hasn't matched its heavyweight reputation, and these teams always seem to play one another close. While that may prove to be the case once again, the Jets still have more talent and less problems than Miami and are in a must-win mode as well.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 20, Dolphins 13
10/14 16:37:56 ET